Pondering the muse

Now that my blog tour through Goddess Fish Promotions (highly recommended, BTW) has come to a close, I’m going to share a few of my favorite guest posts here. This one was originally published at Long and Short Reviews.

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Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats perform at Highland Brewing Co.

Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats perform at Highland Brewing Co.

I have this distinct memory of being in my car, coming home from the gym, and hearing the Counting Crows song “Rain King.” I’ve never been a fan of that band, but the line, “I belong in the service of the Queen / I belong anywhere but in between” struck me as an exact statement of how I felt about writing at that moment. Replace “queen” with “muse” and there you have it. That simple sentiment gave me the push I needed to write my just-published novel, How to Talk to Rockstars: It wasn’t just a hobby or a test of my own stamina. It was a mission.

Rockstars is a totally muse-driven book, a creative impetus that took on a life of its own. So much so that I would hear the voice of my main character, Bryn — a music journalist — speaking to me and telling her story, even when I wasn’t writing. Sometimes Bryn would narrate my walk home at the end of the day. Her character has such a raw and poetic way of describing her world, that some of the passages in the book were actually taken from those narrated walks.

I think most writers have that experience to some extent. I interviewed author Khaled Hosseini after his novel A Thousand Splendid Suns was published and he talked about missing his characters after he finished a book. Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants and At the Water’s Edge, told me that one thing she liked about going on book tour was that it gave her a chance to revisit her characters.

But what is it that makes those characters so real, so personable and imbued with their own personalities and agendas? Real enough that we miss them when we’re no longer transcribing their dialog? To call that “the muse” seems too easy and detracts from the considerable effort of the writer. I’ve never actually channeled anything — I know I used the word transcribing two sentences back, but that was mostly to be fancy — and I don’t know what it feels like. I do know that writing a novel is, at turns, thrilling, exasperating, exciting, devastating, energizing and exhausting. It’s an emotional roller coaster, a volatile relationship with little more than a laptop and a half-hatched idea.

"Mystic" by Karl Mullen, on display at American Folk Art & Framing

“Mystic” by Karl Mullen, on display at American Folk Art & Framing

But something — someone — has to drive the roller coaster. Maybe that’s the muse. Or maybe the muse is the one who waits in the quiet place where the words come from. The muse is the one with whom every writer is in community; the greater power to whom we answer.

How to Talk to Rockstars deals a lot with loneliness. Bryn is a loner. Much of her work has to do with talking to touring musicians who are isolated by being on the road for long stretches of time, or by a contrived stage persona, or by the strange trappings of fame. But what Bryn learns is that — even though professionalism prevents her from turning into a fan or trying to be friends with the musicians she interviews — the minutes she spends talking to a rockstar is absolute intimacy. It’s an encapsulated moment that might be awkward, might be strained, might not go according to plan. But it might also be pure magic.

Writing is kind of like that. It requires a lot of trust, and a willingness to get through the awkward moments to find the magic. I suspect the muse doesn’t judge between the two; the muse just asks us to show up and listen and do the work. It’s hard work. But it’s the best work.

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