Friends, Muses & Summaries

Courting the muse.

Courting the muse.

I’ve had several conversations with friends over the past few years about the kinds of stories we like, the kinds of stories we want to read. One friend lamented that she’s often drawn to the proposed story lines of YA fiction but that she wishes these stories were being written “for adults”. The general consensus in the other conversations was the same. While I love magic, fantasy, mystery, romance, angst, and an epic journey resulting in vanquishing of demons both literal and figurative and personal transformation; I’d like to read these kinds of stories with adults in them.

There are some books like this out there. But not nearly enough (please leave your recommendations in the comments)

Personally I’d like to read stories about artistic creative women. I’d like to read romantic stories where the leads don’t lose their identities in each-other the moment they fall in love. AND FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, I DON’T NEED A BABY MADE IN THE END TO BELIEVE THEIR LOVE IS SPECIAL AND TRUE. I want happy endings that are realistic and not easily won. I’d rather the life issues the characters are dealing with mirror my own, and those I witness my friends struggling with, and not those of a teenager. 

While many teenagers do face intense issues (raises hand. I was one of them) they are not the same as the challenges facing an adult. And when they are similar in nature, they are still so very different. Perspective, it’s a bitch innit? My perspective from the other side of 40 colors what I read. As an adult who’s experienced adult problems like divorce, remarriage, illness, death, financial difficulties, accidents and debilitating depression; I don’t care about Bella, her neglectful parents or her pedo boyfriend.  

What I want to read is fantastical story lines, magical realism, epic journeys and inspiring romance - I want Harry Potter with grownups. I don’t want the heroine to give up her ambitions to mold her life to a male that’s caught her fancy and if she does finally bag him, by god the love scenes better not fade to black. While I want all this, I’d like the story to retain the magic. I’d like it to retain what singer Neko Case calls “That teenage feeling” 

You know that feeling? It’s the one that had you half waiting for a letter from Hogwarts even though it doesn’t exist, you’re 40 and both your parents are hopeless Muggles. It’s the one that has you pushing on the back of your closet wall when you go in for a coat, just in case a door to another world swings open, and Mr. Tumnus is there waiting for you.

I want that feeling in a book with characters I can relate to. I’m hoping to write books like that. (Wish me luck)

The heroine in the story I’m writing at the moment, is very much inspired by the female friends and acquaintances, that collectively I refer to as, “my muses.”

(I’m about to do some shout outs, please don’t be offended if I didn’t mention you, someone always gets forgotten in these things and it sucks. I still love you, you still inspire me.)

I can see her in my minds eye, my character: She’s over 30. (An age range sorely underrepresented in this kind of fiction). She’s spent her life putting her ambitions on hold to take care of other people. She’s getting divorced, her dad is sick. She pours herself into her work. 

I see my friends, my Muses, in her. 

I see her wearing romantic and funky clothes, enhancing her beauty with a love for aesthetics like my friends Virginia Poe and Angela Brenneman. She wears jewelry from Jen Parrish and Jenny Davies-Reazor and like them creates space for herself that is both inspiring and elegant.

Like my friend Adara Bryn she’s graceful and passionate, a brunette with shining brown eyes. She’s spiritual and wise like my friends Lisa Nault and Lisa Steinke. She’s funny and no-nonsense like my friends Yama George and Ash Evans. She’s poetic like my friends Natania Barron and Nimue Brown.

She is a collector of all things brilliant and lovely like my friends Megan Congdon and Stephanie Piña - and like them she shares her finds with the world. She is hardworking and dedicated to her creative pursuits like my friends Meredith Dillman, Teri Rosario and Amy Brown. She’s deeply compassionate and a caretaker like my friends Charity Holly, Jane Starr Weils and Lee Ann Farruga.

I just love her. She’s not perfect, none of us are. But she’s wonderful.

She deserves an adventure - don’t you think?

THE ADVENTURE

I spent far too much time recently writing a summary for my story. It needed to be done, because I needed to do it for my own sake. Once I hacked it out I felt better.

I learned a few things:

A) Summaries can be helpful in defining your story to yourself succinctly. They can help you refine and clarify a complicated plot.

B) Summaries are bullshit that make the nuanced romantic tale you have in your head sound like a cheap hollywood trailer. 

I was seriously tempted to start this damn thing with “IN A WORLD….”

Instead I give you this: 

Tessa Alexander is tired. Tired of the ongoing legal battle with her not quite ex-husband, tired of watching her father’s mind succumb to dementia, and tired of waiting for her life to begin. An art historian and amateur photographer, Tessa runs a small Philadelphia art museum dedicated to the legacy of her father’s body of work. She spends all her time espousing on the creative genius of others, and wonders if time has run out for her own ambitions. It’s a job she used to enjoy, but now on the eve of her 40th birthday she can’t remember the last time she felt excited about, anything. That is until she attends a performance of a newly scored and choreographed ballet based on one of her favorite plays, by long dead Regency era author, Sarah Brighton. A fateful meeting with the composer results in an offer too good to refuse - a year in England spent writing and living in the village that was home to Sarah Brighton and some of the world’s most beloved romantic artists. While her friends insist that a fairytale adventure is exactly what she needs, Tessa knows that at the heart of every story is a mystery, and usually a villain. But that won’t stop her from telling the tale. 

Daniel Brandewyn has devoted his life to just two things; his music and his responsibilities. As a composer he found fame and won accolades he never sought; but music, saved his life. As Earl of Ravenscar, a bucolic village on the Southern coast of England; responsibility, dominates it. The village economy, long reliant on tourism, has been steadily declining since a local tragedy over 25 years ago. Daniel is determined to save the village he loves and his ancestral home along with it. He hopes a year long campaign to promote the history of the arts in Ravenscar, the renovation of a landmark theater, and the revival of an iconic play that he has scored himself will bring life back to Ravenscar. Persuading Tessa Alexander to document his efforts feels like a stroke of inspiration. But Daniel’s learned he cannot always trust inspiration; they’ve met before, and it did not end well.

Ravenscar village is a vortex of imagination. It’s streets seem to murmur in the rain; a tale of artist’s gone before. All of them came to Ravenscar to seek their Muse. Whatever you need to feed your inspiration, your Muse will provide it. If memories torment you, your Muse will steal them. If words are lost to you, your Muse will find them. If skill has left you, your Muse will return it. If ambition taunts you, your Muse will set success at your feet. In Ravenscar Village anything is possible, everything exists. Whatever is required to fuel imagination, the Muses, will supply it. It’s up to humanity to survive it.

 

Til later lovely muses.  

Just for fun - text to speech

Messing around with text to speech apps. The writing is my own.  I think it did a pretty good job. I did have to hyphenate a few words that shouldn't be hyphenated just to get the pronunciation to turn out correctly. But still pretty neato. They have a variety of voices to choose from as well. This one is named Peter - which was my English grandfather's name. So ya know... obvious choice that.

talking widget by Acapela Group

Midnight Musings

This thing I'm writing - This "book".... The beginning is, naturally, important. I've struggled with where exactly and how exactly to begin. I had the gist of a beginning but I did not have anything precise. I've struggled with the tone. 

Two nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night and emailed this to myself from the iPad I keep on my nightstand. (I've gotten adept at typing on that blasted touch screen. Nimble fingers, I haz them.)

This is UNEDITED so please be aware of that.  

It needs polish that's for sure. But so far, I feel it's a good start at the mood I'm trying to establish and the voice which as a writer I've been waiting to kick in. Yeah, progress is a good thing.

WORDS: 

 There was a raven staring at him from the rafters of the theater, it wore a waistcoat. A green waistcoat with shiny brass buttons. He couldn't, at this distance, see for a fact that the buttons were shiny and brass, but he knew the light that had caught him in the eye had been reflected from that bird, and he knew the bird well enough to know that if the waistcoat was green, only brass buttons would do. The bird was vain.

Daniel Finley abhorred vanity. Three things were learned of him when he was introduced to someone new. Beauty, title and talent. Those were his commodities, the quantifiable limits of his value. None of these things had been accomplished by his actions or earned thru his merit, they were accidents of birth, and they utterly ruled his life. To take undue pride in any of them would be a conceit beyond tolerance, and so he took pride in nothing.

Unlike that raven. The vain raven in the green waistcoat with shiny brass buttons was now strutting across the the rafters behind the proscenium as if it were directing the production currently in rehearsal below. The raven stopped when it saw Daniel looking up again. It fluttered it's wings impatiently at him, and Daniel inclined his head slightly in a soft nod. "I see you found me first." he thought. "After this is over we will meet...wait outside" He projected his answer to the creature mentally, hoping that little trick still worked and the bird would understand. It did. The raven nodded its head with the spastic grace particular to his kind, turned, and flew thru the brick wall at the back of the stage. His  form disappeared with an implosion of color as it met the brick. Daniel had always imagined this disappearing display should be accompanied by a popping noise, or some other sound effect to give the gesture more drama. But in his experience it never made any sound at all.

Which was good because the the dramatic popping sound made by a disappearing raven in a waistcoat in a theater full of quietly waiting dancers was not something likely to have gone unobserved. There was a lot of quiet. Daniel turned his head and saw the entire company staring at him. He had ceased his playing of the piano when he'd spotted the bird, and from the quizzical expressions turned on him now he concluded he'd ceased playing rather abruptly. He hadn't noticed. The choreographer cleared her throat, her annoyance plain in the tone and Daniel saw his manager and best friend Charles walking towards him with a familiar look of exasperation.

 

Tea and Conversation

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I'm currently writing several books at once. (It's okay, don't be worried for me. They all know each other, and have a lot in common.) I've accepted the fact that whether painting or writing, my natural state is to work on many things at the same time. I'm happiest and most creative when overwhelmed with inspiration.

Fortunately all the stories I'm writing take place in the same "world". Working on one story feeds and informs another.  A thread begun in this story, gets picked up in that one, and braided with another thread over in that story right there. (No no, not there - a little to the left - there.)

I'm anxious to share some of this world with you. I've struggled with exactly how to do this. I'm not ready to share bits of chapters with you. We aren't there yet. But I do want to share something. I'm used to just posting an image of my latest painting and letting the art speak for itself. But with writing, well it's a bit different isn't it?

So I'll just write, if you don't mind, like we are sitting here over a cup of tea and you've asked me about what I'm writing and I've said "Oh it's complicated, god I don't even know where to begin...um let me see. This is great tea by the way." And you thank me for the compliment on the tea since you brought it over (thank you) and you wait patiently for me to gather my thoughts together, settle back into your seat cushion and I begin like this:

"The world I'm writing about is familiar to me. It's the world I've lived in my whole life, inside my head. Its the story place I've gone to while bored with school, or sitting in traffic, or lying awake with insomnia. It's the story world I've been sharing for years with my art, without being fully cognizant of it. This world is living myth. It's our world, but with an undercurrent. It's recognizing the magic amidst the mundane. It's that prickle you get up the back of your neck when you are taking a short walk in the city, just to do some errands, and you realize that the wind is a little eerie today, and the leaves are swirling around your feet as if trying to get your attention. Its that feeling that even though it seems like you are just walking on a Tuesday, to pick up your dry cleaning, at any moment a Raven might approach you with a message from another plane. You're needed! There is another world hidden behind this thin grey film of ordinary life and you are a creature of that realm! Wake Up!

The stewards of my stories are the Muses and their world. The protagonists of these stories are artists and creative people of all kinds.

See, I want to read about artists. I want to read about jewelers and painters, potters and doll makers, writers, chefs, vintners, dancers, herbalists, poets, musicians - all of them. These are the people that inspire me. And while I'm inspired by the famous creatives of our times, I find I'm even more inspired by the forgotten artists, the almosts, the what ifs. The model that inspired the painter who was herself a talented artist. The unsung genius who died too young. The housewife who wrote the most heartbreaking music that no one ever heard. The accomplished winemaker who gave up a promising career as a painter to take over his family's business and ensure it's future.

The stories I'm writing are about these artists and their relationships and influence on each other - family, friends and total strangers - over centuries. Each story is a vignette with a thread that gets drawn into the next.

Beyond this, these artists I'm writing about - they experience the Muse in the same way I do in real life. My Muses are daemons. Fairy, angel and ancient god all rolled into one. They are wholly mystical and very real to me."

"Okay" you say. "I'm not sure I follow you...."

"Look, Harry Potter for grown ups. Except my stories have artists and creative people, instead of wizards. Muses are real and they interfere with you and talk to you and sometimes they are a help and sometimes they just mess stuff up. And there are these places, these magical towns where creative people have been drawn over the centuries and they just vibrate with that energy. And the Muses are stronger there. Oh and there are these relics, like objects that belonged to artists that are now dead, and they are infused with their essence and this can have an effect on people who use the objects."

"Oh like artifacts! Like Warehouse 13!" you say.

I glare at you. "Yeah I guess kind of like that but I thought of this before that show was even on. I mean it's not like a wholly original idea on either of our parts really." Grumble Grumble.

"That is a good show though right?" you say.

I agree and we fist bump. ("Artie!")

"Okay so you've told me about this world." You say. "What is the first story you are writing that is set in this world? What is it about?"

"Oh I'm so glad you asked." and then I smile and have another sip of tea. 

To be continued.....

Artistic Serendipity or Clearing the Path


Energy, science tells us, follows the path of least resistance. All things moving through a system choose the path of fewest obstacles.* Water flowing down a hillside. Sand through your fingers.  A landslide.


In my artistic life, I've found that I'm happiest when I not only remember this principle, but when I apply it resolutely.

The most magical projects, the endeavors that set my soul alight are the ones where every moment visiting with my Muse is one of revelation, utter joy, or transformation. Threads of inspiration connect and a tapestry of intention is woven with seemingly little effort. Suddenly the world is full of signs, all in support of my quest. Friends share links that are shockingly connected to my current work. Books are published that support a hypothesis, or are the perfect research tool for a character I'm creating. I discover new music that is the restorative for my creative psyche. These are moments when I feel like the universe is holding my hand, leading me down an ancient path, showing me the footprints of all the others that walked this way before me.

You don't have to be mystical to experience this. It's nothing supernatural. It's only magic. Whether the universe has truly risen in support of your work or whether you simply feel that way because you have risen in support of yourself - whether these are signs from your Muse or whether you are only recognizing them as such because you are in the throes of neurochemical love with your own art; it doesn't matter.

It's beautiful.

But when we are resisting, it's all a bit different.

My foray into writing has been a completely new path for me. This strange environment is humbling. I've sat in the dark with a tangle of words and a chord of a story thrumming in my chest, with no clue how to string it into song.


Creating this way is agony. Nothing goes right, the work is joyless and insecurity rampant. This is not to say that just because something is hard that it isn't worth doing. Not at all. But in my case, when something is too hard, when a project I've been in love with turns to maggots in my hands, I have to examine why. More often than not it's because I'm just not listening to the Muse.


The agony only stopped for me when I finally remembered to stop resisting. The truth is that I don't have to have a clue how to do this. That's the Muse's job. My job is to clear the path. I'm not the energy. I am not the inspiration. I'm the system. And it's my job to not throw up obstacles.


The energy, the spark of inspiration, all of it will flow through when it's ready, when the path is clear.

Clearing the path is the challenge.

For years I've been writing a big story, what I refer to as THE STORY, in my mind. It's huge, there are parenthetical tales inside of parenthetical tales. It's a ridiculous project for a first book.

Which is why it won't be my first. <<--- a fact that came as something of a surprise to me.

See the idea that THE STORY had to be written first, that was the first obstacle I threw up for my Muse. I'm a web weaver when it comes to inspiration, but I'm very linear and full of self imposed rules when it comes to production. "This was the story I'd been working on longest" I thought "It gets written first and that's all there is to it. All other inspiration gets it's mouth duct taped shut and stuffed in a box."

Yeah right. While I was littering our path with boxes stuffed with muffled inspiration, my Muse was behind me, releasing the contents and laughing at me.

I was blind sided with a new story months ago. It was partly inspired by my life long obsession with all things Jane Austen and the recent 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice. I didn't see what the heck this new story had to do with anything I was already writing. I didn't want to move outside of the world I was building. I told my Muse that parts of this story were sort of well, embarrassingly hokey. WTF a magic pen? I wasn't sure where she was going with all this.

She rolled her eyes at me and told me the rest of the story.

I was hooked.

I stopped resisting. I stopped throwing obstacles into the path.


The world opened up. The heavens parted, the angels wept. Serendipity.  

Suddenly its seems like almost everything new I encounter is shown to me by the Muse in support of my work. Whether it's magic, or just my subconscious rallying in support of myself, it doesn't matter. This is how I know that I'm clearing the path, that I'm on the right track.



*Well except for those Parkour folks

Borne Back Into The Past - Beat On

From the ages of seven to thirteen I went to a private Catholic school. I can't say I particularly cared for it. Catechism, conformity and navy plaid don't tend to agree with my disposition.

The grounds of the school are shared by an old church, built in 1817. It's a beautiful church, gilded and charming and musty with history. The church's graveyard is the final resting place of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his beloved muse Zelda. It's says something, I think, of the atmosphere of the school and the myopic education I received there, that this fact was never once a topic of trivia, let alone discussion.

I didn't find out about the cemetery's famous resident until I went to high school and read Fitzgerald's most famous work, The Great Gatsby, for the first time. This being a public school they weren't as concerned with nitpicky details like Fitzgerald's non-practicing Catholic status when he died, and thus must have determined it less risky to our immortal souls to know that he'd been buried in Catholic ground after all.

From the ages of 17 to 24 myself and a few friends became unofficial grave side fanbois of F & Z's graves. Hey, Baltimore has Poe, Rockville has the Fitzgeralds.

We thought ourselves rebel poets, full of courage won of wine coolers and Funyuns, we'd boldly trespass amongst the dead, bearing roses from 7-11 as homage to our heroes. One of my friends liked to play music for the couple as we sat at gravesend. He'd engage us in debate over which bands the Fitzgerald's might have liked best were they our peers in the 90s. He seemed convinced that Fitzy (as we called him), would have loved Grunge. This was an assertion that despite his claims to the contrary, confirmed my suspicion that he'd never read any of Fitzgerald's books. Personally I've always thought Bryan Ferry and Ziggy Stardust might have been more up F's alley. But what do I know?

The epitaph on F. Scott Fitzgerald's grave is the last line from Gatsby. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

It's part of a larger passage: 

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

It means that we are ever moving forward, yearning for and fighting towards our goals. Yet our pasts are in our way, simultaneously informing our dream, and obstructing it.

I can relate to this sentiment. I've been a little nostalgic of late. It's been nostalgia born of duress really. See, I've been saddled with a new endeavor this year. I'm writing a novel. I don't know if it will be published. I don't know if I'll even pursue that outcome. That's not the point. What I do know is that after two years of trying to smoke out the muse of writing where she hides in ratholes in my studio walls, I've failed to locate or kill her. She's won, and so I'm writing this blasted thing. Against all my protestations she's made it clear I have no choice.

She's a brutal mistress this wordy bitch. In the two years she's been pursuing my soul she's repeatedly accosted me with writing assignments just to drive her point home. Again and again I've protested, insisting I'm an artist not a writer. "I've never written!  I've never even had ambition to write!" has come out of my mouth more then once.

As it turns out I'm a dirty liar. Moving across the country tends to cause the carefully stacked debris of a creative life to come tumbling down from shelves. Actual documents obtained from the archives of Ghost-Of-Brigid-Past confirm that in fact, I have indeed always written. There's boxes full of evidence. A lot of what's in those boxes sucks eggs. But there's also a reminder from a teacher that I won a national writing award in High School. Apparently I also blogged for a couple of websites back in the day (97 & 2000 respectively, before it was called blogging), and even had some poetry published.

Huh, who knew?

The muse has won. I've got Scrivener installed on my Mac.....

So...from the ages of 38 to ?  I'll be writing a book. I'm terrified.  Scared and sniffly, I'm slowly getting type on the pages. I don't promise that it's good, I don't know if it's interesting, I guarantee it's a grammatical nightmare. But there it is, emerging from the blank white of the page, not unlike a painting.

Can I paint with words? We'll see....