Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Musings on Muses

According to Greek mythology, we artists are supposed to have muses—goddesses, spirits, or real people—who inspire the creation of our literary works. If we don’t have this source of knowledge, we may be doomed to forever having writers’ block—or worse…hack writing.

Don’t want that, now, do we?

Luckily I’ve had a lot of muses over the years, albeit not always the traditional ones from Greek mythology. No, my list of nine muses is a little more contemporary.

Muse #1: Little Lulu. If it weren’t for this little moppet in a red dress, I wouldn’t have learned how to tell a basic story at a very young age. Lulu taught me that every story has a beginning, middle, and end, plus some snowball fights and a love-hate relationship with a guy named Tubby.

Muse #2: Nancy Drew. Duh. By reading Nancy Drew mysteries, I learned about how to write good cliffhangers—and keep readers turning the page, even if you don’t really exist (like Carolyn Keene.)

Muse #3: Agatha Christie. The dame had a knack for churning out over 80 plots, and she made each one seem fresh and original—even if the all characters seemed to be somewhat similar. Her plots ran the gamut from “everyone did it” to “no one did it” to even “the narrator did it.” What an inspiration.

Muse #4: Compromising Positions. The book by Susan Isaacs was a breakthrough in the realm of mystery fiction, because it was the first time a nice suburban housewife with no detecting skills solved a murder and saved the day. And she did it all with humor.

Muse #5: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. P.D. James really got me thinking about how writing mysteries featuring female sleuths was no longer an unsuitable job for a woman like me—and I didn’t even have to be British. But I did want to change my name to Jemima for awhile there.

Muse #6: Julie Smith, Susan Dunlap, Lia Matera. This Cerberusian trio was among the first Bay Area women I discovered in the library who wrote about Bay Area female sleuths—and it was love at first read. One of my favorite Sue Dunlap scenes featured a Banana Slug Festival and the climax taking place in a torrential rain. Talk about setting!

Muse #7: A is for the Alphabet mysteries. Sue Grafton broke even more new ground with her compelling characterization of Kinsey Milhone. I loved the matter-of-fact voice, the clever titles, and the thrilling ride in and around Santa Teresa.

Muse #8: Janet Evanovich. She put in the laugh track with her fresh take on quirky characters—Lula, Grandma Mazur, Cousin Vinnie—and made me wish I lived in the exciting city of Trenton, New Jersey, was a bounty hunter, and had two hot guys fighting over me.

Muse: #9: Last but not least—in fact probably the one muse that’s had the most influence on me—is my mother. I used to come home from school every day and see her typing away at the Olympia typewriter, crafting stories, news articles, and other literary works. She’s my true muse, and I’m lucky to have her continued encouragement and inspiration to this day. Thanks Mom!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

You Are What You Wear

My three-year-old grandson Luke is Peter Pan. He’s got the costume to prove it—the costume he’s been wearing for the past four weeks. I rarely see him without his green feathered cap, his green Peter Pan collared shirt, and the green pants (let’s not call them tights.) All this accessorized with a Styrofoam knife and a cloth bow and arrow. His mother says that whenever he’s dressed in character, he calls insists on calling her Captain Hook and his sister Tinkerbelle. His father gets to be the crocodile.

When he watches the Disney film, “Peter Pan,” he points out Peter and says, “That’s me!” There’s no point in arguing with him. If he says he’s Peter, then he’s Peter. I’m actually starting to believe him. Any minute I expect him to sprinkle on some pixie dust and fly off to Never-Never Land (not the Michael Jackson one. The real one.)

Last year, when my other grandson Bradley was four, he became a Ghostbuster. Seriously. His mother said it was all about the cool accessories—the proton pack, the stream gun, the special sensor device. After the ten minutes it took to put everything on, he busted ghosts all over the place—ghosts I didn’t’ realize we had—all while singing the same five words from the “Ghostbuster” theme song (“Who you gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!”)

I like to remind my daughter Rebecca—Luke’s mother—that becoming the character within the costume is normal and that she went through the same “I am what I wear” phase when she was her son’s age. The movie “Annie” had just come out and we made the mistake of taking her to see it. From that day forward, she was Annie, and wore the red dress with the white cuffs and the red curly wig (which we found at a Halloween store where, luckily, red curly wigs are abundant this time of year). For a while there, I was afraid I was going to have to get her a big scruffy dog. (Luckily a stuffed one did the trick.)

She wore that outfit EVERYWHERE. To the mall. To the market. To the second, third, and fourth viewings of the movie. I think she may have worn it to a Giants game. She even wanted to change her name to “Annie.” And all day long she sang, “The Sun’ll Come Out…Tomorrow…,” until I almost wished Miss Hannigan from the orphanage would come and get her.

Kids in costumes got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we adults could wear costumes every day, all day long, instead of just one night a year? I’d love to dress up as the person I’d most like to be, say, Nancy Drew, J.K Rowling, or George Clooney’s girlfriend. And when I got tired of that costume, I could simply put on a black dress, a pointy hat, and spend a few days during the month channeling one of my many alter egos. When I grew tired of being a witch, I could dress as a beautiful princess, a brilliant novelist, a crazy rock star, a naughty nurse (wait, I still have that costume somewhere.)

Ah, but you could say I wear costumes all the time, in my attempt to look like a normal person. Now that’s scary.