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!

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