By Tonia Brown
Like many independent authors, I hold a day job to make ends meet. Or rather, in my case, a night job. When I am not slaving over the next short story or novel, I work the graveyard shift four days a week as a receptionist in the emergency department of a small, rural hospital. My job consists of checking folks in, collecting insurance and other information, and maintaining law and order in the waiting area for ten hours at a time. (Sure, I get bled on, puked on, and occasionally shit on, but the majority of my work lays in desk bound data entry. Boring sounding, isn’t it?) I don’t talk a whole lot about my employment, mainly because of the privacy laws there isn’t a whole lot I can discuss. As a result, I normally never feature my position, my coworkers or my medical background in my writings.
Emphasis on the normally.
My short story in the recently published anthology For the Night is Dark has been the single exception in my career so far. I approached Crystal Lake Publishing with the idea that I would write a steampunk horror, one of my favorite genres in which to dabble. Yet, when I sat down to pen a tale of terror about those things that go bump in the night, something very different resulted.
I blame the folks I work with. They got to telling hospital related ghost stories one night, and that set the tone for my muse. That bitch caught a hold of the idea and insisted I write something about it.
“No,” I said. “I want to write a steampunk-”
“I don’t give a crap what you want,” my muse said. “You’ll write what I tell you to write.”
I got real whiney then. “But I don’t want to write a medical tale. I might get in trouble.”
She snatched me up by the collar and from somewhere about her ample bosom, produced a switchblade of impressive size as she sneered at me. “You listen here, you sniveling little shit. I don’t give a fat rat’s ass if you get fired for this one, I want a medical story and I want it now. And what I say, goes. You got it?”
She released me and I slumped onto my writing desk in a dejected heap. I glanced up to find her grinning down at me, rhythmically flicking that switchblade in the air like she was in the cast of Westside Story. It was then I feared for my life. That bitch would cut me if I didn’t do what she wanted. So, I wrote “Lost and Found,” a modern medical based horror, not a steampunk horror like I wanted.
Granted, that may not have been exactly how it all went down, but it sounds a lot more interesting than, “After my coworkers shared a couple of hospital ghost stories, I got a really cool idea for one, but then felt guilty because I kind of promised the folks at Crystal Lake I would do a steampunk story. Oh well…”
Easy enough to fix—just blame the muse.
We, as writers, go on about our muse all of the time, but what are we really talking about when we use the word muse? For most writers the muse is a buzz word they blame for everything from a lack of ideas to the much dreaded writer’s block, when in fact they’re just lazy. It’s simpler to blame a mythical idea for the reason you’re not writing, than it is to blame yourself. The muse is no more real than writer’s block. (I have done quite a number of blog posts on the utter lie of writer’s block, so feel free to rant at me if you disagree.) Yet we sling the word around whenever we feel dejected or lost or just plain tired. Sometimes we credit the muse when we are super productive, but not as often as when the words just won’t come. Think about it. How many times have you heard someone say, “I wrote 10k today! Thank you muse!” Not as often as you hear, “Three words today. And one of those was a lousy conjunction. Thanks a lot, muse. You bitch.”
Okay then, Tonia, what do we really mean when we say muse?
We mean we wished we had something outside of just our willpower that controlled how and when and what we write, because wouldn’t that just be the bees knees? Placate her with enough delicious caffeine and she will turn on the creative fountain, spouting you with a word money shot like no other.
Take for instance the above scenario. Certainly there was nothing holding me to the idea of a medical based tale, yet something in my creative process wouldn’t leave the idea alone. I had a deadline, so I couldn’t write both stories. In the end, I settled for the one calling to me and ditched the other. I blamed my muse, but I suppose it was more of a blind drive toward a particular idea. An inspiration I couldn’t ignore. An out of control feeling that left me … oh hell, it was my muse commanding me, damn it!
I guess the point I am trying to make is thus: just because we recognize something as imaginary, doesn’t mean it isn’t real, but at the same time we need to remember it is real because we say so. The trouble starts when folks get caught up in this idea of a muse to the point of distraction. The key to working with her is not to give her too much credit, because while she may control the creative fountain, you always and ultimately control her.
Now if you will excuse me, I think my muse is calling me. Oh, no, that was just indigestion. Sorry!
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Tonia Brown is a southern author with a penchant for Victorian dead things. She lives in the backwoods of North Carolina with her genius husband and an ever fluctuating number of cats. She likes fudgesicles and coffee, though not always together. When not writing she raises unicorns and fights crime with her husband under the code names Dr. Weird and his sexy sidekick Butternut. You can learn more about her at: www.thebackseatwriter.com
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The Dark is coming! Call your friends over. You don’t want to go through this alone.
You will be taken back into the past, down to the depths of the ocean and across the borderline between our world and the next. You will see snapshots from the lives of small children, old-time cockney gangsters and aimless stoners. You will journey into the darkest house on the darkest street, wander hospital basements and take a flight in the comfort of first class. You will meet Mr Stix.
This tome includes stories by some of the best horror writers around: G. N. Braun, Carole Johnstone, Armand Rosamilia, Daniel I. Russell, Scott Nicholson, Gary McMahon, Joe Mynhardt, Kevin Lucia, Tracie McBride, Stephen Bacon, Benedict J. Jones, Blaze McRob, John Claude Smith, Tonia Brown, Mark West, Robert W. Walker, Jeremy C. Shipp, Jasper Bark, William Meikle and Ray Cluley.
Are you scared of the dark? You will be.
Cover artist: Ben Baldwin (www.benbaldwin.co.uk)
Editor: Ross Warren
Only $15.99 for the 428 page print book, and $5.99 for the Kindle and Kobo versions.