O Muse, Where Art Thou?

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Some days my muse is very generous. On those days odd, interesting, or humorous tidbits jump out at me while I’m reading a magazine or paper or minding my own business in public. I couldn’t possibly make up some of the zany reasons people give for what they do or say!

Those are the days I overhear random, off-the-wall comments volunteered by people who haven’t learned how to use their “inside voices”–like the man I overheard bragging “All my girlfriends are married!” My curiosity zipped from 0 to 60 wondering if he were a serial dater or if he just liked keeping current options in the plural. He’ll never be cast as a hero in my romance novels, but as a foil or sidekick he holds definite comic possibilities. So, into the lime-green plastic bin of ideas beside my desk his quote goes, right on top of ripped-out magazine pages and cut-out newspaper articles.

On other days, my muse is a moving target, a fickle friend who can’t be tied down and who leaves me 50 shades of despondent. She might tease me with an idea but then won’t sit still long enough to help develop it. (I do know it isn’t really her job to develop the ideas, that it’s my job to get the rear in gear in the chair over there. But I’m writing about muses today, not procrastination.)

Wondering how other writers’ muses manifest themselves, I asked several authors from my local RWA chapter how they get ideas for stories, characters, or series proposals. Four ladies were kind enough to contribute answers for today’s blog. (I did first promise that I wouldn’t ditch my muse and poach theirs!)

Describing her genre as “dark contemporary,” Jeanell Bolton says she gets her ideas for stories from news scandals, adding “then I write about how the survivors deal with these experiences.” Jeanell likes to think of her writing as “steaming inspirational.”

Cheryl Rae, who writes paranormal or Sci-Fi says, “I get so much inspiration from dreams. Characters, story lines, plotting, everything! I have these epic dreams where I know what color dress the heroine is wearing, what numbers are on the pages she is carrying, and what time of day it is–when she is doing something. I just try to wake up and write it all down and hopefully it makes sense. Hah!”

The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek by Jane Myers Perrine was nominated for a 2012 RITA in the Strong Romantic Elements category. Summarizing her book as being about “an inexperienced minister called to a small town church because the church can’t afford anyone better,” Jane says her inspiration for the series came from asking “what if?” She explains that her husband “was a minister for fifty years, serving churches in several small towns. Because I’m also a minister and served churches as well, we shared a lot of stories. The inspiration was a what-if. What-if I’d been called to serve a church in a small town? What would that have been like?” Otherwise, Jane says her ideas come from “an overly active brain.” She sometimes will read a book or see a movie and think, “I wouldn’t have it end like that,” and from there she will build a completely different story.

Then there’s Traci Andrighetti, who writes humorous romantic mystery. Traci says, “I got the idea for the Franki Amato Mysteries by reading Gabriella Genisi’s Inspector Lolita Lobosco series, which is available only in Italian. But the idea for the character of Franki actually came from my parents’ Cairn terrier, Francesca. She was the most walk-obsessed dog I’ve ever met. She used to stare me down like a hypnotist, willing me to go and get her leash with her eyes. When we would go outside, she was a top-notch investigator. As I stood there waiting for her to sniff every blade of grass in the lawn, I used to wonder what she’d be like as a human. That’s how Private Investigator Francesca “Franki” Amato was born. Ultimately, though, I get my ideas from my travels, especially my trips to Italy, and from the things I like to eat and drink, like Nutella and Italian liqueurs.” Traci’s book Limoncello Yellow was released earlier this year, and Prosecco Pink is forthcoming.

Many thanks, lovely ladies, for sharing your muses with us! I’ve enjoyed learning something new about each of you, and I hope my readers have too. Just goes to show, writers who are serious about their craft dedicate quality time to reading, watching movies and TV, dreaming, reflecting on personal experience, asking questions, wondering, traveling, eating, drinking, and listening in on other people’s conversations.

Is writing a great job, or what?

Why I Write Romance

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Why do I write Romance (or anything at all)? I’ve always loved a good story, especially one with a heroine and hero who achieve a happy ending and a bad guy who gets what s/he deserves.

Before I could read for myself, my mother would read to my siblings and me at bedtime. With a father and grandfather holding PhDs in English, we listened to classics, often Mark Twain for humor. Couple that with a grandmother working as head librarian at a college, I had full access as I got older to the stacks in the summertime. Sitting on the floor surrounded by rows of books and reading Fairy tales and fantasy for hours at a time was heaven!

I discovered Nancy Drew books, Robert Heinlein’s juvenile fiction, and historical fiction through Anya Seton’s Katherine and Georgette Heyer’s regency world. At university I tackled James Michener. Though I’m a fast reader, it took me two weeks to get through Hawaii. I decided I needed to find shorter books I could read in one setting.

Enter Harlequin. Some of the earlier series books I read were great. Others were so bad I would throw them across the room and yell, “I can write better than this!” After I’d said that one too many times my husband finally responded, “So write one yourself.” The old put-up-or-shut-up ploy engaged my imagination—not that it needed a jump-start.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d written something. At ten years old I put myself to sleep at night by writing myself into my favorite TV shows. At thirteen I’d started my first novel (no matter I only completed the table of contents and page one of the first chapter). My freshman year in college I took a short story class during which we wrote two short stories of our own, and the teacher loved my voice.

So I entered grad school. Taking creative writing courses full time was like working in a chocolate factory, but I soon realized that I had a long journey ahead of me. In critique sessions other people seemed to love the stuff I put in as an afterthought, not the parts I’d consciously crafted. They didn’t like my hero, they loved the off-the-wall guy who happened to bump into my heroine at a busy lunch spot. I kept writing. And once again, life decided I needed more experience.

All-But-Thesis when my son was born, I had to go back to work when my husband lost his job. We moved to a different city. I got divorced. News flash: single moms don’t have much time or energy left at the end of the day! I still wrote short stories for a summer writing conference required by my school; by now I was teaching high school English.

It was during spring break I met my own hero on the dance floor (there’s a subject for at least a few blogs in the future!). He encouraged me to take a year off after we married, take a refresher writing course through the university, and start writing my book. I found RWA and joined a wonderful local chapter. I was lucky enough to find two great critique partners. Joining a writing challenge helped me finish the infamous “manuscript under my bed,” and I finally tackled—and finished!—the novel of my heart (a topic for another blog).

All this is to say, I write because I visualize romantic scenes. I hear voices of characters who spar with each other, who laugh and cry and fight and make up. For me, romance is finding the treasure of a fulfilling relationship, one that brings out the best in both people, helps each overcome past baggage, and multiplies joy rather than adding. In a romance story I can explore “what if,” I can change “why not?” and I can dream of happily-ever-after bliss. I also get to kill people without going to jail. But that, too, is another story.

So, dear reader, welcome to Author Next Door! Please read stuff. Enjoy yourself. Sign up for my newsletter (I promise not to bombard you with emails). Come back often, and let me hear from you!

Karen Taylor Saunders