Muse & Writer Dialogue #14, aka Fool Me Once

Muse: You’re not trying to pull that stunt again, are you?

Writer (looking affronted): Whatever do you mean?

Muse: I mean you have a piece of flash fiction due Wednesday. Your attention is elsewhere, and so you play off me to get your word count.

Writer: No, that would be clever. We both know I’m not clever.

Muse: No, but you are sneaky. It often passes for the same thing.

Writer: Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I was attempting to do so. You’re my Muse. Shouldn’t you help me?

Muse: That isn’t helping. It’s encouraging bad habits, and you already have enough.

Writer: Aren’t you even curious?

Muse (sighing): Fine. What’s the word?

Writer: Barefoot

Muse: And you need me for that?

Writer: I would appreciate your help, yes.

Muse: You’re a lower middle-class kid from Mississippi. You spent half of  your early summers barefoot. The bottom of your feet were so tough, you could run barefoot over a stubble patch and not even notice. And  you need my help for this?

Writer: Well, I admit the word works pretty well as an image, such as the one you supplied above. But you have to admit, as a theme it’s somewhat lacking.

Muse: You’re talking 500 words. You barely have time for a decent scene, never mind a theme.

Writer: But all stories have a theme, and I don’t do vignettes.

Muse: So fine, you were a kid from the Bible belt who avoids anything to do with Bibles. I’ve met vampires more in touch with their spiritual side. Tie that in with barefoot.

Writer: Nonsense. I’m very spiritual. I’m just not religious. And you’ve never met a vampire. They aren’t real.

Muse: Also nonsense.  You write fiction, remember? And by the way, neither are muses. Real, that is.

Writer: You show up here a lot for someone who isn’t real. And the idea of a muse has been around for centuries. That makes it real, in a sense.

Muse: By that logic vampires deserve the same courtesy. By the way, have you ever heard of the Leanan-sidhe?

Writer: Sounds vaguely familiar.

Muse: It should. You wrote a story about one, years ago. It’s a type of fairy muse who inspires writers and poets with inspiration so fierce they burn out and die young. Count yourself lucky you got me instead. Not real? At this point I’m as real as you are.

Writer: That’s not saying much.  I’m something of an artificial construction myself, or at least I feel like one.

Muse: Of course you are. You tell stories about yourself in order to understand yourself. And so does everyone else with more self-awareness than an amoeba. You’re all artificial constructions. The only difference is sometimes you get paid for it. And you think muses and vampires aren’t real? Talk about a mythological creature….

Writer: We’re digressing here; I’ll edit it out later. Let’s get back to barefoot.

Muse: You get back to barefoot. I’m done now.

Writer: Funny, so am I.

Muse: You made 500 words, didn’t you?

Writer: Nope. WE did.

Muse (string of expletives deleted): You….





Meet Fred

Welcome to October! Probably my favorite month of the year. Not too cold, not too hot, and it’s the start of leaf season. We get some lovely displays here in the river gorge. I haven’t been here quite three years yet, and I’ve fallen in love with leaf season. Then again, I love the idea of having four actual seasons. In Mississippi we only had two: summer and winterish. Not really winter, but not summer either. Had to call it something.

I belong to a local writer’s group (no segue for you), and we had an Assignment: write a 500 word flash fiction piece with the trigger word “ashes.” I thought about it and decided I didn’t want to write a piece of fiction keying off “ashes.” Instead I wrote a 500 word explanation for why I did not have a story about ashes. Here it is. Remember, this is not a story. This is an explanation:

Meet Fred

Okay, time to write the flash fiction. Muse, what you got?

“Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down.”


t was the first thing that came to mind, so naturally I couldn’t use it. That’s the rule: the first thing that floats up is your muse being lazy. You want to get better at this? Make the mind/subconscious/muse work a little harder. I normally picture my muse as a no-nonsense biker chick but some of my writer friends see it more as a crusty old curmudgeon named Fred in a plaid work shirt and chinos. Now sometimes so do I, and apparently Fred is on duty. The idea is that Fred will throw up just any old thing when you’re trying to write a story. Fred doesn’t like to be bothered. I’m not having it so I hand Fred’s first impulse right back to him.

 Not good enough.

The thing is you have to show Fred that you’re serious, only then maybe he’ll take his responsibilities seriously. Not always, but in general Fred wants to give you what you need. Sooner or later. Just not always sooner. So I go back to Fred.

Try again, Jackass.

Note: The “jackass” part is optional, as it can sometimes get Fred’s dander up. It’s a judgment call. Assuming Fred is still speaking to you, Fred will indeed try again.

“My Dominion is Ashes.”

Okay. Points, Fred, for seriousness. I mean, you can picture a story keying off this phrase, can’t you? It’s something dark and downbeat. Maybe an aging failed writer college professor whose most recent affair with an undergrad got him canned, and now he’s pouring out his angst in a poor me story where he’s the hero and only the names—and the epiphany he totally failed at grasping—changed. Again, not bad for one working in the wannabee Phillip Roth or John Updike mold. Not so much for someone else currently trying to write a flash piece. I just can’t get behind this one.

Try again.

“The World is Ashes.”

Okay, Fred, now you’re just messing with me. We’re maybe one degree of separation from “My Dominion is Ashes.” Only now I’m picturing a more science fictional scenario. Maybe old-school Samuel Delaney or Roger Zelazny philosophical, though just as likely something pulpy and post-apocalyptic a la William F. Nolan. In either case it’s not something I’m willing to tackle in five hundred words. That’s not even long enough to describe what went wrong.

Once more with feeling, Fred.

“Phoenix From the Ashes.”

That’s a classic, Fred. It’s also pretty darn cliché. You seriously want me to riff off a phoenix theme without sounding like every other variation of the same thing I’ve heard a thousand times? Seriously?

Fred, I’m not kidding around. I want something I can use and I want it now.

“Scattering the Ashes.”

Hmmm. Okay, that’s not so bad. Elements of loss and grief, but the implication of closing one phase of life and…damn. Out of words.



P.S. For those wondering, I still believe it was the chipmunks who ate my ripe tomatoes. However, it was the deer who came by later and ate everything else.

MUSE and WRITER Dialogues #11A



A room that passes for an office. There are bookshelves on one wall, a motley assortment of carvings, signed storyboards, and framed magazine covers on the free wall space. On the far wall is a medieval-style heraldic wall display of a cockatrice and a banner in bad Latin “Pullus non Est.” Horizontal files sit beneath the window , and on top of those there used to be a free-standing rack holding Japanese swords, only they had to be removed because of the cats. The computer desk is on the wall nearest the door, facing away from the window. Beside that is a printer on a stand. In the base of that is a PC and PS3, not currently in use. WRITER is practicing chord changes on an acoustic guitar.

MUSE enters. From somewhere. She’s in Greek Goddess mode.


MUSE: I hate to say this, but you really suck as a guitar player.

WRITER: Nonsense.

MUSE: No, I mean it—you really do suck.

WRITER: Sure. But that part about hating to say it? Rubbish.

MUSE: So you admit that you suck at guitar?

WRITER: As I recall, I’ve admitted it on several occasions. What’s your point?

MUSE: So Why do you keep doing it?

WRITER: I’ll probably stop sooner or later. I have a habit of finding an intense interest that fades after a while, then I’m on to the next one. You know that.

MUSE: It’s been two years.

WRITER: “A while” is not a rigid timeframe. Might be two and half years. Might be twenty, if I live that long. Who knows? I don’t.

MUSE: So why are you wasting your time?

WRITER: I’m doing something I still enjoy. How is that a waste of time?

MUSE: It’s not even as if you’re making progress. You still can’t play a tune worth a darn.

WRITER: I beg to differ.  When I started, I was butchering songs like “Tom Dooley.” Now I’m butchering “Bad Moon Rising” and “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” I call that progress.

MUSE: If you were working on your book as you should be I’d call that progress. This? Not so much.

WRITER: The book’s going fine. I’m happy with it. But it’s day’s end and I don’t have anything left for it. So now it’s guitar, with what little strength remains to me.

MUSE: You have no musical talent and a poor sense of rhythm. About the only good thing I can say is–at least you’re not tone-deaf.

WRITER: What part of “I know that” don’t you understand?

MUSE: Apparently, all of it.

WRITER: It took me nearly twenty years to become a half-way decent writer. Are you going to tell me I have no talent now?

MUSE (reluctantly): No.

WRITER: You did then.

MUSE: Oh. Right.

WRITER: Always listen to your Muse. Just understand that she doesn’t always know what she’s talking about.

MUSE: I’m right about you and guitar.

WRITER: Absolutely. But I know that, someday, there’s a chance that you won’t be.

MUSE (shrugs): It happens.

WRITER: More than enough reason not to give up a dream. At least, not today.

MUSE: Have it your way. But stop pretending that an Fmajor7 is the same as an Fmajor. At least get the chord you’re mangling right.

WRITER: Working on it. It’s what I do.



Muse and Writer Dialogues #11- Imping Perversely

FADE IN: Writer’s home office. You know the drill. WRITER is at the desk.

MUSE enters from somewhere. Since she has no corporeal form, egress and exeunt are rather flexible concepts to her. She appears to be wearing a sari.

MUSE: How was the kirtan last night?

WRITER: Great. The first chant was to Sarasvati, the goddess of the arts and music, and I need all the help I can get in both areas. It gave me an excuse to sing in a group where no one could hear me. Plus the instrumentation was much better than the first one.

MUSE: You’re just saying that because guitars were involved.

WRITER: How did you–?

MUSE: Don’t finish that, unless you’re a bigger idiot than I think you are. You were there, so I was there. It’s not complicated.

WRITER: Okay, fine. That was a bonus. All three of the performers were good, and two were playing classical style. I don’t get to see that very often. Amazed that I could tell that one of the chants was just a G, Cadd9, and A. I could probably play that.

MUSE: Should I even point out that you’re neither Hindu nor Jain?

WRITER: True, but what has that got to do with anything?

MUSE: Absolutely nothing. Not unlike what you’re writing now. Because, like your current project, the kirtan had little to do with getting the next novel written.

WRITER: Very funny. I just finished a novel, remember? I’m taking a break from them for a little while.

MUSE: Bull. You’re working on short stories instead because you’re being perverse.


MUSE: Perverse in its correct, original meaning. Remember Edgar Allan Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse”?

WRITER: Yes, it was an imaginary creature that kept him procrastinating on writing projects until it was too late. Unlike imaginary creatures who bug me about writing. Well, I’m writing. Doesn’t apply.

MUSE: Wrong, as usual. You know you should be doing one thing, so you insist on doing something else entirely. It’s exactly the same. That the thing you shouldn’t be doing is also writing doesn’t change that fact.

 WRITER: Neither the next novel nor the short story is under contract, so how do you figure I “should” be doing one of them as opposed to the other?

MUSE: You said you’d work on the novel next. You’re not. That’s perverse.

WRITER: Merely contrary. And I will get the novel done, but right now is not its turn.

MUSE: That’s not the point. You’re not doing what you’d said you’d do. You broke a promise. To yourself, if no one else.

WRITER: True, but only to avoid breaking a greater one. The first one.


WRITER: I promised myself that, since I was never going to make a living doing this, I was free to write exactly what I wanted to write, when I wanted to write it. If I do anything else, I break that promise, and that one I’m keeping.

MUSE: Oh. That one.

WRITER: The ur-promise. I keep that one, or there really is no point to all this. Or you, for that matter.

MUSE: Hmmm, good point. Okay, but there are people who want to read that novel, you know, and have told you so.

WRITER: There are people who want to read this short story. They just don’t know it yet.

MUSE (sighs): You really are perverse.

WRITER: And damn proud.



Muse and Writer Dialogues #7

Epi Les Paul Special IIFade In: It’s the library. Same old furnishings, same old computer desk and chair. Only the chair has been modified to remove the arm rests. WRITER is sitting in chair, and he is not writing. Enter the MUSE, doing a passable imitation of Pallas Athena. She even has the spear, shield, and helmet. The spear is pointed with alarming accuracy at the middle of Writer’s back.

MUSE: Mind telling me what you’re doing?

(A twang reverberates through the library. If one was feeling generous, one might call it a C major chord. But only if.)

WRITER: Practicing.

MUSE: What do you mean, practicing? That’s a guitar!

WRITER: Well spotted.

MUSE: We’ll talk about your use of idiom later, but it’s obvious you’ve been watching too much Harry Potter lately.

WRITER: You’re one to talk. Who got me started using the term “barking mad” for people who are, well, barking mad?

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