Friday, July 29, 2011

Muses and Misa

Good morning, fellow Stiffs and readers: we have a treat today! The lovely Misa Ramirez AKA Melissa Bourbon is visiting us to talk a little about her new mystery series for Berkley NAL, and about her muses.

Without further ado, here's Misa:

It wasn’t until recently when I was writing the first book in A Magical Dressmaking mystery series that I began to think of my muse, or muses as the case may be, as something really tangible that I could summon at will, or that would betray me by being absent when I needed her/them most. In fact, I can’t say that I thought about my muses --because as I’m writing this, I’ve had an epiphany and do believe that I have more than one-- much at all.

But they’ve shown their true colors. I’d begun to think of them as fickle girls, but I’ve changed my tune. I’ll never look at them in quite the same way or take for granted the beauty of having them on the job, fully engaged in my creative process, or the power of their insight.

I have new respect for my muses and what they offer through song, practice, and memory.

It often takes a big shake up and the absence of something to really appreciate what you have. That’s how it happened for me. You know what they say about absence making the heart grow fonder and all that? It worked. They left, I was melancholy, and they returned with a new light for me to follow.

How very poetic, I know.

I’m not a metaphysical girl. My feet are firmly planted on the ground. Let me be clear, I don’t, like, sit around thinking about cliches and how they apply to my life. But cliches are cliches because there is truth in them and sometimes that truth is more palatable when taken in a pithy dose. The absence of my muses is what helped me recognize them in the first place. It also helped me appreciate the creative energy they bring into the my writing equation.

They deserted me several times while I was writing Pleating for Mercy, but it was through that desertion that I came to appreciate what they are to me and what they do. I can pinpoint exactly when they left, almost down to the very minute. My creativity had dried up. I had writer’s block. I was panicking, thinking I’d never finish this book, and if I did, it would suck.

But I can also look back and see when them returning--after I’d taken much needed time away from my project, had recharged, and had allowed my mind to open up, let fresh idea in, and see things in a new way.

What I realized was that those clever girls didn’t abandon me. I’d temporarily shut them out. I was on overload and completely unable to feel their creative energy flow into me. And so they stepped aside and led me away from my writing and back into reality where I could and did regain perspective on my characters and plot by doing the opposite of what I always think I should do. I always think I should keep going, push through the writing pain, persevere and give myself permission to write crap and revise later (which I do whether I give myself permission or not). I never think that stopping and taking precious time away from my writing is the answer.

But it is! I’ve completely changed my thought process on this idea and it’s been so freeing. If only I’d listened to the girls in my head sooner I might have staved off some gray hairs and wrinkles and the divot in my forehead from banging it against the wall.

Better late than never, right?

So my muses, yet to be named (though Lola and Harlow come to mind), are alive and well, ever-present, and an important part of my creativity. Thank God I realized it!

How about you? Have you ever felt that your muse(s) has abandoned you? Did you have an epiphany like I did?

Here's a taste of Pleating for Mercy, the brand new book in A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series. The release date is August 2nd!


Chapter 1

Rumors about the Cassidy women and their magic swirled through Bliss, Texas like a gathering tornado. For 150 years, the family had managed to dodge most of the rumors, brushing off the idea that magic infused their handwork, and chalking up any unusual goings-on to coincidence.

But we all knew that the magic started the very day Butch Cassidy, my great-great-great grandfather, had turned his back to an ancient Argentinean fountain, dropped a gold coin into it, and made a wish. The Cassidy family legend says he asked for his firstborn child, and all who came after, to live a charmed life, the threads of good fortune, talent, and history flowing like magic from their fingertips.

That magic spilled from the Cassidy women’s hands into handmade tapestries and homespun wool, crewel embroidery and perfectly pieced and stitched quilts. And into my dressmaking. It connected us to our history, and to one another.

Butch hadn’t wanted his family to be outcasts as he and Cressida had been, and so his Argentinean wish also gifted his descendants with their own special charms. Whatever Meemaw, my great-grandmother, wanted, she got. My Grandmother, Nana, was a goat-whisperer. Mama’s green thumb could make anything grow.

None of understood how these charms were supposed to endear us to our neighbors. No matter how hard we tried to keep our magic on the down-low--so we wouldn’t wind up in our own contemporary Texas version of the Salem Witch Trials--people saw. And they talked.

The townsfolk came to Mama when their crops wouldn’t grow. They came to Nana when their goats wouldn’t mind. And they came to Meemaw when they wanted something so badly, they couldn’t see straight. I was seventeen when I finally realized that what Butch had really given the women in my family was a thread that connected them with others.

But Butch’s wish had apparently exhausted itself before I was born. I had no special charm, and I’d always felt as if a part of me was missing because of it.

Being back home in Bliss made the feeling stronger.

Meemaw had been gone five months now, but the old red farmhouse just off the square at 2112 Mockingbird Lane looked the same as it had when I was a girl. The steep pitch of the roof, the shuttered windows, the old pecan tree shading the left side of the house--it all sent me reeling back to my childhood and all the time I’d spent here with her.

I’d been back for five weeks and had worked nonstop, converting the downstairs of the house into my own designer dressmaking shop, calling it Buttons & Bows in honor of my great-great grandmother, Loretta Mae, but Bliss was not the same without her. Maybe that’s the part of me that was really missing.

What had been Loretta Mae’s dining room was now my cutting and work space. My five year old state of the art digital Pfaff sewing machine and Meemaw’s old Singer sat side by side on their respective sewing tables. An 8 foot long white-topped cutting table was in the center of the room, unused as of yet. Meemaw had one old dress form which I’d dragged down from the attic. I’d splurged and bought two more, anticipating a brisk dressmaking business which had yet to materialize.

I’d taken to talking to her during the dull spots in my days. “Meemaw,” I said now, sitting in my workroom, hemming a pair of pants, “it’s lonesome without you. I sure wish you were here.”

A breeze suddenly blew in through the screen, fluttering the butter yellow sheers that hung on either side of the window as if Meemaw could hear me from the spirit world. It was no secret that she’d wanted me back in Bliss. Was it so farfetched to think she’d be hanging around now that she’d finally gotten what she’d wanted?

# # #
Melissa Bourbon, who sometimes answers to her Latina-by-marriage name Misa Ramirez, is the marketing director with Entangled Publishing. She is the founder of Books on the House, the co-founder of The Naked Hero and The Writer’s Guide to ePublishing, and is the author of the Lola Cruz Mystery series with St. Martin’s Minotaur, A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series with NAL, two romantic suspense novels, and is the co-author of The Tricked-out Toolbox, all to be released in 2012.


Rebecca Bradley said...

What a great post. I'm really not sure about my muse/s. I think they are generally with me when I'm not at my keyboard, where my head runs free with idea's and everything takes form, but the minute I sit down, they start to seep away. I find I can generally sit down and write only in short bursts, maybe an hour or two at a time. After that I have to step away, but the novel keeps on flowing in my head.

It will get written, but maybe not at the pace of some other writers.

Joyce said...

My muse is a bitch.

Me: I'm going to write a bazillion pages a day. This book will be done in record time.

Muse: *Laughs hysterically* That's a good one!

Me: What's so funny?

Muse: It's summer, you dolt. Hot weather. Vacation. Gulping frozen margaritas.

Me: So?

Muse: I'm taking some time off, is what I'm saying. See you in the fall.

Me: Bitch. I'll do it without you.

Muse: Right. Good luck with that.

See what I mean? But I'm doing just fine without her. Let her take time off. See if I care.

Love your excerpt, Misa. I'll add this to by TBR list.

Joyce said...

That should be MY list, not BY. I need a proofreading muse.

Jenna said...

Definitely add Pleating for Mercy to your TBR, Joyce! I had the pleasure of reading it early, and it's great fun. And if you haven't read Misa's Lola Cruz books for St. Martins Press, you're really missing out!

I'm not sure I have muses, although I can definitely relate to work flowing freely vs. not flowing at all. If those are signs of muses being present or not, then I guess I have them. Or not, as the case may be.

Thanks for visiting, Misa! It's always a pleasure hanging out with you, even virtually!

Ramona said...

Anything set in Bliss, Texas has got to be a fun read!

I'm with Jenna--don't really have a muse. The closest was my dog. When I was writing, she'd follow me and sleep with her head on my foot. She was old and I hated to wake her, so I'd keep working until she finally woke up. I got a lot done thanks to her.

Patg said...

I love The Writer's Guide to ePublishing. Welcome, welcome.
I know my muse has taken a powder.

Misa said...

Thanks for having me here at Working Stiffs! Love Jennie and all things mystery. My muses are fighting me at the moment... gah! But school starts in 3 weeks and the kids will be back in their routine. Looking forward to all of us getting back to our routines.