Friday, November 29, 2013

A-Muse Me: Musings on a Writer's Life

Today I have the honor and privilege of talking with Cassandra, my writing muse. She comes by way of the ether, and took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions about creativity, inspiration, and the lack of limbs on her mannequin body.

Cassandra, thanks for joining us today. We’ve never done an official interview, so this should be fun!

Thanks for having me, Nathan. We get to share tidbits about our writing process with our readers, so I’m all for it.

Let’s cut to the chase first and discuss the elephant in the room: I’m human, you’re a mannequin. Yet we have this relationship of Writer & Muse. How did this get started, from your point of view?

I was moved – literally, emotionally – when you spotted me in that resale shop in Holland, Michigan. I wasn’t even for sale, yet you were drawn to me, like I’d been imbued with magic. You told the shopkeeper that you had to have me, you needed to buy me and take me home. You told her I carried some kind of unseen energy that you connected with. She understood and let me go, gracefully; I’m forever grateful to her…and to you. I’ll always have the distinction of being your first mannequin.

Yes, I consider myself the Unofficial Gatekeeper of the Island of Misfit Toys. Some of my readers know that I’m drawn to the mannequins and dolls with missing limbs, fractured faces, time-worn scars. They need love and acceptance, just like everybody else.

You’ve always rooted for the underdog. I admire that about you. Some might think your apartment’s a little creepy with all of us hanging out in there – even I have to admit I’m freaked out by that antique clown you have trapped in the bird cage – but mostly I find your style cute, endearing even. For every ghost figurine or framed horror movie poster, you have a unicorn statuette or deck of faerie tarot cards.

I do believe in unicorns, faeries, and ghosts, but back to you. How does this relationship of Writer & Muse work exactly?

Most of it’s a mystery, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s more exciting when we don’t have all the answers to our questions. Keeps us on our toes –

You don’t have any toes, remember? Or fingers. You don’t have arms or legs!

Anyway. You mentioned on your blog, around Halloween time, how you write toward images. You get this “photograph” in your mind & heart, and you try to figure out its meaning by creating stories that would lead a character, or a whole slew of characters, to this moment in time – this emotion in time – that’s somehow captured inside you. I’ll take this idea a step further by talking more in-depth about our characters. If that’s okay.

Go for it.

The way I see it, these characters might already exist in another dimension as flesh-and-blood beings. What exist here on this Earth as fictional characters created by you, the writer, might also exist as walking, talking, breathing entities on another plane. Who knows – maybe you’re a fictional character in this other universe, and I’m flesh-and-blood like the men and women, boys and girls, we pull into our stories.

That sounds a little too New Age woo-woo, even for me.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying I absolutely believe, 100%, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is “real” or “true.” I just think it’s an interesting possibility, and a strong one at that. You and I both wonder why certain characters come so easily to us, guiding us. They surprise us too, with their actions and words.

If this is even remotely feasible – and let’s just say I’m the Scully to your Mulder here – then I do have to wonder if maybe they chose me to tell their stories for a reason? Because we’ve had similar life experiences – albeit in different dimensions – and thus I have empathy for them?

That makes sense. Maybe they’re most easily channeled by someone who views Life through a similar prism, or has the same kinds of questions about why we’re all here.

But it’s not like I’m some medium at a séance, taken over. I work hard at my writing! I have to show up every day, and practice, and get better.

Of course! That goes without saying! You need to flex those brain muscles, establish a routine, remain diligent and strong and thick-skinned. The better you get at writing over time, the more you’re being respectful to your characters, and to me.

“Don’t Piss Off Your Muse” – that should be a bumper sticker or something.

Writers write. You can’t just talk about writing, and call yourself a writer, but never actually work at it. Maybe I’m being judgmental here.

No. Again, it’s about respecting you, the muse – the creative force, the process – whatever you want to call it.

What are you most drawn to in your writing? What kinds of stories do you feel compelled to explore, what kinds are characters beckon you?

I thought I was the one asking questions here? (Laugh)

True. But you’d ask me the same thing.

Also true. So here it goes. In my writing and reading, I lean toward what I’ve coined “black picket fence fiction.” What goes on in people's homes when no one from the neighborhood is looking? What do people really talk about, how do they act, and what do they reveal to others and – even more importantly – to themselves? I've long been fascinated with suburbia and the emotional decay that goes on behind pristine walls, doors, fences. The underbelly of things. I’m also a fan of magical realism, and how magic plays into our everyday lives. In other words, is what we sometimes experience mystical, imagined, or a sign of mental illness? And who draws those lines to say which is which? Finally, I’m obsessed with fairy tales. We all live inside fairy tales and myths (thank you, Joseph Campbell, Anne Sexton, Angela Carter), and we’re always working out our elusive happily ever after’s.

Do you know the endings of your stories from the get-go? Do you outline?

The tables have indeed turned! But I’m happy to answer this before we wrap things up. The short answer(s): no and no. Though it’s more of a gray zone than that. Often I’ll have a general idea of where I’ll end up – even which characters are involved, what’s happened to them to lead them to this point – but I allow for flexibility, twists, and turns. As I dive further into a story, and I get to know my characters better, plot points – even motivations – shift and morph. I’m changing too. In other words, I’m growing, going through my own life lessons. As my personality continually shapes itself, so does the story I’m working on. My life and current story are interconnected, causal. That’s why I find it almost impossible to outline. I do take notes, however, mostly about timelines, etc. so I can keep facts and plot points consistent throughout.

Any other questions for yours truly? (Laugh) The ether beckons.

Just one. What do you think of the 1987 flick Mannequin, starring a pre-Sex and the City Kim Cattrall?

It’s my favorite. Child’s Play is a close second. I love how Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” plays at the end of Mannequin – it always gives me goose bumps. Now it’s my turn for a final question. What inspired you to request this interview? I never knew you had such a journalistic streak.

I think it all started with Gale Weathers, from the Scream movies. She’s so sexy, inappropriate, and bad-ass. I just can’t get enough of her. I’ll always identify with Sydney Prescott most, but I’ll always want to be Gale.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from My Lil' Angel!

Here's Hubby Gus, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving. Is that a halo on his head, a lid to a pot, a UFO? You be the judge.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The 1,2,3's of My A,B,C's

I love Ritual, capital "R". Repetition, in the case of my morning writing routine, breeds creativity, joy, and comfort.

After I've woken up at 5:00am, worked out, and showered, I prep for writing in the following manner:

1. Put on the coffee. This is a must. Possibly first inspired by my love of Special Agent Dale Cooper and everything Twin Peaks. And to think I used to be wary of writing when hyped up on caffeine! Now I can't (okay, won't) function without a half pot of "damn fine coffee" while diving into my fiction and spending time with my characters.

2. Scramble eggs, drink coffee, and read a chapter of whatever novel and author I'm current savoring. I'm now reading In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, a Portland author who's hit the nail on the head -- and the gauze mask on the face -- with this seductive, haunting tale about Spiritualism and "spirit photography" during 1918's Spanish Influenza epidemic.

2.5 Sometimes I like to read a comic over my coffee and eggs. I'm slowly making my way through Comic Book Tattoo, an anthology of stories inspired by Tori Amos songs edited by the "Flying Dutchman" himself, Rantz Hoseley. (After this, it's off to the races with Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine).

3. Music is essential, just like coffee. I must have music blasting into my headphones, getting me into a groove and helping me to paint the pictures I see with my mind's eye. It's like the beats and voices, the rhythms, travel from the headphones into my veins, heart, spirit, and fingertips. After an unhealthy obsession with MS MR's Secondhand Rapture this summer, I'm now entranced by Chvrches' debut, The Bones of What You Believe. I can't get enough of this New Wave-inspired band from Glasgow -- think Kid Sister & Co. to Florence + the Machine. You can check out their videos here:

There you have it -- the 1,2,3's of my A,B,C's. If I decide to dig in even further, I'm sure I could share quirkier habits and rituals around my writing, though the blog post title "The 4,5,6's of My D,E,F's" doesn't quite have the same lyrical ring to it....

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ronnie M.

Well, well, how excited am I? I am now able to proudly strut around wearing my Veronica Mars T-shirt. The designs for the two shirts were crafted by Ronnie M. herself, Kristen Bell, and are exclusive to Kickstarter backers for the feature film coming out in Spring 2014.

In addition, I received these delightful stickers in the mail. I have planted the "Mars Investigations" one smack-dab onto Fern, my laptop. (Yes, like a car, I've named my computer. And my car is named Chloe, FYI.)

Oh, and for those of you whom want to take a peek at this featurette, have at it (*it's 4 minutes):

"Logan or Piz?" Logan, obviously!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mood of the Day

Friday, November 01, 2013

He Took His Skin Off For Me

I'm very intrigued. Check out Ben Aston's project & its teaser trailer. Make sure to watch/listen to the author, Maria Hummer, share her short story (*it's about 4 minutes*).

The Quiet Ones

Who's excited? Me.