Thursday, October 25, 2012

Got any good muse?

By Gayle Carline

I recently spent a couple of Saturdays meeting the public and hand-selling my books. I do a few of these gigs every year, where I have a table of books and promotional materials, and spend several hours signing books and talking to everyone. My table typically looks like this:

The tiara is optional.

These guys are always present.
Booker (l), Hatch (r)

I bought them originally because they are part of my first mystery, Freezer Burn. One day, someone asked me who they were and I said, “They’re my muses. The one with the book is Booker. He reminds me to always write well. The other one is Hatch. He says if I don’t sit my tush down in the chair and write, he’s going to use his axe to start chopping fingers.”

Here’s the thing: it’s a total lie. Gnomes are not my muses.

This is my muse:

Me and Frostie (aka, One Zip in Time)

When I was little, my favorite activity was to take a big sheet of paper and my pencils and crayons, and draw a picture that told a story. The drawing would start small, as a house with a tree and a girl. Then as I told the story, more things got added, from cities to dragons to horses to fighter jets — sue me, I had an imagination. What my visual-arts-centric family saw was an artist.

What I see now is that I wanted to be a storyteller.

I also loved horses, but like storytelling, it wasn’t encouraged. Instead, I was sent down the road of painting and "safer pets," like canaries.

Fast forward a few (okay, a lot of) years. The storytelling bug was nipping at my heels, so I told my hubby I might want to write. He bought me a laptop. I started many, many, MANY stories.

I finished the Christmas letter.

Fast forward a few more (this time I’m serious) years. Hubby knew I’ve always wanted to learn to ride a horse, so he bought me horseback riding lessons. I took lessons for about six months, started showing my trainer’s champion trail horse, then a year later purchased the sweetie in the picture above.

When I bought her, a lock was broken in my spirit and I started writing. I began with articles that ended up getting me a paying gig with Riding Magazine. With that boost in confidence, I asked for a column in my local newspaper. After I got that, I started writing fiction.

Getting to know my little red mare has taught me about myself. She can be spooky (we tease that she sees dead people), and knowing I can calm a 1,000-lb animal has given me confidence. When I first started riding her, I admit I was frightened, but it taught me that I was too stubborn to quit. Standing in the arena with her, letting her rest her head against my arm, I learned how to let my mind alone and be in the moment.

It is a simple thing to say, but perhaps a difficult thing to understand. A horse enabled me to write.

Who is your muse, and what do they give you?


  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I love getting to know you better.

    I'm sorry to report that I don't have muse. I wrote my first story after announcing that I could write a better novel than the crap I was currently reading. My anal/compulsive brain said, "Really? Let's see you do it."

    So I did and I loved it, and now I can't stop. But storytelling turned out to be one of my better addictions.

  2. I love that you not only decided you could do better, you actually did it. There are countless other people out there who say things like "I could've written that script/book/etc" but lack the determination and true talent to sit their butt in the chair and DO IT. (I have to add, now that your books are out, they're probably just reading the wrong author!)

  3. I've always been drawn to horses, but they also frighten me. Just had to say that.

    Like you Gayle, it took me years and years to figure out what I wanted to do, and more years to get good enough at it to actually do it. My desk is filled with little things that represent muse-iness to me, but I really think for me it's my mom.

    Mom was a huge reader, and she loved mysteries. She, I think, was happy that I finally figured out what made me happy. My mom died before RED TIDE came out but I know she would have been (is) proud of me. I hear her voice telling me to get with the program and that she believes in me.

  4. How wonderful, Peg, to have a mom who encouraged you to follow your passion. You and she must have shared a special relationship.

  5. I also have no muse. I wasn't reading crap when I decided to start my first novel. I was reading a terrific novel by Sidney Sheldon and it inspired me to do what I'd wanted to do for years. I thought, "I can do it." I'm a stubborn sort and refuse to believe I can't do something. If I truly can't do it, I want to see it proved before I'll believe it.

    (I'm gonna nick one of those gnomes next time I share a booth with you. They are awfully cute).

  6. Jenny, you're such a hoot, I missed you in Duarte this year. Having the same stubborn streak, I definitely recognize yours (in a good way)!

    Maybe I should rent out my gnomes. More than one person has threatened to nick them.

  7. Wonderful post, Gayle! Animals have always been a great inspiration for me, as well, and there's something so inherently peaceful about the bigger beasts. Like the rest of the folks here, I don't know that I really have a muse per se... I'm one of those sorts who will do just about anything to avoid the dreaded day job, and while my preference early on would have been to become a jewel thief or an international woman of mystery, writing allows me to (1) Steer clear of the nine to five, (2) Live vicariously through characters who are jewel thieves or international women of mystery, and (3) Avoid doing hard time in the process. I have to say, you having a lovely red horse as inspiration is much more poetic than me just being too lazy to put my time in at the local secretarial pool!

  8. My muse is called Fear. It's what drives me. It's what makes me sit down every single day and write--and not just write, but write better. Fear of losing what I've struggled so hard to get up until now, of finding out there isn't any more of it left. Fear of letting down my readers...or even worse, myself.

    You name it, I fear it.

    It's probably not the best kind of muse to have, but damn...she sure does keep me on my toes.

  9. Jen - you're funny! Yes, long live women of mystery, whereever they are!

    Drew - it's probably rare to have a muse as sweet as my little red mare. Typically, I think of them as firebreathing demons of the ninth circle of Hell, who drive you relentlessly, then abandon you in favor of a better idea, because they're also ADHD. But if you want to call it Fear, I can go with that.


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