Why I Fired My Muse

Never trust a muse; they are more like drug pushers than art mentors. They will lay on irresistible charm to woo and addict you; then they will stand you up at coffee shops. They will disappear when you need them most and they will return when you least expect it. They will kick off their flip flops as if they never left, drink up all the milk in the refrigerator, and play loud music at 3:00 a.m. I prefer mind maps to muses. Mind maps keep their appointments. They wear shoes. They let me sleep. That is why I fired all my muses and hired mind maps.

But I must confess: Sometimes I miss the muses; they flatter you as no one else can. There is something compelling about the feeling they give you, that you are experiencing a mysterious part of yourself normally beyond your grasp, that some electrifying creative connection is happening spontaneously. Somehow not having to work for a story or poem makes it seem magical — special. It is a gift; therefore, you must be “gifted.”

But a gifted self that depends upon the whims of a “muse” is unstable. Depending upon its uncontrollable magic means that sometimes the writer is gifted and sometimes not, yet artists yearn to define themselves by their most inspired moments, not the times that their muse stood them up to go asteroid surfing.

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Carriage into the Future (Flash Fiction)

I only wanted to stay home with my cat; time moved too fast as it was. But I was only eight, so of course no one listened to my protests. They forced me into the carriage, told me to tie my bonnet tight. Time travel gets windy, they said, so hold on to the rail so tight your knuckles turn white or you might fall out, and who knows where you might end up, maybe Armageddon or a new Ice Age. The horses, already glowing bright green from the tonic, made me feel like I was in a scary dream. They were chomping at the bit and snorting; they seemed angry not to be in the future yet. They would need to be angry, my dad said, to take us where we wanted to go. “And where is that?” I asked. 

He said, “No one knows the future, my dear, whether it comes fast or slow. We are just going to go fast, really fast, faster than you can say your name. We want to see dramatic, all-at-once changes, not the tiny changes of a single lifetime where no one really sees them happening. We want our days to whoosh, not creep, to roar, not whisper. No one truly lives who lives a life that crawls, and no one ever sees its meaning until it is too late. I have vowed to never let the dull march of moments lull me into pre-death slumber, which is what happens to the time-crawling sort; it has happened to everyone I know. 

“I have always lived life on the edge,  always flying into the headwinds of change; time is no different. The future is coming no matter what I do, so instead of waiting for it, I am going to give it a nice surprise; I am going to fly into it, make its passage gale force, let its winds thrash the hair off my scalp.” Continue reading

My Newest Release, “The Mad Scientist Aptitude Test,” is Now Free

There has been heated debate about the need for more women to enter scientific careers, but no one ever talks about the woeful gender inequality raging in the promising field of mad science. Step aside, Dr. Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde. Meet Betty Sue Collins, a waitress in a wig who, frustrated with her ordinary life, sets aside med school plans in favor of pursuing a career in science — mad science. Which means being more like her brainy misfit heroes with the enticing possibility of ruling the world. But there is a price. if she wants to join the ranks of the masters, she will have to take a test — a test shrouded in mystery, one that is far more challenging than any she has taken before. She only knows that being a mad scientist will require equal parts genius and insanity, and she seeks to prove to herself and to others that she has enough of both.

This is the gist of my newest e-book “The Mad Science Aptitude Test.” It was a case of writing what I wanted to read, which is the funnest kind of story to write. Before writing it, I honestly wondered if a female mad scientist had ever been represented in literature; if there was one, I could not think of any so I decided to make history and reverse this egregious omission.

While the story is “feminist” in only the most lighthearted sense, I am usually disappointed with villainesses and female anti-heroes in the science fiction world. Too many seem to be quixotic, paper-thin stereotypes, capricious and moody for no reason. I wrote a character with issues I could identify with, despite her outward eccentricities stemming from early childhood trauma.

That being said, my mad scientist story is also a departure from the first story of my “Torn Curtain ” series. Unlike Binary Boy, “The Mad Scientist Aptitude Test” is light-hearted, comic-book-like, and short enough to read in less than an hour. I started off selling the story at 99 cents but because it is so short comparatively, I decided to make it free like my collection Becoming the Story. I do not earn much from a 99 cent book, and making it free gets it to readers who might not take a chance on it otherwise.

However, new stories are on their way. I have just finished writing Dragon-proof, the next story in the Torn Curtain series, which will be closer to the length of Binary Boy. I have also been thinking of writing a sequel to Binary Boy since many reviewers said they would like to read what happens next; I would actually like to know what happens next, too.

In addition to writing my Torn Curtain series, I am continuing to work on my sequel to Paw, which should be done soon.

A final word: Please support gender equality in the mad sciences by downloading “The Mad Science Aptitude Test” today. It is free, and it might even inspire a career change for those of you who are willing to make a daring leap. In fact, I encourage it.  I heard that world-ruling is a rewarding occupation and, with the right minions, you could probably do a much better job  than those who are ruling the world nowadays. Then again, probably so could my cat. She already rules my apartment, which gives her formidable governing experience rivaling that of the canniest dictator. Luckily for you, at the moment she is busy batting a plastic milk ring under the stove, so now is the perfect time, while her attention is diverted, to download my book, get inspired, and embark on a shady, exciting, brilliant new life of productive madness. But first, there is a test you need to take…

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Why Telling Myself “I Should Write” Ruins the Experience

When I was in college, one of my favorite authors, Natalie Goldberg of Writing Down the Bones, said something that confused me. She cautioned against what she called “goody-two-shoes” writing. By that she meant slavish discipline— writing at the same time every day for a set number of hours because that is what writers are “supposed to” do. She said she had friends who wrote dutifully but she claimed that their writing never improved because they were not truly present in their writing. No genuine creative desire fueled their efforts. For them, writing was just a duty, a frigid, pious chore.

She recommended that if you ever find yourself falling into such a rut, to take a break for a couple of weeks until your mind becomes full again and you find something you really want — or need — to say; then return to writing refreshed.

I liked her insight, yet I was confused. Many prominent authors had cautioned that waiting to be “in the mood” to write was no way to make a living writing; muses were a myth. What made a writing habit, which was almost universally thought to be beneficial for writers, morph into a tedious goody-two-shoes rut? And if I took a break from writing for my mind to become “full of ideas,” what was the difference between that and just putting off writing, which I was in the habit of doing anyway?

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The Doorways Monsters Leave Behind (Short Story)

The great thing about monsters is that, once they cross, they always leave a door. An open passage to another dimension.

After all, even fiends have to come from somewhere. They have a past. And they are notoriously indiscreet about leaving clues to their origins. Let them rage and howl, screech claws across windowpanes. For all their theatrics, they are as careless as drowsy toddlers. Once they come through a door they always forget to close it.  And the opening will always appear if you look hard enough for it.

Crack it wide enough and you will surely find, as I did, a portal to another world. A place where phantasm and reality  converge. A dazzling, alarming, illuminating place.

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New Book Release: Binary Boy

Binary Boy is finally out! In it I venture into classic science fiction territory so steeped in tradition, I found writing about it somewhat daunting at first: robots in space. But I am glad I took the risk. In my version, a deadly virus wipes out the human passengers on a colonial ship bound for a distant planet. Except there is one survivor:  a four year old boy who ends up being raised by robots. When the story opens, he is 12. Here is the Amazon description: Continue reading

Making the Most of a Bad Review

Like death, I knew it was coming, just not how or when. I had always wondered how, exactly, I would react. Would I escape into the seedy underworld of marathon video gaming? Go to bed for a week and stop taking baths? Regress into childhood? I am talking, of course, about a bad customer review on Amazon.

The two star review occurred during a five-day, free book promotion of my novel The Ghosts of Chimera. When I learned my novel had been slimed, the promotion had only been going on for about 24 hours, which meant that the reviewer would have had to consume my almost 700 page novel in a day — less than a day if she ate meals or slept, and even less assuming she did not download my book the minute it became free. Regardless, the review was like a worm burrowing through my mind, a cold, coiling, slimy thing.

But I did not, say, devour five cartons of Chunky Monkey ice cream or pull out all my hair. I kept feeling like the review had little to do with my book and in particular my experience of writing it. I reminded myself that there were those who had told me they had loved the story, and I did have one glowing review on Amazon to check the blistering one.

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The Ghosts of Chimera Is Now Free

I have some exciting news: My novel The Ghosts of Chimera is now free for electronic download and will continue to be free through April 3. Moreover it has been updated since its original release.  

The new version has undergone a significant editorial makeover. Although I am used to being able to self-edit and proofread most of my books without a problem, I originally underestimated my typo blindness when it came to proofreading a book that exceeded 600 pages. A reader was kind enough to point out that, while she loved the story, she had found many typos, so I did what I should have done to begin with and paid a line editor to catch what my eyes were missing. Afterward, I combed through the novel several more times myself; I am now absolutely confident in saying that the update is far more polished than the original. 

In addition to changes in text, the novel also has a revamped cover that illustrates more about the story and characters than the original did. I particularly love the way the artist rendered my monster character, who is pivotal to the story.  

If any of you purchased the original copy of my novel, Amazon provides a way to update it. In fact, depending on your Kindle settings, it might update automatically.  

For those of you who have not yet downloaded my novel, now is the time. If you read it, let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you! 

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What Does It Mean to Master Writing?

There is no clear benchmark for achieving “mastery” in writing. No matter how much I write or study the craft, I will never reach a place where there is nothing else for me to learn.

But is that even what it means to master writing? And would I want that? Having nothing else to learn about writing would be horribly depressing.

A big part of what I love about writing is experimenting, studying my mistakes, and course-correcting. Writing is not paint-by-numbers; it is a dynamic process with uncertainty as a creative catalyst. I build my stories up in layers, never sure until the very end what exactly the final product is going to look like.

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Escape to Reality

I was not exactly trapped. I could leave whenever I wanted, of course. Yet, at one point, missing even a day of checking in with my social media websites triggered extreme anxiety.

Because social media felt compulsive, I would sometimes dream of escape. My thoughts would often drift to the legendary science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. Even though he wrote science fiction, in many ways he repudiated technology preferring a simple life; he thought having too many machines crushed passion and destroyed the simple pleasures that made life truly worthwhile: taking a walk, reading a book, or enjoying a peaceful moment of silence.

He drew near-universal scorn when he said, “The Internet is a big distraction. It’s meaningless. It’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.” He also resisted the digitization of books. He refused to have his books printed electronically because he thought a book should be a real object with rustling pages, a physical thing you could grasp, touch, and smell.

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