My New Nine Muses

August 5, 2015

"The Sirens Visited by the Muses" by Adolphe La Lyre, 19th century.
 In 2013, I wrote a post about the nine things that inspired my writing. From caffeine to cowboy stripper music, I laid out the magical people and objects that turned me on and turned loose the muse.

Two years later, so much has changed. I'm writing full time. My debut book, the novella Cowboy Valentine, will be released by Samhain Publishing in (gasp) 21 days. It's an exciting time.

In the midst of all this excitement, I'm working on new projects and writing, writing, writing. Here are the new muses that are driving me forward.

1. Stand-up comedians
For standup comedy, I love watching HBO specials on Netflix and YouTube for classic skits. I'm a fan of rapid-fire, one-line comedians like Mitch Hedberg. But I also love storytellers. Some comedians I'm hooked on right now are John Mulaney, Donald Glover and Maria Bamford (that voice!). The vulnerability and interaction of live performance, plus having to memorize 45+ minutes of your own material? Boss. As a writer, I idolize standup comedians.

2. Todd Snider
A few months ago, I was reading Todd Snider's autobiography I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like when a load of rejections hit my inbox with such force that I thought it was the end of days. Snider's chapter on bad reviews helped me dig myself out of that deep emotional hole, and I blogged about it. Todd Snider is a folk singer/songwriter who, like standup comedians, tells lots of stories on stage. Some people have called him Mitch Hedberg with a guitar. His lyrics are gorgeous, and when framed by half-funny, half-heartbreaking anecdotes, his work is everything I love about storytelling.  Touching, astute, easy to relate to. I've been a Todd Snider fan for years. That he's not more well known is a damn travesty.

3. John Steinbeck
East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath. The Pearl, The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men. Travels with Charley (my favorite). John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California. I'm proud that he's from my state and that so many of his books are set here. A few months ago, I re-read Grapes of Wrath. Even though I knew it was coming, the impact of that ending still haunted me for weeks.

Image from Wikipedia.
4. Otis Redding
During a road trip through Tennessee a few years ago, my husband and I stopped at the Stax Museum in Memphis. It was one of my favorite stops, a well-curated shrine to southern soul music. I could've wandered through all day. On the way out, I bought my first Otis Redding CD, a fact I announced to the cashier. He said, "Oh, you'll love it. At night, a glass of wine, a little Otis." I said, "I've already got the glass of wine part down. Can't wait to add Otis." He was right. When I think of sexy music, Otis is at the tip-top of my list.

5. Justice Joslin
Former football player turned model, Tennessee native Justice Joslin is one half the inspiration for my character Dean MacKinnon, the eldest MacKinnon brother. Bearded, blue-eyed, dark haired Joslin has been called a modern-day Paul Newman. He's the stuff romance novel dreams are made of. Take a look.

Image from Weir Diary.
6. Rodeo
I'm a city girl and I love rodeo.  All of it. Love. I didn't grow up watching rodeo, but I've come to adore it, both the big splashy PBR events I've attended and the regional rodeos and PRCA events that are held here in California. The athletic skill, the concentration, the physicality, the pride, the traditions--I always have a good time at the rodeo. (And no, this isn't my first one!) Never been to a rodeo? Well, hot damn, get yourself to one. Right now. 

Image from PRCA Pro Rodeo,
7. The Pacific Ocean
Off the California coast, the Pacific is cold and deep. Going to the beach with my friends when I was a teenager cost only a couple of bucks for gas and sodas. Short on gas? We went to Venice or Santa Monica. More time and a full tank? Malibu, Zuma, even Huntington. We'd spend whole days on the sand, swimming, boogie boarding (surfboards were too expensive), tanning, gossiping, and ogling surfers. (Always ogling surfers. Best part.)  Looking out on the water has the same effect on me now that it had back then. It scrubs away my anxieties and helps me to see how enormous the world is, bigger than I could ever imagine and more complex than I could ever understand. Might as well stop worrying.

Zuma Beach. Image from wikimedia.
 8. My husband
I came across an article on Huffpost yesterday written by a very bright eighteen-year-old who believes that young adult romance novels give young girls an unrealistic, damaging view of relationships. In her argument, Amara Majeed writes,
Quite frankly, I don't think it's possible to truly love and care for somebody else the way one love and cares for himself....I think that romantic love is based off of our own emotional needs and sexual desires, and from an evolutionary standpoint, we love to reproduce and pass on our genes to future generations. Essentially, we love to satisfy selfish evolutionary motives....Little girls around the globe are fixated with princesses that fall in love with their prince charmings: handsome, chivalrous, virtually flawless men that love unconditionally. The propagation of this incredibly unrealistic ideology persists as these girls reach a very sensitive, tender age in their lives during which they crave male attention and validation. 
I grew up precocious in the 90's reading riot-grrl-inspired zines and enjoying such beautiful romantic love songs as Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" and such beautiful romantic movies as the Doom Generation and Kids (Let this be a reminder for parents to monitor their children's entertainment choices very closely).

As a tween and young teen, I didn't believe in romance at all. In the long run, this damaged me more than if I had believed a Prince Charming existed for me. I would have had higher standards for myself. And I would've held out for the hero--an individual that luck and providence led me to in my twenties.  As it turns out, he just happens to be a "handsome, chivalrous, virtually flawless" man who loves me unconditionally, just as I love him. Imagine that. A snarling wannabe Tank Girl grew up into a hopeless, hopeless romantic.  

9. Townes Van Zandt
Gentle and soft-spoken, Van Zandt was a singer-songwriter from Texas who wrote songs for Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and other performers who garnered more spotlight time than he did. He wrote "Pancho and Lefty," whose lyrics, particularly when sung unadorned as they are here, slam me in the solar plexus with the purity of their longing and regret. A long history of mental illness and substance abuse took Van Zandt in 1997, but his music lives on. As one commenter on YouTube said, "Words never had it so good."

And in the tradition of lagniappe, a little extra, here's one more...

10. Jamie Clayton 
Have you seen her on Sense8? Goodness gracious, I cannot take my eyes off her. Gorgeous.

Image from

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