Who’s Your Muse?

Do you have a muse? Do you know what a muse is? I had heard the term bandied about, but never really understood it’s meaning.

So I looked it up.

The word “muse” comes from the nine mythological goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. There was a goddess for lyre playing, epic poetry, comedy, history, and astronomy, among others.

So what is a muse in modern parlance? I guess you’d define it as the source of creative inspiration, and it’s usually a person.

I have always read about authors and songwriters and artists and their muses. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was his wife Zelda. For John Lennon, it was Yoko Ono. For Alfred Stieglitz, it was Georgia O’Keefe.

As I thought about muses throughout history and the artists and writers they inspired, I got thinking…who’s my muse?

And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that I don’t have one. There is no one person who inspires my writing. And I consider this a good thing. I noticed while I was reading about historical muses that the relationships between them and their respective artists were often toxic and depressing. They frequently seemed unhappy and lost. And I don’t want to cause the people around me to feel any of those things.

I am inspired by places and by nature. I love to read about people and locales all around the world, and so I suppose it’s natural that I would choose to write about those same things. I want to inspire people to visit the places in my stories. My first book takes place in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York, and if I can get my readers to want to know more about the Thousand Islands, then I’m happy. My second book is set in South Carolina, near Charleston, and I hope I’m able to describe it well enough that readers will be able to share the experience of being there. My third book will be set in Hawaii. The islands are a feast for the senses, and I want to share that with the people who read the book.

I’d love to set a story in New York City (where I used to live) or in South Jersey (where I live now). I’d love to set a story in San Francisco (where I’ve visited) or England (where I’ve never been) or in Scotland (also, where I’ve never been). When I visit someplace new, I take lots of pictures and maybe even some notes about interesting things and people I see. I keep maps of the places I’ve been, because they can be helpful in setting a story.

I get inspired by people, too, but I could not refer to any of them as my muse. The inspiration these people provide is not creative, but motivational.

Do you have a muse? Or are you inspired by something else? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next week,

Amy

The Book was Better

Last week, I wrote in this blog that books are better than movies. I was referring, of course, to books that are made into movies.

I have taken a highly unscientific survey and found that in general, people who see a movie that was based on a book usually leave the theater saying, “That was good, but I liked the book better.”

A recent case in point: The Hunger Games. I am the first person to admit that the movie was great, but it simply wasn’t as good as Suzanne Collins’ book. It’s not the fault of the movie producers…they made the best movie they could in the time allotted. A movie that closely followed the book would take many hours to watch and few people would take the time to go see it. But a lot gets left off the screen. The subtleties and nuances of each character and their relationships don’t have time to be explored.

But that’s not all that gets lost when a book becomes a movie. When I read a book, I’m constantly using my mind to picture the settings and the characters. When I see a movie, all that work has been done for me. I merely have to follow the plot. I like having to come up with the physical characteristics of people and places for myself. An author’s idea of what a character or place looks like is almost certainly different from my idea, but that’s okay. I only need the idea in my own head to enjoy a book. There have even been times when I’ve disagreed with an author’s description of a character’s physical appearance. When that happens, I can simply adjust the character’s appearance in my own head to what I think it should be. Have you ever seen a movie and then read the book? Or read a book, then seen the movie, then tried to read the book again? It’s almost impossible to see the characters and settings in your own head differently from the way they appeared on the big screen. Before I saw “The Hunger Games,” I didn’t imagine Katniss Everdeen looking like Jennifer Lawrence. Now I can’t even remember what “my” Katniss Everdeen looked like. She will always and forever look like Jennifer Lawrence. The same is true for the rest of the characters.

How about one of my favorite books, “Pride and Prejudice?” The first time I read it, I formed my own opinion of what Elizabeth Bennett looked like. Ditto for Mr. D’Arcy. I purposely avoided watching the old movie based on the book because I knew it would destroy my opinions of what the characters looked like. But when the “new” movie came out in 2005, I had to see it. It got such great reviews that I couldn’t in good conscience miss it. And you know what? Same thing happened. Now, as far as I’m concerned, Elizabeth Bennett looks just like Keira Knightley and Mr. D’Arcy is a dead ringer for Matthew Macfadyen. I can’t remember what the characters looked like in my own mind, but they looked different, of that I am sure.

And there are so many more…Harry Potter (all of them), Twilight (all of them), The Great Gatsby, The Chronicles of Narnia (all of them), Oliver Twist, etc., etc. The list goes on for miles. I have to admit that I haven’t seen all of the movies based on these books, nor would I want to. But I’d be willing to bet that the books were better in each and every case.

Having said that, in my decidedly unscholarly research I have actually found two exceptions to the rule. Perhaps not surprisingly, they are both Disney movies based on books. The first is “Peter Pan.” I tried to read the book once and couldn’t get through it. I was bored and confused. But the movie? One of my favorites. I’m always asking my kids if they want to watch it with me (they always say no). Likewise, the second one is “Alice in Wonderland.” I didn’t like the book, no offense to Lewis Carroll. But the movie is delightful. Perhaps my feeble mind is simply unwilling to dig deep into the book, but it’s much easier and more enjoyable for me to watch the Disney adaptation of the story.

In my humble opinion, the book is almost always better, Peter Pan and Alice notwithstanding. Do you agree? Disagree? What are your personal exceptions? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next week,

Amy