Friday, January 15, 2010

Mysteria, the Muse of Mystery

Gary Corby is one of the Pens' treasured recent finds - a dashing mystery author who hales from Australia. After stalking him all around a recent conference giggling at his accent and trying to become his personal stylists, we finally calmed down and settled for just being his friend and fan.

Gary is some sort of engineer (we think he is, anyway; we were in a wine bar) and our favorite line from his bio is "Despite my technical background, I am actually capable of rubbing two words together to make a sentence." Gary's debut novel, THE EPHIALTES AFFAIR, will be out in fall 2010 with St. Martin's/Minotaur. Learn more about Gary here.



Hi. It's a pleasure to be a guest on Pens Fatales. Sophie tells me today's topic is "The Muse". This is like a red rag to a bull, since I write historical mysteries set in Classical Greece, the home of the original Muses.

These days muse refers to anyone who inspires an artist. Pattie Boyd was the muse for both George Harrison's Something and Eric Clapton's Layla, thus making her, I suppose, a bi-muse.

But that's the modern meaning. Originally the Muses were supernatural beings. If you didn't have a Muse on your side then you were out of luck, inspiration-wise, doomed to create nothing but flat, lifeless work.



There were nine Muses, each providing inspiration for one of Epic Poetry, History, Lyric Song, Tragedy, Dance, Erotic Poetry, Sacred Song, Comedy and Astronomy. Those were the arts and sciences as the Greeks knew them 3,000 years ago.

I imagine that since then each Muse has had to move with the times. So for example Erato was the Muse of Erotic Poetry. What with the wide expansion in the genre, Erato these days is probably run off her feet inspiring all the Harlequin authors.

Euterpe likewise must be totally overworked. She was the Muse of Lyric Song, which exploded into rock 'n roll and pop. Euterpe did an outstanding job with Elvis, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd. I assume she doesn't attend Eurovision and Idol.

You'll notice there was no Muse of Mystery Writing. Does this mean we mystery writers are condemned to be uninspired? Not on the evidence. I'd argue mysteries, science fiction and fantasy have had the most vibrant writing of the last century.

I have an idea that as new art forms are created – ones which don't fit into the job descriptions of the current crew –a new Muse magically comes into being and joins her sisters. There is a Muse of Mystery, but she's a recent birth.

Mysteria is her name (and is in fact a true ancient Greek word taken slightly out of context).

Mysteria's attribute – all the Muses have attributes – is a bloody dagger which she holds in her raised hand. In case you're wondering, Euterpe's traditional attribute is a double flute, but it could use updating to an electric guitar. Erato's attribute is a small lyre. The lyre could use updating too, but although I have several suggestions for a Muse of Erotica, I'm not going there.

Mysteria comes to mystery writers and whispers into their ears the ideas they didn't know they were going to write until they suddenly appear on the page: the cool character who comes from seemingly nowhere; the minor detail tossed in at random, which 100 pages later turns into a major clue; the relationship which seemed minor, until during revision you realize it's what the book is all about.

If my experience is anything to go by, Mysteria the Muse works very odd hours.

Mysteria must creep into my house at night, because an awful lot of my good ideas are with me the moment I wake up. Perhaps more embarrassingly, she seems to hang out in my shower, because that's another place where ideas flow like, errr, water. I have never actually run naked from the shower to the keyboard, but that's because I keep pen and paper by the bed.

Mysteria likes to visit after midnight. She is noticeably absent during daylight hours. It's amazing how often I have written flat, lifeless dross all day long, only for my writing to come alive for no obvious reason the moment midnight ticks by. I can only assume that's the moment Mysteria enters the room, come from an assignment elsewhere (probably Sophie's house).

Sometimes Mysteria stays away for weeks at a time, and when she does it gets lonely.

I know of only one way to coax Mysteria into visiting my head, and that's to write. Mysteria helps those who help themselves by writing even when she's not around. So if you'd like to meet this Muse, sit down and write 50 pages, or 100, or 150. Eventually she'll drop by and whisper in your ear.

26 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hey Gary, I just gave Mysteria a couple of toaster waffles and a couple of cold Mickeys Big Mouths and sent her on her way to you - she should be there any minute!

Juliet Blackwell said...

Hmm, I've noticed Mysteria in MY shower as well.
Question for you: how come the muses are never depicted as really hot-looking men? I'm thinking I would be particularly inspired by a gorgeous hunk called Mysterio barging into my shower. On the other hand, I'm not so sure about the "bloody dagger in hand" -- that would make him slightly more Norman Bates than Mysterio-the-hot-muse...

Sophie Littlefield said...

so for me, Mysterio would look like this one guy from the falafel joint but talk like Alan Rickman. And he wouldn't bother me in the shower, but would bring me a patty melt AND do the dishes.

Rachael Herron said...

I'm really liking this Mysterio fellow. I think I should change my genre...

Gigi Pandian said...

Oh, so THAT'S where Mysteria goes after dark -- to Gary and Sophie's houses! Because I gotta say, she's never at my house after dark. In fact, she usually only sticks around for the morning. I'm not complaining -- I'm happy she visits at all :). Right now she's confusing me between two manuscripts, but what can you do?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Ladies! Thanks so much for having me here.

Mysteria's with me now, says thanks for the waffles Sophie, and is ready for an exciting day of synopsis writing.

Woops, she just burst into tears. All right, maybe we'll kill someone instead.

Gigi, so Mysteria spends the morning shift with you! I wondered. She's probably trying to tell you both stories are equally brilliant.

I'm not sure Mysteria can use a knitting needle, Rachael, except to skewer someone. I'm dead sure Mysterio couldn't. But there's bound to be a Muse of Knitting.

I don't know why the Muses are always hot chicks, Juliet, not that I'm complaining, but you are in the perfect position to change them to hot guys if you like, with Lily's help.

The Pens are definitely my personal stylists from now on. I'll consult with you before next I visit the US!

Lisa Hughey said...

Gary--thanks for visiting!! I think I'm with Julie, you take Mysteria and send Mysterio over to my house. But he can only get in the shower if he's willing to clean it too. :)

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Lisa! I met a third of the Pens at the last Bouchercon, and I hope I can meet the rest of you at the next one in San Francisco.

What is it with guys being hotter if they clean the house? This is a worrying trend.

Adrienne Miller said...

Sorry Gary, it's true. A guy vacuuming is the sexiest thing there is. Sorry. I don't make the rules. That Erato of yours does.

Gary Corby said...

This explains why I used to have so much trouble getting dates. If only I'd been holding a feather duster.

 Patrick Lee said...

My muse is named Evictia. She oddly resembles my landlord, and lurks somewhere in my future, compelling me to write something... anything...

Awesome post, Gary! Definitely agree that more time spent writing equals increased presence of the muse (the actual, non-landlord one).

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Patrick.

There's an old Michael Moorcock book which is dedicated, "To my creditors, who remain an eternal source of inspiration."

Loretta Ross said...

I wish Mysteria (or, even better, Mysterio!) would visit me at home more often. The muse tends to follow me around when I'm at work and can't go write anything down to save my soul.

If Mysterio will speak in Sean Connery's voice, I'll follow him anywhere!

Great post, Gary, as usual. And nice blog, ladies (though I still want to know which one of you he met 2/3 of!)

Gary Corby said...

Hi Loretta!

My phone gets a constant workout for that reason. When I think of a plot twist or a good few words and am far from paper I voice record it. The funny thing is, if I record it I never need to listen later because I remember, but if I don't record then I can't for the life of me recall the thought.

To explain Loretta's 2/3 comment...I said on my blog that I met a third of the Pens at Bouchercon, which would be 2 and 2/3 people.

Of course the explanation is simple. These things happen at crime writer conferences if someone gets sloppy in a demonstration session.

Carrie said...

This was cute Gary. Always fun when an author can be playful. :)

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Carrie. It was fun.

Loretta Ross said...

Speaking of Gary and conferences and sloppy demonstrations, The Pens Fatales have impressive writing credits, but I'm going to have to be even more impressed if I find out that they (or at least 2/3 of them) are Vegemite survivors! ;)

Gary Corby said...

None of the Pens Fatales are Vegemite survivors. At least, not at my hand. But you never know, they might like it!

Shelby said...

vegemite survivors!!!! :) too funny..

Gary Corby said...

Hi Shelby! There's a story behind the Vegemite. I took jars of it to the US on my last trip and had a wonderful time watching Americans try it.

Americans are such a polite people. None of them actually threw the jar back at me.

Sophie Littlefield said...

It's one of my chief regrets that I didn't know Gary when he was doling out the Vegemite like candy from the Shriners float. Well....maybe it's not, actually. GC, can you maybe load the saddlebags with some nice Shiraz before your your next visit? The other 7 1/3 Pens are expecting a lot, given how we talk you up around here!

Gary Corby said...

But Sophie, if I'd fed you Vegemite, we might not still be friends.

It just so happens the question of Shiraz came up with Bobby McCue from the Mysterious Bookstore in LA.

Carrying enough of the precious liquid is (a) heavy, and (b) expensive, so I'm not sure it can be managed, but I'm trying!

T. Anne said...

Mmm, Mysteria. I like her name. I must have her twin sister hysteria as my muse. She too likes to save her best work for dark. It's this unforgivable nature of hers that has me nodding off during the day. I'm an early riser. I need to find a compatible muse. Too bad the words wont come that early. Nice post Gary!

Gary Corby said...

I love the name Hysteria for a Muse!

I think you might have the beginnings of a short story there Anne: what happens when an artist and her assigned Muse have incompatible personalities?

_*Rachel*_ said...

The muse of knitting carries a size 8 knitting needle, but it's her clothes that get all the attention. Unfortunately, she doesn't stick around very much; a lot of knitting is just grunt work.

I heard about that vegmite on Janet Reid's blog....

Gary Corby said...

Hi Rachel, thanks for dropping by!

Your muse of knitting sounds about right. I think she wears a knitted beanie.

Yes, I do seem to have acquired a reputation for Vegemite. I suppose there are worse things.