Be forewarned, prose can be lighthearted...or dark and graphic in nature as inspiration dictates. No offense is meant to be forced upon you, so if you're of softer sensibilities, it's best not to tRead lightly...
~ The Outlaw Muse
There are several possible interpretations of The Republic by Plato. This is one interpretation by a modern outlaw writer.
Inspiration to create comes in endless forms. It pops up whenever it chooses, whether you’re prepared to capture it or not. Those of us who are thirsty for inspiration keep ourselves ready: Painters with their sketchbooks, Photographers with their cameras, Writers with our pencils. For the technologically advanced artist, sketches, snapshots, and scribbles can easily be captured with the latest mobile device. Technology provides ease of use, but you still have to provide the content.
My new Toshiba E205 laptop is fast, has Windows 7, the latest Microsoft Office, and my favorite, an illuminated keyboard. But, I’m still staring at a blank Word document and waiting for inspiration to translate through my fingertips. So far, nada...until this morning.
I’m currently on one of the easier curves of the roller coasters of stress that we all experience. This year has been hectic for a number of reasons that are too many and too boring to name. Who wants to hear complaints, whining, and excuses about stress, illness, family commitments, a new house, car problems, or just general lack of ideas? I’m not surprised to have had them all. Overwhelmed, yes, but not surprised. What surprises me is that I haven’t been able to work past them and find the time to write.
Today’s unexpected source of inspiration came from my cat. Yeah, I know. Don’t laugh. I take inspiration where I can get it.
Charlie sits perched on the window sill, his tail swishing lazily as he watches…whatever it is cats are interested in. He’ll perk up occasionally when a bird flutters by to tease him. But the real excitement doesn’t come until there’s enough sunshine pouring through the windows to cast shadows on the living room wall. Yes, my cat is a shadow chaser. You would think those blurry grey splotches were actually mice racing across the wall. Charlie was obviously entertained, but I wondered why he would rather chase the movements of shadows than the real things that passed outside the window. He knows the difference between shadow and real…right? Oh well. I was bored, so I kept watching him.
Eventually, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave came to mind. Picture a group of people imprisoned in a dark cave lit only by a fire they are unable to see. Their movements are severely constricted as to ensure their only source of stimulation would be the shadows and echoing sounds of the unseen objects, animals, and people that produced them.
The conditions of such an environment become reality for the prisoners. Their senses embrace the only reality afforded to them. Identifying the shadows and sounds becomes a societal goal. The person who is able to produce frequent answers is rewarded and respected by the others in the group.
One of the prisoners is released and given the opportunity to see the entirety of the cave. He now sees that the shadows and echoed sounds are only parts of the tangible things and beings that are passing in front of the fire. The flood of information is overwhelming. Acceptance comes to the former prisoner when he is led out of the cave and is able to see the true reality of the world that exists outside the cave. Unrestricted, his senses are able to experience everything he was once denied.
He returns to the cave and his companions. He’s certain they’ll see his newly acquired knowledge for the gift that he believes it to be. Instead, his revelations are met with suspicion and contempt. Changes to the comfort of their perceived reality are unwanted by the prisoners.
Upon remembering the story, I felt the burden of stress about my writing progress begin to lighten. I realized I had been experiencing the same concept of Plato’s allegory, under different circumstances. I know several writers of varying degrees of skill and success. Publishing success is often a friendly competition between fellow writers. We update each other, talk about our ideas and upcoming projects, exchange praise or rants about the successes and failures of the creative writing process, and support each other on social networking sites.
Recently, I let myself become influenced by the progress of other writers. I’ve been steadfastly working on my first novel during the past year. By the time I’ve finished a chapter, another author is announcing yet another of their books to debut via e-publishing.
I know a few writers whose work has popularity that I can’t fathom the reason for. I started to become disillusioned by the progress of writers whose work I believe lacked substance, and e-publishers who judged manuscripts by low standards of quality. I found the praise given to those works to be misguided.
Is that what the reading public wants to fill their Kindles and Nooks with? I don’t like the idea or want to accept it. But, I have to. Creative fiction is subjective. What I don’t have to do, I realized, is measure my success by that of a small community of writers, readers, and publishers whose methods I don’t agree with.
We’re all entitled to our personal opinions. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes. But let's ponder the heart...here’s mine: Picture Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This time, in place of the chained prisoners sits a group of writers churning out book after book of fiction for inexpensive downloads and cheaply printed paperback. Their poorly-written prose is little more than mind candy, mass-produced mediocrity eagerly flooded into the book market by the kind of publishing house willing to promote any manner of writing that will provide temporary, instant gratification for the reading public who then quickly devours it without even remembering the title or the author’s name.
If your writing friends are happy with their mass-produced publishing success, let them be. They’re happy. Even if you believe they have the potential to improve, let them be. They’d rather bite off your arm than hear a critique suggesting that their book is anything but stellar.
There are different levels, different types of success. Every writer needs to define for themselves what success means to them and then stick by it. Fast food fiction is for writers, readers, and publishers who relegate creative prose to having value equal to that of a burger on the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s. I’d rather attract readers who think my work is worth the price of hard-cover print. *Inhales deeply…Ahhh dontcha just love the scent and feel of a new book?
Detecting some judgmental bitterness? Could be, but this is Outlaw’s pRose. ;)
“Writing without fear.”
P.S. Charlie does manage to catch his shadowy prey. Of course pouncing on a wall shadow includes smacking against the wall then sliding down behind the sofa. But it never stops the second and third attempts…
OP:What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
MR: I’m a minimal plotter. I get a nugget of an idea and run with it, seeing where it takes me and my story.
This is true whether I’m writing my Lola Cruz Mysteries, my new Magical Dressmaking Mystery series, or my romantic suspenses (A Deadly Curse, available now, or A Deadly Sacrifice, coming in May). My ideas usually stem from something I’ve read, heard about, or have in my memory banks. From there, it develops, often requiring research to flesh it out.
This was especially true when it came to writing A Deadly Curse. It’s based on the legend of la Llorona. As an aside, I’d written this book in its current form, but because of my other mysteries, I thought about restructuring it to be more of a mystery with a little quirk. I discussed it with Alex Sokoloff when we were at a retreat in South Carolina, and boy, oh boy, she did not like the light treatment of the legend of la Llorona! I remember feeling like I’d been scolded for not taking a legend seriously, when in fact I had already taken it very seriously and written about it. But she was right, and I went back to the original book, tightening it and making it even darker, respecting the legend(s) and all they represent. It was definitely the right decision. Gracias, Alex, for sending me back to my original manuscript!
OP:Your latest book, A Deadly Curse, was released on April 19th, 2011. Please tell us about it.
MR: Back to La Llorona. My husband, Carlos, grew up hearing the story. His parents, Tias, and Tios, and every other adult around, would tell the kids the story. Their purpose? To frighten them enough so they wouldn’t wander off alone. La Llorona was the Mexican boogeyman.
I first learned about the legend of the crying woman after I met Carlos (we’ve now been married 20 years and have five children, so la Llorona has been part of my consciousness for a long time). We’d go camping with his brothers and sisters and their spouses, sit around the campfire, and invariably, the stories would begin. Before long, a low, haunting sound would float through the air. La Llorona. It was as if the ghost was right there, her wails coming from the banks of the river through the trees.
It didn’t take long to figure out that it was my husband making the haunting sounds, but the legend itself was spooky and stayed with me from the first time I heard the story. A woman kills her children by drowning them in the river. After she realizes what she’s done, she drowns herself. Legend has it that the woman has been haunting riverbanks ever since, looking for her children. Kids are warned to stay away from the rivers so la Llorona doesn’t steel them, thinking they are hers.
OP:Did you learn anything from writing A Deadly Curse and what was it?
MR: When I began plotting A Deadly Curse, I needed to learn more about la Llorona. Why did she drown her children? That, I figured, would inspire my plot. Little did I know that the legend of la Llorona was far more complex than I’d ever imagined.
What I learned was that there are actually four different stories behind the legend. My husband’s family knew only one of them. Everyone I’ve talked to since then has only known one, or possibly two different versions. No one has known all four of the stories.
The woman in each story was called something different:
La Ramera (the harlot)
La Bruja (the witch)
La Virgin (the virgin)
La Sirena (the siren)
Needless to say, learning about the four different stories set my plot in a new direction. The knowledge created new opportunities and obstacles for my characters, and I couldn’t have done a better job if I’d painstakingly plotted. Research opens doors for me, taking my stories in fascinating directions I couldn’t have created if I’d tried. The uncertainty and reveals during the process makes writing that much more interesting, albeit nerve-wracking, for me. I always have a roadmap, so I know where I’m going to end up, but if I don’t always know the exact route I’ll take to get there. And if I don’t know exactly where the story is going, I can’t leave a subconscious trail of breadcrumbs for the reader.
OP:If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would you want it to be?
MR: In my opinion, a great book is most often the result of clever and tight plotting, combined with discoveries made by the author during his/her writing process.
As readers, do you find some books to have too clear a path to follow and does that spoil the read? Conversely, do you find that some books ramble, going in too many directions, leaving you wondering if there was a roadmap at all?
The marketing director for Entangled Publishing, Misa Ramirez, who also writes under the pseudonym Melissa Bourbon, teaches creative writing at Southern Methodist University-Cape, and teaches online with Savvy Authors.
Visit misaramirez.com for information about author Melissa Ramirez and all of her projects.
Don’t miss the exciting excerpt of her latest book, A Deadly Curse: “Jo squinted her eyes against the blinding sun, tried to get away. Mama’s really lost her mind this time! Jo struggled to break free again, but Mama jerked her forward until she was ankle-deep in water.” (full excerpt of A Deadly Curse)
Also from Melissa Ramirez: A Deadly Sacrifice Synopsis: After a horrible night that haunts her still, Delaney West ran away from her home in San Julio, Texas, and out of Vic Vargas’s life. But now, plagued by sleepwalking and terrible dreams, she is back, working at the local vet clinic, and trying to make some sense of her screwed up life…more