Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Photo Shoot

On the day we went to Laura's house to take pictures for the cover, my muse decided to stay home, stating she had the utmost trust in Rick's ability with a camera. I think she was more worried about her hair than the book at that moment. It was a brilliant shade of sparkling white, so bright it made me squint, and the snakes were furiously tying themselves into knots. She threw a scarf over her head, told me to have a good time, and vanished. I was a little worried about the stylist.

Laura had a vision in the middle of a sleepless night of what the cover should look like. From the excitement in her voice, I knew she was on the right path. It had to be a direct message from her own muse; a muse I haven't met but who must be kinder than mine. A few days later, we were at her house with one of her students, a four year old girl I will call "B" and my own daughter, "R." Immediately the two girls began to play with the water in the small fountain that hung on a wall in Laura's back yard. Rick pulled out the camera and started shooting, desperately trying to keep up with the giggles and grins of the two girls. Laura joined in and before long, B's yellow dress was drenched. Laura's original vision was of her holding B while looking up at sunflowers. We all traipsed next door where the neighbor's sunflowers were 12 feet tall. Rick caught more images of Laura and B looking at the flowers, touching them, pointing at them with the white cane, then showing them to R who watched while sitting in her wheelchair. The garden path was narrow and the shadows thick, so Rick struggled with the terrain, the other plants and how quickly the children moved. Children aren't very happy sitting still to "pose." And besides, we wanted it to be spontaneous. A mobility lesson is often that way; you start out with one plan and then the child or the world provides a different direction. Go with it, or lose the moment, and lesson, entirely.

We returned to Laura's garden for more pictures: B walking the garden path with her white-cane, Laura holding her hand, both girls picking black-berries, more splashing in the fountain. After an hour, B was showing signs she was bored with picture taking by whining, so we called it a day. Rick felt we had enough to work with, but also felt he didn't capture the one, perfect shot. Oh well, perfection is elusive and kids are even harder.

But when he downloaded the pictures, we discovered he had managed to take three very good images. Three out of 50 is excellent! And after some debate amongst the four of us, we chose one. An image of Laura squatting beside a laughing B who is holding a sunflower out to R. The image is perfect, because it shows what the book is about: Laura the teacher, who is supporting a child who is showing another child the object. Who is really the teacher? Laura, or the child? In my mind, all of them are.

Rick is now doing the layout of the cover with the picture. It's looking great! If my muse ever comes back from the salon, I'm sure she'll be happy too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another Gravity Check

My Muse is stomping across the living room, eyes red with fury, every snake stretching out from under her dark hair, hissing and snapping. I stay far away from her. I just got off the phone with the lawyer I was referred to by California Lawyers for the Arts, a non-profit organization that helps artists with legal issues, and she doesn't like what they told me.

"Insufferable! Intolerable! This is an insult to my work! Our work! Laura's work! How does anyone write a book or paint a picture, or do anything artistic with lawyers breathing down their back?"

"He was very helpful and friendly."

She waves her hand at me. "Not him. I'm sure he was fine. I'm talking about the lawyers who could come after us a few years from now for publishing a book that might make someone, someday, upset. Scandalous! How can you work under this shadow of fear?"


"The restrictions on what you can and cannot say. Changing names... intolerable! I mean there's a reason we kept the real names..."

"Yes. But now there's a very good reason to change them."

My muse crosses her arms and glares at me so intently I feel my feet turn hard and cold. "Why are you so eager to go along with it?"

I look away quickly. My feet tingle as if waking from sleep."I'm protecting the work. I'm not going along with anything." I cautiously walk toward her while keeping an eye on the snakes. "When a story is written down, it becomes tangible and isn't pure inspiration anymore. If you decide to share that story with the rest of the world, that means they get to read it and once that happens, the work is transformed into a living thing. It becomes a part of the reader. That's why it's important to protect the story from harm. Not limit the words or deny its truth, but strengthen the story's impact by giving it a foundation based on the physical world. The physical world is governed by laws, finances, budgets, taxes, and marketing."

"Disgusting! I can't believe I'm hearing this from you. I thought you were an artist!"

"I am."

"Then act like one!"

I stand my ground and meet her gaze. "I am."

She blinks. The red light in her eyes simmers and turns gold.

"I am acting like an artist who believes in this work so much that I am willing to do whatever I have to do to get it out into the world where people can read it. There are too many artists who ignore the rules that govern the art world so their work is never seen..."


"Yes. Many are. And they take the risk that their work will cause pain. But if they are smart, they do it with eyes wide open. They don't hide behind the idea that since they are artists they don't have to know the consequences of their actions. They can stand beside their work and say proudly they understand the work may be controversial but they consciously chose to show it anyway. I respect those people enormously." I am standing beside my muse now, within striking distance of her snakes. "We are publishing this book and we will deal with whatever may happen in the future. But we are publishing it with eyes wide open and we are protecting ourselves not by changing the message, but by changing a name. That's all."

I wait. She is silent. The snakes look at me. Then slowly, she nods. "I see. Alright. I'll trust you on this." I take a deep breath. I won't be bitten, at least not this time. I rest my hand on her arm and my muse turns to me, her eyes back to green. Then she smiles a slow smile that makes me nervous. "But if I think for a moment you're giving in to lawyers out of fear, I will leave you immediately and you will never write another word again. Clear?"

"Absolutely clear."

"Good." She grins and pats my hand. "I'm off to get my hair done now. You'd better get to work on that manuscript. " She disappears with a wave.

I wonder where muses get their hair done?


Thursday, July 12, 2007


Figuring out what the cover of your book should look like is a lot like trying to figure out exactly what outfit to wear to the interview for that job you want so badly that if you don't get it you'll slit your own throat. Should you look subdued and dress in gray? Is a suit too professional, or professional enough? Would a soft pink blouse be too feminine, or since the color goes well with your skin tone, make a good impression on the interviewer? Oh yes, this is the woman who wore that lovely shade of pink. Forget pink, what if you wear a bright red dress? Too bold, or is making a bold statement the right thing to do? You try on every outfit you have, terrified of picking something that will make you look more tired than you actually are, or possible too sexy. Or is sexy a good thing?

My muse and I have been struggling with the cover design for Traveling Blind. We started with a picture Laura took of a bright yellow road sign which shows a curvy road and says "next 23 miles." The sign has personal meaning to Laura and clearly shows the theme of the book. Traveling. Blind. Not sure where you're going. Lots of curves along the way. Gotta keep going forward. The sign stays.

But our first attempt gave the impression the book is a travel book and is far too similar looking to another memoir set in Mendocino County. Back to the drawing board. We keep the sign, but how do we show that this is about the "unlikely teachers:" Laura's students?

Enter Rick, our in-house graphic designer and my wonderful life-partner. My muse watched him work and from her silent attention I knew she was impressed. She doesn't know a thing about Photo-Shop and refuses to touch a computer key-board, so it's fun to watch her try and hide her ignorance while at the same time being fascinated by Rick manipulating an image on the computer screen. After several days, much discussion, and taking pictures of our bored but willing daughter, he presented us with four ideas.

My muse and I laid them out on the couch and studied them. One has my daughter's grinning face with the ocean in the background. Another has the two of us holding hands with the forest in the background. Two more have our silhouette in shadow, one with the ocean and the other with the forest. All have the road sign.

I looked at my muse who was frowning. "What do you think?"

She shook her head. "Hard to say."

"Which do you like best?"

"Very hard to say."

We silently stared at the cover samples and then I picked up the one with my daughter's face. "This one is nice, but is that because it's my daughter?"

"It is nice. A real child on the cover to show who the teachers are. And nothing catches the eye more than a child, and we need something to really grab the person browsing in the store." She touched the one with us holding hands. "I like this one also."

"Do you like the forest or the ocean?"

"Hard to say. They both express different moods." She tapped the one of us holding hands. "I'd like to see this one with the ocean in the background. And you should ask Laura what she thinks."

Laura stopped by later that day with a white cane so we could take more pictures of my daughter for possible use on the cover. I showed her the images while my muse lounged on the chair beside her and watched.

Laura also liked the child and the hand-holding, but said that the shadows were disturbing somehow. "I don't know which is better, but the only thing that grabs someone's attention more than a child is a cute animal." I glanced at my muse and she nodded. Laura also wanted to see the hands with the ocean in the background and she gave good technical advice about the layout of the cover. It's good working with someone with a degree in Art.

Later, I gave the notes to Rick who seemed happy to have something more to work with than a road sign and some vague suggestions about "showing the teachers." I realized just how lucky we are that he understands graphic art and design, and is a wiz at Photo-Shop.

That night, he was still working on the cover when I went to bed, my muse by his side, leaning toward him, watching everything he did.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

My First Muse

My Muse hands me a gift wrapped in sea-green tissue paper. "Here. For all your hard work."

I stare at her, wondering if this is MY muse and not some other muse shape-shifted to look like mine. My muse does not give gifts. She brings insults and demands, but never gifts. "What's this?"

"A present. What do you think?"

"Why are you giving me a present?"

"Suspicious little thing. Fine. Give it back." She reaches for the package but I hold it tight against my chest.

"No way. It's mine."

"Then open it and stop staring at me like I've just handed you a bomb."

I gently tear the tissue paper and pull out a paper-back book. How to become a famous writer before you're dead, by Ariel Gore. "Wow. I've been wanting this."

My muse smiles, looking very pleased with herself. "I know."

"This is supposed to be great! Thank you so much." I hug her tightly, startling all the snakes who are too surprised to bite me.

"You're welcome." She squeezes me quickly before pushing me away. "I want to make sure you don't give up on your own writing by spending so much time publishing other people's. I still expect a great book out of you."

"I know. And you'll get it." I flip the book over and examine Ariel's picture. "She was the first person to ever publish me. Hip Mama magazine, about 6 years ago. She's so great. She's like my first muse, you know"

"You're first muse?" My muse purses her lips and squints. All the snakes shiver.

"In a way. I never met her or anything, and she's never visited, but she really inspired me back then. Single mom, writer, put out her own zine, worked her butt off to write novels. .. I mean, she's the kind of person I admire. She's a real, living muse."

My muse snatches the book from my hand. "Fine. Then tell her to come here and sit by your side and encourage you to write for God knows how many endless hours. Maybe she'll put up with your weak prose and inane plot lines, because I'm bored with it."

"Whoa. Hold on. I didn't say I wanted her to be my muse now. She was my first muse, but you're my muse today. Even when you treat me like crap and tell me I can't write, you're still my muse."

She folds her arms and looks away. "I don't treat you like crap."

I try not to laugh. It is very dangerous to laugh in the face of your muse. They are prone to disappear for weeks and only return when you're on your knees, clutching sheets of blank paper, begging them to come back.

"You have nothing to worry about. You're my muse now, snakes and all." I gently slide the book out of her hand and she lets it go without looking at me.


"No maybes. And this gift...," I hold up the book. "This gift proves how much of a wonderful muse you are."

"I'm just trying to be more encouraging."

"Thank you."

"You say I'm too hard on you, so I'm trying to be nicer."

"I appreciate that."

"You can keep the gift, but only if you promise to put it to good use, and that includes writing me another book."

"I promise."

We look at each other for a moment and slowly my muse begins to smile. The snakes relax and curl around each other in peaceful loops.

Then she puts her hands on her hips and says, "But I don't want to hear you talk about any other muses ever again, got it?"

I hold up one hand. "I swear.

After she leaves the room, I add How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead to the Medusa College Reading List. Hopefully she won't take it as a sign that I'm still thinking of Ariel Gore as a muse. I am, but my current muse doesn't have to know.