Anna Katherine on Inspiration

15 May

Salt and SilverWoo-hoo, free autographed copy for one random commenter. Go for it!

Inspiration is a tricksy thing. There are many authors out there who will say that it is a glorious god come from on high, or maybe a muse who drifts down on occasion and drops off morsels of characterization for the poor frazzled author who must then ration it for the dark, blocked times ahead.

I don’t particularly like the muse theory. This is largely because I don’t like giving credit to anyone other than me for whatever nifty things show up on my computer screen. I may not entirely realize all the bits I’m putting in, but it’s definitely all me. “Muses” can suck it.

I keep fairly good track of what comes from where (whether it’s research, coauthors, editors, or that weird dream I had that one time with the carrots). I’m a magpie of a writer. I collect facts, images, details, names — I take all the shiny things. Practically speaking, I can “get” inspiration from just about anything — or everything, if you’d rather think of it that way. Every little thing that we humans experience gets folded into our heads, just waiting to be used for whatever reason. To keep the process a bit more useful and direct, though, I keep composition books full of character essays; I keep binders full of cut-out articles and photographs; I even keep a small notebook specifically for those tiny scraps of whatever that would inevitably get written down on cocktail napkins and shoved into pockets indefinitely if I didn’t have a specific place for them.

When I started writing Salt and Silver, I knew a lot about what I wanted to write. I wanted a real New Yorker as my main character — I wanted a diner — I wanted a Door into Hell. But to really breathe life into the story, I needed the little random things that make my brain turn clockwise. I needed to make my story shiny. I needed inspiration. So, I turned to what I knew, what I had read, and what I had collected — and I built a magpie’s nest out of it.

Did you know that there’s a Scandinavian creature that lives in the woods, looks like a beautiful woman from the front, but reveals itself to be just hollowed out wood from the back? (They’re called huldra.)

There’s a poem by John M. Ford called 110 Stories, about September 11th. One of the lines is: “The world’s hip-deep in junk that mattered once.”

You know what’s cool? The battle of Thermopylae. It will always be cool.

Saint-Exupéry, in The Little Prince, wrote: “Many have forgotten this truth, but you must not forget it. You remain responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

In one of the best parts of Milton’s Paradise Lost, there’s this bit describing the various regions Lucifer and his band must travel through in Hell. It’s a delicious bit of rhyme and rhythm, and I love to just say it out loud and let the sound of it roll.

There’s a demon of lust. Really.

“Sometimes, the last thing you want comes in first / Sometimes, the first thing you want never comes / I know, the waiting is all you can do, sometimes.”

Every one of those exists somewhere in Salt and Silver. Whether the reader notices them isn’t really the point (though, sure, the Milton would be nice). The point is that all these things — and dozens others, both known and unknown — formed the life of the book, the motivations, the plot. The inspiration, essentially.

I didn’t need no stinkin’ muse to get this stuff — I had it in me already.

If you’re writing, and you’re stuck, and you’re wishing for that muse — think about what you’ve got in your head. Think about all the stories you’ve wanted to see that have never been told. Think about what it all means to you. And then put it on the page.

Blurbage:

Allie can’t seem to get it together. Ever since her mom ran away to Rio with Rio—her tennis instructor—stealing Allie’s trust fund and her comfortable way of life, Allie has been floundering. She works in Sally’s Diner, and lives above it. And one night in the basement, she and her friends chant a ridiculous spell—for money, for luck, for love…and open a Doorway to Hell.

Ryan thinks he’s got it all figured out. When the Door opened he appeared out of nowhere, a Stetson-wearing demon hunter dressed in leather. He’s assigned to the Door, and hangs out at the diner, and when the Door disappears he is certain that Allie had something to do with it.

But something strange is happening in Brooklyn. Something bigger than Allie, and Ryan, and the Door in the diner basement. And when a meeting of demon hunters gives birth to a dangerous idea, Allie and Ryan are left to wonder if the fragile feelings growing between them can survive a trip to Hell…or if they themselves will survive at all.

Salt and Silver is out now. You can buy it here. Anna Katherine’s website is here.

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17 Responses to “Anna Katherine on Inspiration”

  1. Nonny May 15, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    I always considered the writer’s “muse” to be a personalization of the sub/unconscious mind… which usually has all the answers, even if my conscious doesn’t!

    It makes a lot more sense to me than the idea of this otherworldly creature that isn’t a part of you feeding ideas into your skull, which I always found rather insulting. I come up with these ideas. Or, well, part of me does. :)

  2. bam May 15, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    I don’t like the idea of a muse, either. There’s really nothing romantic about it. You put on your big girl panties, plant your butt on that chair, and you don’t frickin’ get up till you’ve accomplished your word count quota for the day, period.

    There is something to be said about the “zone,” however. You writer-types know what it is. That’s when you write for 18 hours straight without getting up to shower or even eat. Man, I love those moments.

    Btw, y’all should read this book called The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty. Basically, it talks about the pathology of this compulsion to write, which is called hypographia. Interesting stuff.

  3. jc May 15, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    Interesting about the huldra, I hadn’t come across that before. And the cover is beautiful.

    Blogged about your contest on my blog.

  4. Cybercliper May 15, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    Very interesting post. I really like the quote:

    “Sometimes, the last thing you want comes in first / Sometimes, the first thing you want never comes / I know, the waiting is all you can do, sometimes.”

    The book is beautiful and my kind of subject matter. Wish you much success with it.

  5. bam May 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    I’ve read and re-read this post. It’s really very eloquently written. Kudos.

  6. willaful May 15, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    This post makes me want to read your book, so hey, mission accomplished! :-)

  7. catie May 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm #

    Ooo, this entry is definitely getting printed up and shoved in my “Inspirations” notebook. I love hunter/gatherers like you Anna and Allie’s book sounds fantastic!

  8. Anna Katherine May 16, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    Thanks for visiting, everybody! Just so I know when to stop — this contest ends on Friday of next week, noon on the 22nd!

    bam:
    I hear you about the zone — it’s not necessarily a fun place (I mean, sometimes I had something to do during those 8 hours…), but on the other hand, I do love having written, which leads to feeling accomplished and such.

    jc:
    Thanks! The more, the merrier!

    Cybercliper:
    Thanks! That’s actually a line from Aqualung song “Strange and Beautiful” (you can see a live version of it here). A very early version of the story used that line as a sort of character-theme, and I suspect it has remained in one form or another throughout.

    catie:
    Hey, thanks! I feel I came off a bit more whoo-y than I generally feel about topic (I tend more toward the pragmatic), but if it works for you, rock on!

  9. Pamk May 17, 2009 at 2:03 pm #

    wow sounds interesting. I am adding to my wish list

  10. Maija P. May 18, 2009 at 1:05 am #

    Is this first one in series or does it stand alone?
    Your book sounds really nice :)

  11. Belle May 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

    I love how you describe your magpie approach. It feels to me like a treasure trove of things to have around, sparks of inspiration collected. It will be interesting to see all of these little sparks in your book.

  12. Mardel May 19, 2009 at 10:26 pm #

    I just saw your book on another site, but for the life of me can’t remember where! I am getting a little older.

    Muse or not, I really respect anyone who can get a book finished; when I think of all a book entails, plot, lots of separate events, all the dialogue that one hopes doesn’t come across stilted or lame, beginnings and endings along with the characters – I am just amazed. It takes real talent to finish a book, and grand talent to finish a book I want to read. I could never compete as a writer. I’m a hell-of-a-reader though!

  13. Kimberly B. May 20, 2009 at 8:38 pm #

    Great interview! I have to admit, I’ve never been that comfortable with the idea of a muse, mostly because it seemed designed to keep women in the realm of inspiring art rather than creating it themselves. (Though Sappho was called the Tenth Muse for writing poetry, not so much inspiring it, but I digress.) Sometimes, though, when an author is able to tie together disparate plot lines and make them make sense, or when something that seemed totally irrelevant when it was mentioned at the beginning of a book becomes crucial by the end, it’s difficult not to suspect some kind of divine inspiration.
    If your book contains references to both the battle of Thermopylae AND the Huldra, I definitely have to read it!

  14. Anna Katherine May 21, 2009 at 9:41 am #

    Just one more day of the contest — tomorrow is random-picking time! Thank you everybody who’s stopped in so far — here are just a couple of replies:

    Maija P.:
    Definitely first in a series — the universe is just too fun to give up. Allie and Ryan are probably going to go and have a pile of off-screen adventures, only having brief cameos here and there as the situation warrants — the next book is going to deal with the vampires of NYC (after working so hard to make them unsexy in Salt and Silver, we figured trying to make them sexy again would be an interesting challenge. :) )

    Mardel:
    And cheers to good readers! Honestly, it’s an amazing feeling to look down at your word count and realize, hey, that there’s a book. It’s almost unreal.

    Kimberly B.:
    There are indeed references to both, as well as to the 1946 film La belle et la bete, the fact that Crayola used to have a crayon called “flesh”, and the fascinating Library of Congress shelving system. (I almost wish I was joking. Almost.)

  15. Jacqueline May 22, 2009 at 4:41 am #

    I love discovering new authors! Great interview by the way. Is this meant to start of a series?

  16. Anna Katherine May 22, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    Hi all! Using the wonders of Random.Org, the winner for this signed copy is…

    Bam!

    If you could send an email to annakatherine@annakatherine.com with your address, you’ll receive a signed copy of Salt and Silver. Thanks, everybody, for coming by!

  17. Kate Diamond May 23, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    Yeah!

    The next time I have writer’s block, I’m going to say to myself “Muses can suck it.”