Other writers may be fortunate to have as their inspiration a muse that more closely conforms to one of the nine sister goddesses of learning and the arts in Greek myth. Me, I’ve got a reptile. It wasn’t as if I chose the creature to be the power that guides my writing, but it happened.
One of the first stories I wrote when I settled in rural Florida during the winter was the one that won me the Sleuthfest short story contest. In it, alligators loom large. You could say one even rescued my protagonist. Of course I entitled it “Gator Aid”. I gave a copy of it to a close friend who commented that I seemed to be hung up on alligators. Well, duh. They’re all over the place here. We often comment in this county that there are more cattle here than there are people. I’m convinced there are more alligators than people too.
It seemed perfectly normal to me to use the alligator as a source of inspiration because what drives my creativity when I’m in cowboy country is the setting. My protagonists are usually women who are winter visitors, otherwise known as snowbirds. If one snowbirds on the two coasts or in the Keys, the setting is all about the beautiful people, the sand, the sun, the waves, the color of the water, the perfect waving palm trees. It takes some kind of crazy juxtaposition to make murder out of that, but there are plenty of writers who manage it and manage it well.
Here on the range, set foot beyond your manicured lawn and you may be in for trouble. You could step on any manner of awful thing: horse poop, cow pies, reptiles without legs, sticky, prickly stuff like palmetto, or into swampy water inhabited by animals you don’t want to know about, and some of them are alligators. Of course, on the good side you could walk into the arms of a handsome cowboy who might pull you onto his horse and the two of you would ride off. . ., well, you understand what I’m saying. It’s quite simple here. The gators make for danger, the cowboys for romance. It’s the perfect blend of dark and light, murder and passion.
The place is so imposing that it’s hard to imagine writing here without writing the rural Florida setting. If I want to work on a manuscript set in upstate New York while I’m here, I have to consciously transport myself to that other world. I find it’s not done easily, and that’s where the muse comes in, because, really, I’m fortunate to have two muses. I have to. One for up north and the alligator for down here.
My northern muse? Oh, just a boring old ghost named Fred who likes to play tricks on me. His humor inspires my own as I’ve written on my blog, and his knowledge of my home on the trout stream inspires stories of tornados, drought, floods, hardwood forests, pine topped mountains, microbreweries housed in old dairy barns, a few curious bears, deep snow, craggy-faced hunters and farmers, and, of course, the occasional murder.
Think alligator, and I’m wrestling with humidity, hurricanes, burning cane fields, the citrus aroma from orange trucks, a pink and magenta sunset across the western side of the big lake, the neon sign in the form of a cross proclaiming “Jesus Saves”, the yelping of coyotes when the train comes through, air boats howling down the canals, and anhingas grunting to one another across the swamp. How could all of that not make one write setting, beautiful and possibly deadly?
So why am I not inspired by something less, well, ugly than an alligator? I do write murder mysteries, not romance, you know. An alligator is never the villain. I reserve that for humans. Usually when my reptilian muse is personified in my writing doing gatorish things like death rolls and snapping arms off, these unfortunate happenings are to bad people who deserve every toothy bite delivered.
Yeah, I’m hung up on gators because I love where I live, and I write what I love. What’s your muse like? Is setting important in your writing? Do you like to read authors whose setting is strong? Who?
My muse is an alligator and his name is George. Life is hard here. Sometime in his earlier life George lost one of his front legs, but he gets around, also an inspiration to me.
Dumpster Dying by Leslie Diehl will be released by Oak Tree Press soon. Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state. They’re more like pot metal to Emily Rhodes, who discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster. With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer. She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires, hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer. Visit the website at www.lesleydiehl.com and blog http://anotherdraught.blogspot.com