When Drew Chial was very young, he found an attic hidden in his bedroom closet. He discovered it investigating an indentation in the ceiling, nudging it with a broom, until it fell inward. There was no stepladder for him to climb, so he scaled the shelves. Shining his flashlight, he found a long triangular hall, twice the length of his bedroom. Every surface was coated in pink insulation that made his skin itch. Creeping into the basement, Drew stole a sleeping bag that he unrolled on the attic floor. He set a tiny aluminum lock box on top of it. This is where he hid the things he wrote. Now Drew hides them in plain sight.
I’ll be attending the KillerCon in Austin Texas from August 23-27. You’ll find me hovering around the Clash Books table talking about my latest horrifying creation He Has Many Names. I’ll be reading an excerpt on Sunday the 26th(at 1pm, location TBA).
This will be my first public reading of the book tour, and my career. No pressure, right? I mean what’s the worst that could happen? Scaffolding near the stage could come undone the moment I step behind the podium. A steel beam could impale me through the lungs. I could cough out a geyser of blood as my stomach lining seeps down my lap. I could stagger forward a bloody bile encrusted mess and realize my fly has been down the entire time. Now that would be embarrassing. If this plays out as I’ve foretold then I promise to haunt the Conference Center of the Wingate hotel as the Fly-down Phantasm(I expect a listing on hauntedrooms.com by the end of the month).
I’ll be really honest. This is my first one of these events and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I assume I’m supposed spend the first evening waving a microcassette recorder around my hotel room, checking for electronic voice phenomenon.
“Is there anyone here who wishes to speak, someone with perhaps with some insights into men’s casualwear?”
“How many of the spirits with us identify as fashionestas?” “Is an all black ensemble slimming or does it make me seem less approachable?
“Is this Edgar Allan Crow t-shirt ironic enough for this venue or does it look like I’m trying too hard? Be honest. I’ll appreciate it.”
I’ve scanned through the event programming. There are screenwriting workshops, panels on mythology, horror movie screenings. All stuff I’m keen on. I’m probably going to do the same thing I do every time I’m faced with the paradox of choice: wave an enchanted pendulum over a map of the grounds and scry out the best option. If the ritual keeps pointing me to the hotel bar well then that’s where the universe has decided I need to be.
In any event I’d like to meet like-minded lunatics with an affection for the abnormal, a penchant for the paranormal, and a weakness for weirdness.
If you’re attending the KillerCon in Austin between the 23-27, find me at the Clash Books table or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Stories with exceptional world building stick with you long after you put them down. They invite you on detours to take in the surroundings: the blimp filled skyline, the gear filled horizon, the towers of steam. These things leave an impression. Stories that veer away from their champions to explore strange civilizations, with nonsensical norms, invite us to image how we’d fit in. Universes with different natural laws, where magic is real and sorcerers can recreate their results lead us to conduct our own thought experiments.
Stories with exceptional world building take up prime real estate in our imaginations. Their authors build the steel frames of civilizations, but leave us with enough ambiguity to fill in with our own details. That’s why people keep returning to the shires of Middle Earth, the dunes of Arrakis, and the rose fields of the Dark Tower.
This phenomenon transcends mediums, down yellow brick roads, through galaxies far far away, and even virtual Matrixes. In fact one of my favorite imagined universes comes from a videogame series called Silent Hill.
I want to explore what makes these games so haunting and what they can teach writers about the importance of world building.
What is Silent Hill?
For those of you who’ve never been to Silent Hill it’s a ghost town in rural Maine. A place where the mist hangs low and ash falls like snow. A mining community that went up in smoke when a coal deposit ignited, perhaps from a accident, perhaps from a ritual sacrifice gone wrong. The fires rage to this day, pumping plumes of smoke through cracks in the street, concealing the town’s tragic history beneath a fog of toxic fumes.
While other ghost towns are a draw for urban explorers Silent Hill attracts a different type of visitor.
Silent Hill through James Sunderland’s Eyes
James Sunderland receives a cryptic letter from his wife Mary, inviting him to join her in their “special place.” The problem is their special place is in Silent Hill at the heart of a burning hellscape. The bridges there have collapsed. Highway patrol officers guard the roads into town. Oh and Mary has been dead for three years. James goes anyway, parking at a rest stop, and trekking through the wilderness until he finds himself in Silent Hill.
On his way James encounters Angela and Eddie, others like him, summoned by the ghosts of their pasts. They mutter to themselves, thinking aloud on past sins. They all seems too far-gone to make for helpful companions.
Shortly after finding a radio James encounters a figure in a tunnel. It staggers into the light revealing its arms are bound in a straight jacket of flesh, its feet are fused with stiletto heels, and its face is featureless apart from a long zipper leading to a gash from which it spews acid vomit. The creature’s very presence makes the radio burst with static.
From here on James embarks on violent journey into the fog, through boarded up buildings, rust strewn corridors, and unspeakable horrors.
Battered and shook James makes it to Mary’s special place in the park, where he encounters Maria, Mary’s physical double and emotional opposite.
This is when story takes a turn for the abstract and James starts to question the authenticity of what he sees. Just as the town reveals its darkness James reveals the darkness within himself.
We learn Mary had a terminal illness and spent her final days in hospice, where she grew hostile to her husband. James responded by drinking himself into a deep depression. He should’ve known his wife was dead when he came into town, because he’s the one who killed her. James smothered Mary with a pillow. He’s been in denial ever since he entered Silent Hill. His journey through the city mirrored the stages of grief.
It turns out the monsters are manifestations of things James has tried to keep buried. The knife wielding nurses in their low cut shirts and short skirts represent his pent up sexual animosity, as do the leggy mannequins chasing him through dark hotel rooms, but the ultimate manifestation of James’s repressed feeling comes in the form Pyramid Head.
Pyramid Head is a giant with a Judas Cradle on its shoulders, a long apron stitched together from human skin, dragging a sword the size of a surfboard across the floor. This unrelenting boogieman represents James’s desire to punish himself. Continue reading How Silent Hill Inspired My Writing→
I can’t speak for other writers, but all my ideas came to me after I’d signed a contract with a strange fellow named Mr. Scratch.
A group of guys in my improv class had dragged me to a cabana party in the Hollywood hills. We found ourselves in an endless pool with a breathtaking view of West Hollywood. This was at the Chateau of a big director with an appetite for young actors. He was snorkeling through the shallow end dressed like a lifeguard. My buddies didn’t mind. They were hoping the situation would score them a role. I was hoping to score a drink. Good thing there was a bartender in the water. I drank until I was good and beached-whale-drunk. I propped myself up in my palm as everyone gossiped around me.
“Hey Drew, what do you think of all this Lindsay Lohan controversy.”
“I literally couldn’t give a shit.”
“So you’re constipated then?”
“You said that you ‘literally’ couldn’t give a shit. So I took it to mean that you were incapable of shitting due to your use of the adverb literally.”
I found myself wandering through the woods in my swim trunks, ranting about how I’d be hot shit too if only I could put my thoughts into words.
“I’d literally be the toast of Hollywood, or wait, does that mean I’d be burned to a crisp?”
That’s when Mr. Scratch staggered into my path. He walked with a limp, because one his legs had been replaced with custom cloven hoof prosthesis.
MeetNoelle, a Hollywood transplant who’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?
Clash BOOKS invites you enter a zone in-between afternoon and midnight, a place if unnamed does not violate of copyright. You’ll find it in a tome of forbidden knowledge, a book called He Has Many Names.
I’d been dabbing my neck all afternoon, feeling the hive begin to blister, then pop, and seep down my back. I was allergic to sweat, but I couldn’t help but run my fingers through my hair and smear it everywhere.
Agent Sunderland suffered no such compulsions. He’d spent the morning cooped up in the van with his suit coat buttoned the entire time. He didn’t mind sitting in a leather swivel chair, wearing giant head cans, or guzzling coffee like it was Gatorade. The man was a cold-blooded reptile with his hatchet face and beady eyes.
Agent Reese on the other hand had a head like a cinderblock, and no neck to speak of. He wore a pair of shoulder holsters over his pit stains. There was a Glock in one and silver flask in the other. The flask was covered in Celtic crosses.
“What is that?”
Agent Reese lifted his arm as if he needed to check. “A flask.”
“What’s in it?”
“Should I have some of that?”
Agent Sunderland shook his head. “She’d smell it on you.”
I itched the path they’d shaved down my chest, feeling the rash of ingrown hairs, the gaffer tape pinching the skin. “But she won’t notice this?”
Agent Reese snapped. “She will if you keep picking at it.”
Agent Sunderland guided my hand from chest to my knee. “Breathe. She can’t see through clothing, she can’t smell fear, and she can’t hear what you’re thinking.”
“How do you know that?”
Agent Reese peeled the cover off the van’s ancient surveillance equipment. “This is not our first rodeo.”
“Is that a reel to reel? What government agency did you say you worked for again?”
Agent Reese put a reel on the machine. “We didn’t.”
“What are you agents of exactly?”
“The lord.” Agent Reese threaded tape from one reel to the other.
I reached for the latch for the door. Agent Sunderland caught my hand. He had the same Celtic cross tattooed on the back of his hand.
“You saw what she did to your friend.”
The door to Jamie’s studio apartment was wide open. Signs of a struggle would’ve been an understatement. The mirrors were shattered. The drawers were smashed to splinters, and there were paperbacks everywhere.
As for Jamie his body was contorted on the kitchen table, arms locked in place, back arched in an upward facing dog position, head craned all the way back until his neck snapped. The screenplay he’d been toiling on for as long as I’d know him was rolled up and crammed down his throat.
Agent Sunderland put his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed it like he was giving a strong handshake, a show of sympathy from someone who’d read about it in books. “This town is filled with artists just like Jamie, bright kids with dreams of making it. The only thing between her and them is sitting in this van.”
I shook my head. “Pitching a screenplay is scary enough on its own, add this on top of that and…” I trailed off.
Agent Sunderland elbowed me, another show affection that didn’t suit him. “Good, use that fear.”
I hung my head between my knees. “If she’s licking her lips at the sight of my neck I’m going to lose the plot.”
Agent Reese scoffed. “You don’t think she’s a vampire, do you?”
Jamie had dragged me to a networking function for writers. There were whispers that a produced would be hiding among us. Matilda stuck out like a sore thumb with her leather lined suit, jet-black pixie hair, and fierce model features. Her skin was porcelain white and her eyes were so brown they might as well have been black. She wore an armored ring that ran up to her knuckle. When she reached out to shake my hand her palm was ice cold.
I scanned the van, shifting my gaze from one agent of God to the other. “What is she?”
Agent Reese lowered an eyebrow. “Not a vampire.”
Agent Sunderland adjusted the collar of the all black ensemble they’d fitted me with. “Listen. Don’t worry about your pitch. Let her do most of the talking.” He slid a pair of fine Italian loafers onto my feet.
“Just what the hell do you think she is?”
“Exactly.” Agent Sunderland smiled as he pressed the toes of the to check the fit. “Just remember, if you feel you are in any real danger, say the phrase, ‘Eye of the needle’ and we’ll come rushing in.”
“Eye of the needle, as in ‘It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God?’”
“That’ll be hard to work into casual conversation.”
“Which is why we won’t miss it.”
“And why can’t I wear my sneakers?”
Agent Reese motioned out the window to the line leading around the block to the bouncers at the door. One was shining a light on IDs the other was scanning the patrons from top to bottom.
My forthcoming novel He Has Many Namesshould be arriving just in time for Halloween. It’s the story of a ghostwriter sequestered in a haunted hotel with one month to pen a novel. The hero, Noelle Blackwood, is a horror writer who knows her way around a scary story. Her imagination has explored every haunted hotel in pop culture. She has run a black light over the tropes and clichés residing in every room.
I’ve armed Noelle with all of my influences and she is proud to wear them on her sleeve, name-dropping the films, books, and paintings that inspired He Has Many Names. This way I could pay homage to my influences while promising to take the story someplace different.
Over the next few months I’m going to take those influences to show and tell. Let’s start by talking about the films that inspired He Has Many Names.
Mike Enslin has spent his career trying to prove there’s an afterlife, searching for ghoulies and ghosties in the hope of proving his daughter is in a better place. His quest has turned him into cynical critic of haunted hotspots. At book readings he tells his audience he’s never seen a ghost and it wasn’t for lack of trying. One day he receives a postcard that says, “DON’T STAY IN ROOM 1408 OF THE DOLPHIN HOTEL.” Mike adds the numbers together and gets 13. It’s a cute dare.
Mike reserves the room, much to the dismay of the hotel owner who warms him of all the natural and unnatural deaths that have occurred in there.
What happens in room 1408 of The Dolphin Hotel and room 1901 of The Oralia in He Has Many Namesare very different. Still the heroes of both tales have quite a few things in common. Both characters are fascinated with the paranormal and yet they’re both intrinsically skeptical.
Mike Enslin, John Cusack’s character in 1408, has spent years seeking proof of life after death. It’s left him jaded. He sees how people deceive themselves.
Noelle Blackwood, the hero of He Has Many Names, was diagnosed with a fantasy prone personality at a young age. She had to learn to differentiate between a set of complex maladaptive daydreams and reality. She developed her skepticism as a coping mechanism.
As for the rooms themselves 1408 and 1901 have little else in common. Once the digital clock starts counting down from 59:99 1408 has a clear mission: kill its guest in under an hour. Room 1901 of The Oralia, a forest themed fantasy suite, has a far more mysterious purpose.
The fifth season of FX’s hit series takes place in an art deco dump called The Cortez. This setting inspired by a real hotel called The Cecil. The Cecil was a historic Hollywood fixture, but it was plagued with violence, suicides, and unexplained happenings.
In the first chapter of He Has Many NamesI wanted readers to think they were walking into a similar situation.
Upon entering The Oralia Noelle is certain it is one of the last bastions of elegance and class from an era when there was still tinsel in tinsel town.
Then she scans a plaque on the front desk to find The Oralia was founded in 2008.
Most haunted hotel stories depend on the hotel’s history to build tension. American Horror Story made the Cortez’s founder a serial killer like H.H. Holmes the dreaded devil in the white city. I wanted to subvert this expectation by making The Oralia a new building with an art deco design, a forgery of an era none of its guests had ever lived to see.
As an anthology show every season of American Horror Story explores a different subgenre. These twelve episodes were packed with a greatest hits mix of the haunted hotel genre. People are trapped in the walls. The mattresses are possessed. There are ghosts, vampires, witches, and a killer with multiple personalities. It has everything and the kitchen sink.
SinceHe Has Many Namesis all about toying with expectations this season was a great refresher on what’s been done and how to take that in a different direction.
Heidi hosts a late radio show where her experimental tastes are uninhabited by advertisers. She receives a mysterious seven-inch in the mail, a single by The Lords of Salem. Shortly after putting the record on she has visions of the town’s past. She sees silhouettes in the vacant apartment down the hall and finds herself sleepwalking in that direction later on. Is Heidi dreaming or are her landlords grooming her to be sacrificed? Are these visions of witch hangings hallucinations or memories? Is that apartment empty or is it a portal into the grand halls of hall?
This is Rob Zombie’s detour from directing slashers to something avant-garde. It’s slow-burning thriller. While it isn’t a complex story on paper, Zombie pulls viewers in with long patient takes through atmospheric set pieces, and twisted psychedelic visuals. Sheri Moon Zombie’s turn as Heidi is equally mesmerizing. All and all I think it’s an underrated work of pure paranormal paranoia.
I tried to capture the same hypnotizing tone throughout the nightmare sequences ofHe Has Many Names.
(SPOILER WARNING: the next few paragraphs contains spoilers for both The Sentineland the ABC drama Lost.)
Of all the pieces of media that directly inspired the TV show LostI’d say The Sentinelis one of the biggest. On Losta group of castaways crash land on an island where they meet Jacob the island’s mysterious protector. It takes seven seasons for Jacob to reveal the island’s true purpose. It’s a cork that prevents the chaos of hell from spilling out onto the world. That chaos has seeped out onto the island in the form of a smoke monster; a monster with the ability to assume the form of anyone who has died. The castaways learn that it’s no accident they crash landed on the island. They are candidates, carefully selected to take over Jacob’s duties as the island’s protector.
That’s the plot of 1977’s The Sentinelif you swap the island for an apartment building and Jacob for a blind priest. Alison Parker is a young fashion model that moves into the building only to be dogged by the hordes of hell. She’s given the same choice the castaways on Lostgot: take up permanent residence and keep the legions of hell from bleeding through.
FromDante’s Infernoto Buffy the Vampire SlayerI’ve always liked the idea that there are Hellmouths hidden throughout the world.
A Hellmout may or may not feature prominently in He Has Many Names.
The tagline on the poster is You think you know the story. There have been so many cabin in the woods horror movies fans ought to know the trappings of the subgenre by now: a group of spring-breakers venture into the wilderness, enter a cabin with no modern convenience, explore the cellar, and watch the wrong film reel, or play with the wrong puzzle sphere, or read from the wrong diary. They wake the legions of the undead and get picked off one at a time. First goes the slut, then the burnout, then the jock, then the nerd, and ultimately the virgin.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard add depth to these deaths by giving them a greater purpose. It turns out every character who has ever died on screen was an offering to elder gods slumbering deep beneath the earth. They spare us from an annual apocalypse so long as their appetites have been satiated.
When I wrote He Has Many NamesI pretty much wanted to make Cabin in the Woods in a hotel, to play with the audience’s expectation and I spin them all around. You think you know this haunted hotel. You think you recognize this deal with the devil, but there’s another element at play.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is tasked with adapting a popular bestseller. Instead he pens a film about his own existential crisis trying to adapt it, blurring the line between autobiography and fantasy.
This is one of the best examples of a story where the writer breaks the fourth wall to reveal the process that went into what we’re watching. The hero criticizes the cheap emotional manipulation techniques in western storytelling right before embracing them.
He Has Many Namesis filled with meta moments just like this, including a scene where a peeved publisher criticizes half of the story that we’ve just read.
Bear with me here. When I was a kid the scene where Bastion realizes that the book he’s reading just referred to him, the reader, as a pivotal character in the story blew my young mind. It was then when I realized how meta-storytelling could bridge the gap between fantasy and reality, making the imagination seem important.
Can you believe I wrote an entire story about an author writing in a haunted hotel and I never once had her type: All work and no play make Jill a dull girl? (Is it too late to add that in?)
Just how does The Shiningrelate to He Has Many Names? Both stories feature writers as central characters, and if there was ever a condition that would make a person receptive to paranormal visitations it’s writers block.
There is one Psycho joke in He Has Many Nameswhen Noelle pitches ideas to her benefactor Barkley Carver. Carver wants her to write a serial killer thriller, a genre she detests. Worse still he wants her to make the killer’s victims unsympathetic so that the audience can relish in the torture porn.
Annoyed, Noelle says, “What if the victim stole a large deposit from her office? Let’s say she checks into the motel thinking Hunter is the owner. Maybe she overhears him arguing with… I want to say his mother. Perhaps something terrible could happen to her in the shower?”
These films lent an aura of unease to He Has Many Names. I can’t pin what I lifted from them, but I love them all the same. Add them to your watch list.
Hey. I get it. Shit happens. You’re hosting a board game night, trying to let some air into a socially suffocating relationship, but you can’t get anyone into the idea of a game of Clue. So you venture into the closet.
“What about Ticket to Ride?”
Your partner rolls their eyes. “It’s like Monopolybut with trains.”
Your partner’s friend with the man bun chimes in. “I’d prefer not to spend my evening celebrating crony capitalist.” And that’s that.
Your fingers scan past Merchants of Venice, The Settlers of Catan, or Vegas Showdown.
“What about The Game of Life?”
Everyone groans. “Life sucks.”
Someone points over your shoulder. “What’s that up there?”
You scan the fire hazards on the top shelf. “Twister?”
“No next to that. Is that a Ouija board?”
Six Months Later
Sixth months later and you’re still scrubbing blood red droplets from the bathroom ceiling, draining the fly carcasses from the light fixtures, and scraping frost from the mirrors.
One night of candlelit laughs has led to six months of strange electrical issues. Six months of handprints on the other side of the TV screen. Six months of bookmarks straight up disappearing. Not to mention the cat toys you keep finding up in the cobwebs, the long strands of hair dangling from the ceiling fans, and the footprints in the dust of your coffee table.
You can’t remember how many times you’ve discovered family photos in the microwave, turned around to find the dining room chairs stacked floor to ceiling, or all the cabinets bursting open at once. Your upstairs neighbor keeps stomping on the floor. He claims someone has been stomping on the ceiling.
The following is an excerpt from Retail Hell, my new short story (at 8,600 words it’s more of a novelette) now available on Amazon.
The Customers Cometh (an early chapter from Retail Hell)
Jezebeth led Barbara to a cliff side overlooking an endless subterranean shopping center. To Barbara it felt less like a cavern and more like another world with a rocky skyline. Great walls of shelving stretched in all directions, cut from lopsided stones, like catacombs with sale signs. Barbara could just make out the checkout counters on the horizon.
Jezebeth pinched Barbara’s shoulder.
“Do you mind if I give you a bit of fearless feedback? I couldn’t help but notice that you were lagging behind on the way out. I know it’s your first day and you’re trying to contain your enthusiasm, but don’t worry about it. Just let loose. Run headlong into each new challenge. Alright?”
Barbara half nodded.
Jezebeth slapped her on the back. “Don’t worry. You’ll get another opportunity after the meeting.”
Barbara turned away, preferring the endless hellscape to her micromanager’s wild unblinking eyes.
Greeters, in red and black uniforms, ran out and scattered along the plane below.
Jezebeth clapped her hands. “There they go.”
The greeters scurried behind volcanic craters, like townsfolk fleeing bandits in the old west. Some fought over hiding spots, while others helped each other bury themselves in the dirt. Continue reading An Excerpt from Retail Hell→
I found this 8-year old poem in my archives. I never shared it because I thought it was too short. Now I think it’s the perfect length. It’s succinct, brutal, and fatalistic in a fun refreshing way. It reads like anti-wedding vows, like a two verse curse, like a Hallmark card from hell. Enjoy.
Plant your vows at the foundations
With all the other dead masons
Pack promises into the clay
With twigs, with straw, with bales of hay
Grind your love up in the mortar
Insulate every last pillar
Then take it all in
By every hair of your chinny chin chin
Bonding agents, mouths to feed
Sheets to tuck, bills to bleed
A bed with walls of paperbacks
You’ll never get your youth back
Big bad wolf has a station
On your home owner’s association
You will run, you will roam
But your straw house will never become a home
I’m going to be using the word “muse” a lot in this post. When I do I’m referring to people with the power to influence your material, not the arpeggio-laden rock band, or the nine daughters of Zeus and any of the sexist connotations that go with them (that conversation is being held in the lecture hall across campus, if you hurry you can still make it).
Call me a cosmonaut but I believe the arts are a form of telepathy, a way to express thoughts and feelings that simply talking (or texting) fail to do. I believe a subtle story of heartbreak has more power to resonate than a loud I feelstatement. By showing instead of telling the story draws out the reader’s empathy. It compels them to put themselves in the hero’s shoes. The abstraction makes the expression all the more genuine. It forces the reader to participate, to draw their own conclusions, and unearth their own theme.
So if art is telepathy and artists are psychics it stands to reason many of us have ideal minds we long to inhabit. Let’s call them muses. These muses could be family members, romantic partners, or associates with mutual interests.
Good muses enhance our writing. When we write with a close confident in mind we put our guard down, get intimate, and create work that resonates, but when we write with the wrong muse our work gets guarded, diplomatic, and disingenuous.
So how the hell are we to know the difference?
Lessons on Screening Muses from Saint Anthony
Saint Anthony the Great is considered to be the father of all monks (and more importantly one of the first Obi-Wan Kenobi figures). Anthony started life with every advantage. His parents were wealthy landowners. He had a stable full of camels and a pocket full of bling, but when he heard Jesus’s message of trading material treasures for treasures in heaven he gave away everything.
Anthony cast off his inheritance, ventured into the desert, and wandered the land. He abandoned human companionship in favor of the divine. He fasted, exposed himself to the harsh Egyptian sun and eventually he started to see things. Anthony had visitations from ethereal figures whose divine leanings weren’t always clear to him.
Angels appeared as scrubs. Demons came on as ballers. It was hard to tell the difference between an angel in humble attire and a devil that had cleaned up well.
Antony’s visions were impaired. Not every angel wore a halo made of tinsel and not every demon wore a vinyl smock with a picture of who they were supposed to be on the chest. Anthony had to rely on his feelings to know which of the creatures he’d encountered.
He realized angels left him feeling rejuvenated, hopeful, and optimistic, while Demons left him feeling drained, exposed, and humiliated.
When screening for muses consider your feelings for the people in question. Really consider. Just because someone is important to you, just because you admire them, doesn’t mean they’re the right person to have in mind when you put pen to paper. That person you’ve been crushing on could be throwing you off your game.
The Person You Most Admire Might Be the Wrong Muse for You
I’m drawn to emotionally unavailable people, people who say, “I don’t think I’m ready for a relationship right now. Not anything serious.”
I want something substantial yet I’m drawn to those people. Of course I don’t consciously admit I have a thing for vagabonds. I’m not the one driving when my subconscious decides whom I get to have a crush on. Yet when I do take the wheel I find myself fighting to stay on a winding road that in all likelihood lead straight into a ravine.
These relationships are built on a rocky foundation of abstraction, emotional dithering, and the tension that comes from knowing that at any moment the whole thing come crashing down.
What I’ve learned from my pursuit of these impossible people is they slow my narrative writing right down. People who make you nervous in your heart don’t make for great muses in your art. They do if you’re writing about the individual in question, but not if you’re trying to cover the broad spectrum of human experience. Especially not if you’re delving into a topic that’s outside of the scope of their interest.
Do An Inventor of Your Muses
You can’t always decide who you’re drawn to, but you can decide whom your ideal reader is. Maybe that person shouldn’t be the one you’re trying so damn hard to impress in life. A bad muse will make you feel too embarrassed to write something heartfelt. They will make you censor your life experiences and hide your humiliation. They will have you filing down your jagged edges when you ought to be making them sharper.
If your muse hates horror you’ll find yourself taking all the teeth out of your terror. If they’re prudish you’ll find yourself softening your sex scenes. If they have conservative leanings you’ll find yourself hiding your rebellious streak.
Conversely, if your muse thinks romance is an antiquated notion for sexist baby boomers guess what your stories are going to be lacking? If they harbor a deep hatred of yuppie squares you might get freakier than you really are. If they gag on sentimentality you’ll find yourself getting more sarcastic than you care to be.
A bad muse can stunt your growth or take your writing somewhere insincere. A bad muse slows your flow, they compel you to edit as you go, and ultimately give you writers block.
Just because you want to impress someone doesn’t mean they’re the right person to let into your headspace when you start writing. Use Saint Anthony’s metric for screening demons. Ask yourself: How does this person make me feel the moment they leave the room. Rejuvenated or drained? If they’re someone who consistently pokes holes in your ego odds are they aren’t going to read your writing anyway. So who cares what they think?
Write for the people who hear what you’re working on and ask a slew of follow up questions, for the people who remember story details from one conversation to the next, for the people who make you feel good even after they’ve left.