The process of writing a novel--did I mention I'm working on a novel?--has been teaching me the most interesting things. For instance, you can't really figure out what the novel is about until you actually put your ass in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. And the other thing is that muse rumor is apparently true.
I blundered my way into a scary part of the story this week, writing a scene in 19th century China. It was intimidating because I am not Chinese, have never visited China, I live in the 21st century, am by no stretch of the imagination an authority on everyday life in the 19th century on any continent. I have a whole lot of books all over the desk that tell me about Chinese history (all those dynasties and all) and about factors that led to massive Chinese immigration to the U.S. from southern China in the 1800s. But what would the inside of a house look like? What, precisely, would they have had for dinner? What would a sixteen year old girl wear? If she went fishing, would she hold the line or use a pole.
Here's the truth about the muse: She won't show up until you give her a clue that you are serious, until you are in there mucking around with the language, throwing up images on the page. All of a sudden these quiet little spooky whispers start seeping through the walls of the psyche. Kind of like this: "Psst. Forget Southern China. Your girl comes from the mountains in the north. No, no, not rice--millet. Her father grows millet. What food did her father bring home? Easy...write this down: pickled radish, sticky buns with bean paste, strips of salted herring." Each time one of these specific notions occured to me, I Googled it, because I truly had no idea whether what I was choosing had any connection to reality. And each time, Google confirmed it. I could almost hear dear Muse whispering, "Well, DUH."
Well, let's find out what she knows about the Woman's Christian Temperance Union...