Monday, January 23, 2012

When Mayzie Flies the Coop

Lois Winston, author of a delightful mystery series, is my guest this week. 
When Ellis invited me to do a guest blog at The Unpredictable Muse to promote the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the latest book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, it took me no time at all to decide the topic of my post. I had to talk about Mayzie.
Mayzie is my muse. She’s as temperamental as her namesake, the flighty bird in Horton Hatches the Egg, often taking off for parts unknown and leaving me staring at a blank computer screen at the most inopportune times.
Over the years I’ve discovered some rather unorthodox ways to recapture my AWOL muse and put her back to work. So today I’m going to let you in on one of those unorthodox methods I employ: I’ve perfected the fine art of eavesdropping.
Have you ever thought about how much of our day is spent waiting? We wait, wait, and wait some more. Every day. We stand in line at the supermarket, the post office or motor vehicle, waiting to be waited on. We spend countless hours in doctor and dentist waiting rooms (how aptly named those areas are!) waiting for someone to jab something cold and uncomfortable into our nether regions or perform root canal. And then we sit or lie there waiting for the procedure du jour to end. We freeze our butts off in the bleachers while our kids kick around a soccer ball or toss a football. We hang around the multiplex lobby, waiting for the previous movie to let out, then hunker down in our seats and wait through countless commercials and previews for the next feature to begin. We sit like zombies every morning and evening as the train or bus carries us to and from work. We stand around waiting to be seated in restaurants, then wait for the waiter to take our order and bring our food.
Wait, wait, wait. Maybe some of you already use this waiting in a productive manner by reading or dragging out your laptop to work on your current manuscript. But many of the scenarios I just describe are not conducive to writing or even reading. Just try whipping out that laptop while standing on line to renew your driver’s license, or try finishing a chapter of the paperback you keep tucked in your purse while your legs are splayed wide on the examining table. And if you’re like me, you probably find it hard to concentrate on the bus with the guy sitting next to you casting furtive glances at your computer screen. Or you find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over because the conversations going on around you keep intruding and breaking your concentration.
So instead of trying to read or write, mine those conversations for plot and character ideas.
Who among us doesn’t love to eavesdrop? Don’t deny it. We all do it. Forget baseball. Eavesdropping is the national pastime. And since the onset of cell phones, we can eavesdrop with abandon. Try going anywhere without hearing someone’s personal phone conversation. Whether you’re in a restaurant, on a train, in a hotel lobby, walking down the street, on line at the supermarket, or even in a public restroom, I guarantee there will be somebody nearby carrying on a highly personal phone conversation in a voice loud enough for everyone within a block’s radius to hear. There’s something about cell phones that make people raise their voices. Conversations that would normally be held in hushed whispers are broadcast wirelessly like sports announcers booming play-by-play. Over the last few years I have been privy to the most private details of total strangers, thanks to Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T.
And don’t forget the best place in the world to eavesdrop -- the hair salon. Women tell their hairdressers intimate details of their lives that they wouldn’t dream of divulging to anyone other than a therapist. And they do so in voices loud enough to carry over the sounds of hair dryers, running water, pumped-in background music, and the chatter of other customers.
So listen. Take mental notes. Those conversations going on around you every day are rich with character and plot potential that will help you corral your wayward muse and force her back to work. It works for me!

Death By Killer Mop Doll blurb: Overdue bills and constant mother vs. mother-in-law battles at home are bad enough. But crafts editor Anastasia Pollack's stress level is maxed out when she and her fellow American Woman editors get roped into unpaid gigs for a revamped morning TV show. Before the glue is dry on Anastasia's mop dolls, morning TV turns crime drama when the studio is trashed and a member of the production team is murdered. Former co-hosts Vince and Monica—sleazy D-list celebrities—stand out among a lengthy lineup of suspects, all furious over the show's new format. And Anastasia has no clue her snooping has landed her directly in the killer's unforgiving spotlight.

Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at Visit Lois at her website: and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

Lois is currently on a month-long blog tour to celebrate the release of her latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, and she’s giving away five signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll. To enter to win a copy, post a comment to this blog post or any of the blogs on the tour. The full tour schedule can be found at her website and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog. In addition, she’s also
giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads,


Donnell said...

Hi, Ellis, Hi, Lois, great post as usual. This had me smiling. As one who hates to wait, and can't wait to get back to my keyboard, I can attest that the hairdress IS the best place to eavesdrop -- according to my hairdresser, they should replace the Better Business Bureau, because they simply hear everything, good or bad, on every business out there. Trust me, we talk about incompetent dermatologists, to contacts for me to take my gun training class

And Lois, no, absolutely not, no taking our laptop in while our feet are in the stirrups. Well, unless we're on deadline! :)

bj said...

Lois, your books sound like must-reads for me. This concept of eavesdropping was an assignment in a novel writing class and I have to confess being a little uncomfortable at first but getting into it when I found humor in the conversation.

Nathan Rudy said...

Nice post. My muse is my daughter, Kendy, who insists that I tell her a new story every day on the way to work.

I already own mop so no contest for me!

Jane R said...

I just hate to wait too (who doesn't?). With my older ears eavesdropping isn't always easy in a noisy environment. So sometimes, when I'm in a crowd, I try to imagine the backgrounds of the people around me. That exercise certainly hones in on my powers of observation and it does make the time go faster. Thanks for the great post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Lois and Ellis,

An enjoyable post! I prefer to call eavesdropping "observing."
It's a good euphemism for what writer constantly do. We look and we listen. A good way to get inspiration.

Lois Winston said...

Thank you, Donnell, bj, Nathan, Jane, and Jacqueline for stopping by and commenting.

Donnell, we do what we have to do when on deadline! ;-D

Nathan, I hope you're writing all those stories you tell your daughter down.

Jane, I like your idea.

Jacqueline, doesn't matter much what you call it as long as it works for you!

jeff7salter said...

LOL, Lois. I do the same thing -- though at diff. PLACES -- but I don't call it 'eavesdropping'. To me, it's people watching and people listening.
Often, it's ONE-SHOT --- someone I'll prob. never see again in a thousand years. But frequently enough, there are people I see again and again ... and I take note of their tics. It's fascinating.
And, as you say, terrific grist for my writing.

Robin Allen said...

Great post, Lois! This gives me the idea to eavesdrop on my characters. Put two or three at a dinner table and give them a topic, a la Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, and let them "discuss."

p.s. I already have a copy of Mop Doll and started it. Fun!

carl brookins said...

Good advise. Here's another POV. Consider that you are "blocked" because you are trying to get a character to do something totally out of character. In several workshops where I have suggested that, removing a character altogether often works to cleal the muses channel.

Lois Winston said...

Jeff, whatever you call it, if it works for you, that's what's important.

Robin, hope you enjoy the book!

Carl, that's quite true. There are many reasons why an author can have writer's block, and what you suggest is certainly one of them.

Ellis Vidler said...

Lois, good ideas. I guess you could hang out in the sort of place your characters might go for your "research" or eavesdropping. Hmmm, could I justify a visit to a nice restaurant on that basis?
I'm enjoying the post and the comments. Thanks!

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for inviting me, Ellis!

Anonymous said...

One of my grandmothers was an Academy Award level eavesdropper and that was even after she didn't have a party line. (I still regret blowing the whistle on her when she had my aunt set up. She was right. She needed to know.)

Someday I am going to fictionalize both of my grandmothers as a detective agency.

I loved this post.


Vonnie Hughes said...

Lois, I have never thought of naming my muse. Perhaps that could help me! Let me see...something unfriendly, complex...and I know the muses were all women, but I kind of like the idea of a male muse. Thinking on it.

Lois Winston said...

Vonnie, it's your muse. You can name it whatever you want. ;-D

Tonya Kappes said...

LOVE this post! I'm always looking for ways to kick that muse in the you-know what!! Thanks, Lois!

Lois Winston said...

Glad you liked it, Tonya!

Cheryl Wright said...

Death By Killer Mop Doll sounds like my kind of book!

Totally agree about the eavesdropping. Over the years I've done my fair share of it, sitting in shopping malls for hours on end listening in to conversations.

Oh, and forget the mental notes, I also take physical notes! Too much good fodder to leave it to my foggy memory. LOL

Nancy Lauzon said...

Hi Lois,

Your books sound like a lot of fun. As for the eavesdropping, that's where I get a lot of my dialogue, LOL!

Lois Winston said...

Cheryl, taking notes is great as long as you don't get caught! :-)

Nancy, do you take physical notes, too, or just remember the dialogue in your head?

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