Calling All Muses, Dead or Alive

As a writer, I’m always searching for a muse, and when country music superstar Merle Haggard died recently, I became reacquainted with his story and found him more inspiring than ever.

Haggard grew up dirt poor and became a hellion. He was sent to reformatory schools, but no school could reform him. At 20, he robbed a restaurant. After he was arrested, he broke out of the county jail, was recaptured and sentenced to San Quentin. In prison, he gambled and brewed beer and was thrown into solitary confinement. There he conversed through an air vent with a death row inmate.

This conversation changed him, he said, and when Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin, Haggard was inspired to become a musician. He taught himself to play the guitar, and after his release, he worked in the oil fields, as he wrote and performed music. He eventually composed 38 number one hits.

I find his story amazing. He overcame impossible odds to achieve great success, and he found his muses in unlikely places.

Going for a simple walk can bring out a muse for me. I love to walk on the beach near where I live. Nature created the white sands from crystal rocks. The gulf sparkles like emeralds in the sunshine. I sometimes hear music in the gulf’s roar. The other day, Larry and I were walking our dog P-Nut, and I started to sing a tune I was hearing.

I asked Larry if he’d heard the tune before. He plays the piano and has performed with many musical groups. He also composes music.

“Sounds different,” he said.

I explained how the tune flowed through me. He didn’t think this was strange at all, but creative.

In thinking about the creative process, I remembered the time Larry asked me to sing, “If I Can Dream,” at the church where he plays piano. This song was written for Elvis Presley. Elvis was the only artist to record the song, as far as I know.

On the morning of my performance, I walked to the podium to sing, but then I flew into some kind of unconscious zone. The congregation clapped afterwards, so I figured I did okay.

Larry said, kindly, “You nailed it.”

The preacher smiled and said, “You wiggled your hips while you were singing.”

“You channeled Elvis,” Larry teased me.

But all joking aside, I’ve had many strange things happen to me, mostly when I write. I can never predict how my characters are going to behave. I think I know them. I have created their back story and outlined extensively, but then when I start the writing process, my characters always surprise me. They’re like jazz musicians. They know the structure and the rules, but they want to jam and do their own thing.

My characters eventually return to the story line, but I often have to figure out how to rescue them or not. Sometimes they create such a mess I must call on my slumbering muse. She’s the one who appears in my dreams after I go to sleep while thinking about the problem. This muse seems to have the ability to provide a solution by morning.

Most of the time, I draw from my own experiences, as a newspaper reporter, columnist, broadcaster, political activist, exercise enthusiast, wife, mother and grandmother. I’m more comfortable writing about what I know. Some of my favorite authors do the same. John Grisham, an attorney, writes great legal thrillers, and many of Stephen King’s protagonists are authors. In fact, King is considered one of American’s most prolific authors. Also, my fellow authors at Books We Love write tales on subjects they’re passionate about.

In two of my novels (Sex, Love & Murder and A Message in the Roses), my protagonists are reporters. However in Hurricane House, the lead character is not a journalist, but a catastrophe Investigator (CAT, for short). Creating this unique protagonist seemed to make more sense. Luckily I know a CAT, and he generously shared his knowledge with me. As to describing the hurricane, that was easy. Larry and I have survived a few of those.

I created A Message in the Roses, from a murder trial I covered as a newspaper reporter in Atlanta. But even though I lived through this trial, I had to immerse myself in 80s music again and read news accounts from that time before my muse decided to resurface.

While working on the sequel, I’ve tried to set reasonable writing goals, allowing for my day job and family responsibilities. This time around, I’ve had to call on a variety of muses, alive and dead. Will they lift me to a higher plane and help me write my best novel yet? I hope so.

I Feel Better Already Now

  1. Here’s an original song, Larry and I wrote and performed. It’s called I Feel Better Already Now. I wanted to share the YouTube Video, celebrating our song. I hope it brings you a smile. Love and hugs!

I’m Graduating from Feminist to Nasty Woman

“Are you a nasty woman, Mama?” daughter Andrea asked me recently.

Her question took me off guard. Then I remembered the third Presidential debate and knew exactly what she meant.
For those who didn’t watch, here’s the exchange:

Hillary Clinton: “I am on record as saying that we need to put more money into the Social Security trust fund. That is part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy. My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it.”

Donald Trump: “Such a nasty woman.”

Following that debate, his “nasty” comment became a “feminist battle cry,” on social media. T-Shirts with “Nasty woman” printed on them are now in demand, as are hats emblazoned with, “Make America Nasty Again.”

Streams of Janet Jackson’s song “Nasty” skyrocketed after the debate, according to Spotify. In the song, Janet calls men, who display bad behavior toward women, “nasty boys.”

No question Trump’s “nasty” comment has struck a powerful cord. I’ve never seen so many women open up and describe in detail how they’ve been discriminated against and treated differently than their male counterparts. Women are sharing their stories as never before. They’re talking about how they’d been grabbed and abused. How they were told to be nice, not bossy and to smile, not frown. They’ve shared their stories about being sexually harassed, and how they were shamed, demoted or fired when they reported the harassment.

All of these conversations have sparked my own painful memories, and I’m thinking it’s time to share two of those memories with you.

At 19, I was sexually assaulted in New York City, where I was living at the time. My attacker was a successful businessman and owner of the business where I’d worked. Ashamed and traumatized, I left NYC without reporting the assault.

Fast forward many years, I’m walking to the Marta train in Atlanta. It’s the end of the day, and I’m heading home from Georgia State. It’s raining. I’m in a great mood, happy I remembered to bring an umbrella.

A strange man steps under my umbrella and says, “Are you from out of this world?”
I’m caught off guard, but I sense he’s a psycho, his eyes wild, glassy. “Get lost,” I tell him.

He grabs my boobs, squeezes them brutally. I yell out in pain and horror and swing my open umbrella to defend myself.

He runs inside the nearest building and disappears.

I’m shaken, but I continue on to the Marta Station, hop on the train and go home. Once I feel safe, I call the campus police to report this psycho and try to stop him from hurting anyone else.

I describe to the officer what happened, but before I can give him a description of the man, the officer asks, “What were you wearing?”

Stunned, I don’t how to respond at first. “Dressed casually, like any college student.”

I should have demanded to speak to his supervisor or to a female officer who would empathize. But I didn’t, I played nice, when I should have been assertive and nasty.

It’s interesting how that word “nasty” has changed through urban interpretations, but it appears more complimentary when referring to men. Men can be nasty cool, skillful, as in “He plays a nasty guitar.”

While with women, the urban definition usually refers to sex: “freak-nasty, blatant, unhindered sexuality, and has an undertone of kinkiness.” Unlike the traditional definitions, which are: “smelly, bad, filthy, repulsive, malignant, ugly, spiteful, disgusting, incredibly mean and stinky, very loud, obnoxious.”

But getting back to the question Andrea asked. In answering her, I said, “Yes,” although I prefer the “cool, skillful” definition of the word, and hereafter I’ve decided to graduate from feminist to nasty woman.

For Halloween, I’m leaning toward dressing up as the good witch in The Wizard of Oz, with a hat that reads, “Good Witch, aka Nasty Woman.” What do you think?
As an afterthought, Andrea sent me this recipe for The Nasty Woman drink, a Quartz cocktail, created by Jenni Avins:
Three parts silver tequila (made by the “bad hombres” of Mexico)
Two parts cherry juice (Avins likes the one from Trader Joe’s)
One part lime juice
Pour over ice and top it with sparkling wine or sparkling limeade.
This drink should get a wedge of lime, but Avins says she too nasty to fuss over a twist.
Whatever you prefer to drink, be sure to enjoy it like a nasty woman should.
To read more, please visit my website:
Also would love for you to purchase my latest novel, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES. This story is loosely based on a murder trial I covered as a newspaper reporter in Atlanta, and it’s also a love story.

I’d Like More Peace in Today’s Bloody Politics by Sandy Semerad

I’ve been reading a book on nonviolent communication, hoping to achieve more harmony in my life.

I write about murder, but I prefer to live in harmony and get along, rather than argue. This particular book gives the following advice on how to do that: Don’t judge. Observe and listen. Mirror back what the other person is saying. It also provides tips on how to express feelings.

When I express my feelings, rather than keep them bottled up, I’m less likely to get angry. It’s helpful to use words like I’m feeling happy, sad, frustrated, angry, etc. and not use judgmental words like rejected, abandoned and attacked, this book advises.

As I was learning how to communicate better, my mind wandered to the tumultuous political climate and the heated rhetoric spouted by some of our Presidential candidates. I’m wondering what the experts could do to diffuse their anger.

What would they advise Republican front runner Donald Trump? He wants to “Make America great again,” he claims. “Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.”

While his supporters agree with him, the Republican establishment would like to stop Trump. Former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Trump “a fraud,” but Romney’s denouncement didn’t seem to hurt Trump’s campaign.

Many of Trump’s adversaries have entered the fray. Even popular author and liberal democrat Stephen King has criticized the billionaire businessman. King wrote this slogan which he thought best represented Trump’s philosophy: “If you’re white, you’re all right. Any other hue, I don’t trust you.”

Trump usually fights back, going for the jugular. He shouts, “Get them out,” referring to protesters attending his rallies. Or he might yell, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” Recently, a Trump supporter did just that at one of his events.

Supporters of nonviolence have recommended a much more civilized approach, but I doubt the angry rhetoric and name calling will stop anytime soon in this heated political climate.

Trump called Texas Senator Ted Cruz a liar, and referred to another competitor Marco Rubio, as “little Rubio,” and the battle escalated. Rubio responded by saying Trump’s hands were small, insinuating his manhood was also small.

Ohio Governor John Kasich wants to position himself above the fracas with his “positive vision for America,” he says. But Kasich’s message doesn’t seem to resonate with the majority of voters. He won his home state, but trails in the polls, and claims he wouldn’t accept a Vice Presidential nod from either Trump or Cruz. Senator Rubio failed to win Florida, his home state, a death knell for him, so he dropped out.

Cruz says he’s “Reigniting the Promise of America.” But I’m uncertain as to what this means. When I think of America, I think of the American people, a conglomeration of men and women and children, all nationalities, all races, religions, enjoying the freedoms stated in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation, although I would add the word women, to insure all women and men are created equal.

Cruz also wants to “Take America back.” Does he want to take us back to the time when the thirteen colonies declared independence from Britain in 1776? I have no idea.

I prefer clearer messages, and I cringe when I hear name calling and combative words coming from someone who wants to be hired as our next President.

On the democratic side, the candidates appear more cordial. They focus on the issues and the differences between them. Although Senator Bernie Sanders has riled up voters by saying, “A political revolution is coming.” When he asks his packed audiences of young voters “Are you ready for a revolution?” they yell, “Yes.”

While I don’t “feel the Bern,” I see his appeal. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I wanted to be a rebel, too.

Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton offers a more practical approach. “I will work for you,” is one of her slogans. “I’m fighting for you,” is another one. She has also countered Trump’s message. “America is already great,” she says. “I want to make America whole,” and recently I saw this sign attributed to her: “A woman’s place is in the White House.”

When Hillary Clinton ran against Barack Obama and lost to him in the 2008 election, her slogan was, “Solutions for America.”

President Obama, a dynamic campaigner, used this saying, “Yes we can.”

In President George W. Bush’s campaigns, he had several different slogans: “Compassionate Conservatism,” “Leave no child behind,” “Yes, American can,” “Moving America Forward,” “A Safer World and More Hopeful America.”

President Bill Clinton used these: “Building a Bridge to the 21st Century,” “Putting People First,” and “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow.”

One of my favorite Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, used this catchphrase at a time when we were embroiled in a Civil War. “Don’t Swap Horses in Midstream.”

But as far as avoiding conflict, many of these political figures, past and present, seemed to have subscribed to the adage, “Politics is a blood sport.”

As for me, I prefer to avoid bloodshed and combative behavior. I’d rather leave that to the characters in my novels.
Please visit my website to find out more:

Posted by Sandy Semerad at 1:00:00 AM
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