Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

Musing on Muses

by Tina Whittle

Tina Whittle headshot


Like most mystery writers, I grew up marinating my brain in unsuitable material— Edgar Allan Poe, The Nightstalker, the lurid photographs in my mother’s nursing textbooks. I whetted my appetite for the edgy and unsavory in every medium that the library and late night movies would allow, but I also stole liberally from my mother’s stack of bodice-ripping romance novels. Soon my imagination brimmed with stories of carnal appetites savory and otherwise, populated with intrepid heroes and feisty heroines and more than a few corpses.

Such is my literary resume. But my Muse is a different creature altogether.

Separate from me, yet intimately collected, my Muse is my constant creative companion. I capitalize the word deliberately, as I would a proper name, because that’s how the relationship feels to me — like two individuals working for a common cause. I did not choose my Muse any more than I chose my best friend; our partnership evolved organically, and I work hard to honor and nurture it (which usually involves massages, good wine, and naps, so no hardship there).

I subscribe whole-heartedly to the idea of the Muse as an entity separate from the artist. As writer Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, describes it, “there’s a contract between you and the mystery.” She encourages modern day creatives to drop that idea of genius as something only a select few possess, and to think instead of genius as a separate intelligence that visits us in order to inspire and assist with some creative act.

This is exactly how working with my Muse feels to me—cooperative, mysterious, energizing. It’s a multi-sensory experience. Sometimes I feel as if I’m eavesdropping on my characters, jotting down their words and whispers. Sometimes the feeling is visual —a singular image, like blood on snow, that I just have to explore. And sometimes it feels downright spooky, like when I feel a pull toward a certain magazine or book only to flip it open to exactly the piece of research I’ve been desperate to find.817hYzyeMRL

I can’t explain it . . . and I wouldn’t want to. Trying to cram the experience into a formula would ruin the magic. And it is magic—powerful, alchemical, transforming. Humans are storymaking creatures, and to be able to share in that age-old process is a gift and a privilege.

So take a bow, fellow creatives, and make welcome your own Muse. It will be the start of a beautiful relationship, I promise.