Friday, December 20, 2013

Owls and Other Muses

Lisa Stowe, my guest today, may not be a familiar name to you, but she has a long writing and editing history. I’ve known her since Death By A Dark Horse was named something else, and was in its initial, very rough, form.

At the time, she headed up a writers’ group at our local library. What impressed me was her quiet attention to each budding writer and her ability to discern just what each piece of work needed – then deliver the information in a manner that both challenged and encouraged the author rather than dispirit.

Knowing I’d found the help I needed, I handed over my rough draft of DBADH. When she was done reading it, her suggestion was to start the story a little farther into my manuscript. I swallowed hard, and pondered her advice for three days because, as all writers know, cutting out your darlings is painful. At last, because I trusted her, the first seventy-five pages were severed, and … I knew I’d done the right thing. Since then, she has taught me much and encouraged my growth as a writer, for which I am very grateful.

I think you’ll understand, when you read her contribution to my blog, why I feel she is well qualified to coax a story from a writer. She has a gentle warmth and humor that make her wise words difficult to forget.


Parliament of owlsSomeone once told me that my guardian spirit was an owl. She then said she’d never seen so many around one person, that they perched along my roof line and in the trees. I thought that was a cool image, although I didn’t know if I should be thrilled or terrified. Another friend researched owls as guardian spirits and told me they were the keepers of stories.

So where do stories come from? Those guardian spirits that hold them safe.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? I enjoy thinking I’m surrounded by owls. Kind of like being in Hogwarts. Dropping stories down as I need them, rather like owl pellets in word form.

The reality is something different though. Rather than coming from an owl, I find myself listening in on conversations. I recently heard a woman talking about remodeling. It was, to be honest, a boring story. I started thinking it would be way more fun if this happened, and then if that started up, and then this person could jump in, and then what if…

And instantly I’ve daydreamed my way into something entertaining, while smiling and nodding to a story about plumbing problems.

Sometimes it’s a question that intrigues me. The Memory Keeper started because my father thought a bordello madam was his biological mother. He died before finding out and I knew the question would haunt me forever if I couldn’t answer it. So I did, in a story. What if she was his mother? What if a young woman looked for her grandfather’s history, looked for that madam, and old buried secrets came out in the open? What would those secrets be, and who would care?

For me, when I ask that question, the answer I receive isn’t a complete book, or even a full story. Usually I see the very last scene. I always know what the last line of the story is, and the writing process is figuring out how to get to that point. The questions get me wandering down a foggy path toward a clear ending.

‘What if…’ is a magical question. I ask it when eavesdropping on life.

And of course, by waiting for an owl to poop an idea down on my head.


To read more about Lisa and gain writing insight, visit her blog The Story River. If you need an editor, she is Outlaw Creek Editing. To spend some quality time with beautifully written, absorbing mysteries pick up The Memory Keeper and then Sparrow’s Silence at any retailer. They’re in print and e-book format. Here’s some links to make it easy for you:

Smashwords: All E-Books

All other retailers -- search Lisa Stowe or the book title.


  1. Excellent post, Lisa!

    The "what if" question is a big motivator for me in writing.

  2. I love that you found a personal mystery in your life to drive your 'what if' question. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa.

  3. Yep, "What If" *is* magical, or if you prefer, a lovely process of the subconscious. It works for me, but in reverse of the way it works for Lisa. I start with a person in a situation that needs attending to, and when that person says, "What if I do *this*, we're off to the races, usually with no idea where the finish line will be.

  4. I love the vision of owls swooping down with ideas. That will stick with me. Thanks for the post, Susan and Lisa.