Muscle Memory

It’s been years since I rode horses, but I still remember how to sit the transition from a walk to a canter. I remember the slide of your outside leg to trigger the movement, the way you’d sit into the saddle just so, allowing the horse to lift up its front end and change pace. I remember it so well that if I sat on a trained dressage horse, I have no doubt I could accomplish that movement right this instant. I might not be in shape to ride for any great length of time, but my body would know what to do.

I think writing is like that. While I haven’t been on a break since my son was born (don’t ask how fast or at what time of night I wrote most of the Elemental novella), I haven’t been writing with solid regularity like I used to.

But the muscle memory is still there. It’s going to be weak at first, but I’ll hit my stride and the words will come pouring out.

During my school visit, one of the most popular questions was, “What inspires you?” (Right after “If your book gets made into a movie, can I be in it?”)

It was a hard question to answer. Harder than it should be. I told the kids that inspiration can come from anywhere. When I wrote the adult paranormal romance A Wicked Little Rhythm, I came up with Jack, the son of Apollo, and I made him own a music store in downtown Baltimore. I also made him a drummer.

I know nothing about drumming. But my husband had bought Rock Band that Christmas, and we played it a lot. I started thinking, “Hey, a drummer would be a cool character. Now how can I make it paranormal…”

Another student asked how I battle writers block. I think that’s just a matter of planting your ass in the chair and writing something. Anything. If I’m fighting with a scene, I’ll go work on a different one. I’ll write a blog post. I’ll write an email to a friend about something going on in my personal life. I’ll write something.

When I sit down to write, if I’m not feeling it, I’ll go watch dance videos on YouTube. I’m not kidding. Right now, I love the song Without You by David Guetta and Usher, and I’ll go look for people who’ve put up dance videos using that song. Sometimes the dance videos suck. That’s okay; sometimes my writing sucks. Sometimes the dance videos take my breath away. Those are inspiring. It’s art, it’s talent, it’s something completely different from writing, and sometimes that gets me going.

What works for you guys? What doesn’t work?

And since it’s Friday, and since I haven’t done this in forever, I’ll put up a Friday Favorite. Since we just talked about A Wicked Little Rhythm, here’s one of my favorite scenes.

~~~

The store was cool and dark, a welcome escape from the humidity that still hung over the city. Sarah knew she had talked to Jack on their walk back, but she could hardly hear her thoughts over the screaming in her head: He almost KISSED me! And he BELIEVES me! And… he almost KISSED me!
The giddiness was nearly enough to make her pass out.
“You want another soda?” Jack asked.
She started to shake her head, but then she wondered if he was going to lock up and walk her to her car if she refused. Or what if he invited her up to his apartment? Would she say yes? What would that mean? Would saying yes give him the wrong impression? The right one?
She wished she could call Kate.
“Hey.” He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Come back to earth. You want another soda?”
“Um, yes,” she said, hoping she was making the right choice. “Please.”
He led her through the curtain into the back room and turned on a few lights, then moved to the little kitchen area. She watched him pull out a can for her and a bottle for himself, studying his silhouette in the light from the refrigerator.
When he straightened, she looked away, not wanting to be caught staring. Her eyes found his drum set, similar to the one on display at the front of the store, but more worn, more used. It made the instruments look comfortable, less intimidating than the ones out front.
“Pick up the sticks and bang on them if you want.”
She jumped, feeling heat on her cheeks. He was right beside her, holding out a soda.
She took the can. “No way.”
He smiled. “Why not? Everybody likes whacking on drums. Believe me. I listen to it all day long.”
“I think I humiliate myself enough when you’re around.” She found she couldn’t meet his eyes. “I’d…ah….listen to you play, though.”
He put the bottle to his lips and took a long drink. He was watching her again, and she couldn’t figure out his expression. “Why?”
She took a sip of her soda, and for the first time in her life, she wished it were something stronger. “Because I want to see if you’re all talk.”
She meant her words to be challenging, something she imagined Kate would say, but she heard them come out too soft, almost coy.
Jack laughed gently, a good sound that made Sarah look up at him again. For an instant, she caught a glimpse of how he must have been before life caught up with him.
“All right.” He pulled a chair away from the table and spun it to face the drums. “Sit.”
She sat.
He took another drink and sat on the stool. “Any requests?”
“Well…” She blushed and shook her head.
His gaze sharpened. “Yes. What?”
She wished she hadn’t said anything. “I just—maybe you could show me what you meant last week? You said you were doing something to that classical song.”
He grinned wickedly and twirled a drum stick through his fingers. “‘Doing something.’ You make it sound obscene. Poor Johann Pachelbel.” His voice turned mockingly aghast. “Some guy’s raping his music, and he’s doing it with a drum stick—”
“Okay, okay!” She was starting to wonder if her cheeks would ever cool. “I’m sorry I said anything at all.”
“Don’t be sorry, Sarah.” He leaned toward a small folding table that was set up on the other side of his drum set. He had to stretch to reach it, and she watched the hem of his tee shirt ride up to expose an inch of skin.
She swallowed, warm again.
“Here. Catch.”
She blinked, and some sense of self preservation helped her snatch the object he’d tossed out of the air. She looked down to find herself holding a remote.
“Turn the stereo on,” he said. “The canon’s not … ah, ready, but find a song you like. I’ll show you what I mean.”
She struggled with the foreign remote, aware again of his eyes on her. She was able to turn the stereo on, but she didn’t recognize the song. Her mouth felt dry as she used the seek button, trying to find something familiar.
“I…I don’t know what I should be looking for,” she said weakly.
“Anything.” She heard him take another sip from his bottle, just as she found a melody she’d at least heard before.
“This,” she said.
He choked on his beer. “Britney Spears? Are you kidding me?”
Flustered, she reached for the remote again. “I’ll find something else—”
“No, leave it.” She heard him mutter something under his breath, and she thought she caught the words boy band. He shook his head and picked up the drum sticks. “At least it’s something different. Turn it up. Drums are loud.”
She held down the volume button until she felt like she was at the club with Kate again. The room had great acoustics—or the stereo was just top-of-the-line—because the sound was excellent. She felt tense that she’d picked the wrong song, that he was somehow making fun of her, that some other shoe would drop and she’d find out this crazy attraction was one big punch line.
Then he started to play.
The music trapped her in her seat. Sarah stared, transfixed, watching the drumsticks blur and slow in time with the music, like they played and all he did was hang on. The song was the same—she’d heard it on the radio a million times. But he added another level somehow, made the song richer, fuller, adding impossible beats and rhythm until she could almost feel the sound pulse against her skin. Gooseflesh raced along her arms, and she shivered.
When the song ended and he struck the last beat, it was like the slam of a door behind a leaving lover.
He sat silent, watching her, the sticks at rest in his hands.
She was breathing too quickly, and she licked her lips. “Do it again.” She pushed a button on the remote.
R & B this time. She barely knew the song, but it wouldn’t have mattered. His talent was powerful—he could have played with no accompaniment and she’d have been mooning after him like a lovesick puppy.
“Again.” She pushed the button, found something older, from the eighties, with a lot of electronic sound.
He tackled it head on, making the song modern somehow, adding a layer of sound she’d never thought the melody was lacking. The beat whispered along her skin, seeming to pulse inside her body. She watched his arms, the way his muscles flexed and pulled with his playing, how his tattoos flashed and danced with the movement.
When he finished, she felt breathless, frozen. His eyes were intense, fueled by silver fire, but he stayed silent. Waiting for her.
She fought to lower the volume, trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t make her sound like an idiot.
She failed. “That was … amazing.”
He put his sticks in one hand and stepped out and away from the drum set, and she watched him move toward her. He stopped in front of her chair as she gazed up at him. She wanted to make him play a hundred songs while she just sat and listened.
He touched her chin. “I’m glad you liked it.”
His hand was warm, and she sighed.
Then he held up the sticks. “Your turn.”
She jerked back and shook her head, sudden nerves breaking his spell. “I can’t—do that—”
“Shh.” He reached down and took her hand, pulling her out of the chair. “Come on, you little coward.”
Sarah wanted to balk, but the feel of his hand on hers was compelling, like he was some kind of pied piper with drum sticks. She sat on his stool, the wooden sticks clutched in her sweaty palms, and looked at the array of instruments.
She had to clear her throat twice before she could speak, and even then it was barely more than a strangled whisper. “How do you keep them all straight?”
He pulled a chair over and sat to her right. “You know how you can shut your eyes and touch your nose? You don’t miss and hit your shoulder?” At her nod, he shrugged. “It’s like that. Give me your hand.”
She pulled the sticks in close to her lap. “What if I break something?”
“I’ll kill you.” He scooted closer and picked up her hand, wrapping his fingers around hers.
Her heart rate accelerated immediately.
“Relax,” he said, and he was close enough that his breath brushed her cheek, and she could smell the sweetness of his strawberry milkshake mixing with the scent of his beer. Her face started to drift toward his when she heard bells in her head.
She blinked. Not in her head. He was using her hand to make the stick tap the center of one of the large cymbals on the right, and she realized he’d said something about eighth notes and the number four.
Relax. Was he kidding?
“You do it.” His hand dropped away from hers.
Focus took more effort than it should have, but she found herself wanting to succeed, to impress him like he’d impressed her. She discovered she could tap out an even rhythm on the cymbal without feeling too ridiculous.
Then he said, “Now add your foot.”
His voice was soft, his breath warm against her neck. She almost dropped the stick.
“Relax,” he said again. He touched her knee, his hand lingering for just a moment. “This leg. On every one and every three.”
She swallowed and followed his direction, reveling in the tone of his voice as he softly counted the beat, and distantly realized that she was somehow making it all work.
He shifted his chair so he was still behind her, but now more to her left. She couldn’t imagine him being closer, but he was. She could feel the warmth of his body, achingly close to hers.
“Now your left hand,” he said, picking up her wrist. The ink on his skin made a striking contrast where it ran alongside her pale forearm. “Every two and four.”
He helped, but she got it. The rhythm was strong and clear, and even with his closeness, she felt a bit of elation at her own ability. “I’m playing drums!”
Jack laughed, a little. “See? You don’t need me.” He let go of her left hand, but she was able to hold the beat for a moment.
But his nearness was too intoxicating. Sarah let the sticks come off the drums and pulled them into her lap. She turned to face him, her cheeks warm, feeling giddy and foolish. “Show me something else.”
So he took her face in his hands and brought his lips to hers.
The kiss was insistent, his fingers strong yet gentle against her face, along her neck, in her hair. The sweetness of ice cream lingered on his lips, soft and warm against her own. She wanted to lean into him, to feel the press of his body, but uncertainty held her back.
Then his hand was around her waist, making the decision for her, pulling her against him. She was certain he could feel her heart beating against his chest, especially when his hand slid under the hem of her shirt to find the bare skin of her back. She shivered and gasped against his mouth, and his tongue brushed her lips.
She jerked back, suddenly breathless.
They were on the floor, kneeling, her body still pressed against his. She didn’t remember coming off the stool. Jack’s eyes were very close, alert and piercing silver. His breathing was nearly as rapid as her own.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t apologize.” He used his free hand to smooth her hair back from her face. The hand along the bare skin of her back pulled free, moving to safer territory at her waist. “Sarah.”
The way he said her name made her want to melt against him.  Her face felt hot. “I’m not—I don’t—”
“Shh.” He kissed the edge of her jaw, then her neck. Then her lips again, but slower now, less a demand, more a question. She relaxed into his touch, enjoying the warm sweetness of his mouth against hers.
She couldn’t get enough of touching him. She clutched at his arms and made a low sound against his mouth.
He broke free this time, looking almost as panicked as she’d felt a moment ago. His voice was very rough. “I—I shouldn’t do this.”
She felt her chest cave in until it hurt to breathe. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t!” He took her by the arms. “Don’t apologize to me. You don’t know—You just—” He shut his eyes and his hands softened against her skin.
She tried to draw herself up, but her voice and the crushing weight in her stomach didn’t help. “It’s all right.”
“No—it’s not. Damn it, Sarah—” He pulled her forward and kissed her, his hand somehow finding the skin at her back again, sending her pulse racing.
Jack broke free a second time, and her head spun. She knew he was going to tell her she had to leave, that his issues were too much, that this couldn’t continue.
“Sarah.” He whispered her name against her lips.
She shut her eyes and sighed. Her mother was right. This road only led to pain.
He stroked her hair again. “Will you come upstairs and stay awhile?”
Her eyes shot wide. She choked on the change in extremes.
“Just for a while,” he said, and for the first time she heard him sound uncertain, like he worried she’d refuse. His eyes held hers. “Just to talk.”
She wondered if he could feel her trembling. “Yes. I will.”
Relief bloomed in his eyes. He leaned in and pressed his mouth to hers once more, his hand tight against her back. When he raised his head, she felt him smile against her lips. “All right, maybe a little more than talk.”

~~~

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