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.”

~~~

Friday Favorite: The first flash of chemistry

You know my favorite part in a romance? When the characters first start to realize there might be something there.

Especially if they started the book hating each other, like Jack and Sarah.

~

It wasn’t until she was standing on the sidewalk in front of her building that Sarah realized just how dark and quiet the city was at night. At nearly two in the morning, her office building and the nearby storefronts were all dark. Streetlamps provided equally spaced pools of light and some cars cruised down Light Street, but she was very alone.
She started for the crosswalk and hugged her arms to her body, thinking of all the crazy people who could be hiding in these shadows. She didn’t notice the car that had slowed down alongside her until a voice called out. “Excuse me, Miss?”
She actually stopped and looked around, like he could be talking to anyone else. “Yes?”
He was a young man, maybe her age, leaning out of a sleek black car with tinted windows. “Do you know how to get to Fells Point?”
“Yeah, I think.” She took a step toward his car, stumbling a little. She caught herself with a hand on the window frame.
Something in his gaze sharpened, and his eyes drifted lower. “Maybe you could show me yourself?”
A lick of fear curled around her chest. Sarah jerked herself upright and back onto the curb, suddenly aware of how little clothing she had on.
“I don’t think so.” She turned and started the other way, toward the harbor. Going to a dark parking garage suddenly seemed like the wrong idea. She turned back toward Pratt Street, knowing there was an all night diner one block up, and she could use the phone there to call another cab to take her all the way home.
The guy was yelling out the passenger side window now. “Come on, baby, don’t be like that. I just want some directions.”
“Sorry, no,” she called, speeding up.
“Stop being such a tease.” Anger laced his words now.
Sarah ran.
One block, she thought. I can make it one block.
Her legs disagreed. She barely made it past three storefronts before her heels caught an edge of sidewalk and sent her sprawling. Her face narrowly missed the edge of one of the benches bolted to the ground. Concrete tore through her dress to scrape her ribs.
The car screeched to a stop, followed by the unmistakable sound of a car door opening.
Then the sound of not one, but two pairs of feet making their way toward her.
She couldn’t fight two men. She knew it, but she grabbed the leg of the bench anyway, trying to pull herself back to her feet to run.
“Yeah, you might want to rethink that,” a man said.
I know that voice. She looked up, and Jack stood there, a baseball bat hanging from his hand. The guy from the car was backing up, his hands raised. His car sat idling by the curb.
“Man, I don’t want any trouble. I was just making sure she didn’t hurt herself.”
“Sure you were. She’s fine.” He hadn’t even looked at her. “Get the hell out of here.”
The young guy took another look at her, threw a glance at the man with a weapon standing to her right, and jumped into his car.
Sarah pried her hands off the bench support and scrambled to right herself, pulling her dress closed. Her cheeks were hot, and she hadn’t even done anything wrong. “Thanks.”
He held out a hand, and his voice was gruff. “You all right?”
No. “Yeah, I think.” She took his hand, keeping her dress held shut with the other.
Then the streetlight hit her face. Jack froze. “What the hell? Are you kidding me?”
She stumbled, feeling she must have broken her heel. “I—thank you for what you did. If I could just use your—” She staggered again and gave a small yip when he caught her by the arm.
“You’re drunk too?” he exclaimed. “Lady, I don’t know why you picked me to be your personal—”
“I didn’t pick you for anything,” she snapped, too loudly. “I was just trying to go to my car—”
“Driving. Now that sounds like a good idea.”
“Shut up! I just wanted my phone.” She jerked her arm away from his, and he let her go. She went flying back to the pavement, sitting down hard.
“Wow.” Jack dragged the word into two syllables. He stared down at her and ran a hand back through his hair. “Jesus Christ, you are a piece of work.”
Sitting there on the pavement, staring up at her “savior,” she wanted to melt into the ground. Instead, her eyes betrayed her and she started to cry. She pressed her fingers to her eyes, feeling grit in the cuts on her hand. “Forget it. Just leave me alone.”
He sighed and held out a hand again. “Come on. You can clean up and use the phone.”
She thought he was going to lead her to the store, which was completely dark, but he led her past it to a set of three concrete steps and a wooden door, sandwiched between two store fronts.
He pulled a set of keys from his pocket, but she balked, drawing back. The fear from the guy in the dark car was still too fresh. “Where are we going?”
“I live above the store,” he said. “Where did you think I was taking you?”
Sarah hesitated, torn.
He shook his head and pushed a key into the lock, not looking at her. “Do what you want. You’re welcome to stay out here and take your chances with the next tool in a Lexus.”
She swallowed. “Okay.”
She followed him up a narrow stairwell of carpeted stairs to another locked door. As he unlocked this one, he said, “I thought you didn’t drink.”
She kept a tight grip on the banister. “I don’t.”
That made him laugh, which made Sarah feel like an idiot.
His apartment was huge, larger than she’d have expected, and comfortably cluttered. His furniture was sparse and simple; an overstuffed sofa with an aged coffee table sat along one wall, as did a decent sized television. A stereo took up the other wall, looking newer and more impressive than the TV. Musical odds and ends were everywhere: sheet music, a guitar in the corner, more musical accoutrements she couldn’t identify.
He pointed. “Go into the bathroom.” He went through the other door into the bedroom.
She padded across his floor, barefoot, leaving her broken shoes by the door. The bathroom was clean, at least, though toothpaste, shaving cream, and other guy products sat scattered on the counter.
She could almost hear her mother’s voice now. Everything in its place, Sarah.
But her mother wasn’t here now. Sarah caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her running makeup and hair askew, and thanked god for that.
She kept a hold of her dress even though the door was closed and turned on the faucet, holding the more damaged palm under the cold water. It was only then she noticed her hands were shaking.
His knock made her jump. She awkwardly dried her hand on a towel before pulling the door open.
Jack was holding out a black tee shirt. “Here. You can put this over your dress.”
She stared at him stupidly, surprised by this unsolicited kindness.
Then he ruined it. “Do you need me to translate or something? Take it.”
She took it, and he turned his back. “Where were you tonight that you ended up looking like this?”
She pushed her arms through the sleeves. The shirt was huge on her, and Jack wasn’t that big a guy. “I was with my friend. Some dance club.”
“Some friend.”
Sarah remembered Kate’s offer to walk her out, and wondered where she’d be now if she’d taken her up on it. The man with the sword and the disappearance on the street suddenly seemed a million miles away. Now, standing warm and safe—sort of—inside Jack’s apartment, she wondered if her crazy brain had made up the whole thing.
Then she glanced down at her hands, seeing the first scrapes she’d gotten when she ran for the club doors. Maybe she’d imagined the vanishing, but she definitely hadn’t imagined the rest.
“Did something else happen?” asked Jack, and a new note entered his voice. He turned back around. “Do I need to call the cops for you or anything?”
For a minute, all she could think of was the guy with the sword. Then she realized he was asking if she’d been assaulted. After seeing her face in the mirror, she could hardly blame him. “No,” she said. “You stopped that guy out front.” Her addled brain sharpened for an instant. “Hey, why were you even out there?”
“I do this every night,” he said. “Sit out front with my baseball bat and thwart would-be rapists.”
Did he constantly have to be a jerk? She frowned.
He sighed. “I was waiting for someone.”
“At two o’clock in the morning?” A bookie? A dealer? Surely not, after the disdain in his voice when he’d called her a junkie.
“Maybe you can save being judgmental for a day you don’t show up on my doorstep looking like a roughed up hooker.”
She flinched and turned away from him, bringing her hands back to the sink. Ending up with the guy in the Lexus would have been worse, but Jack was starting to make her wonder how much worse.
She put her hands under the water, gritting her teeth against the sting, painfully aware that he was watching her.
Jack sighed.
Then he was beside her, his fingers wrapping around her wrists, pulling her hands from under the water. “Sit,” he said, and gestured to the toilet. He pulled a hand towel out from the lower cabinet and laid it against the sink, followed by a tube of Neosporin and some hydrogen peroxide.
He turned the water on warm. “Give me your hands.”
She did, feeling more like a little girl than she ever had around him. She expected him to be rough, but his long fingers were gentle against her skin.
He rubbed his thumb against the worst of the scrapes. “You need to get the dirt out or they’ll get infected.” His gray eyes flicked up to meet hers.
She nodded. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Those knees will hurt worse. They’re a mess.”
Sarah could stand the pain. She wasn’t sure she could bear his hands on her legs. “Who were you waiting for?”
“Hmm? Oh, a friend of mine. He works nights.”
“You wait for him with a baseball bat?”
He laughed softly and turned off the water. “No. I keep that just inside the door. Some punks broke into the store a few weeks ago.”
He blotted her hands with the towel and opened the tube of Neosporin. As he was rubbing it onto the scrapes, his hand went still. “What’s your name, anyway?”
Had she really gone this long without telling him that? “Sarah. Sarah Parrish.”
He nodded and smeared some ointment on her other hand. “I’m Jack.”
“I know.” His eyes flicked up to hers again, and she added, “Big sign over the door. I looked you up, remember?”
“Right.” He recapped the tube and gestured to the tub. “Swing your legs in.”
She started to protest. Even clinically, it seemed too intimate. But she couldn’t force the words past her lips. She swung around until her feet were hanging in the bathtub. He reached over her knees and ran the faucet, then sat back on his heels.
Sarah looked down at her newly treated hands, resting on the skirt of her dress. Bruises were already forming on her knees, and now in the bright light of the bathroom she could see just how much damage her shins had taken. She bit her lip. “I guess I really do look like a roughed up hooker.”
“Not really,” said Jack, sounding amused. Then he smiled. “Crack whore, maybe.”
Sarah winced. But this was the first time she’d seen him really smile. It softened his eyes, pulling some of the tightness from her shoulders.
Jack must have had the same thought, because it had the opposite effect on him. He lost the smile and moved forward to check the water temperature, new tension in his movements.
He cupped some water in his hand and let it run down the front of her left leg, letting the drops pull road grit down her skin. He did it again, using more water this time, not touching her.
She sat very still, watching the muscles in his arm work in rhythm. She was trying to make out the words worked through his tattoos when she noticed he was humming, very softly, under his breath.
She’d almost picked out the melody when he stopped and looked up. “Tell me if this hurts too much.”
“It’s fine,” she said, too quickly.
He ran another palm full of water over her leg, but this time he rubbed at the scrapes with his thumb, laying his fingers against her calf.
Sarah swallowed. “What’s that—” Her voice was breaking, and she tried again. “What’s that song?”
He didn’t look up, but did the same thing to her other leg, his hand strong and warm against her skin. Sarah had to remind herself to breathe.
“Pachelbel’s Canon,” he said.
“You like classical music?” It didn’t fit him, the slow familiar melody clashing with his rough kept hair and tattoos.
He shrugged and reached around her for the bottle of peroxide. “I like throwing different sounds together to see what comes out.”
“You make classical sound like rock.”
He shook his head and smiled slightly. “Not really.”
She fell silent again, watching his hands for a moment, wondering if the peroxide was going to burn, or if the fact that he’d brought it around meant he was almost done touching her. “So what are you doing with the Canon piece?”
Her voice had come out scratchy again, and he glanced up. She hoped he attributed that to the alcohol. “Drums,” he said. “I always start with drums.”
She searched for the silver glints in his eyes. “I’d like to hear that.”
His hands went still. “Well,” he said, drawing out the word as if he weren’t sure what was going to come next. “Come by the store sometime.”
“Okay,” she said, her voice soft.
He stared up at her, his face two feet away, his breathing shallow.
Then he reached around her to turn off the faucet. He grabbed the bottle of peroxide and rose to his feet, holding it out in front of her face. “Can you do the rest?”
His sudden shift startled her. “Yeah—yes. I can.”
“Good. I’ll call you a cab.”
~

Inspiration

One of my favorite bits of trivia that’s tossed around about the Twilight series is that Stephenie Meyer started writing the novel after having a dream about a vampire and a girl sitting in a meadow talking. Sometimes this is mentioned with a sense of awe, as if the dream itself were some type of sign from the gods that her story needed to be told. Don’t get me wrong — it obviously did need to be told, to millions of people, including myself. I read Twilight at least three times during my maternity leave, and I loved it. But really, it was just a dream, of the same variety we all have, every single night. It was the execution of that inspiration that really mattered.

But it got me thinking about inspiration, and where my own characters came from.

Jack
Before I wrote A Wicked Little Rhythm, I’d written a novel about four vampire brothers living in the suburbs. I eventually put it on the shelf, but I’d planned to write a sequel. My misunderstood villain was going to be a rakish guy named Jack. Once I put the vampires away, Jack still insisted on having his own story. At the time, my husband had just gotten Rock Band (the PlayStation game) for Christmas. I scoffed at it, like I do most of his PlayStation games, but he eventually convinced me to play the drums.

I loved it.

Seriously. I can now play half the songs on Expert.

Now that I’ve typed that, I don’t know if it’s impressive or depressing.

But the point is, I thought a bitter, angsty-with-a-reason musician would be hot. Drums made him hotter. So I started thinking about musicians, and music, and trying to add a fantastic element led me to the Muses of Greek mythology. From there I looked at the twelve Olympian gods, and Jack was born.

Jack says a lot of things I wish I had the guts to say. If I were a man, I think I’d be a lot like Jack. He’s quite possibly the easiest character to write.

Sarah
I knew I didn’t want a kick-ass heroine. I’m more personally intrigued by women who can succeed in a man’s world without throwing around a bunch of karate kicks and profanity. In the vampire brother’s sequel, I was going to create a love interest for one of the vampires, and I was going to name her Sarah. She was going to be shy and hesitant, and in the first draft of A Wicked Little Rhythm, Sarah was almost tragically shy and introverted. I’m secretly shy and introverted (though I expertly hide it) so it took me a few drafts (and some expert advice from Bobbie) to find Sarah’s fire.

Because of her shyness, I wanted to give Sarah a talent that was directly opposed to a woman who has spent her life under her mother’s thumb. So I put a sword in her hand.

Gus
Gus is one of my favorite characters. When I introduced him, I had no idea what his talents were going to be; I just needed a wingman for Jack. In the aforementioned Rock Band, Mike played a guitarist, whom he’d named Gus. Once I had a name, I still needed a talent. At the time, we were watching American Idol, the season when David Cook won.

Now I’m not going to lie. I thought David Cook was hot from day one. Still do. Hot. And that voice? Sexy. Hot. Have you heard that low sultry part in the Light On song? When he’s saying, “Leave a light on when I’m gone….” I’d leave the whole frigging house on. Hell, I’d go turn on the dome light in the car.

I might need a minute here.

ANYway, I needed a talent for Gus. David Cook had a sexy voice, and wasn’t breaking any mirrors. Then American Idol got to the silly episode when everyone has to say something embarrassing about themselves. David Cook said he was known for being a “word nerd.” I almost fell off my couch. And that became Gus’s talent.

Soren
Soren is another one of my favorite characters. I can’t say too much about him without revealing spoilers, but I will say that I named him after the Prince’s unflappable yet underappreciated assistant in The Prince and Me, one of those movies that didn’t make a lot of money but made me swoon anyway.

And there you go. Rock Band, American Idol, and a crappy old Julia Stiles movie.

I suppose you could say I was inspired by pop culture.

It’s no dream, but I’ll take it.