Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com
I haven’t gotten as much writing done this summer as I’d hoped and my dearth of accomplishment started me thinking about Colette. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was the avant-garde French novelist whose works explored the problems encountered by women in their struggle for independence in a male-dominated society. In addition to her writing, she was a journalist and a stage actress, while leading what can only be described as a lively, not to say strenuous, love life. I couldn’t help but wonder what accounted for her productivity.
Like most writers, Colette had a few kinky rituals. The ritual I’ve been contemplating is the one about fleas. She couldn’t sit down and write the first word until she’d spent several hours plucking fleas off her beloved French bulldogs, Toby Chien and Souci. Her cat, Kiki-la-Doucette, offered an equal plentitude of fleas and Colette certainly didn’t neglect Kiki’s grooming. But it was Toby Chien whom the author regarded as her muse, and presumably it was the time she spent scouting for fleas beneath his short, sleek fur that whetted her imagination. Her third husband said that when she finished her daily flea-picking, she leapt up and bounded to her typewriter as if seized by sudden inspiration.
I’ve not read any scientific opinions on the benefits of flea-picking, but it occurs to me that Colette may have attributed her itch to write to the wrong muse. Fleas are remarkable jumpers, able to leap over a hundred times their height, and they’re not finicky about which species they prefer. It occurs to me that Colette may have leapt off the divan and dashed to her typewriter because she’d been bitten by une puce. Not that le chien didn’t contribute some good ideas. I so want to believe in the inspirational potential of les chiens.
A few months ago, I acquired a Norwich terrier named Jack Reacher, after Lee Child’s fictional knight-errant. Through the modern miracle of Frontline and NexGard, Reacher has no fleas. He’s all flealess energy and enthusiasm and curiosity. He is approximately fifty-five inches shorter than Child’s Reacher, but he has amazing – well, reach. Nothing left on the chairs or a low shelf is safe. I’m more likely to leap off the divan to rescue a chewable thesaurus or my husband’s iPod than I am to race to the computer and begin writing. In fact, Reacher Chien is something of an anti-muse.
Like all terriers, he loves games. Remember the movie, “After the Thin Man”? In one scene, someone has thrown a rock through Nick and Nora’s window. The rock has a piece of paper wrapped around it, but before they can get to it, their fox terrier Asta snatches it and gleefully darts away. When Nick and Nora finally chase Asta down and retrieve the message, most of it is missing. “Bad dog,” says Nora. “You ate the clue.” Metaphorically speaking, Reacher is eating my clues before I can write them.
Whenever I feel an idea coming on and head for the computer, Reacher comes roaring through the house with a ball in his mouth, looking irresistibly adorable. Then diabolically, he rolls the ball under the furniture and barks incessantly until I go down on my hands and knees and retrieve it for him. I spend a lot of the day trying to locate and retrieve stolen items – socks, pens, books, eyeglasses. Often they aren’t discovered in their original, pristine condition. My eyeglasses have only one earpiece and Shakespeare’s Bawdy could not be glued back together. He demands at least two walks each day and, in between walks, he wants to sit in my lap – displacing the laptop.
It’s evil, I know, but I’ve considered skipping the Nexgard for a month. If hand-plucking Reacher’s fleas meant that I could finally finish my novel, I might do it. Then again, maybe I’m just suffering from a case of the summer blahs. I’ll look into the customs and rituals of other prolific writers. I read somewhere that Sir Walter Scott wrote while riding his horse. There’s a thought. Reacher could never keep up with a horse.