Magic in the Big Lots


This weekend I went thrift store hunting with my friend, who was in need of inexpensive props to complete a costume for the upcoming Renaissance faire. We had a ball, playing with household objects that caught our eyes, coming up with ideas for what they might be, once properly pimped and in the costume context. We ended up in the local Big Lots.* We wandered through the holiday sections, thinking about ways we could use tree lights and styrofoam skeletons, until we found ourselves in the gardening aisle. Have you ever noticed how much a hose trigger looks like a ray gun? It does, so we entertained ourselves playing with the ray guns until my friend held up a mysterious object. It was a four or five inch length of garden hose, with brass connectors on either end and a silver metal coil enclosing it. I was almost speechless, because she was holding an almost perfect replica of a magical item I had invented not one week before for my WIP. I tried to leave it in the store, but in the end, I had to buy it.

Most of the time we invent everything we write out of our imaginations. But every now and then, something in the real world pops up to remind us that there’s magic everywhere, if we’re only paying attention. Most writers have messy desks, piled with copy edits and research materials and mementoes. We also tend to have inspirational toys lying around, just to keep the muse entertained. On my desk, for instance, there’s a standing compass, a telescope and a plastic box of tiny pirates who sometimes come out and battle on my desk. Do I have to have them? Of course not. But they help me find my way into that special place where my imagination lives. And if I find myself drifting off, which does happen now and then, the physical objects are great reminders to stay in the world and keep writing.

The cellule (yeah, “kink-free hose adaptor” is what Big Lots called it, but what do they know?) is sitting on my desk, reminding me of where my thoughts should be. Look around your writing space right now. What do you have for inspiration? What does it mean to you? Did it have a funny story behind it?

*For those who aren’t from around here, Big Lots is a remainder store, a step above the dollar store.


15 comments to Magic in the Big Lots

  • I’ve been fortunate enough to know many cover artists and I’ve adorned my walls with their artwork. I can count at least three stories I’ve written that were directly inspired by this art and numerous scenes that come from some small detail in the paintings. I don’t have nearly enough, though, and so I visit the art room at every con I go to, hoping to find that one piece to inspire me enough to plunk down some money and put it on my wall.

  • Well, I have a tiny ceramic dragon that was given to me by a wonderful friend (who likes to shop in Big Lots…) after she heard me read “The Dragon Muse” at a con. I have a second ceramic dragon, a box actually, that I painted and fired myself and that I have filled with beautiful wave-worn shells from the Carolinas. I have crystals, a carved bone pendant from New Zealand, a tiny plush-toy Kookaburra from Australia, a pair of binoculars for those times when birds flit around outside my office window, and, or course, my tiny little storyteller sculpture from Acoma, New Mexico. In other words, I have so much stuff to inspire me that it’s amazing I ever get anything done….

    Can’t wait to see what the cellule does.

  • Right now, I have copies of both Jane Yellowrock books. Why? you ask. Because I’m refreshing my memory of my imaginary world as I await the page proofs for Mercy Blade. It’s a scary time, because I found a date that I got wrong in MB, and only caught because I was doing the re-read of the older books. Suddenly the boredom of the 12th reread is gone and I am … feeling alert and stupid all at once. However, at home, I have pics of mountain lions. I saw a stuffed real puma concolor (mt lion) at Cracker Barrell yesterday. I want one! But it woudl be way to big for my desk top!

  • I don’t have a set office space – my writing research and references are carried around my house in a big canvas bag – so I don’t have a much in the way of “inspirational paraphernalia”. The one thing that I do have, is a small stuffed wolf that I bought at a fundraiser. Proceeds from the sale (all $5) went to the World Wildlife Fund to support their research and work. The little guy is pretty cute, and I thought it was a great way to support environmental conservation work, even if it wasn’t much.

  • A box of pirates? On your desk? What a brilliant idea!

    I’ve got lots of small figures from when I was counselling children but it never occurred to me to use them to get the muse going. You’ve got me thinking now.

  • Swords. I collect them. And steam punk gizmos which I make.

  • Less than a week after I “invented” a frequency-activated deep-tissue healing -um- thingy for my latest WIP, I read about how the US Air Force had developed almost exactly the same thing.

    Am I reading their minds, or are they reading mine?

  • My desk is a horrid wreck at the moment, but when it isn’t it looks like this:

    I’ve got pics of my family taped up reminding me of who besides myself I’m writing for.

    My most used research books and such.

    There’s a Hobgoblin Ale mug that looks like a cauldron that my sister gave me that I put pencils and pens in.

    A number of pirates and even a skeletal undead pirate.

    A skull held in a skeletal hand. Alas, poor Yorick… I’m considering putting a little plug-in red light in it so it has glowing red eyes.

    There’s a GI Joe Destro up there. I like Destro.

    Got a little zombie punching bag up there that my wife gave me because I told her once that I think I need something to relieve stress on from time to time. I was thinking of something a bit bigger that hangs from a ceiling, but it’s amusing. 😀

    There’s a big rock there that I keep calling fossilized dinosaur poop that I found in WV. It seriously looks like some meteorite and feels far heavier than it looks. I’m considering painting it with neon green paint that glows in black light and calling it kryptonite. It’d be sort of a reminder that even superman has some bad days. 😉

    There’s a little statue of The Thinker there that reminds me that it’s holding up my books…

    Got a picture of the ARRGH! Thar Be Zombies! cover on the wall that’s the first major piece I’ve done, which will be in game and hobby stores October 13th.

    My Dead Men Tell No Tales flag I got for Christmas because I wrote pirate stuff and we’re into dressing as pirates and collecting replica flintlocks and such. Pinned to the flag is a button that says Hillbilly Bob Zombie, which was an indie film we helped with FX on for probably the last 10-15 minutes of the film.

    The big art board hanging on the wall has my current manuscript on it so I can see the revision suggestions I need to work on.

    Then there’s various candles and oils for creativity and inspiration that I use while I’m writing. My favorites are bergamot and cedar wood. There’s also some stones up there that are for creativity, focus, inspiration, and health.

    On the floor against the wall is an art pad that I use when I need to draw up a map for help with writing.

    There’s other odds and ends, but that be the gist of it.

  • Ryl

    Amongst the clutter of my writing room is a Magic 8 ball; a little fish bowl full of cookie fortunes; 3 guitars and an overloaded music stand; my fencing gear; about half of my reference library; figures of the full cast from ‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel’, and David Lo Pan, and Lucy and Ethel as Martians; dozens of seashells and mineral specimens; a copper and bronze Myanmar Buddha surrounded by tea-lights; a small model of a DC3 — man, I gotta clean up this place!

    @Wolf, I remember reading about something like that in the really old [WWII era] Wonder Woman comics — it didn’t go into details, but she had a machine that would project ‘healing rays’ at the patient,…

  • It’s no surprise that things we think up are real, or become real. I mean, we have some of the technology today because of the sci-fi and fantasy writers of the mid-20th century, right? Star Trek with it’s communicators that are now just cell phones. (I’m so waiting for the transporters so I NEVER have to fly again!!) And cyber punk brought us the jump drives and lap tops and all that cool stuff. Kids read the stories and grow up to make the technology. It’s cool. On the other side, of course, there are rumors that some diseases are actually government made like the scary plague in Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

    As for me… while I have a set writing space (my dining room table) I don’t have a lot of writing talismans… mostly because I have a near-pathological dislike for knickknacks. I moved around a lot in grad school and wrapping the ones I had, and packing them, and unwrapping them, and dusting them… ugh. So now, when I go places, I buy magnets. They are on my fridge or in my office at school, every time I look at them I remember the fun I had, and they require no dusting and are easy to move.

    However, I think I might like a small stuffed demon, just for my own inspiration. He or She could sit on my desk and watch. Maybe I’ll keep my eye out for one this halloween! 🙂

    I tend to get inspiration from music more than from visuals. I hear a song lyric (one that I may have heard 1000 times before) and I get an image of a character, or a character’s motivation, or a plot moment or something like that. They usually end up in no way resembling the song, but there is something in it that will inspire me.

    I also get stuff from the medieval texts I teach–like today I taught Sir Orfeo and in it the main character, Orfeo, goes to Fairy. It’s gorgeous, rich, castle of crystal with 1000 towers, jewels everywhere, the least attractive pillar is still gold. Then, once inside, he sees all these people suspended and on display. Some are missing heads or limbs, some have huge wounds, some are drowned, some burned, and some are women caught in throes of childbirth. All really creepy, spooky stuff. Then he sees his wife there, asleep under the tree like she was when she was first snatched away to Fairy. (He’s there looking for her… it’s a happy-ending retelling of the Orpheus myth). Anyway, it reminded me how spooky Fairy is supposed to be, at least to humans. Some cool imagery, and, even if I never use it, it certainly re-inspired me about my fiction and my current WIP.

  • Sarah

    Sigh. I love those moments when we find magic items in mundane places. I have a framed watercolor of a forest edge that my brother bought me because it reminded him of the Old Forest in the the Fellowship. I gaze at it when I want to go away in my mind.

    I also have Greebley, my anti-muse. He’s technically a neo-pet, but I know better. He’s writer’s block personified. He’s a midnight blue plush toy bug/faerie with large blue eyes and a grim, disapproving expression. I bought him when I was struggling with my dissertation. I passed him in the store and he sneered at me, so I had to buy him and put him in his place. Now he sits on the corner of my desk and gives me the eye when I’m wasting time or flailing. When he gets too pretentious I rearrange his antennae or make him look out the window instead of at me. At the moment he’s appreciating my new plant.

  • Young_Writer

    Daniel, I love your pirate poster. First thing I saw when I clicked the link- Dead Men Tell No Tales 😉
    Pea Fairy/Emily, I ran out of books to read so I asked my mom for some. She told me to pick some and she’d check them. I come down with a stack of books and lay them out. The first thing she sees is Stephen King, “No. He’s creepy; you’re not reading that.” Sigh. I’ll try again next year in eigth grade.
    And now to me. I actually write in my dad’s office, but I’m working on finding my own little knick-knacks. For now I have a few pictures of my family- beach, parrots on our shoulders, the zoo, ect. But I also have my own secret drawer. I filled it with writing goals and my old handwritten works. I go there when I need inspiration. Anyway, I’m trying to find a little tricket of a favorite musical or sport. Maybe a whip. You never know, if magical objects come to life, villains might to…

  • Beatriz

    AJ says “Swords. I collect them. And steam punk gizmos which I make.”

    Duuuuude, we so need to talk!

    On my desk in the office is a collection of pirate candles from a long-ago cake my class gave me. They (the candles, not the class) remind me to find the joy in what I do and to make the learning fun.

    At home is a lacrosse stick, just waiting to be steampunkified into its next purpose. It sings a siren song of make-believe and I can’t wait to start transforming it from the mudane to the magical.

  • There is a 4×8′ Jolly Roger hanging on the wall in my office next to a smaller pirate flag with a drinking skull that reads, “Time flies when you’re having rum.”

    Other than that, Elric and Conan posters, art purchased from various cons and lots of books fill my writing space.

  • Living in a basement suite means that there are many ledges. So I have, in effect, turned the ledges in the corner that my computer desk fits into as a sort of altar. There is a large sachet of lavender, a hand-crafted stone chalice, some of the favored writing books I’ve owned over time, some swaths of tulle hanging down, and of course some pictures, mostly of wild cats, half of them with metallic finish. But my current favorite is an African carving of a big cat on the prowl. In my WIP I have sacred beasts, one of them being a puma. I saw it at a craft fare held at the college where I work. All I could think was, “That’s Hush.” (The puma). So I bought it without question.