by Margaret Lucke
My Muse slouches into my office and plops herself on the soft chair in the corner. "Here I am," she says. "Where's my reward?"
"Reward!" I turn from the computer to face her. "What are you talking about? You just arrived. You haven't given me anything yet. Not the first word of a sentence. Not even the glimmer of an idea. You don't get a reward just for showing up."
"I don't see why not."
"Pay for work that hasn't happened? What kind of business model is that?"
"Ooh, I didn't know what we do is a business." She gets up, walks across the room, and peers at the screen. "Where's the profit-and-loss statement? Are we making money? What's my cut?"
"Never mind. We need to get busy on chapter 18." I position my fingers on the keyboard, ready to type something brilliant. "When we left off, Jocelyn was waiting for Luke to show up in the empty house. She doesn't know he's the one who killed Gretchen. How shall we open the scene?"
"Later," I say firmly. "We don't get rewards until we've accomplished something."
"What's that then?" She points to my tea mug.
"Fuel." I pick up the mug and take a big swig.
"Uh-huh. And this? Looks like a reward to me."
Next to the mug is a plate with a tiny morsel (very small, honest) of dessert left over from last night.
"My breakfast," I explain as I take a delicious bite. "Carrot cake."
"Ah ... carrot." She nods knowingly. "The proverbial donkey's reward. The farmer gives the donkey a carrot, and the donkey takes the farmer to the market. A fair arrangement, but you can see that the reward comes first."
"No, no. The farmer dangles the carrot in front of the donkey. The donkey moves toward it, but the carrot stays just out of reach until they reach their destination. Only then does the donkey get its reward."
"Can I have some of your cake?" she asks, just as I pop the last tidbit into my mouth.
I lift my hands in a gesture of apology. "Sorry."
She rolls her eyes. "Poor donkey. It must feel as frustrated as I do."
"Remember, the farmer also carries a stick, so he can swat the donkey's behind if it doesn't cooperate. The carrot is a positive motivator and the stick is a negative motivator. The idea is--"
"Motivate, schmotivate. If I were the donkey, I'd tell that farmer where to stick his carrot."
She goes back to the soft chair to pout.
"Come on now," I say. She doesn't move.
I wheedle. I cajole. No response. I look around for something to use as a stick.
But I know that won't work. Instead, I take the plate to the kitchen and refill it, this time with two slices of cake. I return to my office and set the plate beside the computer.
"Pull up your chair," I say to my Muse. "The big piece is yours."
She smiles as she scooches her chair forward and picks up the extra fork I brought. "Speaking of sticks, did you know Luke is bringing his hockey stick to the house with him? To use as a weapon against Jocelyn. No, wait, not a stick, a knife. That way he can hide it under his coat. Mmm, yummy cake!"
"Hey, he can't kill Jocelyn. We need her for the rest of the story."
"Don't worry, she'll save herself. A little more of this reward and I'll figure out how. Make sure the next piece has plenty of frosting!"