Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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A-musing Reckoning

The clock on the wall in my writing office is ticking. Me, well, I’m waiting. I’ve got my “prize” from my weekend in Wisconsin to keep me company. moon manI’ve started working on my editor’s notes, but right now I’ve got something else on my list, and I’m waiting for my quarry.

I don’t have to wait long before my Muse shows up. I adjust myself in one of the recliners in a corner of the office and take a long sip of my brew. “Nice of you to show up.”

He zeroes in on me. “I see you’re working hard, love. Or should I say, hardly working.”

I tip my bottle again and savor the slight citrus tones of the ale. “I have been working. Every night since I got back. Unlike someone else I know. Where the hell have you been?”

He leans back against my desk, hands braced on either side. He’s wearing a black thermal shirt advertising The Old Fashioned tavern, where my Writing Sisters and I had dinner after our panel. Great place to eat if you’re ever in the area. “You do know that writing conferences are also muse conferences, right?”

I manage to avoid rolling my eyes. “Uh-huh. What’s this I hear about you hanging out at The Old Fashioned?” He can’t deny it. All 6-foot 2-inches of masculine energy, with intense blue eyes and GQ-esque physique, makes him pretty easy to spot.

He looks down at his shirt. “You and your Writing Sisters were there.”

“Yes, but I wasn’t standing at the end of the bar handing out business cards. I’ve got a witness.”

A slow grin stretches across his face. “Your Writing Sister? The one who kept her Muse from having fun because she had edits to do? Yeah, I talked to her about that.”

“I heard. You shouldn’t have distracted her.” Though she didn’t exactly complain … Honestly, neither would I 🙂

“Distracted? She–and her Muse–needed a break.” He crosses the office to stand in front of my recliner, hands on hips and a noticable lack of humor on his face. “You are accusing me of handing out business cards. Why would I want to start over with a new writer? For your information, love, those were drink tickets for the closing party. With the weather that weekend, we needed to get muses to stay.”

Why am I having a hard time believing him? “Likely story.”

“I heard about you and some new muses. Were you auditioning replacements?”

Oh crap. “No. They were part of one of the presentations I went to. They’re from a book by Jill Badonsky that helps writers with creativity.”

He leans over me. “Are you saying I’m slacking? I seem to remember my writer being stalled out for, gee, weeks. And nothing I did could knock you loose.”

“Exactly. So the presentation was about how to go after the creative process a little differently. Relax. I’m not planning to break in a new Muse.”

He straightens and chuckles, one of those “silly writer” chuckles. “As if you could if you tried.” He settles into the other recliner. “Let’s get to work.”

Whew. Sorry I’m still so far behind in reading blog posts, but I’m trying to catch up. I’m hitting the edits, but there’s a few adjustments I’ll have to make, and I’ve got to think on those for a bit. Today is earmarked for a college open house, then since it appears Spring is finally showing up for more than a day or two, I’m going to have to take a nice long walk before digging back in to my edits.

Enjoy your weekend, and WRITE!

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WI 2018 — Remember the Joy

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Laurie Scheer’s Welcome

Aaaand, they’re off! It’s Laurie Scheer at the podium, welcoming writers to the 29th annual Writers’ Institute. Writers of many ages, many genres, from many different locations gather for a full weekend of things writing related.

Pssst. Hey, Laurie, what’s up with the lousy weather this year?

There were presentations on Thursday afternoon, but I waited until the official welcome on Friday to start my Writers’ Institute experience this year.

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Ann Voss Peterson

Our keynote speaker this year was a UW-Madison alum, Ann Voss Peterson, who brought along her Wonder Woman action figure. She’s written 49 novels and novellas, and is a writing partner of J. A. Konrath. She spoke on “A Writer’s Life”, and gave us a short list of tasks for every writer that I’m going to have to post somewhere.

She listed four characteristics of successful writers:

Openness to learning — keep learning the craft though classes, conferences, and reading books.

Willingness to work — don’t see it as “work”, see it as writing “practice”. Even professional athletes practice to be really good.

Willingness to take risks — yes, show your writing to other people, send out those queries, enter that contest.

Perseverence — yep. This was Hank Phillippi Ryan’s point in her keynote speech a couple years ago. Gotta keep moving forward.

She went on to remind us to define our vision of a successful writer’s life (p.s.: the most important thing in this vision should be to WRITE), that we should set goals that you can control, to connect with the writing community, and remember why you wanted to write in the first place.

Once you remember why you wanted to write in the first place, figure out how to make it concrete so you can remember the joy of writing. Her Wonder Woman reminds her of playing with action figures as a kid, and making up stories. When she needs to remember, she can take a few minutes to play with her action figures and reconnect with that joy.

We–my Writing Sister and I–did the “10 Clues to Writing Mysteries” presentation, which went well considering it was my first one. There were so many good presentations running at the same time that our room was pretty empty.

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The Writing Sisters panel

Our Writing Sisters panel also played to a sparse audience, but again, there were a number of great presentations going on at the same time. By giving other writers a peek into how our group works, we gave them ideas on building their own writing group, even if it’s only a writing partner to start.

Now, don’t tell my Muse, but I went to a presentation about growing your creativity, which included introducing a few new muses for writers. Aha-phrodite gives us the act of paying attention. Albert (Einstein) leads us to think and ask questions; he likes lists and putting 2 unlike things together to see what happens. The Spirit of Play helps us make our creative process more fun. And Audacity … Okay, I missed the notes on that one. Anyway, it was an interesting presentation. My takeaway: take time to pause and be grounded/centered.

Tomorrow is when the weather really starts moving in. Rain, wind, cold, and eventually freezing rain and snow. Sunday is supposed to be a snowstorm in both Wisconsin and Minnesota (MN’s starts tomorrow, with predicted snow from 6 to 10 inches), so I’m going to shelter in place until Monday.

It’ll give me some time to actually get some writing done. Or at least write down the plotlines my Writing Sisters helped me work out for Book 2. These past days with my Sisters have been fabulous, with all of us together again.

This weekend charges my writing energy battery. Now to ride that energy, and hopefully sustain it.

A hearty thanks to Laurie Scheer and her tireless second-in-command, Laura Kahl. Next year is number 30, and I think Laurie has me on her list, so I’ll be back again.

Remember the joy of writing, the excitement and wonder. Oh, and stay safe if you’re in the path of Old Man Winter, who needs to go back home and let Spring have the floor.


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Paper chain countdown

Okay, not really a paper chain, but I’ve been looking at the calendar every day for the past week or so in anticipation. Despite Winter’s stubborn hold on the weather–last Monday we got 4 inches of snow (give or take), and this Sunday we’re supposed to get yet another snowstorm–I’ve been waiting for this week to arrive.

In less than 5 days I’ll get to see my Writing Sisters! All of them! One of us lives in California, so she doesn’t always make it to the reunions, but next week we’ll all be in Madison, WI for the Writers’ Institute. You should join us; we’re even going to be on a panel discussing our sisterhood.

If you’ve never been to a writing conference, you’re missing out. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy created when so many writers gather. Yes, I know most of us are introverts, but everyone there is enthusiastic about the same thing: writing.

I’m looking forward to tapping the group for help with my current projects. I got my editor’s notes back, and need to do some brainstorming both for my revisions and for Book 2. I’ll bring the brainstorming wall and chocolate 😀

Just an FYI, after you’ve revised your project to within an inch of its life (yes, we all think we do), and get that contract … yeah, it ain’t over. I’ve got some changes to make, some of which I know will strengthen the main character. Some changes I’ll have to consider. That’s another bonus of going to the conference and meeting up with my writing sisters. Though most of them have never read the whole story, they can often see things from a different angle, and can suggest options I never thought of.

“Does this mean you’ll finally get your shit together, love?”

Where the hell did he come from? I look up, and there he is, my Muse, standing like a drill sergeant in front of my desk, arms crossed on his chest. The sleeves of his burgundy Henley shirt are shoved to his elbows, exposing the lean muscles of his forearms. His jeans are at that well-worn stage between brand-new indigo and faded white.

“What are you doing here?”

“Really, love? Just how much have you written in the past week?”

“Hey, I was in Dallas last weekend for my niece’s wedding. Give me a break. Not to mention I’ve been reading through my editor’s notes.”

He rests a hip on the corner of my desk. “I don’t see you working on them. In fact, I haven’t seen you work on anything for a disturbingly long time.” Before I can answer, he lifts a finger at me. “I don’t want to hear it. I want to see you write. And I don’t think you want me to take it to the next level.”

I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. I try again. “Next level?”

A slow grin stretches across his face, his brilliant blue eyes holding something less like amusement, more like … er, like he’s got something up his sleeve that I have a feeling I’m not going to like. “You remember the urban fantasy, love?”

A shiver skitters down my spine. “Don’t you dare. I’ve got to work on my manuscript, my editor’s notes. Don’t distract me.”

His chuckle seems a bit, ah, malicious. “Apparently, you have no problem getting distracted. It’s the focusing part you have trouble with. And if I have to hit you with undiluted Muse energy again, I will. Trust me.”

Gulp. “Look, I’ve got the Writers’ Institute next week. My Sisters will be there. I’ve already set aside some time with my writing mentor and my agent to discuss things. I’ll be focused. You can hang out with the rest of the muses.”

One of his eyebrows arches. “And I’m supposed to trust you, love?”

“I’ll be thinking about writing the whole time.”

“Thinking? Is that all?”

“I’ll write. I’ll have to write with all that creative energy. And all those muses.”

He narrows his eyes. “I’m not sure I believe you. Or trust you.”

“You’ll be there. You can babysit me all you want.”

“You bet your ass I will.”

Yikes.

It’ll be prep time for the next few days. Oh, and of course there’s a boatload of stuff going on in the everyday department, too, including Winter’s stubborn hold–we’re due to get snow AGAIN tomorrow, prom dress shopping, college open house for my daughter. That’s just through the end of the month. Ugh.

It’s been colder than normal for April even here in MN. Good thing I have my handy-dandy lap warmer:

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Have a great writing weekend!


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Intermission

I know, you are sooo disappointed I’m not posting part 7 of my musing mysteries series.

And the Writer’s Institute is only a week and a half away! In case you need a little more incentive, just think how much fun it’d be to meet these cool chicks!

Anyway, I’m going to be pretty much offline this weekend due to another family wedding, so I’ll catch up with y’all in a couple days.

In the meantime, my journey to publication has moved forward another step.

There are basic things we writers all know: characters have to be 3-dimensional and “real”, avoid cliches, show not tell, don’t head-hop if you can help it, avoid adverbs, inciting incidents, mid-point crisis, climax, denouement, you get the picture.

So, when writers revise a story, they look for stuff to ‘fix’, like infodumps, inconsistencies, extra characters who need to be let go, characters who need a bigger role or a richer background, even changing the main protagonist or antagonist. We depend on writing groups, critique partners, and alpha/beta readers to help us refine and polish the story.

I worked with my agent to revise my manuscript before she started shopping it around, tightening, tweaking, and adjusting the ending. But I knew once a publisher picked up the book, there would be another round or two of revision, though I hoped I’d found most of the ‘issues’.

I spoke with my editor for the first time in a few months. She sent her notes on my manuscript, and we discussed some of the things she noticed: some too-sparse descriptions, my penchant for repetition, pet words, and questions on character backgrounds. She also asked whose story it is. I have two main characters, but it’s supposed to be the female lead’s story. Hmmm. I try to give my MCs equal screen time, but something in the female lead’s script was lacking.

It was a good discussion, and now that I have her notes, it’s time to go through her thoughts, chew on them for a bit, then start revising. I checked in with my agent as well, and through a great conversation with her, I figured out what my editor was seeing but hadn’t specifically mentioned in so many words.

The point, though, is through these conversations, I learned more about storytelling. The bigger point, I suppose, is this whole writing journey is a learning adventure that never stops.

It makes a difference, I think, how you approach critiques. Of course there are those people who only do harsh critiques, which are not nice in any sense and probably don’t help you at all (except to make sure you aren’t in any writing groups with the troll). Most people, especially fellow writers and writing mentors/teacher, try to be helpful in their critiques. It’s still hard to hear that your story isn’t as awesome as you think.

I can’t deny it was kind of a bummer to get some of the feedback, but that feedback–and the discussions–gave me the opportunity to learn more about storytelling and how to make my book better. It enriches my writing journey, just like all my great writing friends whom I’ve never seen face-to-face.

Bottom line, never stop learning as you progress along your writing journey. There’s always something to remember, something new to learn, something different to try.

Happy Easter to those who observe it. Take it easy on those jelly beans 😀

Have a great writing weekend!

zoey lapcat


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Spring, where are you?

FIRST, check this out. Here’s a great little article about some special guests at the Writers’ Institute in Madison, WI this year: Writing group shares success stories.

For the past week, our weather people have been warning us of snow this weekend.

I know, I know. Snow in MN. *sarcasm* What a concept. Six to nine inches of heavy, wet, white stuff. I’ve been dreading this weekend since spring arrived (March 20 for those who weren’t paying attention (psst, it was the vernal equinox)).

On the bright side, I woke up this morning to a noticable lack of new snow. Will we escape the entire storm? Crossing my fingers!

In any case, since we’re all (probably) suffering from spring fever about now (except for anyone Down Under or otherwise south of the equator, who is looking forward to winter about now 😀 ), I figured I’d show off my baby plants, because what better way to remind us how green things can be.

First, the easiest ones. Just plant and let them be.

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Onions

Then the ones that I’ll need to transplant once they get a set of true leaves (the ones that look like “adult” leaves).

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tomatoes and peppers

And for the first time I’m starting some kale. Three summers ago I had a bumper crop of kale, which I’d never grown before but loved. The summer before last, I planted kale seeds three different times. I got all of one kale plant that vanished halfway through the season. Last year I planted seeds two or three times because they didn’t come up. They still didn’t come up. I ended up buying kale plants.

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tomatoes and kale

So this year I’m going to start my own. I’m growing curly kale, which I really didn’t want because the curly part makes it easy for the cabbage loopers to hide but those were the seeds they had at the local place (they get seeds in bulk), and black (aka dinosaur) kale, which I’ve seen in catalogs but I also saw in a garden last year. Looks pretty cool, all not curly and stuff.

I’m planning to start Brussels sprouts, too, but I learned last year not to plant them too early, because when the sprouts are ready, so is everything else, therefore I didn’t pick sprouts (not when there are a ton of green beans, cucumbers, and zucchini to eat). If you leave the sprouts too long, they get brown and icky. Besides, it’s nice to wait until later in the season to harvest because the cool nights of fall, and especially a light frost, will make the sprouts sweeter.

Okay, there you have it. A little peek of spring green to tide you over until the grass starts to green up and the trees start to leaf out.

Next weekend is Easter, and another wedding, so little to no writing. Sigh. The groom’s family is Hindu (from India, groom is first-generation American) so Easter doesn’t mean the same to them. It’ll be interesting to see how they do things.

Then it’s a mad prep for the Writers’ Institute. I’m so excited to see my Writing Sisters again. It’s going to be a blast! I still have a few things to do for my presentation, but mostly practice. After that, college registration, graduation, and make sure kids apply for scholarships, summer jobs, etc.

And Book 2. I’ve figured out a few more things for the plot. Planning on doing some brainstorming with my Sisters. I’m thinking another self-imposed NaNo for April (maybe). Hoping it goes better than the last one, which was a bust.

May the snow finally leave you alone and Spring arrive with pretty flowers and greens. Lots of greens. Tree greens, grass greens, dandelion greens …

Happy Writing!


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Musing Mysteries, Part 6

One more month before I get to see my Writing Sisters! One of my sisters just published her book with Createspace. I ordered mine, and can’t wait to read it. It’s gone through a few(!) revisions since I last read it.

The back door of my writing office opens. My Muse toes off his shoes, which are caked in about an inch of gooey mud.

“Hey, leave those things outside. Why didn’t you scrape them before you came in? Wait, where the hell did you find that much mud?”

He picks up his shoes, opens the door again, and drops them outside. “It’s almost official spring, love. Things are mucky until the frost goes out, which you well know.”

Tell me about it. You can hear the squishing and slurping as you walk across the soggy, pre-grass-revival ground. “Okay, but there’s supposed to be grass out there.”

“Sure, out there between the door and the lake.” He brushes a few spitballs of mud off his jeans. You know, the ones that always show up when you stomp through mud puddles. “The path into the woods, not so much.”

“Why were you in the woods? You know, Mae got over ten thousand words written after Mr. E got home from your pub crawl last week. Where’s my inspiration?”

He shoots me a glare. “Mae’s working on the second book in her new series, and she’s a pantser. You, love–” he stabs a finger at me–“are not. Have you gotten through that outline yet?”

Sigh. “No. I’m getting there, though.” I turn to the wall-sized white board and add the next entry from my list of subjects for my presentation (shameless plug: check out the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute). “Hey, this one is about research and writing what you know. I posted about this last year, so we can skip to the next one.”

My Muse takes a marker from the little shelf on the white board and adds to the list. “Cliffhangers.” He turns to me and frowns. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Though not in the sense of actually falling from a cliff.” I do remember watching the PBS series “Between the Lions” when the kids were little. They always had a short about Cliff Hanger. “More like an end-of-chapter hook to entice the reader to keep going.”

“I hope not at the end of every chapter, because that would get a little tiresome, don’t you think?”

“Well, no, not every chapter.” But a good portion of them. I’ve read many books that have multiple viewpoints. One chapter will stop just as something is about to happen to the viewpoint character. Then the next chapter is the viewpoint of a totally different character somewhere else. So I read through that chapter to get back to the other character.

It’s a very effective way to pull the reader through the story. Pretty soon you’re halfway through the book. The first book I read where I really stopped and thought about the story as a writer and what the author did to compel me to keep going was “Wizard’s First Rule“, by Terry Goodkind. I noticed every chapter led to the next one with some question in the reader’s mind about what would happen next. Not always big “will he skid off that hairpin curve” or “don’t answer the door” questions, but more “who left that note” or “who’s that woman” questions.

It’s those less dramatic questions, I think, that lure the reader forward best, because if you have a big “can he hold on much longer” question, where do you go? Either he loses his grip and falls, or someone shows up to help him. Then what? You can only ramp up the danger so much. Think of modern action films, especially super hero films, where huge sentient robots destroy big cities, or mutant humans tear up bridges and sports stadiums. Even daredevil car-racing thieves barely stop for coffee and donuts. Non-stop, computer-generated action. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a non-cerebral movie.

But it gets old fast. Whatever happened to the story? “Mysteries are kind of easy.”

“Easy?” My Muse snorts. “Yeah, that’s why you’re done with your outline and are halfway through your redraft.”

“No, I mean easy to have end-of-chapter questions. Thrillers and suspense, too.” Not that there aren’t end-of-chapter questions in any other genre–there are. I think that’s part of what makes a reader want to keep reading no matter the story. “Mysteries are puzzles, so the reader keeps going to find out whodunit. Thrillers are chases, so the reader wants to know if the hero can catch the bad guy before the bad guy gets him or kills the girl or whatever. Suspense is built on rising tension, so there’s always that anticipation of something bad happening before the main character figures things out.”

I turn to the other big white board in my office, the one with multi-colored stains and remnants of unidentified globs. “It’s the same thing we do when brainstorming. The whole ‘what happens if’ or ‘what will happen when’ approach. That’s how I figured out what was wrong with my story before.” Yeah, no thanks to my Muse.

“Hey, I heard that. And I helped. Why do you think you finally asked ‘what if’?” He jabs his finger into his chest. “That’s my job, love.” He points to my desk. “Now, butt in chair. Let’s finish this outline so you can start drafting. Again.”

Yeah. Again. I’m going to have to start from scratch. *shrug* Oh well. Better to start over and get the story most of the way there instead of finishing it, editing it, then figuring out I have to start over anyway.

Looking forward to a warm (50F) sunny day today–woo-hoo! I started my seeds a few weeks ago, so maybe next week I’ll post some pics. I soooo can’t wait for spring!

Happy Writing!


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Musing Mysteries, Part 5

A fedora and bullwhip greet me as centerpieces on my writing desk. indianna-jones-hat-whip

Oh boy.

I glance around my writing office. I’m alone, along with an empty beer bottle on top of the mini-fridge over by the recliners. So he did find my note.

“Yes, I found your note, love.” The door to my writing office slams shut, the sound echoing in the confines. I can feel my Muse behind me, but I don’t dare turn around.

“Hey, it was family stuff. No getting out of it. Besides, it was fun.”

“Uh huh.” He edges past me, the scent of beer and fried food in his wake. My Muse’s pale gray button-down shirt hangs untucked over black jeans, the sleeves unbuttoned and rolled up to his elbows. Blue eyes lock to mine as he crosses his arms on his solid chest. “Since when is it acceptable to leave me a fecking note? Better yet, when is it acceptable to not tell me you’re going to be out instead of here writing?”

Crap. “Hey, at least I left a note.” Which is more than I can say for some people. “Let me guess. You and Mr. E crawled a few pubs. At least you don’t smell like smoke. I thought Mae was working on her new series. How did E manage a night off?” I pick up a marker for the white board and add to the list. Maybe I can distract him. “We’re done with clues–for my presentation. Next is red herrings, but everyone knows about mis-direction. How about we start with ‘Whaddya know’?”

“How about we finish our discussion on why you didn’t tell me you were going to be out last weekend? Did you finish your plot rewrite?”

Er. About that. “Getting there. I’ve been working on it during my lunch breaks.”

“Uh huh. How’s that going for you, love?”

“Slow.” Anyway. “Character knowledge is next on the list.” I scribble behind my last entry. “The protagonist can’t be a know-it-all. It’s a good reason to have supporting characters, because they can fill in the gaps.”

“We weren’t finished talking about your plot.”

Technically, no. But realistically, this is kinda where I’m at. “Fine. My protagonist needs to figure out who killed her mentor and why. Her boyfriend is the cop. So, he knows how to track down clues. She knows the victim and the area. Well, sort of the area since it’s been six years since she’s lived there.” I’m afraid to turn around; I can feel his stare drilling into my shoulders. “See, character knowledge, with clues thrown in.”

I can’t see him behind me, and I can’t hear him, but after a moment I can feel him behind me. The air is charged with Muse energy, like on a hot summer day just before the storm starts with rain, thunder, and lightning. Lots of lightning. Enough to make your hair twitch. “You will finish the plot this weekend, right, love?” He’s so close I can smell the onion rings he must have had at whatever pub he and Mr. E visited. And bitter notes of Guinness stout.

“That’s the plan.” After I finish reading the revised author welcome packet from my editor, and redoing the information packet she sent me yesterday.

“Good. Because I’m sticking around this weekend to make sure you work on it.”

Oh, goody. “Great!” Uff-da.

Don’t forget daylight saving time tonight (well, technically tomorrow morning at 2am) for those in the US (and not in Arizona or Hawaii)–Spring Ahead!

After getting another 9-10 inches of snow earlier this week, we might finally be turning the corner. Next week will be ten or more degrees above freezing. I so can’t wait for spring!

Have a great weekend, and get some writing on!