Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


22 Comments

All the stage is a kitchen #amwriting

“You know, love, I try to be inspiring.” My Muse leans over my shoulder, so close I can smell evergreen and fresh-cut wood with a touch of cinnamon. “But I have to tell you that’s a stupid title for your post.”

“Gee, thanks. I don’t hear you coming up with a better one.” Or a post subject for that matter. I lean back in my office chair with a bit of difficulty since he’s standing right behind me, all six-foot two inches of his toned physique. With his red and black flannel shirt rolled halfway up his forearms and worn-well jeans, I envision him more inclined to throw a steak or two on the barbie instead of shrimp. Hell, forget the barbie; just cook ’em over a campfire.

Image by Tommy_Rau from Pixabay

He plants a hand on the back of my chair and bends closer, giving me a view of the individual hairs of his stubble, now more ten o’clock shadow than five o’clock, covering his square jaw and …

“Really, love? That is so cliche.”

“Which part? The ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ part or the rugged outdoorsman cooking steak over fire part?” I can feel the heat from his skin. I should probably open a window; it’s getting a little warm in here. “I figure you’re Australian, so shrimp.” It goes with the Aussie surfer image. Then again, the roguish look works for him. Definitely works for him.

He turns to face me and rests a hip on my desk. “We are not talking about shrimp, love. Or steak. We are talking about the scene in your WIP. Focus.”

Fine. “Okay, so the thing is everyone is over at the mentor’s house. Well, his widow’s house. They went over there yesterday after the memorial service, had coffee and caught up on a few things. Some conflict between a couple characters. Another character comes and argues with the son-in-law. A little foreshadowing. The scene takes place in the kitchen slash dining area, of course, because that’s where everyone gathers.”

“Sounds logical. What’s the problem?”

“Well, my other main character arrives at the house the next morning, and of course that’s another meet and greet, also in the kitchen area, because that’s where you do things like that. Then the police chief arrives to share some information, and of course that all takes place in the kitchen, too.”

“So, you’re saying it’s boring.”

“Not boring, but shouldn’t there be some change of scenery? I mean, do readers want to see two or three scenes in a row all in the kitchen slash dining area?”

“Are there any scenes in that sequence that are not in the kitchen area?”

“Well, yeah. The main character goes to the garage, where the mentor died, to look over the scene.” Everything is done indoors, in the same-ish space. “But everyone is at the house. In the house. And they are all sitting around the table drinking coffee.” Because that’s what people do.

“Hmm.” He scratches at his stubble. “What about a patio in the backyard?”

“It’s just before Memorial Day weekend in northern Minnesota. In the morning. It’s chilly outside.” I review the layout of the house in my head. “What if they go into the living room to discuss the chief’s news? Would that work?”

“Sure, it will work,” he says, “but will it be enough is the question, right? All you can do is write it and see how it reads.”

“C’mon, you’re my Muse. Help me out, here. Give me some other ideas.”

“Why are they sitting around the table? What are they talking about? Is it a matter of the characters getting information or the reader?”

“Both. I’m just thinking about how this stuff works in real life. That’s what you do. Someone dies, everyone goes back to the house and talks about stuff because weddings and funerals are when people reunite. You talk about stuff at the table …”

Hold on. Duh. “The first day, after the memorial, it’s later, early evening I suppose, when they get back to the house. They could hang out on the patio then. It’s late May, so it stays light out later.” It would still be cool out, but that might be where the mentor and his wife used to sit and enjoy the flowers. That adds an emotional connection.

My Muse wears a self-satisfied grin. “See, love, I knew you’d figure it out.”

This is how a lot of my scene work goes, though. I write it, it’s not quite right, then I take a walk and talk things through until something clicks. It’s a good thing we’re out in the country, or someone might call those nice young men in their clean white coats 😀

After all the rain this week, I might venture into the garden later, but for now, I have some (lots of!) writing to do. Enjoy your weekend!

Advertisements


24 Comments

Harvest winding down #gardening #minnesota

L to R: zucchini, Mariachi peppers, brussels sprouts, kale. In back, cucumbers and tomatoes

I can’t believe it’s September already. Didn’t we just have the Fourth of July? The autumnal equinox is due in a couple weeks. Ugh. That means there will be even fewer hours of daylight. And it’s the official start of fall. Not that anyone told the mosquitoes they should shut down operations. I think we have a new batch; bloodthirsty little buggers!

We’ve been enjoying some great stuff from the garden. The green beans are done, the zucchini is testing my tolerance, and the tomatoes … Oh, the poor tomatoes! They have almost completely succumbed to the blight. The cucumber is hanging on, but production is waning. And as you can see in the pictures, I haven’t weeded for a long time.

Another angle. The kale looks great!

I picked the onions, since they were ready and for some reason a number of them had started to rot (gee, could it be due to all the rain we’ve been having?). I started digging out the potatoes last night, and have half a wheelbarrow full with about a quarter of them left to dig. Many are misshapen, with bumps and nodules and weirdly alien protuberances. That tells me there is some mineral lacking in the soil, and I suspect calcium is the culprit.

Potatoes front L, weeds front R, bare aisle where onions were

And here is a closer-up view of my poor tomato plants, along with my cilantro happily blooming with tiny white flowers.

Cilantro and tomatoes, with kale in the background. Oh, and weeds!

The other night as I was heading to the garden my husband showed me a surprise: the first eggs from this batch of chickens!

One of the chickens was camera-shy; we have seven chickens total. We have no idea which chickens started laying. Once all seven start laying, we won’t have to worry about egg shortages. In the winter, though, our chickens have always slowed down the egg production, so we’ll see how many keep laying through the cold months.

Another sign of fall:

Monarch butterflies!

Can you see them? It was hard to get a good picture from the house, but I didn’t want to go outside and scare them away. Monarch butterflies gathered on one of our trees. I don’t know when they left, but it was so cool to see! In case you aren’t aware, monarch butterflies migrate south. It’s one reason people are encouraged to have areas set aside for wildflowers, so the butterflies have something to keep them going on their trip.

I have an empty nest this weekend–yippee! I am going to focus on writing, damn it. Revisions, then moving on. Oh, and more homework, but maybe not until later next week. Our Sisters in Crime chapter has also put out a call for short story submissions for our next anthology, so part of my brain is working on that as well. Something twisty for that one.

Enjoy your weekend, and may the trees not start changing colors quite yet!

And your point is what, exactly?


23 Comments

Yoga pants, backups, and co-horts #amwriting

As I’m frantically trying to catch up on all the blog posts I need to read, I ran across this one from the Writers in the Storm blog. BTW, if you don’t follow that blog, you should.

The post talks about what writers need in order to create, beyond the obvious pen and paper, or computer, or typewriter, or cuniform tablet (for those who like to go old-school and have a lot of clay around). Things like backups–you do back up your writing on a regular basis, right? Right? Do it now; I’ll wait.

Other necessities include a beverage of choice, whether caffeine-enriched or not. And snacks. Gotta have snacks! I like Chex Mix, the bold flavor. And Turtle Chex Mix. And boring stuff like carrots (because they are crunchy 😀 ).

Comfy clothes are a must, because who likes to write when they are all dressed up with nowhere to go? I rely on sweats, unless it’s too warm for sweats, then lounge pants/ pajama pants work. And as many pairs of socks and slippers as it takes to keep my toes warm.

The list item that really made me think is the one about needing to belong, and to have fellow writer friends for support. It made me think again how grateful I am for my Writing Sisters. Not everybody has a tight circle of writing friends, but having a few fellow writers to hang with is enough.

Don’t forget about writers’ groups, either. Our Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime is another wonderful, supportive group I feel fortunate to be a part of. It’s a club not just of writers, but readers as well. And online writer friends are also treasures; if you get an opportunity to meet any of them in person, do it. It’s like meeting an old friend, even though it’s the first time you can give them a real hug or pat on the back.

The post struck me as something to remember; I’ll have to print out the infographic and hang it in my soon-to-be-set-up-before-Christmas writing office. I thought I’d share it with my writing friends, because you’ll relate.

For those in the US, enjoy your holiday weekend! For everyone else, enjoy your shorter weekend 😀 😀

Summer is almost over? Noooo!


29 Comments

Creative energies–welcome back! #amwriting #amrevising

Author doubts never go away. I think that’s been why I’ve been struggling with–what do they call it? Second book blues? The book two curse? Fear of book two not being as good as book one?

After seven first drafts, I think I have it figured out. Oh, and taking a novel-writing class helps, too. Especially my latest assignment: a set-piece scene. A set-piece scene is one that sets the tone, and includes conflict, emotion, and the senses. It’s a memorable scene that might be the midpoint crisis, or the climax, or at any point in the book.

The class example of a set-piece scene was the circus scene from Water for Elephants, where all hell breaks loose, the animals start stampeding, and the ringmaster gets … well, no spoilers.

I wanted to get something to my writing teacher before she left on vacation, so I tried to figure out what scene in my WIP would be considered a set-piece scene, or rather, what scene could I write that could be considered a set-piece scene.

I took a walk to ponder the possibilities, and came up with something I thought would work. It’s near the midpoint of the story, and puts my main character in danger.

Here’s the weird part: I drafted the scene, looked at it the next morning and tweaked it a bit, then submitted it. The verdict? Yes, it was a set-piece scene, and it was pretty good, too. I can feel the creative energy coming back.

“Because you listened to me, love.” My Muse, who has been keeping one of the recliners in a corner of my writing office warm, sets his crossword puzzle aside. Apparently his pub crawl buddies are all busy.

“I’m writing, and you’re doing crosswords? Seriously?”

He taps a temple with his pen. “Keeps the mind sharp.”

“Oh? American or Australian crosswords?”

“British. I like a challenge.”

Which is probably why he hasn’t given up on me yet.

He levers himself out of the chair and crosses my office, shoving the cuffs of his long-sleeved t-shirt to his elbows. The royal blue of the t-shirt almost coordinates with his purple Vikings helmet-covered lounge pants. I feel like I should microwave some popcorn and put in a movie, ala slumber party.

“I won’t give up on you, love. And after you went through the feedback from your Writing Sisters again, you’ve been much more receptive to my suggestions. You’re starting the revisions now, right?” He shakes a finger at me to emphasize his point. “Don’t get hung up on the revisions. You know better. Revise what you need to and keep going.”

“My next homework is an outline. I want to have that done by the time my teacher is back from vacation. And I have another bookstore signing tomorrow.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry about the outline. That’s a piece of cake. You’re getting your momentum back.” He squeezes, and plants a kiss on my forehead. “Keep it up, love. You’re doing good.”

I feel better about the story. That set-piece scene kicked off some other ideas that for some reason hadn’t been apparent to me before. And the changes will give a stronger motive to one of the characters; it’ll make his actions much more believable.

This is the part about writing I really like, the creative energy that makes me want to find a nice quiet place and do nothing but write without worrying about anything else.

Enjoy one of the last weekends of summer!

zoey chair mine
What? You got up, so it’s mine now.


23 Comments

Indie Bookstore Adventures #amreading #bookstores #authors

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

As authors and many readers know, independent bookstores are gems in the literary world. The “big box” bookstores … er, there’s only one bookstore chain left, isn’t there? And that one (Barnes and Noble) is hanging on for dear life. Anyway, the chain bookstores are big, with lots of non-book stuff like puzzles and toys and coffee bars (don’t get me wrong; coffee bars are good!)

Indie bookstores are much smaller, often tucked into a space that isn’t on the main drag but located on a side street along with other quaint shops. They have an appeal that goes beyond the relatively small selection of books they stock (they will order books they don’t have on the shelves if you ask). Many have coffee bars that aren’t tied to Starbucks or Caribou Coffee. Bonus there: they often also have homemade treats to go with the coffee. Think going over to Grandma’s house when she and her lady friends gather for coffee.

Other indies specialize in one or more genres. In our neck of the woods, we have an indie bookstore specializing in mysteries. And they have a great name: Once Upon a Crime. Other local indie bookstores focus on local artists as well as books, often with a theme such as indigenous or diverse art. Some cater to kids and anyone who isn’t old enough to vote.

These little bookstores offer great atmosphere. You can smell the books. You can sense the love for books that the owners and staff have. Many have cozy common areas set aside where customers can hang out and read. The bookstore I was at recently, Buffalo Books and Coffee, had a small common area. Before I left after my author signing time, I noticed someone enjoying both the comfy space and my book!

The best part about indie bookstores is they tend to be very supportive of local authors. They will gladly invite an author in for a book signing or an author event. Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis regularly hosts “big name” local authors who include William Kent Kreuger, John Sandford (even if he doesn’t live in MN anymore), and PJ Tracy. They also host authors not as well known, like Jess Lourey, Jessie Chandler, Anne Fraiser, Brian Lutterman, and soo many more (who also happen to be members of our Twin Cities Sisters in Crime 😀 ).

Today I have an author signing at Fair Trade Books in Red Wing. (Yes, that Red Wing. Where the stoneware pottery and the shoes/boots come from.) Fair Trade Books is spoken of with admiration among local authors because they are so welcoming and enthusiastic of us. When I talk to my fellow Sisters in Crime members, the two bookstores that always seem to come up when discussing author events are Once Upon a Crime and Fair Trade Books.

Do you have a favorite indie bookstore in your area? Maybe one that likes to host local authors? Have you done author events or signings at an indie bookstore?

I’ll try to get some pictures this time. I forgot when I was in Buffalo. If you want to see some of my past author events, you can find them on my author website.

Have a great writing weekend!

Enjoying summer!


19 Comments

Harvest in full swing #gardening #minnesota

It’s that time of year again, when the veggies are going strong (so are the weeds 😐 ), so I figured I’d give you a little update.

I’ve been picking green beans for a couple weeks, and cucumbers for almost as long. Picking cucumbers is like a scavenger hunt. Or a game of hide-and-seek. How many cukes do you see in the picture?

How many cukes? I see three.

And of course, we can’t forget the venerable–or is it fruitful?–zucchini.

Hi, Zucchini! I see you.

The tomato plants are succumbing to whatever blight hit them, but we are getting some tomatoes. There is nothing like garden-ripe tomatoes! I just hope they ripen before the plants die. I thought I planted resistant varieties, but apparently they aren’t resistant enough. The plants look so sad I won’t post pictures of them. The blight, a fungus, lives in the soil, and even though I mulch them, they still get sick.

The rest of the garden is doing well, though (except for the zucchini plant I had to pull because it was sick).

From R to L: Brussels sprouts, green beans, peppers, and kale in the corner.

Speaking of brussels sprouts, this year some of the sprouts are looking really good despite the stupid cabbage worms. I couldn’t help myself; I picked some and will be enjoying them soon.

So, I got this variety of peppers, Mariachi, that I thought were like the snacking peppers. The little plastic tag with the picture on looked like the snacking peppers. So I planted two plants. Come to find out when I read the little tag more closely (after I planted them and tasted the first pepper, of course) that they are mildly hot.

Yep. They are.

Mariachi peppers–supposed to turn orange when ripe

They are less spicy than jalapenos, for the most part, but snacking? Depends, I guess.

The kohlrabi are standing strong against the cabbage worms, and I’m not even going to check the kale, because they are in the same family. I know they have those little green worms–sorry, caterpillars–on them. Anyway, we need to eat some beets first.

I picked veggies last night, and felt some pride as my daughter ate fresh kohlrabi and cukes we just picked for supper. And a little chicken breast for protein. My son? He would eat the green beans, but not the other stuff.

As I was in the garden, I thought about growing up with a home garden, and how of my three brothers and one sister, we all have gardens. Two of my brothers have younger families, so they have bigger gardens. My other brother is an empty-nester, but he likes hot peppers. My sister just moved to a new house, but she always asks my advice on what to plant, especially when she has little direct sunlight in the back yard.

My mother instilled a love of gardening in us, or at least we were all exposed to the gardens she had while we were growing up. I find it both interesting and comforting that we all continue the tradition. Even my dad, who now lives in a townhome, has a cherry tomato plant on his tiny patio.

Peppers, kale, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes in the back

As for writing? I’ve been crazy busy this past week, with my dad having eye surgery, and me being the good daughter and providing taxi service and a watchful eye. I finally have a few days to decompress, and write. At least that’s the plan right now, so I’m intending to get back to book 2. And my homework.

Have a wonderful writing weekend!


25 Comments

Writing Sisters Reunion–take #6

gazebo

View from the gazebo, Crystal River Inn

G’day all! It’s the first weekend in August, and Julie promised if I wrote her blog post today, she would work. Write, that is.

So far, I haven’t seen much writing going on. However, I have seen a lot of creative energy building up. So much the better. The other Muses don’t seem quite as frustrated as I’ve been, trying to get my writer to work.

Granted, Julie has loaded her calender a bit heavy this summer. I’ve been trying to convince her to take a break, spend some time away to write, but as usual, she resists. Something about “real life” and things like her job.

So every year I wait for this opportunity to ramp up my writer’s energy. They landed at this quaint B&B three years ago, and the energy of the river out back and the quiet setting make my job as a Muse a hell of a lot easier.

“I hope you’re writing my blog post.”

And now she decides to talk to me. “That was our deal, love. You write, I’ll do your blog post. So why are you not writing?”

“Did you hang out at the lake with us last night? Because we sure spent a lot of time talking about writing when it was supposed to be a break.”

View from the Blues Cruise

I debate whether to tell her. It was supposed to be a break from their critique circle, but four hours is a long time to listen to a very loud band below deck. If they hadn’t talked about writing, I would have been worried.

Besides, I wanted to hear the band. FYI, not my preferred type of music. “So what if I was, love? After the day you had in the critique circle, I figured I deserved a break, too.”

Still on the cruise as twilight rises.

My writer drops into a nearby chair. “It was a good session.”

She’s right. Her Writing Sisters were able to point out the things I’ve been trying to get her to see. It is so frustrating when she doesn’t listen to me or understand what I’m trying to tell her. Then again, she’s been distracted with all the stuff for her book–the bookstore appearances, the book fairs, and now the workshop for her Sisters in Crime meeting this coming week.

“Does this mean you are going to write today, love?”

She gets up to open the door to a screened-in porch that faces the river, letting in the song of the water. “I have to revise everything I’ve written so far.”

“It’s called writing.”

“I know, I know.” She blows out a breath. “When am I going to get my workshop done?” She shakes her head. “No, I’m going to work on book 2 today, not the workshop.”

“Good.”

“Did you find a good spot to hang out? They took the sitting log out from the river.”

The log that extended over the river is gone.

“Don’t worry about me. You focus on your writing, love. I’m around.”

She stands, turns to leave, then looks back. “Don’t forget the picture of Zoey.”

Cats. Every writer has them, it seems. “I won’t.”

Every year she does this, gets energized. The trick is keeping the energy going when she leaves.