Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Not a-mused … autumn edition #amwriting #amrevising

colored fallen leaves

I open the door to my writing office, juggling a bowl of cherry tomatoes and a glass of water. Feels like it’s been ages since …

“About fecking time you came back.”

“Damn it!” I chase two tomatoes across the floor while trying not to spill any water. “What the hell?”

My Muse scoops up a third wayward tomato. “That was my next question, love.”

I set my snacks on the desk and reach out for the captured tomato. “Either eat it or give it back.”

He pops it into his mouth and bites down. I imagine the tomato innards squirting into his mouth, and grab one of my own. Man, I love garden tomatoes. Cherry ones are so convenient, like Whoppers only squishier and not chocolate.

Mmm, chocolate. I wonder if I still have any chocolate left from the reunion.

My Muse finishes chewing and takes a swig of my water. He’s wearing his worn-well jeans and burgundy Henley with the sleeves shoved to his elbows. He plants hands on hips, stretching his shirt tight across his broad chest. Did that shirt shrink a little?

“Hey,” he snaps his fingers, “pay attention, love.”

Fine. “What?”

“Just when were you planning on coming back here?”

I raise my arms, encompassing the office. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“No, when are you coming back here?” He reaches over and taps my head. “You have a revision to finish so you can send it to beta readers.”

“I was working on it earlier this week. I think. Oh hell, I don’t even know what day it is anymore.”

“It’s ‘butt in chair, hands on keyboard’ day,” he says, pointing to the recliners in the alcove.

“Hey, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs, you know. I finished a beta read for another author, I’m working on a critique due in a couple days, I had a hella amount of instructional videos to watch and take notes on for my class–which reminds me, I have homework to do, and I should probably pay my tuition. I have another writer’s pages to read and critique. And, oh, I do have a full-time job, not to mention the real life family stuff, like helping my husband.”

“Yes, and your point?” He leans toward me and taps my head again. “This is where you need to be.” He points to the recliners again. “I want to see you spend at least an hour a day there. Not checking email …”

“Like I’ve been checking my email,” I mutter under my breath. I’m afraid to check one of my accounts–the number of new emails is probably racing toward a thousand.

My Muse gives me the stink-eye. “Not checking Facebook, not reading all the random articles that pop up on your home page …”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Some of that stuff still needs to be done, you know. Facebook is where our Sisters in Crime chapter communicates with the members. And where I need to share my upcoming book festival.” Speaking of, I’ll probably have to spend a day working on my website with customer service since my design software broke, or redesigning it without the cool software. Ugh. If it comes to that, there goes another day.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have Book 2 to sell at a book festival?” He grips my shoulder and nails me with stern blue eyes. A shiver runs down my spine. “I’m going to be a hard-ass until you get your writing back into your routine. You’re adjusted to your new work schedule and the garden is almost done. Take your daily walk, run, whatever, but I want no excuses. Got it?”

“Yes, I got it.”

“Good. Grab your computer, sit your ass down, and get to work.”

Now’s probably not the time to tell him about the new idea my writing teacher gave me. He’d have another excuse to be overbearing and grumpy.

Happy upcoming Autumn Equinox! Man, it’s fall already. Take some time to enjoy it before the snow flies (or the rainy season starts. Whatever is the thing in your region).

Dory - just keep writing
Zoey sleeping


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Fall Harvesting #mngarden

onions curing on hardware cloth
Two-thirds of the onion harvest

It’s that time of year, when everything seems to ripen at the same time. And you realize just how many green beans you can get from a mere seven plants. Uff-da!

green beans

I forget every year just how many beans one plant can produce. This year was odd anyway. I always get a particular variety, Kentucky Blue Wonder bush bean. They are good beans, no strings like the old-fashioned string beans have.

So I had to replant a few times this year, and got more seeds from our local greenhouse, which gets them in bulk and lets you scoop out what you need. Of course, you never know what you’ll get until they come up.

I ended up with two bush string bean plants, three of the bush beans I expected to come up, and two of a variety that I totally wasn’t expecting and have never seen: pole beans with flat pods. BTW, pole beans grow into a big tangled bale if they don’t have anything to climb. I haven’t looked in my old seed catalogs to identify the variety. Last year I ended up with one string bean plant with my Kentucky Blue Wonders. I think next year I might order through the mail instead of getting them at the local greenhouse.

I have one cherry tomato plant, and that’s plenty. I can keep up with them (since I’m the only one who eats them, apparently). They are good, and ripen at a slow enough rate that I can use/eat all the ones I’ve picked before picking again. I usually don’t plant cherry tomatoes because some varieties have so many tomatoes that unless the whole family eats them, you get to a point where you don’t pick them anymore or they go bad and get tossed to the chickens.

That is one thing I really miss about not going into the office: no one to pawn off the extra harvest. I used to bring gallon Ziplock bags of green beans and cherry tomatoes (when I had them) to the office. One of my former co-workers even told me he misses my cucumbers that I would bring in. Now that I’m working from home for good, I’ll have to be careful how much I plant, or check if the local food bank takes fresh produce.

This year I’ve had more cucumber beetles than I’ve ever seen. I had no idea they liked green beans until I saw the laced leaves (they eat between the veins of the leaves so the leaves look like lace). And the poor cucumber! I’m getting some cukes, but the plant is dying. That’s the bad thing with pests like that, they will transmit diseases to the plant that kills the plant long after the bugs have, for the most part, disappeared.

cucumber plant wilting in the middle from disease
Poor cucumber

The peppers are going gangbusters! Stupid me, planting four(!) jalepeno plants. What was I thinking?! One jalapeno is more than enough for a year’s worth of salsa, chili, and whatever else most people use them for. Ugh. The sweet bell peppers are doing really well, too. I thought the variety was smaller, but no, the peppers are just as big as the usual California Bell.

cucumber plant, pepper plants
cukes on the left, peppers on the right, cheeseweed in the middle 🙂

I didn’t plant dill this year, but you’d never know it from the sheer number of volunteer dill plants that came up. The pumpkin is waning as usual about now.

dill on the left, pumpkin on the right

I grew them for my sister-in-law, who wants them for decoration, I think. When she gave me the seeds, I wonder if she realized how big the pumpkins were going to be. Variety? Jack-O’Lantern. Pumpkins twice as big as a basketball? Yep. And not just one or two. Try a dozen plus.

pumpkins

The beets are huge, the kale is recovering from cabbage worm attacks, and the tomatoes are coming in. I’ll be making another batch of pico de gallo today. Yum!

The last bit of color in the garden is blooming. I don’t particularly like how marigolds smell, but they are kinda pretty.

marigolds

Enjoy the upcoming autumn season. Apple cider, fall colors, pumpkins and the goodies that come with them. Cooler weather and fewer bugs!

Keep on writing!

Nyx (black cat) curled up for a nap
Warm Nyx-y, sleepy Nyx-y, purr purr purr


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Unreliable narrators and reader expectations #amreading

someone reading a book

We’ve all heard the term “unreliable narrator”. It’s what we call a character we can’t trust to tell us the truth of the story. Sometimes we don’t see the “unreliable-ness” of that narrator right away (or maybe it’s just me 😉 ), but sometimes we see it becuase a different POV character sees the world of the story in a way that feels more accurate.

Narrators can be unreliable for many reasons, from simple naivete to a highly-biased view of the world due to a mental or behavioral condition. Think multiple-personality disorder or sociopathic characteristics. Or maybe they are so jaded by their life that reality is always distorted through their lens.

I haven’t written an unreliable narrator (not intentionally, at least), but I do have characters who behave a certain way because they see the real world through a filter woven from the cloth of their life experiences. They don’t narrate, but POV characters interact with them, and their slant on the world comes through that way.

Needless to say, I haven’t read many books in which the POV character is an unreliable narrator, so I’m not familiar with how those stories work out in the end. I’ve just read a story in which one of the POV characters is unreliable in a big way, but the reader learns this early on. Once I realized the character couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth of the world the way it was, but only the way she saw it, I expected the story to work out a certain way.

Did it? Well, yes. Sort of. It was good for conflict and tension. There was the inevitable “is that really how it happened, or is that just how the character remembers it” question each time the character’s story was told from someone else’s perspective. This led to the question of a different character’s true nature. Is he really abusive, or does she just see him that way? Was her child truly sick, or was there some sort of Munchausen syndrome by proxy going on?

Which adds up to a story fraught with questions and conflict and tension. A good story overall, but at some point, I disliked the unreliable narrator so much I didn’t care what happened to her at the end. I did care about other characters and how the unreliable character’s actions affected them.

Even with the unreliable character’s potential redemption at the end of the story, I felt unsatisfied. I did see opportunities to strengthen other threads that would affect other characters a bit more, threads that could reflect facets of the unreliable character’s story and thus put more pressure on the character(s) I did like, but that part didn’t happen the way I expected. If the author had pushed that angle a bit more, would it have made the story better or worse?

As a beta reader and fellow author, how do I critique the story? If I hand the story to someone else who reads more books with unreliable narrators than I do, would the story meet their expectations?

Writing is subjective, as are all creative endeavors. There is no doubt the author is skilled. It’s the story. It’s like my appreciation for the ability of an opera singer, even though I do not like opera. I can appreciate the talent of a great actor, even if I don’t like a lot of the projects they have done. I’m one of the two dozen people who think The Great Gatsby isn’t worth more than a meh.

All I can do is share my take on the story and offer suggestions the author can either use to make adjustments, or ignore. I’m only one reader, so don’t just take my word for it. Ask that reader over there what s/he thinks about it. You’ll get a different answer for sure.

Keep calm and Write On!

What? We aren’t getting into trouble …


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Writing is a solo mission … until it’s not #amwriting #amrevising

As an introvert, I like being alone. I’m not so much of an introvert that I avoid being around people at any cost, but I need to be alone to recharge after being someplace with lots of people. And if I can avoid a crowd, I will.

Seems ideal for a writer to be introverted; we write alone, for the most part, with furry or feathered exceptions. Even if we are collaborating with another writer, I think more often than not each writer pens his/her own scene or chapter, then they swap and critique each other’s work. Well, at least that’s how some authors do it.

The act of writing itself seems tailor-made for solitude, but once we get words on paper, things change. We go through our work, pruning and filling in and sifting and sorting through scenes and paragraphs and dialog until we have what we think is a polished draft.

Note the word “think”. Okay, so you could make the argument that a draft is polished after you’ve gone through and winnowed out all those “favorite” words, like “just”, “so”, “eyes”, and “then”.

Except all you’ve done until now is sand the rough edges off. Maybe squared a corner or two, or corrected an uneven angle. Polished? Eh, maybe. If you’ve been writing for decades and published, like, LOTS of books (or maybe just a few but those few are really good), then yeah, I’d go with polished. But most of us, even if we have been writing for decades, need more than just our eyes on our work to really shine it up. And that’s before our work hits the computer screen of an editor.

There is nothing like handing off your darling to a fellow trusted critique partner and waving. Good-bye. Good luck. I’ll see you in a few weeks. Don’t get any black eyes or scraped knees.

And when that manuscript returns home … Uff-da. Time to get the computer out and revise yet again. And get another critique after that to catch the things you missed. And after that, one or two rounds of beta reading from people who don’t just say “It’s a great story”, but people who can say “eh, it started dragging here” or “why did/didn’t character D do this” or “what was the purpose of pointing out that shiny sword if no one ever used it”.

We are too close to our own work to notice a lot of those little things. We know the story inside and out, and we are certain everything is shined up as much as it can be. That’s why we need critique partners and beta readers. They will see those little things, like trying to bury dead bodies in a frozen lake.

If you don’t have critique partners, but would like some, there are some good resources on FB like the SubIt Club Critique Partner Matchup. If that doesn’t seem quite right for you, don’t forget resources like writers groups. I mean, there has to be at least some writers that are looking for a critique partner in a writers group, right? Especially consider genre-specific groups, like a local chapter of Sisters in Crime or similar organizations. It would be easier to find someone who is familiar with your genre.

For me, I’m working my way through revisions based on suggestions from my Writing Sisters, then off to beta reader land. I enjoy my alone time to write, but I also know I’m not good enough yet to forgo critique partners. In my realm, they are one of the most important parts of my writing journey.

Write on!

Nyx and Tibbers looking for trouble