Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Finally, a break?

I’m going to call it a break, anyway. The past few weeks–actually, since the beginning of May, I think–I’ve had stuff going on every weekend (including my mini-writing retreats at my dad’s). Last weekend was my daughter’s grad party. It feels official now. Next on the docket will be orientation for college, but that’ll be in a month or so.

“You’ve got a month, love. Does that mean you’re going to get your butt in gear?” My Muse closes the back door of my writing office, shoves his Ray-Bans up onto his head, and plants hands on his hips. His blond hair is sun-bleached, a perfect complement to his faded muscle shirt and cut-off shorts. Even his flip-flops enhance the beach bum effect. A scent of coconut and ocean hangs around him.

“Where the hell have you been?”

A tall glass with a paper umbrella materializes on the small table between the two recliners in a corner of my office as he drops into one of the chairs. “On walkabout after those mini-retreats at your dad’s. You did good, you know. Got the manuscript off by deadline.” He leans back, sips his drink. Sweat coats the outside of the glass, the inside filled with something orangy. He smacks his lips. “You done with the outline yet? You better get that done if you want to do a self-imposed NaNo in July.”

“I’m working on it. Comfy?”

He stretches, hands behind his head, footrest extended. He slides his sunglasses back into place “Yep. Too hot outside this weekend, anyway. You might as well work on the outline.”

“That’s the plan. Are you sticking around to help? Or are you waiting for Mr. E to go on some surfer’s bar hop?”

He takes another sip of whatever tropical drink he’s got. “He got sunburned and went home. He can’t surf, anyway. Oh, which reminds me–be careful with my board. I just waxed it.”

I’m working on my outline for Book 2 and he’s surfing? “You know Book 2 is not set at any sort of beach, right?”

“Sure it is. Isn’t there a family cabin at a lake involved with this?”

“But the story isn’t set there. That’s reserved for the novella.” I lean back against my desk. “You’re sticking around to help me this weekend, right?”

“Of course, love. I might have to pop out for a few wave-catching breaks. You got a board?” He lifts his glasses and peers at me. “You’re more ‘wade in the surf’, aren’t you? You’re missing out.”

Somehow, I don’t feel I’m missing much. Hell, my swimsuit’s been packed away for, er… Anyway, this weekend the tropics are settling in Minnesota, with record-threatening heat indexes. In June. Ugh. So we’ll crank the A/C and stay in. We’ll have some summer storms to go along with the heat. I’m good with that, as long as we don’t get too much at once. Maybe I’ll post pics of the garden next week–you’ll be happy to know that yes, it is truly smaller this year (YAY!).

Stay cool this weekend! Write on!

 

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Look here–Born in a Treacherous Time Blog Hop Stop #amreading

Please welcome author Jacqui Murray, who is making the rounds with her new release, Born in a Treacherous Time.

BIATT

Title and author: Born in a Treacherous Time
Series: Book 1 in the Man vs. Nature series
Genre: Prehistoric fiction
Cover by: Damonza 
Available at: Kindle

I asked Jacqui a question to learn a bit about Lucy, her main character:

What one characteristic would you say allowed Lucy to survive in a world populated with Sabertooth Cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?

Really, with our thin skin, dull teeth, and tiny claws (aka fingernails), Lucy had no right to survive against the thick-skinned mammoth or tearing claws of the great cats of that time. But we did. The biggest reason: Even then, Lucy was a problem solver. She faced crises and came up with solutions. Where most animals spent their time eating and sleeping, Lucy had time left over. This, she used to solve problems.

 To me, that thoughtful approach to living, one no other animal exhibits, is why we came to rule the planet.

I’ve often wondered how people survived against those big prehistoric predators. Sounds like our bigger brains gave us the advantage!

Here’s a bit about the book (sounds like my TBR list is getting longer again!):

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

 Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

And an early reader review:

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

 “I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

 –Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Get in touch with Jacqui:

http://twitter.com/worddreams
http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher
http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray
https://worddreams.wordpress.com
https://jacquimurray.net


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Have you heard this writing tool?

No, I didn’t forget a word in the title. If you’ve been following this blog the past few weeks, you know that the past couple of months I was working on my manuscript for my editor. I sent my edits in last week–woo-hoo!

In the process of trying to make up for a nutso April when I didn’t get much editing done–but hey, I did get stranded in WI by a blizzard–I searched for anything to help me speed things up.

It’s easy to add a sentence or edit a whole paragraph, but sometimes I end up with a long convoluted sentence that should be split, or more than one way to “fix” something. Besides, if there’s something wonky, I’ll catch it when I proofread it, right? Like those awkward sentences that are grammatically correct, but just don’t flow. Or those two words that should be swapped, like “you were” and “were you”.

I use a few proofreading methods, like printing out the manuscript in a different font so it looks “fresh” to the eye, and reading the manuscript from the last page to the first page, which interrupts the brain’s tendency to anticipate what the next sentence should be (yes, it works, until the brain figures things out 😐 ).

As writers, we are too close to our work to really look at it objectively. That’s why leaving the manuscript sit for a few days to weeks is good; you gain a little distance from it. But I didn’t have a few days, much less a week, to let the story rest. And I printed out the manuscript once, but I didn’t have time to do it all over again. Besides, I was at my dad’s house.

Another thing I’ve heard about to help with the proofreading process is text-to-speech (actually, it’s reading the manuscript out loud, but no one said you had to do it yourself 🙂 ). There are a number of programs out there that will read what you’ve written. I tried a couple, one of which is Natural Reader, which I tested. I spent way too much time looking for something cheap. Yes, I know the online version of Natural Reader is free, and there is an iPad app, and maybe I’ll use it sometime, but I knew there had to be something included with Windows 8.1, with the whole accessibility thing and all.

So I looked it up. Turns out that Windows has a built-in voice that can read websites and stuff. And bonus, Microsoft Word (I use Scrivener to actually write, but I compile the manuscript for Word when I read through it) has a text-to-speech function. A-ha!

First, you set up the Narrator voice in Windows. I have Windows 8.1, but it should be the same process in Win10; you’ll have to do a search for text to speech. In the Control Panel, there is a Speech Recognition option. In there are the settings for the Narrator. Select the option for Text to Speech. TTS

Next, select the voice. There are only three options in my version: 2 American (male and female) and one British (female). I didn’t look to see if I could get any more; I just wanted something to read to me. I picked Zira, the American female voice. She just sounded nicer.

speech propertiesAdjust the voice speed. You can use the Preview button to hear the voice. Set the speed, then apply the settings with the OK button (I didn’t include that in my screenshot).

Next, I opened my Word doc. Do you know what the Quick Access toolbar is? It’s the tiny toolbar with the W icon for Word. It has the most used stuff on it, like Save and Undo. Mine is in the upper left corner above the menu bar.

menubar

You’ll have to customize the toolbar to make the Speak command available. (FYI, I have Word 2010, so the newer versions might be a little different. You should be able to use the Help to find the Speak command.) Click on the down arrow with the line above it on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar to open the toolbar’s menu.

word options

You’ll see the commands on the toolbar marked, but you need to add the Speak command. Select the More Commands… option way at the bottom.

Now this is a bit more involved. At the top of the left panel where it says Choose Commands From, change where it says Popular Commands (click on the down arrow) and change it to All Commands.

Then you will have to scroll (luckily the commands are alphabetical) all the way down to Speak. Select Speak, then click on the Add>> button. The Speak word moves from the left panel to the right panel. Click OK to finish.

word options2

Now you should have the Speak command easily accessible in the Quick Access toolbar.

menubar

All you have to do now is highlight a chunk of text and click the Speak button. Granted, it’ll only read about 700 words at a time no matter how many you select, but I found that is enough to hear the section, fix anything, and read it through again.

It’s not perfect, and it will spell some things out when it doesn’t know how to pronounce them, but I heard misspellings (“h-d-d” instead of “had”), missing words (rather, I didn’t hear the missing words 😀 ), and awkward phrases. The voice is a bit robotic, but it’s better than computer voices were 10 years ago. Even sounds more human than Stephen Hawking.

Anyway, I found the Speak command a huge help. I even heard it read character facts that were different than they were in an earlier chapter. For instance, my character started off wearing a sweatshirt, and two chapters later she was wearing a sweater. Same day, only hours apart, and no, she hadn’t gone home to change. I think I found and fixed more stuff because I heard it. And I think it helped that I wasn’t reading aloud myself, because I suspect you still miss stuff because you’ve gone through it so many times.

Anyway, sorry about the long post today, but I wanted to share this tool with you. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it so much I’ll spring for the Natural Reader. I’ve been thinking about Dragon Naturally Speaking as well (speech to text), but guess what? Windows and Word have something like that built in as well. I’ll test it out a bit to see if it could work for me before I drop money on Dragon. (BTW, Google also has a speech-to-text feature in Google Docs, so you can check that out, too).

Oh, and I have to share this. Last night my husband came in from outside (I was working on a photo board for my daughter’s grad party tomorrow) and said I had to see something. And bring a camera. This is what I saw.

zoey top of trailer 1

And where was she?

zoey top of trailer 2

We moved our current house onto the property twenty years ago, and while we were remodeling, we lived in a trailer house. Needless to say, the trailer is still on the property being used as storage right now. Don’t know how she got up there, but she did get down on her own. I suspect she used a tree.

Have a great weekend!


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On to the next task

I sent it off yesterday. Yep, my manuscript, all revised/edited and everything.

Whew!

Now to take a sort of break. Hubs and I laid out the garden last night, and I started planting before it got too dark. The problem, though, is it’s raining today, so I won’t be able to put in the rest of the garden until tomorrow at the earliest, depending on how much rain we get. Probably not until Monday. Ugh.

My youngest is graduating from HS tomorrow, and her grad party is next weekend. And here I thought after I got my manuscript edited and sent off that I’d have a few days to relax and do, well, not nothing–my house looks neglected, and I have yet to completely finish unpacking after my mini writing retreat, so I won’t be kicking back and eating bon-bons (though I can see enjoying a nice glass of wine 😀 )

Anyway, apologies to everyone; I’ll be trying to catch up on blog reading this weekend, so I’ll get there 😀 I’m just really far behind!

After that, the next task will be outlining Book 2. I was struggling with it this past winter, but my Writing Sisters helped me out (love you guys!). I’ve got a more solid (and interesting) plot now. Multiple books in a series can be a challenge, especially when you write the first book without much thought about the next ones. I mean, unless you go in with a multi-book story arc for a trilogy (fantasy books are great for examples of this), how does an author come up with Book 2 or Book 3?

The exercise is fun, because you’ve spent so much time with the characters, additional books are an excuse to spend even more time with them–provided you aren’t tired of them. I knew the next books would take place at airports or at least around airplanes because my main character is a female aircraft mechanic. The options are to stick with the same setting in Books 2 and 3, or venture off to other places. Staying in the same place works for most mysteries, I think, but an airport is a pretty limited setting when you think about it. Just how many bad things (read: dead bodies) can happen at the same one, even if it is as big as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport?

The fun thing is, every major and most minor cities have airports, and there are air shows throughout the summer, which are great venues for more nefarious stuff. Putting the main characters at a different location opens the door for more story opportunities, but that also means leaving behind (at least for a while) supporting characters the reader may have fallen in love with in Book 1.

For instance, in Book 1 I have a character who is like “a grandmother channeling Cher”. Fun lady, and one of my editor’s favorites, but she won’t appear in Book 2 because that book takes place in a different location than Book 1. Same with another supporting character, who is a friend of my male lead. The crime scene team leader is like the buddy you met in college, and you still get to work with each other on occasion. Kind of the “invite over for a weekend BBQ” or “watch the game” friend. My editor also liked him, but again, he won’t appear in Book 2.

So what do you do about those characters? Obviously, if a future story (provided your editor/publisher or another wants it) is set in the original location, those characters will appear. I feel kind of bad about leaving them out, because I like those characters, too. I won’t get back to them until maybe Book 4, but I may never write Book 4. Maybe I’ll write a novella that is set at the location in Book 1, just to spend time with those characters again.

Anyway. Rainy day activities like cleaning (ugh!) and catching up on reading blogs are on tap for today. May you have a great relaxing weekend! Write on!


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Call it Progress

I’m back at my dad’s place over this extended holiday weekend. I’m also extending my weekend from work in my effort to get my edits done. I even warned my boss I might have to take another day beyond what I’ve already asked for. He’s fine with it. (I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of cool bosses)

I’ve been pounding the keyboard, and I’m at about the last quarter of the story, although I skipped a spot I need to rewrite. I figured I would be able to concentrate better here rather than at home.

The screen door to the deck out back squeaks, then bangs shut. Gee, wonder who that could be?

“I can always count on you for a dose of sarcasm. You ready to get back to work yet, love?” My Muse adjusts the bean bag-type chair he left here last week. It looks kind of comfy, like one of those wicker papasan chairs, but squishier. This time he has a footstool to go with it.

He settles in, fingers laced and hands behind his head. “You could start with the scene you need to change. I think you’ve got a good idea for that.”

I can’t help but stare at his black cotton lounge pants adorned with Pac-Man and colored ghosts, which clashes nicely with his Bob Ross t-shirt. “You don’t actually wear that in public, do you?”

He looks down at his shirt. “Why not? You loved watching Bob Ross when you were a kid.”

“It’s not Bob Ross. It’s the whole ensemble. Seriously. Pac-Man and Bob Ross?”

“Who are you, the fashion police?”

Not by a long shot, as I look at my own red plaid lounge pants and Star Wars t-shirt. “Anyway. I’m doing the blog post, then I’ll dig into that scene.”

He stares at me in silence.

“What? Stop doing that.”

“Have I told you how proud I am of you for working as much as you have the past few weeks, love?”

“No, but apparently it hasn’t been enough because I’m not done yet.”

A bottle of Moon Man appears on the table beside my chair. “A reward. I’ll add chocolate when you finish this round.”

The man knows how to bribe–not. “Better be the good Mozart chocolate with the blue wrapper from Salzburg.” They don’t even ship it outside Europe. I had it when I went to Austria with my aunt and uncle.

He rolls his eyes. “Finish your edits and I’ll see what I can do.”

Hmm. I wonder what he’d get as a substitute. Godiva?

Okay, I’ve gotta tell you this. When I write my posts, I like to get them done the night before and schedule them to post. Well, I started this post last night, then figured I’d finish this morning.

Last night I was going to add some pictures of my dad’s lilacs (since the rabbits girdled mine and almost killed it. We’ve had that lilac for over ten years and they haven’t munched on it until this last winter. Effing rabbits!), but it was getting dark, so I didn’t, but I wandered around the backyard to smell them, because, you know, lilacs.

So, I got up this morning, started the coffee, and looked out over the backyard. My dad has a few flowerbeds in the backyard, and everything is just getting going after the late snow we had.

And thought,”What the hell is that?” From my angle and the angle of the rising sun, “that” was something black and a little white in the dark shadow of a pine tree. I couldn’t make it out, so I went to another window.

I wish I’d thought to get a picture.

It was . . . A cow. Seriously. A Holstein cow lying in one of the flowerbeds, minding her own business, chewing her cud.

backyard

pic from the patio. It was darker when the cow was there. See the cow prints in the dirt by the tree?

Damn, I wish I’d thought to take a pic right away. Instead, I started looking for the neighbor’s phone number to tell them one of their cows was out. Of course, after I figured out Dad didn’t have a phone book handy and the neighbor’s number wasn’t easily accessible, I looked back out in the backyard, and the bovine was gone. She noticed when I turned the light on in the house, so I suppose she figured her quiet morning was over.

You know you live in a small rural community when you wake up to find a cow lounging in your backyard. I really wish I’d gotten a picture. It was bizarre.

Just to give you an idea of how close the pasture is, it’s not more than 30′ from my dad’s property.

lilacs

So starts my day. I can see this making its way into one of my rural mysteries 🙂 I’ll be focusing on edits all weekend, and I’m already behind visiting blogs, so I apologize ahead of time.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

irises hostas

irises and hostas in one of my dad’s flowerbeds


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F-O-C-U-S

It’s blank.

The wall, I mean. Well, sometimes my head, too . . .

Not my writing office. I’m at my dad’s place while he’s off galavanting with his brother on an Alaskan cruise. I’ve got a deadline, and this is my opportunity to write without distraction.

It’s also another opportunity to be in the house I grew up in. Except now so much has changed. My sister-in-law decided to “stage” the house (which my dad is in the process of trying to sell), which, according to her, means getting rid of anything personal like family photos. And last weekend we moved a bunch of big stuff (entertainment center, bed, TV, etc) to the townhouse my dad is renting.

I was here last weekend, and it felt, well, . . . like I came too late. Like I should have thought to take pictures of the way everything was before this “staging” business. If you’ve gone through the process of watching the house you grew up in be prepared to sell, you know what I mean.

“You came here to focus, love.”

What the hell? My Muse pulls up a chair–where did he find that chair?

“Don’t look at me like that.” He leans back in a beanbag-type chair I’ve never seen before and know my dad never had. Fingers laced together, he puts his hands behind his head and crosses his long legs at the ankles. “You’re here to write. I’m your Muse. Get over it.”

“Where did that chair come from? Not that I’m complaining, but . . .” Maybe I am complaining, because it’s a distraction. Like his “Star Wars” lounge pants and Millennium Falcon t-shirt aren’t distracting at all. 😉

“I brought it with me, and you are complaining.” He cranes his neck around to check out the whole room. “Well, it’s bare. That’s a good thing. Now you can focus, which is why you’re here in the first place.”

He’s right. It’s just . . . Everything is gone. The pictures of the grandkids. The pictures of my mom. The pictures of me and my siblings with our families. I can’t stop the tears. Not yet. I’m grieving.

“Scoot over, love.” My Muse nudges me from the middle of the love seat to one side. He settles beside me, but doesn’t put his arm around my shoulders, though I kinda wish he would. “I know you want to give your attention to this loss business, but you’ve got a deadline coming up. You’ve been doing good this month. I’m proud of you.”

“I should have been doing good in April, too.” Except real life happens. “I am SO far behind.”

“Which is why you’re here.” He leans against me. “Take the time during your breaks to, what did A say? Say good-bye to every room. But only during breaks. You are here to write.”

He’s right. Deep breath. “I’m going to finish this round of edits this weekend.”

“And I’m here to make sure you do. Besides, it’s supposed to rain today. No excuses.”

So, I’ve got all day to write–except for a couple hours this morning when my BFF from high school is stopping by. I try to catch up with her whenever I’m in town. In fact, last year when I was here she had an awesome “Are you kidding? This really happened?” story. I told her I was going to use it in a book; it’ll be part of the plot of my rural mystery (on the list to do after Book 2).

So, last week I posted plants, and someone (you know who you are), complained about a glaring lack of cat pics. Well, be careful what you wish for 😀

Have a great writing weekend!

 


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Spring–it does a creative mind good

Well, Spring, it’s about damn time. FINALLY. The trees are green, the grass is green, the weeds are green. And we’ve had enough rain that the grass needs to be mowed already. Because I know you don’t have enough fun spring flower pictures to look at, here’s more from my yard.

squill

Siberian squill

violets

Violets

I love the little blue flowers. They’re called Siberian squill, and apparently they’re quite invasive. Hmm. Not so far at our place. Besides, I’d rather see these spread than creeping Charlie. Or burdock. Or ragweed. Or quackgrass. Or stinging nettle. Or …

And surprise! The rhubarb divisions we got from my sister-in-law are growing.

rhubarb

rhubarb

Anyway. I cleaned out the asparagus patch last weekend, and to my delight, I’ve got spears coming up. Not to brag or anything (okay, maybe brag a little), check it out:

asparagus

Asparagus!

This is only a small area of the patch; I picked enough for a meal. If you like asparagus, but have only ever had the supermarket stuff, you are so missing out! Try to find some at a farmer’s market.

I’ve got raspberries in the same “raised bed”, and of course those are invading the asparagus. This is the time of year they come back with a vengeance despite having been mowed down by rabbits over the winter. They’re spreading outside the raised bed area, into the asparagus patch, into the old chicken pen (which was beside the raised bed area).

raspberries_cr

Raspberries

Ugh. I love having raspberries, but we’d move them if we had a good spot to put them. So, my weeding of the asparagus patch consisted mostly of pulling/digging out raspberry sprouts. Oh, and quackgrass and burdock, because why not?

On the gardening front, my hubs would have tilled the garden once by now (I think) except one of the tires on the tractor went flat. Like, “huge crack in the sidewall now a hole” went flat. And the local Tires Plus doesn’t carry big tractor tires. Hmm. Go figure. So, he’s been searching for tires that will fit. Until he finds some that will work (or I convince him he could actually use the other tractor to run the tiller if we have to get the garden tilled), I don’t have to worry about spending valuable writing time digging in the dirt.

Speaking of, OMG, we’ll be halfway through May next week. And I’m not halfway through my edits yet. And this weekend will be writing-free since it’s a) my dad’s big 7-0, and b) a pre-move-in/move-out party for the town house he’s renting. It’ll be the first stage of moving out and selling the house I grew up in.

*silence*

*deep breath*

Even though he won’t completely move out until July, I think I’ve already started grieving. Me and my four siblings grew up there. It’s a big house for one person; I know. I’ve been there alone. My mom … the house holds so many memories of my mom. Dad’s moving to a different city, so once he sells the house, I’ll have to make a special trip to visit Mom’s grave.

It happens. It happened when my grandmother sold the house my dad and his siblings grew up in. She’d been alone in that house for, wow, it’s been almost 25 years since my grandfather died. It’s better for one person to not have to take care of a big house like that, especially when they get older. I get it.

Still. So many memories.

So, this weekend I’m going to Dad’s to help birthday and move some big stuff. Next week I’ll be heading back for a mini-writing retreat since Dad will be on his vacation. Need to get moving on my edits; it feels like the universe is working against me. So much unexpected stuff the past couple months stealing my writing time. Maybe it’s the universe’s way of reminding me this writing stuff is work, and don’t forget it 😀 Or it’s the universe’s way of telling me to get my shit together (or is it my Muse telling me?)

Enjoy the spring weekend! To the mothers in the US, Happy Mother’s Day!