Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Fiction in real life settings

You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, right? Writers struggling with plotting or generating ideas are often told to look at the latest news stories, especially obscure ones, for ideas.

On the flip side, and more common, is fiction taking place in the real world. From Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum in the streets of Trenton, NJ to William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor in northern Minnesota, fiction takes place in the world we know. Unless we are writing science fiction or fantasy (except urban fantasy), we use places we’ve visited, or places we’ve heard about from other people who’ve been there. Maybe we get a great idea for a story, then go “on location” to the place we want to use as our setting. (Hmm, maybe I should set my next book in Hawaii. Or the Caribbean. Or New Zealand. πŸ™‚ )

Even urban fantasy uses real life places. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a resident of Chicago (LOVE Dresden!), Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is set in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series spans the globe from Arizona to Japan and the UK.

Research is a great reason to travel and see places we want to write about. Sometimes, though, we stick closer to home because that’s what we know. Maybe it’s the place where we grew up. I’ve set a book in a small town in rural Minnesota similar to the one I now live near. Maybe it’s a place we lived while in college. Maybe it’s the place we visited and wish we could move to (Kauai, definitely. Or maybe Seattle.)

The book I’m working on (shhh, don’t say anything about my still-unfinished outline–I don’t need my Muse showing up just now) is set in a place where I lived while in aviation school way back when. Like, 25+ years ago (OMG, I was in college 26 years ago. Holy shit–I’m getting old.)

Needless to say, there’ve been some changes in the past quarter century. Even though my book is set in the early 90s, some things are the same. Some things are vastly different. (I see a road trip in my future. πŸ™‚ ) So I hop onto Google (gotta love the Internet for research!) and search for my old alma mater.

Lots of changes. As in, “holy cow, seriously?” changes. Definitely a road trip in my future for research, and a bit of nostalgia along the way.

But (there’s always a “but”, right?) depending on the story, it’s a good idea to make a few things up along the way. Unless you’re writing historical stuff that needs to be fairly accurate, that is. You don’t want readers to stop by your main character’s “real” house, the one you saw during your driving tour and decided would be perfect for your character. Imagine having strangers knocking on the door and asking to see Sassy Simpson’s bedroom where she found that bloody knife, or Logan Loveless’ kitchen where he finally kissed his dream girl.

And you, as the homeowner, have no idea who they’re talking about, even though they’re waving a book and pointing to the chapter that relates said event in mind-blowing detail.

Yep, probably not the best idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the setting, just tweak it a bit. Add a street or three that don’t exist in real life to plant your main character’s domicile. Rename some real life businesses or create some new ones in town.

Hey, it’s fiction, it’s supposed to be made up.

Er, I’d better get back to my outline. My Muse hasn’t shown up yet, but I suspect he will soon. It’s a super-nice weekend, an “April in February” weekend, so I’ll have to squeeze in a little garden planning. And taxes. Ugh.

And a walk or three. You know, to help me with my outline πŸ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!


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The waiting game

I add the last entry to the list on the white board in my writing office and fail to suppress the urge to squeal like a teenager. I won’t admit to the happy dance, though.

Another step closer.

My Muse appears bearing gifts: a bag of tasty Ghirardelli chocolates and a six-pack of Moon Man beer. The best part: he’s wearing that burgundy henley. A worthy distraction.

“Congrats, love.” He sets the beer and chocolate on my desk and gestures at the board. “How many?”

“Thirteen.” It’s still sinking in. My agent got my manuscript into the hands of editors at thirteen publishers. And she said so far she’s gotten positive responses. That is, they’re looking forward to reading it.

He scans the list. “Looks like a nice selection.”

“Are you kidding? These are great.” It’s still sinking in. The whole “I really have an agent” to “Oh. My. Gawd. My manuscript is actually on an editor’s desk at that publisher.”

He loops an arm around my shoulders. “You’re doing great, love. Now, why haven’t you finished the outline for the next book?”

He smells like spring, that fresh, green scent of promise and sunshine and rain, that scent that makes you want to breathe it all in that first day the grass turns bright green and the sun glows against a brilliant blue sky. “Can’t focus.”

“Bullshit. You’re not trying hard enough, love, and you know it.”

Silence. I’m not even trying to think of a response because I know he’s right. I’m at the brainstorming stage of my next book. I sort of know what the story will be, but free-writing through the outline a few times will help me cement the major plot points.

“I’ll get it done. I have to have it done by the end of the month so I can do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo in March.” Besides, the weather for the next week or so is supposed to be spring-like, as in March temps in February here in MN. Lots of opportunity to go for walks to help me think through the plot lines.

“I’m going to hold you to that.” His Indiana Jones fedora appears on his head. “You need to get to work.”

So now it’s a waiting game. My agent will keep me updated on responses, but I know it’s just like when an agent asks for a full when you’re querying agents. It takes a little while for that person to get to your manuscript’s spot in their TBR queue. I expect it’ll be a few weeks before we hear back from any of them.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on the outline for the next book, and planning my garden. I’ll have to start seeds in a few weeks. This year will be a canning tomato year, and hopefully my peppers will do better than they did last year (last year was a bad year for my peppers). Maybe I’ll do garbanzo beans this year. I always like to plant something new or something I haven’t planted for a while.

Here’s your awwww to start off the weekend:

sockszoeynap_cr

Socks and Zoey napping

Pulled from the archives. Even though Zoey would chase Socks and (since she was bigger) often wrestle with her, sometimes they’d cuddle.

Have a great weekend, all! Get writing!


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Random thoughts

A blank page stares at me, so I stare back, trying to ignore the ache in the right side of my face. Creative thoughts flee from the pain like cockroaches from light.

Gawd, I hate sinus headaches. Except, they may not be sinus-related at all. Man, this getting old stuff really screws up the system.

“You’re not old, love.” My Muse settles into the recliner beside me in my writing office. “You haven’t hit half a century yet. You’re barely middle-aged.”

“Tell that to my headache. You heard what my doctor said. She thinks they’re hormonal.” I’ve been getting them since I turned forty or so. That’s old enough for my system to start wigging out.

He indicates the notebook on my lap. “Excuses, love.”

I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. “I turned in my proposal. I’m not sure what to work on next.”

“You know what you need to do, love. Plan your website revamp, work on your e-newsletter strategy, or work on the outline for the next book. Pick one.”

The ache around my right eye sharpens, reaches a finger to my right temple and digs in. “Aren’t you and Mr. E supposed to be doing some sort of prep for your Super Bowl party tomorrow?”

“Nope. We decided we’d just gather at the sports pub with the other Muses. No muss, no fuss. And you’re changing the subject.”

“Yeah, because I can’t think about writing when my face hurts. Maybe I’ll start looking at seed catalogs. We’re moving the garden this year.” Yep, into an area that’s been invaded by creeping Charlie. Oh joy.

“Excuses, love.”

“Then again, I’ve got a couple books I need to finish, including Mr. E’s debut and a comparison title for my book. I should probably finish those.” I turn to my Muse. “You know I called you just so I’d have something to write in my blog today, right?”

A grin inches across his face. Heat washes through me. “Of course I know. I’m your Muse, love. I also know it’s killing you to be in this uncertain place with your writing. So work on the outline for the next book. Send Mae that email about her website, and ask her about her newsletter while you’re at it. You have to write. You’re as antsy as a third-grader in brand-new dress clothes–the uncomfortable kind. It’s driving me nuts.”

“Just like this stupid headache is driving me nuts. Welcome to the club.”

Today is supposed to be relatively warm (around 30 F) with a kicking wind (16 mph), but I’m going to go for a walk anyway. That always seems to help when I’m stuck or lacking creative energy. Or I could just peruse seed catalogs for a while. That’s always fun, dreaming about a garden with few weeds and gorgeous veggies. I’ll have to start my seeds in a few weeks. Or maybe I’ll look up recipes for creeping Charlie.

Have a great weekend, and WRITE!


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Stormin’ the brain

I enter my writing office, coffee mug in hand. It’s a fun one I received as a gift. Every writer needs a fun mug! plotting-mug_cr“G’day, love. It’s about time you showed up.”

My Muse is standing in front of the whiteboard wall, marker in hand. Today he’s sporting an Atlanta Falcons jersey and jeans, with a New England Patriots cap.

“Can’t decide who to root for?” I ask, gesturing with my mug at his ensemble. “The Super Bowl is next weekend, not this weekend.”

“Figured I’d start early. It was either these or …”

“The burgundy henley?” I finish.

He aims those baby blues at me. “You really like that shirt, don’t you?”

I really like how he looks in that shirt, but I’m not going to tell him that. He might never wear it again. I sidle up next to him. “Sooo, whatcha doing?”

“Trying to come up with alternate titles for your book, as you well know.” He adds another word to the collection on the board. They’re mostly aviation-related, words like “terminal”, “plane”, and “stall”. Some are words that often show up in mystery and thriller titles, like “death”, “dark”, and “fear”. HeΒ  writes “bag-smasher” off to the side.

“Really?” I erase it. “Do you think ‘bag-smasher’ conveys a sense of mystery and suspense?”

“Hey, I’m just tossing out ideas.” He drapes an arm around my shoulders. “I really like that one.” He points. “How about ‘Terminal Cargo’? Or ‘Frozen Stall’? ‘Crash and Freeze’? What about ‘Deadly Wings’?”

“Ugh. No.” The words on the board start to swim in my vision. We’re brainstorming different titles for my book at my agent’s request. “It needs to be aviation-esque, but still have a connotation of suspense.”

He stares at me. “‘Aviation-esque’? Really?”

I duck out from under his arm and head to my desk. “We can think about the title later. Right now I need your help with the proposal.”

My Muse leans against the board, arms crossed. “Are you ready to sit down and get started on that? That one’s not going to be easy, love.”

“I never expected it to be easy.” I drop into my chair and set my mug aside. “It’s like a spiffed-up synopsis.” The same dread that I feel when I think about writing a synopsis blows a chill through me now. It’s like a cover blurb, or the blurbs you see on Amazon. But more.

“Want to tackle the bio first?” he asks.

Tempting. Very tempting. “Nope.”

He drags a director’s chair to my desk and sits across from me. “It’ll be easier.”

“True, but we gotta get the pitch part done, and that’ll take the longest.”

A slow smile brightens his face. “I’m proud of you, love. No procrastinating.”

“Yet.”

I always seem to find other things to do instead of the hard stuff, like writing a synopsis or figuring out a plot hole. I’ve got an example of a proposal, and I’ll have to research some on Amazon. For ideas, not procrastination.

No. Really.

My agent accepted my revision, with a few minor edits, so the next thing on the list is to come up with another title (current title: Just Plane Dead), write a bio that wows, and create a proposal she can present to editors. I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried about it. I’m sure my Muse and I can come up with something super awesome. I still think writing the book and revising it are way easier.

Oh, and for those who stop by for cat pics (you know who you are πŸ˜‰ ):

I’m pulling from the archives. Zoey is our orange cat, and Socks was our other one until she went MIA. We still miss her. She was so nice and fuzzy and nice. Zoey’s kind of a grump; she doesn’t even like to be picked up, but she sure likes to be petted.

Go forth and write this weekend! I will be πŸ™‚


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Write what you know, or do a good fake-out

Write what you know. How often have you heard that advice?

Pfft. All. The. Time.

Which is all well and good if you’re writing about making chocolate chip cookies (not cheating, mind you, actually measuring the ingredients and mixing them together) or driving in a snowstorm, or checking out of a big-box store behind the person who is cleaning the pennies out of their little coin purse.

But what if:

  • You’ve never ridden a dragon.
  • You’ve never ridden a horse.
  • You’ve never fired a gun.
  • You’ve never seen the Grand Canyon.
  • You’ve never cast a spell of invisibility.
  • You’ve never changed into a wolf/tiger/bear/bird of prey/swan/vampire/gargoyle/(I could go on).
  • You’ve never lost a brother.
  • You’ve never been stalked.
  • Someone has never tried to kill you.

Granted, some things you can realistically do. Never fired a gun? Go to your local gun shop, gun range, or contact a sportsman’s club and ask for the experience. Never ridden a horse? I’m sure most horse owners wouldn’t mind helping you out, especially if you offer to muck out the stable or pay them in return.

Some of those experiences can be translated into others. Never ridden a dragon? How different do you suppose that is from riding a horse? Never seen the Grand Canyon? Um, okay, pictures or Google Earth don’t do it justice compared to seeing it in person, but you could probably give it a good go.

Sometimes you can find other people who have had an experience you want to write about. Talk to that person, get them to describe everything from physical sensations (including any tastes or smells) to emotional sensations.

Psst, it’s called research.

But what if you haven’t experienced something, and you don’t know anyone who has? What if it’s something you cannot experience, like, ever? Time-travel. Casting spells. Shape-shifting. Or maybe something you could experience but probably shouldn’t, like falling five stories from a building or driving a car off a cliff.

Remember all those hours of make-believe when you were a kid? You didn’t know it then, but you were practicing for the times when you need to pretend. Not just in real life, because face it, we’ve all been there with the fake genuine smile and feigned interest when your relative starts telling that story yet again.

We go into that pretend state when we write things that we really don’t know. The deeper we can imagine the experience, and the more we can extrapolate from what we have experienced first-hand, the more realistic our writing will be.

The character in my latest WIP lost her big brother. I’m the oldest in my family, so I never had a big brother, nor have I lost a sibling. How could I write about her grief and guilt?

I have lost a parent. I know grief. But guilt? Hmm. I’ve gone through guilt with other things, like not offering to help the young mother in church struggling to control her three kids after her husband died. I should’ve offered to hold the fussy baby so she could deal with her other two children.

Even though I’ve never experienced loss like my character, I can use what I do know. I can remember the grief and guilt and translate it into my character. Actors do the same sort of thing. Our goal as writers is to bring our readers through the same experience as our characters.

We fake it good.

It’s worth it. The better you can fake it, the deeper the reader is pulled into the character’s experience. That translates to a better reader experience, which ultimately translates to more readers, because they tell their friends how good the story is.

How do you know you’ve written a good fake-out? When a beta reader tells you you’ve nailed something the reader actually experienced. Or when you go to book clubs and the readers relay their own similar experiences (this happens a lot with Ceone Fenn and her book, To Reap the Finest Wheat).

Like actors, we need to “get into character”. Some writers actually take acting classes to help them learn to do just that. Guess what? It means more well-rounded characters and more realistic scenes.

Our goal is to suck the reader into the story so they don’t want to surface until the end. We want them to cry, gasp, laugh, and dance for joy with our characters. Use what you know to imagine what you haven’t experienced.

Make-believe. It does a writer good.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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Percolating stories

Remember those old percolating coffee pots? You know, the white ones with the little blue flowers on them and the wide bottom (not the tapered-bottomed ones)? Corningware, I think. My mom had one. Or maybe it belonged to my grandmother. I have no idea what happened to it.

Anyway, I always think of it when I’m working on a story, whether I’m trying to work through revisions or generating a fresh plot. I’ve learned that once I have an idea, I need to let it tumble about in my had for a bit before it really seems to take shape (I guess I could’ve used a rock tumbler for an example, but come on—coffee). It’s like watching the coffee perk in the glass knob on the coffee pot lid. At first it’s really pale, then it gets darker, more coffee-like as the flavor is infused into the water.

I like to think of it as my subconscious working the idea through in the background while I work on other stuff, like my day job. When my brain jams up on the story, a walk outside seems to knock it loose and help with the process.

Now that I’ve finished the revisions my agent suggested, I’ll let my WIP sit for a few days to let it rest before I do another read-through. By the way, don’t skip that part if you can help it. The time away gives you a bit of distance from the story so when you go back to it, it’s easier to be more objective because you don’t have that immediate familiarity with the story. Weeks or a month away from the story is even better, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury.

So, while I’m letting my manuscript chill for a bit, what should I do? I’m reading, but it seems like I should be working on stuff I know I’ll need to do in the future, like figuring out a marketing plan, even though I haven’t sent my revised manuscript to my agent yet. (My agent. Love saying that πŸ™‚ )

Ugh. I’m doing some research on that. A number of my blogging friends have been writing posts about marketing and book promotion lately, so I’ll go through those and take some notes.

I see procrastination in my future…

At one point my agent suggested I come up with some ideas for more stories involving the characters from my book, since publishers often want more than one book (following the theory of when the third book is published books 1 and 2 sell better). I’m good with that; I like the characters from my book, and somehow playing around with new story ideas sounds like way more fun than putting together a marketing plan.

I’ve got a couple ideas, and I’ve let them percolate just long enough to get a rough idea of the story. Maybe now is the time to stick those ideas back into the pot and let them simmer some more. Maybe I’ll do some free-writing of the ideas, like a walk-through of the story, to get the ol’ creative energies fired up.

If my lap-warmer will let me. It never fails. If I’m not doing anything in particular, she just wanders around like a bored kid. As soon as I try to start anything …
zoey1

This is her “I’m here so pet me” face. Or better yet, the “I’m going to sit here until you pay attention to me if I have to sit here all day and don’t bother pushing me off because I’ll be back and it might take me a bit to get comfortable so deal with it” face.

If I want to actually work, she decides it’s time for a nap in apparently the most comfortable spot she can find in the whole house: my lap.zoey2

Seriously.

Sometimes I’m grumpy enough to shove her off anyway before she gets comfy, but usually I relent because who doesn’t like having a cat sleep on them?

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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Another step–with cheers!

There’s something about working toward a goal, whether it’s running a 5k, remodeling a room, practicing meditation, or traveling to the states you haven’t visited yet. Sometimes the road to get there is long and full of potholes and detours.

Sometimes you can actively move toward the goal, like training to run a marathon. Sometimes you prepare for a goal, like saving up for travel or remodeling.

In the writing world, it seems all these come into play. We practice writing. We train by reading about writing and taking classes on writing. We go to writing conferences. We practice some more. We ease into the hot spring with short stories or flash fiction, with entries into contests, with blog posts and guest posts.

We learn about the business, what it takes, the best paths to get to where we want to be. We read. A lot. We align ourselves with other writers, better writers, and writing teachers so we can improve beyond what we think we can do. We accept the challenge of becoming a published writer.

We fall down. We slip a few rungs backward. When you’re a writer, you get up, dust off your pen and notebook, and try again. We feel like we can’t move forward, that nothing we do seems to move us toward that elusive goal many of us seek: to be published.

And then, you see hope. A glimmer here, a shine there. You get partial requests for your manuscript. You place in a contest. You get personal rejections instead of form rejections. You get requests for the full manuscript.

Then you get a request for a revise and resubmit. It might come with specific feedback, or it might have general ideas of where you can take the story. Maybe the agent is open to discussing the feedback. You speak with the agent about where to take the story. You revise with the feedback you received in mind.

Then you resubmit. Sometimes a rejection follows, but sometimes you get more feedback about the story. Sometimes you have another phone discussion.

And then you receive the contract, the offer of representation for the story you created.

Another step closer to seeing your book in print.

I’m excited to announce I have signed with a literary agent to represent my mystery novel.

I have a literary agent.

OMG.

I know what happens next. I know that once I finish my latest revisions, I’ll need to work on stuff like a marketing plan, a cover blurb, and a bio. I’ll probably have to redo my synopsis. When a publisher picks it up, I’ll have more revisions, more planning, more to do.

This being an author stuff is a lot of work.

And I thought writing the book was tough. Actually, writing the draft isn’t so hard. It’s the revising that comes afterward that really takes work and up-close-and-personal time with the Muse.

The key, though, is persistence. You have to keep going, keep learning, keep reading, keep writing. Keep moving forward.

Have a great weekend, everyone!