Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Musing over the Battles

Okay, so the title for this week’s blog reflects what is occupying a good portion of my mind the past couple weeks.

The sight of my waning garden inspires green-thumb battle-fatigue. It’s pretty common about now, after canning batches of tomatoes and pickles, and staring at the weeds now holding their seed heads high. The borage and cilantro have reseeded and are starting to sprout again, and I should probably plant my fall crop of spinach. Radishes, too. Yep, I should do that. I’ll get right on it…

Front and center, though, I’m talking Pitch Wars, the name-of-epic-historical-battle-here of writers striving to find an agent and get published. The submission window closed on August 17, and all 1,591 of us mentee hopefuls have been waiting anxiously for the mentor picks to be revealed. We still have days to go–September 2 isn’t coming fast enough. This is another opportunity to move forward on the path for unpublished writers. We each selected 5 out of 100+ mentors to pitch. Each mentor can select only one writer to work with for the next two months, until the agent round.

The odds are daunting, but the community is awesome. Check out the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter to see what we’ve been up to while we’re waiting. I’ve already connected with a couple potential critique partners. My goal is to have my WIP whipped into shape by the end of NaNo this year, so I can start getting some feedback from them, as well as my writing sisters.

Speaking of my WIP, that particular battle seems daunting right now. I’m revising the first draft, and trying to work in not only the plot changes I decided on before my reunion with my writing sisters, but also the character and plot changes that came from said reunion. They’re all great changes, and will make the story stronger, but sheesh, it’s going to take some time. Kinda like that tiny garden shed and the nearby pile of lumber and nails you need to turn into a nicer, bigger shed. The tools are there, just draw up the blueprints, pull what you need from the tiny shed, and cobble it all together into a nice, shiny new one that you’ll be proud to show off to your friends.

“What is this?”

I jump when the flat of the machete blade hits my desk. “Hey, watch out with that thing.”

He’s frowning, hands on hips, dressed in a red and black flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his muscular forearms. He’s exchanged his sneakers for hiking boots, and his jeans are a faded indigo. Mmm, the outdoorsman look suits him quite well. My Muse picks up the blade and brandishes it. “What are you planning to use this for?”

“Put that away. I was going to use it on my WIP.”

He slings it toward the floor. A metallic thud echoes in the office when it buries its tip in the wood. “Tell me you’re joking.”

“You didn’t find it in my writing area, did you? That should tell you something. Oh, and did you catch the ‘was’ in the previous statement, oh Mister I’m-Going-To-Ride-Your-Ass-Until-You-Get-Your-Revisions-Done?”

“Not funny, love. This,” he wrenches the blade free, “is not how you revise.”

“It is if I’m cutting half of the first draft.”

“You’re not cutting half of the first draft.” The way he’s twirling the blade makes me a bit nervous.

“Put that down before you hurt someone.”

He pulls a sheath from somewhere and slides the machete into it. I lunge for the knife, but he holds it out of reach. I almost collide with him–he steadies me with a hand to my shoulder. Those blue eyes of his narrow. “It’s mine, now. And you don’t need to cut half the draft.”

He smells like the woods, like evergreen and that outdoor scent that makes me think of autumn. “I realize that now. I can rework some of the scenes to support the new plot and character backstories, but I’ll still have to cut out a big chunk. C’mon, it’s a first draft. It needs to be overhauled.”

“Not with this.” He tosses the sheathed blade aside. “You need to focus. Stop thinking about Pitch Wars for two days. Nothing’s going to happen until next week, and nothing you do on Twitter will change that.”

“You never know. Brenda opened the submission window early. She’s doing a live interview on Tuesday. I need to make sure I’m there. She might end up posting stuff early.” Man, I hate waiting like this. I have to remember it’s just like sending a query off to an agent. Patience is the key.

He presses his finger to my forehead. “Focus. This is what you need to revise your WIP. This,” and he moves his finger to my chest, “and this. Mind and heart.” He waves that finger at me, like he’s scolding. “Now, sit your ass down, get your MP3s going, and write. I’ll be right here when you need me.”

He’s right, as usual. My goal for tonight: get through the next two scenes in my WIP. Maybe even through the blizzard scene.

Oh, a couple things. Check out the Meet Your Main Character blog for the first post by our newest member. Stop by and enjoy!

Secondly, a huge shout-out to my writing sister who just signed the contract for her second MG novel. Congratulations, BB! Check out her debut novel, Canned and Crushed. It’s a great read, and something elementary-aged boys will enjoy.

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Waiting, Wondering, and Waning

Have you ever bought a lottery ticket, then sat at chair’s edge, eyes glued to the television while they draw the winning numbers? With each little ping-pong ball, you check your ticket two or three times to make absolutely certain the numbers really don’t match–or do they? It’s especially fun when the pot reaches into the double-digit millions or more, and the first number matches, then the second, then…

Entering writing or pitch contests are like that. It sometimes feels so random, even after you’ve sweated and slaved over your manuscript, query, and synopsis. It feels like that when you hit the “Send” button and your query heads through the interwebs to your dream agents. I subbed for Pitch Wars (jump on the #PitchWars Twitter feed, there’s some great stuff going on) this year, along with 1,590 other writers. Now we’re all waiting. OMG, the anticipation, the anxiety, the fear, the hope! There are 108 mentors reviewing all the submissions. Each mentor will pick one mentee, and work with that writer for two months to polish their manuscript to a high sheen before the agent round in November.

The kicker is, all of us aspiring mentees won’t find out if we have a mentor until…drumroll… September 2. The submission window closed on Monday, August 17, and we have to wait two weeks (and a couple days) to find out if we get picked. Needless to say, many of us have turned to lurking on the #PitchWars feed, or stalking our target mentors on Twitter in case they let some key clue slip out. Of course, they’re quite careful to keep any tidbits they scatter for us vague enough they could refer to many manuscripts.

The best thing, I think, about the whole deal–well, besides actually getting a mentor 🙂 –is the opportunity to get in touch with so many writers. The community is made of up great people who are rooting for everyone. We’re all on the same team, and it’s a great opportunity to find critique partners or beta readers for your manuscript. There’s an awful lot of creativity floating around. To while away the time, some mentee hopefuls have “pimped” their bios on their blogs. Check out the pimp-my-bio blog hop. And I’m toying with some ideas for my own pimp-my-bio page, but there’s an insane amount of humor and wit out there; not sure I can make a good showing. So, I’ll regale you with tales of my waning garden instead.

IMG_0175 It’s harvest time. Oh boy, is it ever! Note to self: smaller garden next year. No, I really mean it this time. Seriously.

Who am I kidding? It’s all fun and games until you’ve got 3 bushels of pickling cucumbers-turned-mutant staring at you, daring you to keep picking and add to their ranks. Oh, but I won–I brought them to work. Ha! Take that, you oversized cucurbits! No one had been out to the garden for a week due to rain and going out of town for a family gathering. My nice, finger-sized cucumbers had swelled to monster proportions. The people at work appreciated them!

The tomatoes are easier to handle; I’ve canned two batches of tomatoes so far, and will likely do at least two more. Each batch is 8 quarts, because that’s all I can fit in my hot-water canner.

IMG_0171The rest of the garden is fading. The cilantro has gone to seed, and will start resprouting soon, so there’s still hope for late-season pico de gallo. The dill has almost all gone past the point of using for pickles (Oh, snap. Might have to use the mature seeds for my dill pickles. Nuts.) The potatoes have died back, and we’ll need to add mulch so the potatoes that make it to the surface won’t turn green under the sunlight before we dig them all up.

This time of year, everything is ready at the same time: cucumbers for pickles, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, watermelon, and zucchini (still). The only things not quite ready yet are the rutabaga, parsnips, and those mini-pumpkins people use for decor in fall, all planted at the request of my sister-in-law, who ran out of room in her own garden.

IMG_0114Fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, and cilantro make for awesome pico de gallo. If you’ve never made it, you should try it at least once. Proportions are to taste, but it’s so easy. Dice some tomatoes (dice them small enough that they’ll stay on a chip), peppers, a jalapeno or two, and some onions. Before you mix everything together, put the diced tomatoes into a strainer and add salt. Let them drain for a bit; the salt helps to draw the water out of them. Once the tomatoes have drained for a half hour or so, add the other ingredients in whatever proportion you like, then add fresh cilantro to taste. Toss in a couple splashes of lime juice, mix well, crack open that big bag of tortilla chips, and dig in!

Also, quick shout-out to Brenda Drake, Erica Chapman, and all the other Pitch Wars mentors–THANK YOU for your time, efforts, and talents. Despite writers having a reputation for quiet, solitary pursuits, we have a vibrant community full of support for each other. The #PitchWars feed shows just how much we cheer each other on. Good luck to all!


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Day 3, Quote 3

It’s Monday, and Day 3 of the 3 days, 3 quotes challenge presented to me by my blogging buddy Emily Bates over at Bumblesbooks. I haven’t decided yet if I want to use a snarky quote, an inspirational one, a funny one, or a deep one (like, Lao Tzu deep).

So, now I get to hunt down one last quote (why do I keep imagining Elmer Fudd searching the woods for his wascally wabbit?). Not to mention, I get to tag one other lucky blogger each day to join in the fun (cue evil laugh here 🙂 )

So, here I am, searching for writing quotes, and I find a page from Writer’s Digest that lists 72 quotes for writers. All of them are excellent quotes for writers, but I picked this one:

“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”
—R.L. Stine, WD (this quote is from an interview with Stine that ran in our November/December 2011 issue)

I hear Charlie Rose ask authors this all the time, and I always seem to tune out the answers. There are standard answers, like: Write Every Day. I think Stine had it right. If you want to be a writer, I mean, really want to be a writer, you know what you need to do. You need to write as often as possible. You need to learn the craft of writing, whether it is fiction, poetry, or whatever. You need to find other writers to critique your work.

I toyed with the idea of being a real writer for years before I actually tried it. I had so many story ideas, but I didn’t recognize that I had to write. Writers have to write. We go crazy, otherwise. I’m feeling like that now. I spent five glorious days of doing nothing but writing, talking about writing, working out story revisions, and spending time with my writing sisters. When I returned home all charged up to do my revisions for my WIP, reality kicked in. First, head to the garden and pick all the produce that needs to be picked (to answer your question, a LOT). Next, process the produce into pickles and canned tomatoes. Then, some “it can’t wait any longer” chores. Then, off to work. Then, more garden chores. Then family obligations since my sister came home this weekend–haven’t seen her since Christmas.

I’m feeling it. There’s an impatience inside, an anxiety that translates into tension, crankiness, and now segueing into a general malaise. I need to write. I need to work on my WIP while my inspiration is fresh, but I’m working against real life. It’s the consummate struggle writers face, those of us who have full-time jobs, are full-time parents, and have more than a small apartment to maintain. Real life versus the craft we crave. Cleaning house versus revising that chapter. It’s a battle between responsibility and want–no, need. Writers need to write.

Okay, I’m finished. Thanks for letting me blow off just a bit of frustration 🙂 Anywho, there’s my quote for day 3.  And to share the wealth, I’d like to tag Andrea Connolly over at Captain’s Log for the 3 Days, 3 Quotes challenge. She’s another writer with a great blog. And Andrea, I haven’t forgotten about you. I’ll let you know what I find!


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Day 2, Quote 2

Welcome to day 2 of the 3 days, 3 quotes challenge presented to me by my blogging buddy Emily Bates over at Bumblesbooks. I don’t have a collection of favorite quotes, because I know once I save them, I won’t be able to find the one I want (my desk at work is kinda like that, but hey, I know where everything is–unless I clean it) I know a few sources I love to check when I do need a quote for something.

So, now I get to hunt down an awesome quote each day. The better part–I get to tag one other lucky blogger each day to join in the fun (cue evil laugh here 🙂 )

Remember the days before Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, back when you emailed the good humor jokes and quotes to your friends instead of posting them? Ah, those were the days! My favorite emailed humor always starred Hallmark Cards’ famed grouchy old woman, Maxine. I think someone in the office even had one of those daily desk calendars of Maxine quotes; I remember taping a couple daily pages next to my desk because those particular quotes were just perfect.

Maxine margaritaThis is one of many I found when I went on my quote hunt this morning. I thought about including all the ones I found, but maybe I should start a quote collection instead, for the next time someone tags me for a quote challenge 🙂

Just like yesterday’s pick, this one reminds me of my writing sisters. I also substitute “Muse” for “friends”, because he’s just like that. The think I love most about Maxine is how she can say so much in one or two short sentences. Here’s another example:

Sometimes wouldn’t you like to just put the whole day in your toilet……and then flush!

Right? Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a day like that. Yep, I knew it. Okay, I can’t resist. One more. Writer’s block, anyone? Maxine brain

Did you ever haunt the local mall with your best friend or two from high school? One of the things we used to do was find the Hallmark store and read the Maxine cards. If it would’ve been a library, they would’ve kicked us out in the first minute.

Besides Maxine, I’ve always found Calvin and Hobbes great at pick-me-ups. I’ve got a few of the Calvin and Hobbes collections, and they’ve become well-worn. When I’m feeling low, or just grumpy, reading something funny helps to brighten the day. Of course, that doesn’t help much with writer’s block, but it sure makes the day seem lighter.

What do you read to feel better during a down-in-the-dumps day? Do you head to the Hallmark Cards store at the mall and hang out in Maxine’s section for a bit? Do you dig your old Garfield books out of their dusty corner of your bookshelf? Maybe you’re a Robert Frost sort of person, and turn to him or Sandburg to help you return to calm.

There’s my quote for day 2. Now back to hunting for the next one. And to share the wealth, I’d like to tag D Peach Wallace over at Myths of the Mirror for the 3 Days, 3 Quotes challenge. She’s got a great blog, and maybe she has a secret folder of quotes stashed somewhere. Head on over to her blog; she posts some great stuff.


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Day 1, Quote 1

I’m relatively new to the world of blogging–I started about a year ago. Since then, I’ve made connections with some wonderful people, writers who are witty, or profound, or insightful, or everything rolled up together in a neat little package. How cool is that!

I’ve also been tagged for a couple challenges in the past year, and I’ve just been tagged for another. This one is the three quotes in three days challenge, which I haven’t seen yet, but my blogging buddy Emily Bates over at Bumblesbooks tagged me for this one. Now, I’m not one to squirrel away awesome quotes I find, simply because I would never be able to remember I have them, and wouldn’t be able to find the ones I really like when I want to find them. However, I know a few sources I love to check when I do need a quote for something.

So, now it’s time to hunt down an awesome quote each day for the next three days. The better part–I get to tag one other lucky blogger each day to join in the fun (cue evil laugh here 🙂 ) So, without further procrastin–ah, I mean, ado, here goes nothing.

When I think of people who say witty things on the spur of the moment, Mark Twain always comes to mind. He’s one of those people I think would be fascinating to talk to for an afternoon. Whenever I read his speeches, or see a documentary on him, I’m always amazed by what he says. Here’s one that stuck with me:

I think this quote struck me because I just spent time with my writing sisters. We are seven women, including our mentor, who do what we can to help each other succeed in our writing endeavors. Writers seem to be like that as a whole. I’ve run across so many more accomplished writers than myself who are willing to help other writers continue to improve. I’ve found the community of writers to be friendly, encouraging, and fun, both online and in person. I’m sure there are sour grapes out there, as there are no matter what your interest or hobby is, but I’ve been fortunate not to cross paths with them.

So, here’s my first quote for my first day. Now back to hunting for the next one. And to share the wealth, I’d like to tag Mae Clair for the 3 Days, 3 Quotes challenge (hey, Mae, you still owe me 5 Days, 5 Pictures 😉 ). She’s been on a book blog tour for her latest novel, Myth and Magic, but maybe she has a secret folder of quotes stashed somewhere.

Take a few minutes and head on over to the Meet Your Main Character blog this month. We’ve got an awesome Top 5 this month, and our guest blogger’s hilarious post should be up soon. We’ve got a new member as well, and her introductory post is a fun read.


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The Fellowship of the Writing Sisters

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf:  You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.

Bilbo:  You can promise that I’ll come back?

Gandalf:  No. And if you do, you will not be the same

Six women. Six stories. A journey into the wild world of novel writing. We have the essentials: food, fudge, wine, chocolate, and writing. On our trek we talk about writing, make notes, and try to absorb the wisdom of our mentor in a limited amount of time. We even brought in our sister in California who couldn’t make the trip in person this year. Thank goodness for Skype!

There’s something to be said about a gathering of writers who all “get” how each other writes. There’s a lot to be said about taking time away from the everyday, and focusing on things that matter to you, especially if those things also matter to the people you’re with. We’ve helped each other through writer’s block, plotting problems, character, setting, and voice.

Corriandor, our B&B writing mascot

Corriandor, our B&B writing mascot

I got some much needed help with my WIP from my writing sisters. Sure, I have to do some major revision, but I’m only on the first draft, so I know there’s more rewriting on the docket. That’s one of the best things about getting together with fellow writers: they can give you so many good ideas. I know the story will be so much stronger after I make changes based on their suggestions.

We’re taking a short break after a long session this morning, a late lunch, and a meandering walk through a nearby cemetery and a community garden area where people can rent small plots to grow veggies, herbs, and flowers.

My Muse’s hammock sits empty on the front porch of the bed and breakfast we’re staying at. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the other Muses around either since before lunch. No wonder we slowed down.

Wait. He’s ambling down the sidewalk, solo. “Hey, where’d you go?”

“Why? Didya miss me?” He takes the porch steps in one long stride. He seems far too refreshed and relaxed after this morning’s work. He settles in the porch swing and pats the space next to him. “Have a seat, love.”

Yep, he’s waaay too relaxed. I lean against the porch railing instead. “What’s up with you?”

“Why?”

“Have you been drinking?”

He laces his fingers together, puts his hands behind his head, and starts swinging. “No more than usual.”

“Where are the other muses?”

He stretches an arm along the back of the bench. “Around. Come sit with me.”

Tempting. Very tempting. “Why are you in such a good mood?”

His grin emphasizes the mischievous glimmer in his eyes. “Are you kidding? After the past four days, you’ve revised your WIP plot to crank up the tension, make your protagonist more sympathetic, and spice up the conflict. I can feel it’s going to be good. Very good. All you need to do is rewrite your beat sheets to accommodate the updates, then revise the story, starting from page one. And I didn’t have to dog you about it.”

He’s right. And I feel pretty good about the changes my Writing Sisters suggested. I’m eager to get started on the revisions. The creative energy gets charged up when we gather together, and I want to ride that fire as long as possible. I sit beside him on the bench. He smells like the woods, flowers, summer rains, like all my natural muses woven together.

He wraps an arm around my shoulders and pulls me to his side. “You did good, love. You’ve got fresh building materials, and revised blueprints. We’ve got our work laid out for us.”

I’m incredibly grateful for my Writing Sisters, and all the suggestions, critiques, and support they offer. I have a lot of work to do in the coming months, but I feel better about the direction I’ll take my WIP.

We all part ways tomorrow, so we still have a night to talk about writing, drink wine, eat chocolate, and enjoy the company of other wonderful writers. If you ever get a chance to get away with good writer friends, take it. It’ll do you good.

BTW, do you like blueberry muffins? Make sure you check out this month’s Meet Your Main Character blog Top 5 and see who our “blueberry muffins” are!


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Writing Retreat and Reunion

I have mere days left to plan, list, pack, and recheck said list. Just days until my reunion retreat with my writing sisters, when I get glorious, writing-filled days when I don’t have to weed, or pick monster zucchini, or weed, or mow the lawn, or weed… seems I’ve got a theme going here.

I keep wondering at the sheer odds of seven women coming together like we have, writers or not. We are all writers, some published. One sister’s debut novel came out this spring. One has a debut novel due out around Christmas. Another sounds like she’s working on final tasks before a release. Our honored writing mentor released the last book in her bestselling Door County Fudge Shop mystery series this spring, and she’s working on a new cozy mystery series involving chickens and a mischievous 12-year-old. Still, it feels like there’s something more than writing that bonds us. Writing is the catalyst, but perhaps we’ve connected because some cosmic force decided we all need each other in some way, if only to encourage one another on our life’s journeys.

In any case, I’m looking forward to spending time with my “sistahs” (and I’m including a Skype session with our sister who’s in CA because she just visited the Midwest for another mission). We’ll spend time on writing–being together puts our creative energies into overdrive–but we’ll do a lot of catching up as well.

A thud echoes behind me. What the hell can he possibly pack that’s that heavy?

“It’s called a hammock, complete with its own frame.” My Muse drops a duffel bag beside the hammock. “Blog post? Really? Are you planning to share everything about your reunion?”

Per usual, he’s leaning against the door jamb, arms crossed on his broad chest. He’s wearing his worn-white-at-the-seams jeans and a t-shirt that advertises Señor Frog’s in Cancun. Funny, I don’t remember him being there on that trip; I never made it to Señor Frog’s. Maybe he knows where I left my–

“That’s not your WIP, love.”

“Hey, I’m writing, aren’t I?” I indicate the hammock-in-a-bag. “Planning on kicking back? This is a writing reunion, emphasis on writing.”

He tucks his hands into his front pockets, exposing the sombrero-wearing frog on his shirt. “You know I won’t be the only one. Everyone else’s muses will be there, too. That’s why there’s so much creative energy when your writing sisters gather. You know that.”

“So, that gives you an excuse to slack off? I’m counting on this trip to help me focus. I need you on your game.”

He chuckles, and my subconscious fills in a “silly girl” quip from somewhere. “You know, my job is a helluva lot easier when there’s six of us in one place. The vibe of gathered writers and muses is enough to keep you on task. Besides, it’s a reunion retreat, right? You’ll be chillin’ along with your gal pals.”

True. We do some writing, though. Honest. Our mentor is there to keep us from getting too distracted. We have an agenda and a list of writing subjects to discuss, like plotting and voice. We’ve submitted pages to each other for feedback. And sure, there’s wine and chocolate, but it wouldn’t be a top-notch writing retreat without chocolate. Or wine. “I won’t have to track you down in the backyard, will I?”

He pushes away from the wall and tosses an arm around my shoulders. His scent reminds me of a bookstore—no, library–with all the promise of wonderful adventures within so many pages. “I’ll be right there with you, love.”

T-minus days and counting. If you ever have a chance to head off to a writing retreat, whether formal or just with your own writing group, take it. There’s no substitute for the opportunity to focus on writing and good friends.