Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Guest Blogger: J.M. Goebel on Researching Your Novel

Author Mae Clair invited me to guest on her blog, but don’t stop there; she’s got a great site and a new book coming out soon!

From the Pen of Mae Clair

Guess what? I’ve got a brand new guest blogger I’d like to introduce you to today. Julie Goebel and I have been blog followers of each other and Twitter friends for some time now. And I finally nagged, twisted her arm, invited her to do a guest post. I was thrilled when she consented. Julie’s got an ultra sexy muse who sometimes keeps her too focused on her WIP— when he’s not pub crawling with my own muse, Mr. Evening.

Anyway, I gave her free rein to pick a topic of her choice, and I think she came up with a subject of importance to all writers. I hope you’ll give her a friendly welcome!

~ooOOoo~

Thanks to Mae for inviting me to her blog. I asked her what she wanted me to write about. She let me pick my subject.

I warned her  🙂

Then my Muse warned…

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Trust me

Famous words heard before a prank, right?

These are the words writers say to readers. We want our readers to trust us to take them into the world of our story and entertain them. We want our readers to trust us to take them away from their own lives for a while and bring them into the lives of our characters.

There are many ways we keep our readers’ trust, from creating believable characters, to ensuring those characters behave in ways that make sense, to avoiding the trust-shattering deus ex machina escapes from the hard places we pin them against. We make sure our ten-year-old character doesn’t behave like an adult, and our 18th-century merchant doesn’t sound like a 20th-century soldier.

We also need to keep our readers’ trust by making sure our facts are straight. There’s nothing quite like reading a story set in the 1980s that includes a reference to cellphones or laptops that weigh less than 10 pounds. If our story is set in the early 20th century, we do our research to make sure we stay true to the styles, music, movies, and other trends that existed in that time period.

Accuracy is an easy way to keep the reader locked into the story, instead of breaking out because the character clicked the safety on a Glock (Glocks don’t have safeties in the same sense most other handguns do) or turned the key to start an airplane (the starting process is more involved than turning a key).

Bottom line: we do our research. Research of facts is the easy part of keeping the reader in the story. The harder part is ensuring our characters and plots are believable. I can use Google Earth (oh, the wonders of Google!) to check which direction I need to go from Waikiki to Diamond Head. I can drive to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to get an idea how big the cherry is on the spoon.

Setting isn’t the only thing we research. The resources we have in the writing community rival Google and Wikipedia. An expert on police procedures or forensics is as close as a Facebook group or crime blog (check out retired detective and forensics coroner Garry Rodger’s dyingwords.net or crime writer Sue Coletta’s site). Writers who have done extensive research on a subject are experts in their own right (for Irish myth, see Ali Isaac’s site, or check out Mae Clair’s site for tidbits on all those creatures people swear exist–but do they?)

Do your readers a favor and make sure the easy stuff is right. For example, there’s a pet ferret in my WIP. I’ve never had a pet ferret, but one quick question in my Facebook writers’ group gave me a half dozen people who have actually owned pet ferrets. Don’t underestimate the resources you have in various writing groups. I know a couple writers who are wonderful resources when it comes to the likely behaviors and fears of my WIP’s main character.

In other words, with a little work, you can assure your reader they can trust you to have your facts straight. Now, research can’t help you if your character doesn’t react the way they should. (This is a great article about that aspect of story.) Those are the things critique partners and beta readers can help with.

Now, for a bit of shameless promotion, pop on over to Mae Clair’s site for my guest post. While you’re there, check out her blog. Hey, check out all the blogs I’ve linked to. They are all excellent resources for your research.

Here’s a tip: set a timer, because soon you’ll realize you spent an hour or two just checking out all the cool information, and not writing. Hey, trust me 😉

Gotta get back to the WIP!

Oh, just a quick aside. It’s spring, we had a snowstorm today, and my babies are looking good. My tomatoes and peppers are coming up, and the onions are impersonating grass.

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Peppers and tomatoes

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Countdown to WI

No, not Wisconsin–well, sorta.

I’m talking the Writers’ Institute, an annual writing conference held in Madison, WI every April. I’ve only attended once, and then because the conference is close (a six-hour drive) and reasonable (ever see the prices for some of the bigger ones?).

Being in the Midwest makes things tougher when it comes to writing conferences. Sure, we’ve got what used to be Love Is Murder in Chicago–wait. Hang on. Um, okay, I guess that conference has gone the way of the dodo as of this year. Hmm. Well, that puts a damper on things. Point is, there aren’t a lot of writing conferences in our area. Hey, I’d love to travel to Florida for SleuthFest, or Seattle for the PNWA conference, or NYC for the Writer’s Digest conference, or (fill in other large city writing conferences here) but the pocketbook just can’t handle that kind of fun.

Notice the pattern? The bigger conferences tend to be located on either coast. And I’m stuck in the middle with yew (heh, couldn’t resist). Now, we do have other conferences in the Midwest (MN Northwoods WC), and last year the AWP had its conference in Minneapolis (which I didn’t find out about until the last day of the conference), but WI is big enough to be mentioned in Writer’s Digest magazine (where I initially found it).

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some great writing groups here: The Loft, the MN Writers Workshop, and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. I have this thing about driving into Mpls/St. Paul at night. And it’s a hike for me since I live outside the metro area.

“Excuses, love.” My Muse tosses his LA Dodgers baseball cap onto my desk and peels off his leather bomber jacket. “You could go to those if you wanted to.”

I lean back in my chair and sigh. “I have a tough enough time driving to work and back some days, and I’m not even going into the city. Besides, I don’t like being somewhere unfamiliar at night.”

“The UW-Madison campus wasn’t familiar either when you went there the first time.”

“First, the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat and WI are on the edge of campus, and second, I stayed within walking distance. It’s a college campus, for crying out loud. And …”

He lays a finger on my lips. “Excuses. Now tell them the real reasons you would rather go to Madison.”

I roll my eyes. “You know, you didn’t need to show up yet. I won’t get a chance to work on my WIP until later.”

He points at my computer. “You tell them or I will.”

*grumble* “Fine.”

Truth is, there are a lot of published writers from UW-Madison, and their Continuing Education instructors have some serious creds. I started with an online class, then took a deep breath and signed up (well, applied to) for the week-long Write-By-The-Lake Retreat Master Novel class with the highly-recommended and beloved Christine DeSmet. The first year I tried, I didn’t make the grade in Chris’ class (she recommended another class, but I really wanted to take hers). The next time I did.

And that week in 2012 changed my writing life forever. Hell, it changed my life, period. Six novelists are the max in the class, each one with a novel they want to get published. I was one of those six. And guess what?

The Writing Sisters were born.

To this day, the seven of us keep in touch. Three of us are published or soon will be, and one has a second book coming out this year. We’re seven great gals who are more than just fellow writers. We’re friends.

So, I get all warm and fuzzy when it comes to UW-Madison and writing. The Writers’ Institute is a cornucopia of workshops for writers of all flavors, with keynote speakers and opportunities to meet with writers now published who have enjoyed lessons from the awesome instructors at UW. In fact, one of my writing sisters is on that list this year, so of course I have to go and heckle–er, cheer her on. They also have some great agents who take pitches and give workshops during the event.

And that’s where my frenzied work on my WIP comes in. I have just under 4 weeks to shine up my WIP so I can pitch it.

“You’re falling behind, love.” My Muse leans a hip on my desk. “You didn’t work on it last night.”

“I sent two queries off, and spent some time tweaking my log line. And #PitMad is tomorrow.”

“I thought you were going to lay off the Twitter pitch parties for a while.”

Yep, I was. Still might stay in the wings. But doggoneit, it’s another way to get an agent or editor’s attention.

Anyway, long story, short moral: if you have an opportunity to go to a writer’s conference, do it. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy of all those writers gathering, learning, and encouraging each other. Maybe I’ll see you there.


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Questioning Genre

I’m late once again with my post, but I’ve got a couple good excuses–no, really. I’m working on a guest post for a fellow blogger, I was nominated for the Liebster Award, which I intend to respond to, and I’m working to finish the first revision of my WIP (at which point I’ll turn right around to start the second revision).

Sprinkled in with the oatmeal, I’ve tossed entries into some pitch contests, with another coming up on St. Patty’s Day (#PitMad). Now, I’ve had hits and misses with pitch contests, and I was going to lay off the contests for a while, but sometimes you just have to say what the hell, can’t hurt.

I missed in #PitchMadness this past week, but considering only 60 entries were accepted out of 811, those are pretty long odds. Four teams each got to pick 15 entries, and the agent round starts next week, I think. Anyway, I watched the list of picks announced on Twitter.

Another round of Writer’s Doubt followed.

The picks in these contests lean heavily toward YA and MG. I feel like everyone and their brother are picking YA. Now, granted, these contests select genre depending on the interests of the participating agents, and I get that, but I feel kinda left out. My target audience is adults, and my genres include mystery (with some extrasensory sprinkled in) and fantasy (contemporary and traditional).

Young adult is popular. So many great YA books and authors out there, including John Green, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and so many more. Hell, James Patterson and Kathy Reichs are writing YA. A lot of the writers in the groups I belong to write MG and YA. Good for them!

So, now’s about the time I wonder if I should jump into the pool and write some YA. I have no delusions about writing MG; I don’t think I work well at that level. Young Adult stories star characters who are anywhere from 13 to 18 years old, and struggle against outside and inside forces, including those we all face growing up and trying to find ourselves. Romance is game, but no sex. I’m okay with that.

Hmm. Didn’t like it the first time around, and not sure I want to dip into those reserves. I spent a lot of time working through all that growing up stuff, and now I’m older (ugh), wiser (I hope), and things that seemed earth-shattering back then I now know were just tremors in the firmament.

Agents are looking for YA. Do I shift from my target audience and try YA? I’ve got a ready test subject in a daughter who loves to read and is in the age range. Would writing YA improve my odds of snagging an agent? Maybe. Probably.

I. Can’t. Do. It.

I have a fantasy with a main character who is about 17, but it isn’t entirely her story. I guess I could tweak it so I could claim it as YA fantasy. That project is on my list after finishing my WIP, because fantasy is enjoying a resurgence right now, but I don’t know if I should tune it that way.

Decisions, decisions. One of the guiding principles of writing is: don’t write for the market. Write the story you want to tell. Vampires were super hot from the time of Anne Rice’s debut through the Twilight series, but now there seems to be such a glut of vamp stuff that I suspect anything in that vein (heh, see what I did there 🙂 ) is forwarded straight to the slush pile. Same with were-whatever stuff. Dragon shifters are hot now (heh, see that 🙂 ), but I suspect their run is coming to an end as well.

So, I think I’ll stick with my genres, and keep writing for grown-ups. At least for now.

On a different note, it’s time to start thinking garden again. I’m planning to start my seeds in the house this week. The way the weather’s been, I suspect we’ll have an early spring.

Keep on writing!


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Why Only Eleven?

Annika is a wonderful fellow blogger, and has been nominated for the Liebster Award. What a great way to learn more about each other! Imagine meeting her for tea and having this wild conversation.

Annika Perry's Writing Blog

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Last week I was kindly nominated by Janice at Ontheland – Caring About Our World; Reflecting About Life for the Liebster Award. If you haven’t visited her blog before, you have missed a treat.  Janice is a gifted poet and her poetry and accompanying photographs are always thoughtful and delightful. Also she’s passionate about the environment and blogs about this and believes that we all can make a difference to the world we live in.

The Liebster Award seems to be centred on the number 11 and I’m happy to answer 11 questions posed by Janice, as well as thinking of 11 random facts about myself. Finally I have written 11 questions for my 11 nominees.

The award is aimed at blogs  with a certain number of followers – in this case followers of nominees should be between 200-3000.

Without further ado. Let’s begin:

Janice’s Questions:

  1. Why do you blog?

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