Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Mired

An empty writing office. Computer is on, but no one’s home. My writer’s gone AWOL.

Again.

Sigh.

The back door is open to the lake–big surprise. I expect to see Julie sulking in one of the Andirondack chairs. Instead, I see a sofa-sized book smack dab in the middle of a metallic green bulk.

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Bloody hell.

By the time I reach the shoreline, the scaly bulk shifts. A wedge-shaped head at the end of serpentine neck lifts and pegs me with red eyes that remind me of that robot movie starring the Austrian bodybuilder. Great action, so-so acting.

The dragon huffs at me.

“What?” Figures this thing would be a smart ass just like her conscience.

My writer peeks around the beast’s shoulder. “Go away.” She disappears behind it. A loud ploop, and ripples roll across the smooth surface of the lake.

“What the hell are you doing, love?” That damn dragon watches me like I might be a nice snack. I’d like to see it try. Wouldn’t be the first one. I think my writer’s Night Fury conscience has learned its lesson. There’s a reason I’m a Muse with a capital M. “You’re supposed to be in the office. Writing.”

Silence.

I make my way around the dragon, not bothering to stay out of reach. If it wants a fight, I’ll give it a fight. Julie is sitting on the ground, leaning between the beast’s shoulder and the book in its middle. Looks uncomfortable to me. “Why aren’t you writing?”

“Can’t.”

Uh-huh. Excuses. “Get up.”

She rolls her eyes in my direction. “Go away.”

“That’s not going to happen, love. You know, I could find a subcontractor for this gig who’s a helluva lot meaner than I am.”

“Yeah, right.”

“I talked to D’s muse. Even got the number for the agency. Maybe I should call in a Conan-the-Barbarian muse for a few weeks.” I wouldn’t. No way. But she doesn’t know that. I’ve had thirty years to figure her out. That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it more than a few times.

Another stone drops into the lake. “Why don’t you go on a pub crawl with Mr. E or something?”

“Because Mr. E is busy. You know Mae’s got a new series she’s working on against a deadline. At least his writer is doing her job. What the hell is wrong with you? Your son is off at college, your daughter is gone on that tennis trip until tonight, and it’s supposed to be rainy all day, so no garden stuff. You need to get your ass in that chair and write.”

“I know.”

“So why are you out here instead of in there?”

“I’m going to do a NaNo month in September, so get off my case.” The next rock splashes. “Besides, there is such a thing as real life, you know. This week’s been a pisser, to use one of your terms.”

“That’s a British term, not Australian.” I know she’s been skirting darkness this past week, so this—whatever she’s got going on–isn’t unexpected. I’m surprised she’s not out here with her Night Fury conscience instead of this big green … book dragon? “You know, you probably feel like shit because you haven’t been writing.” I reach a hand to her. “C’mon, let’s go.”

She doesn’t even look at me. “Go away. Come back later.” The dragon snorts at me.

I meet its red gaze with my own, adding a little Muse power to it. “Go take a break, buddy.”

It bares dagger-like teeth.

I add a bit more Muse juice. “She’s not writing a fantasy. Go on before you piss me off.”

It stares at me, probably wondering just how much damage I could do. Wouldn’t be pretty, that’s for sure. It finally gets to its feet and pushes off, big gold-edged wings causing a down-draft that kicks up a sand cloud as it gains altitude and heads out over the lake.

Julie glares at me. “You work for me. I said–”

I grab her arm, hoist her to her feet, and shove her toward the writing office. “You’re right, and I’m doing my fecking job, love. I’m even writing your blog post for you so you can get your shit together.”

She turns, fire in her eyes. She opens her mouth for an outburst.

I raise a finger in warning. “Don’t.” Gawd, I don’t get paid enough for this.

I’ll let her write the post for next week. Maybe. If she gets her writing done.

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Okay, I surrender

It’s been raining this week. Wednesday we enjoyed time in a tornado warning area, and probably got close to 3+ inches of rain. And Friday morning until noon it rained. So, there hasn’t been much opportunity to get into the garden.

This time of year is when the weeds race to flower and set seed, along with all the other plants. And I haven’t kept up with the weeding since I came back from my wonderful retreat, both because of the rain, and because, well, by this time of the season I’m tired of trying to pull weeds that come back faster than the heads of the Hydra. It’s almost like Whack-a-Mole with weeds, and there’s waaay more than one mole popping up.

I give up.

Back by popular demand (okay, one person asked to see the garden again. And the chickens. And the cat. 🙂 ), my lousy pictures of my weedy garden. Here ya go.

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The tiny yellow flowers are dill. Smell like pickles!

In a lot of ways, I’m not too worried about the weeds. The potatoes are dying back and ready to dig up. The onions are about ready to pull.

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The tiny white flowers are cilanto, aka coriander. Love how these smell too.

And tomatoes. So. Many. Tomatoes. I planted a bunch because we need to can tomatoes this year. I have 13 or 14 plants of paste tomatoes. None are ripe yet, and I can’t wait until that first BLT with a garden-ripe tomato, but I know once all the tomatoes start getting ripe all at the same time–yikes! The plants are also starting to die, falling victim to some fungus or something. Crossing my fingers the tomatoes ripen before the plants die.tomatoes

After so many days not checking the zucchini and cucumbers, I expected to find a monster or two. I wasn’t disappointed. And the chickens were thrilled 🙂

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Chickens love monster zucchini almost as much as overripe cucumbers!

One of the chickens stood still long enough for me to get a decent picture. They’re looking good, and should start laying eggs soon.

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Is this my good side?

The borage is blooming like crazy now, and the bees have finally appeared to take advantage. Bees love borage, but I haven’t seen many around until the past few weeks. I saw bumblebees, honeybees, and mason bees, which are mostly black and don’t live in hives like honeybees do.

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Bumblebee on borage

And the grand finale —

*crickets*

Um, well, I’m not sure where Zoey ran off to. I saw her yesterday hanging around the garden, but by the time I retrieved my iPad to take a picture, she was gone. So, here’s one from the recent archives (sorry if you’ve seen this one before):

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This weekend, I have GOT to catch up on some household chores. I thought I saw a mouse just sitting in the corner–turns out it was a dust bunny. If I get my chores done today, I’ll have all day tomorrow to write!

Summer’s almost over, so enjoy it while you can. Today’s supposed to be warm and sunny, a far cry from the cloudy, rainy, cool, dreary yuck we’ve had for the past week or so. Don’t neglect to jot down a few words, maybe even a whole sentence about how much fun you’ve had this summer, or your big Labor Day plans. Me? Writing is always on my agenda. Depending on how many tomatoes are ripe by then, I expect canning will be on the list as well.

Have a great weekend, and Write On!


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Retreat Recap

It’s been almost a week since I said goodbye to my Writing Sisters. Man, that was a great weekend! Great atmosphere, great scenery, great food, and best of all, great company!

Last week’s post hit the Internet before we settled in for our all-day session. We spent all day Saturday going over our exchanged pages. I thought I’d give you an idea of the types of things we help each other with, like plot, characters, and pacing.

We do a round table (sometimes literally; the coffee table at the B&B was a wagonwheel with a glass top–yes, a real wheel, with the hub sticking up though the glass), and randomly choose one victim–er, I mean, one project to start with. My project was the first 4 chapters (approx. 20 pages or so) of my small-town mystery WIP.

The feedback I got was priceless: The main character is a little flat. Love the setting. Love the old farmer neighbor, but the MC has to be more familiar with him. Felt like I was right there in the house. Why doesn’t she want the house if her father worked on it–it’s all she has left of him, so why is she resisting? I thought the great-aunt was alive. I miss the energy of your other character [in the project my agent is shopping].

Then the suggestions, again, invaluable: What if the great-aunt is still alive? The MC needs to have a closer connection to the great-aunt. You could have the great-aunt work on the mystery with the MC. What about the story you told last night [at the restaurant while we were waiting for our meal]? What if you used that?

Click. That’s it.

The story I told at dinner the night before was one I heard from my BFF from high school (I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say it involved a nursing home, a volunteer, and a suspicious death). Our mentor always reminds us of a few important things to keep in mind: a) need to draw the reader into the story right away, b) the reader has to care about the MC right away, and c) (for mysteries) there has to be a dead body in the first 20 pages (or at least the first 10-15%) of the book.

I have a dead body in the first sentence–the story is about solving a 70-yr old murder–but if I could get a more recent dead body (recent as in less than 70 yrs ago), it would ratchet things up. To draw the reader in, I can play up the mystery, make it more important to the MC, and give the antagonist a stronger motive to keep secrets buried. To do that, I need to make the relationship between the MC and her great-aunt tighter. And by using elements from the story I told at dinner, I can crank up the threat to the MC.

Mwahahahaha. Have you ever felt like a mad scientist?

I’ve got a plan to revise the story, and I know the story will be much stronger after incorporating suggestions from my writing sisters. We look at each person’s story in the same way: Do/Can we care about the MC? What does s/he want? Does the plot make sense? Does the MC behave the way we think s/he should? Are there enough questions to lure the reader on? What’s the story goal (one of our mentor’s favorites 🙂 )? Why does the MC do/not do this?

It’s like a writing class: we point out story elements that work or don’t work, and suggest changes to make the story better. Another big aspect of our group: we trust each other. If you’ve ever been in a writing group or critique group, trust is huge. If you can’t trust someone’s suggestions, then it’s a waste of time (which is why I don’t let my husband read any of my stuff–he’s not a writer and doesn’t read unless it’s a maintenance guide (BTW, I envy everyone who has a significant other who can read a draft or WIP and give you valid observations that help you improve your writing. Just sayin’.)).

We review everyone’s projects, even our mentor’s project. We care about each story, each MC, each strong supporting character. The process takes all morning, then a break for lunch, then we finish up in the afternoon before breaking for dinner. We are fueled by mutual encouragement, creative ideas, and chocolate.

We didn’t get much opportunity to work on our own stuff this time, so we decided to add an extra day to our reunion next year. That should give us some time to revise with the suggestions in mind, and still get a little feedback to make sure we’re on the right path.

Of course, after five days away, I returned to a garden filled with prolific weeds, lots of green beans, and monster zucchini despite assigning garden duty to my daughter. The chickens appreciated the huge zucchini and overinflated cucumbers, I picked a few very nice beets, and found these cherry tomatoes, the first of the season:

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And yes, they were yummy! We’ve trapped about 8 chipmunks so far, at least one of which stole my first ripe regular tomato (I went to pick the tomato, and half was eaten. Damn chipmunks!). Happened with the second tomato, too. So, we relocate the critters a few miles away on the other side of a creek. Now I’m waiting impatiently for the next ripe tomato. I’ve got bacon stocked for BLTs 😀

Enjoy one of the last weekends before school starts (which means summer is almost over–eek!). Happy writing!


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Rural Retreat

Raucous laughter echoes off the high ceilings in the room we’re gathered in, my writing sisters and I. We’re staying in an old farmhouse that’s been transformed into a B&B. The house is over a hundred years old, and housed four generations of family farmers. There are barns, sheds, a river, and a prairie labyrinth, which we explored before heading into town for a magnificent meal at a local inn.

My Muse appears in a doorway behind our meeting area, wearing a faded t-shirt, worn jeans with a tear above a knee, and a green baseball cap with a yellow leaping deer silhouette. With a fishing pole in one hand and a cooler in the other, he tips his head, a silent request for a quick word.

“Excuse me, gals, but I’ve got to get more water.” I sidle out of my corner seat past a couple of my sisters and head toward the room where our hosts have put a pitcher of ice water, brushing past my Muse.

He follows me. Once we’re out of sight and earshot, I turn to him. “What’s up? We’re talking about writing. You can sit with us in here.”

“I know, love.” He gestures at the view of the river out the wide picture window. “I’m going to hang out there for a while. Might catch something.”

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I indicate the cooler. “Like what? A six-pack?”

He gives me his lopsided grin, the one that makes it feel like the room temperature rose just a bit. “Maybe. Or maybe I’ll catch one of those wide-mouthed bass the innkeeper talked about.”

“And then what? Fry it up for supper?”

“Maybe.”

I fill my water glass. “And you felt it necessary to tell me this why?” As if I wouldn’t be able to find him when I need him. He never strays very far when we have a reunion; too much creative energy invoked, and the other muses are around. Besides, I was in the middle of a great discussion with my sisters.

“Well,” he says as he points his rod toward the river and the fallen tree conveniently located for hanging out, “there’s enough room for two on that tree. You know, in case you want to bounce ideas around.”

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The tree is inviting, especially the way it hangs over the river. It has a thick coat of moss that looks more comfortable than sitting on bark. There’s a gazebo on the shore as well, though I imagine the mosquitoes have set up a base camp there. “I think I’ll check the tree out later, after it warms up. We’ll probably sit out in the gazebo for a bit, but there’s only six chairs–we’ll have to bring another one out.”

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He nods. “I’ll be there.”

We’ve had the fortune of staying at some wonderful places over the past few years, each with its own charm. Last year our stay at a mansion was wonderful due to a comfortable area to gather, a location within walking distance of downtown, and a patio overlooking a neat yard. This year, our B&B is on a former farm, complete with restored prairie and a river lending its name to the location. The tiny village of Rural, where our B&B is located, is tucked into a wooded area that feels more park than town.

The weekend, as usual, is proving to be a great meeting of creative minds. We’ll work all day today, with breaks to enjoy the locale–and we’re looking forward to testing out the gazebo. Not keen on the mosquito squadrons, but maybe we’ll get lucky and there won’t be many (pfft, yeah, right).

Tomorrow is our final day, when we’ll wrap up the weekend and bid each other “write-well”. Even if we don’t get any actual writing done. we’ll discuss our projects, work through ideas, offer suggestions, and just enjoy being a group of writers “talking shop”.

Enjoy your weekend–I know I will!