Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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A case of (almost) mistaken identity

zoey_cr

See how I did that? Made you look! 🙂

One of the decisions an author makes during the process of getting published, either traditionally or self-published, is what pen name to use. Most writers will use their “real” name, which makes sense. Some authors choose to use an alias, or pseudonym, as their pen name.

Writers with well-known pen names include Stephen King (Richard Bachman), and his son, Joe Hill (instead of Joe King. Heh, I never noticed that. Joe King. Get it? 😀 ). Others off the top of my head are J. D. Robb and Nora Roberts (which isn’t her real name either), Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick, and the (in)famous Robert Galbraith version of J. K. Rowling.

So, why do authors choose to use pseudonyms? Sometimes when an author is established in a particular genre, and they decide to write in a different genre, they will use a different pen name, like Nora Roberts and J. D. Robb. Nora is known for romance and romantic suspense. J. D. Robb writes futuristic police procedurals (which are great reading, by the way 😉 ). According to my editor, in her experience an author’s readers will read the author’s work no matter the genre. Well, except, I suspect, if the author strays waaay away from their usual genre, like a middle-grade author writing romance, or a horror writer getting into picture books.

Sometimes authors use pseudonyms because it may make their book marketable to a wider audience, though I suspect that isn’t like it used to be. I’m referring to the discrimination experienced by female authors in certain genres, notably mystery. I suspect the same thing would apply to male authors writing in genres such as romance. Gender expectations, I think they call it.

What if you have the same name as another author? I personally know a writer who uses a pseudonym because there is already an established author (in a different genre) with the same name.

Then there are the collaborative authors who write under a single pen name, like P. J. Tracy, a mother-daughter team (daughter only now, since Patricia passed away in 2016).

And a small percentage of authors may be concerned about privacy, but that might be more relevant if writing something highly controversial, or in the erotica genre. Look at the Fifty Shades books: E. L. James. I can see her not wanting to be immediately recognized at the annual church picnic.

The obvious question for a new, soon-to-be-published author is whether to use his/her real name. If the author’s name is something almost impossible to pronounce or spell correctly, or it just sounds weird (like Joe King 🙂 ), it might make sense to change it to something more reader-friendly.

It’s easy to search author names to see if your name already exists out there. Sure, your name might be Sue Grafton, but you probably don’t want to use that as your pen name, especially if you write cozy mysteries or women’s fiction. You might decide to use Susan Q. Grafton, or maybe your grandmother’s name (I know a writer who did that as well) of Lucille Cornish.

zoey2_cr

Seriously, get on with it…

Now to my story (sorry it took so long to get here 🙂 ). Because of the whole female writer in the mystery genre thing (gender expectations), I chose to use my initials. (Okay, there was some influence from my other half, who has an eye on privacy. I thought about using my maiden name, but that can be hard to pronounce correctly).

I searched Amazon, and no other authors used J. M. Holmes. Oh, added bonus: a mystery writer named Holmes. Never thought about it until a fellow writer mentioned it. Anyway, I established that with my publisher, set up a FB author page, Twitter account, yada yada. Just waiting on the cover art to really go gangbusters. My debut novel, Murder in Plane Sight, is being released in March 2019, and I don’t have cover art yet so I haven’t set up an Amazon author page or Goodreads author page.

Last week I got a notification that my FB author page has a mention. What?! So I go check out the post linking to my author page. It was a review/recommendation page for five summer reads, and a book by JM Holmes was on the list.

Except it wasn’t me. That JM Holmes is a male author in a more literary genre (story of African-American young men growing up in Philidelphia). His book is also a debut novel, to be released this month.

No wonder I didn’t find him in my author search last fall.

I can’t release a book under J. M. Holmes now. I asked the poster to remove the mention of my author page since I’m not the author she was looking for (she obviously didn’t look at my page, just probably searched for it).

I contacted my editor after getting reassurance from my agent that yes, I should change my pen name. I searched for my name, and no other authors popped up. Whew! My editor also assured me that the whole women mystery author thing is pretty much history thanks to authors like Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton.

So, I will publish under Julie Holmes (much to my husband’s chagrin despite my promise not to embarrass his (my) name with shoddy writing and to keep as much anonymity as I can). So, change the FB author page, the Twitter handle, and at least I haven’t set up an Amazon or Goodreads page yet.

The benefits of a pseudonym are legit, but were more relevant years ago, I think. According to my editor, a lot of authors she knows wish they would not have used pseudonyms. I remember an article some time ago about how pseudonyms may be more trouble than they’re worth in a lot of ways. Using your real name simplifies a lot of things.

Sorry for the long post today (but I did include cat pics 😀 ). Have a great writing weekend!

zoey nap

Finally! I need a nap.

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It’s a jungle out there

I know you all like to see pictures of my garden, and it’s about that time. Thing is, ever since I got back from my reunion retreat, I’ve been less than enthusiastic about weeding. As in, not-weeding-unless-I-can’t-find-the-vegetables enthusiastic.

Part of it is the weather–it’s been hot and humid here. Part of it is the time of year, I think. All the weeds are seeding now. When I got back from Wisconsin, I checked out the garden.

Ugh.

On the bright side, most of the weeds are purslane, which is more ground-hugging, so it isn’t shading any of the veggies. In fact, it might even be acting like a sort of mulch.

purslane

A carpet of purslane

So, really, it isn’t all that bad if you look at it that way. It just looks messy.

Another deterrent to getting out into the garden? The ragweed is blooming now. And if you remember, we have giant ragweed. Yes, that’s really what it’s called, and with good reason–the plant can be up to 15′ high (I think that’s around 5 meters for those on the metric system).

And though common ragweed is generally no more than a foot high, it has nothing on the large “flowers” the giant stuff has.

You see all that yellow stuff? That’s ALL pollen. And that’s the stuff that people are allergic to. Including me. We try to cut down as much ragweed as we can before it flowers, but of course we never get it all. And in some areas, we just can’t get to it.

Lucky for me, ever since I had surgery to correct my deviated septum, allergy season hasn’t been as bad as it used to be. I can still breathe. And yes, I know I’m allergic to it, because the one time I got tested, they wanted to stop the test because my back broke out from the moment they applied the ragweed allergen. (If you’ve never been tested for allergies, back almost 20 yrs ago when I was tested, they applied allergens to your back using tiny needles to barely prick the skin. I have no idea what they do now.)

BTW, many people blame these allergies on goldenrod, which blooms at the exact same time, and happens to have tiny yellow flowers the same color as ragweed pollen. Goldenrod also tends to grow next to ragweed, so it gets a bad rap.

Anyway, they aren’t pretty, but here are pics I took last night. The cilantro/coriander is blooming now, the dill is blooming, and the cucumbers are spreading everywhere!

garden1

Row of green beans and cilantro, with a carpet of purslane back by the tomatoes.

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Zucchini and cucumbers. Notice the “wall” of giant ragweed way in the background over by the chicken pen.

I’ve been picking zucchini, green beans, and of course, cucumbers. I just picked the first tomato. Okay, I should have waited another day or two, but hey, it’s the first ripe tomato!

The kale has been heartily attacked by cabbage worms, and though I’ve been meaning to spray, I haven’t done so. I try to avoid using chemicals, and though I have an organic pesticide to use, I haven’t mixed it up yet.

The peppers are doing well. This year I planted pepperoncini peppers, which are the ones they use for pickled peppers, like what you get in the salad at Olive Garden. We’ve been eating pickled peppers lately, so my husband suggested I plant some so we can pickle our own.

And there you have it. My writing–now that I’m finally getting going with Book 2–is another reason I’m reluctant to spend a lot of time in the garden. And it’s hot. And frankly, I’m tired. I might not plant a garden next year, but then again, tomatoes. And peppers. And we don’t have a good farmer’s market around. Or maybe we’ll get a membership in the CSA for the school garden. We’ll see.

Have a wonderful and writing-filled weekend!


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How many tries for that (kinda) perfect opening?

It was a dark and stormy night.
It was a really dark and mega-stormy night.
It was night, and dark. And stormy.

Meh.

The night was darker than an inkwell and more stormy than the Classics IV.

Ugh. Ick. (sorry not sorry for the link 😀 –I couldn’t help myself 😉 )

Wind whipped across the field, caressing the wheat into undulating waves …
Wait. Not dark enough.

Wind tore across the field, whipping at the grasses, pale waves snaking across the expanse. Lightning lit the night, flashing against angry clouds, exposing the undulating darkness boiling in the sky.

Hmm. Better.

How many times do you rewrite that first line? That first page? The opening scene? If you’re like me with my Book 2 project, the count is reaching double-digits. I think I’ve hit 6 or 7 do-overs. At least.

I won’t go into the multiple reasons and ways to rewrite that first line/page/scene/chapter because there are a lot of resources about the subject, such as Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. Which, by the way, is a very good book. My main struggle at this point isn’t that first line or page, it’s the opening scene. I’m still trying to get going on the 6th or 7th (8th?) run at my rough draft for Book 2, and I feel like if the opening scene isn’t working, it may be causing the sticky wicket in my brain. Or is it my story that’s in need of some adjustment sending my opening off the rails?

Have you ever started a story, and it just didn’t “feel” right? Then you restart it, and it still doesn’t feel right? And even when you change the opening and think it’s finally going to work, it still feels wonky? So you rewrite it again. And again. And it seems like nothing is falling into place, even though you’ve got a working plot roughed out.

This spring when we got together for the Writers’ Institute, my writing sisters helped me with the plot. It was great, because it “felt” a lot better than my first stab at it (no, the victim is not stabbed in this one 😉 ) I ran with that, and though I liked the revised plot more than my first go, it still seemed a bit off. And I continued to struggle with the opening.

Every year before our reunion retreat, we–my writing sisters–exchange about 20 pages for everyone to review, then at the retreat we discuss each other’s pages and offer feedback. This year I shared my entire 6th (7th?) first draft–all 20 pages of it (Don’t tell my Muse I still haven’t started the next do-over; he’s gonna lock me in my writing office every day and stare at me until I write a thousand words. 😐 And he’ll probably hide my chocolate, too!).

Again with the help of my “sisters”, I’ve got a few tweaks to the plot that should solve some of the issues my subconscious kept niggling me about. I remember thinking a few things in particular didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t figure out why. I need to listen to that niggling, because it means somewhere in the ol’ gray matter my writer’s brain is paying close attention. Sure beats a two-hour detour (no, I’m not going to tell you how I missed a turn and ignored that little voice that kept telling me I should stop and turn around).

About that opening line/scene: don’t sweat it too much until you’ve got the first draft (and maybe second draft) finished. Seriously. And even though “they” (you know, all those more experienced writers and writing teachers) say the first line (or paragraph) should give the reader a sense of WWWWH, fine-tuning it can come after you’ve got the plot holes filled, the timelines in order, and the character arcs smoothed out.

You want to drop the reader into the middle of the action or at least some sort of goings on. No waking up and looking in the mirror or weather report unless it is pertinent and not boring or cliche. Even if you open with action, it doesn’t mean that’s the right action to open with. Case in point: when I workshopped my police procedural in a novel writers’ Master Class, I had an action-packed opening scene, or so I thought. My writing instructor guided me to make it better.

I wrote a new opening scene that keeps the gist of the action, but it now gives the reader a much better sense of the main character and the flavor of the story that follows. And it feels right. Or at least more right than the first one did.

The longer you practice writing, the easier it will be to recognize when the opening just isn’t “there”, and the better you will get at fixing it. Bottom line, if something feels off or wonky with the opening, it’s probably your writer’s brain (or muse) poking at you and telling you to try it again, because what’s there isn’t working. Listen to it.

Happy Writing Weekend!


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Recharging Creative Energies

 

from balcony

View from Julie’s balcony, Crystal River Inn B&B

*leans over balcony railing* “You bloody well owe me for this.”

“Yeah, yeah.” My writer yells from the yard. “I told you last weekend I wanted you to write the post while we’re here.”

“This is not part of my job description.”

My writer waves. “I’m going on the lake tour. You can catch up when you’re done.”

“You heard the part about owing me, love. Trust me, I will collect.”

Julie piles into the van with her fellow writing sisters without another wave.

So here I bloody am writing her blog post. Again. But this time it isn’t to be nice. Mercury is in retrograde, and damn it, my writer has an energy drain that’s been pulling her down since last weekend. She asked me to do this, but I agreed on one condition: she has to work on Book 2 every single day for the next month.

She blew her July NaNo. I’m ready to take bets on if she will manage to get 30k words done in a month. A thousand words a day. I’m ready to pull out all the stops on her.

You writers think we muses have it so good. You think all we have to do is sit on a shelf like some fecking holiday elf and you magically get inspired.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to figure out how to encourage your creative energies to kick around ideas and images in your head. And if that doesn’t work, like it isn’t working for my writer (damn it all to bloody hell and back), we have to gather it ourselves and shove it into you.

It’s like trying to collect sparks from a Roman candle and cramming them into your head like …  Trust me, it ain’t easy. It helps that the reunion is at such a quiet location, with a river running behind it. It gets my writer to open up to the energy, which makes my job a hell of easier.

Besides, I left my bullwhip and fedora at home. Hasn’t been working anyway. Now that Julie has finished the list of stuff she got from her editor (THAT wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be), she can focus on her next project. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to just sit by and wish the creative energy to infuse her.

No, I’m going to fecking channel the energy into her. I didn’t take that Muse refresher course for nothing. And I didn’t learn the rules so I wouldn’t break them. Besides, they’re more like guidelines…

Signing off, because I’ve got a Muse rule or two to break.

Get your arses writing!

crystal river