Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Revise and return of the Muse #amrevising #amediting #MNwinter

I’m sitting in my writing office, my butt in a nice comfy recliner, laptop on my, well, lap. My mouse pointer hovers over the Word document my agent returned to me: Book 2 with her notes.

“G’day, love.”

“Thanks for scaring the shit outta me–not.” I try to slow my pulse. “You couldn’t use the door like usual?”

My Muse leans against the wall separating the alcove from the aforementioned door, arms crossed over his broad chest. He’s wearing wild tie-dyed sweatpants, a baja beach hoodie, and Birkenstocks–with no socks. His skin is burnished, his short blond hair sun-bleached at the edges. His slow smile deepens his dimples. “It’s cold outside.” He lifts a foot. “Forgot my boots.”

“Forgot your boots, my ass. I hope you enjoyed your walkabout in summery Aussie land, cuz it’s supposed to get nice and cold here.”

He chuckles, a deep rolling sound that makes the room feel warmer. Or maybe it’s just me. He grabs a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and settles into the recliner beside me. He smells like the beach, like sun and sand and coconut and ocean. “I did.”

“And I bet you thought about me exactly never.”

He chuckles again. Yep, pretty sure the room’s getting warmer. “Of course I thought about you, love.”

“Oh really? I have a hard time believing you were thinking about anything besides enjoying the sun and surf.”

“You got feedback from your agent on Book 2.”

“Well, if you know that, then you know I have yet another round of revision to do.” Yep, still not quite there. Pacing in the middle. The novelist’s bane.

“You make it sound like the book’s on it’s way into that drawer from which no manuscripts escape.”

“I know it’s not that bad. It just needs some tweaking. And less PDA. And less ho-hum. And more Bullitt car chases.”

“I’m going to have to stop you with that last one, love. No car chases in Book 2. And you already took out most of the PDA. Which is disappointing.”

“Right?”

“But I can see her point.”

“Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side with this.”

He sighs. “I am. But this is your ‘break away from your current publisher’ book, so your agent is right, and you know it.”

My turn to sigh. “I do. But I don’t know how I can step up the pacing in the middle without pulling more words. It’s already down to 81,000 words, which is 10,000 less that Book 1. And there’s the scene of the accident that isn’t. Without that … How do I keep up the tension? That’s part of the ramp-up to the climax.”

My Muse raises a brow. “You’ve already started working on a replacement for that scene.”

Grumble. “Yes, sort of. The replacement doesn’t address my agent’s concern, though. That that particular scene might be one too many for the purpose. My replacement scene would do the same thing, just be more, um …”

“Believable?”

I can’t stop an eye roll. “Fine, yes.”

“So, when are you planning on looking at all her comments?”

I hover the mouse pointer over the file. “This weekend. I have homework to do, though. Pulling that neck muscle a few days ago didn’t help, either. I lost two days of work.”

“Yeah, that can be a pain in the neck.”

I give him my best side-eye. “Really? That’s the best you can do?”

He chuckles. “Do you have a deadline for your homework? You know, that really isn’t homework.”

“It is. I need to do it to finish my credit by exam.” I’m starting to think it would have been easier to take the class. Then again, a couple hundred dollars for 4 credits is way better than $1400 and four months of night classes for those same 4 credits. Unless the professor decides my credit for exam submissions aren’t good enough and I’ll have to take the class anyway. That’s the risk, despite the fact I have over a decade of experience to back up my credit by exam request.

“And when do you plan on reading the rest of your agent’s feedback? You talk to her on Tuesday.”

“I know. I’ll read her feedback before then.” And I’ll have to formulate some sort of response or fix for each of her concerns. Some will be easy–less PDA. Some, not so much.

“Don’t worry, love. We’ll figure it out. If nothing else, there’s always a Bullitt car chase.”

And that’s my plan for the weekend. Considering we’ve got arctic air sitting over us for the next week or so, keeping us far below freezing, I’m pretty sure I’ll get it done. Or, mostly done.

Happy Writing, and stay warm!

Kitty throwback: Nyx napping


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Whoops! #amediting #amrevising

So, not only does my memory seem more faulty these days, I find myself completely pre-occupied by my writing projects. I’m working through the “before the overhaul” and the “after the overhaul” plots for my police procedural, and I just heard from my agent that there’s still a pacing problem with Book 2.

Guess what else is taking up precious brain bandwidth?

Not to mention all that routine stuff, like “I really need to clean this weekend” and “I really need to reorganize my working area” and “I wonder if the professor will accept my submissions for my exam for credit because I really don’t want to pay $1400 for the class.”

Needless to say, the realization that yes, it IS Saturday, and I’m supposed to post on my blog this morning, just hit me.

And my Muse is Down Under enjoying sun and surf and Summer, so I can’t rope him into writing a post.

So, here’s my “I forgot I had to post” post. Words of wisdom from my writing teacher, Christine DeSmet, one of the Blackbird Writers (you can find them on FB):

Post #4 of 5, techniques for novelists

Two examples of how color lifts a manuscript

…Using color consciously can help a manuscript become a standout for agents, editors, readers.

…Color—used as a device—creates emotional reactions in readers and characters. Color’s symbolism helps with plotting.

…Example 1: Author Kent Haruf

…In an online course I taught, I asked about color in one exercise. Kent Haruf’s great novel, PLAINSONG, begins with a teenage girl in a rough situation. She and her mother are alone, poor, the abusive mother shows disdain for her pregnant teenage daughter retching over the toilet bowl before going to school. The scene is sad, dark (and short). It’s mostly dialogue (with several dialogue techniques illustrated, by the way). When we go to the next scene, the girl dresses for school in nothing special, but she has a shiny red purse. When I asked adult writers what the red purse signified, the answers split evenly between women and men. Women felt the red purse meant the girl was grabbing for a degree of confidence and hope. The men felt the red purse signified a tart, a loose woman.

…No matter the interpretation, readers noticed the red purse. The novel, by the way, turns into a lovely story about community and “unlikely family” with humor. (If you liked A MAN CALLED OVE, you may enjoy PLAINSONG.)

…Haruf used the “red purse” as a signal in his plot. This story is set in a plain, small town—imagine gray and brown tones. The red purse has its own plot: it appears three significant times in the story. This helps the author signal the story’s three acts and character’s changes or growth. Readers may also care about the red purse, too, because the girl loves it. If something happens to the red purse, our emotions may be tugged.

…The red purse is like a red cardinal appearing amid a snowy white landscape, flagging our attention.

…Example 2: Author Jo Nesbo

…Author Jo Nesbo used white snow and contrasting color to great advantage in his chilling murder suspense, THE SNOWMAN, set in Norway. Amid the bleak, black winter shadows the killer always leaves behind a white snowman at the murder location. Each snowman wears a brightly colored scarf. The purpose? The sleuth (and agent/editor/reader) has to read to find out. The color amid chilly white is a plot tool and makes this a memorable novel.

…What color enhances (or could enhance) your manuscript’s characterization and plot?

Anyway, now that the Vikings are out of the running for the rest of the playoffs (raise your hand if you’re surprised. What? Anyone? Yeah, me neither. There’s always next year), I can use that time to catch up on those annoying chores, like cleaning. Ugh.

Maybe when my Muse gets back, he’ll have some deep insight to share with me ….

Happy Writing!


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Timelines, Plotlines, and Muses–oh my! #amediting

Have you ever worked on a book for … ah, years, and then, after you learn more about the craft, gone back to that book and read it? That book that you spent months–years–editing and revising and editing some more, and querying, and editing some more … Yeah, that one.

And after tucking it away for a couple years, you go back and read it, and realize that the elements of the story are all there, but the order of events needs to be shuffled. That timeline you hammered on for years needs to be blown up. Well, okay, just the whole freaking middle of the book, but still. I’ve got things pretty much rearranged, but then there’s the tweaks to the plotline.

Slam!

The water in my glass on the little end table beside my recliner ripples.

“Seriously?” I call out. “You don’t have to slam the door.”

I hear the rustling of a coat and a pair of thuds before my Muse comes around the wall separating the alcove from the outside door of my writing office. He’s wearing a purple Minnesota Vikings hoodie and black sweatpants, with thick purple socks to round out his outfit. He presses his lips together, lines creasing his forehead, hands planted on his hips.

Um … “What’s with the door slamming?”

He shakes his head before pulling a beer out of the mini-fridge and dropping into the recliner beside me with a sigh. “It’s fecking cold outside and windy.”

“Dude, it’s January in Minnesota. You’re lucky it isn’t below zero.” Actually, we did “enjoy” below zero weather before Christmas. Nothing like Mother Nature reminding us that yes, it really is winter. Like the foot and a half of snow we’ve gotten since November wasn’t enough of a reminder. “I take it you didn’t go ‘Down Under’ over the holidays.” I mean, it’s not like he has to fly on planes or anything. I think it’s like a wormhole.

He swallows some beer. “We call them ‘portals’.”

“Okay. What’s got your undies in a twist?”

He raises a brow. “How many times do you plan on going through that timeline, love, before you settle on the scene order and just write the transitions as you need them?”

“Until I’ve got all the pieces where they should be. I’ve got most of the scenes reorganized. I just need to add a few short scenes, and at least one more vignette.” I’ve got a couple spots I’m still struggling with. How many times should my MCs talk to a supporting character? I’m debating combing two of the scenes. And there are still a couple scenes I’m wondering if I should toss because they are character-development scenes, not necessarily part of the investigation.

“Do you suppose if you do remove those scenes that you could work the character development into other scenes?”

“Probably.”

He leans back in the recliner. “You’ve been over this book how many times, love?” He holds up a hand before I can answer. “I think you did the right thing by reorganizing it.”

“You suggested it.”

“Technically I inspired you to reorganize it. And I think it’s a good thing.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.”

He pegs me with those intense blue eyes of his. “But you have got to get this project done so you can start on Book 3.”

“I know. My agent hasn’t gotten back to me about Book 2.”

“But when she does, you should start getting the plot together for Book 3.”

“I’m well aware. You’re not planning on going on walkabout, are you?”

He says nothing for a moment. “Tell you what. I’ll be back in a couple days. I need some sun and heat.”

Well, it is the middle of summer in Australia. “I get that. I’ll manage. I’ve got my book dragon.”

“I want you to have this project ready to send to your critique group by the end of the month, love.”

“That’s the plan.”

I’ve got some time; I’m thinking my agent might get back to me on Book 2 by the middle of next month or so. I definitely want to have this project ready for critiquing before then.

Oh, and bonus fun I just learned about today. My son’s girlfriend’s family invited him to go with them on their annual trip to Texas at the end of March. It’ll be a 10-day trip (I think), and they need a cat sitter. Yippee! Since I’m a fully-remote worker, I can work from their apartment. I might have to split cat duties with my daughter, but hey, four cats–at least one cuddly one–is better than one cat who doesn’t sit on laps anymore. So, work during the day, cuddle cats and try to write at night. I’m up for that 🙂

Happy Writing!

PS: I’m having some trouble with lag on WordPress when I write posts. Any suggestions?


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Okay, got enough for a while, thanks! #mnsnow

After a few years of ho-hum snowfall, Mother Nature decided to remind us that yes, it really is WINTER. The week before Christmas we got maybe 6 inches of snow. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day we had a blizzard–it was tough to tell how much snow we got with all that blowing. THEN, we got more snow the beginning of this week. Did I hear you ask how much?

Well, not as much as Buffalo, NY got, or the mountains, but we got plenty.

Yes, you read that right. TEN inches. Remember, that’s all on top of the probably 8 to 10 inches we already got from the last couple snowstorms.

On the bright side, we don’t live in northern MN, where they got twice as much (at least) so far this season. I like to look at snow (as long as I’m not driving in it), it’s pretty, but shoveling it is a pain (this was heavier wet snow, not the light fluffy stuff–that all blew away in the blizzard). Hubs has used the tractor and snow blower more in the last three weeks than he did all last winter!

It just makes me want to hibernate until spring; good for writing, right?

Actually, watching the snowstorms reminds me of my book, Murder in Plane Sight, in which Winter played a big role. In a way, people who live in northern climes that get the “fun” white stuff almost have it made when throwing stuff at their characters. I mean, there’s nothing quite like being out in a snowstorm. I can think of a handful of MN authors off the top of my head who used winter–snowstorms and just winter in general–in their books to add to their characters’ troubles.

Who? Well, let’s see. William Kent Kreuger, Allen Eskens, Chris Norbury, John Sandford, Matt Goldman, Tami Hoag, I could go on. These are authors I’ve read recently (like, in the past 2-3 years 🙂 ). That’s one of the fun things, right? Set your story in a period of inclement weather, whatever the area is “famous” for, and throw some fun “forces of Nature” in to make things interesting.

In my book, my characters have to deal with a nasty winter storm by driving through blinding snow. Which is neither wise nor easy, since the snow reflects the headlights back into your eyes and you can’t see anything because of that as much as because of the snow itself. Allen Eskens had one of his characters escape the bad guy–right into fresh, deep snow and frigid temps.

Chris Norbury threw his character into remote northern Minnesota in a snowstorm. Driving in a snowstorm in the city is one thing; at least there are streetlights on both sides of the road. Driving in a snowstorm in rural areas? Not recommended; there’s a point when if you don’t have tracks to follow, there’s no way to tell where the road is. Of course, you don’t know if those tracks will lead you into a ditch.

On one hand, though, it’s way easier to follow someone in fresh snow. Matt Goldman’s character had that fortune, until he got to an area where the snow had already been tramped through. John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers took advantage of that, all except for the part where you can follow someone through the woods, but you have no idea what is under the snow to trip over.

And that’s just the snow. That doesn’t even count the cold. Hmm, I think I’ll save that for another MN mystery 🙂 . But MN isn’t the only place with natural challenges you can throw in your character’s path. You don’t have to treat them like the Donner party. What about floods, or hurricanes, or sleet, or tornados? Or extended periods of hot, humid weather? By utilizing what we all have to deal with, and not only the nice days when the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming, you can use the setting as a character in your own story. And of course, the classic example of that (modern day example) is Where the Crawdads Sing.

Wait, what about using the weather to give your character an advantage? That would be a nice change, the thick fog to hide their approach to a building, or the rain to hide the sound of that squeaky stair tread. Or a nice summer day when they can go on that hike or swim in the lake or enjoy a romantic evening stroll.

Oh, I did resubmit Book 2 to my agent before the end of the year. Crossing fingers she’ll like this revision. Now back to my police procedural project. Hope you all had a good Christmas/holiday of choice!