Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Creative energies–welcome back! #amwriting #amrevising

Author doubts never go away. I think that’s been why I’ve been struggling with–what do they call it? Second book blues? The book two curse? Fear of book two not being as good as book one?

After seven first drafts, I think I have it figured out. Oh, and taking a novel-writing class helps, too. Especially my latest assignment: a set-piece scene. A set-piece scene is one that sets the tone, and includes conflict, emotion, and the senses. It’s a memorable scene that might be the midpoint crisis, or the climax, or at any point in the book.

The class example of a set-piece scene was the circus scene from Water for Elephants, where all hell breaks loose, the animals start stampeding, and the ringmaster gets … well, no spoilers.

I wanted to get something to my writing teacher before she left on vacation, so I tried to figure out what scene in my WIP would be considered a set-piece scene, or rather, what scene could I write that could be considered a set-piece scene.

I took a walk to ponder the possibilities, and came up with something I thought would work. It’s near the midpoint of the story, and puts my main character in danger.

Here’s the weird part: I drafted the scene, looked at it the next morning and tweaked it a bit, then submitted it. The verdict? Yes, it was a set-piece scene, and it was pretty good, too. I can feel the creative energy coming back.

“Because you listened to me, love.” My Muse, who has been keeping one of the recliners in a corner of my writing office warm, sets his crossword puzzle aside. Apparently his pub crawl buddies are all busy.

“I’m writing, and you’re doing crosswords? Seriously?”

He taps a temple with his pen. “Keeps the mind sharp.”

“Oh? American or Australian crosswords?”

“British. I like a challenge.”

Which is probably why he hasn’t given up on me yet.

He levers himself out of the chair and crosses my office, shoving the cuffs of his long-sleeved t-shirt to his elbows. The royal blue of the t-shirt almost coordinates with his purple Vikings helmet-covered lounge pants. I feel like I should microwave some popcorn and put in a movie, ala slumber party.

“I won’t give up on you, love. And after you went through the feedback from your Writing Sisters again, you’ve been much more receptive to my suggestions. You’re starting the revisions now, right?” He shakes a finger at me to emphasize his point. “Don’t get hung up on the revisions. You know better. Revise what you need to and keep going.”

“My next homework is an outline. I want to have that done by the time my teacher is back from vacation. And I have another bookstore signing tomorrow.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry about the outline. That’s a piece of cake. You’re getting your momentum back.” He squeezes, and plants a kiss on my forehead. “Keep it up, love. You’re doing good.”

I feel better about the story. That set-piece scene kicked off some other ideas that for some reason hadn’t been apparent to me before. And the changes will give a stronger motive to one of the characters; it’ll make his actions much more believable.

This is the part about writing I really like, the creative energy that makes me want to find a nice quiet place and do nothing but write without worrying about anything else.

Enjoy one of the last weekends of summer!

zoey chair mine
What? You got up, so it’s mine now.
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Indie Bookstore Adventures #amreading #bookstores #authors

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

As authors and many readers know, independent bookstores are gems in the literary world. The “big box” bookstores … er, there’s only one bookstore chain left, isn’t there? And that one (Barnes and Noble) is hanging on for dear life. Anyway, the chain bookstores are big, with lots of non-book stuff like puzzles and toys and coffee bars (don’t get me wrong; coffee bars are good!)

Indie bookstores are much smaller, often tucked into a space that isn’t on the main drag but located on a side street along with other quaint shops. They have an appeal that goes beyond the relatively small selection of books they stock (they will order books they don’t have on the shelves if you ask). Many have coffee bars that aren’t tied to Starbucks or Caribou Coffee. Bonus there: they often also have homemade treats to go with the coffee. Think going over to Grandma’s house when she and her lady friends gather for coffee.

Other indies specialize in one or more genres. In our neck of the woods, we have an indie bookstore specializing in mysteries. And they have a great name: Once Upon a Crime. Other local indie bookstores focus on local artists as well as books, often with a theme such as indigenous or diverse art. Some cater to kids and anyone who isn’t old enough to vote.

These little bookstores offer great atmosphere. You can smell the books. You can sense the love for books that the owners and staff have. Many have cozy common areas set aside where customers can hang out and read. The bookstore I was at recently, Buffalo Books and Coffee, had a small common area. Before I left after my author signing time, I noticed someone enjoying both the comfy space and my book!

The best part about indie bookstores is they tend to be very supportive of local authors. They will gladly invite an author in for a book signing or an author event. Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis regularly hosts “big name” local authors who include William Kent Kreuger, John Sandford (even if he doesn’t live in MN anymore), and PJ Tracy. They also host authors not as well known, like Jess Lourey, Jessie Chandler, Anne Fraiser, Brian Lutterman, and soo many more (who also happen to be members of our Twin Cities Sisters in Crime 😀 ).

Today I have an author signing at Fair Trade Books in Red Wing. (Yes, that Red Wing. Where the stoneware pottery and the shoes/boots come from.) Fair Trade Books is spoken of with admiration among local authors because they are so welcoming and enthusiastic of us. When I talk to my fellow Sisters in Crime members, the two bookstores that always seem to come up when discussing author events are Once Upon a Crime and Fair Trade Books.

Do you have a favorite indie bookstore in your area? Maybe one that likes to host local authors? Have you done author events or signings at an indie bookstore?

I’ll try to get some pictures this time. I forgot when I was in Buffalo. If you want to see some of my past author events, you can find them on my author website.

Have a great writing weekend!

Enjoying summer!


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Harvest in full swing #gardening #minnesota

It’s that time of year again, when the veggies are going strong (so are the weeds 😐 ), so I figured I’d give you a little update.

I’ve been picking green beans for a couple weeks, and cucumbers for almost as long. Picking cucumbers is like a scavenger hunt. Or a game of hide-and-seek. How many cukes do you see in the picture?

How many cukes? I see three.

And of course, we can’t forget the venerable–or is it fruitful?–zucchini.

Hi, Zucchini! I see you.

The tomato plants are succumbing to whatever blight hit them, but we are getting some tomatoes. There is nothing like garden-ripe tomatoes! I just hope they ripen before the plants die. I thought I planted resistant varieties, but apparently they aren’t resistant enough. The plants look so sad I won’t post pictures of them. The blight, a fungus, lives in the soil, and even though I mulch them, they still get sick.

The rest of the garden is doing well, though (except for the zucchini plant I had to pull because it was sick).

From R to L: Brussels sprouts, green beans, peppers, and kale in the corner.

Speaking of brussels sprouts, this year some of the sprouts are looking really good despite the stupid cabbage worms. I couldn’t help myself; I picked some and will be enjoying them soon.

So, I got this variety of peppers, Mariachi, that I thought were like the snacking peppers. The little plastic tag with the picture on looked like the snacking peppers. So I planted two plants. Come to find out when I read the little tag more closely (after I planted them and tasted the first pepper, of course) that they are mildly hot.

Yep. They are.

Mariachi peppers–supposed to turn orange when ripe

They are less spicy than jalapenos, for the most part, but snacking? Depends, I guess.

The kohlrabi are standing strong against the cabbage worms, and I’m not even going to check the kale, because they are in the same family. I know they have those little green worms–sorry, caterpillars–on them. Anyway, we need to eat some beets first.

I picked veggies last night, and felt some pride as my daughter ate fresh kohlrabi and cukes we just picked for supper. And a little chicken breast for protein. My son? He would eat the green beans, but not the other stuff.

As I was in the garden, I thought about growing up with a home garden, and how of my three brothers and one sister, we all have gardens. Two of my brothers have younger families, so they have bigger gardens. My other brother is an empty-nester, but he likes hot peppers. My sister just moved to a new house, but she always asks my advice on what to plant, especially when she has little direct sunlight in the back yard.

My mother instilled a love of gardening in us, or at least we were all exposed to the gardens she had while we were growing up. I find it both interesting and comforting that we all continue the tradition. Even my dad, who now lives in a townhome, has a cherry tomato plant on his tiny patio.

Peppers, kale, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes in the back

As for writing? I’ve been crazy busy this past week, with my dad having eye surgery, and me being the good daughter and providing taxi service and a watchful eye. I finally have a few days to decompress, and write. At least that’s the plan right now, so I’m intending to get back to book 2. And my homework.

Have a wonderful writing weekend!


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Writing Sisters Reunion–take #6

gazebo

View from the gazebo, Crystal River Inn

G’day all! It’s the first weekend in August, and Julie promised if I wrote her blog post today, she would work. Write, that is.

So far, I haven’t seen much writing going on. However, I have seen a lot of creative energy building up. So much the better. The other Muses don’t seem quite as frustrated as I’ve been, trying to get my writer to work.

Granted, Julie has loaded her calender a bit heavy this summer. I’ve been trying to convince her to take a break, spend some time away to write, but as usual, she resists. Something about “real life” and things like her job.

So every year I wait for this opportunity to ramp up my writer’s energy. They landed at this quaint B&B three years ago, and the energy of the river out back and the quiet setting make my job as a Muse a hell of a lot easier.

“I hope you’re writing my blog post.”

And now she decides to talk to me. “That was our deal, love. You write, I’ll do your blog post. So why are you not writing?”

“Did you hang out at the lake with us last night? Because we sure spent a lot of time talking about writing when it was supposed to be a break.”

View from the Blues Cruise

I debate whether to tell her. It was supposed to be a break from their critique circle, but four hours is a long time to listen to a very loud band below deck. If they hadn’t talked about writing, I would have been worried.

Besides, I wanted to hear the band. FYI, not my preferred type of music. “So what if I was, love? After the day you had in the critique circle, I figured I deserved a break, too.”

Still on the cruise as twilight rises.

My writer drops into a nearby chair. “It was a good session.”

She’s right. Her Writing Sisters were able to point out the things I’ve been trying to get her to see. It is so frustrating when she doesn’t listen to me or understand what I’m trying to tell her. Then again, she’s been distracted with all the stuff for her book–the bookstore appearances, the book fairs, and now the workshop for her Sisters in Crime meeting this coming week.

“Does this mean you are going to write today, love?”

She gets up to open the door to a screened-in porch that faces the river, letting in the song of the water. “I have to revise everything I’ve written so far.”

“It’s called writing.”

“I know, I know.” She blows out a breath. “When am I going to get my workshop done?” She shakes her head. “No, I’m going to work on book 2 today, not the workshop.”

“Good.”

“Did you find a good spot to hang out? They took the sitting log out from the river.”

The log that extended over the river is gone.

“Don’t worry about me. You focus on your writing, love. I’m around.”

She stands, turns to leave, then looks back. “Don’t forget the picture of Zoey.”

Cats. Every writer has them, it seems. “I won’t.”

Every year she does this, gets energized. The trick is keeping the energy going when she leaves.


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Of gardening and marketing #gardening #minnesota #author #mystery

Summer should be relaxing, shouldn’t it? I mean, it’s when most people go on vacation, right? Summer tourist season starts on Memorial Day weekend and ends Labor Day weekend, at least here in MN.

So why do I feel like I’m struggling to keep up? Is it really that whole getting older thing? The “time flies faster the older you get” thing? It sure feels like it.

Or is it all the extra “stuff” I get to do? You know, like mowing the lawn and weeding the garden. Or maybe it’s because this year in particular I really do have a lot of stuff going on, like author panels, book signings, and homework.

The past couple of weeks have been busy, with an author event the day before I went to my brother’s house to visit, a couple days with family, a trip out to the South Dakota border–well, 7 miles short of the border–for an author panel. I was a last-minute sub for another author, but it was a fun day. Various appointments, and this weekend is another author event at a bookstore close to where I grew up. I’m hoping some of my old friends will be able to come; it’ll be nice to see them.

And the garden! I added mulch earlier this week, so the space between the rows is starting to get smaller, or is it the amount of space covered by mulch is bigger? I am eagerly awaiting my first two ripe tomatoes!

In the meantime, I picked enough green beans for a couple servings, and picked the first kohlrabi to reach the size of a baseball. I even picked some kale. Anyway, here it is.

Oh, and our latest chickens came out for a photo. Right now we have seven: two left from the original batch where the other 4 died during a major storm/gnat invasion, and 5 from a lady who thought her kids would be more interested in taking care of them.

Five of the seven.

I wish I had some writing wisdom to share, but right now I’m working on critiquing pages from my Writing Sisters and doing homework, but not at the same time 🙂

Speaking of, next weekend is our reunion, so be on the lookout for wisdom or wisecracking from my Muse (hey, he’s been enjoying himself, I think I should get my turn). I am so looking forward to our retreat! We’re staying at the same B&B we did the past two years. It’s a really nice place, and the proprietors are great people. And can’t beat the Crystal River just out the back door.

Anyway, I have to get back to pages. Enjoy your weekend! Stay cool, stay dry, and Keep Writing!

She is WAAY too comfortable in my chair!


Busy Summer

Wander is trying to write my blog. I think.

Hey, whew, I have a minute to update this. I have a busy weekend, so today’s regularly scheduled program *shoves Wander away from keyboard* will be canceled.

Not Wander, but close

I was going to draft my Muse into writing this week’s post, but he must be on a pub crawl with Mr. E.

Wander decided to show up this weekend (she’s called “Wander” for a reason), so I let her hang out with me. Of course she took that to mean I was going to let her take over the blog, considering my Muse isn’t around to keep her in line.

Anyway, I’ll catch you all next week. This weekend I’ll be enjoying time with my family.


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About a Book, Writing, and a Dragon

Hi! I’m back! Hope you all had a fun holiday weekend, or at least got some reading and writing done.

Oh, you are wondering about the dragon, aren’t you? I finally saw the third How to Train Your Dragon movie. If you haven’t seen any of the movies, you should. The third one was as good as the others–better, because what’s better than one Night Fury? A Night Fury and a Light Fury! Anyway, my daughter–who is supposed to be saving her money for college but somehow missed the memo–brought me my very own Night Fury.

It even lights up and roars. You’ll have to watch the third movie to really get that.

Another fun thing that happened this week is the latest issue of InD’tale Magazine came out. It’s a magazine about books for writers and readers, focusing on books published by small presses. If you want to go directly to the fun part, click here. If you want to check out the whole magazine, you can find it here. My review is on page 109.

I suppose I should post something about writing, since this is some sort of a writing blog, right? I’m progressing on Book 2, slowly but surely. This week (since I’m, like, two weeks behind on reading blog posts) I read a post on Janice Hardy’s blog (BTW, if you don’t follow Janice Hardy, you’re missing out on a treasure trove of writing tips) about purple prose. I also started listening to the audiobook version of Where the Crawdads Sing. If you have read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The descriptions in the book are rich. She describes the marsh, the swamp, the sand, the weather. Reading it as a writer, I wonder how someone comes up with prose like that. But also as a writer, after reading a post on purple prose, I have to wonder where to draw the line. So, here’s a screenshot of the prologue of the novel courtesy of Amazon’s look inside feature.

Prologue of Where the Crawdads Sing

So, is this purple prose or not? The descriptions build the atmosphere of the story, and they are wonderfully fluid. I think genre has a part in determining where the line is drawn. Literary books have more “flowery” description, I think, and the readers accept it. A murder mystery, on the other hand (yes, I know the book is a murder mystery, but it’s more literary than a police procedural or crime novel. I don’t think Catherine Coulter would get away with descriptions like this in her FBI books (in fact, one reason I don’t read her books is the stark lack of “atmosphere”, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary)).

So, how does a writer determine whether s/he is crossing that line between good description and overdone description? That is one of the values of critique partner(s) and/or a writing group. They should be able to tell you if you’re overdoing it, or if you aren’t doing enough. The key is to give the reader enough so they can feel like they are in the setting. If they are in a funeral home, the smell of flowers would be something a character would notice. If it’s winter, the reader should be able to feel the biting wind. And if the setting is Georgia in August, the character would probably be swimming in sweat, barely able to breathe air so humid it could put out a fire all by itself.

So, there’s my contribution to writing wisdom for the week 😀

So, have a great week. Do some writing. Do some reading. Do some weeding–wait, that’s my to-do list. Enjoy your weekend!

Must be nice to be a cat!