Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


26 Comments

Mutiny of the bounty #gardenmn #vegetables

garden shot: brussels sprouts, green beans, peppers, tomatoes in distance

And so it continues …

It’s that time of the summer, when the harvest threatens to overwhelm. And since I’m not going in to the office, I have no one to share with.

I stopped weeding a few weeks ago, because once the weeds start going gangbusters, there’s really no point. They flower or do whatever they do to seed, then die. It’s just really messy-looking. Here’s a shot of our lovely giant ragweed in the raspberry patch.

Giant ragweed blooming in raspberry patch. Ragweed is about 10 feet tall.

Yes, it really is 10 feet tall!

Here you can see the marigolds are blooming now, along with the dill and cilantro (white flowers). The pumpkin covers its corner of the garden and is creeping along the edges.

pumpkin vines in foreground

Pumpkin taking over

Hubs cut down the foxtail grass that was challenging the tomatoes to see who could grow taller. Looks good, except now I can see how the tomatoes are bending under the weight of their fruit. And the blight is attacking them. Crossing my fingers I get lots of red tomatoes before the plants succumb completely.

Tomatoes way in back, along with cucumbers

Needless to say, I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done, with picking beans and cucumbers an almost every day event. If I’m not in the garden, I’m pickling. I’m this *shows finger and thumb almost touching* close to pulling cucumber plants out.
Pickling is not for the faint of heart, either. It’s a full-evening affair.
cucumbers ready to pickle

Cukes washed and ready to go

Dill seed heads

Dill!

jalepeno peppers sliced in half

Secret ingredient!

cannery

Jars in the canner

First, pick the cucumbers. When you have enough to fill seven quart jars (because that’s what fits in the canner), it’s time. Wash the cukes, gather dill, and ready the “secret ingredient” — jalepeno peppers. I like to add a half (or 2 halves) to each jar for a little kick. Load the canner, mix up the brine, and away we go!

What follows is a marathon of jamming as many cucumbers into each jar as possible, adding brine, and processing. One seven-quart batch usually takes me a couple hours from washing cukes to processing. The last round I did I managed to process twice, so a dozen quarts (because I had enough cucumbers for that many quarts).

finished

Voila!

I’ve done 4 batches of pickles, and two batches of pickled green beans (because I can only eat so many and our freezer is, well, not exactly empty).

Ugh. Note to self: no pickling next year. Do NOT plant pickling cucumbers. Repeat, do NOT plant pickling cukes. Just plant those nice snacking cucumbers.

This week we also kicked off our first tomato harvest with BLTs. I love BLTs! Unfortunately, the bacon runs out, but thinly-sliced and crisp-fried Spam is a nice substitute. When we get enough tomatoes I’ll make some pico de gallo, cuz that’s what you do with garden-grown tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, and onions.

Now, if I can get some writing done amid all this garden stuff, I’ll be doing well πŸ˜€

Happy Writing!

Zoey sitting outside


Summer reruns #1

Yep. It’s the part about summer when you are flipping through channels at night after the mosquitoes chase you inside and the air conditioner is humming and it’s really too late (or too close to bedtime) to dig into much writing. So I figured if TV shows can do it, so can I πŸ˜€

This post originally appeared in August of 2014 (Oh. My. Gawd. I didn’t realize I’ve been blogging that long!) Enjoy this blast from the past!

Orignally appeared August 17, 2014:

It’s one of the last weekends of summer, and school starts in a couple weeks. Where did the summer go? Granted, summer really didn’t get going here in MN until late June after we had torrential downpours that caused mudslides, closed many roads, and wiped out my garden TWICE. And it’s been a nice, cool summer. Love it! The temps, that is, not the fact my garden is a month behind. Still waiting for my tomatoes to hurry up and get ripe!

My vice, though, is lazy weekends. There are many summer weekends that include trips to various family gatherings including graduations, weddings, and birthdays. On the weekends we get to stay home, I have a tendency to kick back in an easy chair, whip out my computer, and write. Besides, the cleaning will be there tomorrow, right?

Part of me feels guilty for neglecting regular household chores, but I do have two teens in the house, and they are responsible for dishes, their own laundry, and cleaning bathrooms (Yippee!). Part of that guilt keeps my muse hanging in the wings, reluctant to sit down next to me for an hour or two of writing. The procrastinator in me clamps a hand over the guilt’s mouth and threatens it with bodily harm if it screams.

My inspirations during the summer include gorgeous sunsets and those quiet mornings when the mist hangs in the air. It’s humid and a little cool, but the fog curtains the trees and blankets sound. There’s a sense of awe that brings to mind a timelessness that leads my writer’s mind toward scenes that involve characters emerging from the fog on horseback or standing within a grove, that muted quiet swelling to fill their ears and hush their words. The fiery pink sunsets remind me to stop and watch, to impress in my mind the splendor of the vibrant colors so I can recall them later.

What inspires you during the summer? Is it gardens of flowers? A sole wildflower in the shadows of trees? The sounds of crickets or frogs at night? The smell of freshly-cut grass or hay? The buzz of cicadas? The sweat on a glass of homemade lemonade or the slow drip of ice cream down a cone? Take ten minutes and describe what you sense in the summer at one of your favorite places. It doesn’t have to be a scene, just pick a place on the beach or at a fair or on a walking trail and describe the sound of the waves or the smell of cotton candy and caramel corn.

Gotta go. My muse is waiting and his coffee mug is empty!


15 Comments

Virtual Fellowship #amwriting #amediting

My Muse closes the door to my writing office with a quiet snick. Today he looks like a man on a mission–in the Bahamas. Red and white board shorts clash with a bright green T-shirt calling out Adelaide, Australia, with various sea creatures spelling out the name of the city. His flip-flops snap with each step. Nice calves. Nicer chest.

“I see you’re typing up a storm, love,” he says, sarcasm thick.

Yep. Me and my blank screen are going for the record here. “What’s with the T-shirt? Couldn’t find one that said ‘I went surfing back home and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?'”

He grabs a chair and straddles it, arms crossed on the backrest. “Happy day to you, too.”

I focus on my screen. “You know, you could have hung out here during our virtual writing retreat.” I would have liked the company, but I’m not going to tell him that.

“Sure, I could have.”

I feel his brilliant blue gaze drilling into me. I resist the urge to glare back.

“Next year, love.”

I take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. I had a great virtual retreat with my writing sisters. We were able to help each other with plotting, characters, and all those other pesky bits we run into, like inciting incidents and starting points.

Virtual is great, because you can feel like you’re all in a group, but it’s not the same as getting together at the B&B in Wisconsin, where we can really stir up the creative energies. Damn pandemic.

“Hey, if it makes you feel any better, the muses didn’t gather, either.” He rests his chin on his folded arms, looking far more innocent that I know he must be. “We could have, you know.”

“Uh-huh.” That surge of creative energy that buoys me after our reunions was replaced this time by a sort of grief, like I had lost a piece of a beloved collection. “I miss getting together with them. I miss the Inn and the river out back and the labyrinth and meeting at that cafe in Waupaca. Having chocolate and a glass of wine by myself … There was something missing.” Seven other someones, to be exact.

“I know, love. Focus on next year.” He gets up and heads to the wall calendar, where he flips to next August. “Next year’s reunion will be here before you know it.” He drops the pages and returns to the desk. “You guys have a virtual group chat every week, now every other week. It’s not like you don’t see them very often.”

I lean back in my chair. “I know. It’s just … this year has been so crazy.”

He looms over me. “Really, love? You’re just getting that now?” He rests a hip on my desk beside me. “You told your writing sisters what your goal is for next year’s reunion. You will have Book 2 done and either ready to submit or submitted. You’re doing good on the second revision. And you have a good plan for the other project. So get back to that second revision and finish it so you can work on the other project.

“In other words, focus.” He taps my forehead. “Suck it up, and get writing.”

“I have homework.”

“And?” he asks. “It’s writing. That’s what you do. The more you write, the faster the time will go, and pretty soon you’ll be on your way to the inn to meet up with them for your next reunion.”

He’s right, of course. I just need time to collect my scattered focus. Next week I’ll be back in the swing of things.

Man, one month of summer left already. I’ve done one batch of pickles, and I’ll have to do another one tonight, along with some green beans. I knew I’d have a lot of beans, but holy cow! Hubs reminded me that pickled green beans are pretty tasty, so I’ll add that to my pickling session later.

Hope you all are maintaining some semblance of sanity and staying safe.

Happy Writing!


23 Comments

Virtual this, virtual that

Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

Nothing like a pandemic to make the already super-fun chore (yes, that was sarcasm) of book marketing more challenging. One of my last book fairs of the year was finally cancelled. The last one of the year is now virtual. I’m still going to participate; can’t hurt to try it.

I know a number of self-published authors are releasing this year, and some traditionally-published authors who have had their releases pushed back. No matter if there’s a pandemic or not, blog tours are virtual any way you look at them.

But there’s something about meeting readers in person. There’s a connection you can make as an author to a reader when you can shake their hand and talk to them directly. Author panels are another great way to connect with readers, and meet some fellow writers. Our Sisters in Crime chapter did a number of author panels with local libraries (and some not so local).

Then they all cancelled because, you know, COVID-19.

I miss author panels. I’ve met some neat people, and had the opportunity to share some of my “life as an author”.

So what can a writer do now to connect with readers that doesn’t involve gathering in an enclosed area? We can do all the online promotion we want, but word of mouth is still the best way to find new readers, and that in-person connection, that handshake and greeting with a little small talk can go a long way when it comes to a reader recommending your book to a friend.

Sure, we can organize our own virtual author panels, or ask-the-author events, but we’re still authors, and I suspect most of us don’t do marketing very well.

Our Sisters in Crime (SinC) chapter is great at figuring out ways to connect authors and readers. We have an awesome mystery bookstore in Minneapolis that has done virtual book launches this year for some bigger local authors, like William Kent Kreuger and David Housewright.

So what does a group of mystery authors that has a great relationship with said bookstore do? They ask about conducting virtual author panels with the bookstore. It’s a win-win: the authors get to do the author panels we did with libraries but now with the bookstore’s genre-focused audience, and the bookstore gets to sell the authors’ books.

Woo-hoo! We have our first panel in August; we’re going to start with the panels that got cancelled by the libraries and go from there.

So, point being, if you have a local bookstore that has been doing virtual book launches, maybe they would be open to hosting (and promoting) author panels. Granted, we’re focused on one genre for the most part, but if you are part of a local chapter of, say, SCBWI (childrens’ books), and you have a local bookstore that focuses on childrens’ books, (or sci-fi/fantasy, or whatever genre), contact them and ask if they would be interested in hosting virtual author panels.

Heck, if you have a few author friends who are willing, and maybe have a connection to a bookstore, it wouldn’t matter if you’re scattered all over the place. You could do a virtual author panel anyway.

It’s one way we, as authors, can connect with readers you may not otherwise meet. In a way, virtual book events can be better than in-person ones considering people don’t have to drive to get there or worry that there isn’t room to walk or bad weather. Sure, they can’t get that instant gratification of buying the book right then and getting it signed by the author, but you might get that superfan in Helena, MT who tells all her friends about your awesome book.

And that’s what we all want–superfans who tell everyone who will listen how great your book is. Check it out. It might be one of the best things to come out of this whole screwed-up 2020 with respect to your marketing chores!


34 Comments

How my garden does grow #mngarden

The fun has begun! Cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, kohlrabi. Come one, come all!

Seriously, though, it’s starting. The rush to pick stuff and use it before a) it goes bad, and b) have to pick more.

So, cucumber cascade anyone?

Everything is growing everywhere. The pumpkins are spreading, the cucumber plants are climbing and spreading, and I’ve had to prune the tomatoes a few times. It’s been hot lately, so the plants are a little wilted. We might get a storm tonight, but if not, I’ll water tomorrow.

Zucchini, with a background of tomatoes

The zucchini is, of course, prepping to feed an army. I’ve made a couple batches of zucchini/onion/mushroom sauted in butter (because everything is better with butter πŸ˜€ ), and the chickens have gotten a few treats already.

Diva cucumbers–spineless, non-bitter skins, tasty!

I was looking for the variety of cucumbers they sell in stores as snacking cucumbers. They usually come in packs of six or so. The closest one I found was a new variety called “Diva”.

Cucumbers everywhere!

The pickling cucumbers are starting to come in. The worst thing is you have to pick more than once to collect enough cukes to warrant a pickling session. So it means rounds of picking, refrigerating, and hoping to get enough cukes to pickle before the refrigerated ones go bad. The dill is at the right stage now, too (got lucky!).

Green beans and onions, with peppers in background.

This weekend we should get our first batch of green beans. My son loves garden green beans (he won’t eat canned or frozen). He’s home part of the weekend, but it sounds like he’s leaving before harvest. I’m sure we’ll have many more meals of green beans.

Green tomatoes not turning red fast enough!

I’m starting to think I have too many tomato plants, even though none of the fruit is ripe yet. Let’s see, I think I have ten plants. Erm, yeah, maybe a little overkill this year. The plants last year got sick (blight) and died earlier than expected, so this year I hedged my bets. So far, the plants are doing okay. I tried to get blight-resistant varieties, and so far only one is showing signs of blight. Crossing my fingers!

Basil!

The basil is doing fabulous! Now, to figure out how to use it … Pesto, right?

Overheated brussels sprouts 😦

The brussels sprouts are weathering cabbage worm attacks, as usual. I’ve tried to get out almost every day to pick them (squish them!). The plants do not like the heat. At all. Members of the cabbage family prefer cooler weather, but if I planted them later in the season, I’m not sure if they would have enough time to grow. My beets are looking sad, too. I think I could plant them later in the season and they would be okay; they like cooler weather as well.

Marigolds in foreground, yellow-crowned dill rises above

I keep waiting for the marigolds to flower, but no buds yet. The dill is flowering, so is at the right stage to use for pickles. Hoping I get enough cukes to pickle while I still have decent dill.

And there you have it. Julie’s Jungle, with mosquitoes just to keep you on your toes. It’s been hot and humid, as in tropical hot and humid, and little wind, so the mosquitoes are out in force. Swarms of them. They sound like those old WWII movies with all the planes, but at a higher pitch. Ugh. Weeding (what little I’m inclined to do in the heat) is an adventure in micro-vampire avoidance. I think we need more mosquito repellant!

Hope everyone is doing well! I started my new writing class (yay!) and will be digging into Book 2 second round of revisions. My Writing Sisters virtual writing retreat is coming up as well. Man, I’m going to miss gathering in person, but this year it’s safer to Zoom it. Anybody know where I can return 2020 for a refund?

Happy Writing!