Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Spring Distractions

I love spring. I mean, if I had a choice of an extended season, I’d pick spring. Most of the bugs aren’t out in force quite yet, the trees are that bright fresh green color, the grass is bold emerald (and needs to be cut already?!), and this:

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lilac flowers

I wish I could include the smell. I go out to the lilac bush and just inhale the scent. We only have one bush, the common lilac, but my dad has more varieties, including one that’s called a French lilac (I think). They all pretty much smell the same, they’re just different colors, for the most part. I hope they’re still blooming next weekend. My dad’s leaving on his annual Alaskan cruise, so I’m taking the opportunity for a couple weekends of writing bliss at his place. This year my aunt (a misnomer because she’s actually my uncle’s ex-wife, but still part of the family) and her sister are going with my dad and my uncle.

Oh, and this is another favorite part of the season:

asparagus_cr There’s nothing like fresh asparagus from the garden. Sooo yummy!

It’s getting to be about that time again, when the weather stays warm enough for the garden to be planted. Not that a person needs to wait until mid-May to plant (holy sh*t, it’s the middle of May already?! Damn, where did the time go? Wasn’t it just St. Patty’s Day?), but I really don’t want to think about covering anything that might die if we get any frost.

My hubby tilled the garden last night, so I’m planning to plant this weekend. Needless to say, I’m ready to get stuff in the ground; one less thing to think about. Then again, that means I’ll need to start weeding. Ugh. It’s almost depressing to see just how well weeds are growing already:

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creeping Charlie

The infamous creeping Charlie. Luckily, not in my garden area … yet. It’s a member of the mint family, so it spreads, but it should also be edible. I’ll have to dig up (or make up) some recipes. Hey, might as well eat it to beat it, right?

My son is done with his freshman year of college and is now home and enjoying life with no homework. His girlfriend came over yesterday and helped him clean out the chick box and put in new bedding. She loves animals, and enjoyed helping (I think), even if the chicks aren’t all that cute anymore:

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It’s almost time to move them outside into a nursery coop, a smaller area than our regular coop to let them acclimate to being outside. Our one remaining hen has been by herself since late last year when a skunk managed to get into the coop area (hence the new chicks). We think she’ll be happy to have some company.

I’ve been procrastinating on writing (in case you couldn’t tell 🙂 ). My agent asked me to make one more small revision, so I’ll do that this weekend and get the manuscript to her next week for the second round of submissions. I’m looking forward to a couple weekends away from distractions at home to work on my WIP.

So there’s the rundown. Light on the writing stuff, heavy on everything else helping me procrastinate. I need to buckle down; I’m getting into that itchy, irritable, agitated state of mind that develops when I don’t write enough. I keep thinking about my writing sisters reunion coming up in August. Ahh, to have a few days to think only about writing. I can’t wait!

Have a great weekend, everyone! Happy Mother’s Day to those who have kids, and to those who don’t, because you probably fill that place in someone’s life, even if they aren’t your own child.

Happy Writing!


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Roughing It – 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of creating, writing, bringing characters in your mind to life on the page. When the energy propels you to get the words out, that story in your head takes shape. You can see the unfolding of the plot, the characters, the setting, every bit that is part of the whole. You can’t refine your work until it’s in front of you. Enter the first draft, better known as the rough draft.

I’m working on the first draft of my next novel, and hitting a stretch of frustration that my mental picture of the story wasn’t complete enough to make the draft a smoother ride. It’s not the characters; the book my agent is shopping introduces the characters. It’s not the setting, though I think I’ll have to do a road trip (twenty+ years since I’ve been there). It’s the plot. The timeline. The guideposts along the way.

I tried to outline, but I don’t think I had a clear vision of the story. With most of my other projects, by the time I got to the point of writing the first draft, I had a pretty good handle on them in my head. This one, not so much.

It occurred to me as I was trying to hit my word quota last night that I’ve learned some things over the course of thirteen novel first drafts. I figured I’d share them (don’t worry, there’s pictures at the end–but not of my cat 😉 )

In no particular order, here are 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts:

  • I’m a novelist. Not that I can’t write short stories–my first publishing credits were short stories–but the stories in my head tend to be novel-length: 80,000 words or more. It took me over five or six years to write the first draft of my first novel (not counting the trunk novel I wrote in elementary–jr. high school). I knew I wanted to write a book–actually, rewrite that first book–after my kids were born, but I didn’t want it to drag on until they graduated.

When I learned about NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days), I knew that was my ticket to finishing a book in a reasonable amount of time. The key to “winning” at NaNo? Kicking the inner editor into a cage and locking it (that’s besides the 1,667 words a day). I learned I need to treat a new project like I’m doing National Novel Writing Month, no matter what time of the year. It’s only with that 30-day deadline and a restrained inner editor that I’m able to put myself into the frame of mind to just write. It also seems to be the only way I can get back into the habit of writing every day.

  • I outline, in a loose-ish sense of the word. The outline is not the only route from beginning to end for me, but it gives me an idea of the journey. With my current project, I struggled with the outline. I came up with characters, conflict, and setting, but the path through from beginning to end was fuzzy, and it shows during my writing sessions. I’ve learned my draft goes much better when I have a good idea of the story (outline), BUT
  • I’ve learned the process of writing the first draft actually helps bring the story into focus. As I’m writing, I make both inline notes and off-line notes. This particular draft looks less like an actual book and more like a scriptwriter’s attempt to put a director’s vision into some sort of storyboard-in-words. The story is more clear to me now than it was when I started. Maybe that’s because my NaNo-style first draft method is a lot like free-writing. No takebacks, no revising, no editing, just inline notes and writing forward.
  • I’ve learned first drafts are called “rough” for a reason. It’s less like a rock you can polish into something to put in a ring and more like deadwood turned into a functional piece of furniture with class. Rough drafts are UGLY. At least this one is. I mentioned it to some online friends as “sucking like a lemon soaked in turpentine”. Yep. Pretty much. I will never be like George R. R. Martin, with a first draft that’s ready to publish right off the finish line. Then again, my draft takes 30 days to finish, not five or six or more years.
  • I’ve learned to trust my method (your mileage may vary). This project taught me that skipping steps in the beginning (I didn’t lay out a timeline, or figure out the major plot points (just thought about the general direction), or fill out my storyline worksheets from Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days) results in uncertainty and missing my word quota.

When I work through my process, I can often exceed my word count because I can just write. I don’t have to think about where I’m going next. I know I’m headed in the right direction because I plotted my course (heh, see what I did there) ahead of time. It’s like planning a route when you drive to a writers’ conference or retreat. You know pretty much how to get there, even if there are detours along the way. My process has changed over the years (more free-writing, less fill-in-every-entry-in-the-worksheets), but it works for me. This is the first time I got lazy (or uninspired) about planning/outlining, and boy, do I know it.

I’m on the home stretch. One more week (and I get an extra day this month because March has 31 days–heh), and I’ll have 50k words and a complete or almost-complete first draft for my next book. Then the scramble to prep for hosting the fam for Easter in — OMG — two weeks?! I’ve gotta get moving on that.

SO, I might miss my mark in the interest of not embarrassing myself with my in-laws. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a peek into my garden this summer.

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onion seedlings

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tomatoes and a few peppers

Have a great weekend!


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Seasons Change

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It’s that time of year again, when the trees, once every shade of green, now look like some giant artist swiped a brush across their leaves. I’ve been taking alternate routes home from work so I can see the colors of the trees. Wish I could stop at every glorious burst of color to take pictures, but that’s not safe with no shoulders on the roads.

One route takes me along the forested river bluffs, where golds and dark reds peek through the green still hanging on. Every so often I see a treat of intense pinks and oranges.

One route allows a distant view of the trees along the river from the “flatland” side. From that distance, the foliage is more gray/green speckled with golds than a vista of individual trees.

Another route takes me through farm fields, but every farm site has trees around the main house. Those trees tend to be showy, mature maples with pinks, oranges, and golds gilding a green background. I love the colors of autumn! I wish I could “freeze-frame” them for a week or two so I could enjoy them for more than a couple days.

It’s chilly out as well, a good excuse to make chili for lunch and bake some banana bread. I actually wanted to make pumpkin bread, but we’ve been freezing very-ripe bananas, so I need to use up some of our “stash”.

Chilly outside means the cat who snubs us all summer now wants nice warm laps to sleep on. Makes it hard to write!

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Of course she waits until I’ve got my computer on my lap before she decides it’s time to claim her place. (And it’s kinda tough to get a good picture of a cat who’s sitting on your lap without chasing them away.)

The garden is now a weed playground. Went out yesterday to rescue any tomatoes and peppers left before the predicted frost this morning. No covering tender plants. I’m done with the garden for this year. Whew. The only things left that might survive are my one lonely kale plant and the beets I haven’t picked yet.

It’s also time for fall cleaning. *crickets*

Yeah. About that…

After I finish my revisions. Really. I promise.

Unless my son wants to bring his new girlfriend over. Then everything gets put on hold until the house is presentable.

I hope he gives us more than a few days’ notice.

Anyway, hope you all are enjoying autumn to the fullest extent, because winter (ugh!) is right around the corner. *peeks around the corner* The coast is clear so far, so hurry.

And one more pic to enjoy for the weekend. Writers, write!

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Gardening and Transitions

Rain whispers outside the window as I sit in my writing chair. Today is the third or fourth day of rain this past week or so, meaning I haven’t gotten out to the garden in a few days. I shudder to think what my zucchini will look like!

Hubby made all the tomatoes I picked into spaghetti sauce, so I need to get into the garden to pick some more. I love saying that. “Hey, I need an onion.” Then, “I’ll just go out to the garden and pick one.” Ha! Or, “I need a tomato for my BLT. I’ll be back in a minute.”

I did, after a few weeks of neglect, get back out to the garden and weed. The onions and potatoes are pretty much finished growing, and the sweet corn is done.

IMG_0669 The cilantro is seeding, and the peppers are doing okay. I only planted two cucumber plants this year because I’m not planning to make pickles, but hoo-boy, I’ve got more than enough to share.

The green beans are winding down, but they are so good! The best part is always the fresh tomato supply. I did take a pic of my tomato plants, but as you know, my picture-taking skills match those of a five-year-old.

The bane of my gardening activities, besides the bounty of weeds, is the ragweed. Both the common and giant ragweed are blooming now. If ragweed pollen was worth money, we’d be rich. In case you got confused by the “giant” classification for ragweed, let me show you:

ragweed

Those plants stretching above the chicken fence are giant ragweed. Rough estimate on height: 12-15 feet. Yes, I’m serious. Here’s a closer-up of the flower heads:

ragweed heads

Imagine about an acre or so of this stuff scattered around, and clouds of yellow pollen if it’s windy. And this isn’t even counting the common ragweed, which is a foot tall at the most. After about a half hour out in the garden, my eyes and nose are running, and sneezing fits make doing just about anything else difficult at best.

This week my son made the transition from bum–er, I mean, high school graduate–to college freshman. We moved him into the dorm this week. Part of me is thrilled–no more teenage sniping between him and his sister. Part of me is anxious. Will he acclimate? Will he make lots of friends? Will he study? Is he looking for a job (because he needs to get a job)?

Honestly, it’s up to him. All you can do as a parent is give them the tools. And as much as they think they know everything, you hope at some point they’ll realize that you, as the parent, actually know what you’re talking about.

Okay, to finish this short post off, on special request, cat pics.

socks on deck This is Socks, who went AWOL about a month ago. She got her name from the 4 white socks she had. Her fur was sooo soft! We suspect she either fell while slinking around an old collapsed house on the property and got hurt or worse, or she was the victim of coyotes. We miss her.

Our other cat is Zoey, who seems awfully content to be the sole proprietress of the place.

So there you have it. As for writing, I haven’t gotten back into it quite yet. It’s been busy. I think another deep run through my WIP is next on the list, but I’m not sure if I should wait to hear if I get a mentor from Pitch Wars. Slim chance, I know, but I can hope.

Anyway, have a great weekend!zoey sleeping

 


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Cruel Summer (Heatwave)

Love that song by the Bangles!

Anyway, despite the three-digit heat index and lack of any breeze whatsoever yesterday, I ventured out to the garden because I hadn’t been out there for a few days (because of our tropical heat and other more enjoyable things going on, like hanging out with a couple friends). First …

UGH.

The human body sweats to cool off–the action of sweat leaving the skin cools us. When the humidity is tropical, sweating doesn’t work so well. The air’s too wet to accept the sweat.

Imagine muggy, humid air thick around you. Toss in no breeze and lots of hungry mosquitoes. Or just imagine Florida in July. After about 30 seconds, you’re covered with a thin sheen of sweat that has nowhere to go. After a minute, that sheen is now a coating of sweat drenching every inch.

Thank goodness we only get this kind of weather once or maybe twice per summer in MN. (We just like to complain about it 🙂 )

Anyway, the garden wasn’t too bad considering I haven’t been paying much attention to it lately. The weeds are back, and they’re supercharged, but in fewer numbers than I expected.

The zucchini are now in full-production mode. I picked 6 that needed to be fed to the chickens (I’m sorry, when they’re the size of small children, they’re too big to eat), and about a half-dozen more. My grab bag of seeds surprised me this year with one plant each of 4 different varieties. Here are the light green ones. (yes, I know 4 zucchini plants is just asking for trouble. The chickens like them.)

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I picked a whole lot of green beans too, but the mosquitoes didn’t help. They just buzzed around my ears and found ways around the bug spray I’d applied. Have I mentioned how much I hate mosquitoes?

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The white panel is there for my sugar snap peas. After reseeding, I got a grand total of 3 plants. (and yes, I used fresh seeds) The white flowers everywhere are the radishes I let bolt. I do that for the bees, so they have a reason to hang out. You can see the bean plants as well, and the corn.

Speaking of, we had our first sweet corn from the garden last night. Mmmm! Much to my dismay, however, someone else is also enjoying the corn.

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The scattered cornstalks and trampled onions are evidence the dogs have been helping themselves. Yes, the dogs. They pull the stalks out and strip the cobs to eat them. What you can’t see is the evidence it’s not just the dogs. Raccoons or chipmunks or squirrels have been invading as well. Normally we put a fence around the garden to prevent this, but this year, well, I’m tired. Now, the fence has jumped up the priority list. It’s too hot yet to put it up, but next week it’ll have to go up. It’ll give the cucumbers something to climb on, anyway.

Most everything else seems to be doing well. The tomatoes continue to be unruly. I don’t know who thought tomato cages (the cone-shaped ones) were a good idea, but they are failing miserably at their job. The tomato plants have surpassed the supporting capacity without even trying. And that’s with trimming. I’ll have to stick with the hog panels like I did last year. They’re way sturdier, and if I tie the tomatoes up, they’re happy climbing on the panels.

There you have it, a quick update. My sister’s in town this weekend, so the garden is on its own for a few days.

Two weeks until the reunion! I’m still hammering on what I’m hoping is the last revision before I send my WIP to the agents waiting. Of course, there will be more revisions; Pitch Wars is coming up, and I want to enter it there. I’ll lose time this weekend, but I only see my sister a couple times a year, so I’ll bring my computer, but anticipate getting little done.

Have a great weekend. Stay cool and write on!


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Anticipation

Can you believe we’re halfway through summer already? No, not the actual astronomical summer (you know, like the solstices and equinoxes), the school’s out summer.

We’re halfway through July. O. M. G.

I feel like I missed a big chunk of it so far. Wait, I did. Two weeks’ worth after my surgery. Not to mention all the other busy stuff.

Ack!

Finally got the weeding finished (and of course I need to start over, but I’m tired). Started picking zucchini and green beans. Mmm! Fresh green beans from the garden trump frozen every time. Canned beans don’t even come close. And it’s early enough in the season that zucchini actually sounds good. (Yep, just wait a couple weeks 😮 )

I’d post pics, but I haven’t taken any since I beat the weeds back. I’ll try to post some next week. The corn is tassling, so we should have some in a week or so. Raspberries are ripening, but it seems like they do an every-other-year thing. Last year we had a bumper crop. This year, not so much. I’m not picking wild black raspberries this season, either. I made a couple batches of jelly with what I had frozen from last year, so we should be good for a bit. Besides, I really don’t want to be lunch for mosquitoes.

Made it two-thirds of the way through revising my WIP, and I should be able to finish this weekend. Whew! I’m behind, and the two weeks I was out of commission didn’t help. Now that I’ve caught up on weeding for a minute, I’m focusing on finishing.

The best thing coming up? Nope, not my sister’s visit next week, though I am looking forward to it. Nope, not the pool party family gathering the weekend after.

*Drumroll*

My writing sisters reunion retreat! Three weeks. *happy dance* Not only do I get to spend a few days with some crazy creative writers and good friends, but I get to focus on writing. All weekend. This year we’re having a plotting weekend. So. Much. Fun. There’s nothing quite like getting a bunch of writers together and helping each other with plotting new stories. We throw so many wild ideas out there, the brainstorming wall needs cleaning a couple times a day.

I’ve made some writer friends in the blog-o-sphere, and I was thinking about what it would be like to spend a day with them talking about plots, writing, and all the fun stuff that goes with those creative processes. Man, I think it’d be a hoot! We’re scattered across the country, many countries, but wouldn’t that be cool?

My point is, if you can gather with a couple writer friends for a weekend, just a girls/guys weekend where you do nothing but talk writing, do it. If you know a writer who lives fairly close, meet at a halfway point. There’s an energy that surrounds us creative folks that just seems to multiply when we get together.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wait. Almost forgot. I suppose you wanted an update on the orphans, right? Well, we found a new home for the pair. I put an ad in the local paper, and we got one call from a gentleman who wanted them both. He just got a kitten about the same age as the orphans, and wanted a buddy for him.

We dropped the kittens off last weekend. Now, before you worry about the sort of home our little foundlings are in now, let me tell you, we have no worries. The gentleman, in his late 70s or in his 80s, has a menagerie. Seriously. We drove up and saw a well-kept yard. Behind the house, a number of fenced areas housed chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, peacocks, and at least one donkey.

This gentleman took the kittens from their box and cradled them in his arms before handing them off to a couple friends rocking on the porch, one petting the other kitten. An old collie kept an eye on everything.

Yep, I think they’ll like their new home.

Okay, you want a couple final doses of cuteness? Here you go.

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Of Frustration, Trimming, and Weeds

Let me begin by updating y’all on my post-surgery situation. Two weeks after I went under the laparoscopic knife, I’m back in action. Besides, my veggies are starting to hunt for white flags, so I’ve gotta get moving on the weed front.

We had storms Tuesday night that knocked down the potato plants and toppled a few of the tomatoes in their cages. I went out on Wednesday after work to assess the damage. Yep, me and squadrons of blood-suckers. Argh. No wind along with the tropical heat and humidity were perfect picnic conditions for those nasty little vampires. I hate mosquitoes. Really hate them. I do, however, love dragonflies, so I suppose we can’t get rid of all the mosquitoes, because then what would the dragons eat?

Managed to get the tomatoes upright and trimmed. Yes, trimmed. They get unruly if left to their own devices. Remember, they are vines, so I figure I can hack away. It’s not like they’re gonna die or anything. Got a few green tomatoes so far, but it’ll be a while before I can pick them.

Boy, neglecting the garden for a couple weeks gives the weeds a free pass. Sheesh. The pigweed is a foot tall, and the cheeseweed and crabgrass are racing to see who can set seed first. The shaggy soldier is everywhere, but it pulls the easiest, along with the velvetleaf. Even found a shoot of Virginia creeper trying to sneak in. Stinging nettle is always fun to find–not. And quackgrass and dandelions are belligerent staples. Nutsedge is trying to get a foothold, but I’m on to it.

Ugh. I reserve the right to avenge my veggies. I’ve got purslane everywhere, and after two weeks, it’s carpeting the garden. It’s low-growing, so I don’t attack it until I’ve got the taller stuff under control. Heh, I’ve got just the thing. The stuff is edible (as are most of my weeds, including the crabgrass, I discovered), and quite tasty. Kinda tastes like asparagus (thought I was going to say chicken, didn’t ya?)  Since my spinach didn’t come up this year after seeding a few times (except for two spindly plants), and my kale is still MIA after seeding at least 3 times, I figure I might as well substitute a weed. I’m waiting for the lamb’s quarters (another weed) to get big enough to bother harvesting (used like spinach until spinach became prevalent). I’m itchin’ for fresh veggies, and my zucchini is not quite ready for the first harvest.

So, purslane it is.

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Nip the stems, leaves and all. Grab a couple handfuls. Wash well, saute in butter, add a dash or two of garlic salt (i.e., prep just like spinach or kale). Voila! It’s super-nutritious, too. Less furry than nettle, and not bitter like dandelion can be. (Nettle, by the way, isn’t bad, if you can get past the fuzzy.)

Word of warning: if someone is spraying weedkiller, for heaven’s sake, don’t eat the weeds. I don’t use any weedkiller unless it’s unavoidable (Virginia creeper and creeping Charlie come to mind, though I just found out creeping Charlie is edible). I know my purslane is “organic”. Same goes if a pet might be peeing on it. (I know, I shouldn’t have to say, but common sense seems to be less and less prevalent these days.)

Kids are home, which adds that dynamic back into the mix. I did manage to spend a couple hours on my WIP, trimming and tightening. I need to cut almost 10k words, so I’m looking for scenes to whack. So where’s the frustration, you ask? Well, trying to choose scenes to cut, for one.

Ever get to the point on a project where you’re so flipping tired of it? As in, just burn the damn thing. Not me, at least not with my WIP. My contemporary fantasy novel, however, is warming a dark corner of a drawer for now. One of my writing sisters is at that point with her project. I get it. Boy, do I ever.

So what do you do? Pout? Scream? Swear off writing? No. Start something different. Like, completely different. Your YA science fiction novel getting you down? Try a cozy mystery. Historical romance? Try an urban fantasy, vampires optional. Work on a short story, or series of shorts, if your novel is making you crazy. If shorts are your pain point, try something longer. Try poetry. Try a memoir.

Don’t. Stop. Writing. If you are a writer, you can’t. Find something new to work on. Start outlining that coming-of-age-in-Edwardian-England book inspired by (fill in name of British drama here).

And add some purslane to your menu.

Oh, for those tracking the orphans, we’ve still got them, but I did put an ad in the local paper this week. And I’ll save you the torture of a picture this time. 🙂