Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Looking Forward

Outside my writing office the landscape is dark, lit only by trees supporting blue, green, purple, and red Christmas lights. I love the lights. Didn’t get much chance to go out and see them this year, but there were a few houses on my going-to-work route that had some really nice lights.

I hear the quiet snick of the office door closing behind me, then a muted scratch of glass against wood as something is set on my desk.

“You didn’t put it up, love.”

I know my Muse is looking at the whiteboard covering one wall of the office. “It’s not for sure quite yet. I haven’t signed.”

“But you will. So put it up. It’s a great way to end this year and start 2017.”

“I’m waiting to hear what my writing teacher thinks. She’s taking time out of her holiday weekend for me. I’ll have to send her some jelly. Maybe some of those mint chocolate cookies, too. My son wants to make another batch for when his girlfriend comes over tomorrow.”

“You should have lights in here. And a disco ball to reflect them. Or just lots of those twinkling fairy lights. Something festive.” He takes up a position beside me, thumbs hooked into the back pockets of his jeans. “You’re almost there, love.”

Yep. Sooo close. “I’ve got a few more revisions to work on. I need you here.”

My Muse rests an arm around my shoulders. “Of course. You know things are going to get more intense after you finish these revisions, right? Are you ready for that?”

“Not sure, but this is where I want to go. I think.” The reality is starting to sink in. I know this whole writing thing is work. Lots of work. Not just writing work, either. There’s an element of anxiety and fear that goes along with the anticipation. “Yes, this is where I want to go.”

“Keep telling yourself that, love. And I’ll tell you if you forget.” He nudges me away from the window. A bottle of champagne with a big shiny bow on it stands proudly on my desk along with a couple glasses. “Ready to celebrate?”

“Later.” I want to get my writing teacher’s feedback. It’s all still sinking in, even though I kind of expected this after the past few months. “And I’m spending part of the day with my son, so no celebrating until closer to midnight.”

“New year, next step forward. Sounds good to me.”

Every year we like to remember all those things that worked and that maybe didn’t over theΒ  past 12 months. We like to lay out our goals and aspirations for the coming year. The problem we often run into is the forward motion toward those goals. Sometimes real life closes the road, or at least sets up those orange barrels. Sometimes the side road looks like the easier path. Sometimes we run out of gas.

It’s those times we need a kick in the arse, as my Muse would say. I won’t mention writing a list of your goals for the new year, because everyone says that. I will say if you don’t have a group of one or more other writers you can work with, that should be your first mission in the new year. Even though we like to work alone, other writers can help keep us motivated, help us become better at our craft, and share knowledge that goes beyond grammar and point-of-view.

Keep moving forward. Keep writing. And if you start to stall out, I’ll have my Muse send someone over to help your muse do a little arse-kicking πŸ˜€

Have a safe New Year’s Day weekend everyone! And don’t stop writing!

 

 

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Holly-Dazed

Well, it’s here. The festive times. The travel-to-see-family times. The let’s-drive-around-and-look-at-the-lights times (my favorite!). More excuses to procrastinate on my latest project are here!

I made my jelly.jelly-2016 I baked my cookies. I even got my Christmas shopping done. Now I’ve got three days of family stuff to do: the whole Christmas at the in-laws, then Christmas with my siblings, then a day to rest and clean (eek!) before my son’s girlfriend comes to visit.

Hoo-boy.

And still the details on my latest WIP are hovering at the back of my mind like a swarm of gnats. And I’m getting grumpy because I’m not writing.

I tried. Really, I did. But I’m not connecting with the story. It’s really hard to write when you don’t or can’t connect with the story or the characters. I’ve revised the plot again, I’ve reviewed the characters, I’ve solidified the underlying mystery in my head and on paper. It’s terribly frustrating to write when that visceral connection to the story just isn’t happening.

It’s like I’m in a daze.

A holly daze.

Should I even try to keep going with this story? Should I set it aside and work on my fantasy? Should I start on a “next in the series” story with the characters from my other book? Should I just not worry about it and take some more time off from writing?

“No.” The door to my writing office sweeps open and then slams shut as my Muse enters like a force of Nature. He storms across the office, grabs at a shadow in a corner, and yanks a Dementor-like shade into the light. The tendons in the back of his hand and his bare forearm stand against his skin as he squeezes.

My writer’s doubt fades into smoke and vanishes.

Then he turns to me, blue eyes vibrant.

Uh-oh.

He’s got the whole Indiana Jones thing going on–wait, no fedora or bullwhip, just faded jeans and that burgundy henley shirt I love, sleeves shoved to his elbows. Add in a Harrison Ford-esque scowl, and that pretty much sums it up.

“What?” I ask, even though I think I know.

“Really, love? You have to ask?” He shakes his head and plants his hands on his hips. “You did see your writer’s doubt, didn’t you?”

“Not until you did that.” I gesture to the corner. “Where have you been?”

Now he shuffles his feet and rubs the back of his neck. “Extended pub crawl.”

“With Mr. E, right? Hey, I get it. Mae’s second Point Pleasant book just came out, and she finished the third. I expected you two to whoop it up. So don’t come steamrolling in here when I think about taking–”

“A break? Seriously? You’ve been ‘taking a break'”–he makes air quotes–“for the past few weeks. You’re done taking a break.”

His Australian accent gets thicker when he’s chewing me out. Don’t tell him, but I have a soft spot for Aussie accents. Not that I get him fired up on purpose.

Mostly.

“Actually, I’ve been waiting for you to get back.” I cross my arms and lean back against the desk. “Do I keep going with my latest WIP, start a new story with Sierra and Quinn, or pull out my fantasy and finish that?”

He stares at me with a look that either means he can’t believe I’m even considering my fantasy or he can’t believe I’m actually asking his opinion.

He mirrors me, crossing his arms on his broad chest. “Have you heard back about your R&R?”

“Not yet. I was hoping I’d hear before Christmas, but maybe she just does things in two-month chunks, in which case I won’t hear back until mid-January. She’s spent some time on the phone with me, so I’m optimistic, but I feel like there would be a lot of interest in that book. I’m thinking about kicking off some queries after the first of the year if I don’t hear from her.”

He narrows his eyes. I feel like a kid who thought she did something good but now isn’t sure. “What do you want to work on, love?”

“That’s the problem. I don’t know. Part of me wants to work with Sierra and Quinn again, but part of me knows I should work on my latest WIP, except I can’t focus on it. It’s like the story needs so much TLC since I dissected it that I don’t want to bother.”

“No fantasy?”

“That’s my fallback if I can’t decide between the others.”

“You don’t think that trying to re-revise for the third time is a problem? Start from scratch, love. Same story, but don’t try to take what you’ve already written. You started fresh with your contemporary fantasy, and it turned out nicely.”

“Still needs lots of work.” This isn’t helping at all. “I don’t want to start from scratch. Everything’s there, I just have to reassemble it.”

“You just have to write. Write some short stories. Write a novella like your writing teacher suggested. Hell, write up a bunch of blog posts ahead of time.” He rests his hands on my shoulders and squeezes. “Write something, love. Anything. Just do it.” A fedora appears on his head. He settles behind my desk with a coiled bullwhip in hand. “No excuses.”

Er, o-kay. Maybe I’ll flip a coin. Maybe I’ll meditate on it.

In any case, may the holidays find you and yours safe, sane, and full of cheer. πŸ˜€

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


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Oh, the weather outside …

is frightful. It is. Really. Woke up to another few inches of snow, and it’s still going.

img_0007_cr The weather people predicted another four to eight inches by the time the whole thing is done. At least done snowing. After the snow, the wind is supposed to kick up, and by tomorrow our high daytime temp–not including the wind chill–is supposed to be -5 F. Add the windchill in for a grand low more than -20 F.

Yippee.

Not. It usually doesn’t get this (effing) cold until January.

I don’t have to go anywhere, and the furnace is working. I can write all weekend!!

Except this is the last weekend before Christmas, so I need to get going on my cookie baking and jelly making. With the sheer volume of raspberries this fall from my ragtag patch, I should be able to make a couple batches of jelly. And cookies. I can’t start making them too early or they end up getting eaten. At least this year I can use Nature’s freezer. The last couple years it’s been too warm outside (Shock, right? Minnesota in December above freezing? It’s getting more usual. Global warming and all that.) Try fitting a dozen cookie dozens in the freezer along with the usual freezer stuff. Not easy, which means I had to do all the baking in the couple days before Christmas.

So, I’ll dedicate a few hours to staring at my computer screen and trying to work through the first few scenes in my latest WIP, then I’ll peg some time for jelly-making (it makes great gifts) and cookie-baking. I got a new KitchenAid mixer during Black Friday I’m itching to try out. Should be fun!

Do you have your holiday preparations finished? Presents wrapped? My kids are old enough now that if I don’t get the gifts wrapped, they’re okay with it. Cookies baked? I’ve got four or five (depending on how ambitious I feel and if I have the ingredients) different cookie varieties I make every year, one of which is my dad’s favorite cookie of all time: chocolate chip. I love making them, but he’s diabetic, so I always worry about leaving extra cookies with him. I toss them in the freezer so they’ll maybe last an extra day or two.

Hey, if you don’t get any writing done over the next week or so, don’t sweat it (Pretty hard to sweat when it’s double-digits below zero). If you get a free half-hour, jot down a few story ideas. Work through a scene. Send out a couple queries. Put together a character sketch.

Don’t. Stop. Writing. Give yourself permission to do smaller bits. The best part about family gatherings? Lots of fodder for future stories! Remember that when your sister’s bratty son throws a tantrum when his cousin gets the present he wanted, or when Grandpa’s dentures fall into the figgy pudding.

Not sure if I’ll get a post done next weekend, so if I miss it:

Happy Holidays!


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Wake-up call

I imagine everyone in the US has heard by now the first major storm of the season is marching across the country’s midsection. I think it’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding us that yes, it really is November, even though it’s been feeling like September and October.

It’s been sooo nice all fall. I’ve been going for walks at lunchtime all week. We’ve got a nice 2-mile walking path across the street from the building where I work. I’m not saying that I can’t walk once the snow flies. It’s just that I’m less motivated to do so when it’s cold. And good walking shoes/boots for the winter is a plus, but not a plus I have right now. I can’t find any I like (not that I’ve been looking very hard πŸ™‚ )

Anyway, I’m in the area of the state that won’t see a foot of snow from this storm – Yay!! It does remind me of my WIP, where a blizzard plays a significant role in the story, and in the relationship between the two main characters. (No, I’m not going to give you more hints. That would take all the fun out of it πŸ˜‰ )

So, after this storm, our daily highs in the 50s and 60s (F) are predicted to drop to highs just above freezing, complete with wind chills below freezing. Talk about a hard stop. The impending weather inspired me to buy a new winter hat and gloves. Yippee!

Why is this a biggish deal? My hubby is frugal. In the grand scheme of things, he won’t cut open the toothpaste tube to scrape the last vestiges of its contents, but he will pull it out of the garbage after I’ve squeezed every last bit from it (or so I think) because it has another 2 or 3 toothbrush coatings left in it. To his credit, though, he can fix almost anything, and we have never had car payments.

When I told him I was buying a new winter hat because mine has a hole in it and hell, I’ve had it for 30 years, he immediately offered to find me another one from the family hat collection (You know, the one that consists of hats that every family member wears and no one can remember where they came from. Kinda like the lost and found collection.).

Yeah–no. I figure I can buy one new hat (two if you count the one for my daughter) after 30 years, four of which were before we met. And a new pair of gloves that won’t unravel at the tips and costs a buck and a half at Walmart. And maybe a pair of mittens that I don’t have to wear buck-and-a-half gloves in for them to be warm enough.

Ha! Merry Thanksgiving to me! (I’ve got my Christmas gift all planned out, I’m just waiting for Black Friday πŸ˜€ )

It’s kinda like when you buy that new notebook and fancy pen or pencil. For writing, of course. There’s a sort of promise that comes with it, the anticipation of using the first fresh page. Maybe you sprang for that Moleskine journal and a fine-tipped gel pen, perfect for use during the drive to the in-laws for the holidays. Or you finally get an iPad. Or a new laptop/tablet/computer. Or that new writing software you’re trying out for NaNo. There’s an excitement, an eagerness to dig in and try it out.

It’s like a new story, the one that’s been mulling around in your head, when you finally get the chance to put it on paper. When the characters and the setting and the story line all come together and develop a life of their own. Or like a revision to a story already written, a revision you know will add that little extra facet and bring the whole thing together.

I’m at that excited point now, with my WIP revisions almost finished. Just a run through Grammarly, maybe another read-through, then it’s off to the agent and crossing fingers she’ll like what I’ve done.

Then Turkey Day.

For those NaNo-ers, you should be around 35k-40k words by the end of the weekend.

Have a great writing weekend!

 

 

 

 


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Happy Halloween/Samhain/Harvest

Or whatever floats your boat. Happy October 31st!

I wasn’t going to post until my usual end-of-the-week, but I miss posting this past week. I was a virtual book tour stop on the Paranormal Bar & Grille train. Stop by the Story Empire blog and enjoy some posts.

Anyway, it’s National Trick-Or-Treat-And-Eat-Too-Much-Candy Day. On a Monday. When my daughter has too much homework–wait, strike that. She has poor time-management skills (thank you (not) smart phone, EXO (Korean pop band), and SoundCloud). She and a couple of her friends are going trick-or-treating tonight despite the fact they are high school juniors and my daughter is taking 5 college-level classes with no study hall (read: HOMEWORK). I guess the allure of free candy is too much to resist.

When I was a kid, growing up in MN meant planning your Halloween costume to fit over a snowmobile suit, or at least a winter coat. Late October has equal chances of being snowy (1991 Halloween Blizzard) or somewhat comfortable temps. This year is supposed to be in the 60s (F) today. As I recall, the past few years have been temperate.

Global warming, anyone? Followed by a polar vortex migration and colder-than-normal winter. Gotta love Minnesota!

Horror fiction seems to be all the rage during the season. There are some spine-tingling flash fiction pieces out there, and even a collection of them. Check out the Macabre Sanctuary for some scary reads.

The key, I think, to scary fiction is understanding fear. Not just blatant blood-and-gore type fear, but the real visceral stuff, like that unease you get when you’re out in the woods at night during a new moon and your flashlight dies. The wind moans. Trees creak. Leaves whisper like disembodied voices. Snap! You listen hard. Something broke a stick.

Is that it? Rustling off to the side. A shadow crosses your path–or was it? It’s too dark to see. Icy fingers creep down your spine. There’s no one here but you, right?

BOO!

Point is, atmosphere is crucial to a good scare. Look at Poe’s work. He sets up the environment in such a way that it’s spooky before anything happens. We humans have primal fears that are survival mechanisms. Not everyone is scared of the dark, or of heights, or of drowning, or of being buried alive, but by realizing some fears are universal, you can tap into them. Cultivate them for your readers, like Poe did. Draw them out, feed them back to the reader until anxiety and tension are pulled tighter than a garrotte.

Description builds atmosphere. You can draw the line between a bright sunshiny day with a gentle breeze and a day of harsh light, cold winds, dull colors simply with word choices. Once you create the scary atmosphere, layer core fears, and twist the expectation at the end. Think M. Night Shyamalan (well, his better movies anyway). Or Hitchcock. Even the Twilight Zone banked on eerie, unexpected endings.

So, enjoy your All Hallows’ Eve tonight (or Samhain, or Harvest, or whatever). Take an hour or two to write a scary flash piece, just for fun. Pull out your collection of Edgar Allen Poe pieces, turn down the lights, and absorb the mechanics of a good fright.

batman_begins


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Saint Who?

Heh. Bet you thought this post was going to be about St. Valentine’s Day.

Wrong.

Oh, I have nothing against an excuse to buy chocolate. I am so there if it involves anything from Salzburg wrapped in blue foil with Mozart’s profile on it.

I was thinking more along the lines of holidays and commercial interests. Ever notice how many more jewelry commercials appear around Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day? The “big” thing these days? Chocolate diamonds. Not the kind you can eat, but brown diamonds. Yes, brown. “Chocolate” sounds so much better than “brown” when you’re marketing something.”Brown” is, like, blah. “Chestnut” is fun. “Mahogany” is fun. Even “brunette” is interesting. But brown? That’s like saying poop-colored.

I suspect the truth is someone had a whole lot of brown diamonds that no one wanted because, well, brown. Who wants a brown diamond? White–hell yeah. Pink–okay, I loved those movies (if you need a hint, look up Peter Sellers on IMDb). Blue–there’s a famous huge pendant with a blue diamond. Green–I suppose there are green ones, but I’ve never seen any. Yellow–ugh, like crystalized pee (that’ll be the next marketing push).

So, before the preponderance of jewelry-quality created diamonds (De Beers loves that–not), I’ll bet someone went through the mined diamonds and chucked the brown ones into the Reject-for-Now pile. And some young marketing geek came upon the pile and said, “Hey, what about all these diamonds here? What are we gonna do with them?”

And someone replied, “Hell, kid, if you can convince people to buy ’em, we’ll cut you in for half.”

Okay, maybe not realistic, but fun to imagine. So, what has this got to do with writing?

You’ve heard the rote about coming up with a new take on things for your book to make it stand out from the crowd, right? I mean, how many vampire books are out there? Were-whatever books? Even zombies have moved into the mainstream–hell, even the classics (what would Jane Austen say about zombies in Pride and Prejudice?) No one wants to read another star-crossed lover story about a vampire and a human. Or another love triangle involving werewolves and vampires. Gawd, I don’t.

So, how do you make a vampire/werewolf/human/demon/angel/zombie romance fresh?Β  Well, you could try the old “I’m supposed to kill you but I’ve fallen in love with you so how do we get out of this mess” story line. Not for romance? How about the old “we need to convince our families to put the feud aside and work together to fight this new threat” trick.

How do you make vampires fresh? How far can you break from the mythology and still have a recognizable vamp? A vamp that can walk in daylight? Yawn. A vamp that doesn’t need human blood? Heard it. A vamp that can control weres? See Laurell K Hamilton.

Or, you could try the “chocolate is the new brown” method. What mythic creatures have been tossed aside because they’re “brown”? Basilisks. Gargoyles. Dwarves. Selkies. Pucas. Ogres. No one wants to hear about an ogre, even if he has a talking donkey sidekick. Unless he sounds like a Scottish Mike Myers and the donkey is a smart-ass.

Basilisks? Remember those, with the stone stare? Look how JK Rowling turned it from “brown” to “chocolate”. Gargoyles? I know there’s at least a couple urban fantasy series featuring the brutes. Dwarves? Hello, J. R. R. Tolkein. Selkies? Try Anne McCaffery’s Petyabee series. Pucas? There’s a contemporary fantasy featuring a Puca co-protagonist by this new writer, J. M. Goebel–wait, it isn’t published yet. Disregard. And there’s a two-fer by C. S. Boyack with both dwarves and a basilisk.

So, sift through the “Reject for Now” pile for a “brown” diamond you can make into a “chocolate” gem. Bigfoot. Nessie. Mothman (check out Mae Clair). Wendigo. (Damn, I’ve been binge-watching too much Supernatural.) Will o’ the Wisp (C. S. Boyack again). Mer-people (though that’s almost played out now). Better yet, pull something out of the bin from Norse, Egyptian, Native American, African, or Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese myths. Shine ‘er up. Tuck a Thunderbird into your fantasy. Add a touch of Horus. Mix in a Valkyrie or two.

Damn. Too many cool story ideas, not enough time. Besides, I’ve set my fantasy aside for now. Needs revision, but not until I’ve got my WIP polished, and I’ve got a different fantasy I want to work on. Alas, my Irish myth-based contemporary fantasy will have to wait for a bit.

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day weekend. Me? My hubby isn’t what you’d call romantic by anyone’s measure, but after 25 years, we’re good with a TiVO-edΒ  episode of Supernatural and a glass of wine.


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Head Above Water

It’s almost here–the New Year!

I’m still pounding on my WIP. I can see the end, and I’m anxious to get there, but I feel like so many other things need to be done ASAP, like the FAFSA for my son (who graduates this spring from high school), scholarship applications for same, research for broken appliances and vehicles (repair or replace?), writing contest entries, writing conference signup, oh boy.

The cold stalking me (courtesy, I’m sure, of all the little kids I saw over the holidays) is threatening to take me down, but I’m trying to hold it at arm’s length, at least until I get my WIP draft finished. The problem: to fend it off, I need to rest/nap, which equals no writing (haven’t gotten the hang of sleep-writing yet).

So, if I seem a bit withdrawn, no worries. I’m writing. Promise! (note to self: take a few extra days off to finish WIP next time)

Got your list of resolutions for the new year finished? Neither do I. I’ve got a couple things on it, though:

  1. Be more cheerful with family. (I can hear the chorus of “huh”s in the background) I think it started when I was a teen, going through the hormone-driven emotional roller coaster so many of us are familiar with. That lasted until my late twenties, when I had a near-breakdown courtesy of postpartum depression. To compensate for the low lows (I think; I wouldn’t touch a psychology class with a 29.5 foot pole), I try not to go too high emotionally. It’s a bit of a drop to the lows from the highs, so I try to stay in the middle. Not necessarily good for the rest of the family, when Mom is seldom upbeat. I’m aware of it, and just need to be mindful.
  2. Focus on writing. Yes, this has a permanent spot on my list, but I start to slack around the holidays because there just isn’t any time for it with all the holiday-ing, and I get out of the habit. I won’t be able to finish my WIP draft tonight, but I’ve got the weekend and Monday off. And my Muse is prepped with craft beer and chocolate. Look out, words!
  3. Get an agent. Gotta have something somewhat out of my control on here, right? I’ve got high hopes for my WIP, and I’ve gotten some good advice for my current mss, so the plan is to get the WIP draft done, tweak my mss, then back to work my WIP draft into shape by April, when I’ll be attending the Writer’s Institute at UW-Madison. I’m getting closer, judging by a slow rise of interest in my mss this year, including a near-miss for a mentor in Pitch Wars.
  4. Smaller garden, so I have more time to write in the summer. Maybe I should bold this one, and make the font bigger. And highlight it.

Then I started thinking about resolutions, and why we bother when most of the time we forget by Easter just what we resolved. Another writer, who has a great blog about Irish myth and a YA fantasy series based on Irish myth, has a timely post about New Year’s Day and the various stories behind it, including a probable reason we continue to make resolutions. Check it out here: The Ancient Babylonians Invented New Year’s Resolutions. Stay a while and check out Ali’s other posts. My fantasy novel is based on Irish myth, and Ali is a great resource if that’s what you’re interested in.

May you greet 2016 with a whoop and a hollar!

May your writing be better than it was last year.

May your family be blessed with health, happiness, and prosperity.

May your muses continue to inspire you.

Happy New Year everyone!