Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


Happy Thanksgiving!

May your day be warm and peaceful.

May your travels be safe.

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Double-dose of spooky

It’s October and we all know what that means: a month’s worth of haunted hayrides, haunted houses, haunted amusement parks, and big bags of fun-sized treats. And no one said you have to share with little kids dressed like Batman or ballerinas.

Getting back to the spooky (now that I’m thinking about chocolate ❀ ), this week I had two nights of Halloween-esque fun. Our local Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime has monthly meeting the first Tuesday of every month. At every meeting, one of the members reads from their work (WIP or published) and we have a speaker such as an FBI agent or medical examiner or audiobook producer.

This month we got to hear all about ghosts and spirits from a real-life psychic/medium/paranormal investigator.Β  Natalie told us her story about realizing her abilities and using them to help spirits cross over. She was fantastic! Now, I am somewhat skeptical, but I firmly believe there are a lot of things we don’t understand about our world, and I think there really are people who are sensitive to things beyond our perception. I mean, with 7 billion people on the planet,Β someone (many someones) has to be, right?

Natalie shared some of her experiences with us, including a spirit that wanted to cross over on a stairway to heaven, like the song, and it took as long for him to climb the stairs as the song. Another spirit she helped, who had died in an ATV accident, decided he wanted to go on a Harley. Man, when I get there, I want to go on a dragon πŸ˜€

All the stories were great inspiration for adding spooky to mysteries. Natalie is a member of our chapter, and accessible. She said watching ghost-hunting shows on TV is not the same as the experience. If there’s a legit paranormal investigation group in your area, they might have opportunities for you to tag along on an investigation, or they may conduct events for groups at known haunted places. In fact, Natalie and her group are doing an event this month at the Palmer House Hotel, a known hot-spot for ghosts.

TC SinC ghost tour 2

picture taken in Anoka by Timya Owen, Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, on the ghost tour

Have you ever heard of Anoka, MN, the Halloween Capital of the World? The historical society there conducts walking ghost tours of the city, complete with historical facts about houses deemed to be inhabited by souls that haven’t crossed over yet. A group of Twin Cities Sisters in Crime (TC SinC) members, including yours truly, went on a tour the night after our psychic speaker primed us for all things paranormal.

The house in the picture above is purported to be the haunting grounds of a little girl who died during the flu pandemic in the early 1900s. Another house has a proper Victorian-age woman who refuses to let the homeowner sleep in on weekends (by banging around), and watches movies with the homeowner on her laptop. (How does the homeowner know? Cold spots where someone might be looking over her shoulders, then she adjusted the laptop, and the cold spots went away)

TC SinC ghost tour 1

Members of Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, pic taken by Timya Owen (I think)

This Masonic Lodge is connected to a house that was built by a couple who were doctors. The house is now an antique shop, but the spirits still hang out; people have even smelled someone smoking (no smoking is allowed in the place, of course). The story about the Lodge involved a member who was there late working on something on one of the upper floors. He finished, turned out the light, down the stairs, locked the door, got into his car…

And the light was on. So he gets out of the car, unlocks the door, goes up the stairs, turns out the light, back down the stairs, locks the door, back out to the car. And it happens again. The third time it happened (this is all the same night, btw) he raced up the stairs, turned the light out, raced back down, and in a mirror beside the door caught a glimpse of trousers and shoes coming down the stairs behind him. The Mason said, “Turn the light off your damn self,” or something along those lines. He locks the door, back to the car. . . . . And the light stayed off.

It was a dark and stormy (windy) night, perfect for a walking ghost tour. From ghosts who warn the house/ building residents of danger by leaving lights on or knocking bowls off of refrigerators to spirits of children running up and down hallways like kids do, there were sooo many ideas for stories.

It was a fun week, and I learned a lot about the paranormal, and the possibilities. I kept thinking about Mae Clair’s most recent book, Cusp of Night, which revolves around a spiritualist and things left behind (and don’t forget her Point Pleasant series with the … oops, not going to spoil it πŸ™‚ ). Another author with some great (IMHO) books involving the paranormal is Kay Hooper and her Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series, which is actually multiple series starting with Stealing Shadows, through the Evil, Fear, and Blood trilogies to the SCU series and the Bishop Files. I’ve also read and enjoyed the Abby Cooper books by Victoria Laurie.

Yeesh, didn’t expect this to be so long. Anyway, if you want some fodder for spooky stories, a ghost tour or a talk from a paranormal investigator will stir up your imagination.

Trying to fight off a cold that just hit me yesterday, so other than pickling all the peppers I rescued before the plants succumbed to frost, I’m going to relax a bit this weekend. Next weekend I’m spending a day at a book festival for TC SinC. Gotta get some experience; my March release is only 6 months away πŸ™‚


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Looking Back–Looking Forward

This weekend is the traditional reflection on the past year, and the look ahead to what’s coming up in the next. Hey, who am I to mess with tradition?

And it’s a ready-made blog post subject so hey, less work, right?

But first:

weather12-30-17wndchll Get a load of that wind chill number, kids. And wow, that dew point! Now, granted, the sun’s not up yet, and we’re within spitting distance of January, but our average temperature for this time of year is closer to 24 degrees (F) than zero. So, we’re under a National Weather Service Wind Chill Warning until sometime on Monday.

Guess what I’m NOT going to be doing this weekend πŸ™‚

Looking back

My writing journey has spanned many years, even more if I count all those years in elementary and high school during which I wrote my very first “never to see the light of day” trunk novel and a lot of teen angsty poetry involving eagles and mountain wilderness.

The most-significant year of my writing journey was 2012, when I took the plunge and attended the week-long Write-By-The-Lake retreat at UW-Madison. There I met not only one of the most wonderful writing teachers, but I also met my Writing Sisters. To this day I marvel at how the planets aligned that summer to put me in the same room with so many skilled writers. We added another great gal to our group a few years ago, and we’re still going strong.

The second most-significant year of my writing journey is this year, 2017. This is the year I signed with my agent, a great writing coach and advocate. She helped me make my book stronger. I signed my first publishing contract. I still can’t really believe it. I suppose reality will kick in when I hear back from my editor–Yikes!

Over the past five years I’ve learned a lot about writing. I’ve made a lot of great writing friends, even though I haven’t met most of them in person. Yet, anyway. πŸ™‚

A takeaway for everyone on a writing journey, no matter if your goal is to be published or to just get your current project done: You’ve moved forward. If you feel that you haven’t gotten anywhere, look back and really see what you’ve done. Every step, from that first idea, to putting pencil to paper (even if it’s electronic), to revising is a step. Every critique you get, every one you give, has the effect of expanding your knowledge of the craft. Have you made progress since last month? Last year? I bet you have, even if it’s just a paragraph describing that incredible apple strudel you had at the local farmer’s market or a poem written after you met your first child/grandchild.

Look at it as progress. Keep moving forward. Some steps are smaller than others, but they are steps, just like on any journey.

Looking forward

This year promises to be full. Uff-da. From everything that goes into getting a book ready for publication to sending my youngest off to college, things are going to be busy.

If you are looking for a writing conference, no matter where you are, consider the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute. Seriously. And I’m not recommending it just because you’ll get to see me with my Writing Sisters there–we’re doing an author panel. And not because I’m giving a workshop with one of my Sisters, either. Although, both are excellent reasons to come πŸ˜€ Mark off that second weekend in April, the 12th through the 15th, and come on out to Madison, WI. I’ve met people who’ve come all the way from California and Maine there. It is a spectacular weekend where you can absorb all the creative energy stirred up by so many writers gathering together.

This coming year will also be an experience getting my first book ready for the world, including editing (ugh), blurbs, cover design, and all the other things that go into releasing a book into the world. A grand learning experience for sure.

This year I’m hoping to attend the Writers’ Police Academy for the first time. I hope Lee Lofland, who basically runs it, will still schedule it for 2018. Lee’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer this year, so things are pretty chaotic in his world right now. If you follow his blog, he keeps his followers up on what’s happening. The WPA is the weekend after my Writing Sister reunion, so it’ll be a few busy travel weeks for me, but everything I’ve heard about the WPA sounds like it’ll be well worth it.

How about you? What new adventures are you planning for the coming year? A new project? Polishing a current project? Finishing one? Starting one? Maybe taking a class or going to a writing conference? Resolve to move forward on your writing journey, even if it’s to finally write that story about Great-Aunt Ruth (everyone has a Great-Aunt Ruth, right?) and her roadtrip through South Dakota where she met her first buffalo, saw the Black Hills, and lost almost everything she’d packed into a carrier strapped to the car roof.

It’s a journey. Take a minute to enjoy it. Then get out those seed catalogs and dream about the garden–I mean, what else is there to do when it’s f**king cold outside?

Have a Happy and Safe New Year!

 


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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!