Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


Taking craft-wise opportunities #amrevising #amreading

One of the best things I ever did for my writing journey was take the plunge and sign up for a master novel writing class. A week of learning about the craft with 5 other aspiring novelists and a fanstastic writing teacher did more than expand my knowledge of the craft for that one week. It was the genesis of the Writing Sisters. I have learned so much from these ladies! Our relationship is more than just a group of authors, we truly have developed into a group that is more family-like than your everyday critique or writing group.

From there I went to writing conferences, and took more classes on the craft of writing. I even worked to get a Writing Certificate for Fiction from UW-Madison. Even genre conferences like Left Coast Crime are educational not only through sitting in on panels of other writers discussing various aspects of the craft, but also through talking with other writers.

Just like probably every other writer out there, I have shelves of books on the craft of writing, many of which I have read, and many, of course, are on my TBR list. I’ll read them. Someday. I’m also in a critique group with a couple very insightful writers. Basically, I’m trying to improve my craft. Keep learning about the craft of writing. Keep practicing the craft.

What I find interesting is how opportunities suddenly show up in my path. I mean, like, out of the blue. Kind of like how I got into my critique group. It was a chance post on FB, and of course I forget where or when. Anyway, the poster was looking to form a critique group with a few other writers. I responded, and now there are three of us. I have learned a lot from these ladies, and not only from their critiques of my work, but, as anyone in a critique group can attest, you also learn when critiquing the work of the other writers.

Recently I’ve had a couple additional experiences like this, where something shows up in my path. I have the choice of taking the opportunity or passing it by because maybe I’ve got so much other stuff going on. It’s always a dilemma, at least it seems like it initially. Should I? How much time will this take away from my own writing?

I’ve decided that doing anything that helps me learn more about the craft and meet other writers is probably worth it (especially if it’s free 🙂 ).

The first opportunity that popped onto my path recently came from one of my former writing instructors at UW-Madison. I subscribe to her newsletter, and she mentioned she was organizing a beta reading club to help writers find beta readers. I filed the information, weighing whether I had time to read another writer’s manuscript while trying to work on my own. About a week later she emailed me directly and asked if I’d be interested. I mulled about it for another week before saying “What the hell. Might as well.”

I met some very interesting other writers, and I have three beta readers right now reading Book 2. Not just beta readers, but beta readers who are knowledgeable about the craft of writing, because most of the writers and readers are her former students, I think. I have two manuscripts I’m beta reading. Sure, it’s time I’m not writing, but I’m learning from them. And who knows, I might be able to tap those writers again for beta reads in the future.

The other opportunity that appeared on my path was a post by a writer in my Sisters in Crime chapter. He’s going through Author Accelerator certification, and needed some writers to work with as part of the process. I’d heard about Author Accelerator at Writers’ Institute one year when the founder, Jennie Nash, was the keynote speaker. He described the process as “Blueprint of a novel”. I figured if he needed authors to work with, and I could learn some different techniques to help me get Book 3’s plot fleshed out, hey, I’m game. (and it’s free 🙂 ). Turns out that I’m at a point in my plot-creation process that will work well for what he’s doing. He selected me and one other author to work with.


The thing is, I figure if the Universe dropped these opportunities in front of me, it’s trying to tell me something. I don’t necessarily believe in fate, per se, but I do believe these things show up for a reason. I’ve learned through other life experiences (ask me about my first tech writing job sometime) that it’s a good idea to pay attention to stuff like this.

I guess what I’m saying is look for opportunities to expand your knowledge and practice of the craft. And if something “drops from the sky”, don’t be afraid to take it. It might be the very thing that connects you to a bigger opportunity later on.

Still waiting on spring here. I do have hopes for the upcoming week, though. Looks like they’re predicting at least 2, maybe three days of real Spring, with real Sunshine! They’re saying we might even get into the upper 60s. Yippee! I’m really getting tired of the chill wind, gray clouds, and drizzle. Ugh.

Keep on writing!


Motivation, or lack of #mnsnow

In less than a week I’ll be in Tucson for Left Coast Crime. I’ve finished reading the books from the authors on my panel. I’ve got my swag ready. I’ve got to drag half a dozen of my books with me because the bookstore decided they couldn’t find my book to supply for the convention (that’s a whole other story).

And I should be working on book 2. I set my “what ifs” aside so I could read 5 books before the convention, but now that I’ve read them, and have some good questions prepared, I find I’m resistant to jump back into my writing until after the convention. I’ve got almost a week–okay, maybe half a week–before I leave, so I’ve got time now.

It’s like I feel I need to “save it until after.” Like for some reason the time between now and when I leave is somehow reserved for all the mental anticipation and energy of going on a 5-day trip. Like it’s a sort of reward for going to the convention, like the convention is a chore that needs to be completed.

It’s not. I’m looking forward to reuniting with friends I made at last year’s convention, and at Bouchercon last fall. I’m looking forward to the experience of seeing a new place, and of being away from home and all the responsibilities here. I get a break from work and from all the distractions of home (hours of news 😮 ). I get to enjoy early summer temps (70s!) instead of the forecast snow/rain mix, although I will miss out on the 40s they’re predicting for the end of the week.

I’m not looking forward to dragging my books with me, but it’s better than not having any because the bookstore, for some reason only they can rationalize, chose not to order my books to stock for LCC despite the fact I filled out their form to have them carry my book. Twice.

Maybe it’s the weather. I am so DONE with winter! We got 2 inches the other day, and they’re predicting 2 to 6 more inches today. The weather wonks have put this season into the top 10 snowiest for MN. Oh boy.

On the bright side, the equinox is in a couple weeks, meaning spring is almost here! Yay! We’ll only have to deal with the snow (and the subsequent muddy yard and driveway) for another month or so. Better than getting all this snow in December and having to put up with it for three more months.

Motivation to work on book 2 is sketchy at this point. Maybe because I need to really work through the “what-ifs” before I do any more revision, and my brain is busy churning through all the fun I plan to have at LCC. Or it’s busy thinking about other projects I really want to get back to. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I take advantage of the time I have now to shift some focus to book 2, because darn it, I want to hand it over to my agent and get back to my police procedural.

Then again, I’m also thinking to save the work for all the time I’ll be spending in the airport, on the plane, in my hotel room in the mornings before all the activities fire up. I mean, what better time to work through “what ifs” than spending 2-3 hrs at 40,000 feet?

Doesn’t mean I can’t do it now, too.

So, creative brain, get your shit together and focus.

Don’t forget to Spring Ahead this weekend for Daylight Savings Time!


Addressing Pacing #amrevising #amediting

If you caught my post last week, you know that I have yet another round of revise and resubmit for Book 2. I had a nice conversation with my agent this week about her concerns and various ways I could approach her concerns. And, apparently, a Bullitt car chase is not on the table (you’ll have to read last week’s post to get that one 🙂 )

The main concerns are weak-ish secondary characters, and pacing in the middle. I think I know how to handle the character issues. Part of that solution will be digging into the characters’ lives before the story starts. And today I actually came up with something that I think will work well.

However, that doesn’t address the pacing concerns. In a mystery, the idea is to have the sleuth discover clues that lead them to the culprit, but in a way that doesn’t slow the story down too much. In Book 2 a major source of clues is a collection of photographs along with notes in a journal, along with a map.

Not so exciting (and no, there aren’t any compromising photos in the mix), but essential to telling both the amateur sleuth and the reader who is involved and hint at a motive.

I printed out one of my writing teacher’s craft posts from the Blackbird Writers Discussion forum on FB. This post was about middles (posted on Jan 18, 2023: not sure this link will work, but here it is Writing craft post #3), timely for me. From Chris’s post, I see more than one mention of the middle being about action, movement.

Yikes. Then there’s reassurance–action can be big or small, but the middle has to be “active”. Thing is, I’ve created a threshold, that point where the main character hits that point in the story where she makes a choice to stop what she’s doing for reasons she believes are important enough that she feels going further down that path will hurt people she cares about.

And the reversal comes soon after, when something happens that forces her to cross that “threshold” (see, Chris, I did read the post 🙂 🙂 ). But that doesn’t help the earlier part of the middle that is less “active”.

Have you run into that issue, where you have a “saggy middle” in your story? The question is, how do I add more “action” without making it obvious? One thing I am doing is “what if”. You know, brainstorming by asking “what if”. What if her mentor’s relationship wasn’t as ideal as my MC thought? What if there aren’t notes to accompany the photos? What photos raise the most suspicion? What if the other photos are taken out of the scene completely? What if there are different pictures that raise suspicion and add clues more effectively? What would those look like? Would that prop up the pacing?

Anyway, you get the idea. I find asking “what if” is an effective way for me to work through ways to address stuff like this. I write out my “what if” questions in longhand as stream-of-consciousness. When the weather is nicer (and warmer) I talk through “what ifs” on walks. I’ve gotten through a lot of “hmm, now what” and “this doesn’t work right” situations this way.

IN any case, I have my writing teacher’s post close at hand. That way I have a direction of sorts for my “what ifs”.

Have you ever used the “what if” tool to work through problematic scenes? Do you use a different method of working through parts of your story that move more slowly than they could?

I have one more piece of homework to finish, then I’ll dig back into Book 2 armed with suggestions from my agent and whatever pops up during my “what if” sessions. I know something will percolate to the top that will be an AHA! That’s usually the way it works with me, and then I wonder why the hell didn’t my Muse mention that particular idea sooner 🙂

Anyway, after “enjoying” single-digit weather for the past week (not to mention double-digit below zero temps at night and negative double-digit windchills), we’re supposed get within spitting distance of freezing this weekend–woo hoo! Heat wave!

Keep on writing!

Throwback kitties: Nyx and Tibbers


Whoops! #amediting #amrevising

So, not only does my memory seem more faulty these days, I find myself completely pre-occupied by my writing projects. I’m working through the “before the overhaul” and the “after the overhaul” plots for my police procedural, and I just heard from my agent that there’s still a pacing problem with Book 2.

Guess what else is taking up precious brain bandwidth?

Not to mention all that routine stuff, like “I really need to clean this weekend” and “I really need to reorganize my working area” and “I wonder if the professor will accept my submissions for my exam for credit because I really don’t want to pay $1400 for the class.”

Needless to say, the realization that yes, it IS Saturday, and I’m supposed to post on my blog this morning, just hit me.

And my Muse is Down Under enjoying sun and surf and Summer, so I can’t rope him into writing a post.

So, here’s my “I forgot I had to post” post. Words of wisdom from my writing teacher, Christine DeSmet, one of the Blackbird Writers (you can find them on FB):

Post #4 of 5, techniques for novelists

Two examples of how color lifts a manuscript

…Using color consciously can help a manuscript become a standout for agents, editors, readers.

…Color—used as a device—creates emotional reactions in readers and characters. Color’s symbolism helps with plotting.

…Example 1: Author Kent Haruf

…In an online course I taught, I asked about color in one exercise. Kent Haruf’s great novel, PLAINSONG, begins with a teenage girl in a rough situation. She and her mother are alone, poor, the abusive mother shows disdain for her pregnant teenage daughter retching over the toilet bowl before going to school. The scene is sad, dark (and short). It’s mostly dialogue (with several dialogue techniques illustrated, by the way). When we go to the next scene, the girl dresses for school in nothing special, but she has a shiny red purse. When I asked adult writers what the red purse signified, the answers split evenly between women and men. Women felt the red purse meant the girl was grabbing for a degree of confidence and hope. The men felt the red purse signified a tart, a loose woman.

…No matter the interpretation, readers noticed the red purse. The novel, by the way, turns into a lovely story about community and “unlikely family” with humor. (If you liked A MAN CALLED OVE, you may enjoy PLAINSONG.)

…Haruf used the “red purse” as a signal in his plot. This story is set in a plain, small town—imagine gray and brown tones. The red purse has its own plot: it appears three significant times in the story. This helps the author signal the story’s three acts and character’s changes or growth. Readers may also care about the red purse, too, because the girl loves it. If something happens to the red purse, our emotions may be tugged.

…The red purse is like a red cardinal appearing amid a snowy white landscape, flagging our attention.

…Example 2: Author Jo Nesbo

…Author Jo Nesbo used white snow and contrasting color to great advantage in his chilling murder suspense, THE SNOWMAN, set in Norway. Amid the bleak, black winter shadows the killer always leaves behind a white snowman at the murder location. Each snowman wears a brightly colored scarf. The purpose? The sleuth (and agent/editor/reader) has to read to find out. The color amid chilly white is a plot tool and makes this a memorable novel.

…What color enhances (or could enhance) your manuscript’s characterization and plot?

Anyway, now that the Vikings are out of the running for the rest of the playoffs (raise your hand if you’re surprised. What? Anyone? Yeah, me neither. There’s always next year), I can use that time to catch up on those annoying chores, like cleaning. Ugh.

Maybe when my Muse gets back, he’ll have some deep insight to share with me ….

Happy Writing!


Okay, got enough for a while, thanks! #mnsnow

After a few years of ho-hum snowfall, Mother Nature decided to remind us that yes, it really is WINTER. The week before Christmas we got maybe 6 inches of snow. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day we had a blizzard–it was tough to tell how much snow we got with all that blowing. THEN, we got more snow the beginning of this week. Did I hear you ask how much?

Well, not as much as Buffalo, NY got, or the mountains, but we got plenty.

Yes, you read that right. TEN inches. Remember, that’s all on top of the probably 8 to 10 inches we already got from the last couple snowstorms.

On the bright side, we don’t live in northern MN, where they got twice as much (at least) so far this season. I like to look at snow (as long as I’m not driving in it), it’s pretty, but shoveling it is a pain (this was heavier wet snow, not the light fluffy stuff–that all blew away in the blizzard). Hubs has used the tractor and snow blower more in the last three weeks than he did all last winter!

It just makes me want to hibernate until spring; good for writing, right?

Actually, watching the snowstorms reminds me of my book, Murder in Plane Sight, in which Winter played a big role. In a way, people who live in northern climes that get the “fun” white stuff almost have it made when throwing stuff at their characters. I mean, there’s nothing quite like being out in a snowstorm. I can think of a handful of MN authors off the top of my head who used winter–snowstorms and just winter in general–in their books to add to their characters’ troubles.

Who? Well, let’s see. William Kent Kreuger, Allen Eskens, Chris Norbury, John Sandford, Matt Goldman, Tami Hoag, I could go on. These are authors I’ve read recently (like, in the past 2-3 years 🙂 ). That’s one of the fun things, right? Set your story in a period of inclement weather, whatever the area is “famous” for, and throw some fun “forces of Nature” in to make things interesting.

In my book, my characters have to deal with a nasty winter storm by driving through blinding snow. Which is neither wise nor easy, since the snow reflects the headlights back into your eyes and you can’t see anything because of that as much as because of the snow itself. Allen Eskens had one of his characters escape the bad guy–right into fresh, deep snow and frigid temps.

Chris Norbury threw his character into remote northern Minnesota in a snowstorm. Driving in a snowstorm in the city is one thing; at least there are streetlights on both sides of the road. Driving in a snowstorm in rural areas? Not recommended; there’s a point when if you don’t have tracks to follow, there’s no way to tell where the road is. Of course, you don’t know if those tracks will lead you into a ditch.

On one hand, though, it’s way easier to follow someone in fresh snow. Matt Goldman’s character had that fortune, until he got to an area where the snow had already been tramped through. John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers took advantage of that, all except for the part where you can follow someone through the woods, but you have no idea what is under the snow to trip over.

And that’s just the snow. That doesn’t even count the cold. Hmm, I think I’ll save that for another MN mystery 🙂 . But MN isn’t the only place with natural challenges you can throw in your character’s path. You don’t have to treat them like the Donner party. What about floods, or hurricanes, or sleet, or tornados? Or extended periods of hot, humid weather? By utilizing what we all have to deal with, and not only the nice days when the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming, you can use the setting as a character in your own story. And of course, the classic example of that (modern day example) is Where the Crawdads Sing.

Wait, what about using the weather to give your character an advantage? That would be a nice change, the thick fog to hide their approach to a building, or the rain to hide the sound of that squeaky stair tread. Or a nice summer day when they can go on that hike or swim in the lake or enjoy a romantic evening stroll.

Oh, I did resubmit Book 2 to my agent before the end of the year. Crossing fingers she’ll like this revision. Now back to my police procedural project. Hope you all had a good Christmas/holiday of choice!