Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Not a-mused … autumn edition #amwriting #amrevising

colored fallen leaves

I open the door to my writing office, juggling a bowl of cherry tomatoes and a glass of water. Feels like it’s been ages since …

“About fecking time you came back.”

“Damn it!” I chase two tomatoes across the floor while trying not to spill any water. “What the hell?”

My Muse scoops up a third wayward tomato. “That was my next question, love.”

I set my snacks on the desk and reach out for the captured tomato. “Either eat it or give it back.”

He pops it into his mouth and bites down. I imagine the tomato innards squirting into his mouth, and grab one of my own. Man, I love garden tomatoes. Cherry ones are so convenient, like Whoppers only squishier and not chocolate.

Mmm, chocolate. I wonder if I still have any chocolate left from the reunion.

My Muse finishes chewing and takes a swig of my water. He’s wearing his worn-well jeans and burgundy Henley with the sleeves shoved to his elbows. He plants hands on hips, stretching his shirt tight across his broad chest. Did that shirt shrink a little?

“Hey,” he snaps his fingers, “pay attention, love.”

Fine. “What?”

“Just when were you planning on coming back here?”

I raise my arms, encompassing the office. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“No, when are you coming back here?” He reaches over and taps my head. “You have a revision to finish so you can send it to beta readers.”

“I was working on it earlier this week. I think. Oh hell, I don’t even know what day it is anymore.”

“It’s ‘butt in chair, hands on keyboard’ day,” he says, pointing to the recliners in the alcove.

“Hey, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs, you know. I finished a beta read for another author, I’m working on a critique due in a couple days, I had a hella amount of instructional videos to watch and take notes on for my class–which reminds me, I have homework to do, and I should probably pay my tuition. I have another writer’s pages to read and critique. And, oh, I do have a full-time job, not to mention the real life family stuff, like helping my husband.”

“Yes, and your point?” He leans toward me and taps my head again. “This is where you need to be.” He points to the recliners again. “I want to see you spend at least an hour a day there. Not checking email …”

“Like I’ve been checking my email,” I mutter under my breath. I’m afraid to check one of my accounts–the number of new emails is probably racing toward a thousand.

My Muse gives me the stink-eye. “Not checking Facebook, not reading all the random articles that pop up on your home page …”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Some of that stuff still needs to be done, you know. Facebook is where our Sisters in Crime chapter communicates with the members. And where I need to share my upcoming book festival.” Speaking of, I’ll probably have to spend a day working on my website with customer service since my design software broke, or redesigning it without the cool software. Ugh. If it comes to that, there goes another day.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have Book 2 to sell at a book festival?” He grips my shoulder and nails me with stern blue eyes. A shiver runs down my spine. “I’m going to be a hard-ass until you get your writing back into your routine. You’re adjusted to your new work schedule and the garden is almost done. Take your daily walk, run, whatever, but I want no excuses. Got it?”

“Yes, I got it.”

“Good. Grab your computer, sit your ass down, and get to work.”

Now’s probably not the time to tell him about the new idea my writing teacher gave me. He’d have another excuse to be overbearing and grumpy.

Happy upcoming Autumn Equinox! Man, it’s fall already. Take some time to enjoy it before the snow flies (or the rainy season starts. Whatever is the thing in your region).

Dory - just keep writing
Zoey sleeping


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Unreliable narrators and reader expectations #amreading

someone reading a book

We’ve all heard the term “unreliable narrator”. It’s what we call a character we can’t trust to tell us the truth of the story. Sometimes we don’t see the “unreliable-ness” of that narrator right away (or maybe it’s just me 😉 ), but sometimes we see it becuase a different POV character sees the world of the story in a way that feels more accurate.

Narrators can be unreliable for many reasons, from simple naivete to a highly-biased view of the world due to a mental or behavioral condition. Think multiple-personality disorder or sociopathic characteristics. Or maybe they are so jaded by their life that reality is always distorted through their lens.

I haven’t written an unreliable narrator (not intentionally, at least), but I do have characters who behave a certain way because they see the real world through a filter woven from the cloth of their life experiences. They don’t narrate, but POV characters interact with them, and their slant on the world comes through that way.

Needless to say, I haven’t read many books in which the POV character is an unreliable narrator, so I’m not familiar with how those stories work out in the end. I’ve just read a story in which one of the POV characters is unreliable in a big way, but the reader learns this early on. Once I realized the character couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth of the world the way it was, but only the way she saw it, I expected the story to work out a certain way.

Did it? Well, yes. Sort of. It was good for conflict and tension. There was the inevitable “is that really how it happened, or is that just how the character remembers it” question each time the character’s story was told from someone else’s perspective. This led to the question of a different character’s true nature. Is he really abusive, or does she just see him that way? Was her child truly sick, or was there some sort of Munchausen syndrome by proxy going on?

Which adds up to a story fraught with questions and conflict and tension. A good story overall, but at some point, I disliked the unreliable narrator so much I didn’t care what happened to her at the end. I did care about other characters and how the unreliable character’s actions affected them.

Even with the unreliable character’s potential redemption at the end of the story, I felt unsatisfied. I did see opportunities to strengthen other threads that would affect other characters a bit more, threads that could reflect facets of the unreliable character’s story and thus put more pressure on the character(s) I did like, but that part didn’t happen the way I expected. If the author had pushed that angle a bit more, would it have made the story better or worse?

As a beta reader and fellow author, how do I critique the story? If I hand the story to someone else who reads more books with unreliable narrators than I do, would the story meet their expectations?

Writing is subjective, as are all creative endeavors. There is no doubt the author is skilled. It’s the story. It’s like my appreciation for the ability of an opera singer, even though I do not like opera. I can appreciate the talent of a great actor, even if I don’t like a lot of the projects they have done. I’m one of the two dozen people who think The Great Gatsby isn’t worth more than a meh.

All I can do is share my take on the story and offer suggestions the author can either use to make adjustments, or ignore. I’m only one reader, so don’t just take my word for it. Ask that reader over there what s/he thinks about it. You’ll get a different answer for sure.

Keep calm and Write On!

What? We aren’t getting into trouble …


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9th annual Writing Sisters Reunion #amwriting #amediting

Crystal River

“Come on. I asked you, and you said you would, and I quote, ‘be happy to write your post’.”

“That was before …”

“Uh-uh. Nope. No excuses. We have an agreement.”

“Not part of my job description, love.”

“It falls under the ‘and other duties as required’ clause.”

I give my writer my best narrowed-eyes look. “On one condition.”

“No conditions. You know damn well I’m trying to be productive, even if it’s being in a critique discussion with the rest of my Writing Sisters.” My writer plants her fists on her hips. “What did you do besides float down the river yesterday?” she asks in a tone of suspicion.

“I relaxed.” And a little recreation, but I’m not inclined to mention that. So what if I got caught up in a game of Frisbee golf? “Besides, you went on an outing, too.”

She narrows her eyes at me and raises a brow. “We went to a historical house-slash-museum.”

I allow an eye-roll. “Because you write historical fiction, right?”

“No, because it was an activity, it was interesting, and what if I do decide to write something historical?” She purses her lips. “C’mon. I work, and you write my blog post. I’m working on my writing.”

Sometimes I can’t resist yanking her chain. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of writing so far, love.”

“You know how this works. We go over everyone’s stuff. Today is my turn. Besides, we always whip up creative energy when we get together. I’ll be charged up by this afternoon when we have our writing time.” She adds a finger wag. “And I’m expecting you to be available, not off on some kayak down the river.”

I have to smile. Gods, I love when she gets fired up like this. It’s a special kind of energy those eight women wind up, even if one of them is connecting through whatever video chat thing they have going. “Of course I’ll be available, love.”

“And you’ll write my blog post?”

I toss an arm around her shoulders. “You know I will, as long as you are working.”

“Great!” She hands me her computer. “Here you go. I’m going to go for a run before breakfast.”

The ladies had a great session yesterday, from what the other muses tell me, so I’m not too worried. I’d better get another game of golf in before they start up today. Keep writing!

Tibbers and Nyx


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Timing is everything #adayinthelife

Hope your week went well! I know mine began to look up a few days ago when I accepted a job offer for a position I really wanted. Yay! Kind of a weird story.

When my current employer (actually, the company that acquired us) told me my position would no longer exist after July 30, I did all the things: updated my resume, signed up on job sites, kept an eye on available positions listed on places like LinkedIn and Glassdoor. I started actively searching sometime in May.

I’ve been doing a couple interviews a week for the past month or two, my preference for a new job being remote (tech writing lends itself well to working from anywhere with an internet connection). I interviewed with a company for a tech writer position in June, did three interviews with them, and hadn’t heard much since. After talking with them, I really wanted that job. After a month, they hadn’t told me they’d picked someone else, so I figured I was still in the running (things slow down over the summer because people take vacation for some reason 🙂 ).

Another company that I interviewed multiple times with picked someone else. I kept going, and eventually got an offer from a local company with an office a half-mile away from my current job. They have a hybrid plan: 3 days in office, 2 WFH. I’d be back to my commute, which wasn’t a bad thing; there is something to be said about a change of scenery (especially when your college-age daughter moves back home with more stuff than she had when she left 😮 ).

Once they gave me an offer, I asked for a few days to think about and tell the other companies I had interviewed with that I had an offer on the table, including the company I really wanted to work for who still hadn’t told me if they’d filled the position. And, of course, I tried to do some negotiation.

It’s like getting an offer from an agent or a publisher, then letting all the other places that have your manuscript know you have an offer.

Now, I had just gotten off the phone with the recruiter from the local company. I mean, literally just off the phone (I’d had some questions and attempted to negotiate a few things). I had a day left to accept their offer; the recruiter was going to see if he could get a salary adjustment I requested approved. No one else had offered me a position yet; I was ready to accept because the 30th is coming up fast (think health insurance lapse), and I had no other solid prospects. Lots of possibles, but no other “hey, we want to hire you” prospects.

My preferred company left an email, voice mail message, another call I couldn’t answer cuz I was talking to the local company. Spoiler alert: they have better benefits than the local company. Once I got off the call with the local company I called my preferred company back, and they gave me an offer. The kicker: I had to give them a verbal acceptance right then.

Hmm. Better benefits, the salary I requested from the local company (which the recruiter was going to try to get approved), and fully remote vs a 50-minute commute three times a week. Not that I minded the idea of seeing other people in the office, but I’ve gotten used to the 5-second commute at home: down the stairs to my desk.

Needless to say, I didn’t take much time deciding. The worst part was contacting the local company after we had literally just been talking about the offer they gave me, and telling them I accepted an offer from another company.

Had my preferred company not called with their offer when they did, I would have accepted the offer from the local company. Which I used to smooth things over with the local company (the person who would have been my supervisor had been really excited to get me on his team). Timing is everything.

Which relates well to writing when you think about it. Timing, and ability. Talent can be a big part of it, but I’d rather consider practice and experience making up a bigger part of ability, because that’s what hones any talent.

Another part of it, though, is a gut-check. I know, sounds weird, but I’ve had enough instances when I didn’t listen to my gut, and things didn’t turn out as well as they could have if I had. When I interviewed with my preferred company, and even when I thought about them after all the interviews, I felt excited about the prospect of working for them. With the local company, my brain knew it was a great opportunity, but my gut felt like “there have got to be other options out there. How long can I wait?”.

Reminds me of when I got my current job. Same sort of thing. Sure, I interviewed in person because no pandemic eight years ago, so you get a different experience, but when I walked into the building, I “felt” comfortable. At ease. Excited, even.

Is it instinct? Is it the Universe? Is it our brain taking in all the variables, crunching the “numbers”, and spitting out an answer as a sensation? I don’t know, but the older I get, the more I take that “gut check” into consideration. It’s taken me years to acknowledge it, but I figure at this point, it can’t hurt to listen.

Hope you all have a great writing weekend! Two more weeks until my Writing Sisters reunion–can’t wait!

Stay cool! Stay safe!

A special appearance by Nyx


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I used to know how to do it #amwriting #amplotting

I ran across this post via FB. Becca and Angela’s blog is a great resource for writers, kinda like their thesauruses (thesauri?). It got me thinking (I know, dangerous territory!)

I’ve been intending to write a short story or two to submit to various anthologies. Problem is, I can’t seem to kick off a draft. I’ve written short stories before; my very first published works were short stories (and I even got paid real money for one of them (as opposed to contributor copies)).

Then I turned to noveling, which is a different sort of animal. With a novel, you have 90,000 words, give or take, to tell a story from beginning to end. You have 90k words to develop characters a reader will connect with and care about. You have 90k words for an inciting incident, midpoint crisis, and climax, with all the room between them to build a story.

It’s like having a 3k square-foot house in which to organize your belongings (and accumulate more, because all that space!). You can arrange an entertainment space, have a big kitchen, and even a walk-in closet. It’s big enough to stretch out and relax.

Writing a short story seems like a one-bedroom apartment in comparison. You have just enough space to plant the essentials, with no room for your vast collection of Beanie Babies, or Transformers action figures, or fully-assembled and framed puzzles. You have a bedroom, living room, and kitchen, but there’s a limit to how many friends you can invite over at the same time before you run out of space.

Going from noveling to writing a short story feels like moving out of a house into an apartment. It’s your same life, but what do you keep and what do you give to Goodwill (or a dumpster)?

When moving into a house, you can plan the paint scheme, wall decor, furniture, even the color theme of each room. In an apartment, you have limits, including being unable to change the color of the carpeting or the kitchen appliances. If the apartment has daffodil-yellow countertops or beach-sand tan linoleum, well, that’s what you work with.

For the past decade or more (I’m not going to tell how much more 🙂 ), I’ve spent time planning my novels before I write them. I usually know how they begin (inciting incident) and how they (should) end (climax). (We will leave my current WIP out of the comparison, because, well, I don’t want to talk about it.)

Since I decided I needed to write at least one short story, I’ve hit a mental block. Plotting a short story? I’ve only got 5k words or so, maybe up to 10k words, to go from inciting incident to climax. It’s not enough space.

I know I can do it because I’ve done it before, but how? It’s almost like the play-by-ear child prodigy who goes to college to study music, learns how to read sheet music, and loses the ability to play song requests by ear without reading notes.

So I’ve been procrastinating. I have a story in mind, which I cobbled together during my walks, but how to start? Do I just start freewriting? I could. That’s scary; will I be able to get to the inciting incident before 2k words? That gives me almost 2k to get to the midpoint, and another 2k to get to the end.

Then I read the article, and it clicked. Situational writing. Duh. That’s how I wrote my short stories. I came up with a situation, then wrote “around” it.

That’s the biggest difference, I think, between short stories and longer forms like novellas and novels. Sure, you could plot out a short story, but how much of a full-bodied plot can you squeeze into the format? Yes, you could have a super-short plot complete with inciting incident, midpoint crisis, and climax. A lot of short stories do. I suspect, though, that most short story writers just sit down and write, plot-plan not required. Think about short stories you’ve read. How many are situational, a point in time of the character’s life?

Sure, people write novels all the time without a solid plan in place. It’s called “pantsing”, or writing by the seat of your pants. My novel creation goes a lot more smoothly if I have at least some idea of what the story is or how it proceeds from beginning to end, i.e. a rough timeline/outline.

Bottom line, I have a situation in mind, I have characters, and I know how the situation ends. Now to put butt in chair and hands on keyboard (or pencil on paper, because that often helps my creative mind).

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay cool! Stay safe! Come back next week when I give an update on my weeds–erm, I mean, my garden 😀