Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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F-O-C-U-S

It’s blank.

The wall, I mean. Well, sometimes my head, too . . .

Not my writing office. I’m at my dad’s place while he’s off galavanting with his brother on an Alaskan cruise. I’ve got a deadline, and this is my opportunity to write without distraction.

It’s also another opportunity to be in the house I grew up in. Except now so much has changed. My sister-in-law decided to “stage” the house (which my dad is in the process of trying to sell), which, according to her, means getting rid of anything personal like family photos. And last weekend we moved a bunch of big stuff (entertainment center, bed, TV, etc) to the townhouse my dad is renting.

I was here last weekend, and it felt, well, . . . like I came too late. Like I should have thought to take pictures of the way everything was before this “staging” business. If you’ve gone through the process of watching the house you grew up in be prepared to sell, you know what I mean.

“You came here to focus, love.”

What the hell? My Muse pulls up a chair–where did he find that chair?

“Don’t look at me like that.” He leans back in a beanbag-type chair I’ve never seen before and know my dad never had. Fingers laced together, he puts his hands behind his head and crosses his long legs at the ankles. “You’re here to write. I’m your Muse. Get over it.”

“Where did that chair come from? Not that I’m complaining, but . . .” Maybe I am complaining, because it’s a distraction. Like his “Star Wars” lounge pants and Millennium Falcon t-shirt aren’t distracting at all. πŸ˜‰

“I brought it with me, and you are complaining.” He cranes his neck around to check out the whole room. “Well, it’s bare. That’s a good thing. Now you can focus, which is why you’re here in the first place.”

He’s right. It’s just . . . Everything is gone. The pictures of the grandkids. The pictures of my mom. The pictures of me and my siblings with our families. I can’t stop the tears. Not yet. I’m grieving.

“Scoot over, love.” My Muse nudges me from the middle of the love seat to one side. He settles beside me, but doesn’t put his arm around my shoulders, though I kinda wish he would. “I know you want to give your attention to this loss business, but you’ve got a deadline coming up. You’ve been doing good this month. I’m proud of you.”

“I should have been doing good in April, too.” Except real life happens. “I am SO far behind.”

“Which is why you’re here.” He leans against me. “Take the time during your breaks to, what did A say? Say good-bye to every room. But only during breaks. You are here to write.”

He’s right. Deep breath. “I’m going to finish this round of edits this weekend.”

“And I’m here to make sure you do. Besides, it’s supposed to rain today. No excuses.”

So, I’ve got all day to write–except for a couple hours this morning when my BFF from high school is stopping by. I try to catch up with her whenever I’m in town. In fact, last year when I was here she had an awesome “Are you kidding? This really happened?” story. I told her I was going to use it in a book; it’ll be part of the plot of my rural mystery (on the list to do after Book 2).

So, last week I posted plants, and someone (you know who you are), complained about a glaring lack of cat pics. Well, be careful what you wish for πŸ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!

 

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Spring–it does a creative mind good

Well, Spring, it’s about damn time. FINALLY. The trees are green, the grass is green, the weeds are green. And we’ve had enough rain that the grass needs to be mowed already. Because I know you don’t have enough fun spring flower pictures to look at, here’s more from my yard.

squill

Siberian squill

violets

Violets

I love the little blue flowers. They’re called Siberian squill, and apparently they’re quite invasive. Hmm. Not so far at our place. Besides, I’d rather see these spread than creeping Charlie. Or burdock. Or ragweed. Or quackgrass. Or stinging nettle. Or …

And surprise! The rhubarb divisions we got from my sister-in-law are growing.

rhubarb

rhubarb

Anyway. I cleaned out the asparagus patch last weekend, and to my delight, I’ve got spears coming up. Not to brag or anything (okay, maybe brag a little), check it out:

asparagus

Asparagus!

This is only a small area of the patch; I picked enough for a meal. If you like asparagus, but have only ever had the supermarket stuff, you are so missing out! Try to find some at a farmer’s market.

I’ve got raspberries in the same “raised bed”, and of course those are invading the asparagus. This is the time of year they come back with a vengeance despite having been mowed down by rabbits over the winter. They’re spreading outside the raised bed area, into the asparagus patch, into the old chicken pen (which was beside the raised bed area).

raspberries_cr

Raspberries

Ugh. I love having raspberries, but we’d move them if we had a good spot to put them. So, my weeding of the asparagus patch consisted mostly of pulling/digging out raspberry sprouts. Oh, and quackgrass and burdock, because why not?

On the gardening front, my hubs would have tilled the garden once by now (I think) except one of the tires on the tractor went flat. Like, “huge crack in the sidewall now a hole” went flat. And the local Tires Plus doesn’t carry big tractor tires. Hmm. Go figure. So, he’s been searching for tires that will fit. Until he finds some that will work (or I convince him he could actually use the other tractor to run the tiller if we have to get the garden tilled), I don’t have to worry about spending valuable writing time digging in the dirt.

Speaking of, OMG, we’ll be halfway through May next week. And I’m not halfway through my edits yet. And this weekend will be writing-free since it’s a) my dad’s big 7-0, and b) a pre-move-in/move-out party for the town house he’s renting. It’ll be the first stage of moving out and selling the house I grew up in.

*silence*

*deep breath*

Even though he won’t completely move out until July, I think I’ve already started grieving. Me and my four siblings grew up there. It’s a big house for one person; I know. I’ve been there alone. My mom … the house holds so many memories of my mom. Dad’s moving to a different city, so once he sells the house, I’ll have to make a special trip to visit Mom’s grave.

It happens. It happened when my grandmother sold the house my dad and his siblings grew up in. She’d been alone in that house for, wow, it’s been almost 25 years since my grandfather died. It’s better for one person to not have to take care of a big house like that, especially when they get older. I get it.

Still. So many memories.

So, this weekend I’m going to Dad’s to help birthday and move some big stuff. Next week I’ll be heading back for a mini-writing retreat since Dad will be on his vacation. Need to get moving on my edits; it feels like the universe is working against me. So much unexpected stuff the past couple months stealing my writing time. Maybe it’s the universe’s way of reminding me this writing stuff is work, and don’t forget it πŸ˜€ Or it’s the universe’s way of telling me to get my shit together (or is it my Muse telling me?)

Enjoy the spring weekend! To the mothers in the US, Happy Mother’s Day!


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When Characters need a tune-up

Making up characters to star in your story is one if the best parts of writing fiction, at least in my mind. In my debut novel, I created this awesome character and cast her as a strong female protagonist, a woman in a man’s world who can hold her own.

Every main character should have something to round them out: a realistic background, a family of some sort, maybe close friends or pets, and often some challenge in their history that they have overcome or are working to overcome in the current story. Sometimes the obstacle is an addiction of some sort, like Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan (alcoholism–oh man, I never noticed that before. Get it? Temperance is a recovering alcoholic). Maybe the character experienced a divorce or death in the family, like J. A. Jance’s Joanna Brady (first husband died). It doesn’t have to be a major hurdle; it could be as innocuous as losing a job, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum or Kellye Garrett’s Dayna Anderson. And sometimes the character’s past is instrumental in shaping their present, like the abuse suffered by Eve Dallas and the life-on-the-streets struggle of her husband Roarke in J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series.

My protagonist survived her own trauma six years before the story starts. Not only did her ex-boyfriend stalk her after she dumped him, but he tried to kill her. By now, she’s taken back control of her life. Then he’s released from prison. No worries–he’s, like, over a hundred miles away–but little by little she notices things that make her question just how safe she is.

Oh, did I mention the detective on the case (psst, love interest πŸ™‚ ) suspects she had something to do with the dead body she found? So, not only is my MC wary about the return of her ex-boyfriend, she’s trying to prove her innocence by looking for the culprit. Conflict? Check. Goal? Check. Obstacles she needs to get through to reach her goal? Check.

This is a mystery, so the MC should work on solving the case in some way, right? Cool. She shuffles the few puzzle pieces she has, and picks a direction based on what she knows. Then the Big Bad Ex shows up and proves he knows where she is.

Now, I’ve (thankfully) never gone through the type of trauma one would experience after being attacked like she was, but I can believe she would have some PTSD. She’s got her life back on track, but now the old fears and anxiety return.

Where does the tune-up come into play? Well, after talking things through with my editor and my agent, I realized my MC stopped working on the mystery once the baddie resurfaced, and instead spent her energy fighting against the old emotions.

In other words, she became a victim again, which weakens her role as a strong protagonist. She does break out of the victim archtype, but not to work toward the story goal; she breaks out to save her skin (and in the process discovers something that cracks the case, which does work toward the story goal). The main mystery-solving efforts now come from the male MC (yeah, I know it’s his job, but he’s not the headliner).

Once I finally figured that out (took me long enough–sheesh), how do I fix it? Enter my wonderful Writing Sisters and the brainstorming wall. We hashed it out and came up with a couple small things I can add. Those bits will help my protagonist break through the victim archetype and refocus her energy toward the main story goal. It also tunes up her character by reminding her of her strengths, and that the black moment in her past can help her in the present.

Bottom line, it’s okay for the MC to lose power, or become a victim (the midpoint crisis), but s/he needs to come back strong in order to keep his/her position as the star of the show.

On the non-writing related front, here’s what my daughter got me for Mother’s Day. I think my book dragon will like the company:

dragon1_cr

It’s a sort of terrarium–there’s some dirt under the purple rocks, and a succulent behind the dragon. There’s a bit of moss as well. Here’s another angle:

The little dragon is so adorable! The container is a teardrop shape, with a twine hanging loop. I don’t have a good spot to hang it, or a decent spot to set it right now, but it’s too cute not to put someplace where I can see it every day.

Now my Muse has two junior muses to contend with. Mwahahahaha! Heh, it’s a good thing he’s out on a pub crawl. πŸ˜€

Spring/summer (ugh, 80F is too warm for May) is here–woo-hoo! No garden planting plans quite yet, but I do have to clean last year’s debris out of the asparagus patch so I can find the spears when they start to come up. *rubs hands together* I can’t wait!

Have a great writing weekend!


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A-musing Reckoning

The clock on the wall in my writing office is ticking. Me, well, I’m waiting. I’ve got my “prize” from my weekend in Wisconsin to keep me company. moon manI’ve started working on my editor’s notes, but right now I’ve got something else on my list, and I’m waiting for my quarry.

I don’t have to wait long before my Muse shows up. I adjust myself in one of the recliners in a corner of the office and take a long sip of my brew. “Nice of you to show up.”

He zeroes in on me. “I see you’re working hard, love. Or should I say, hardly working.”

I tip my bottle again and savor the slight citrus tones of the ale. “I have been working. Every night since I got back. Unlike someone else I know. Where the hell have you been?”

He leans back against my desk, hands braced on either side. He’s wearing a black thermal shirt advertising The Old Fashioned tavern, where my Writing Sisters and I had dinner after our panel. Great place to eat if you’re ever in the area. “You do know that writing conferences are also muse conferences, right?”

I manage to avoid rolling my eyes. “Uh-huh. What’s this I hear about you hanging out at The Old Fashioned?” He can’t deny it. All 6-foot 2-inches of masculine energy, with intense blue eyes and GQ-esque physique, makes him pretty easy to spot.

He looks down at his shirt. “You and your Writing Sisters were there.”

“Yes, but I wasn’t standing at the end of the bar handing out business cards. I’ve got a witness.”

A slow grin stretches across his face. “Your Writing Sister? The one who kept her Muse from having fun because she had edits to do? Yeah, I talked to her about that.”

“I heard. You shouldn’t have distracted her.” Though she didn’t exactly complain … Honestly, neither would I πŸ™‚

“Distracted? She–and her Muse–needed a break.” He crosses the office to stand in front of my recliner, hands on hips and a noticable lack of humor on his face. “You are accusing me of handing out business cards. Why would I want to start over with a new writer? For your information, love, those were drink tickets for the closing party. With the weather that weekend, we needed to get muses to stay.”

Why am I having a hard time believing him? “Likely story.”

“I heard about you and some new muses. Were you auditioning replacements?”

Oh crap. “No. They were part of one of the presentations I went to. They’re from a book by Jill Badonsky that helps writers with creativity.”

He leans over me. “Are you saying I’m slacking? I seem to remember my writer being stalled out for, gee, weeks. And nothing I did could knock you loose.”

“Exactly. So the presentation was about how to go after the creative process a little differently. Relax. I’m not planning to break in a new Muse.”

He straightens and chuckles, one of those “silly writer” chuckles. “As if you could if you tried.” He settles into the other recliner. “Let’s get to work.”

Whew. Sorry I’m still so far behind in reading blog posts, but I’m trying to catch up. I’m hitting the edits, but there’s a few adjustments I’ll have to make, and I’ve got to think on those for a bit. Today is earmarked for a college open house, then since it appears Spring is finally showing up for more than a day or two, I’m going to have to take a nice long walk before digging back in to my edits.

Enjoy your weekend, and WRITE!


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Paper chain countdown

Okay, not really a paper chain, but I’ve been looking at the calendar every day for the past week or so in anticipation. Despite Winter’s stubborn hold on the weather–last Monday we got 4 inches of snow (give or take), and this Sunday we’re supposed to get yet another snowstorm–I’ve been waiting for this week to arrive.

In less than 5 days I’ll get to see my Writing Sisters! All of them! One of us lives in California, so she doesn’t always make it to the reunions, but next week we’ll all be in Madison, WI for the Writers’ Institute. You should join us; we’re even going to be on a panel discussing our sisterhood.

If you’ve never been to a writing conference, you’re missing out. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy created when so many writers gather. Yes, I know most of us are introverts, but everyone there is enthusiastic about the same thing: writing.

I’m looking forward to tapping the group for help with my current projects. I got my editor’s notes back, and need to do some brainstorming both for my revisions and for Book 2. I’ll bring the brainstorming wall and chocolate πŸ˜€

Just an FYI, after you’ve revised your project to within an inch of its life (yes, we all think we do), and get that contract … yeah, it ain’t over. I’ve got some changes to make, some of which I know will strengthen the main character. Some changes I’ll have to consider. That’s another bonus of going to the conference and meeting up with my writing sisters. Though most of them have never read the whole story, they can often see things from a different angle, and can suggest options I never thought of.

“Does this mean you’ll finally get your shit together, love?”

Where the hell did he come from? I look up, and there he is, my Muse, standing like a drill sergeant in front of my desk, arms crossed on his chest. The sleeves of his burgundy Henley shirt are shoved to his elbows, exposing the lean muscles of his forearms. His jeans are at that well-worn stage between brand-new indigo and faded white.

“What are you doing here?”

“Really, love? Just how much have you written in the past week?”

“Hey, I was in Dallas last weekend for my niece’s wedding. Give me a break. Not to mention I’ve been reading through my editor’s notes.”

He rests a hip on the corner of my desk. “I don’t see you working on them. In fact, I haven’t seen you work on anything for a disturbingly long time.” Before I can answer, he lifts a finger at me. “I don’t want to hear it. I want to see you write. And I don’t think you want me to take it to the next level.”

I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. I try again. “Next level?”

A slow grin stretches across his face, his brilliant blue eyes holding something less like amusement, more like … er, like he’s got something up his sleeve that I have a feeling I’m not going to like. “You remember the urban fantasy, love?”

A shiver skitters down my spine. “Don’t you dare. I’ve got to work on my manuscript, my editor’s notes. Don’t distract me.”

His chuckle seems a bit, ah, malicious. “Apparently, you have no problem getting distracted. It’s the focusing part you have trouble with. And if I have to hit you with undiluted Muse energy again, I will. Trust me.”

Gulp. “Look, I’ve got the Writers’ Institute next week. My Sisters will be there. I’ve already set aside some time with my writing mentor and my agent to discuss things. I’ll be focused. You can hang out with the rest of the muses.”

One of his eyebrows arches. “And I’m supposed to trust you, love?”

“I’ll be thinking about writing the whole time.”

“Thinking? Is that all?”

“I’ll write. I’ll have to write with all that creative energy. And all those muses.”

He narrows his eyes. “I’m not sure I believe you. Or trust you.”

“You’ll be there. You can babysit me all you want.”

“You bet your ass I will.”

Yikes.

It’ll be prep time for the next few days. Oh, and of course there’s a boatload of stuff going on in the everyday department, too, including Winter’s stubborn hold–we’re due to get snow AGAIN tomorrow, prom dress shopping, college open house for my daughter. That’s just through the end of the month. Ugh.

It’s been colder than normal for April even here in MN. Good thing I have my handy-dandy lap warmer:

zoey_cr

Have a great writing weekend!


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Intermission

I know, you are sooo disappointed I’m not posting part 7 of my musing mysteries series.

And the Writer’s Institute is only a week and a half away! In case you need a little more incentive, just think how much fun it’d be to meet these cool chicks!

Anyway, I’m going to be pretty much offline this weekend due to another family wedding, so I’ll catch up with y’all in a couple days.

In the meantime, my journey to publication has moved forward another step.

There are basic things we writers all know: characters have to be 3-dimensional and “real”, avoid cliches, show not tell, don’t head-hop if you can help it, avoid adverbs, inciting incidents, mid-point crisis, climax, denouement, you get the picture.

So, when writers revise a story, they look for stuff to ‘fix’, like infodumps, inconsistencies, extra characters who need to be let go, characters who need a bigger role or a richer background, even changing the main protagonist or antagonist. We depend on writing groups, critique partners, and alpha/beta readers to help us refine and polish the story.

I worked with my agent to revise my manuscript before she started shopping it around, tightening, tweaking, and adjusting the ending. But I knew once a publisher picked up the book, there would be another round or two of revision, though I hoped I’d found most of the ‘issues’.

I spoke with my editor for the first time in a few months. She sent her notes on my manuscript, and we discussed some of the things she noticed: some too-sparse descriptions, my penchant for repetition, pet words, and questions on character backgrounds. She also asked whose story it is. I have two main characters, but it’s supposed to be the female lead’s story. Hmmm. I try to give my MCs equal screen time, but something in the female lead’s script was lacking.

It was a good discussion, and now that I have her notes, it’s time to go through her thoughts, chew on them for a bit, then start revising. I checked in with my agent as well, and through a great conversation with her, I figured out what my editor was seeing but hadn’t specifically mentioned in so many words.

The point, though, is through these conversations, I learned more about storytelling. The bigger point, I suppose, is this whole writing journey is a learning adventure that never stops.

It makes a difference, I think, how you approach critiques. Of course there are those people who only do harsh critiques, which are not nice in any sense and probably don’t help you at all (except to make sure you aren’t in any writing groups with the troll). Most people, especially fellow writers and writing mentors/teacher, try to be helpful in their critiques. It’s still hard to hear that your story isn’t as awesome as you think.

I can’t deny it was kind of a bummer to get some of the feedback, but that feedback–and the discussions–gave me the opportunity to learn more about storytelling and how to make my book better. It enriches my writing journey, just like all my great writing friends whom I’ve never seen face-to-face.

Bottom line, never stop learning as you progress along your writing journey. There’s always something to remember, something new to learn, something different to try.

Happy Easter to those who observe it. Take it easy on those jelly beans πŸ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!

zoey lapcat


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Spring, where are you?

FIRST, check this out. Here’s a great little article about some special guests at the Writers’ Institute in Madison, WI this year: Writing group shares success stories.

For the past week, our weather people have been warning us of snow this weekend.

I know, I know. Snow in MN. *sarcasm* What a concept. Six to nine inches of heavy, wet, white stuff. I’ve been dreading this weekend since spring arrived (March 20 for those who weren’t paying attention (psst, it was the vernal equinox)).

On the bright side, I woke up this morning to a noticable lack of new snow. Will we escape the entire storm? Crossing my fingers!

In any case, since we’re all (probably) suffering from spring fever about now (except for anyone Down Under or otherwise south of the equator, who is looking forward to winter about now πŸ˜€ ), I figured I’d show off my baby plants, because what better way to remind us how green things can be.

First, the easiest ones. Just plant and let them be.

onions_cr

Onions

Then the ones that I’ll need to transplant once they get a set of true leaves (the ones that look like “adult” leaves).

tomatoes peppers_cr

tomatoes and peppers

And for the first time I’m starting some kale. Three summers ago I had a bumper crop of kale, which I’d never grown before but loved. The summer before last, I planted kale seeds three different times. I got all of one kale plant that vanished halfway through the season. Last year I planted seeds two or three times because they didn’t come up. They still didn’t come up. I ended up buying kale plants.

tomatoes kale_cr

tomatoes and kale

So this year I’m going to start my own. I’m growing curly kale, which I really didn’t want because the curly part makes it easy for the cabbage loopers to hide but those were the seeds they had at the local place (they get seeds in bulk), and black (aka dinosaur) kale, which I’ve seen in catalogs but I also saw in a garden last year. Looks pretty cool, all not curly and stuff.

I’m planning to start Brussels sprouts, too, but I learned last year not to plant them too early, because when the sprouts are ready, so is everything else, therefore I didn’t pick sprouts (not when there are a ton of green beans, cucumbers, and zucchini to eat). If you leave the sprouts too long, they get brown and icky. Besides, it’s nice to wait until later in the season to harvest because the cool nights of fall, and especially a light frost, will make the sprouts sweeter.

Okay, there you have it. A little peek of spring green to tide you over until the grass starts to green up and the trees start to leaf out.

Next weekend is Easter, and another wedding, so little to no writing. Sigh. The groom’s family is Hindu (from India, groom is first-generation American) so Easter doesn’t mean the same to them. It’ll be interesting to see how they do things.

Then it’s a mad prep for the Writers’ Institute. I’m so excited to see my Writing Sisters again. It’s going to be a blast! I still have a few things to do for my presentation, but mostly practice. After that, college registration, graduation, and make sure kids apply for scholarships, summer jobs, etc.

And Book 2. I’ve figured out a few more things for the plot. Planning on doing some brainstorming with my Sisters. I’m thinking another self-imposed NaNo for April (maybe).Β Hoping it goes better than the last one, which was a bust.

May the snow finally leave you alone and Spring arrive with pretty flowers and greens. Lots of greens. Tree greens, grass greens, dandelion greens …

Happy Writing!