Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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It’s all in the voice #amreading #amwriting

Image by Rebekka D from Pixabay

Now that the garden is pretty much finished, except for the peppers and the cool-weather stuff like kale and brussels sprouts, I’ve been spending more time writing–well, okay, reading. And not just because Jim Butcher’s Peace Talks came out and the next one, Battle Ground, is being released this very same year! Harry Dresden rules!

I’ve been reading mysteries (and the various flavors of them) lately, but I always make room for select urban fantasies, like Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and Jim Butcher’s Dresden, of course. During the wait for the highly-anticipated release of Peace Talks, Butcher’s first new Dresden novel in, like, five years, one of my blogging friends suggested a different series, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

So, I figured, what the heck. It’s UF, and M said it was good. So I read the first book of the series.

Now, for those who don’t read urban fantasy, one thing popular in the genre is snark. The snark is often based on things we know, like books (The Princess Bride, for one), TV shows, movies, or other things of common “modern” knowledge. Butcher does it well. One of my favorites is the first line of Blood Rites: The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault. Not snark as much as tongue-in-cheek.

In the same scene, as Harry is running away from the bad guys, he mentions how his boots were made for walking, not running through hallways (or something like that).

When done well, it makes for an entertaining read. In the Kate Daniels series, they (Ilona Andrews is a husband and wife team) do it so well I laughed out loud more than once (even the second time around). Everything from references to Rambo to the Three Musketeers to jokes made by the main character that the reader “gets” but no one else in the scene does because they aren’t old enough.

Anyway, there are 10 books in the Kate Daniels series. I blasted through the first book in a day. Heck, I blasted through each book in two days (because I had to take time off to do important stuff like pick tomatoes and cleaning 🙂 )

Needless to say, I didn’t get much writing done the days I got sucked into Kate Daniels’ world.

Here’s the thing: Many people will only read a book once. I like to reread good books years after I read them the first time to enjoy the prose and the story again. As a writer, I want to figure out why I want to read it again. It’s like watching a TV show in reruns a decade or more later, like MASH or Seinfeld.

This series, however, was different. I have never felt compelled to reread a series right after I read it the first time. Ever. Not even the Pern books by Anne McCaffery. Not even the Eve Dallas series by JD Robb.

When I finished the last book of the Kate Daniels series, I felt drawn back to it. I couldn’t stop thinking about reading it again. (I blame you, M!)

Then my writer brain piped up. Why do I feel compelled to reread this series right after I read it the first time? What is it about the story that makes me want to jump right back into it? It’s like other UF series where the main character is pitted against tougher and tougher opponents, and discovers more about herself and what she can do. It’s like Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series or Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, where each book reveals a little more about the main character and how/why she changes.

But I never felt compelled to reread those series. Why was this one different? The clever snark? Yes, but other series have clever snark. A kick-ass heroine? Sure, but again, other series have kick-ass heroines. Hot guys the main character tries to resist but eventually falls for? Yep, the others have that, too. Awesome secondary characters? Yep, they all have some great backup singers.

World-building? Sure, but like other UF, the world we know is filled with magic and the associated creatures, and the explanations for the juxtaposition are all different, from “it’s always been this way” to some cataclysmic occurrence that introduced magic into our world.

So, what’s left?

Voice. That elusive element that is part of a writer’s style, or at least style for a particular book or genre. Voice is that thing we’re all told we need to find for ourselves, that maddening part of writing that is so hard to define, but we can pick out in other writers’ prose. It’s the voice that draws me back, I think. Andrews’ voice in the KD books is easy-going, natural for the character, and engaging, with a touch of laugh-out-loud humor.

Note that a lot of UF is written in first person POV, so voice and character are woven tight with each other. Come to think of it, almost all the UF I’ve ever read is written in 1st POV.

I won’t even attempt to explain voice, because there are so many other writers and writing teachers out there who have done a good job of it. Check out Janice Hardy, Jane Friedman, and Lisa Hall-Wilson, for starters. Lisa Hall-Wilson has been doing a good series on POV and voice in recent months.

In other news, I have one lesson left to turn in, then I’ll check in with my writing teacher (who runs the program) to see what my next steps are. And just maybe my son will send me some more pictures of his kittens 😀

Happy Writing!


Summer reruns #1

Yep. It’s the part about summer when you are flipping through channels at night after the mosquitoes chase you inside and the air conditioner is humming and it’s really too late (or too close to bedtime) to dig into much writing. So I figured if TV shows can do it, so can I 😀

This post originally appeared in August of 2014 (Oh. My. Gawd. I didn’t realize I’ve been blogging that long!) Enjoy this blast from the past!

Orignally appeared August 17, 2014:

It’s one of the last weekends of summer, and school starts in a couple weeks. Where did the summer go? Granted, summer really didn’t get going here in MN until late June after we had torrential downpours that caused mudslides, closed many roads, and wiped out my garden TWICE. And it’s been a nice, cool summer. Love it! The temps, that is, not the fact my garden is a month behind. Still waiting for my tomatoes to hurry up and get ripe!

My vice, though, is lazy weekends. There are many summer weekends that include trips to various family gatherings including graduations, weddings, and birthdays. On the weekends we get to stay home, I have a tendency to kick back in an easy chair, whip out my computer, and write. Besides, the cleaning will be there tomorrow, right?

Part of me feels guilty for neglecting regular household chores, but I do have two teens in the house, and they are responsible for dishes, their own laundry, and cleaning bathrooms (Yippee!). Part of that guilt keeps my muse hanging in the wings, reluctant to sit down next to me for an hour or two of writing. The procrastinator in me clamps a hand over the guilt’s mouth and threatens it with bodily harm if it screams.

My inspirations during the summer include gorgeous sunsets and those quiet mornings when the mist hangs in the air. It’s humid and a little cool, but the fog curtains the trees and blankets sound. There’s a sense of awe that brings to mind a timelessness that leads my writer’s mind toward scenes that involve characters emerging from the fog on horseback or standing within a grove, that muted quiet swelling to fill their ears and hush their words. The fiery pink sunsets remind me to stop and watch, to impress in my mind the splendor of the vibrant colors so I can recall them later.

What inspires you during the summer? Is it gardens of flowers? A sole wildflower in the shadows of trees? The sounds of crickets or frogs at night? The smell of freshly-cut grass or hay? The buzz of cicadas? The sweat on a glass of homemade lemonade or the slow drip of ice cream down a cone? Take ten minutes and describe what you sense in the summer at one of your favorite places. It doesn’t have to be a scene, just pick a place on the beach or at a fair or on a walking trail and describe the sound of the waves or the smell of cotton candy and caramel corn.

Gotta go. My muse is waiting and his coffee mug is empty!


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Kicking drafts and taking names #amrevising #amwriting

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I’m trying to pry dirt from under my fingernails, so of course I run into the door to my writing office before I turn the knob. Damn. It’s a good thing I was distracted, because the moment I open the door the odor of fried food and stale beer, like the kind you can’t get out of your clothes after watching the game at a sports bar (I know, it’s been a while, but you still remember, right?), wafts past me. Part of me wants to turn around and go back to weeding, but I resist.

Yeah, I probably should have listened to that part.

“I understand a ‘Job Well Done’ is in order, love.” My Muse is standing in front of the whiteboard covering one wall of my office. His fried food cologne must be emanating from the rugby jersey he’s wearing. His khaki cargo shorts have a stain on one thigh I hesitate to identify. Deck shoes complete his ensemble. No socks. Nice calves.

“Where have you been?”

He adds a note to the homework criteria I wrote on the board. “Things are opening up. Outdoor seating, and now some indoor seating, but the weather’s too nice to be inside.”

“So, you and Mr. E went on a pub crawl. If you were sitting outside, why do you smell like a sports bar?”

He adds another note. “Do you know fryers smoke? Even outdoors.”

I swallow a snarky comment about fryers and Camels or Marlboros. “Let me guess. You and Mr. E sat downwind. Didn’t think to move?”

He hit me with his brilliant blue eyes, a brow arched. “You make it sound like there was somewhere else to sit. It was like everyone was coming out of hibernation. We had to wait in line at a couple places.”

That sounds about right. “I can’t believe you had to sit downwind of the fryer at every bar you hit.”

“Well, there was one where they didn’t set up the fryers outside.” He adds one more note, then snaps the cover on the dry-erase marker. “Well done, love. You finished your first round of revision.”

I stand beside him in front of the board. “Um, thanks, I guess.”

“You sound disappointed.”

“I wasn’t, until I dug into my homework assignment.” Plotting. This assignment, my last for the class, looks at the story plot points. I’ve been feeling a major lack of satisfaction with the story, even after I figured out the plot to begin with. When I dug into my homework, I realized why. “I need to adjust the plot. Like, a significant change.”

My Muse swaps the marker in his hand for a different color, and adds another note. “That’s a good thing. You found the problem now, rather than two revisions from now.”

“You could have said something earlier, like before I finished the first draft–correction, finished the first draft after seven false starts. Maybe I would have gotten through it faster. Like after only five false starts.”

He rests an arm around my shoulders. The smell of French fries assaults my nose. “You forget one thing, love.”

“What’s that?”

“You don’t always listen to me.” Before I can respond, he continues. “Besides, you got to feel like you accomplished something by finishing the first round of revision. There’s a lot to be said about feeling like you’ve made progress. It’s important for all writers, but especially for one who tossed out seven partially-finished first drafts.”

“So, you didn’t hammer me with the revelation until I finished the first revision? Do you know how much further I’d be if I’d figured this out sooner?” I’m so glad I’m taking this class, because I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to see the glaring weak spot otherwise.

“How much have you learned because you analyzed the plot for your homework?” He tosses the marker onto the sill of the board. “You know the story will be stronger because of it.” He squeezes my shoulders, then heads to the mini-fridge and pulls out a brewski. He points the bottle at me then the board before twisting off the cap and slinging it into the trash. “Get your homework finished so we can work on that other story. I have a few ideas.”

I’m sure you do. He’s right, I can see the places where the plot needs work, which is part of the process. I do find it frustrating to get through one round of revision before I have that head-slapping “DUH!” moment.

Come to think of it, I’ve had a lot of those “DUH!” moments with this story. Sheesh.

Now that I’m done with my first round of revision, once I finish my homework, I’ll move on to a different story for a few weeks to let Book 2 rest. After this class, I have one more to take to get my second badge and move one step closer to my writing certificate.

How is your writing coming along? Enjoy this last week of Spring before the solstice next week!

Zoey on retaining wall


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Settling down #amwriting #amrevising

writing in a journal on the lawn
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

A lot of writers have been posting about how the pandemic and the quarantine have disrupted their writing. Despite spending so much time at home, they are having a tough time focusing. Heck, a lot of people have trouble sleeping. COVID dreams, anyone?

Now with the turmoil of the past couple weeks added on top of all that, settling down to write seems to be a losing battle. All of the things going on right now foster anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration. Then there’s the whole being cooped up 24-7 with people you love but honestly need a break from sometimes–erm, on a regular basis. 😀

All these things disrupt the flow of creativity, at least for me. Considering it’s been what, three months since the pandemic kicked off the quarantine, there’s been time to try different things to settle that creative energy enough to use.

My Writing Sisters chat every week, and this week we shared some of the things we’re doing to help us attain the calm we need to write. Maybe you’ve figured out what works for you by now. If not, here are some of the things we are doing:

  • Turn off the news: Um, yeah. That’s what’s disrupting our energy to begin with. Hopefully you don’t live with someone who is a news junkie. Check in occasionally to stay informed (provided, of course, your source is non-biased and well-balanced, and no, I won’t go there), but anything more than an hour or so is probably too much.
  • Get outside: There is something grounding about being in Nature. Sure, we need to be mindful of where we go and physical distancing, but a walk in the woods or a park has a calming effect. Green trees, bird song, whispering leaves, maybe a laughing brook, flowers. Pay attention to it all. It’s like mindful breathing: it gives you something to focus on instead of the mental clutter encouraged by all the news lately. The weather this time of year is great (if you discount temps above 90 F and humidity above 80%). The southern hemisphere is heading into winter, but hopefully your weather isn’t like MN’s winter 🙂
  • Exercise: Walks or runs help work off anxious energy. Yoga and other activities like tai chi are both a physical workout and a meditation. Anything to bleed off that unsettled energy helps.
  • Write longhand: Writing longhand is a great way to pull a writing brain out of the mire. Even if it’s just journaling or stream-of-consciousness writing, it lures creative energy out, giving it a ball or a piece of chalk and a bare sidewalk to play with. Double bonus: Do writing-focused activities, like deep-dive character bios or setting histories in longhand. Try it. It works 🙂
  • Listen to music: Not head-banging, death-metal stuff (unless that’s your thing), but instrumental music. Or music with words, but the key there is to listen and not pay attention to the words. I listen to what we used to call “New Age” (maybe we still do call it New Age) and a lot of instrumental covers of popular music (The Piano Guys or David Garrett, for instance). And there’s always nature tracks, like waterfalls, rain, or bubbling brooks. Thunderstorms and ocean waves are my go-tos.
  • Get creative in other ways: Something that isn’t writing but is still creative helps to exercise that creative energy without weaving it into the structure writing can require. I know writers who are doing more quilting these days. I’ve been doing some crocheting (easy stuff like scarves and afghans). Playing music is another way to work the creative energy and settle your mind. I sat down at the piano again after ten years of not playing. It felt good.
  • Meditate: There are a lot of apps that help you learn to meditate, one of which offers a free subscription to health care and other front line workers (Headspace, I think), and another that offers a free membership for a year because of COVID-19 (Balance. Don’t know if they are still offering the free year). One of my writing sisters discovered a series of meditations for writers here. She ‘s been having a lot of success with them as she works on her WIP.
  • Get out in the garden: You knew this would be on my list, right? This ties back in with getting outside. Of course, there are annoying things like mosquitoes and weeds to contend with. Maybe it’s that physical connection to the earth that helps to ground us, because that’s really what it’s like. Nature can help us a lot if we pay attention.
  • Read: I’ve been reading a little more lately, and listening to audiobooks when I run. Full disclosure: Jim Butcher’s next Dresden book (after a six-year absence) is coming out soon, so I indulged in reading some of Harry’s earlier adventures. My favorite wizard! Reading to escape is different than reading to learn, but that’s the point, to escape. Reading to learn is also important to help us understand different perspectives and move forward in our craft and in our society.

Now that things are opening up, people who have been chomping at the bit because they’ve been cooped up are getting some respite, but I think a lot of writers have been pretty okay with the whole isolation thing. Yet even if you are an introvert, there is something to be said about being with other people, especially if you want to help in the midst of the chaos of the world.

Volunteering (taking proper safety precautions, of course) is a way to be around people and do something good for others and know you’ve been able to make a difference. This in turn helps you feel better and more settled, even if it’s nothing more than helping your elderly or sickly next door neighbor get their groceries for the week, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment.

My first round of revisions is coming along. I have one assignment left for my class, but I noticed a writer’s meditation that may help me with that. It’s on my to-do for today. It seems my other stories are starting to stir more, so once round one is finished for Book 2, I’ll give another story some attention for a bit while I let Book 2 rest.

Hope you all are doing well, staying healthy, and writing!

PS: I didn’t make it to the final round for the RONE award, but THANK YOU to everyone who voted!


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Of Muses, plans, and panda-mics #amwriting #amrevising

First, more shameless self-promotion (because someone has to do it 🙂 )

There’s still time to vote!

And super-duper-with-fireworks-and-dancing-Snoopys THANK YOU shout-out to all who voted! You ROCK!!

dancing Snoopy

“Really, love?” My Muse settles into the visitor’s chair across the desk from me. Wait, when did I get a visitor’s chair? “You spent how long putting those images together?” He leans forward and rests a forearm on the desk. “You should have been working on revisions.”

Sigh. I slump in my chair. “I know. I hate the marketing stuff, because I know nothing about marketing.” All the “market your book” articles and posts sound logical, until it comes time to actually put it into practice.

“You’re a writer. You try to make people believe your stories are real. How is marketing different? You’re trying to make people want to read your stories.”

I stare at him. Today he’s sporting a black long-sleeved concert T-shirt for Crowded House, sleeves shoved halfway up his forearms. Black’s not really his color, but he sure fills out the shirt nicely. “There is a difference. One is storytelling, the other is persuasion. I’ve never been good at persuasive writing.”

“It’s like any other writing. You try to connect with the reader.”

“Sure. Easier said than done.”

“Maybe it’s your attitude, love.” He trains his striking blue gaze on me. “Your goal is to convince people to buy your book and spread the word.”

“You heard about this pandemic thing, right? All my panels have been cancelled. Heck, I’m not even sure my Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour appearance is going to happen. It works so much better when I can actually talk to someone face-to-face.”

He narrows his eyes. “You are good at that, once you get comfortable.” He straightens in his chair. “Well, since you aren’t spending time running off to panels and such, you have that much more time to write.”

“I’m trying.” I’m actually progressing on my homework. I need to submit up to 4,000 words that demonstrate my ability to use friends, foes, and foils. You know, sidekicks, antagonists, and characters that reflect or contrast the MC.

He raises a brow. “You have an empty nest this weekend.”

“Yeah. And I want to turn in my homework by Monday. Then there’s the garden.” After years of trying to downsize, it seems this year will be a bit of regression. Makes sense to have a bigger garden, all things considered. And the weather has been glorious the past few days. I need to enjoy it before the door opens on Summer. Weather guys say we’re getting hit with temps in the mid- to upper-80s next week. Ugh. Too hot for May.

“I’ll be here, love. And remember, just because you are outside doesn’t mean you don’t stop writing.” He taps his temple. “In here.”

Trust me, there are days I can’t shut it down. And days I can’t get it fired up. I’m progressing, though.

How is everyone doing? Remembering what day it is? Staying active? Yeah, me too. Thought I’d toss a little humor into things. Did you catch the “panda-mic” in my post title? Well, here ya go:

Heh. Get it? Actually, the panda is how I’ve been feeling lately as things keep going on.

Anyway, I have homework to do and a Dresden novel to read before the new one comes out. Re-reading Skin Game. If you don’t know Harry Dresden, you’re missing out 😀

Have a great weekend!