Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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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YAGU (Yet Another Garden Update) #mngarden

Unicorn variety cherry tomatoes

It’s rolling into that time of the season, where everything seems ready to pick all at the same time, except for those things I really want to pick, like the tomatoes (c’mon, hurry up and get ripe!)

Two weeks ago things were buzzing–literally. The borage was three feet tall, I swear! And bees! Finally! Took them long enough to show up. This week the borage has died back. Yep, didn’t take long, but I think the rain we had last weekend helped it along. Borage has hollow stems, or at least they seem hollow, so after it makes its seeds, it has a tendency to rot at the base, especially when there’s rain to help it along. I ended up pulling out almost all the formerly-bushy plants when I got back from WI because they had collapsed on top of the onions.

There’s still a little still standing, though, and the bees appreciate it.

Bee on borage flower–those little buggers are hard to catch on “film”

The green beans are ready to harvest, but not quite enough at one sitting to cook up for a meal. The cilantro is flowering, but I did plant more, so that’s starting to come up.

The onions are starting to fall over, which is typically the indication they are done growing. The peppers are doing super, with jalapenos (and of course, enough to feed a village and the next village over) and a sweet pepper called “Chablis” that starts out pale and ripens to orange, then red. There aren’t any ripening yet, though.

My poor cucumber. Sigh. It’s struggling, and being innundated with striped cucumber beetles doesn’t help. Then again, I didn’t know cucumber beetles were so fond of green beans, either. I mean, they’re cucumber beetles, but when I checked the beans the other day, there were clouds of them. So I got out my trusty organic pyrethin-based bug spray (which has been sitting around for years cuz I haven’t felt the need to use it for a while), mixed some up, and let loose on those little buggers. Seems to have helped a bit, I think.

And pumpkins! You know how they kinda take over? Yeah, well, they have:

Pumpkin vines

This is fully one quarter of the garden, and they are draped over the fence and sprawling that direction. So, how many pumpkins does that much greenery get you? Not sure. Remember, these are the ones my sis-in-law asked me to plant for her. They are the Jack o’Lantern variety, so bigger than the pie pumpkins I planted last year, and thus there are fewer actual pumpkins (I think. I haven’t found very many at this point.).

I see you there, pumpkin

My marigolds are just starting to bloom. At least one of them is. I’m not a fan of the smell, but I have the seeds, and it’s nice to see a little color.

Marigold

At this point, I don’t bother to weed much, except to pull some stuff to toss to the chickens, who seem to appreciate it. They better, because I don’t think I’ll have enough cucumbers to give any of them to the chickens.

In other news, our reunion was great! It was so nice to see everyone in person again. Even though we had to Zoom one of our Sisters in because she was going through her last radiation treatment (breast cancer), the gang was back together! Next year is our tenth anniversary, so we’re hoping we can all gather in person for that one. It’ll be a blast!

My first week at my new job went, um, … Let’s just say it was interesting. Two companies merged last year to become the one company I work for, so they are still getting the computer systems and networks to talk to each other without choking on things. On the one hand, the IT dept is great! I’m getting really good at submitting tickets :). The people are great, including my manager and my team. I spent the week doing training (two days of learning the fundamentals of payroll … sheesh.), and I’ll spend this upcoming week doing more training.

On Monday I’ve got my first in-person book thing since the early spring of 2020, so I’m crossing my fingers that will be good. Never know these days, especially with the way things are going. I have another in-person event the beginning of Oct, so we’ll see if that sticks or if they switch it to virtual like they did last year.

Have a great writing week!

Nyx and Tibbers chillin’


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Hodgepodge #mnsummer #amrevising

wall of colored spatters

This week has been interesting. A little bit of everything going on, from a much-needed couple inches of rain to a farewell to colleagues to smoke. Lots and lots of smoke.

As is the entire western half of the continental US, Minnesota is in a drought, though ours is moderate to severe rather than the West’s extreme. My sister-in-law lives on a lake, and she said the lake is down a good six inches, which makes getting her pontoon to the dock trickier than usual. She likes to take it to the middle of the lake, where she swims every day she can.

We got a couple inches of rain earlier this week, which made my garden rejoice! And the weeds, but we won’t acknowledge them, because they are rude. I mean, growing where they aren’t supposed to, like in the garden, is rude, right?

My youngest turned 21 this week. Wow. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. It never does, does it? She’s still not sure about the whole adulting thing, so at this point she’s docked at the safe harbor of her childhood home. However, the impending start of rent payments (yes, we will start charging her rent) and the 24/7 presence of Mom and Dad might encourage her to try out adulting again soon, this time away from college. As much as I love having her around, I do miss my empty nest, and all the space that is now occupied by my daughter’s possessions brought back from her apartment.

This week I also bid my colleagues adieu. Of course, I worked furiously to make sure some things were finished before I left, considering I’ve been training my two replacements for the past month or so. Yes, two replacements, new hires to boot (both in the subcontinent on the other side of the world), to do my one job. Part of that is because some of the software I wrote documentation for has been moved to a different department. When I told my brothers I was training my replacements, one of them railed against the idea. I get it. I said the same thing when I would hear about people in the same situation.

Of course, I didn’t know about the bonus that comes with the promise of sticking around to train replacements until it happened to me. Maybe I’m too nice, anyway. I made sure they had all the files and the info they need to try to do my job. Yep, must be that. I’m too nice. Well, it is a decent bonus …

When I headed to the office to turn in my computer (after working from home for the past year and a half), a thick white haze hung over everything. It was like fog, but it didn’t smell like fog. It smelled like forest fires. Smoke from the wildfires in Canada has settled over the state, triggering air quality warnings that were supposed to end yesterday, but are now extended through Tuesday, when the winds shift from the north to the south, blowing all that smoke back to Canada. Ugh. It’s bizarre, to see the hazy smoke and smell it everywhere you go. Needless to say, I haven’t run in the past week or so, first because of the hellish humidity and heat, and second because no one needs to run in air filled with smoke. I feel sorry for all those firefighters who have to breathe in that stuff all the time while fighting those fires.

And on the near horizon, my reunion retreat with my Writing Sisters! Woo-hoo! I can’t wait! Next week I’ll be posting from Wisconsin beside the Crystal River. The delta variant will put a shadow over everything, but we are all fully vaccinated, and we all take precautions. It’ll be a welcome four days of creative energy and focus on writing.

So, a week off, then I start my new job the day after I return from my retreat. I wanted to take that whole week off and not start a new job until the following week, because I always have so much creative energy available after the retreat, but my new job wanted me to start then. Who am I to argue, since it’s the job I really wanted.

As for book 2, I’m on another revision run. After the reunion, I’ll expect I’ll do some additional revision, then I think it’s time to call in some beta readers. After that and revisions based on their feedback, I’ll send my baby off to my agent.

You know that whole thing about the fear of the second book not being as good as the first? Yep, I’m in the thick of that incredible uncertainty. But I have to jump off the high dive at some point. It’s just scary. Very scary.

Stay safe! Stay cool! Write on!


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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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How does my garden grow? July 2021 edition #amgardening #mngarden

It’s about time for a garden update, as promised. So far, so good, though some things are a little behind because I had to replant them multiple times (I’m looking at you, cucumber!)

The tomatoes are looking good, and so far no signs of blight. I planted two resistant varieties, so we’ll see how they do. To hedge my bets, I planted a Brandywine in a big pot up by the house. Brandywine is an heirloom beefsteak-size tomato with incredible flavor. I haven’t planted them for years because those beefsteak tomatoes seem to split a lot, then those spotted black bugs move in and the tomatoes end up going to the chickens (who don’t complain about the bugs).

Experimenting with labels 🙂

The peppers are coming along, and the kale is looking good. The onions look really good, and the beets are beautiful. However, I’ve cursed at the beans. Generally, green beans are one of the easiest veggies to grow, and they germinate fast. There have been years I’ve had to replant them because we had so much rain the seeds never came up (I suspect they rotted). This year I had to replant them 4 times! The 4th time I finally planted them in a different spot. About two-thirds of them came up. Sigh.

One lonely cuke

I was all excited to plant more of the variety I grew last year, the one with the thin skin that wasn’t bitter. Diva. Last year the seed pack said it had a low germination rate, so plant extra. I did, they came up, and were delicious. This year I got fresh seeds, and planted the leftovers from last year plus some fresh ones. I waited. And waited. And after a week, I replanted. And another week. And replanted. In the photo you can see the stakes that marked the spots where I planted the hills. And another week. So then I planted in different spots along the pig panel. One cuke plant surfaced. And because I had to replant so many times (I’ve never had to replant cukes more than once), it’s a little behind. Ugh.

Onions with volunteer dill and borage. Pumpkins on the right, lamb’s quarters at the bottom (weeds, but tasty weeds 🙂 )

My mom always said you only need to plant dill once. It’s the plant that keeps on coming. Granted, I did plant dill last year because I made pickles, so there are a lot of dill volunteers coming up. Cilantro is the same way. And borage. I thought about planting borage this year; the bees love it. The local greenhouse didn’t have any seed and I had seen a few volunteer seedlings, so I figured I’d go with that.

Those plants are easily 2ft tall now, and bushy. Lots of pretty purple flowers, but the number of bees has been depressingly low in recent years. No thanks to the vast farm fields around us and whatever the heck they put on the fields.

Borage blue flowers

The pumpkins my sister-in-law asked me to grow for her are doing the usual pumpkin thing of taking over their corner of the garden. As long as they don’t encroach on the onions, I’m good with them.

I didn’t get any brussels sprouts plants this year; the greenhouse was out when I picked up the kale and Brandywine (that was the only tomato I didn’t start in the house this year). I did plant kohlrabi again, hoping again they lure the cabbage butterflies away from the kale. The jury’s still out on that.

I also planted marigolds again this year (since the seeds are so small, I have a LOT of seeds), but they aren’t anywhere close to blooming yet.

The potatoes and corn in hubs’ garden are doing well, but the weeds are also jockeying for position. He’s weeded once, I think. Oh well.

And that’s the garden saga so far.

In other news, three weeks until our Writing Sisters Reunion! In person this year! Woo-hoo! I miss seeing those gals in person. We chat via Zoom every other week, but it’s been what, almost two years since we were close enough to hug.

The job hunt is ongoing. I’ve had a lot of interviews over the past couple weeks, and multiple interviews with a few companies. No offers yet, but I’m still hoping a particular few come through.

On the writing front, I’m taking a break from Book 2 to focus on writing a short story. It’s not going as well as I’d hoped, but I keep thinking about it on my walks. I’ve been binge-reading a series for the third time because, well, I can’t help it. I think it’s the characters. If you are curious (@Marcia Meara, I blame you!), it’s the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. I’m planning to reread the Harry Dresden series at some point as well, but I have my writing teacher’s new book to consume, and Writing Sisters’ pages to read and critique.

Hope your summer is going well. Stay cool, those out on the West Coast. Stay dry, those on the East Coast.

Stay cool and Write on!

A special appearance by Tibbers