Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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.

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Siberian squill

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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.

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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:

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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).

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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 😀 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 🙂 ) 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:

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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. 😀

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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Is it here to stay?

Spring? Are you gonna stay this time? It’s been two weeks since the (in)famous April blizzard of 2018, and get this–no snow in the forecast. Well, okay, no snow where I’m at. They did have snow on the North Shore yesterday. That’s way up north by Duluth and Two Harbors, on the north shore of Lake Superior (get it? North Shore 😀 )

I would add a picture of some spring plants, but there aren’t any yet, at least not here. I don’t have any tulips or daffodils or crocus, but we do have dandelions. They’re not up yet either, but if it stays warm, I’m sure we’ll see them soon. Heck, the trees are juuusst starting to leaf out. Barely.

So, in place of real spring flowers, I’ll regale you with pictures of my very own jungle, er, jungle-ish. Well, okay, not jungle. But they’re green. And plants.

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Peppers and tomatoes (and one lonely onion)

The peppers seem to grow more slowly than the tomatoes, so I haven’t transplanted them yet, but that’s on my agenda for this weekend during my breaks from editing.

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Onions!

The onions look like they are almost ready to go into the garden. It’ll be a few more weeks, yet, though. The soil is still cold; even though onions can probably tolerate the cool soil, they won’t grow until things warm up, so there’s no point in making them suffer. They enjoy the climate control in the house!

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Kale! Tomatoes! Oh my!

My kale is looking super! And the tomatoes are itching to get some space, as usual by about this time of year. The biggest ones are about 6-8 inches tall. I can only raise my light so far, then I’ll have to rearrange things so the tomatoes can go on a lower shelf while still getting light.

And I’ve got to start my Brussels sprouts. I’m going to put them in the garden a little later, so hopefully the sprouts will be nice by the time we start getting light frosts in the fall.

I’m getting a slow start on my edits. I’m adjusting the story a touch, not too much, but it should make my main character stronger. I use Scrivener, but when I submitted to my editor, of course I saved my work as a Word document.

Word has a nice Track Changes feature that my editor used to add inline notes to my manuscript. Which is fine. Except when I send my revisions back, she wants her original file with her notes, the file with her notes and my revisions, and a clean file. Notice the lack of Scrivener in this process.

Ugh. Hmm. So I do my edits in Word, duplicate them in Scrivener so I can compile a clean copy, and before I send them back, I need to let them sit for a bit, then go though them again.

And as with any edits, some are those head-slapping ‘duh’ things. You know, like those pesky adverbs that slip through, or the day’s ‘favorite’ word.

Then there are those things that make you think before deciding how to revise them. That’s the time-consuming part. And the part that can demand a delicate balance when negotiating edits.

Uff-da.

This month feels like I’ve had a serious lack of time to get stuff done. It must’ve been the blizzard… Yep, I’ll blame the blizzard.

And one more pic, just because:

zoey1

I think she’s offering to help me with my edits. Or she just wants her lap back…

Have a great weekend, and may Spring set up shop in your area. Write on!


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WI 2018 — Remember the Joy

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Laurie Scheer’s Welcome

Aaaand, they’re off! It’s Laurie Scheer at the podium, welcoming writers to the 29th annual Writers’ Institute. Writers of many ages, many genres, from many different locations gather for a full weekend of things writing related.

Pssst. Hey, Laurie, what’s up with the lousy weather this year?

There were presentations on Thursday afternoon, but I waited until the official welcome on Friday to start my Writers’ Institute experience this year.

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Ann Voss Peterson

Our keynote speaker this year was a UW-Madison alum, Ann Voss Peterson, who brought along her Wonder Woman action figure. She’s written 49 novels and novellas, and is a writing partner of J. A. Konrath. She spoke on “A Writer’s Life”, and gave us a short list of tasks for every writer that I’m going to have to post somewhere.

She listed four characteristics of successful writers:

Openness to learning — keep learning the craft though classes, conferences, and reading books.

Willingness to work — don’t see it as “work”, see it as writing “practice”. Even professional athletes practice to be really good.

Willingness to take risks — yes, show your writing to other people, send out those queries, enter that contest.

Perseverence — yep. This was Hank Phillippi Ryan’s point in her keynote speech a couple years ago. Gotta keep moving forward.

She went on to remind us to define our vision of a successful writer’s life (p.s.: the most important thing in this vision should be to WRITE), that we should set goals that you can control, to connect with the writing community, and remember why you wanted to write in the first place.

Once you remember why you wanted to write in the first place, figure out how to make it concrete so you can remember the joy of writing. Her Wonder Woman reminds her of playing with action figures as a kid, and making up stories. When she needs to remember, she can take a few minutes to play with her action figures and reconnect with that joy.

We–my Writing Sister and I–did the “10 Clues to Writing Mysteries” presentation, which went well considering it was my first one. There were so many good presentations running at the same time that our room was pretty empty.

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The Writing Sisters panel

Our Writing Sisters panel also played to a sparse audience, but again, there were a number of great presentations going on at the same time. By giving other writers a peek into how our group works, we gave them ideas on building their own writing group, even if it’s only a writing partner to start.

Now, don’t tell my Muse, but I went to a presentation about growing your creativity, which included introducing a few new muses for writers. Aha-phrodite gives us the act of paying attention. Albert (Einstein) leads us to think and ask questions; he likes lists and putting 2 unlike things together to see what happens. The Spirit of Play helps us make our creative process more fun. And Audacity … Okay, I missed the notes on that one. Anyway, it was an interesting presentation. My takeaway: take time to pause and be grounded/centered.

Tomorrow is when the weather really starts moving in. Rain, wind, cold, and eventually freezing rain and snow. Sunday is supposed to be a snowstorm in both Wisconsin and Minnesota (MN’s starts tomorrow, with predicted snow from 6 to 10 inches), so I’m going to shelter in place until Monday.

It’ll give me some time to actually get some writing done. Or at least write down the plotlines my Writing Sisters helped me work out for Book 2. These past days with my Sisters have been fabulous, with all of us together again.

This weekend charges my writing energy battery. Now to ride that energy, and hopefully sustain it.

A hearty thanks to Laurie Scheer and her tireless second-in-command, Laura Kahl. Next year is number 30, and I think Laurie has me on her list, so I’ll be back again.

Remember the joy of writing, the excitement and wonder. Oh, and stay safe if you’re in the path of Old Man Winter, who needs to go back home and let Spring have the floor.


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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 😀

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 😀 ), 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.

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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).

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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.

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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). 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!


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Musing Mysteries, Part 6

One more month before I get to see my Writing Sisters! One of my sisters just published her book with Createspace. I ordered mine, and can’t wait to read it. It’s gone through a few(!) revisions since I last read it.

The back door of my writing office opens. My Muse toes off his shoes, which are caked in about an inch of gooey mud.

“Hey, leave those things outside. Why didn’t you scrape them before you came in? Wait, where the hell did you find that much mud?”

He picks up his shoes, opens the door again, and drops them outside. “It’s almost official spring, love. Things are mucky until the frost goes out, which you well know.”

Tell me about it. You can hear the squishing and slurping as you walk across the soggy, pre-grass-revival ground. “Okay, but there’s supposed to be grass out there.”

“Sure, out there between the door and the lake.” He brushes a few spitballs of mud off his jeans. You know, the ones that always show up when you stomp through mud puddles. “The path into the woods, not so much.”

“Why were you in the woods? You know, Mae got over ten thousand words written after Mr. E got home from your pub crawl last week. Where’s my inspiration?”

He shoots me a glare. “Mae’s working on the second book in her new series, and she’s a pantser. You, love–” he stabs a finger at me–“are not. Have you gotten through that outline yet?”

Sigh. “No. I’m getting there, though.” I turn to the wall-sized white board and add the next entry from my list of subjects for my presentation (shameless plug: check out the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute). “Hey, this one is about research and writing what you know. I posted about this last year, so we can skip to the next one.”

My Muse takes a marker from the little shelf on the white board and adds to the list. “Cliffhangers.” He turns to me and frowns. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Though not in the sense of actually falling from a cliff.” I do remember watching the PBS series “Between the Lions” when the kids were little. They always had a short about Cliff Hanger. “More like an end-of-chapter hook to entice the reader to keep going.”

“I hope not at the end of every chapter, because that would get a little tiresome, don’t you think?”

“Well, no, not every chapter.” But a good portion of them. I’ve read many books that have multiple viewpoints. One chapter will stop just as something is about to happen to the viewpoint character. Then the next chapter is the viewpoint of a totally different character somewhere else. So I read through that chapter to get back to the other character.

It’s a very effective way to pull the reader through the story. Pretty soon you’re halfway through the book. The first book I read where I really stopped and thought about the story as a writer and what the author did to compel me to keep going was “Wizard’s First Rule“, by Terry Goodkind. I noticed every chapter led to the next one with some question in the reader’s mind about what would happen next. Not always big “will he skid off that hairpin curve” or “don’t answer the door” questions, but more “who left that note” or “who’s that woman” questions.

It’s those less dramatic questions, I think, that lure the reader forward best, because if you have a big “can he hold on much longer” question, where do you go? Either he loses his grip and falls, or someone shows up to help him. Then what? You can only ramp up the danger so much. Think of modern action films, especially super hero films, where huge sentient robots destroy big cities, or mutant humans tear up bridges and sports stadiums. Even daredevil car-racing thieves barely stop for coffee and donuts. Non-stop, computer-generated action. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a non-cerebral movie.

But it gets old fast. Whatever happened to the story? “Mysteries are kind of easy.”

“Easy?” My Muse snorts. “Yeah, that’s why you’re done with your outline and are halfway through your redraft.”

“No, I mean easy to have end-of-chapter questions. Thrillers and suspense, too.” Not that there aren’t end-of-chapter questions in any other genre–there are. I think that’s part of what makes a reader want to keep reading no matter the story. “Mysteries are puzzles, so the reader keeps going to find out whodunit. Thrillers are chases, so the reader wants to know if the hero can catch the bad guy before the bad guy gets him or kills the girl or whatever. Suspense is built on rising tension, so there’s always that anticipation of something bad happening before the main character figures things out.”

I turn to the other big white board in my office, the one with multi-colored stains and remnants of unidentified globs. “It’s the same thing we do when brainstorming. The whole ‘what happens if’ or ‘what will happen when’ approach. That’s how I figured out what was wrong with my story before.” Yeah, no thanks to my Muse.

“Hey, I heard that. And I helped. Why do you think you finally asked ‘what if’?” He jabs his finger into his chest. “That’s my job, love.” He points to my desk. “Now, butt in chair. Let’s finish this outline so you can start drafting. Again.”

Yeah. Again. I’m going to have to start from scratch. *shrug* Oh well. Better to start over and get the story most of the way there instead of finishing it, editing it, then figuring out I have to start over anyway.

Looking forward to a warm (50F) sunny day today–woo-hoo! I started my seeds a few weeks ago, so maybe next week I’ll post some pics. I soooo can’t wait for spring!

Happy Writing!