Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Get ready … get set … Re-draft!

I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to challenge myself to a self-imposed NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days) this month (yes, I know the “official” NaNo month is November, but I need to get my butt in gear NOW). I’ve learned the best way for me to get a draft done (at least at this point in my writing journey) is to do a NaNo. I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet for daily word counts and everything!

I’ve been procrastinating long enough. Technically, this WIP isn’t even a new project; I wrote it the first time during another self-imposed NaNo this past March. So, even though technically this isn’t a first draft, I’ve made enough changes to the plot that I may as well start over.

That’s another thing I’ve learned: the process of drafting–writing with a muzzle on my internal editor–helps me work out the plot. Or work out the kinks in the plot. Or see what’s wrong with the plot. All of the above.

So, I’ve brainstormed changes to the plot, and of course I won’t know if those will work until I actually start drafting. Or is it re-drafting? For my past few projects, I’ve ended up writing two “first drafts”: one that helps me see what works and what doesn’t in the original plot, and one that takes those discoveries and uses them to build from scratch again.

It’d be like drawing out plans for a shed or tiny house you want to use as a writing space, like a detached writing office. You dream up the perfect size, imagine it in the perfect location, then get out the ol’ ruler and graph paper to draw it out. Maybe even use cutouts of a desk, chair, shelves, dog bed, cat pillow, whatever. You figure out how much wood you’ll need, pick out paint and siding and even a cool window or two.

Let’s assume you’re handy enough to give it a good go. So you start framing your spiffy new writer cave according to your hand-drawn plan. The floor is the easy part–it’s a rectangle. Can’t get much simpler than that.

Okay. You’ve got your base floor done, so now for the walls. Once you’ve got the framing finished, you can see the skeleton of your project. With the walls up, you can start to see how it’ll look.

Now finish the walls, put on the roof (not shingles yet), and cut holes in the walls for the windows. You’ve got plywood on the outside, sheathing on the roof, and places to put windows.

Wait. That’s one’s not quite in the right spot. Hmm. Don’t forget to measure how far over you moved the door. And make sure to check the angle of the roof–you don’t want it to leak.

Er. Yeah. Hmm. Looks kinda wonky. That wall’s not quite square. And oops, the roof angle is wrong. All wrong. You’ll have to pull that off and redo it. And that window’s in the wrong spot–you’ll have to take that wall down and redo it. Oh, but that means the desk won’t be able to go where you wanted, you’ll have to shift it over. Wait, then the built-in shelves will have to be shorter. Oh, and a skylight. That’d be awesome.

Ugh. So you go back to your plans, erase and redraw to take into account what you’ve learned the first round. Then, you disassemble everything except the floor. Wait, gotta do that too–it needs to be six inches wider.

And so you start over. Re-draft. Except now when you get to the point where all the walls are up, the roof is sheathed, and the windows are cut, it looks much better. Oh, and don’t forget the skylight. Wait, maybe not a skylight.

Once it’s “drafted”, you can refine it, paint it, add shingles, a nice door, lights, etc. Eventually, you’ll have a nice little writing cave.

Kinda like the writing process. First plan, then draft. Then maybe you can work with the draft, but maybe it makes more sense to start over. Or take it down to the floor and try again, because you figured out what doesn’t work.

It’s a process, and each time I use it, I learn a little more about what works for me. Each time I try something a little bit different to see if it makes the process more effective.

Anyway. Enjoy the last hurrah of summer vacation this weekend. I’ll be writing. Will you?

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The Freedom of Free-writing

Often when a writer is stuck–blocked–we hear the suggestion to “just start writing, it doesn’t matter what, just write.” In my experience, there’s something to that. For me, the very act of putting pencil to paper (as opposed to fingers to keyboard, which works, but not as well) seems to kickstart my stalled creative energies.

“…the backup seminar director–former classmate that gave Sierra a hard time? … no, friend. So, would he know about the FBO? What would he know? maybe he’d be able to give some insight.

Remember, keep conflict w/ Chief. Have to show he’s a dick, and make sure wife (PD clerk) behavior changes when he’s in the room. Need to have some PD harassment when Sierra alone. What would Quinn do while Sierra is at airport?

Sierra and Quinn to PD. Is teacher’s daughter in waiting area? or waiting area empty so they can talk to PD clerk, see her behavior b4 Chief enters waiting area, escorts teacher and daughter into waiting area. Conflict between Chief and Sierra

…AgCat? Pawnee? Cessna 188?…turbine–which? JT8D? naw, probably PT6. What other plane would FBO have? 182? Seminole? Cherokee? 310? probably single engine–turbine? Or maybe Cessna 210? don’t do lessons, so wouldn’t need to keep it down to 172 or 182… What about …”

Pretty disjointed, right? Every writer has a way to brainstorm, but whether they write the ideas down or just talk them through, the storm is messy. Necessarily so–if it wasn’t messy, we’d probably call it something like “stream of consciousness” or “conversations with one’s self.”

Free-writing allows you to just write through your ideas without any constraints. I find as I free-write I’ll make notes I go back to later on, like the note about changing a character name, or the other note about checking on BCA offices in northern MN. It’s the lack of structure, I think, that encourages idea-generation. I don’t have to worry about complete sentences or even spelling (except I still have to read it 🙂 ). It’s like throwing ideas against the brainstorming wall, but without the goopy mess.

I’ve been working on an outline for my next book. Any good story has conflict, suspense, chase scenes–wait–no, that’s TV shows from the 80s. I end up writing a sentence or three about each scene conflict, then bridge them–sort of. My process has evolved from typing the mind dumps into the computer (at least in the beginning) to using pencil and paper, because I’ve discovered the act of writing helps me work through the story. Once I have a pretty good idea about the outline, I’ll enter it into the worksheets I’ve got in the computer (I use Karen Wiesner’s worksheets from her book First Draft in 30 Days).

Of course, everything is fluid. An outline for me isn’t set in stone; it’s more a series of guideposts through the story. The more I free-write through the major scenes, the more I refine them. For instance, the victim in the book is the son-in-law of a favorite teacher, but the teacher must be a suspect. So, there has to be a reason he’s a suspect. At first, I had one idea, but it seemed a little weak. As I wrote, I added another reason. Better, but still not quite there. Ooo, I’ve got it. The idea I finally hit on makes the conflict more personal, and raises suspicion to the point where when he is taken into custody, it makes more sense.

Each writer works through planning (or pantsing) differently. The more you write and the more you learn about the process and practice of writing, the more fine-tuned your process will become. It’s like gardening every year. What works one year may work the next year, but maybe not. Then you try something new, and it either works well, sort of works, or bombs. You adjust for the next year. Each year you get better, because your process evolves.

If something works for you, by all means, keep it going. But don’t hesitate to try something new for a project. You might discover it works really well, or at least well enough to give you options when one method isn’t working for that particular project.

Do you free-write when you brainstorm a project? What works for you?

Have a great writing weekend!


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Anatomy of a Mystery

Sounds like I know what I’m doing, doesn’t it?

Ha! Fooled you!

The idea for this post came as I drove to work this morning pondering again how to strengthen my revised outline for my next WIP. Right now, I’m writing mystery (as opposed to fantasy, my other main genre). In general, and specifically for mysteries, I’ve received guidance from my wonderful writing sisters.

You gals have no idea how much I appreciate your help!

There are a few things I’ve learned about writing, and writing mysteries in particular:

  • Deadlines. There should be some time limit the protagonists are up against, whether it’s a bodily threat or some other threat. It could be anything from the killer striking again to Uncle Buck getting full possession of the estate or the wedding that can’t be rescheduled.
  • Dead bodies. My very first draft of the WIP I’m now working on had no dead bodies. There were threats, and a deadline, but no dead guys/gals. Yeah–no. It’s like a prerequisite. If there’s no dead bodies, it’s less a full-out adult-level mystery and more Encyclopedia Brown or the Three Investigators. Enjoyed those stories, but I don’t write MG or YA, where dead bodies are discouraged (real life is violent enough). Even cozy mysteries have dead bodies.
  • Chapter Hooks. Remember that book you started and couldn’t put down? The one where you had to read just one more chapter? Then just one more? Then there’s only a couple chapters left. Then your alarm clock goes off and you realize you stayed up all night reading. I remember the first book where I really noticed that: Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but I had to keep reading because at the end of (just about) every chapter there was a question I needed to find the answer to. So, especially with a mystery, the more chapters you can end with a question that lures the reader to keep going, the better.
  • Stakes. In the very first draft of the manuscript I recently completed, the plot involved the main character’s BFF from high school. My writing sisters straightened me out. “Best Friend” isn’t close enough to the main character. Family is better. The main character should be tied to the mystery through a family relation of some sort (at least in the first book of many, if there is more than one). Why? Because the main character has a greater stake in the outcome if it involves family. So, I adjusted. The main character is now tied to the mystery via her brother. This also allowed me to add the additional threat of putting suspicion on the main character, which also jacks up the stakes. The deeper the crime/mystery affects the main character (higher stakes) the more tension you can create, and the more the reader cares if the main character succeeds.
  • Twists. Wow, didn’t see that coming, did you? This kinda goes without saying. Red herrings, false accusations, and soft alibis all contribute to misdirection. In my opinion, Agatha Christie was a master at this. I could never figure out who did it until the culprit was revealed at the end, then I would trace back to find the little clues she dropped along the way. And it always seemed like the innocuous detail was the clincher. This isn’t limited to mysteries, either. I’m sure there are romances out there where the “other woman (or man)” is someone the protagonist least expects. Or fantasies where one of the biggest allies turns out to be a major enemy (LOTR: Saruman, anyone?)

As I work on re-re-re-revising my WIP outline, I’m trying to keep all these things in mind so I can (hopefully) avoid yet another major plot revision.

Dead body? Yep. Died about 70 years ago, ruled accidental, but was it?

Deadline? Yep. My MC has a window in which to solve the mystery, and if she blows the deadline, she loses, like, a six-figure inheritance and a nice chunk of farmland with a house and everything.

Chapter hooks? That’ll come when I redo the draft. Again. Sigh.

Stakes? I’m trying to raise them as much as possible. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on them. It’s another instance of family being central to the mystery.

Twists? Ooo, I’ve got a lot of opportunities for misdirection. The trick will be to keep the misdirection believable without giving away too much too early.

And there you have it. And just because you aren’t writing mysteries doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. All of these (except the dead body) can be applied to almost any genre. You’ll also notice I left out conflict. That goes without saying. All stories need some sort of conflict, and if you’re a writer, you know that.

I’m almost done with my outline, and I’m aiming to start re-drafting this weekend. Besides, with the arctic cold and the snowstorm tomorrow, it’ll be perfect weather to stay inside and write. How about you?

 


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The Days After

Hope you all (in the US) enjoyed your Thanksgiving occasion without too much politicking, eating of yummy stuff, and shopping.

Ugh. Shopping. I’m an armchair shopper; you couldn’t pay me enough to battle the masses for in-store deals.

Well, okay, if I was getting a free shopping spree or something I’d manage.

I’ve got both Thanksgiving Day and the infamous “Black Friday” off of work as paid holidays (Yay!!) My son is home from college, my daughter has no school, and I didn’t have to cook for Turkey Day. I had two things that I wanted to take BF pricing advantage of.

There. Shopping done–for now. The kids haven’t gotten their lists together yet. I’ve got an extended weekend to catch up on stuff. I should clean… Um, I’m sure I have a reason to procrastinate on that.

Just before Turkey Day I sent my revised WIP to the agent who requested the revise and resubmit.

Hurry up and wait. And pray. And cross my fingers.

Now what? Dig into another book that needs revision? Which one? Another romantic mystery? My contemporary fantasy? Oh, I know. I need to come up with ideas for more books using my WIP characters (suggested by said agent).

I never thought about more adventures with those characters. My detective mystery, yes–I’ve got the next three books drafted. This one, though, not so much. Maybe I just haven’t gone that far yet; I’ve been focusing on polishing this installment.

I love the characters, and I love the setting and the premise, but I honestly never thought much beyond this book, though in the back of my mind I knew the possibility existed that I’d need to come up with something more for them.

No time like the present.

Sometimes stories start out as multiple episodes, like my detective series. But what if the story doesn’t start out that way? How do you come up with additional adventures for your characters?

Brainstorm! *sets up the brainstorming wall*

Yep. *looks around for colorful brain clouds amassing for a deluge* Uh-huh. *searches the horizon* O-kay. Any time, now.

I got nothin’.

Now what? You created the characters, breathed life into them, put them through conflicts and trials and heartache and, eventually, success of some sort. They survive to the end of the story, and you wish them good luck and move on to another story with other characters.

Except you need to go back to those characters, knock on their doors, and present them with a new itinerary.

Granted, nothing is for sure in this business, but it doesn’t hurt to be proactive. So, how does one go about creating more adventures for characters you love but just didn’t expect to spend more time with?

Everyone’s process is different. I know the appeal of my characters lies in their professions and the setting, so those are good places to start. My main protagonist works in the aviation industry, something I think people will want to read about, so I need to stick with that. Airports. Air shows. Air museums. Air guitars–er, maybe not. My other character is in law enforcement, so that falls naturally into a mystery.

My characters are developed, so I can shortcut that a bit, even though each adventure should encourage them to change a little. Now what? I need at least one dead body, multiple suspects, and a solid motive. The victim and/or the suspects and/or the culprit should have some sort of tie to the main characters. There needs to be conflict. My main characters have to be threatened somehow, have to have an “all hope is lost” moment, and need to come out on top in the end.

I cracked open a fresh notebook for the project, a two-subject one so I can use each section for a different story. And stared at the blank page.

So I started with the setting. I figured if I could at least give myself a starting point, I’d have something to work with. Then I added the big 6: Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why. Then started throwing ideas at the brainstorming wall.

p_20161126_073605_cr The more I tossed ideas around, the more that stuck to the wall as possibilities for the new story. I’m up to five pages of ideas, and the plot is starting to coalesce. I’ve got the tie to my main character, another source of conflict for the main character that leaked in from my WIP, and multiple suspects.

It’s starting to look a lot like a novel-in-the-making. Once I have the story figured out, I can do a rough outline, or (heaven forbid!) a synopsis (cue the spooky music and evil laughter).

Ugh.

Then I can dive into a first draft. I see another self-imposed NaNo month in my future. Maybe February.

How do you come up with “the further adventures of” for characters who didn’t start out starring in more than one book? Days of intense brainstorming? Afternoon walks through the woods? People-watching at the mall?

Enjoy your weekend, and get writing!


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Feedback + Brainstorm = Revisions

I open the door to my writing office.

And stop.

Colored index cards cascade across my writing desk atop a collection of notebooks, along with an assortment of writing instruments. Hey, that’s where my purple highlighter went.

The white board has copied itself to another wall, but instead of my plotline, the new board is covered with titled lists for a couple of the characters in my WIP.

Two recliners flank the small refrigerator in the corner, and a wicker basket filled with microwave popcorn and Ghirardelli chocolates occupy a small table nearby. A stuffed Toothless toy dragon guards the basket.

Hoo boy. And my Muse is nowhere in sight. Outside the window the vista morphs into a scene overlooking forested hills with trees just starting to change into their autumn colors. The rolling gurgle of a stream over rocks accompanies the view.

“Will this work for you, love?” My Muse comes up behind me and nudges me the rest of the way into my writing office so he can close the door. He’s wearing his burgundy henley, sleeves shoved to his elbows, and jeans. He smells like apple cider and rain and that indescribable scent men have when they come in from working outside that makes you want to–er, cuddle with them on the couch and watch a movie (That’s what I was going to say. Honest 🙂 ). You know, before they get really sweaty and smelly.

I shake off the distraction. “What the hell?”

He crosses to the corner and pulls a bottle of New Glarus Brewery’s Moon Man from the fridge. “What do you mean, ‘what the hell’? You’ve got a direction, you’ve got a deadline, and I’m not going to let you screw that up. You’re too close.” He wraps me in a warm embrace ending with a hearty pat on my back before he opens the beer and hands it to me. “I’m proud of you, love. You’re almost there.”

I feel like someone set up a surprise party for me but forgot to tell anyone to show up. “Um, o-kay. I still have a good couple months of work to do, so why all this?”

He frowns. “Really? You’re not feeling the creative vibe here?” He moves to the window. The scenery adjusts to show less hills, more green trees with blushes of autumn pink, orange, and gold. A light breeze smells like forest and earth and fall. “Better?”

“Look, this is all great, but I need to map out my edits before this.” I start to return the beer, but hesitate. Why waste good brew? I mean, he went through the trouble of opening it for me. “This is serious.”

“I know it is. You are so close. This is your chance, love. We’re going to get these revisions done, polished, reviewed by beta readers, and sent off by the end of November. This is it. I can feel it.” He tugs me toward the second white board. “Here are your notes. We need to refine the ‘what-if’ scenarios and figure out where to make the changes.” He picks up a marker and starts another list. “I wonder if I should invite Sierra and Quinn back.” He turns to me. “Would that help?”

“No. The feedback is for the victim’s character thread, a little for Sierra’s brother’s thread, and other bits and pieces. I can revise the final confrontation without them. They’d only interfere, anyway. They’re not going to like one of the changes I’m going to make.” I know writing–well, revision–is a ton of work. I can make those changes without screwing up the rest of the story, right?

A dark figure appears. Doubt.

My Muse glares at it. It vanishes with a squeak of protest. “I’m going to lock that damn Doubt up with your Night Fury.” He grabs my shoulders and shakes me until I meet his eyes. “You got this. There’s a reason things happened the other day, remember that. You got this, love.”

I had a wonderful experience this week that equals another step toward my goal. It’s finally hitting me, after a day of surreal shock. I’m really doing this. Back to two- and three-hour sessions after work to get the revisions done. No NaNoWriMo for me this year, breaking my 12-year streak, but I proved to myself last year I can do a NaNo writing marathon any time I want to (take that, 50k words in 28 days–HA!).

Have a great weekend, and WRITE!!

 

 


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Happenings

Can you believe it’s almost August? I mean, wasn’t it just Memorial Day? I know time seems to go faster as you get older, but this is kinda ridiculous.

I get to see my writing sisters next week. Woo-hoo! Can’t wait! This year we’re having a plotting party. There’s nothing quite like getting six writers together and brainstorming. All that creative energy unleashed is like the Tasmanian Devil, Wile E Coyote, and Bugs Bunny planning a coup, but in a good way 🙂

So many milestones this year. I now have a 16-year-old with an official driver’s license. Yep, she passed her test the first time. Not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, we don’t have to shuttle her around anymore. On the other hand, there’s an unease that comes with having a 16-year-old daughter who doesn’t need a parent when driving someplace. She had some rough patches a few years ago; maybe that’s why I’m apprehensive. Or maybe it just comes with the whole 16 and a girl thing. I didn’t feel like this when my son got his license.

Speaking of, my son got his wisdom teeth out (all four at once). And his departure for college is coming up fast–three weeks. Wait. Crap. It is only three weeks until move-in day. Gulp. It’s not the letting go part, it’s the look-at-all-the-stuff-we-have-to-cross-off-our-list part. He’s 18, so he’s (supposed to be) doing a lot of it himself. But you know he’ll wait until the very last minute …

“You finished, love?”

I jump. “Shit!”

“Sorry I scared you.” He grins.

Somehow, I’m not convinced he’s sincere. “Sure, you are.” He drops into a canvas chair on the other side of my writing desk and adjusts his LA Dodgers baseball cap. A faded t-shirt and cargo shorts complete the ensemble. “Going to a game?”

“No. Maybe. It’s almost the end of the month, love. You said you’d send out your manuscript by the end of the month. Last month.”

I roll my eyes. Trust me, I know. “I’ve got to cut another 2500 words. I’m working through it.”

“And your query?”

“Dammit, I know.” I’ve been spending as much time as I can on it, at the expense of my garden, my household chores, my family.

“Whatever possessed you to get that part-time gig at the library, anyway?”

I lean back in my chair and rub my eyes. “I’ve always wanted to work at the library. Books. Shelves of them. But I can’t commit to 10 hours a week. I’m only a sub. I wanted to help the librarian out when my daughter starts tennis season.”

“That’s three hours today and four hours every Monday you could be working on your manuscript, love.”

“I know. And if I didn’t keep revising, I’d have sent it out already. The revisions are good, they need to be done. At least I sent it to a beta reader last night. She reads fast.”

“You won’t hear from her soon enough to matter.”

“Not for this round, but I still need her feedback. And Pitch Wars is next week, before my reunion.”

He shakes his head. “How’d you get so far behind? I’ve been here.”

“I had sinus surgery and was out for over two weeks, remember? And I lost last weekend to a family ‘reunion’, and the weekends before to other family gatherings.”

He stands, buries his hands in the deep pockets of his shorts. “You’re losing today, too. Are you going to be able to do this by the first? I can’t do it for you.”

I’ve got a another family gathering this afternoon. “Gee, if I didn’t have to work full-time, maybe I could just hammer on it all day long.” Some days I really envy my retired writing sisters.

“Ah, the travesties of being a writer,” he says. I know he’s patronizing me. “No one said you had to do this whole writing thing. You could do other stuff, like paint or draw.”

“Do you have any idea how many stories are rattling around in my head? I’ve gotta get them out so more can fill in.” Man, I sound like I’m crazy, hearing voices and stuff.

His slow smile reminds me of Han Solo’s lopsided grin. Or Indiana Jones. Oh, hell, make it Harrison Ford and call it good. “Yes, love. I’m your Muse. I know how many stories are in your head.”

“Then you know I have to write.”

“I know you love writing.” He leans on my desk. “You can’t stop. So get your ass moving so the next story gets attention.”

I can’t wait until next week. Writing Sisters or bust! I’m sure our Muses are planning their own party, especially with a new writer in the group. Wonder what they’ll do?

Enjoy your weekend and keep writing!


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The Brainstorming Wall

I step back and admire the wall. It’s an expanse that stretches the length of my writing office, but more. It’s bigger than it looks because it’s curved just enough to add a couple feet to the length.

So, what’s on my brainstorming wall? A fresh coat of ideas, put up this morning with the help of some close writing friends. (I actually started writing this post last night, but distractions abound.) I’m trying to sort out my notes, matching them with the colored splashes on the wall. Still looking for that juicy tomato–wait, there it is, under the alfredo splotch.

“What the hell, love?” My Muse appears beside me. “Were you finished with it? The old storm? I thought you were still working on the revision.”

I glance at him. He’s dressed down in black sweatpants and a faded UCLA sweatshirt. “Slumming today?”

He shoves his sleeves to his elbows and crosses his arms on his chest. “You’ve been doing well, young Padawan.”

“Um, yeah, don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Do ‘Star Wars’ lines. Your Australian accent just doesn’t work with the whole Ewan McGregor thing. Or Liam Neeson. Or whomever.”

He puts a hand over his heart. “That hurts.”

“Har, har. The draft of my WIP is based on the old storm. This here is for the next round of revision.”

He approaches the wall, then swipes a finger against a grape jelly splash. “What’s this one?”

“That’s the one for compressing the FAA investigation timeline. I think it’s a great idea. I just have to figure out how to work that in with how long the victim was dating her current boyfriend, not that it’ll matter in the big picture. It just ups the tension for the main character.”

“So, what you’re telling me is I’d better take my vacation now.” He licks the jelly off his finger.

Um, give me just a moment. *mental side trip*  Sigh. *fans face with hand*

“Why do you need to take a vacation? I’m working on my WIP every day. You haven’t had to kick my ass the past couple weeks. I thought you’d be enjoying this smooth run.”

“Oh, I am, love.” He wraps an arm around my shoulders and squeezes. “You’re doing great. Keep it up.”

If you have close writing friends, use them for sounding boards when you have a story idea or plot knot. I’m fortunate to have my writing sisters. They’ve been instrumental in the plot revisions for my WIP, and their suggestions have made the story far stronger than it started out to be.

Writing friends are also good for reality checks, simply because they’ve had different life experiences than you have. I have a stalker in my WIP. One of my writing sisters had some insight on stalkers/predators, and reminded me how someone would really behave if they had a stalker in their past.

Whew! Caught it before I got too far into revisions.

These days, technology allows us to keep in touch with people all over the globe. I’ve got writing friends I’ve never met in person, but whom I feel I could hang out with at a coffee house or library (well, maybe not library–might get too rowdy 😉 ) for an afternoon and talk writing.

Gotta get back to it. My Muse is starting to pace.

Write on!