Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Recharging Creative Energies

 

from balcony

View from Julie’s balcony, Crystal River Inn B&B

*leans over balcony railing* “You bloody well owe me for this.”

“Yeah, yeah.” My writer yells from the yard. “I told you last weekend I wanted you to write the post while we’re here.”

“This is not part of my job description.”

My writer waves. “I’m going on the lake tour. You can catch up when you’re done.”

“You heard the part about owing me, love. Trust me, I will collect.”

Julie piles into the van with her fellow writing sisters without another wave.

So here I bloody am writing her blog post. Again. But this time it isn’t to be nice. Mercury is in retrograde, and damn it, my writer has an energy drain that’s been pulling her down since last weekend. She asked me to do this, but I agreed on one condition: she has to work on Book 2 every single day for the next month.

She blew her July NaNo. I’m ready to take bets on if she will manage to get 30k words done in a month. A thousand words a day. I’m ready to pull out all the stops on her.

You writers think we muses have it so good. You think all we have to do is sit on a shelf like some fecking holiday elf and you magically get inspired.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to figure out how to encourage your creative energies to kick around ideas and images in your head. And if that doesn’t work, like it isn’t working for my writer (damn it all to bloody hell and back), we have to gather it ourselves and shove it into you.

It’s like trying to collect sparks from a Roman candle and cramming them into your head like …  Trust me, it ain’t easy. It helps that the reunion is at such a quiet location, with a river running behind it. It gets my writer to open up to the energy, which makes my job a hell of easier.

Besides, I left my bullwhip and fedora at home. Hasn’t been working anyway. Now that Julie has finished the list of stuff she got from her editor (THAT wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be), she can focus on her next project. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to just sit by and wish the creative energy to infuse her.

No, I’m going to fecking channel the energy into her. I didn’t take that Muse refresher course for nothing. And I didn’t learn the rules so I wouldn’t break them. Besides, they’re more like guidelines…

Signing off, because I’ve got a Muse rule or two to break.

Get your arses writing!

crystal river

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We’re not related, but we’re Sisters

It’s that time of year again! Yep, it’s the end of July, my daughter just turned 18, and OMG, where did the summer go? I mean, it’ll be August in … eek. Wasn’t it just Memorial Day?

I’ve talked about my Writing Sisters before. We even had a panel at the Writers’ Institute this year. This coming week we’ll be meeting for our annual reunion/writing retreat. We added an extra day this year because we always seem to run out of time, especially if we want to do some writing on our own.

Our reunions are as much about catching up with each other’s lives as they are about writing. I’ve said it before: how often do six–now seven–women start out strangers and end up sticking together like we have?

Pretty sure it’s not very often.

We are a writers’ support system, studying writing and practicing the craft together, with a healthy dose of critiquing, brainstorming, and encouragement thrown in.

That’s not all. We learn about each other’s lives and struggles. We offer shoulders to lean on (yes, you can hum “Lean on Me” now 😀 ). We know the names of each other’s children, grandchildren, pets. We offer condolences and get well wishes when someone suffers a loss or illness in her family. We send birthday wishes and holiday greetings.

Hmm. Isn’t that what families do? We aren’t related, but we have become a family of sorts. Writing Sisters.

Writing is a solitary pursuit in many respects, but we all know we need at least one other person to help us see the things we cannot because we are too close to the story. We need at least one critique partner to help us revise. We hang with one or more other writers, either in real life or online, in the interest of improving our craft through constructive feedback and sharing of knowledge, a writing group that works for us in our pursuit of whatever writing goal we have, whether a memoir, a poetry collection, or a new series about a vampire version of Sherlock Holmes (yes, I went there 😉 ).

Where was I going with this? Hmm. Oh, yeah. If you don’t have a writing partner, see if you can find one, online or in real life. There are a number of FB groups, as well as other online groups like FanStory, WritersCafe, NaNoWriMo, and Scribophile, to name a few. In real life, check out independent bookstores, a local chapter of a national authors’ organization like Sisters in Crime or Romance Writers of America, or the local college English department.

If you find the right group or partner, you have an opportunity to connect with other writers who can help you improve your craft, and may become like family along the way.

Have a great weekend, and hey, get some writing done!


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Call it Progress

I’m back at my dad’s place over this extended holiday weekend. I’m also extending my weekend from work in my effort to get my edits done. I even warned my boss I might have to take another day beyond what I’ve already asked for. He’s fine with it. (I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of cool bosses)

I’ve been pounding the keyboard, and I’m at about the last quarter of the story, although I skipped a spot I need to rewrite. I figured I would be able to concentrate better here rather than at home.

The screen door to the deck out back squeaks, then bangs shut. Gee, wonder who that could be?

“I can always count on you for a dose of sarcasm. You ready to get back to work yet, love?” My Muse adjusts the bean bag-type chair he left here last week. It looks kind of comfy, like one of those wicker papasan chairs, but squishier. This time he has a footstool to go with it.

He settles in, fingers laced and hands behind his head. “You could start with the scene you need to change. I think you’ve got a good idea for that.”

I can’t help but stare at his black cotton lounge pants adorned with Pac-Man and colored ghosts, which clashes nicely with his Bob Ross t-shirt. “You don’t actually wear that in public, do you?”

He looks down at his shirt. “Why not? You loved watching Bob Ross when you were a kid.”

“It’s not Bob Ross. It’s the whole ensemble. Seriously. Pac-Man and Bob Ross?”

“Who are you, the fashion police?”

Not by a long shot, as I look at my own red plaid lounge pants and Star Wars t-shirt. “Anyway. I’m doing the blog post, then I’ll dig into that scene.”

He stares at me in silence.

“What? Stop doing that.”

“Have I told you how proud I am of you for working as much as you have the past few weeks, love?”

“No, but apparently it hasn’t been enough because I’m not done yet.”

A bottle of Moon Man appears on the table beside my chair. “A reward. I’ll add chocolate when you finish this round.”

The man knows how to bribe–not. “Better be the good Mozart chocolate with the blue wrapper from Salzburg.” They don’t even ship it outside Europe. I had it when I went to Austria with my aunt and uncle.

He rolls his eyes. “Finish your edits and I’ll see what I can do.”

Hmm. I wonder what he’d get as a substitute. Godiva?

Okay, I’ve gotta tell you this. When I write my posts, I like to get them done the night before and schedule them to post. Well, I started this post last night, then figured I’d finish this morning.

Last night I was going to add some pictures of my dad’s lilacs (since the rabbits girdled mine and almost killed it. We’ve had that lilac for over ten years and they haven’t munched on it until this last winter. Effing rabbits!), but it was getting dark, so I didn’t, but I wandered around the backyard to smell them, because, you know, lilacs.

So, I got up this morning, started the coffee, and looked out over the backyard. My dad has a few flowerbeds in the backyard, and everything is just getting going after the late snow we had.

And thought,”What the hell is that?” From my angle and the angle of the rising sun, “that” was something black and a little white in the dark shadow of a pine tree. I couldn’t make it out, so I went to another window.

I wish I’d thought to get a picture.

It was . . . A cow. Seriously. A Holstein cow lying in one of the flowerbeds, minding her own business, chewing her cud.

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pic from the patio. It was darker when the cow was there. See the cow prints in the dirt by the tree?

Damn, I wish I’d thought to take a pic right away. Instead, I started looking for the neighbor’s phone number to tell them one of their cows was out. Of course, after I figured out Dad didn’t have a phone book handy and the neighbor’s number wasn’t easily accessible, I looked back out in the backyard, and the bovine was gone. She noticed when I turned the light on in the house, so I suppose she figured her quiet morning was over.

You know you live in a small rural community when you wake up to find a cow lounging in your backyard. I really wish I’d gotten a picture. It was bizarre.

Just to give you an idea of how close the pasture is, it’s not more than 30′ from my dad’s property.

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So starts my day. I can see this making its way into one of my rural mysteries 🙂 I’ll be focusing on edits all weekend, and I’m already behind visiting blogs, so I apologize ahead of time.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

irises hostas

irises and hostas in one of my dad’s flowerbeds


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F-O-C-U-S

It’s blank.

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

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

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

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

“You came here to focus, love.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great writing weekend!

 


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Retreat Recap

It’s been almost a week since I said goodbye to my Writing Sisters. Man, that was a great weekend! Great atmosphere, great scenery, great food, and best of all, great company!

Last week’s post hit the Internet before we settled in for our all-day session. We spent all day Saturday going over our exchanged pages. I thought I’d give you an idea of the types of things we help each other with, like plot, characters, and pacing.

We do a round table (sometimes literally; the coffee table at the B&B was a wagonwheel with a glass top–yes, a real wheel, with the hub sticking up though the glass), and randomly choose one victim–er, I mean, one project to start with. My project was the first 4 chapters (approx. 20 pages or so) of my small-town mystery WIP.

The feedback I got was priceless: The main character is a little flat. Love the setting. Love the old farmer neighbor, but the MC has to be more familiar with him. Felt like I was right there in the house. Why doesn’t she want the house if her father worked on it–it’s all she has left of him, so why is she resisting? I thought the great-aunt was alive. I miss the energy of your other character [in the project my agent is shopping].

Then the suggestions, again, invaluable: What if the great-aunt is still alive? The MC needs to have a closer connection to the great-aunt. You could have the great-aunt work on the mystery with the MC. What about the story you told last night [at the restaurant while we were waiting for our meal]? What if you used that?

Click. That’s it.

The story I told at dinner the night before was one I heard from my BFF from high school (I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say it involved a nursing home, a volunteer, and a suspicious death). Our mentor always reminds us of a few important things to keep in mind: a) need to draw the reader into the story right away, b) the reader has to care about the MC right away, and c) (for mysteries) there has to be a dead body in the first 20 pages (or at least the first 10-15%) of the book.

I have a dead body in the first sentence–the story is about solving a 70-yr old murder–but if I could get a more recent dead body (recent as in less than 70 yrs ago), it would ratchet things up. To draw the reader in, I can play up the mystery, make it more important to the MC, and give the antagonist a stronger motive to keep secrets buried. To do that, I need to make the relationship between the MC and her great-aunt tighter. And by using elements from the story I told at dinner, I can crank up the threat to the MC.

Mwahahahaha. Have you ever felt like a mad scientist?

I’ve got a plan to revise the story, and I know the story will be much stronger after incorporating suggestions from my writing sisters. We look at each person’s story in the same way: Do/Can we care about the MC? What does s/he want? Does the plot make sense? Does the MC behave the way we think s/he should? Are there enough questions to lure the reader on? What’s the story goal (one of our mentor’s favorites 🙂 )? Why does the MC do/not do this?

It’s like a writing class: we point out story elements that work or don’t work, and suggest changes to make the story better. Another big aspect of our group: we trust each other. If you’ve ever been in a writing group or critique group, trust is huge. If you can’t trust someone’s suggestions, then it’s a waste of time (which is why I don’t let my husband read any of my stuff–he’s not a writer and doesn’t read unless it’s a maintenance guide (BTW, I envy everyone who has a significant other who can read a draft or WIP and give you valid observations that help you improve your writing. Just sayin’.)).

We review everyone’s projects, even our mentor’s project. We care about each story, each MC, each strong supporting character. The process takes all morning, then a break for lunch, then we finish up in the afternoon before breaking for dinner. We are fueled by mutual encouragement, creative ideas, and chocolate.

We didn’t get much opportunity to work on our own stuff this time, so we decided to add an extra day to our reunion next year. That should give us some time to revise with the suggestions in mind, and still get a little feedback to make sure we’re on the right path.

Of course, after five days away, I returned to a garden filled with prolific weeds, lots of green beans, and monster zucchini despite assigning garden duty to my daughter. The chickens appreciated the huge zucchini and overinflated cucumbers, I picked a few very nice beets, and found these cherry tomatoes, the first of the season:

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And yes, they were yummy! We’ve trapped about 8 chipmunks so far, at least one of which stole my first ripe regular tomato (I went to pick the tomato, and half was eaten. Damn chipmunks!). Happened with the second tomato, too. So, we relocate the critters a few miles away on the other side of a creek. Now I’m waiting impatiently for the next ripe tomato. I’ve got bacon stocked for BLTs 😀

Enjoy one of the last weekends before school starts (which means summer is almost over–eek!). Happy writing!


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Rural Retreat

Raucous laughter echoes off the high ceilings in the room we’re gathered in, my writing sisters and I. We’re staying in an old farmhouse that’s been transformed into a B&B. The house is over a hundred years old, and housed four generations of family farmers. There are barns, sheds, a river, and a prairie labyrinth, which we explored before heading into town for a magnificent meal at a local inn.

My Muse appears in a doorway behind our meeting area, wearing a faded t-shirt, worn jeans with a tear above a knee, and a green baseball cap with a yellow leaping deer silhouette. With a fishing pole in one hand and a cooler in the other, he tips his head, a silent request for a quick word.

“Excuse me, gals, but I’ve got to get more water.” I sidle out of my corner seat past a couple of my sisters and head toward the room where our hosts have put a pitcher of ice water, brushing past my Muse.

He follows me. Once we’re out of sight and earshot, I turn to him. “What’s up? We’re talking about writing. You can sit with us in here.”

“I know, love.” He gestures at the view of the river out the wide picture window. “I’m going to hang out there for a while. Might catch something.”

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I indicate the cooler. “Like what? A six-pack?”

He gives me his lopsided grin, the one that makes it feel like the room temperature rose just a bit. “Maybe. Or maybe I’ll catch one of those wide-mouthed bass the innkeeper talked about.”

“And then what? Fry it up for supper?”

“Maybe.”

I fill my water glass. “And you felt it necessary to tell me this why?” As if I wouldn’t be able to find him when I need him. He never strays very far when we have a reunion; too much creative energy invoked, and the other muses are around. Besides, I was in the middle of a great discussion with my sisters.

“Well,” he says as he points his rod toward the river and the fallen tree conveniently located for hanging out, “there’s enough room for two on that tree. You know, in case you want to bounce ideas around.”

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The tree is inviting, especially the way it hangs over the river. It has a thick coat of moss that looks more comfortable than sitting on bark. There’s a gazebo on the shore as well, though I imagine the mosquitoes have set up a base camp there. “I think I’ll check the tree out later, after it warms up. We’ll probably sit out in the gazebo for a bit, but there’s only six chairs–we’ll have to bring another one out.”

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He nods. “I’ll be there.”

We’ve had the fortune of staying at some wonderful places over the past few years, each with its own charm. Last year our stay at a mansion was wonderful due to a comfortable area to gather, a location within walking distance of downtown, and a patio overlooking a neat yard. This year, our B&B is on a former farm, complete with restored prairie and a river lending its name to the location. The tiny village of Rural, where our B&B is located, is tucked into a wooded area that feels more park than town.

The weekend, as usual, is proving to be a great meeting of creative minds. We’ll work all day today, with breaks to enjoy the locale–and we’re looking forward to testing out the gazebo. Not keen on the mosquito squadrons, but maybe we’ll get lucky and there won’t be many (pfft, yeah, right).

Tomorrow is our final day, when we’ll wrap up the weekend and bid each other “write-well”. Even if we don’t get any actual writing done. we’ll discuss our projects, work through ideas, offer suggestions, and just enjoy being a group of writers “talking shop”.

Enjoy your weekend–I know I will!


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So, what do writers do when they gather

Less than a week to go before I reunite with my spectacular writing sisters–yippee! (if I was more “hip”, I’d have a meme here with the Pointer Sisters and “I’m So Excited”)

I’ve talked about my writing sisters before, but you might wonder: just what do these seven women do when they get together? Come to think of it, when I mentioned to a colleague what I’m doing next weekend, he asked me what we did. What do writers do when they get together? It’s not like heading to the lake for a weekend of fishing and grilling and water-skiing.

Well, right, it isn’t. For someone who doesn’t know writers, they might think of a beatnik coffee house, where they take turns wearing a black beret and reading poetry to the whispering beat of a snare drum.

Give me a minute while I laugh hysterically.

Okay, *wipes tears and catches breath* Now I’ll tell you what a group of writers really does.

Keep in mind our writing group is close-knit; we aren’t the writing group that meets once a month to critique a few pages, and maybe drink tea and keep the bakery in business with consumption of Danishes and biscotti. We’re more like, um, a writer’s version of sorority sisters.

Yes, really.

We usually meet up for lunch on Friday, and spend an hour or more catching up on the past year. Then we take over a bed and breakfast; there are enough of us that we reserve the whole house. Once we’re settled, we gather to review the pages we’ve sent around to the group.

We don’t usually break out the wine and chocolate until later 😀  We head out for a late supper; if our B&B is in town, we enjoy a walk to a local eatery. We usually don’t work much after supper, but we will continue earlier discussions. And wine and chocolate.

Saturday is our working day. After a good breakfast, we gather together and go through the discussion topics we’ve agreed on. Our mentor has been teaching for many years, and is a wonderful facilitator. We break for lunch, then get back to it in the afternoon.

We usually take an hour or so for our own projects around supper time. After that, we’ll finish up earlier topics, and work on odds and ends. And wine and chocolate.

Sunday is our last day, and we’ll work for a few hours before we need to check out of the B&B. After fond farewells, we part for another year, in contact through email, video chats, and FB.

If this sounds a little dull, well, trust me, we’re a spunky group. I mean, what would you think if you heard a group of women talking about the best ways to kill someone and dispose of the body? Or whether college friends would trust each other with a secret that could send one or more of them to jail. Add a little chocolate and wine, toss in a healthy dose of creative energy along with our muses (and yes, my Muse does his share of instigating antics), and you’ve got a helluva fun (and productive) weekend.

So, whenever someone suggests writers are boring, I scoff. They’ve never met my Writing Sisters 😀 I’ve got some pages to read yet, then critiques to do before next weekend, so I’ll sign off.

Enjoy your weekend, and write!