Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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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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:

dragon1_cr

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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Paper chain countdown

Okay, not really a paper chain, but I’ve been looking at the calendar every day for the past week or so in anticipation. Despite Winter’s stubborn hold on the weather–last Monday we got 4 inches of snow (give or take), and this Sunday we’re supposed to get yet another snowstorm–I’ve been waiting for this week to arrive.

In less than 5 days I’ll get to see my Writing Sisters! All of them! One of us lives in California, so she doesn’t always make it to the reunions, but next week we’ll all be in Madison, WI for the Writers’ Institute. You should join us; we’re even going to be on a panel discussing our sisterhood.

If you’ve never been to a writing conference, you’re missing out. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy created when so many writers gather. Yes, I know most of us are introverts, but everyone there is enthusiastic about the same thing: writing.

I’m looking forward to tapping the group for help with my current projects. I got my editor’s notes back, and need to do some brainstorming both for my revisions and for Book 2. I’ll bring the brainstorming wall and chocolate 😀

Just an FYI, after you’ve revised your project to within an inch of its life (yes, we all think we do), and get that contract … yeah, it ain’t over. I’ve got some changes to make, some of which I know will strengthen the main character. Some changes I’ll have to consider. That’s another bonus of going to the conference and meeting up with my writing sisters. Though most of them have never read the whole story, they can often see things from a different angle, and can suggest options I never thought of.

“Does this mean you’ll finally get your shit together, love?”

Where the hell did he come from? I look up, and there he is, my Muse, standing like a drill sergeant in front of my desk, arms crossed on his chest. The sleeves of his burgundy Henley shirt are shoved to his elbows, exposing the lean muscles of his forearms. His jeans are at that well-worn stage between brand-new indigo and faded white.

“What are you doing here?”

“Really, love? Just how much have you written in the past week?”

“Hey, I was in Dallas last weekend for my niece’s wedding. Give me a break. Not to mention I’ve been reading through my editor’s notes.”

He rests a hip on the corner of my desk. “I don’t see you working on them. In fact, I haven’t seen you work on anything for a disturbingly long time.” Before I can answer, he lifts a finger at me. “I don’t want to hear it. I want to see you write. And I don’t think you want me to take it to the next level.”

I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. I try again. “Next level?”

A slow grin stretches across his face, his brilliant blue eyes holding something less like amusement, more like … er, like he’s got something up his sleeve that I have a feeling I’m not going to like. “You remember the urban fantasy, love?”

A shiver skitters down my spine. “Don’t you dare. I’ve got to work on my manuscript, my editor’s notes. Don’t distract me.”

His chuckle seems a bit, ah, malicious. “Apparently, you have no problem getting distracted. It’s the focusing part you have trouble with. And if I have to hit you with undiluted Muse energy again, I will. Trust me.”

Gulp. “Look, I’ve got the Writers’ Institute next week. My Sisters will be there. I’ve already set aside some time with my writing mentor and my agent to discuss things. I’ll be focused. You can hang out with the rest of the muses.”

One of his eyebrows arches. “And I’m supposed to trust you, love?”

“I’ll be thinking about writing the whole time.”

“Thinking? Is that all?”

“I’ll write. I’ll have to write with all that creative energy. And all those muses.”

He narrows his eyes. “I’m not sure I believe you. Or trust you.”

“You’ll be there. You can babysit me all you want.”

“You bet your ass I will.”

Yikes.

It’ll be prep time for the next few days. Oh, and of course there’s a boatload of stuff going on in the everyday department, too, including Winter’s stubborn hold–we’re due to get snow AGAIN tomorrow, prom dress shopping, college open house for my daughter. That’s just through the end of the month. Ugh.

It’s been colder than normal for April even here in MN. Good thing I have my handy-dandy lap warmer:

zoey_cr

Have a great writing weekend!


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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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Musing Mysteries, Part 1

I finished erasing the wall-sized whiteboard in my writing office. There. A nice, shiny, white expanse all ready for me.

And I stare at the nice, shiny, white expanse. Without a plan.

Which is my problem. No plan. Well, rather, I have a half-baked plan, but that’s about as tasty as a pancake that’s been pulled off the griddle too soon. You know, when it still has a gooey center.

So here’s the dilemma. I need to work on Book 2–which I’ve sort of drafted already, but the plot needs serious work. I’ve had things tumbling about in my head, and some stuff’s fallen into place, but there’s still a lot of questions.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m thinking too hard about it at this redraft stage. Kinda like Rough Draft, take 2. Or is it take 3 now?

“Why did I know I’d find you staring at a blank slate?” My Muse steps up behind me. He must have come in the back door. He leans on me, resting an elbow on my shoulder, his hand hanging limp. “So, how do you want to do this, love?”

“Well …” Man, he’s a bit distracting, all six-foot-two inches of so-easy-on-the-eyes Aussie complete with a super-cozy, super-soft, super-fuzzy arctic fleece shirt in a blue that complements his eyes. I duck away from him before I succumb. “I’ve got my presentation for the Writers’ Institute in April. Ten Clues to Writing Mysteries. Let’s work through those. Might help me organize the plan.”

He sighs. “You’ve got half of those things figured out already. Focus on what is still fuzzy.”

I press my lips together to make sure I don’t say it out loud. You’re fuzzy. Wuzzy. I had to. C’mon, you thought it, too. 🙂

He clears his throat and crosses his arms on his warm, fuzzy chest. “Julie.”

Busted. “Okay.” I grab a marker and start my list, in no particular order. Characters.

“You’ve got that figured out, right?”

“The protagonists, yeah, of course. This is book two. I know them.”

“Antagonist?”

“The cop that didn’t serve the restraining order right away.” He’s mentioned in the first book. “There’s still a lot of unresolved issues with the main character.”

My Muse waits. No foot-tapping yet. “And?”

“I’ve got secondary characters.”

“You need a stronger antagonist, love. You need more conflict with your main character.”

Yep. I know that. “Okay, so there are these brothers that are running …”

“Nope. Try again.”

Er. “There’s the drug boss that thinks the main character is in cahoots with the guy who was skimming from her. She wants her money, but my MC doesn’t know anything about it. Conflict and threat.”

He nods. “Okay, but there has to be more pressure on the antagonist. Is there something besides greed behind the threat?”

“Um…”

He takes a marker and adds a note. “Think about it. Next, what’s your protagonist’s motive? What’s the story goal?”

“Have you been talking to my writing mentor?”

“Focus, love.”

“Her goal is to make sure the man who helped her after the attack is cleared, so she needs to find out who killed the victim.”

“What are the stakes? What does she have to lose if she doesn’t figure it out?”

Dammit. Why did I think this was a good idea? “Her life. The bad guy thinks she was working with the victim, who skimmed from the pot.”

He adds it to the board. “Why does she have to figure this out?”

I know why he’s doing this. He’s walking me through the steps I haven’t thought enough about. (psst–I’m pretty sure he’s been talking to my writing mentor) “Because when she gets sucked into the mess, the man who encouraged her to keep going after the attack is the only suspect, and she has to clear his name. Payback for what he did for her.”

“Good.” He finishes the list. “One down.”

“Actually, that’s two. Character and stakes.”

He snaps the cap onto the marker. “Okay. Think about these for a bit, love. We’ll do some more next time.”

“Wait, what? Next time? Where do you think you’re going? I happen to know Mr. E is not available.”

He settles into one of the recliners, extends the footrest, and laces his fingers behind his head. “Let it simmer a bit. We’ll brainstorm in a few hours.”

I toss my marker onto the little shelf on the whiteboard. Well, okay then. I settle into the other recliner beside him. “You do know I’ve been brainstorming on this for a while. Like, weeks. Right?”

“And you’ve been spinning your wheels. Time to take this step by step.” He closes his eyes. “Think about the stakes. Think about what she risks by getting involved.”

“Did I mention she hated the victim because he was a buddy of the guy who tried to kill her?”

“Good. There’s a reason for her to not want to get involved, but she does because why?”

“Because of what the suspect did for her when she wanted to give up her dream.”

The corners of his mouth turn up in a grin. “Use that. Work on how that plays into the threat to your MC.”

Sometimes I wonder if I’m stuck because I’m trying to address everything I know the story needs before I get into the story. Overthinking it. It’s a first–well, a do-over first–draft, it’s supposed to be a mess because part of the process is working out the story.

So far, I’m doing my Feb NaNo on my rural mystery, and working out the wrinkles in Book 2, because my editor said I can send her the first 50 pages and a synopsis when it’s ready. It’s going to be a while. For those wondering about my NaNo progress, week 1 word count is 16,643.

I’ll walk through the other clues in my presentation over the next few weeks. Maybe this’ll help with Book 2. It should help. If nothing else, I can say I’m working on it, right?

Have a great writing weekend!


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Hello December, or Help! I’m stuck

You sure it’s December? Because it was in the upper 40’s (Fahrenheit) this week. In Minnesota. After Thanksgiving. To give you an idea, the average temps this time of year are around freezing. Usually snow doesn’t stick around until after Thanksgiving, but so far in my part of the Great White North, there’s been no white. You’ll have to head north, like Duluth or International Falls north, to find snow. If it hasn’t melted by now.

Seriously. It wasn’t that many years ago when it was in the teens on Thanksgiving Day.

Anyway.

I hit 50k words before the end of NaNo, so yay. Problem is, I’m losing momentum again. The story isn’t done. I’ve reached the spot where I’ve adjusted the storyline, but, well, …

Have you ever lost your “umph” for a story? You get to a point where you’ve lost all interest in the story, but you know you need to power through and finish the draft? Yep, welcome to my world. Part of it is the story, part of it is the time of year (how busy are you this time of year with potlucks, and parties, and ?), and part of it is the effing melonheads in DC doing their damndest to screw everyone who doesn’t make six or more figures.

So, how do you move through this mire?

Anyone?

giphy1

Bueller?

giphy

Okay, I’m going to toss out some ideas.

Idea #1: Wade through it. I’ve got a rough outline, so I have a direction. It’s different–better, I like to think, but … And first drafts are supposed to be crappy, so I shouldn’t worry what it ends up being, because there’s going to be revisions. Lots of revisions.

Idea #2: Switch projects. I’ve got another story I plan on hitting after I finish the draft for Book 2. So, maybe I press the “Pause” button on Book 2 and start a self-imposed NaNo for my other project.

Idea #3: Go back to a past project and work on revisions. I’ve got a police procedural that needs some work, and I’ve actually done a little on it this past week. I’ve got a contemporary fantasy that needs some revising, and an epic/traditional fantasy that still needs the ending written. A genre change might be good.

Idea #4: Do something completely different. As in, not work on other projects sitting around. Write a short story, or revisit poetry, or hell, stream of consciousness writing through my anxiety about stuff I can’t fix.

Idea #5: Take a break. *silence* Yeah, that’s what I was doing before NaNo. I did NaNo to bust the non-writing slump. Nope. Scratch this one.

Idea #6: Take a walk. Or two. Or three. I haven’t done this for a while, partly because of the weather–even though it’s been unseasonably warm it’s been windy as hell, and partly because the gravel road I walk on is a high-traffic area this time of year since the neighbors are bringing in semi-trailer loads of harvested corn. All. The. Time. Not good to walk on a gravel road that hasn’t seen any sort of moisture for weeks with semi-trucks racing around on it. *Cough*

I like to listen to music when I write, so I’ve got that covered.

If you’ve got any other suggestions, drop them into a comment. It’s the weekend, so I’m going to write.

I will write.

Hear that, brain. I’m going to write, dammit.

You, too. Take advantage of the time before the holidaze, while the craziness is still somewhat manageable.


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Recap and Recovery

Everyone recover from your turkey hangover? Get your fill of NFL football? How about shopping–did you brave the masses?

Me, I just sit at home and do the online thing. Amazingly enough, this year’s Black Friday weather in MN is quiet. Doesn’t mean I have any intention ever of venturing into die-hard shopper-infested malls.

My NaNo project is moving along. I’ve learned–after doing NaNo for over a decade–that my first draft is crap (duh), and I figure out through the process what’s missing and what doesn’t work in the story. It’s like while I’m writing (with a muzzled inner editor), my brain churns through the story, testing how it fits into the storybuilding process.

As I hit a later chapter, my brain pipes up and lets me know what I missed early on. For example, in my current WIP, I’ve got two characters in an early chapter that have a specific role. They’re even in a whole scene. Problem is, they don’t show up again.

So here I am, grinding toward the middle of the story, when my brain throws up a red flag. Hey, these two need to show up again, or they need to go. What are you going to do about it?

Oh. Yeah. Um. Hmm. Ideally I’d make a note and keep going, but it’ll bug me for-ev-er if I don’t at least outline another scene for them. Another character, one of the antagonists, also shows up, and doesn’t return to the stage until, wow, way later. That isn’t right. So now I’m writing up another scene that brings the antagonist into a bigger spotlight. Bonus is, beyond tension, it adds to the “whodunit” aspect of the story.

It’s interesting, though, how I don’t realize the knots and holes until I’ve written the draft, and then a light goes on that reminds me of story construction. What seemed fine when I started doesn’t work right once I’ve written through it. Classic example is my soon-to-be-published book.

The main character is a female aircraft mechanic who finds a body. In an airplane. I know, I know, finding a body in a mystery novel is weird 😛 Finding a body in an airplane is different, but in a good way. Having the antagonists work at a construction site, albeit on the airport grounds, well … Yes, in the first draft, a good portion of the story took place at a construction site.

When I finished the story, I heard my writing teacher’s voice, clear as day: Why are they at a construction site? Why aren’t they at the airport?

Silence.

DUH! Of course it has to be in the airport. That’s the unique setting. The MC is an aircraft mechanic. DUH!

Point is, I didn’t get it until I’d finished that draft, and my brain had ker-chunked its way through the story while I did the actual writing. So, for me the draft is like the test run, and my brain spends its time comparing the story to all the stuff I’ve learned over the years about how to plot, character arcs, subplots, conflict, story structure, etc. I do a loose outline of my stories, but that must not be enough meat for the ol’ noggin to work with.

And once it hits a spot where I’ve failed to follow the story-building process–characters, conflict, story goals, obstacles, stuff like that–it throws up a red flag. I often can’t see those spots until I’ve written through them. Which, I suppose, is the point of a first draft.

I’m on the straightaway for my NaNo quota, so I’m pretty sure I’ll hit 50k, maybe even by the end of the weekend. The story won’t be finished, though. It’ll be another few weeks before I hit “The End”, and the story will cool for a month or so before I start any sort of revision.

In the meantime, I’ll work on another WIP, in a self-imposed NaNo process. This is what I like about NaNo, the momentum. I find the word quota deadline helps me get a draft finished. Sure, it’s balls-to-the-walls writing to get the words down, but the point is to keep working on something. If nothing else, it keeps my Muse off my back 😀

Enjoy your extended holiday weekend, and take advantage of the time to do a bit of writing 😀