Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Gearing up

Moon_Man_840669It’s been a week since my wonderful Mad City (aka Madison) writers’ conference, and I’m digging in. Locked and loaded. Replenishing my stock of craft beer and hunting for just the right atmosphere in my writing office.

Why all the “buckle down and get my sh** together”?

“I found some Moon Man.” My Muse sets a six-pack of craft beer next to the dorm-sized refrigerator.

“Where? I can’t get it in Minnesota, only in Wisconsin.”

He lays a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve got connections, love. Besides, you don’t get any until you get through the blizzard scenes.”

I’m almost there. I should be able to finish those revisions by tomorrow night. “No chocolate?”

He drops into the recliner within arm’s reach of the fridge. Today he’s wearing that burgundy thermal shirt I adore (mostly because it fits him just right) and tan cargo pants, the kind with legs you can unzip and turn into long shorts. They’re perfect for this time of year, with cool mornings and nice warm afternoons.

“Not until you get through the B&E scene. You still need to talk to Sierra about that.” He flips up the footrest and laces his hands behind his head. He’s way too comfortable, if you ask me. “Speaking of, I told her to meet you in a couple days. She’s waiting for my call.”

Uh-huh. I’ll bet she is. I would, too, if it meant listening to his baritone voice with the Aussie accent. “Can you adjust the scenery, please?” Right now, the view from my office window is a wide, grassy field with a tree line in the distance and what I think is a lake beyond that. “Try the mountain cabin by stream.”

“I’ve got a better idea, love.” The view goes blurry. When it comes back into focus, it’s a tropical landscape of a white beach, turquoise water, and palm trees. I can smell the salt and the sea.

“I was hoping to look at something that doesn’t make me want to order umbrella drinks and doze off in the sun.”

My Muse shakes his head. “Fine.” The image changes again, this time into a vision of redwoods and ferns so thick the sunlight is muted. “Better?”

“It’ll do.” I hand him my scene map. “I’m here. I need to be here,” I slide my finger down the column, “by tonight.”

An eyebrow arches. “I haven’t seen you this determined in a long time, love.”

“A positive response to my pitch–from multiple agents, mind you–will do that.” It still hasn’t sunk in. “I need to get this shined up in two months.” It’s my own deadline, but I all but swore I’d hit it.

On that last day of the conference, my writing sister talked about resetting one’s “success-ometer”. We hit our goals, mark our successes, then set new benchmarks to hit. Sure, we can set our goal way out into the future, but it might take weeks, months, or years to get there.spedometer-full-size

By accepting our step-by-step successes, we can feel like we’re moving forward, because we are. The first success might be finishing the first draft of your novel. Then reset the meter to finishing x number of revisions, or sending the story to your critique partners, or sending it out to beta readers. The next success might be revising based on their feedback, then writing the query and synopsis. Maybe include writing the pitch and logline.

Reset the meter to “sending out queries.” My next one, back when I started this journey, was receiving a rejection. Why? Because it meant I’d sent out a query.

My current “success-ometer” is set to getting my WIP in shape by mid-June. I’ve warned the family that Mom (me) won’t be available much until I hit that mark. I’ve got an awesome opportunity I need to grab hold of with both hands. I write with the support of my family and my Writing Sisters. Especially my Writing Sisters, who helped me wrangle my “meh” plot into a “wow” plot, and keep pushing me to improve.

My Muse pries a cap off a bottle of brew and tosses it into the garbage. “Finish up, love. You WIP won’t revise itself.”

Have a great weekend, and Write ON!

 

 


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What a rush!

welcome

Welcome to WI 2016, Laurie Scheer

Finishing up Day 2 of the Writers’ Institute. Whew! Two days of writing workshops and pitching to agents. Two days with over a hundred other writers, teachers, and mentors.

What a rush!

Writing is so often a solitary pursuit; sometimes we forget we need contact with other people. There’s nothing quite like gathering with so many who like writing as much as you do.

A lot (most?) of us are introverts, needing to get away from people to focus and recharge, so being in this sort of a crowd can be disorienting and just plain wearing on nerves. But there are so many interesting people to meet! I met a nanny who is writing children’s books, a horror writer whose project sounded positively bone-chilling, a journalist looking to branch into creative non-fiction, and a screenwriter who is going to turn a screenplay into a novel.

HPR

Keynote – Hank Phillippi Ryan

The keynote speakers were fabulous. On Day 1, writer Dan Blank from WeGrowMedia presented advice on how to find an audience for your book utilizing everything from Goodreads to Amazon review lists of comparable books (books similar to yours). That audience can be a source for beta readers or ARC reviewers.

On Day 2  we heard from another keynote speaker, Hank Phillippi Ryan, about things she wished someone had told her about writing, like how subjective the business is. Even though the editor may love the book, it doesn’t mean the publisher will take it. Most importantly, and a theme we heard throughout the conference, it takes persistence to succeed in this business.

So many workshops on everything from voice (great one!)  by Josie Brown, to perfecting the first line by Ms Ryan, to blogging by Laurie Buchanan. Critique sessions with fabulous UW instructors were widely available, and a Writing Doctor (Kevin Mullen, UW-Madison alum) held office hours each day, nearly all day. Too many great workshops, not enough time!

If mixing and socializing is your thing, we had a mixer on Day 1, and tonight the mix spotlights a live literary event (needless to say, information overload demanded I rest my mushy brain with a beer and a burger at the Old Fashioned (BTW, wonderful food, and an awesome bartender!))

agent panel

(all together now: Julie takes lousy pics) The Agent panel

When our goal is to be published, agents are the means to the end (with some exceptions for small presses). So many great agents gave bits of advice on the agent panel before offering Q&A sessions and taking pitches. Practice sessions with UW instructors were also available to help writers hone their pitch.

Tomorrow is the last day, and one of my writing sisters is on the panel of success stories, so I’ll head back to glean just a bit more information and absorb another round of writing energy before returning home.

Wow, what a weekend!

A huge shout-out to Laurie Scheer and her tireless assistant, Laura Kahl, for yet another awesome Writers’ Institute.

Again, if you ever get a chance to go to a writing conference, do it. You never know who you might meet, what connections you might forge, or lessons you might learn. It’s a great place to meet other writers with whom you might organize a critique group or learn about a writing circle near you.

You’ll never know if you don’t go.

 


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Loglines, and Pitches, and Queries — Oh My!

Ten days and counting until the opening bell at the Writers’ Institute.

I’ve got my WIP–well, the first 50-ish pages or so–polished pretty well. A lot left, but experience tells me if an agent is going to request, it’ll be a partial request. Crossing fingers I’ll get that far!

Next, the infamous logline, pitch, and query, not to mention the synopsis.

*shudder*

I’ve written the above before.

It was a challenge every time. And that’s just counting the endless revisions for only two books.

People say writing a 90k-word book is hard. A logline, etc should be a piece of cake, right? I mean, it’s only a sentence or two. And a query? That’s only a couple paragraphs, and you don’t even have to tell the ending. A synopsis is only one or two pages. After a 300-page book, a couple more pages should be a snap.

Uh-huh. Do unicorns fart rainbows in your world, too?

The challenge in trying to distill a 300-page novel into a logline is well-known to many writers, and is a cause of insomnia and chocolate binges. Not only does the logline have to give the gist of your story, it has to entice an agent. For those who choose the self-pub route and don’t need to lure an agent, you still need a cover blurb that entices readers to want to read your story. Even agented books need a cover blurb (usually the pitch incorporated in the query).

Remind me why I set out on this writer’s journey.

To write down all the cool stories in my head before it explodes. (my head, not the stories)

What good is writing those cool stories (the easy part) if no one will read them?

Time to buckle down and dig into the tough stuff. There’s no shortage of advice on queries, synopses, loglines, and pitches. I’ve got a ton of pages of suggestions, templates, and advice stored in my Evernote.

Does it help?

Will it write my logline and pitch for me? No? Then “help” is a relative term. I have found some advice to be more understandable/relatable for me. Janice Hardy, of Fiction University fame, has a synopsis formula that makes sense to me. The rest is more elusive. I figure I’ll pore through all the stuff on loglines, pitches, and queries that I’ve saved in Evernote, wander aimlessly for a few days, then stare at a blank page for another couple days to wait for that strike of “a-ha” that spawns the most enticing, awesome pitch ever.

And then I’ll go out and buy a lottery ticket because my odds must have improved by now, right?

*hangs the ‘Do Not Disturb–Disturbed Writer Within’ sign on the door*

Well, here I go. If you don’t hear from me in a week, send chocolate. And wine.

And a unicorn that farts rainbows, because they should be chock full o’ leprechaun gold, right?

 


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Time, oh where did you go?

 

I made the mistake of looking at the calendar. Ack! I thought I had a month to work on my WIP before the conference. Now, I’ve got two weeks. Less actually, since we’re hosting a family gathering next weekend.

And I still need to work on the post for the Liebster Award Annika Perry nominated me for. Sorry, Annika. I will get to it. Promise! Might not be until after the Writers’ Institute, though.

I did have fun as a guest on Mae Clair’s blog. She’s got some great stuff over there, so if you didn’t look around when you stopped over, head back and browse a bit.

*SLAM*

I jump, startled. “What the hell?”

My Muse tosses his worn leather tam across the room and peels his varsity jacket off. I haven’t seen that one before. It’s navy with a patch depicting the Australian flag on the chest, and an open book with an inkwell and quill on the back of the jacket. He chucks it onto the recliner in the corner of my writing office.

He’s wearing a rugby jersey from an Australian team–probably from Adelaide–and those oh-so-well-worn jeans of his. I’m getting some weird vibes from him.

“Pub crawl not go well last night?”

He paces. The thing about my office–it’s not very big. The pacing thing just makes it smaller if I don’t want him to walk over me. “Depends on who you ask. Mr. E acted like I stole his girl or something. Did Mae say something to him?”

Oh, boy. “Why would I know?”

He stops and nails me with those intense blue eyes. My heart skips a beat, and I check for the door.

“Don’t make me drag it out of you, love.”

“Come on, I just wrote a guest post for her. It did really well, I think.”

He lurches toward my computer. I block him. “You read the post before I sent it to her. She just added an introduction.”

“Step aside, love.” He grabs my shoulders and shoves me aside before snatching my laptop from the desk. A few taps, a couple clicks, and his lips press into a thin line before a corner turns up in a wry grin.

“See, I told you.”

He shakes his head and sets the computer back on the desk. “Uber-sexy? Really?”

The last thing I need is a Muse with an inflated ego. Okay, maybe not the last thing, but pretty close to the bottom of the list. “Mr. Evening is sexy, too. I mean, in a dark, mysterious, handsome, James-Bond-meets-Sam-Spade sort of way.”

“I remember now. She sent me a fan letter.” He looms over me. “Did you send a fan letter to Mr. E?”

Gulp. “What if I did?”

A scent of pine forest mixed with that earthy aroma of humus surrounds me, and conjures an image of a thick Black Forest vista as seen from mountain slopes. “So, he was jealous last night.”

I clear my throat. “Why would he be jealous? It’s not like you’re going over and helping Mae with her book. That’s his job.”

He leans down. I can feel his breath on my face. It smells like a creek rushing through autumn leaves. “Because I’m jealous you think he’s hot.”

Oh, shit. A Muse pissing match? Nothing like a Muse with testosterone. Maybe I need a cat muse.

“You won’t give me up for a cat.”

Dammit, he knows me too well. “I could exchange you for a nice, tame tiger.”

“You won’t,” he says with confidence. He leans back on my desk, arms crossed on his broad chest. “Is that why you hooked up with me?”

Wait. What?! “Ahh, ‘hooked up’? You’re my Muse, we …”

“You know what I mean.” He spreads his arms. “Is that why you picked this manifestation? Because it’s uber-sexy? And here I thought you loved me for my brain.” His crooked grin belies his pleasure.

*Face-palm* Let the ego-stroking commence.You know exactly why I have you as my Muse: you inspire me, and you can kick me in the ass when I start dragging. It goes with the job. Look, if this is going to be an issue, I can trade you in for a newer model.”

An eyebrow arches high. “Empty threat, love.”

“You don’t think I’ve got a list of potential Muse material if something goes wonky with you? I can name a dozen replacements …”

“Oh, I’m sure you can.” He stands, uses his full height to his advantage. “When I got here, we hit the ground running. How long do you suppose you’d have to work to bring new blood up to speed? And none of them would be as good at kicking your non-writing ass into gear as I am.” He waves a finger. “Speaking of, you’re running out of time to shine up that WIP.”

“Don’t remind me. I’ve got my next revision just about ready to send for critique.”

He stares at me. My skin starts to crawl. “Why do I get the feeling you’re not telling me something?” he asks, suspicion thick in his voice.

Who? Me? I shrug. “Dunno.” Judging by his ego-meter, best to wait on those “when I met my Muse” short stories I’m pondering. “Well, gotta go. I’ll be back after work to give the new revision one more go-through. You’ll be here; no pub crawling tonight, right?”

He grabs my laptop, dumps his jacket to the floor, and settles into the recliner. “I’m not going anywhere, love. You’re stuck with me.”

Sigh. This weekend’s docket: Cleaning (ugh), writing (woo-hoo!), and counting down to the Writers’ Institute!

 

 

 

 

 


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Countdown to WI

No, not Wisconsin–well, sorta.

I’m talking the Writers’ Institute, an annual writing conference held in Madison, WI every April. I’ve only attended once, and then because the conference is close (a six-hour drive) and reasonable (ever see the prices for some of the bigger ones?).

Being in the Midwest makes things tougher when it comes to writing conferences. Sure, we’ve got what used to be Love Is Murder in Chicago–wait. Hang on. Um, okay, I guess that conference has gone the way of the dodo as of this year. Hmm. Well, that puts a damper on things. Point is, there aren’t a lot of writing conferences in our area. Hey, I’d love to travel to Florida for SleuthFest, or Seattle for the PNWA conference, or NYC for the Writer’s Digest conference, or (fill in other large city writing conferences here) but the pocketbook just can’t handle that kind of fun.

Notice the pattern? The bigger conferences tend to be located on either coast. And I’m stuck in the middle with yew (heh, couldn’t resist). Now, we do have other conferences in the Midwest (MN Northwoods WC), and last year the AWP had its conference in Minneapolis (which I didn’t find out about until the last day of the conference), but WI is big enough to be mentioned in Writer’s Digest magazine (where I initially found it).

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some great writing groups here: The Loft, the MN Writers Workshop, and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. I have this thing about driving into Mpls/St. Paul at night. And it’s a hike for me since I live outside the metro area.

“Excuses, love.” My Muse tosses his LA Dodgers baseball cap onto my desk and peels off his leather bomber jacket. “You could go to those if you wanted to.”

I lean back in my chair and sigh. “I have a tough enough time driving to work and back some days, and I’m not even going into the city. Besides, I don’t like being somewhere unfamiliar at night.”

“The UW-Madison campus wasn’t familiar either when you went there the first time.”

“First, the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat and WI are on the edge of campus, and second, I stayed within walking distance. It’s a college campus, for crying out loud. And …”

He lays a finger on my lips. “Excuses. Now tell them the real reasons you would rather go to Madison.”

I roll my eyes. “You know, you didn’t need to show up yet. I won’t get a chance to work on my WIP until later.”

He points at my computer. “You tell them or I will.”

*grumble* “Fine.”

Truth is, there are a lot of published writers from UW-Madison, and their Continuing Education instructors have some serious creds. I started with an online class, then took a deep breath and signed up (well, applied to) for the week-long Write-By-The-Lake Retreat Master Novel class with the highly-recommended and beloved Christine DeSmet. The first year I tried, I didn’t make the grade in Chris’ class (she recommended another class, but I really wanted to take hers). The next time I did.

And that week in 2012 changed my writing life forever. Hell, it changed my life, period. Six novelists are the max in the class, each one with a novel they want to get published. I was one of those six. And guess what?

The Writing Sisters were born.

To this day, the seven of us keep in touch. Three of us are published or soon will be, and one has a second book coming out this year. We’re seven great gals who are more than just fellow writers. We’re friends.

So, I get all warm and fuzzy when it comes to UW-Madison and writing. The Writers’ Institute is a cornucopia of workshops for writers of all flavors, with keynote speakers and opportunities to meet with writers now published who have enjoyed lessons from the awesome instructors at UW. In fact, one of my writing sisters is on that list this year, so of course I have to go and heckle–er, cheer her on. They also have some great agents who take pitches and give workshops during the event.

And that’s where my frenzied work on my WIP comes in. I have just under 4 weeks to shine up my WIP so I can pitch it.

“You’re falling behind, love.” My Muse leans a hip on my desk. “You didn’t work on it last night.”

“I sent two queries off, and spent some time tweaking my log line. And #PitMad is tomorrow.”

“I thought you were going to lay off the Twitter pitch parties for a while.”

Yep, I was. Still might stay in the wings. But doggoneit, it’s another way to get an agent or editor’s attention.

Anyway, long story, short moral: if you have an opportunity to go to a writer’s conference, do it. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy of all those writers gathering, learning, and encouraging each other. Maybe I’ll see you there.