Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Routine is key #amrevising

First, Happy Autumn! My favorite season has arrived–warm days, cool nights, and colorful trees. It’s great, all except for the sunset around 7p part. And the sunrise around 7a. It’s late enough that the morning runs I was doing before I logged on for work are almost too late now for me to get back and shower before work. Sure, I work from home and have some flexibility in my start and stop times, but I still like to get started by 7:30a at the latest. So, a run and shower in that timeframe is becoming a challenge.

I might have to start using the treadmill again. I prefer to run outside if I can, but it’s harvest season now, and the neighbors (we’re talking huge cash crop farmers) have trucks and tractors moving all the time during daylight hours, kicking up clouds of dust on the gravel road I use. No thanks.

The garden is on its way out. I’d share pictures, but it’s in sad shape, probably because I haven’t weeded for, like, months. The tomatoes are slowing down, likely because they’re now succumbing to blight. I planted blight-resistant varieties, so we got a lot of tomatoes, and of course as long as the bacon supply lasts, BLTs are on the menu.

Bonus: my pumpkins are almost ripe! I wasn’t sure they would have enough time, since they didn’t get going until July (note to self: start the pumpkin seeds in the house in spring). I don’t have many, maybe a handful, but that’s more than I expected. Enough to cook and freeze for pumpkin bread over the winter.

But anyway, I wanted to talk about routine (and my current lack of it). At Bouchercon I was reminded that a number of well-known authors schedule their writing time and defend it. Then I remember that a lot of those authors are retired.

Huh. Go figure.

Evenings seem to work better for me. NaNoWriMo is coming up, so another opportunity to reestablish a routine. I try to maintain a routine, and I’ve tried making the time sacred, but doggone it, real life sure likes to throw stones in the gears (and a husband who delegates anything having to do with internet searches, like plane tickets and cellular hotspots, to his formerly-in-IT wife. And of course, those are price comparison and reviews searches, which, as we all know, are almost as big a time suck as FB or research for a book).

So, after our next major out-of-the-routine duty–flying out to Virginia for our nephew’s wedding and staying an extra day for sightseeing in DC–the plan is to reclaim those sacred two hours after supper.

Routine does help. I’ve heard authors swear by it; because it’s the routine, their writer brain is all warmed up when they sit down at the keyboard. I find that by the end of NaNo, I’ll take a day or two to relax (or catch up on all that other stuff I didn’t do because I was writing, but needed to get done), then I’ll get back to sequestering myself where it’s quiet and edit/revise/write for a couple hours at night. It’s easier after maintaining that routine for 30+ days. I draft my books the NaNoWriMo way even when it isn’t November.

As for the rest of the family when the writing routine takes you away from them and into your own writing space, just let them know ahead of time that that’s the plan. I’m writing, no bothering me unless someone is dying or the house is on fire (I think I’ve seen a doorknob hanger with something like that). And routine gets shot to Hades when sh** happens, like my BIL dying unexpectedly, and my hubs is planning to fly out west with his siblings to take care of things. Guess who gets to find and book his flight? Oh, and guess who gets to set up the cellular hotspot and hope it’s easy enough for him to figure out (he’s not a complete Luddite, but don’t ask him to send an attachment with his email unless I or one of the kids is around).

(On the plus side, the man can fix almost anything. And he cooks!)

Here’s to reestablishing a routine. Noise-cancelling headphones, an internet blocker, and a comfy chair are waiting for me.

Happy Writing!

Flashback: itty kitties Nyx and Tibbers


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Getting ready for the ‘con (Bouchercon, that is)

OMG! I cannot believe Bouchercon is in less than a week! Wasn’t it just the Fourth of July? Geez.

On the one hand, I kinda dread it, because downtown Minneapolis, traffic, lots of people (waaay more than at Left Coast Crime (LCC) this spring). On the other hand, I can’t wait because I’ll get to see a lot of the authors I met at LCC, and bonus: my writing teacher will be there! Yes, I did just see her at the reunion, but it’ll be fun to see her at B’con.

A lot of our Sisters in Crime (SinC) chapter members (Twin Cities chapter) will be there. It’ll be the first time I’ve seen some of them since, well, you know, the whole pandemic thing. We are intending to start meeting in person again, but for me, as chapter president, I live over an hour away from our meeting place. They changed their procedures for groups gathering, so for me to take a day to drive all the way there to go over the new stuff for 15 minutes, then drive all the way back home is not the best use of my time or gas. I need to check to see if someone can be there when I’m in the area. I have a couple author events in the Cities (where our meeting place is) in October, so maybe I can work something out then.

It’ll be a good time. I’ll be busy with some volunteer stuff, and a panel, and if I’m lucky (unlucky?) I’ll get to moderate other panels–I’ll be a “floating” moderator just in case.

So why spend four days with almost a thousand people at a convention? Networking is a primary reason. Need an author to write a blurb for you? Because of LCC and SinC, I know a lot of authors who I could ask to write blurbs for me; in fact, I already have one for Book 2, whom I met at LCC. And an author you ask for a blurb is probably a little more likely to give you one if they know you. And even better if they just had some success with their latest book.

In some ways, conventions like this are reunions. I looked through the list of registered attendees, and I lost count of the number of names I remember from LCC. And, I suspect, I’ll get to see a lot of them again next spring at LCC in Tucson. I’m looking forward to seeing those authors I met at LCC. Great people!

This is my first Bouchercon (sounds like “couch-er-con”), only because it’s in Minneapolis. Not sure how many others I’ll hit, at least in the near future. I don’t have to pay airfare for this one, so I don’t have to come in a day early, or get transport from the airport to the hotel and back. I’ll see what it’s like; almost a thousand attendees is probably close to twice as many people as at LCC.

Anyway, don’t be surprised if I miss a post next week. I’ll be at B’con, and may just wait to post until I get back home. We’ll see.

To those in the US, have a wonderful holiday weekend! Labor Day signals the end of summer fun, or at least the summer travel season. Oh, and the start of the school year.

Happy Writing!

Juniper after playing hard


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Musing craft #amrevising

I open the back door to my writing office, fresh off a walk. I find walking and thinking about whatever I’m writing, whether brainstorming a new story or plotline or pondering revisions, go together well. Even if I might look a little loony if someone decided to watch me walk and talk things through.

“Well, it’s about time you came back, love.” My Muse leans on my desk, sweating bottle of water in hand.

I finish toeing off my shoes before I look up. Oh. My. His tank top–wait, muscle shirt–shows off his sculpted shoulders and biceps. The cargo shorts don’t detract at all–trust me. And he’s got that five o’clock shadow thing going, just at that rougish stage.

He raises a brow.

Oh, yeah. “You know where I was. And I didn’t see you anywhere helping figure out how to strengthen my supporting characters in Book 2.”

“And why do you suppose they aren’t quite ‘there’ yet?”

I make my way past him to the mini-fridge to grab my own water. “I don’t know. That’s the problem. It’s like I want them to be in the background, but they can’t be. Shouldn’t be. They should seem just as real as my MCs.”

“Okay, so why aren’t they?”

I drop into one of the recliners in the alcove and swallow some cool water. It’s the question I’ve been trying to answer since I got feedback from my agent on Book 2. I thought I rounded them out a bit, but apparently not enough. She made good points, and I can see how their characters are lacking. I’m just not entirely sure how to beef them up.

“Julie?”

“I’m thinking.”

He settles into the other recliner. “You’re thinking too hard.”

I can feel him staring at me. “Stop that.”

“You know how to fix it. You agent made good suggestions.”

“Yes, she did.”

“So? What’s the problem?”

I take another sip of water to stall. What is the problem?

“You know what it is, love. Say it.”

Damn it. “I don’t want them to be the focus of the story.”

“Not quite. Try again.”

Fine. “I don’t want them to take attention away from my MC.”

He smiles, the divot in his chin deepening. “She has to share the stage, love. It’s okay for other characters to figure out the mystery.”

“Not if the story belongs to my MC.”

A momentary frown crosses his face. “You’re right, not figure it out, but they have a stake in solving the mystery.”

“They do, but their actions are limited to pushing for answers, not digging around for them. That’s the job of my MCs.”

“Okay, so how can they do more pushing for answers? And remember, they have insights, too.” He finishes his water and tosses the bottle into the “Recycle” bin. “I can bring them over for a chat.”

“Not necessary.” I consider what he’s saying. They have insights …

My Muse grins. “There you go, love. I knew you’d figure it out.”

“Maybe, but will that be enough to fix the character issues? If they push to poke around for themselves, but my MC discourages them–to keep them safe?”

“You won’t know until you try.”

That’s the struggle, isn’t it? This is my first “book 2” (I do have a sequel drafted for my police procedural, but that’s a different formula because the MCs jobs are to solve the crime). I think part of the challenge is keeping in mind that readers may not have read the first book, so as the author you have to introduce the MCs again, and let the reader know the MCs nuances and stuff. I think that’s part of the reason I resist giving the secondary characters more of the story. I want the story to be about my MCs, but they aren’t in the story by themselves; the other characters need to be just as real to the readers, not just character actors from General Casting.

So, back to the revision board. And maybe my Muse has the right idea about bringing the characters over for a chat. We’ll see. I’ve got to look through my agent’s feedback in depth this weekend (I’ve already skimmed it) and keep this convo with my Muse in mind.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!


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Garden update August 2022 #mngarden

L to R: onions, dill/cilantro, brussels sprouts

Well, we’re in the thick of harvest time. As you can see, I have stopped weeding (dang, weeks ago, and it shows). The onions have been falling over since mid summer, which is disappointing. When onion tops fall over, it basically means the onion is done growing and can be picked. No softball-sized onions this year. Most of them are smaller than a tennis ball. Bummer.

L to R: dill, cucumber vines invading the peppers

This year has not been a good year for peppers. Even the jalapeno peppers are not doing as well as they have in the past, but at least the plants look pretty healthy. I planted 4 bell peppers. Of those 4, only one is still struggling to stay alive. The others never really got going; they were sick. I’m not sure if they were sick when I got them (I look at plants pretty closely when I buy them) or if they got sick after I planted them. However, this year has been stellar for cucumbers. I started seeds in the house, some pickling cukes (that were supposed to be bush cucumbers–not sure I believe that) and some snacking/slicing cukes. As you can see, the cucumbers are invading the peppers’ space.

I’ve stopped picking pickling cukes, for the most part. I’ve done 4 pickling sessions, with an average of 10 quarts per session. Plus we’re still working on pickles from the last time I did them. So I’m letting the cukes grow, then giving them to the chickens. They love them so much that if I leave some laying around to cut for them later, they’ll peck through the skin and eat them anyway.

Speaking of chickens … I’ll get to them shortly. So, the cukes have been going gangbusters, and my pumpkin got going late, but dang, it’s trying to catch up.

L to R: pumpkin, kale

The dill and cilantro are flowering. I almost want to do more pickles because the dill is at the perfect stage to use for pickling. I had so much dill come up on its own that I wondered why I actually planted any. It’s everywhere! And the cilantro is doing okay, but it’s been so hot that it pretty much flowers as soon as it can.

And the most important part of the garden! The tomatoes are starting to come in–they’re so good!

foreground: brussels sprouts, back: tomatoes!

I’ve had to keep tying them up because they’re sprawling. I saw something on PBS about how to prune tomatoes so they don’t get quite so unruly, but I’ll have to watch it again (if I can remember what it was) and take notes. The cabbage, alas, ended up first as a midnight snack for a rabbit that managed to squeeze under the chicken wire (hubs took care of it), and then ended up rotting from the bottom after we got a bunch of rain, then it got hot. Ugh. The brussels sprouts are doing pretty well, though.

And that’s about the state of the garden. The weeds are encroaching from the fence, both inside and outside the panels. I really want to take the entire fence down this fall to get at the ones right at the fence (as opposed to leaving the north and south sides up and opening up the ends so hubs can till). It’s a lot of work, though, to put it up again in the spring.

And did I mention chickens? We got 4 chickens from a neighbor, already at the laying stage so we didn’t have to wait 6 months for chicks to get old enough to start laying. They roamed at their previous home, and since both our dogs are lame at this point and can’t catch the chickens even if they wanted to, we let the chickens forage. And bonus: we get blue, green, and brown eggs!

Colored eggs!
L to R: Princess, Speckles, Rosie (no, we didn’t name them)
Princess

And people have asked me what breed they are, because of the colored eggs. They’re “mutts”, so who knows. They are fun to watch wandering through the grove. I hope they’ll be okay with staying in the pen over the winter.

And there you have it, the garden update. Now that the tomatoes are coming in, time for BLTs!! Yay!

Hey, you, get some writing done this weekend. I know I’ll be working on my police procedural puzzle (after cleaning–ugh).

Tibbers! and Nyx


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Getting back to the routine #amrevising #amplotting

I’ve been back home from my glorious writing reunion retreat with my Writing Sisters, and falling back into the routine. You know, the coffee, work, procrastinate, write, chill, rinse and repeat.

Same ol’, but predictable, and comforting in the “routine-ness” of it. Although, there are parts of a retreat I would love to translate to my everyday–no TV (well, no news other than the weather and the “feel good” stories about people being nice and helping people or animals), plotting help, and time to just write.

Escaping the everyday routine is something everyone needs to do on a regular basis. Seriously. It reminds a person that routines are good for keeping the regular tasks–like working or cleaning–in the pipeline, but it sure is nice to escape routine and just do the stuff that doesn’t always fit into the everyday (even if it should).

I once spoke to a well-known writer (William Kent Kreuger) during one of those out-of-the-daily-routine events (Left Coast Crime). He had his computer at a small table in a corner and was typing away. I asked him about it. He said he writes every single morning, whether he’s at home or on the road.

That’s my dream, to set a routine that even hitting the road won’t break. I might have to wait, though, simply because real life doesn’t think I should be that scheduled. It works much better during the winter when the garden isn’t a factor; I usually dedicate time in the evenings to writing. And I’ll bet it’ll work even better after I retire (if I can retire by then).

Hmm. When I started this post, my thought was to talk about plotting, and how valuable my Writing Sisters are when it comes to helping with story ideas. They managed to expand my long short story into a novella, and got me started plotting for Book 3. *looks around for Muse* I’ll have to save that for next week, I think.

Speaking of routines and how rude real life is when it comes to incorporating (shoehorning?) my creative endeavors into the time not occupied by necessities like work and sleep (and cleaning and meals and gardening), those out-of-the-routine events don’t escape blame. All those things we writers do to get our name out there, like conventions (Bouchercon, I’m looking at you) and book fairs and other author events, do their part in tossing rocks in the gears. I’m reading books from the other authors on my panel for B’con because I’m a backup moderator. I probably won’t need to step in, but just in case, I’m prepping.

They say “schedule a time that is sacrosanct for your writing.” Yeah, and tell all the rest of the stuff that HAS to get done to come back later. This weekend means cleaning (gawd, I’ve put it off long enough), two more batches of pickles, and finishing up a panelist’s book and starting another, because B’con is a mere 4 weeks away.

So looking forward to my personal writing retreat in October! And NaNo. My legit reasons to shun all the rest of the “stuff that needs to get done” and just focus on writing.

Take time to focus on writing, but also give yourself some leeway–real life doesn’t stop, and sometimes (often) it’s too important at the time to set aside (like family, job, cleaning (there is a point when you just have to do it), sleep). Do what you can when you can, and be okay with that. You may not release two novels a year (or even one novel in two years), but that time for writing is valuable.

Now to follow my own suggestion.

Happy Writing!

Tibbers and Nyx looking like they’re pretending to be innocent (but we know better 🙂 )