Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


22 Comments

Ee-nee-mee-nee-mi-nee-Muse #amrevising #amreading

I dusted off a project I pitched a few years ago. It’s an old friend, a story I worked on for months–years. I won a contest with it, workshopped it, and almost signed a contract for it (it was a small publisher I had a few doubts about).

Funny thing about writing (any craft, I suppose): the more you do it, the more you learn, and the more you look at old projects and see all the “issues” you recognize now.

Do I revise the project and try again or set it aside and focus on something fresh? It’s not like I have a shortage of projects to work on. It’s more a matter of which one I can polish in the least amount of time before I go back to Book 2.

Then again, switching genres for a while might be nice. I have a traditional fantasy that I never did finish. There’s that urban fantasy I started. I like the tone of that one, a touch of snark (has nothing to do with the snarky urban fantasies I’ve been reading lately as I’m waiting impatiently for Jim Butcher’s newest Harry Dresden book. Really.).

Thick tropical heat and humidity invade my writing office. I look up from my computer. “Shut that damn door. Leave the mosquitoes outside.”

My Muse pushes the door shut and arches an eyebrow. “Nice to see you too, love.” His short blond hair is bleached on the top, a contrast to his sun-bronzed skin. His weathered red muscle shirt shows a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle–Michaelangelo, I think–on a surfboard, with “Cowabunga!” emblazoned below. Bright green board shorts and flip-flops complete the outfit.

“Surfing?”

He flashes a wide grin. “The beaches are almost deserted. I had the waves to myself.”

“So glad you were able to take a break.” I can’t help the sarcasm. Well, I could, but hey, he was off somewhere surfing, and I’m at home being a good author. “I could have used your help this week.”

He saunters to my desk. “You did fine this week, love. Finished your class–nice revision of your last assignment, by the way, submitted to your writing sisters for your retreat, and registered for another class.” He ruffles my hair. “You done good.”

He drags a chair around to sit beside me and slings an arm around my shoulders, giving me a whiff of coconut-scented sunscreen and a nice view of his broad chest, surfer turtle and all. “Ready for the second round of revision on Book 2?”

“No. I’m letting that sit for another week. I’m going back to this one.”

He peers at the screen, a crooked grin stretching across his face. “Again? You know I really like this one.”

Only because one of the main characters is an Australian ex-pat. “I know. I’m reading through it again. It’s been awhile.” I didn’t realize how much I’ve learned since I last revised it. “It needs a little work.”

“Maybe.” He shoves back and puts his feet on my desk. Grains of sand sift from his feet like salt. “Your new class hasn’t started, your virtual retreat is a few weeks away, and you’ve been wanting to revise it. So jump in.”

But urban fantasy is calling. I really like the voice in that one, even if it’s only the first few chapters.

My Muse sighs. “No.”

“Hey, you were the one who got me started on that story. I was even going to model one of the characters after you.” Snide comments and all.

“Flattered, but no.” His feet land on the floor and he leans forward. “Focus on one thing at a time, especially since you have an agent who works with mysteries. No fantasy genres until you get the other projects finished and sent off. Got it?”

He’s right. “Got it.” Hasn’t stopped me from reading urban fantasy lately, which is disturbingly addicting. Maybe it’s the snark inherent in so many urban fantasy stories. Laugh out loud snark.

“Good.”

This weekend will be my first “running errands” weekend since mid-March (hubs did the last one). Got my face mask, got my hand sanitizer, I’m ready.

Stay cool! Keep writing!


18 Comments

Garden Update–because inquiring minds want to know #mngardening #garden

It’s about time for an update, right? Especially since I just finished weeding again, and everything is doing pretty well. (yes, even the weeds).

By request, I have a lot of pics. You can thank one of my writing sisters for that (CH, you know who you are 😀 )

Note to self: Taking pics before the sun is behind the trees might work better 🙂

I’ve learned that the more mulch, the merrier. I have soaker hoses under the lines of mulch between the plants, which works great, until a hose has a leak. Sigh. New hoses are in order, but they’re getting tough to find.

I have three surprise potato plants, as in “Surprise! You didn’t plant potatoes, but we’re here!”. Luckily they’re all at one end of the garden, so they’re not in the way too much of other plants. The pumpkin (lower right by the potato) might think differently when it gets going.

Mulch to the left of me, cukes to the right …

And yes, you do see radish carcasses. I plant the radishes with some of the seeds, like beets and dill, to mark the rows. We don’t eat them before they get too big (radishes grow FAST), so I pull them and discard to give the other plants more room. Sometimes if they aren’t in the way, I’ll let the radishes go. They get pretty tall, and flower. The seed pods are edible and taste like mild radish.

Cucumbers and tomatoes

This year I’m planning to make pickles, so I have three (not 10 like last time!) pickling cucumber plants, along with a few of a new variety of regular cucumber (which I don’t normally plant). The biggest difference between pickling cukes and slicing cukes is the texture: pickling cukes are less watery, more crunchy 🙂

L to R/front to back: Dill/basil/onions, kale/pepper, volunteer borage/kohlrabi

I learned a couple years ago that starting kale in the house helps them survive attacks from cabbage worms because they’re bigger (I also found out cabbage butterflies prefer to use kohlrabi over kale and brussels sprouts). I started my black kale, and planted seeds for the curly stuff. I prefer the black because it’s easier to clean, and find the caterpillars.

Way in the back you’ll see some tomato cages. Those are my peppers, which could look better. My peppers seem to tip over when they get bigger and have fruit, so I started using the cages (which, by the way, are worthless for tomatoes).

Brussels sprouts and green beans, with onions on the side

The brussels sprouts are looking good, but the cabbage worms haven’t started their main offensive, yet. I try to check them every day to pick (squish) the caterpillars. The green beans are doing okay, but I’ve seen them in better shape in the past.

Better shot of peppers, with kohlrabi and beets in the back

I also have two pumpkin and two zucchini plants this year, a pie pumpkin variety (supposedly somewhat sweeter than usual, but the jury is out on that), and the usual dark green zucchini (mostly for the chickens; I’m tired of zucchini).

Since we’re still all working from home for the foreseeable future, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the extra cukes, zucchini, and whatever else. Those are the things I like to bring to work to share, and my co-workers appreciate it, since a lot of them do not have gardens of their own for various reasons. Which means canning, pickling, or freezing stuff (provided my hubs doesn’t fill the freezer with other things like chicken breasts and whole turkeys and frozen hashbrowns).

The corn and potatoes are doing well in hubs’ garden, and yes, I did help him weed once, because he asked nicely 🙂 . No, I didn’t take pics of those.

The dill, cilantro, and marigolds are doing well, and I planted a second run of dill and cilantro, because experience tells me the first sowing doesn’t time right with the cukes or tomatoes. Basil is the only herb I’ve planted for years, and I did this year only because I got seeds free when I ordered others.

I’ll remember to take pics before the shadows reach the garden next time. I’m a lousy photographer to begin with, but at least the lighting should be better.

Hope you all are doing well and writing 😀 I’m working on pages to submit to my writing sisters for our virtual retreat. We’re planning to return to our favorite B&B next year; crossing my fingers that works out.

Happy writing!

Zoey sitting outside


21 Comments

Reading as a writer … for fun? #amreading #amwriting #amrevising

I indulged in a bit of reading for fun this week, since I figured out what scenes to submit for my assignment.

Okay, fine. I was procrastinating on my homework. There. Happy?

I haven’t read much of anything for a while, with the revisions and homework and all. Oh, and that pesky full-time job. And the garden.

With the upcoming release of Harry Dresden’s new adventure, Peace Talks, I decided to reread the last book in the series to refresh my memory, since it’s been, oh, years since Skin Game came out. Then I had to reread the book that introduced Mouse because hey, it’s Mouse.

After reconnecting with Harry, I was ready for more snarky urban fantasy, or at least snarky mysteries with a paranormal angle. And what luck! Another of my favorite urban fantasy authors just released a new book (some snark included). Not only that, but I ran across a book from a fellow member of Sisters in Crime that sounded like a nice break from serious. And writing.

I have now read 4 books (Skin Game (Dresden), Blood Rites (Harry again), Ann Charles’ first Deadwood book Nearly Departed in Deadwood, and Patricia Briggs’ latest Mercy Thompson book, Smoke Bitten) in the span of three weeks (one of which took me all of a day and a half to read), when I haven’t read much of anything for months.

Reunions with old friends (Harry and Mercy) are great, and meeting new ones (Violet Parker, with her purple cowboy boots) is fun, but you know you are a real writer when IT happens.

Yes, the infamous “Aha! I see what you did there” moment when you read a scene and you can “see” the structure of the scene and how it lures the reader on.

Here’s a “for instance”: In Nearly Departed in Deadwood, Violet has 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. She becomes friends with a codger who has a gun named Bessie and a total lack of subtlety, meets the tall dark handsome sexy guy next door to the office (sparks there), and starts dating the tall blond handsome rich guy whose family owns the jewelry store in town. So, sparks between dark sexy and Vi (who resists her attraction to him, yet he obviously likes her), but she dates blond handsome (she likes him more than dark sexy, or so she tells herself).

What’s more fun for readers than the tension between a girl and the guy she is determined not to be attracted to? Oh, and toss in the guy who is a chick magnet and rich. So, what does the author do? She includes a scene in which the codger and dark sexy guy are with Violet at the ER (her daughter broke her arm). Dark sexy is being the good friend, keeping Vi calm and comforting her like any sexy guy would (you know, holding her close), when blond handsome shows up.

Boom! The classic setup for tension with love interests. And the guys, of course, have been trying to win her affection in their own ways. Vi is determined not to fall for dark sexy (he’s been teasing her, all innocent-like, since they met), so she greets blond handsome like a lonely girl greets her boyfriend after he’s been gone for a week.

I find myself noticing all these little things now, the rising tension between characters and in scenes, the scene “cliff-hangers” that draw the reader on, and especially the fresh metaphors and descriptions (how the hell do they come up with those?). The first time I noticed the craft behind the story was when I read Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, his debut novel, and I couldn’t put it down. I paid attention to what he did that compelled me to read on.

Questions. Every chapter didn’t have a cliff-hanger, per se, but each had some question I just had to find the answer to. Same with the Dresden books, though those are more “how is he going to get out of this?”

Part of me misses that reader ignorance: the point of reading the story is to escape and live in another place and time for a bit without caring about anything except what happens to the characters–find and stop the bad guy or get the prize. I can’t do that anymore without noticing things with a writer’s eye. The setup, the character arcs, the tension, the description, the way other authors convey emotion.

Does it ruin a story for me? Only if the author does a middling or lousy job of keeping my interest (and then I analyze why it doesn’t keep me reading). When I notice these things, I try to take mental notes so I can improve my own writing. After hearing Allen Eskens talk about the craft and how he approaches a story, I notice that now in his books and others.

Reading like a writer means missing a little of that magic that readers search for in a good book, the escape where the real world goes away for a while. But reading like a writer makes me appreciate more the bits and pieces of what creates that magic to begin with.

Happy Summer Solstice! Just think, from this point on (until the winter solstice), the days will be getting shorter. Or, don’t think about it. Yeah, probably better for the psyche if we just enjoy now and express surprise later when it’s dark before 8p again.

Write on!

Zoey sleeping on chair


27 Comments

Kicking drafts and taking names #amrevising #amwriting

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I’m trying to pry dirt from under my fingernails, so of course I run into the door to my writing office before I turn the knob. Damn. It’s a good thing I was distracted, because the moment I open the door the odor of fried food and stale beer, like the kind you can’t get out of your clothes after watching the game at a sports bar (I know, it’s been a while, but you still remember, right?), wafts past me. Part of me wants to turn around and go back to weeding, but I resist.

Yeah, I probably should have listened to that part.

“I understand a ‘Job Well Done’ is in order, love.” My Muse is standing in front of the whiteboard covering one wall of my office. His fried food cologne must be emanating from the rugby jersey he’s wearing. His khaki cargo shorts have a stain on one thigh I hesitate to identify. Deck shoes complete his ensemble. No socks. Nice calves.

“Where have you been?”

He adds a note to the homework criteria I wrote on the board. “Things are opening up. Outdoor seating, and now some indoor seating, but the weather’s too nice to be inside.”

“So, you and Mr. E went on a pub crawl. If you were sitting outside, why do you smell like a sports bar?”

He adds another note. “Do you know fryers smoke? Even outdoors.”

I swallow a snarky comment about fryers and Camels or Marlboros. “Let me guess. You and Mr. E sat downwind. Didn’t think to move?”

He hit me with his brilliant blue eyes, a brow arched. “You make it sound like there was somewhere else to sit. It was like everyone was coming out of hibernation. We had to wait in line at a couple places.”

That sounds about right. “I can’t believe you had to sit downwind of the fryer at every bar you hit.”

“Well, there was one where they didn’t set up the fryers outside.” He adds one more note, then snaps the cover on the dry-erase marker. “Well done, love. You finished your first round of revision.”

I stand beside him in front of the board. “Um, thanks, I guess.”

“You sound disappointed.”

“I wasn’t, until I dug into my homework assignment.” Plotting. This assignment, my last for the class, looks at the story plot points. I’ve been feeling a major lack of satisfaction with the story, even after I figured out the plot to begin with. When I dug into my homework, I realized why. “I need to adjust the plot. Like, a significant change.”

My Muse swaps the marker in his hand for a different color, and adds another note. “That’s a good thing. You found the problem now, rather than two revisions from now.”

“You could have said something earlier, like before I finished the first draft–correction, finished the first draft after seven false starts. Maybe I would have gotten through it faster. Like after only five false starts.”

He rests an arm around my shoulders. The smell of French fries assaults my nose. “You forget one thing, love.”

“What’s that?”

“You don’t always listen to me.” Before I can respond, he continues. “Besides, you got to feel like you accomplished something by finishing the first round of revision. There’s a lot to be said about feeling like you’ve made progress. It’s important for all writers, but especially for one who tossed out seven partially-finished first drafts.”

“So, you didn’t hammer me with the revelation until I finished the first revision? Do you know how much further I’d be if I’d figured this out sooner?” I’m so glad I’m taking this class, because I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to see the glaring weak spot otherwise.

“How much have you learned because you analyzed the plot for your homework?” He tosses the marker onto the sill of the board. “You know the story will be stronger because of it.” He squeezes my shoulders, then heads to the mini-fridge and pulls out a brewski. He points the bottle at me then the board before twisting off the cap and slinging it into the trash. “Get your homework finished so we can work on that other story. I have a few ideas.”

I’m sure you do. He’s right, I can see the places where the plot needs work, which is part of the process. I do find it frustrating to get through one round of revision before I have that head-slapping “DUH!” moment.

Come to think of it, I’ve had a lot of those “DUH!” moments with this story. Sheesh.

Now that I’m done with my first round of revision, once I finish my homework, I’ll move on to a different story for a few weeks to let Book 2 rest. After this class, I have one more to take to get my second badge and move one step closer to my writing certificate.

How is your writing coming along? Enjoy this last week of Spring before the solstice next week!

Zoey on retaining wall


36 Comments

Settling down #amwriting #amrevising

writing in a journal on the lawn
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

A lot of writers have been posting about how the pandemic and the quarantine have disrupted their writing. Despite spending so much time at home, they are having a tough time focusing. Heck, a lot of people have trouble sleeping. COVID dreams, anyone?

Now with the turmoil of the past couple weeks added on top of all that, settling down to write seems to be a losing battle. All of the things going on right now foster anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration. Then there’s the whole being cooped up 24-7 with people you love but honestly need a break from sometimes–erm, on a regular basis. 😀

All these things disrupt the flow of creativity, at least for me. Considering it’s been what, three months since the pandemic kicked off the quarantine, there’s been time to try different things to settle that creative energy enough to use.

My Writing Sisters chat every week, and this week we shared some of the things we’re doing to help us attain the calm we need to write. Maybe you’ve figured out what works for you by now. If not, here are some of the things we are doing:

  • Turn off the news: Um, yeah. That’s what’s disrupting our energy to begin with. Hopefully you don’t live with someone who is a news junkie. Check in occasionally to stay informed (provided, of course, your source is non-biased and well-balanced, and no, I won’t go there), but anything more than an hour or so is probably too much.
  • Get outside: There is something grounding about being in Nature. Sure, we need to be mindful of where we go and physical distancing, but a walk in the woods or a park has a calming effect. Green trees, bird song, whispering leaves, maybe a laughing brook, flowers. Pay attention to it all. It’s like mindful breathing: it gives you something to focus on instead of the mental clutter encouraged by all the news lately. The weather this time of year is great (if you discount temps above 90 F and humidity above 80%). The southern hemisphere is heading into winter, but hopefully your weather isn’t like MN’s winter 🙂
  • Exercise: Walks or runs help work off anxious energy. Yoga and other activities like tai chi are both a physical workout and a meditation. Anything to bleed off that unsettled energy helps.
  • Write longhand: Writing longhand is a great way to pull a writing brain out of the mire. Even if it’s just journaling or stream-of-consciousness writing, it lures creative energy out, giving it a ball or a piece of chalk and a bare sidewalk to play with. Double bonus: Do writing-focused activities, like deep-dive character bios or setting histories in longhand. Try it. It works 🙂
  • Listen to music: Not head-banging, death-metal stuff (unless that’s your thing), but instrumental music. Or music with words, but the key there is to listen and not pay attention to the words. I listen to what we used to call “New Age” (maybe we still do call it New Age) and a lot of instrumental covers of popular music (The Piano Guys or David Garrett, for instance). And there’s always nature tracks, like waterfalls, rain, or bubbling brooks. Thunderstorms and ocean waves are my go-tos.
  • Get creative in other ways: Something that isn’t writing but is still creative helps to exercise that creative energy without weaving it into the structure writing can require. I know writers who are doing more quilting these days. I’ve been doing some crocheting (easy stuff like scarves and afghans). Playing music is another way to work the creative energy and settle your mind. I sat down at the piano again after ten years of not playing. It felt good.
  • Meditate: There are a lot of apps that help you learn to meditate, one of which offers a free subscription to health care and other front line workers (Headspace, I think), and another that offers a free membership for a year because of COVID-19 (Balance. Don’t know if they are still offering the free year). One of my writing sisters discovered a series of meditations for writers here. She ‘s been having a lot of success with them as she works on her WIP.
  • Get out in the garden: You knew this would be on my list, right? This ties back in with getting outside. Of course, there are annoying things like mosquitoes and weeds to contend with. Maybe it’s that physical connection to the earth that helps to ground us, because that’s really what it’s like. Nature can help us a lot if we pay attention.
  • Read: I’ve been reading a little more lately, and listening to audiobooks when I run. Full disclosure: Jim Butcher’s next Dresden book (after a six-year absence) is coming out soon, so I indulged in reading some of Harry’s earlier adventures. My favorite wizard! Reading to escape is different than reading to learn, but that’s the point, to escape. Reading to learn is also important to help us understand different perspectives and move forward in our craft and in our society.

Now that things are opening up, people who have been chomping at the bit because they’ve been cooped up are getting some respite, but I think a lot of writers have been pretty okay with the whole isolation thing. Yet even if you are an introvert, there is something to be said about being with other people, especially if you want to help in the midst of the chaos of the world.

Volunteering (taking proper safety precautions, of course) is a way to be around people and do something good for others and know you’ve been able to make a difference. This in turn helps you feel better and more settled, even if it’s nothing more than helping your elderly or sickly next door neighbor get their groceries for the week, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment.

My first round of revisions is coming along. I have one assignment left for my class, but I noticed a writer’s meditation that may help me with that. It’s on my to-do for today. It seems my other stories are starting to stir more, so once round one is finished for Book 2, I’ll give another story some attention for a bit while I let Book 2 rest.

Hope you all are doing well, staying healthy, and writing!

PS: I didn’t make it to the final round for the RONE award, but THANK YOU to everyone who voted!