Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Writerly inspirations #amwriting

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So I ran across this quote through a fellow writer on Facebook. I read it and thought “YES! SO MUCH THIS!”

Um. Yeah. Then i got back to my writing office and found this:
indianna-jones-hat-whipAnyone else think my Muse didn’t find the quote’s image of a muse as humorous as I did?

I haven’t seen the fedora and bullwhip for a while, and I didn’t expect to see them; I’ve been writing–working on my homework for my writing class. Now that my writing teacher has finished her week-long writing retreat, I’m planning to turn in my next assignment in a few days. The first 20 pages of my book.

Hey, it’s incentive. *eyes the fedora and bullwhip*

“A-hem.”

Um, he’s behind me, isn’t he. Yeah, not a question.

“I hope you aren’t taking Ms. Kingsolver’s advice literally, love.”

Gulp. I turn to find my Muse standing inside my personal space. Rather, looming. He’s six-foot-two to my five-foot four. I look up, but slowly. I mean, he’s so close I may as well take advantage, right? I don’t get this kind of view of broad chest and lean muscle every day. Even if it is covered with a royal blue t-shirt that fits him quite well. And is that coconut scent from sunscreen? I always think of the beach when I smell that. The beach and Banana Boat sunscreen. Do they even make that anymore?

“Julie.”

Oh, yeah. I finish getting my eyeful and reach his face. “You are in my personal space,” I say as an excuse, though I’m pretty sure he sees right through that.

“Yes, I am. And do you remember why I’m in your personal space?”

I show him my notebook, complete with line-outs, scribble-outs, and arrows. “I’m doing my homework. See.” I indicate the fedora and whip. “I don’t know why you brought those. I’m working.”

He shrugs. “I got inspired by your writing teacher.”

What? Oh, the quote on Facebook. “Aren’t you supposed to meet Mr. E for a pub crawl?” Not that I think he’ll be distracted by the idea, but it’s worth a shot.

His strong hands land on my shoulders and he turns me around, adding a tiny shove toward my computer. “No. I’m here until you get your homework done.”

Okay. I can work with that. I mean, he is my Muse after all. Heck, he’s been my Muse since my senior year in high school. And no, I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was.

“Focus, love.” He bends close, until I feel his breath on my ear. “And remember, your writing teacher approves this message.”

You had to be there. Seriously.

Welcome to Summer! (unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s winter) And now we get to watch the days get shorter (I know, still 24 hrs, but a few less minutes of daylight every day from now until the winter solstice. Boo.)

And here’s another Barbara Kingsolver quote for inspiration:

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Happy Writing!

Zoey4

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Getting back into it #amwriting

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I swat at the cloud of gnats swarming my head and dart through the back door of my writing office. With the door safely closed and most of the bugs left outside, I pull off my head-net. Best. Investment. Ever. Although, one can tolerate a cloud of gnats around one’s head–even one safely ensconsed in mosquito netting–only so long.

“Seriously, love?” My Muse is leaning on my writing desk, arms crossed. Until he swats at a rogue gnat. A teeny wisp of smoke fades.

“Dude, did you just fry that gnat?”

Another teeny wisp of smoke drifts toward the floor. “Would you rather I corral them and coax them back outside?”

“Hell, no. Why don’t you nuke all the ones out in the garden so I don’t have to wear this head-net and spray down with bug repellent.”

“Not my job.” He crosses his legs at the ankles. Which is when I notice he’s wearing deck shoes, no socks, tan cargo shorts, and a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt. Except the shirt is tye-dyed rather than the usual black. “Besides, they’ll be gone in a week or so. Now that you’re done playing in the dirt …”

“Playing? Excuse me, but I was trying to weed. You know, before I couldn’t stand listening to bugs in my ears and flying around my eyes.” I peel off my long-sleeved button-down shirt. Ugh. Eighty degrees outside and I have to wear long pants and long sleeves just to weed without turning into a snack bar. A stray buzz by my ear sounds like a mini-buzzsaw. I slap at my head. Damn fricking bugs. Needless to say, I didn’t get a whole lot of weeding done. “Whatever it is, it’s going to have to wait until after I shower.”

A slow, crooked grin stretches across his face. An eyebrow arches.

“What? What’s funny?”

“Best you don’t know, love.”

Ahem. O-kay. “Hey, I don’t need any shit from you. I’m writing. I even have the first chapter done. I knew that class was a good idea.”

“Yes, you are, and yes, it was. And I’m not going to let you slack off because your writing teacher is conducting a week-long writing retreat this week. She wants to see the next chapter.”

“And I want to write it. But shower first.” The sharp pine-ish smell of bug spray just reminds me of bugs. Bloodsucking bugs.

“I’ll be waiting.” He crosses the office and settles into one of the recliners in the corner before he reaches to the mini-fridge and pulls out a craft beer. “Hurry up. I have some ideas for the next few chapters.”

“Good. So do I.”

I have to say, I am sooo glad I took this class. The units and exercises are set up to walk through the process of building a novel. So far, in the unit I’m on, my assignments included a logline and the infamous Central Question, a review of the book as a bestseller, as well as my main character’s best personality trait and her Fatal Flaw.

By writing the review, specifically looking at the character, plot, and transformational arc, I discovered a few things, one in particular that “clicked” as part of Sierra’s arc. By really thinking about her fatal flaw and why she has it, I hit another revelation that will help me with the story.

My next assignment is the first 20 pages. I have the first nine done as part of an earlier assignment, and I feel good about keeping things going. Being accountable is a big part of this, but also the coaching. My mentor is a great coach; she always manages to say something or make a suggestion that turns on the lightbulb and makes me want to dig in and move forward. I even took a day off next week to give myself some additional time to write. And work on promo stuff.

Enjoy your weekend, and to all the fathers out there, whether you have your own kids or you fill that place in someone’s life: Happy Father’s Day!

zoey chair 3


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The season for growing #gardening #minnesota

Okay, I know you’ve been waiting for this. And I had to battle devilish swarms of gnats just to get these pictures. Ever see a black cloud of teeny tiny flying annoyances?

Okay, the pic is from last year, courtesy of KARE11 news station here in MN, but still….

And once they find you, they stick to you like, well, a swarm of gnats. Ugh. Needless to say, even though I need to weed the garden, I’m not going to brave those suckers. Honestly, I’d rather battle mosquitoes. They’re slower, and there aren’t as many all around your head wherever you go. We even had a breeze, and the gnats still found me. They are bad enough the news is covering them this year, too. The worst part is we lost 4 chickens (juvenile chickens) this week, either due to the nasty storm (chickens can literally–yes, literally–be scared to death by a bad storm, courtesy of thunder and lightening) or the gnats. According to the experts, they should dissipate in the next week or two.

Just in time for the mosquitoes to show up. Yay. Not.

Any-hoo, here it is, the garden before anything is really going. Except the weeds, those are doing well.

The garden, 2019

I’m keeping an eye on the sprouts. So far, the plants are doing well, the peppers and tomatoes. The kale and brussels sprouts are hanging in there. The onion sets are coming up. I’m worried about the potatoes, though. We have had enough rain the past few weeks that I’m afraid they may have rotted. I’ll have to dig one or two up to check.

Seed-wise, the radishes are coming up, but as for anything else, I’m on the lookout. It’d be pretty easy to replant, but then we run into a season timeframe. Crossing my fingers!

The rabbits did a number on our lilac bush last year, so I missed out on flowers last year and this year. On the bright side, the dame’s rocket is blooming in the grove. They look like phlox, but the flowers are a little different. And they smell great, a delicate floral that reminds me a little of lilacs.

Dame’s rocket (along with giant ragweed before it reaches the “giant” stage)

This week has been hot, and after the severe storms this past week (hail too, but the tomatoes and peppers survived). Once I gather up enough courage (and some DEET-powered bug repellent), I’ll have to do another round of weeding.

Short post today–gotta get back to my homework 😀 Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and keep writing!


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Blueprint to a book

I took a chance last weekend and planted the garden during the two nice days we had in a series of rainy ones. Needless to say, the very next day we got 2+ inches of rain. Not sure yet how much I’ll have to replant, and of course I forgot to take pictures. That’s on the agenda for next week’s post. Besides, maybe some stuff will start coming up by then (provided the seeds didn’t get washed away. Sigh.)

So I thought I’d give you a look-see into my class. Because of the trouble I’ve been having with Book 2, I decided to take an online course to both hold me accountable (since it’s being taught by my writing teacher and I don’t want to disappoint her 🙂 ) and lead me through the process.

I’ve been doing pretty well with my process–which has evolved somewhat–since I started drafting novels in earnest. I’m not counting the two I did before I seriously aimed at getting published. But Book 2 has been giving me fits for a long time. Part of it is because I wasn’t getting the story quite right, and part of it, I think, is because I would really like to work on something else (which I just figured out. Yeah, I know, it takes me a bit, but I think my Muse has been getting frustrated and just wants me to write something.)

The online class is called “Write Your Novel Fast and Sure”. Perfect! It walks you through the process of building and shaping a novel, from the famous (infamous?) core problem that the protagonist has to solve, to the “promise” you as a writer makes to your reader, to the plot points of the story.

It’s a blueprint, breaking the project down into manageable pieces. Honestly, I’ve never broken a story down like this at this stage (I’ve done it once the story is written in order to make sure it hits the important stuff). I usually “write” the story in my head, then put together a “story bible” with specifics like character bios, setting details, and a rough summary/timeline of events. Breaking this story down reveals some of the things I was getting hung up on, like having a big conflict between Sierra and Quinn. Stepping back, that won’t work because of the characters themselves, the type of people they are. They might get frustrated with each other, but a major conflict needs a major flashpoint between them, and there isn’t one of those in this story.

First, the core problem of the story, or as I’ve heard it said, the story “goal”. What does the main character have to do? That ties in with the “promise” to the reader, which goes back to what a reader expects from the genre. Since this is a mystery, the goal is to find out who killed the victim and why. The promise to the reader is that there will be at least one dead body, and someone will figure out what happened. Wrapped into this is stuff that is part of the “story bible” (and in case you are wondering, there is a nice post about story bibles over at Story Empire), like characters, setting, and timeframe.

Then on to your character’s journey through the story, making sure they hit the “plot points” along the way. There are about as many interpretations of plot points as there are writing craft books about plotting, but they all hit on the same ideas: the inciting incident, things start going wrong, the midpoint crisis when the character thinks about giving up, more things go wrong, the good guy and the bad guy have it out (aka the climax), and the wind-down (aka resolution).

I’m at the first five pages assignment, and struggling with the setup. Since this is only book 2, I have to anticipate readers who have not read book 1 (if this was book 10, I wouldn’t have to reintroduce everyone again). So, trying to introduce the main character, the primary costars, the victim and what he means to the main character, the timeframe, and the setting, all in the first five pages, is bogging me down. I have more characters to introduce in those first pages than I did with book 1, so that’s a challenge. Do I describe the costars? How much? Can I wait to give those details until later? How do I establish that the story takes place in 1993? Am I really starting at the right place?

Ugh. It’s a draft. If I keep reminding myself it’s a draft and I’ll be changing it later, it helps. A little.

This novel-writing stuff seems harder now than it used to be, since I learned more about story structure. I feel like I have to analyze everything to make sure it hits all the specs on the “template”.

Maybe it’s time for a little ditty about Jack and Diane–no, wait, I mean Alex(andra) and Kieran. Or Kenna and Shaw. Or Erinne and Sean. Or a scene or two for the elusive urban fantasy my Muse keeps tossing my way. Just to take a break from Sierra and Quinn.

It feels like summer is here. The gnats are out. Flowers are blooming. The grass needs to be cut. The kids are home for the summer; well, my daughter is home, my son is home for the weekend. To all those who have been in the path of Mother Nature’s not-so-nice weather, stay safe!

Enjoy your weekend!


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Back to school, sort of

So, I can say I’m procrastinating on doing my homework because I’m writing my blog post instead, right?

Saying I have homework seems much more enjoyable now than it did way back in high school. Homework back then was a chore, something to dread. Even my college-aged kids groan when I ask them about their homework. (Sometimes in the middle of the summer I would even ask them if they had any homework, just to bug them 😀 )

As a writer, one of the things we do is strive to improve our craft. We read books about plotting, creating believable characters, using realistic dialog. We know–and have maybe even read–the “classic” how-tos: Writing the Breakout Novel, The First Five Pages, Techniques of the Selling Writer, and The Writer’s Journey, among countless others. We go to conferences and seminars. We even–gasp–take online classes!

That’s where I’m at right now. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I’ve been struggling to write the infamous Book 2, the next book in my Sierra Bauer Mystery series. So, I figured if I was accountable to someone, like a teacher, I might make some progress, and learn other ways to get from A to B.

So I enrolled in an online class through UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies. By the way, they have a great writing program, with excellent instructors. Anyway, get this: my class is Write Your Novel Fast and Sure. Heh. Talk about ulterior motives. Or just motives. Or just plain accountability.

So yep, I have homework. And my next assignment is the first five pages of my novel. Woo-hoo! Or at least, woo-hoo once I get those five pages written. I do have a rough draft, though, so if my writing teacher is reading this, I am working on it. Really!

As for the garden, after a week of rain, rain, one cloudy day, rain + 10 minutes of sunshine, rain and half a day of sunshine, things haven’t really dried out enough to plant, but it’s getting late. I’ll probably try to get something in the ground, soggy soil or not, in the two days without rain we’ll get this holiday weekend.

Speaking of, for those in the US, Happy Memorial Day! Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Is this my good side?


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A Muse break

“This one?”

“Is it the one at Once Upon a Crime? The one Meg took?”

“You know, you could come over here and look, love.”

“I’m doing my homework.” My writer, sitting across the office in one of the recliners, glances up from her notebook. “I don’t care. Just pick one. I’m trying to get this done, which is the whole point of you doing my blog post, remember?”

Bloody hell. Fine. “Then don’t complain if it’s the wrong one.” There. “You know, you should have had more books on the table.”

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Author signing at Once Upon a Crime bookstore

She rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”

All in all, she said the event went well, even if she didn’t know beforehand the bookstore sells the books on a consignment basis instead of ordering them ahead of time. I tried to tell her, but she didn’t listen. Luckily she had a bunch of books in her car. She came home with no books, and reveled in her fortune for the rest of the day. Not much writing got done despite my efforts.

“What are you writing?”

“If you want to know, you could write the post yourself, love.”

She shakes her head and puts her headphones on.

As frustrating as it’s been to get her settled enough to write again, she’s putting in some nice effort. I keep telling her she has to focus more. If things were up to me, she would go away to a quiet cabin somewhere for a week, where I could really work on her. There is a place I put on her radar. Will she take my suggestion? Who the hell knows.

Of course, when I look up to check on her, she’s watching me instead of writing. Cute, but not productive. “Focus, love.”

She slides one headphone off. “What?”

“You know exactly what. Get your homework done.”

She sticks out her tongue before sliding the headphone back into place. At least she’s writing. When she declared she was going to take an online writing class, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. I mean, she’s got a book to write, and a class would distract her.

No worries. Julie has been far more focused because, she says, the class is helping her write the infamous Book 2. And it’s with her writing teacher.

Thank the gods. I was considering pushing her into that urban fantasy again. And no, that has nothing to do with getting a cameo. We Muses work our magic away from the spotlight.

But it would be kinda fun to see what she comes up with.

“Don’t forget to put a picture of Zoey at the end.”

“I’ve got it, love. Finish your homework.” Which might be a challenge over the next months since her kids are home from college for the summer. Maybe I can get her to repurpose her son’s room sooner rather than later. And her book promo stuff. I miss the days when all my writer had to do was write.

zoey couch2

“Did you put in a picture of Zoey?”

Sigh. “Yes, love. Get back to work.”


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Book launch party = success!

APL event 4.

Last weekend I held a book launch party at our local public library, the first of this type of event I have ever done.

Yikes. I wasn’t sure what to do or expect. Thankfully a bunch of my writer friends *waves* have done this sort of thing before and posted about their experiences. The impression I got from other writers is that everyone kinda does their own thing.

How do you plan this sort of thing when you’ve never done it before?

You don’t. I knew I wanted to read the first chapter of the book. Other than that, it was “make it up as I go”.

It was a good turnout, even if half of the people there were relatives (some of whom came from the Twin Cities, no less). Having worked at the library, I recognized most of the locals. The library is a small-town library, with enough room for maybe thirty chairs comfortably, and almost all the chairs were filled.

APL event 3_cr

I drafted my daughter to take pictures for me, but didn’t know what to tell her to take pictures of. She did miss the airplane-shaped cookies the library director made for the event. Those were cool, and everyone liked them. The library director had a new grandbaby arrive the night before the event, so she missed out (but she got to see her first boy grandbaby!)

After introductions, I read the first chapter of my book, which is short enough to read and ends with a cliffhanger.

APL event 1

Then questions. My daughter (actually, my hubs fed her lines) asked a bunch when no one else did, so it was a nice Q&A session. Afterwards, people mingled and bought books. There were a few people I haven’t seen for a while there, so it was nice to catch up a little with them.

The best part was hearing how much people enjoyed the book. Few of the attendees had read the book, but one patron, who is a voracious–and discerning–mystery reader, loved it. She is someone who won’t hesitate to tell you if she didn’t finish a book or doesn’t like an author’s writing. She is great word-of-mouth advertising!

The local newspaper guy was there, so I also got my picture in the paper.

paper photo_crAll in all, it was a great event. We invited family over to our house afterward to visit for a bit (and bribed them with pizza 😀 ).

Our local library and the library league are great at sponsoring  events like this, and bringing in authors. We have had Marc Brown (Arthur children’s books) and the authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day), as well as many others, do presentations. Check in with your local library league to do events at the library. I mean, where else do booklovers go if there isn’t a bookstore handy?

This weekend I’m heading to a local indie bookstore with a reputation for supporting local mystery authors for a signing event with a fellow member of our Sisters in Crime chapter. It’ll be another first for me, but I’m looking forward to picking my fellow author’s brain a bit on setting up signings at other bookstores, which he’s been busy with since his second book came out early this year. I have to set up more author events, and it’ll be nice to get some tips.

And SPRING! The trees are getting green, the grass is super-green, and I saw tulips blooming yesterday. The local greenhouse has flowers out now. There’s nothing like those bursts of color after a long, gray, and dreary week. I stopped in to pick up seed potatoes and onion sets, because last year I didn’t get there early enough and all the potatoes and onions were gone. I’ll go back to get seeds and plants in a few weeks once hubs gets the garden tilled.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

zoey_cr