Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


Trouble in Tucson Recap #LCC2023

Just some of the many mountains around Tucson, AZ

Well, I’ve returned to the starting-to-thaw North after 4 wonderful days in Tucson, where the sun was shining (except for the day I flew in) and the temperature was a refreshing 70ish. There’s something to be said about spending that much time with fellow mystery writers. Saw old friends, made new ones, and got my share of sand, sand, stone, and cacti. Oh, so much sand! So many pointy, prickly plants. So much sage, and mequite, and whatever else they have out there.

The first thing that struck me, being a Minnesota nature girl and all, was the stark difference in the landscape. No dandelions here! No lawns either, except for the golf course. Who knew they also have palm trees in AZ?

View of the resort from one of the walkways. Yep, that blue is a pool.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon; the convention started Thursday morning. I caught up with a friend I’d met at last year’s LCC in Albuquerque (actually I caught up with a lot of friends I met in ABQ), met another writer whom I’ve followed on her blog and met in person last year (she was on my panel), and met a new friend, a Canadian writer who is a nomad. Yep, he retired from software developing and is now travelling for fun, basically. He stays someplace for a few weeks, writing during the week and touristing during the weekends.

[OKAY, bitch time about wordpress–so, I finished my post, and the thing was Autosaving for, like, ever, so I refreshed the page (without copying what I’d already written–I know better) and lost half my post. Stupid wordpress!]

So, trying to remember what I wrote before wordpress eff’d it up….

Soo many authors. J.A. Jance was there to receive the Lefty Lifetime Achievement award. Wow, she is tall! Glen Erik Hamilton was the guest of honor, Ellen Byron was the toastmaster. Lots of other people I’ve heard of, including Joanna Slan Campbell, Lee Goldberg, Lee Matthew Goldberg, and Anne Hillerman. Great networking opportunities for sure! There was at least one agent there (J.A. Jance’s agent) and at least one publisher. They didn’t advertise who they were, but I sat in on a panel where the agent was the moderator and the publisher was a panelist.

Speaking of panels, I neglected to get a pic of my first panel, the one I moderated, but I did get a pic of myself with a couple of the authors after we divvied up some shamrock seeds in honor of St. Paddy’s Day.

Me, Barbara Barrett, and Anne Louise Bannon, with the bag of smaller bags of shamrock seeds

Every time I go to a convention, my TBR list grows, and this time was no exception. I did move a few books to the top of my list, though, a couple books I’ve been meaning to read since they came out last year, but just haven’t read them yet. One I moved up because I sat in on the author’s panel, and some of the things she talked about made me want to read the book sooner.

My first panel, the one I moderated, went quite well. The second one, Setting as Character, I did manage to get a pic of, thanks to fellow Twin Cities SinC member and fellow Camel Press author Priscilla Paton.

Baron Birtcher moderating, Diana R Chambers, moi, Kwei Quartey

The Awards Banquet on Saturday night was the culmination of the event. Authors can host a table, and attendees can sign up to sit at an author-hosted table. Basically, it’s an opportunity for authors to distribute swag and for readers/writers to talk to the authors and each other. This year I hosted a table with a good friend I met in ABQ (she moderated our panel), Ann Goldfarb, half of JC Eaton (her husband is the other half).

Ann Goldfarb and me at the Awards Banquet

We had so much fun we’re going to host a table together next year in Seattle. Yep, I’ve already registered for next year’s LCC. I’ve been to Seattle, and loved it–my husband and I took a road trip there during spring break while we were in A&P school. The temperate rain forest is a lot more appealing to me than sand and rocks and prickly pokey things. Although the cacti are cool in their own way.

By Sunday I was ready to come home, even if it meant returning to temps hovering around freezing. I’ve finally recovered from all the stuff (read: being around so many people, but at least it wasn’t as many as were at Bouchercon, which is roughly three times bigger), and am starting to get back into revising Book 2. That was one thing I noticed: I absolutely NEED to get book 2 out. During the pandemic, when I couldn’t write (pandemic-block), so many other authors were super-productive because they couldn’t go anywhere. I wish it had been that way for me, and had even anticipated it, but something stopped up the works and I couldn’t write.

Anyway, I’m working on revisions on book 2 AGAIN, but I have figured out how to handle some of my agent’s concerns. Once the revs are finished, I’ll get a beta reader before torturing–um, sending it to my agent again. And a week from now I get to cat-sit my son’s cats, and his girlfriend’s cats, while they go on a roadtrip to the southern tip of Texas with her family. Yippee! A week+ of cuddly cats (Zoey looks cuddly, but don’t fall for it; I’m lucky if she decides to sit on the footrest of my chair).

And it’s officially Spring (not that you could tell by the snow outside, or the ice rink in the yard). Can’t wait until things warm up finally, and dry out. By this point I’d rather have a muddy yard than an icy one.

Happy Writing!

Rocky Mountains from 35,000 feet! Look at the snow!


Hi from Tucson #LCC2023

Hey all! I’m still in Tucson for this year’s Left Coast Crime. I’ll be back next week to give you the low-down. Sneak peek, though: it’s been a great time, catching up with old friends, making some new ones, and just plain enjoying time with other writers talking about writing!

It’s a small world, though. Yesterday was St. Paddy’s Day, and a friend and I were at the bar waiting for our food before heading to the movie being shown courtesy of LCC (The Last of Sheila, in case anyone was curious), and struck up a conversation with someone who was there to celebrate the holiday (or the wedding, which made things super busy). Turns out the gentleman was from Minneapolis (well, White Bear Lake, but anyway). And it turns out his mom was with him, and she’s from Red Lake Falls, which is about 15 minutes from Thief River Falls, where I went to A&P school (and where Book 2 is set).


Figure that out. Sometimes the Universe does stuff like this just to let a person know that Kevin Bacon has something with his 5 degrees of separation thing. I said “Hi” to her, because her son asked; they were there to celebrate St. Paddy’s day (not sure why they were in AZ, but anyway), and his brother had passed away about a month ago, so he thought his mom would get a kick out of meeting someone from MN who knew Red Lake Falls (that’s where the flying club was based; I finished my private pilot’s license in Thief River while going to school there).

Anyway, I’ll give a better update next week (and hopefully some pics).

Have a great writing weekend, everyone!


Motivation, or lack of #mnsnow

In less than a week I’ll be in Tucson for Left Coast Crime. I’ve finished reading the books from the authors on my panel. I’ve got my swag ready. I’ve got to drag half a dozen of my books with me because the bookstore decided they couldn’t find my book to supply for the convention (that’s a whole other story).

And I should be working on book 2. I set my “what ifs” aside so I could read 5 books before the convention, but now that I’ve read them, and have some good questions prepared, I find I’m resistant to jump back into my writing until after the convention. I’ve got almost a week–okay, maybe half a week–before I leave, so I’ve got time now.

It’s like I feel I need to “save it until after.” Like for some reason the time between now and when I leave is somehow reserved for all the mental anticipation and energy of going on a 5-day trip. Like it’s a sort of reward for going to the convention, like the convention is a chore that needs to be completed.

It’s not. I’m looking forward to reuniting with friends I made at last year’s convention, and at Bouchercon last fall. I’m looking forward to the experience of seeing a new place, and of being away from home and all the responsibilities here. I get a break from work and from all the distractions of home (hours of news 😮 ). I get to enjoy early summer temps (70s!) instead of the forecast snow/rain mix, although I will miss out on the 40s they’re predicting for the end of the week.

I’m not looking forward to dragging my books with me, but it’s better than not having any because the bookstore, for some reason only they can rationalize, chose not to order my books to stock for LCC despite the fact I filled out their form to have them carry my book. Twice.

Maybe it’s the weather. I am so DONE with winter! We got 2 inches the other day, and they’re predicting 2 to 6 more inches today. The weather wonks have put this season into the top 10 snowiest for MN. Oh boy.

On the bright side, the equinox is in a couple weeks, meaning spring is almost here! Yay! We’ll only have to deal with the snow (and the subsequent muddy yard and driveway) for another month or so. Better than getting all this snow in December and having to put up with it for three more months.

Motivation to work on book 2 is sketchy at this point. Maybe because I need to really work through the “what-ifs” before I do any more revision, and my brain is busy churning through all the fun I plan to have at LCC. Or it’s busy thinking about other projects I really want to get back to. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I take advantage of the time I have now to shift some focus to book 2, because darn it, I want to hand it over to my agent and get back to my police procedural.

Then again, I’m also thinking to save the work for all the time I’ll be spending in the airport, on the plane, in my hotel room in the mornings before all the activities fire up. I mean, what better time to work through “what ifs” than spending 2-3 hrs at 40,000 feet?

Doesn’t mean I can’t do it now, too.

So, creative brain, get your shit together and focus.

Don’t forget to Spring Ahead this weekend for Daylight Savings Time!


It’s all about the craft #amreading #mystery

Left Coast Crime is a week and a half away, and I’m halfway through the last book I need to read for the panel I’m moderating. Sure, I technically didn’t have to read the panelists’ books, but I think it’s a good way to prep, and it makes it easier to come up with discussion questions.

Learning about the craft of writing is vital, I think, to improving as an author. Mysteries–well, all stories I suppose–follow a general pattern: crime, finding clues, discovering villian, catching villian. Of course, there are finer points than that, but in general a mystery is solving a puzzle.

One thing I find myself doing, especially when I read books from not-as-well-known-authors (meaning not John Sandford or William Kent Kreuger or J.A. Jance, etc), is noticing the different plot points in the story. You know, inciting incident, pinch point 1, midpoint, pinch point 2, climax, resolution. There are a lot of different ways to slice it, but in general, that’s the path stories follow.

Some stories are deeply engaging, so much so that I don’t pay attention to the structure or how the author did it. I recently read Glen Erik Hamiliton’s Past Crimes, and I stopped paying attention to structure early on. Other books I’ve read don’t draw me in as much, so I think to notice structure.

The curse of learning more about the craft 🙂

When I pay attention to the mechanics of the story, I stop and think “why?” Why am I noticing the midpoint is too early or too late, or the inciting incident could have been two scenes earlier? Why don’t I think about structure when I read other stories?

I think it comes down to engagement. Granted, writing is a craft, and by nature is subjective, meaning books I really like other people might consider “meh”, or books other people absolutely love I might not finish (Where the Crawdads Sing anyone?). What engages me in a story? The plot, sure, but I keep coming back to the characters. When I’ve done workshops, that seems to be the general consensus: people read stories for the characters.

And that’s what I’ve discovered is one difference between lesser-known authors and more widely-recognized authors. I find myself drawn in to Cork O’Connor (Kreuger), or Virgil Flowers (Sandford), or Joanna Brady (Jance), or Ava Oosterling (Christine DeSmet) or Sean McPherson (Laurie Buchanan). I don’t always feel as engaged with other characters, some in books by lesser-known authors.

So what is it about those characters? Not just protagonists. Authors have created anti-heroes and even villains that readers become invested in. Are they relatable? In some respects they are, like anyone is relatable, but why are some characters so engaging?

I suppose the answer to that question is in the same vein as the answer to the question of why do I get along with some people when I just meet them, and I try to avoid other people I just meet for reasons I can’t pinpoint. Some characters I love, some characters I tolerate, other characters I loathe. An author can create a character that comes to life on their own just by virtue of who they are, but that same author can create a character that toes that border between “flat” and “three-dimensional.” Or, as in life, the character seems real enough, but is someone you would try to avoid.

It all comes down, I think, to craft. There are plenty of books on creating characters, and practicing the craft helps hone those skills. Observing people in real life is part of that, so we can bring those qualities and quirks to our characters. Throw these characters a curve ball of a crime, and draw readers into their lives as they try to solve the puzzle and catch the villian. We, as authors, want the reader to become invested in the story, and that means caring about what happens to our characters.

Stay safe, everyone, with the storms marching across the country. We’re due for more snow at the beginning of the week. The spring equinox cannot come soon enough!

Keep on writing!


It’s still winter … sigh #mnsnow

The latest snowstorm

In case you didn’t hear, or were on vacation someplace warm and tropical, we were hit with a major snowstorm this week. The weather wonks had been warning us for the past week about this whopper of a storm, and advised people to postpone any travel that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Work from home if you can (heh, I always do 🙂 ). Make sure you have enough supplies for a couple of days. On Tuesday afternoon, it started. Schools let out early. Offices closed early. And both stayed closed through Wednesday and Thursday because of snow and wind. Blizzard warnings for Wed afternoon into Thursday. Anywhere from 6 to 20 inches of snow.

Um, yep. We were snowbound for those days. How much snow did we actually get? Hard to say because it all got blown around. Parts of our driveway were clear, other parts had foot-deep drifts. There was a good foot on the deck in the sheltered area. Totals for the closest town I’ve seen, about 40 miles northwest of us, was 18 inches.

And just for fun (or spite) we got to enjoy -15 F Friday morning. Air temp. Windchills closer to -30.

I am so done with winter.

The next storm is winding up on the west coast. The latest forecast for us is rain and snow next week.

Have I mentioned how DONE I am with winter?

“And how much writing did you get done while you were snowbound, love?”

Damn. I look up to find my Muse leaning against the end of the wall separating the alcove from the outside door of my writing office. Sun-bleached hair, baggy cotton pants in a bright paisley pattern, a lightweight sweatshirt, and … Birkenstocks? No socks. Tan. Wow.

“Nothing like rubbing it in. Must be nice to jump into summer Down Under.”

“Well, there sure wasn’t a hell of a lot going on here.”

“Hey, snowstorm.”

“And how is being snowbound for three days any different than you not going anywhere for three days?”

He does have a point. “We were lucky the power didn’t go out, and we got our propane tank filled just before the storm moved in. I’m thankful we were warm and safe.”

“And I’m glad for that, love. Did you use the time wisely?”

Grumble. “As for your question, no, I didn’t get much writing done. I need to work on a few things before I do any more revision–which you weren’t around to help me with. However, I am two-thirds of the way through the third book I’m reading before Left Coast Crime, which is in two and a half weeks. I have two more to read before then. So I’m reading more, writing less.”

He frowns. “I’ll give you a pass. It’s good that you volunteered to moderate that panel. Now you just need to get Book 2 finished so you can tell readers that it’s done and looking for a publisher.”

“I know, I know. I’m still working on the things my agent pointed out. I need to think about ways to handle those concerns in a way that fits the characters.” I narrow my eyes. “I could use some inspiration here, rather than wondering how much surfing you’re getting in.”

“Not as much as you think, love.” He approaches my desk. “I have no current plans to walkabout. Except while you’re at Left Coast Crime.”

Which works, because I don’t do any writing during that time anyway. Too much networking and panel-watching to do. Too much activity to really get creative. “Okay, that’s good.”

“And how much writing are we planning on getting done after the convention?”

I would love to say a lot, but come to think of it, I have a house to try and organize-slash-clean if hubs still plans on our hosting Easter for his family. Ugh. Although I’m thinking not this year; he and his siblings are planning a trip out to CA to finish business for their deceased brother around that time. And I get to cat-sit for my son at his apartment for a week and a half–yippee! 🙂

I’m hoping to get a bunch of writing done while cat-sitting, between petting sessions 😀


“I’ll be more focused after LCC. I want to get at least halfway through my edits before I get to cat-sit.”

He plants hands on his hips and rolls his eyes. “Uh-huh.”

“Hey, I won’t have home distractions at my son’s apartment.”

“You’re still planning on working.”

“Well, yeah. I’m one hundred percent remote, so I can work from there. I just need to figure out how much of my equipment I’ll need to bring besides my computer.”

“And four cats? What was that about no distractions.”

“No home distractions. Besides, you like cats.”

“Not as much as you do.”

“Why? Because they know when you’re around?”

“They don’t seem to understand that I can’t pet them.”

Hmm. Zoey is never interested when he’s around. I wonder if my son’s cats will shadow him.

He plants his hands on my desk and leans in. “Point is, you need to write.”

“I’m well aware, and I’m when I’m not reading, I am working on what-ifs for the revisions.”

We survived the storm and came out the other side mostly unscathed, all except for the foot+ of snow that still needs to be cleared off the deck. I also scheduled my personal spring writing retreat at the Shire–woo-hoo! I’m renting a different cabin again; trying to figure out which one works best for me, although being so isolated is good for my creativity in general. Hopefully it’ll be drier this year, but the way things are going, they’ll probably still have snow on the ground the second weekend in May.

Happy Writing!

Nyx, Tibbers, and Stella