Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Six months and counting…

zoey3

What do you mean this is your chair?

The world of traditional publishing moves s-l-o-w-l-y. And then really fast, like “write up back cover copy, fill out this three-page form with promo stuff, and get it back to me in a week” fast. And then, hurry up and wait. Again.

I’m at the “hurry up and wait” stage. There are a bunch of things I can do now to prepare for my novel’s release in March, including promo stuff that I don’t need a cover for. I happen to be a part of a super-wonderful group of bloggers who have had eureka moments and fine-tuned their promotional stuff, and have graciously shared their experiences on their own blogs or blogs they contribute to.

Which means I have a handy dandy list of stuff to do before March.

I feel like I did when I was trying to write back copy. Or a query. Or a logline. Namely, how the hell do I start?

Well, this Saturday (today!) I’ll be spending all day at the Deep Valley Book Festival manning the Sisters in Crime table, selling anthologies and taking memberships. And observing the process. I imagine I’ll have some time to work on my promo stuff; I’m going to prepare to take advantage of the time, anyway. And I’ll have the opportunity to see how other authors do things.

So, a short post today. Still plugging away on Book 2. And NaNo is approaching. One of my co-workers asked me if I was going to NaNo this year. I’d love to do NaNo, but the only way I’ll be able to is if I can finish the rough draft of Book 2. I’m 35k words in. If I can hit 50k (and/or finish the draft) by November 1, I’ll take on NaNo. I need to get back into the habit of writing 2k words every day, so I’m thinking NaNo would be a good idea.

And for those of you who popped in just because of the cat pics (yes, I know you, B 😀 !), here’s a couple more. It’s been unusually cool for us this time of year, so Zoey took advantage of my fuzzy lap blanket (which I use mostly for my feet). Or should I say furry lap blanket?


It’s her go-to spot when I’m working on my laptop (and my computer is taking up my lap). Then she gets upset when I have to get up to go to the bathroom. On the bright side, she is nice and warm 😀

Have a great weekend!

zoey1

See? My chair.

 

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Endearing characters

zoey awake Rich characters are an author’s goal. If we can create characters that stick with readers after they have closed our book, we’ve done our job.

But we don’t always consider adding an extra little treat to our stories, especially if we write in the suspense or thriller genres.

Pets are something we can add to our stories to enrich them, and round out the human characters. I mean, many readers can relate to a character who has a dog that needs to be walked or a cat that insists on being let outdoors at the most inconvenient times.

In cozy mysteries especially, pets seem to be everything from sidekicks to co-protagonists. In the Fudge Shop Mysteries by Christine DeSmet, Lucky Harbor, a fudge-loving mutt, is both a sleuth and a troublemaker. In the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich, Rex the hamster is Stephanie’s only roommate. More entertaining is Bob the golden retriever, a galoot who eats anything (including socks and underwear) and later “horks” it up.

Pets aren’t just for cozy mysteries, either. In J. D. Robb’s In Death futuristic police procedural series, Eve Dallas owes her life to the plump cat she names Galahad. Even in a few of the later Special Crimes Unit/Bishop Files books by Kay Hooper, she added dogs and a cat named Pendragon that all seem more than average.

Some of my favorite fictional pets appear in urban fantasy. One of my favorite urban fantasy series is the Dresden series by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden lives alone in a basement apartment with Mister, a huge domestic cat, as his only freeloader–er, pet. Later, he acquires a foo dog, which is a mythic temple guardian in Tibet (think of those dog/lion statues you always see outside temples) that looks like a Tibetan mastiff. Mouse is one of my favorite fictional pets. He’s huge, but sweet. In Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, Oberon is an Irish wolfhound who adds some comic relief.

If I could choose any fictional pet for my own, though, it’d be a close tie between Mouse and the firelizards from Anne McCaffery’s Pern series. I mean, who wouldn’t want tiny dragons to hang out with?

Adding a pet, or a stray that winds up as a pet, is a great way to give your readers another reason to feel connected to your characters. In my debut novel, I have a pet ferret as a little extra source of endearment. As I’ve been working on Book 2, I didn’t start out with a pet, but the more I write, the more I think a pet is needed. One of the characters went through cancer treatment, including surgery. Her husband would be worried, and lonely while his wife is in the hospital. Then there’s the time he can’t be at home with her while she’s recuperating. What better than a dog–or a cat–to keep them company?

Not every story needs a pet, but sometimes it makes sense. Remember, we want our readers to think of our characters as real people. Real people have pets. Besides, you never know when that pet will be the key to resolving a conflict or reaching a goal.

Amazingly, I have a free weekend–woo-hoo! I see two days of heavy writing in my future 😀

Write Well! Write On!

zoey asleep

 


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A case of (almost) mistaken identity

zoey_cr

See how I did that? Made you look! 🙂

One of the decisions an author makes during the process of getting published, either traditionally or self-published, is what pen name to use. Most writers will use their “real” name, which makes sense. Some authors choose to use an alias, or pseudonym, as their pen name.

Writers with well-known pen names include Stephen King (Richard Bachman), and his son, Joe Hill (instead of Joe King. Heh, I never noticed that. Joe King. Get it? 😀 ). Others off the top of my head are J. D. Robb and Nora Roberts (which isn’t her real name either), Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick, and the (in)famous Robert Galbraith version of J. K. Rowling.

So, why do authors choose to use pseudonyms? Sometimes when an author is established in a particular genre, and they decide to write in a different genre, they will use a different pen name, like Nora Roberts and J. D. Robb. Nora is known for romance and romantic suspense. J. D. Robb writes futuristic police procedurals (which are great reading, by the way 😉 ). According to my editor, in her experience an author’s readers will read the author’s work no matter the genre. Well, except, I suspect, if the author strays waaay away from their usual genre, like a middle-grade author writing romance, or a horror writer getting into picture books.

Sometimes authors use pseudonyms because it may make their book marketable to a wider audience, though I suspect that isn’t like it used to be. I’m referring to the discrimination experienced by female authors in certain genres, notably mystery. I suspect the same thing would apply to male authors writing in genres such as romance. Gender expectations, I think they call it.

What if you have the same name as another author? I personally know a writer who uses a pseudonym because there is already an established author (in a different genre) with the same name.

Then there are the collaborative authors who write under a single pen name, like P. J. Tracy, a mother-daughter team (daughter only now, since Patricia passed away in 2016).

And a small percentage of authors may be concerned about privacy, but that might be more relevant if writing something highly controversial, or in the erotica genre. Look at the Fifty Shades books: E. L. James. I can see her not wanting to be immediately recognized at the annual church picnic.

The obvious question for a new, soon-to-be-published author is whether to use his/her real name. If the author’s name is something almost impossible to pronounce or spell correctly, or it just sounds weird (like Joe King 🙂 ), it might make sense to change it to something more reader-friendly.

It’s easy to search author names to see if your name already exists out there. Sure, your name might be Sue Grafton, but you probably don’t want to use that as your pen name, especially if you write cozy mysteries or women’s fiction. You might decide to use Susan Q. Grafton, or maybe your grandmother’s name (I know a writer who did that as well) of Lucille Cornish.

zoey2_cr

Seriously, get on with it…

Now to my story (sorry it took so long to get here 🙂 ). Because of the whole female writer in the mystery genre thing (gender expectations), I chose to use my initials. (Okay, there was some influence from my other half, who has an eye on privacy. I thought about using my maiden name, but that can be hard to pronounce correctly).

I searched Amazon, and no other authors used J. M. Holmes. Oh, added bonus: a mystery writer named Holmes. Never thought about it until a fellow writer mentioned it. Anyway, I established that with my publisher, set up a FB author page, Twitter account, yada yada. Just waiting on the cover art to really go gangbusters. My debut novel, Murder in Plane Sight, is being released in March 2019, and I don’t have cover art yet so I haven’t set up an Amazon author page or Goodreads author page.

Last week I got a notification that my FB author page has a mention. What?! So I go check out the post linking to my author page. It was a review/recommendation page for five summer reads, and a book by JM Holmes was on the list.

Except it wasn’t me. That JM Holmes is a male author in a more literary genre (story of African-American young men growing up in Philidelphia). His book is also a debut novel, to be released this month.

No wonder I didn’t find him in my author search last fall.

I can’t release a book under J. M. Holmes now. I asked the poster to remove the mention of my author page since I’m not the author she was looking for (she obviously didn’t look at my page, just probably searched for it).

I contacted my editor after getting reassurance from my agent that yes, I should change my pen name. I searched for my name, and no other authors popped up. Whew! My editor also assured me that the whole women mystery author thing is pretty much history thanks to authors like Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton.

So, I will publish under Julie Holmes (much to my husband’s chagrin despite my promise not to embarrass his (my) name with shoddy writing and to keep as much anonymity as I can). So, change the FB author page, the Twitter handle, and at least I haven’t set up an Amazon or Goodreads page yet.

The benefits of a pseudonym are legit, but were more relevant years ago, I think. According to my editor, a lot of authors she knows wish they would not have used pseudonyms. I remember an article some time ago about how pseudonyms may be more trouble than they’re worth in a lot of ways. Using your real name simplifies a lot of things.

Sorry for the long post today (but I did include cat pics 😀 ). Have a great writing weekend!

zoey nap

Finally! I need a nap.


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Summer’s half over. Where did it go?

We’re on the second half of July already.

Wasn’t it just Memorial Day?

Why does it seem the summer is never long enough? Then again, I live in MN, so our summer weather runs from about the middle of May through the middle of September, although where I live (and with global warming) we have comfortably-warm weather from mid-April (usually, except this year when we had a blizzard in Week 2) through mid-October.

We’ve had a combination of hella hot and it-can-stop-raining-now since the end of May. For the record, this Memorial Day (last Monday in May) hit a record 91 F (about 33 C). It’s cooled off some this month (all the way down to the mid-80s, which is about average), but the combination kicks vegetation into fast-grow mode. I swear we can hear the grass growing!

Due to the deadline with my manuscript, I didn’t get my garden in until the first week of June (we like to get it in on Memorial Day weekend at the latest because our growing season is relatively short).

This week, once it stopped raining and cooled to a temperature that didn’t cause instant sweat, I ventured out to the garden. Granted, with all the rain, my plants have been struggling a bit, not to mention all that water tends to leach nutrients away.

Anyhow, here are my before pics:

The weeds weren’t as bad as I’d feared, considering I hadn’t been out to the garden in over a week (I think). One thing to note is that we use a tractor–not a lawn tractor, but a utility tractor like this one (but with a cab on it)–to till. This year, since one of the rear tires on the usual tractor developed a huge tear in the sidewall, we had to use our big tractor.

If you aren’t familiar with tractors and fieldwork, the thing to remember is the weight of the tractor will compact the soil, and thus make it tougher for plants to extend their roots. That’s why you see farmers using tractors with 4 or 6 HUGE wheels or tracs: not only does it help with traction when pulling larger implements, it spreads the weight of the tractor out so it doesn’t compact the soil as much. It’s also why farmers usually till the middle of the field first, then go around the outside perimeter last; that’s where the soil is compacted the most because the tractor turns there on every pass.

Anyway, by using the bigger tractor, the soil is compacted more (and after years of tilling with a tractor, we have some problems anyway with compaction). So, I strategically planted between the tire tracks from the tractor, which I think helps to keep the weeds down between the rows. Still, weeds.

Three hours and a couple gallons of sweat later, it looked pretty good:

Last night I actually picked our first zucchini of the season, and the handful of green beans left that some small varment (a mouse or vole, I think) didn’t munch. So, I sliced and sauted the zuke last night. There’s nothing like that first garden veggie (even if it is a zucchini 😀 )!

I tied up the tomatoes–which now have a few greenies on them–and wove the cucumber vines into the cattle gates I’m using for their climbing support. I’ve got tiny cucumbers on the vines, and more zucchini on the way. The peppers are doing their thing, and the beans, well, something smaller than a chipmunk is munching on them judging by the teethmarks in one of the surviving beans. Sigh.

On the writing front, I got my manuscript back from the line editor, and have relatively few corrections to make (yippee!). I also got another mockup of the cover. (No, I’m not going to show it until it’s done–mwahahahaha!) I’ll think about that over the weekend, along with the suggestions from my writing sisters, and give the cover person my feedback on Monday. My editor also gave me homework to do and return by the end of the month, including coming up with a teaser/hook (30 words max), a 1- to 2-sentence pitch for the book (max 50 words), and ‘highlights or aspects of the story that will appeal to readers (less than 150 words). Oh, and don’t forget the author quote used for press release.

And I thought the query and synopsis were tough!

Another step closer. I’ve got a lot going on over the next week, though, including an unexpected day at my dad’s today, an afternoon coffee meetup with one of my blogging friends tomorrow (can’t wait!), and Dad’s auction next weekend. Add working full time, weeding, and walking (because I know I’ll need the mind-space to do my homework for my editor), and my WIP (book 2) is getting very little attention. So much for a NaNo in July. Maybe August will be better; my Writing Sisters reunion is in (less than) two weeks! Nothing like a group of writers to get those creative energies charged up 😀

Here’s a quick (and yes, terrible) pic of my very own mini-panther:

zoeyprowl

Have a great weekend!


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Have you heard this writing tool?

No, I didn’t forget a word in the title. If you’ve been following this blog the past few weeks, you know that the past couple of months I was working on my manuscript for my editor. I sent my edits in last week–woo-hoo!

In the process of trying to make up for a nutso April when I didn’t get much editing done–but hey, I did get stranded in WI by a blizzard–I searched for anything to help me speed things up.

It’s easy to add a sentence or edit a whole paragraph, but sometimes I end up with a long convoluted sentence that should be split, or more than one way to “fix” something. Besides, if there’s something wonky, I’ll catch it when I proofread it, right? Like those awkward sentences that are grammatically correct, but just don’t flow. Or those two words that should be swapped, like “you were” and “were you”.

I use a few proofreading methods, like printing out the manuscript in a different font so it looks “fresh” to the eye, and reading the manuscript from the last page to the first page, which interrupts the brain’s tendency to anticipate what the next sentence should be (yes, it works, until the brain figures things out 😐 ).

As writers, we are too close to our work to really look at it objectively. That’s why leaving the manuscript sit for a few days to weeks is good; you gain a little distance from it. But I didn’t have a few days, much less a week, to let the story rest. And I printed out the manuscript once, but I didn’t have time to do it all over again. Besides, I was at my dad’s house.

Another thing I’ve heard about to help with the proofreading process is text-to-speech (actually, it’s reading the manuscript out loud, but no one said you had to do it yourself 🙂 ). There are a number of programs out there that will read what you’ve written. I tried a couple, one of which is Natural Reader, which I tested. I spent way too much time looking for something cheap. Yes, I know the online version of Natural Reader is free, and there is an iPad app, and maybe I’ll use it sometime, but I knew there had to be something included with Windows 8.1, with the whole accessibility thing and all.

So I looked it up. Turns out that Windows has a built-in voice that can read websites and stuff. And bonus, Microsoft Word (I use Scrivener to actually write, but I compile the manuscript for Word when I read through it) has a text-to-speech function. A-ha!

First, you set up the Narrator voice in Windows. I have Windows 8.1, but it should be the same process in Win10; you’ll have to do a search for text to speech. In the Control Panel, there is a Speech Recognition option. In there are the settings for the Narrator. Select the option for Text to Speech. TTS

Next, select the voice. There are only three options in my version: 2 American (male and female) and one British (female). I didn’t look to see if I could get any more; I just wanted something to read to me. I picked Zira, the American female voice. She just sounded nicer.

speech propertiesAdjust the voice speed. You can use the Preview button to hear the voice. Set the speed, then apply the settings with the OK button (I didn’t include that in my screenshot).

Next, I opened my Word doc. Do you know what the Quick Access toolbar is? It’s the tiny toolbar with the W icon for Word. It has the most used stuff on it, like Save and Undo. Mine is in the upper left corner above the menu bar.

menubar

You’ll have to customize the toolbar to make the Speak command available. (FYI, I have Word 2010, so the newer versions might be a little different. You should be able to use the Help to find the Speak command.) Click on the down arrow with the line above it on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar to open the toolbar’s menu.

word options

You’ll see the commands on the toolbar marked, but you need to add the Speak command. Select the More Commands… option way at the bottom.

Now this is a bit more involved. At the top of the left panel where it says Choose Commands From, change where it says Popular Commands (click on the down arrow) and change it to All Commands.

Then you will have to scroll (luckily the commands are alphabetical) all the way down to Speak. Select Speak, then click on the Add>> button. The Speak word moves from the left panel to the right panel. Click OK to finish.

word options2

Now you should have the Speak command easily accessible in the Quick Access toolbar.

menubar

All you have to do now is highlight a chunk of text and click the Speak button. Granted, it’ll only read about 700 words at a time no matter how many you select, but I found that is enough to hear the section, fix anything, and read it through again.

It’s not perfect, and it will spell some things out when it doesn’t know how to pronounce them, but I heard misspellings (“h-d-d” instead of “had”), missing words (rather, I didn’t hear the missing words 😀 ), and awkward phrases. The voice is a bit robotic, but it’s better than computer voices were 10 years ago. Even sounds more human than Stephen Hawking.

Anyway, I found the Speak command a huge help. I even heard it read character facts that were different than they were in an earlier chapter. For instance, my character started off wearing a sweatshirt, and two chapters later she was wearing a sweater. Same day, only hours apart, and no, she hadn’t gone home to change. I think I found and fixed more stuff because I heard it. And I think it helped that I wasn’t reading aloud myself, because I suspect you still miss stuff because you’ve gone through it so many times.

Anyway, sorry about the long post today, but I wanted to share this tool with you. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it so much I’ll spring for the Natural Reader. I’ve been thinking about Dragon Naturally Speaking as well (speech to text), but guess what? Windows and Word have something like that built in as well. I’ll test it out a bit to see if it could work for me before I drop money on Dragon. (BTW, Google also has a speech-to-text feature in Google Docs, so you can check that out, too).

Oh, and I have to share this. Last night my husband came in from outside (I was working on a photo board for my daughter’s grad party tomorrow) and said I had to see something. And bring a camera. This is what I saw.

zoey top of trailer 1

And where was she?

zoey top of trailer 2

We moved our current house onto the property twenty years ago, and while we were remodeling, we lived in a trailer house. Needless to say, the trailer is still on the property being used as storage right now. Don’t know how she got up there, but she did get down on her own. I suspect she used a tree.

Have a great weekend!


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F-O-C-U-S

It’s blank.

The wall, I mean. Well, sometimes my head, too . . .

Not my writing office. I’m at my dad’s place while he’s off galavanting with his brother on an Alaskan cruise. I’ve got a deadline, and this is my opportunity to write without distraction.

It’s also another opportunity to be in the house I grew up in. Except now so much has changed. My sister-in-law decided to “stage” the house (which my dad is in the process of trying to sell), which, according to her, means getting rid of anything personal like family photos. And last weekend we moved a bunch of big stuff (entertainment center, bed, TV, etc) to the townhouse my dad is renting.

I was here last weekend, and it felt, well, . . . like I came too late. Like I should have thought to take pictures of the way everything was before this “staging” business. If you’ve gone through the process of watching the house you grew up in be prepared to sell, you know what I mean.

“You came here to focus, love.”

What the hell? My Muse pulls up a chair–where did he find that chair?

“Don’t look at me like that.” He leans back in a beanbag-type chair I’ve never seen before and know my dad never had. Fingers laced together, he puts his hands behind his head and crosses his long legs at the ankles. “You’re here to write. I’m your Muse. Get over it.”

“Where did that chair come from? Not that I’m complaining, but . . .” Maybe I am complaining, because it’s a distraction. Like his “Star Wars” lounge pants and Millennium Falcon t-shirt aren’t distracting at all. 😉

“I brought it with me, and you are complaining.” He cranes his neck around to check out the whole room. “Well, it’s bare. That’s a good thing. Now you can focus, which is why you’re here in the first place.”

He’s right. It’s just . . . Everything is gone. The pictures of the grandkids. The pictures of my mom. The pictures of me and my siblings with our families. I can’t stop the tears. Not yet. I’m grieving.

“Scoot over, love.” My Muse nudges me from the middle of the love seat to one side. He settles beside me, but doesn’t put his arm around my shoulders, though I kinda wish he would. “I know you want to give your attention to this loss business, but you’ve got a deadline coming up. You’ve been doing good this month. I’m proud of you.”

“I should have been doing good in April, too.” Except real life happens. “I am SO far behind.”

“Which is why you’re here.” He leans against me. “Take the time during your breaks to, what did A say? Say good-bye to every room. But only during breaks. You are here to write.”

He’s right. Deep breath. “I’m going to finish this round of edits this weekend.”

“And I’m here to make sure you do. Besides, it’s supposed to rain today. No excuses.”

So, I’ve got all day to write–except for a couple hours this morning when my BFF from high school is stopping by. I try to catch up with her whenever I’m in town. In fact, last year when I was here she had an awesome “Are you kidding? This really happened?” story. I told her I was going to use it in a book; it’ll be part of the plot of my rural mystery (on the list to do after Book 2).

So, last week I posted plants, and someone (you know who you are), complained about a glaring lack of cat pics. Well, be careful what you wish for 😀

Have a great writing weekend!

 


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Is it here to stay?

Spring? Are you gonna stay this time? It’s been two weeks since the (in)famous April blizzard of 2018, and get this–no snow in the forecast. Well, okay, no snow where I’m at. They did have snow on the North Shore yesterday. That’s way up north by Duluth and Two Harbors, on the north shore of Lake Superior (get it? North Shore 😀 )

I would add a picture of some spring plants, but there aren’t any yet, at least not here. I don’t have any tulips or daffodils or crocus, but we do have dandelions. They’re not up yet either, but if it stays warm, I’m sure we’ll see them soon. Heck, the trees are juuusst starting to leaf out. Barely.

So, in place of real spring flowers, I’ll regale you with pictures of my very own jungle, er, jungle-ish. Well, okay, not jungle. But they’re green. And plants.

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Peppers and tomatoes (and one lonely onion)

The peppers seem to grow more slowly than the tomatoes, so I haven’t transplanted them yet, but that’s on my agenda for this weekend during my breaks from editing.

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Onions!

The onions look like they are almost ready to go into the garden. It’ll be a few more weeks, yet, though. The soil is still cold; even though onions can probably tolerate the cool soil, they won’t grow until things warm up, so there’s no point in making them suffer. They enjoy the climate control in the house!

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Kale! Tomatoes! Oh my!

My kale is looking super! And the tomatoes are itching to get some space, as usual by about this time of year. The biggest ones are about 6-8 inches tall. I can only raise my light so far, then I’ll have to rearrange things so the tomatoes can go on a lower shelf while still getting light.

And I’ve got to start my Brussels sprouts. I’m going to put them in the garden a little later, so hopefully the sprouts will be nice by the time we start getting light frosts in the fall.

I’m getting a slow start on my edits. I’m adjusting the story a touch, not too much, but it should make my main character stronger. I use Scrivener, but when I submitted to my editor, of course I saved my work as a Word document.

Word has a nice Track Changes feature that my editor used to add inline notes to my manuscript. Which is fine. Except when I send my revisions back, she wants her original file with her notes, the file with her notes and my revisions, and a clean file. Notice the lack of Scrivener in this process.

Ugh. Hmm. So I do my edits in Word, duplicate them in Scrivener so I can compile a clean copy, and before I send them back, I need to let them sit for a bit, then go though them again.

And as with any edits, some are those head-slapping ‘duh’ things. You know, like those pesky adverbs that slip through, or the day’s ‘favorite’ word.

Then there are those things that make you think before deciding how to revise them. That’s the time-consuming part. And the part that can demand a delicate balance when negotiating edits.

Uff-da.

This month feels like I’ve had a serious lack of time to get stuff done. It must’ve been the blizzard… Yep, I’ll blame the blizzard.

And one more pic, just because:

zoey1

I think she’s offering to help me with my edits. Or she just wants her lap back…

Have a great weekend, and may Spring set up shop in your area. Write on!