Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

“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 ๐Ÿ˜€

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 ๐Ÿ˜€ )

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.

tomsPeppers_cr

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.

onions_cr

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!

kale_cr

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!


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Intermission

I know, you are sooo disappointed I’m not posting part 7 of my musing mysteries series.

And the Writer’s Institute is only a week and a half away! In case you need a little more incentive, just think how much fun it’d be to meet these cool chicks!

Anyway, I’m going to be pretty much offline this weekend due to another family wedding, so I’ll catch up with y’all in a couple days.

In the meantime, my journey to publication has moved forward another step.

There are basic things we writers all know: characters have to be 3-dimensional and “real”, avoid cliches, show not tell, don’t head-hop if you can help it, avoid adverbs, inciting incidents, mid-point crisis, climax, denouement, you get the picture.

So, when writers revise a story, they look for stuff to ‘fix’, like infodumps, inconsistencies, extra characters who need to be let go, characters who need a bigger role or a richer background, even changing the main protagonist or antagonist. We depend on writing groups, critique partners, and alpha/beta readers to help us refine and polish the story.

I worked with my agent to revise my manuscript before she started shopping it around, tightening, tweaking, and adjusting the ending. But I knew once a publisher picked up the book, there would be another round or two of revision, though I hoped I’d found most of the ‘issues’.

I spoke with my editor for the first time in a few months. She sent her notes on my manuscript, and we discussed some of the things she noticed: some too-sparse descriptions, my penchant for repetition, pet words, and questions on character backgrounds. She also asked whose story it is. I have two main characters, but it’s supposed to be the female lead’s story. Hmmm. I try to give my MCs equal screen time, but something in the female lead’s script was lacking.

It was a good discussion, and now that I have her notes, it’s time to go through her thoughts, chew on them for a bit, then start revising. I checked in with my agent as well, and through a great conversation with her, I figured out what my editor was seeing but hadn’t specifically mentioned in so many words.

The point, though, is through these conversations, I learned more about storytelling. The bigger point, I suppose, is this whole writing journey is a learning adventure that never stops.

It makes a difference, I think, how you approach critiques. Of course there are those people who only do harsh critiques, which are not nice in any sense and probably don’t help you at all (except to make sure you aren’t in any writing groups with the troll). Most people, especially fellow writers and writing mentors/teacher, try to be helpful in their critiques. It’s still hard to hear that your story isn’t as awesome as you think.

I can’t deny it was kind of a bummer to get some of the feedback, but that feedback–and the discussions–gave me the opportunity to learn more about storytelling and how to make my book better. It enriches my writing journey, just like all my great writing friends whom I’ve never seen face-to-face.

Bottom line, never stop learning as you progress along your writing journey. There’s always something to remember, something new to learn, something different to try.

Happy Easter to those who observe it. Take it easy on those jelly beans ๐Ÿ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!

zoey lapcat


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A Tribute

First, Vikes flamed out big time. It was painful to watch. I don’t know what team they brought to the conference title matchup last week, but it sure wasn’t the one they brought to all the other games they actually won.

Ah, well, maybe next year.

So, I’ve been working on my presentation for the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute. I’ve got to turn in my handouts by March. Well, everyone else has to have their handouts turned in, too, so it’s not just me ๐Ÿ™‚

WS mug

I’ve mentioned my Writing Sisters and I are doing an author panel. We’ve been discussing a handout for our panel, and a plan for filling the one hour-ish time slot we have. We want to let other writers know what we’ve done as a group and how we’ve managed to stick together for five–almost six–years now.

I’ve shared the story of how we got together. As we’ve been discussing our panel plan via email, we’ve been reminiscing a bit, contemplating a bit, reflecting on our group and why we’ve made it as long as we have.

As I was following the email threads, I realized just how much we mean to each other, and the role we’ve played in not only each other’s writing journeys, but the role we’ve played in each other’s lives.

You know, I was going to post some quotes from that email thread, but there are so many! I will, however, post a quote from our writing mentor, because it is so poignant:

“Compassion and support are so important. Good groups do get inside each otherโ€™s lives a bit, so thatโ€™s a good point to make. Individuals have to be willing to share, support, respect, nurture each other …”

And another, also from our writing mentor:

“So maybe another rule after compassion, patience, and long-term vision would be to add ‘actively nurture’ the relationship youโ€™ve agreed to be part of, and to respect what that really means in terms of time, heart, and the work involved.”

Okay, one more from one of my Writing Sisters, about the how and the why of forming a writing group:

“I think most people think the ‘why’ is just getting critiques, but as this email exchange shows, itโ€™s much more than that. Itโ€™s also small bits of encouragement or large amounts of butt-kicking depending on whatโ€™s needed. Itโ€™s advice and support about all the obstacles we face that detract from our writing, from medical issues to personal problems. Itโ€™s tips and tricks about apps, writing contests, software, research tools, and writing books.”

Bottom line, I was reminded just how much my Sisters mean to me, both to my writing journey and beyond. We haven’t seen each other since our August retreat, but I think about them often. It’s amazing, we were six strangers, then one more, but we “clicked” in a way that I suspect few groups of seven strangers do.

My advice to writers: find your group. It might be one or two other writers who share your passion for spending an afternoon at Caribou Coffee typing away, or a handful who spend a week every year at a little cabin retreat. Maybe you never see each other in person, but the important thing is the encouragement, the feedback, the sharing of successes and failures. The deadline of 30 days or six months and someone to hold you accountable. Other creative minds to bounce ideas off of.

Where do you find these people? Writing conferences, seminars, workshops, retreats. Writing classes that may take place over a couple hours or over a weekend. Online groups of like-minds (SFF writers, horror writers, romance writers, mystery writers, etc). Maybe even the guy or gal you always see sitting at a quiet table in the library hunched over a notebook or laptop.

Yes, you have to put yourself out there. Yes, you have to open up and share your writing and your writing goals. Yes, it’s scary.

But when you find your group, your collective energy will carry you all toward your writing target, may it be getting published, entering a contest, or just finishing a project.

Man, I miss my Sisters! April will be here before we know it ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ll sign off with my modus interruptor, who keeps insisting she has the right-of-way when it comes to the prime spot on my lap.

zoey lapcat

Have a great weekend, everyone! Happy Writing!


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Escape from the Deep Freeze

It’s early, so the sun’s not up yet, but lookie here:

Capture

After two days above freezing–yes, I said above freezing–we’re back to the icebox. Wind chill advisory until noonish. According to the weather guys, we won’t see double digits again until the end of the week.

Sigh.

So when one of my writing sisters tagged me on this picture from Seed Savers, I had to smile:
26239161_1693631804022263_7610006661865739579_n What a great excuse to dig out the seed catalogs I got after Christmas (because when is a better time to think about spring than when it’s effing cold outside?).

We just won’t mention the whole “writer’s stuck in deep mud and can’t seem to pull herself out” part of this, will we?

*checks for Muse*

Whew. He probably got tired of babysitting me and decided to do a pub crawl with Mr. E.

In the meantime, this is what I’ve gotten in the mail. Tell me this doesn’t look like fun!
IMG_0185_cr I usually save the seed catalogs for later, when it’s closer to seed-starting time, but it’s been so cold, and I’ve been so “stuck”, that after my WS tagged me, I thought, “Well, that’ll be a nice bit of escape from Winter.”

I like looking through the catalogs, with all the pictures of veggies and flowers, but mostly veggies. If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I have a vegetable garden every year. I figured I’d share a little about how I plan it.

Wait, plan? Ha! I plan to have a smaller garden, because WEEDS, but somehow that never seems to materialize. The smaller garden, I mean. The weeds ALWAYS materialize.

So, this year I swear it’ll be a smaller garden. Seriously. Because I’ve got other things to do, like start promoting my book coming out next year. And writing/revising book 2 and another book and probably revising another book my agent has looked at that needs a whole lotta work (and here I thought it was almost ready to go–phffft!)

Everything else is subject to how I feel that year, that is, how much trouble the veggie is and how much I don’t want to bother with it. I have things I always plant no matter what: tomatoes, onions, peppers (sweet and hot), cilantro (see a theme here? Fresh salsa!), cucumbers (pickling, not slicing), dill (see another theme? Pickles!), radishes, and potatoes. This year, since I’m not canning tomatoes (did that last year), I want to plant a nice heirloom slicing tomato. They taste sooo good.

Beets I like because they aren’t much work, just need to be weeded. Green beans are okay; the bush varieties still don’t grow as upright as they sound, and I always seem to plant way more than I need.

Zucchini is another thing I plant every year, but I always forget how big the plants get. And they’re fine until the squash bugs show up. Damn things. Some years they aren’t a problem, but other years I don’t get many squash because of those little bastards. They suck juices out of the squash plant, and of course in the process infect it with whatever nasty fungus they carry. And they’re creepy–think boxelder beetle but bigger and gray and they stink when you crush them. With blue goo inside.

Definitely doing kale again, but this year I’m starting the seeds in the house–I planted three times but they never came up, so I had to buy plants last year. And I want to do not-so-curly kale, because of the cabbage worms (you know kale is in the same family with cabbage and Brussels sprouts, right?) Speaking of, as much as I like Brussels sprouts, don’t know that I’ll plant them this year. It’s a pain in the ass to pick the cabbage worms every day (since I’m too lazy to cover them with netting so the stupid butterflies can’t get to them).

Hmm. The rest is up to whim. I don’t like planting corn because you have to have at least 4 rows to get good pollination, and we never seem to pick it at the right time. I always have borage, which self-seeds like dill and cilantro, because the bees love it.

I always plant spinach, too, but I haven’t gotten a good spinach crop in years. And I like to toss in flowers, because whenever you order seeds you get free samples of flowers. This year I might do marigolds to try and keep the rabbits out. They say it works. It’ll be a second line of defense ๐Ÿ™‚ And maybe pie pumpkins this year–I love pumpkin bread.

Every year I like to plant something new, or at least something I haven’t grown for a while. A couple years ago I did sugar snap peas, and had the same lousy results I had the last time I planted peas (about 10 years ago), so probably no peas. Did eggplant–nobody ate it. Did watermelon, but never seem to pick it at the right time, though there is a variety where the rind changes color when it’s ripe. Did cantaloupe–see watermelon.

I’m thinking garbanzo beans this year. Or maybe … Hmm. That’s what the seed catalogs are really good for. Finding something new to try. So maybe artichokes. Or leeks. Or edamame. Or Napa cabbage.

While I’m off to peruse my seed catalogs, I’ll leave you with a parting shot (don’t say I wasn’t thinking about you, B ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

zoey12-17-2

Stay warm! Have a great weekend and keep writing!


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Chipping away

Have you ever been driving somewhere–maybe to an appointment or to meet someone–things are going smoothly, traffic’s moving, they’re playing music on the radio instead of commercials, and then … STOP. As in, brake lights for as far ahead as you can see.

traffic-jam-688566_640

You check the time. Sure, you left fifteen minutes early (you did, right?), but is this going to crush your 15-minute cushion? The route is familiar, so you know the next exit is a couple miles ahead, but how do you get to where you’re going from there?

The line creeps forward, two feet at a time. Stop. Creep. Stop. That 15 minutes is now 12. Creep. Stop. Twelve is now 10. Creep. Stop. Wait.

Eventually you reach that one exit. Should you take it? It’s out of your way, and hell, you’re already late. And traffic seems to be moving a little faster now. So, do you take the alternate way or just stick it out?

I started out okay, then came to a screeching halt. The traffic jam I’ve hit has a couple names. Procrastination. Writer’s block. Real life during the holi-daze. I’ve been working at it in bits, some scene writing, some plot work, but it feels like using a hand chisel against a reinforced concrete wall. The universe noticed, and saw fit to send me some suggestions in a couple articles I’ve found in the past few weeks.

The first one is about handling procrastination. This article suggests redirecting: “All writers who arenโ€™t writing are rebelling against some injustice or another. The practice here is replacing one story with another.” Hmm. Go ahead, read the article. I’ll wait.

The second article‘s title is a bit misleading when taken at face value, but I love this line: “Here are some ways to write every day even when your muse is off shopping.” Heh. I have a tough time imagining my Muse doing much shopping, unless it’s for beer and chocolate.

Both go back to the suggestion to “write every day”. I have to admit, it’s been a few days since I’ve written; okay, technically I’ve been writing during the ten minutes I take for lunch (because does it really take longer than that to eat a sandwich?). I’ve been chipping away at the elusive 2nd and 3rd acts of my WIP. I’m more planner than pantser–I need a path to a goal. I can wander off the path, but I need a target.

This story’s target is blurry at best. I think that’s why I’m struggling. I don’t know exactly how it ends, or how the threads weave together, not really. So, last night I pulled out “the notebook” (dramatic music here).

notebook1

It’s an inch thick, and I’ve used it for free-writing. Some qualifies as journaling, some as stream-of-consciousness, some as random scenes, and some as brainstorming. I read some of the scenes I’d written for future “episodes” of my detective series. Man, I love those characters!

I’d done some early brainstorming for my book to be released in 2019, a smattering of ideas that helped me work out the plot. It reminded me of talking through the story with my writing sisters–bouncing ideas around with them always seems to help.

notebook2

I don’t pull this notebook out very often, but I think I’m at the point where I need to. I’ve got ideas and plotlines and timelines scattered though multiple notebooks. Maybe if I just sit down and write through a stream-of-consciousness it’ll help the Act 2 & Act 3 blurs come into focus.

I’ll try some of the suggested exercises from the Writers in the Storm article: Write a letter from your main character to you, and writing something that happened to the character before the book started, and what happened after in the character’s viewpoint.

Using this one special notebook might help me focus, something I’ve had little of lately. I’ll reference the two articles as well, to keep my brain on track (you know, that whole focusing thing ๐Ÿ™‚ )

And another blogger reminded me this past week that I’ve been neglecting my cat-loving followers (and yes, B, I mean you ๐Ÿ˜€ ). So here’s a shot of Zoey chillin’ in my chair.

zoey12-17

Have a productive writing weekend, everyone! The holidaze are here next weekend already–Yikes!


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Waning Garden — whew!

Yesterday was the autumnal equinox, the first day of fall. The trees have started changing–my favorite part of fall. Well, along with the cooler weather, fewer bugs, and … wait, it was 93 and tropical humidity yesterday, and I’ve been fighting squadrons of airborne vampires. Ugh.

Oh, and the other thing I love about fall–the garden is almost done. So much time, and weeds, and mosquitos, and chipmunks, and OMG tomatoes and cucumbers and green beans and zucchini. I’ve been taking the surplus to work because there’s no way we can consume it all before it goes bad.

And they appreciate it, since a good number of them live in subdivisions or apartments where they can’t have a garden.

So, here’s some pics of my sad, sad garden. And I haven’t pulled weeds for-ev-er. So, fair warning ๐Ÿ˜€

potato row Here’s my forlorn garden. The bare row was the previous home of the potatoes. I’ve pulled the onions, and I decided to pick my final green beans. I’ve pulled half of those plants, and one of the remaining zucchini plants. The cucumber died a few weeks ago (secretly, woo-hoo!). One plant, and I had more cucumbers than I imagined from a single plant.

Brussels sprouts

The poor Brussels sprouts. Sigh. Since I don’t use chemicals, the cabbage worms have been eating well. I hand-pick the caterpillars every other day, but those little green buggers are easy to miss. We’ve been eating beets, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, etc, so I haven’t picked any sprouts yet. I was hoping to wait until after the first light frost to pick them because they’ll be sweeter, but I can’t wait much longer. ๐Ÿ™‚

tomatoesAnd the tomatoes. Uff-da. I planted a lot because we wanted to can tomatoes this year, but hoo-boy. Fourteen plants. Note to self: Do not plant anywhere near that many next year.

canned tomatoesWe’ve canned 37 quarts of tomatoes so far. My hubby made a batch of chili, and a batch of spaghetti sauce, and we still have enough tomatoes to do another 7 or 8 quarts.

And I had to include more monster zucchini squash. They are the sneakiest, hiding until they’re huge so I can find them. ๐Ÿ˜€

monster zukes

Once the first frost hits, it’ll be the end of the garden except for the Brussels sprouts and the kale. Now if I can remember not to overdo the garden next year…

Yeah, right. I say that every year. Next year my goal is a garden half the size of this year’s garden. Uh-huh. We’ll see. I always seem to forget just how many veggies I get from a few plants.

So, there you have it. The raspberries are starting to ripen again, second run. As long as it stays fairly warm, the raspberries will keep going. Last year I had sooo many raspberries I made a couple dozen half-pints of jelly.

Oh, almost forgot. Now with the weather getting colder–well, except for this past week–Zoey has the tendency to take advantage of a warm chair. As soon as I or my husband get up from our chairs, Zoey jumps in and makes her claim. And of course, she looks all innocent when we come back.

zoey steals chair

Enjoy the first weekend of autumn, but don’t forget to write ๐Ÿ˜€