Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Not a-mused … autumn edition #amwriting #amrevising

colored fallen leaves

I open the door to my writing office, juggling a bowl of cherry tomatoes and a glass of water. Feels like it’s been ages since …

“About fecking time you came back.”

“Damn it!” I chase two tomatoes across the floor while trying not to spill any water. “What the hell?”

My Muse scoops up a third wayward tomato. “That was my next question, love.”

I set my snacks on the desk and reach out for the captured tomato. “Either eat it or give it back.”

He pops it into his mouth and bites down. I imagine the tomato innards squirting into his mouth, and grab one of my own. Man, I love garden tomatoes. Cherry ones are so convenient, like Whoppers only squishier and not chocolate.

Mmm, chocolate. I wonder if I still have any chocolate left from the reunion.

My Muse finishes chewing and takes a swig of my water. He’s wearing his worn-well jeans and burgundy Henley with the sleeves shoved to his elbows. He plants hands on hips, stretching his shirt tight across his broad chest. Did that shirt shrink a little?

“Hey,” he snaps his fingers, “pay attention, love.”

Fine. “What?”

“Just when were you planning on coming back here?”

I raise my arms, encompassing the office. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“No, when are you coming back here?” He reaches over and taps my head. “You have a revision to finish so you can send it to beta readers.”

“I was working on it earlier this week. I think. Oh hell, I don’t even know what day it is anymore.”

“It’s ‘butt in chair, hands on keyboard’ day,” he says, pointing to the recliners in the alcove.

“Hey, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs, you know. I finished a beta read for another author, I’m working on a critique due in a couple days, I had a hella amount of instructional videos to watch and take notes on for my class–which reminds me, I have homework to do, and I should probably pay my tuition. I have another writer’s pages to read and critique. And, oh, I do have a full-time job, not to mention the real life family stuff, like helping my husband.”

“Yes, and your point?” He leans toward me and taps my head again. “This is where you need to be.” He points to the recliners again. “I want to see you spend at least an hour a day there. Not checking email …”

“Like I’ve been checking my email,” I mutter under my breath. I’m afraid to check one of my accounts–the number of new emails is probably racing toward a thousand.

My Muse gives me the stink-eye. “Not checking Facebook, not reading all the random articles that pop up on your home page …”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Some of that stuff still needs to be done, you know. Facebook is where our Sisters in Crime chapter communicates with the members. And where I need to share my upcoming book festival.” Speaking of, I’ll probably have to spend a day working on my website with customer service since my design software broke, or redesigning it without the cool software. Ugh. If it comes to that, there goes another day.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have Book 2 to sell at a book festival?” He grips my shoulder and nails me with stern blue eyes. A shiver runs down my spine. “I’m going to be a hard-ass until you get your writing back into your routine. You’re adjusted to your new work schedule and the garden is almost done. Take your daily walk, run, whatever, but I want no excuses. Got it?”

“Yes, I got it.”

“Good. Grab your computer, sit your ass down, and get to work.”

Now’s probably not the time to tell him about the new idea my writing teacher gave me. He’d have another excuse to be overbearing and grumpy.

Happy upcoming Autumn Equinox! Man, it’s fall already. Take some time to enjoy it before the snow flies (or the rainy season starts. Whatever is the thing in your region).

Dory - just keep writing
Zoey sleeping


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Fall Harvesting #mngarden

onions curing on hardware cloth
Two-thirds of the onion harvest

It’s that time of year, when everything seems to ripen at the same time. And you realize just how many green beans you can get from a mere seven plants. Uff-da!

green beans

I forget every year just how many beans one plant can produce. This year was odd anyway. I always get a particular variety, Kentucky Blue Wonder bush bean. They are good beans, no strings like the old-fashioned string beans have.

So I had to replant a few times this year, and got more seeds from our local greenhouse, which gets them in bulk and lets you scoop out what you need. Of course, you never know what you’ll get until they come up.

I ended up with two bush string bean plants, three of the bush beans I expected to come up, and two of a variety that I totally wasn’t expecting and have never seen: pole beans with flat pods. BTW, pole beans grow into a big tangled bale if they don’t have anything to climb. I haven’t looked in my old seed catalogs to identify the variety. Last year I ended up with one string bean plant with my Kentucky Blue Wonders. I think next year I might order through the mail instead of getting them at the local greenhouse.

I have one cherry tomato plant, and that’s plenty. I can keep up with them (since I’m the only one who eats them, apparently). They are good, and ripen at a slow enough rate that I can use/eat all the ones I’ve picked before picking again. I usually don’t plant cherry tomatoes because some varieties have so many tomatoes that unless the whole family eats them, you get to a point where you don’t pick them anymore or they go bad and get tossed to the chickens.

That is one thing I really miss about not going into the office: no one to pawn off the extra harvest. I used to bring gallon Ziplock bags of green beans and cherry tomatoes (when I had them) to the office. One of my former co-workers even told me he misses my cucumbers that I would bring in. Now that I’m working from home for good, I’ll have to be careful how much I plant, or check if the local food bank takes fresh produce.

This year I’ve had more cucumber beetles than I’ve ever seen. I had no idea they liked green beans until I saw the laced leaves (they eat between the veins of the leaves so the leaves look like lace). And the poor cucumber! I’m getting some cukes, but the plant is dying. That’s the bad thing with pests like that, they will transmit diseases to the plant that kills the plant long after the bugs have, for the most part, disappeared.

cucumber plant wilting in the middle from disease
Poor cucumber

The peppers are going gangbusters! Stupid me, planting four(!) jalepeno plants. What was I thinking?! One jalapeno is more than enough for a year’s worth of salsa, chili, and whatever else most people use them for. Ugh. The sweet bell peppers are doing really well, too. I thought the variety was smaller, but no, the peppers are just as big as the usual California Bell.

cucumber plant, pepper plants
cukes on the left, peppers on the right, cheeseweed in the middle 🙂

I didn’t plant dill this year, but you’d never know it from the sheer number of volunteer dill plants that came up. The pumpkin is waning as usual about now.

dill on the left, pumpkin on the right

I grew them for my sister-in-law, who wants them for decoration, I think. When she gave me the seeds, I wonder if she realized how big the pumpkins were going to be. Variety? Jack-O’Lantern. Pumpkins twice as big as a basketball? Yep. And not just one or two. Try a dozen plus.

pumpkins

The beets are huge, the kale is recovering from cabbage worm attacks, and the tomatoes are coming in. I’ll be making another batch of pico de gallo today. Yum!

The last bit of color in the garden is blooming. I don’t particularly like how marigolds smell, but they are kinda pretty.

marigolds

Enjoy the upcoming autumn season. Apple cider, fall colors, pumpkins and the goodies that come with them. Cooler weather and fewer bugs!

Keep on writing!

Nyx (black cat) curled up for a nap
Warm Nyx-y, sleepy Nyx-y, purr purr purr


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Unreliable narrators and reader expectations #amreading

someone reading a book

We’ve all heard the term “unreliable narrator”. It’s what we call a character we can’t trust to tell us the truth of the story. Sometimes we don’t see the “unreliable-ness” of that narrator right away (or maybe it’s just me 😉 ), but sometimes we see it becuase a different POV character sees the world of the story in a way that feels more accurate.

Narrators can be unreliable for many reasons, from simple naivete to a highly-biased view of the world due to a mental or behavioral condition. Think multiple-personality disorder or sociopathic characteristics. Or maybe they are so jaded by their life that reality is always distorted through their lens.

I haven’t written an unreliable narrator (not intentionally, at least), but I do have characters who behave a certain way because they see the real world through a filter woven from the cloth of their life experiences. They don’t narrate, but POV characters interact with them, and their slant on the world comes through that way.

Needless to say, I haven’t read many books in which the POV character is an unreliable narrator, so I’m not familiar with how those stories work out in the end. I’ve just read a story in which one of the POV characters is unreliable in a big way, but the reader learns this early on. Once I realized the character couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth of the world the way it was, but only the way she saw it, I expected the story to work out a certain way.

Did it? Well, yes. Sort of. It was good for conflict and tension. There was the inevitable “is that really how it happened, or is that just how the character remembers it” question each time the character’s story was told from someone else’s perspective. This led to the question of a different character’s true nature. Is he really abusive, or does she just see him that way? Was her child truly sick, or was there some sort of Munchausen syndrome by proxy going on?

Which adds up to a story fraught with questions and conflict and tension. A good story overall, but at some point, I disliked the unreliable narrator so much I didn’t care what happened to her at the end. I did care about other characters and how the unreliable character’s actions affected them.

Even with the unreliable character’s potential redemption at the end of the story, I felt unsatisfied. I did see opportunities to strengthen other threads that would affect other characters a bit more, threads that could reflect facets of the unreliable character’s story and thus put more pressure on the character(s) I did like, but that part didn’t happen the way I expected. If the author had pushed that angle a bit more, would it have made the story better or worse?

As a beta reader and fellow author, how do I critique the story? If I hand the story to someone else who reads more books with unreliable narrators than I do, would the story meet their expectations?

Writing is subjective, as are all creative endeavors. There is no doubt the author is skilled. It’s the story. It’s like my appreciation for the ability of an opera singer, even though I do not like opera. I can appreciate the talent of a great actor, even if I don’t like a lot of the projects they have done. I’m one of the two dozen people who think The Great Gatsby isn’t worth more than a meh.

All I can do is share my take on the story and offer suggestions the author can either use to make adjustments, or ignore. I’m only one reader, so don’t just take my word for it. Ask that reader over there what s/he thinks about it. You’ll get a different answer for sure.

Keep calm and Write On!

What? We aren’t getting into trouble …


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YAGU (Yet Another Garden Update) #mngarden

Unicorn variety cherry tomatoes

It’s rolling into that time of the season, where everything seems ready to pick all at the same time, except for those things I really want to pick, like the tomatoes (c’mon, hurry up and get ripe!)

Two weeks ago things were buzzing–literally. The borage was three feet tall, I swear! And bees! Finally! Took them long enough to show up. This week the borage has died back. Yep, didn’t take long, but I think the rain we had last weekend helped it along. Borage has hollow stems, or at least they seem hollow, so after it makes its seeds, it has a tendency to rot at the base, especially when there’s rain to help it along. I ended up pulling out almost all the formerly-bushy plants when I got back from WI because they had collapsed on top of the onions.

There’s still a little still standing, though, and the bees appreciate it.

Bee on borage flower–those little buggers are hard to catch on “film”

The green beans are ready to harvest, but not quite enough at one sitting to cook up for a meal. The cilantro is flowering, but I did plant more, so that’s starting to come up.

The onions are starting to fall over, which is typically the indication they are done growing. The peppers are doing super, with jalapenos (and of course, enough to feed a village and the next village over) and a sweet pepper called “Chablis” that starts out pale and ripens to orange, then red. There aren’t any ripening yet, though.

My poor cucumber. Sigh. It’s struggling, and being innundated with striped cucumber beetles doesn’t help. Then again, I didn’t know cucumber beetles were so fond of green beans, either. I mean, they’re cucumber beetles, but when I checked the beans the other day, there were clouds of them. So I got out my trusty organic pyrethin-based bug spray (which has been sitting around for years cuz I haven’t felt the need to use it for a while), mixed some up, and let loose on those little buggers. Seems to have helped a bit, I think.

And pumpkins! You know how they kinda take over? Yeah, well, they have:

Pumpkin vines

This is fully one quarter of the garden, and they are draped over the fence and sprawling that direction. So, how many pumpkins does that much greenery get you? Not sure. Remember, these are the ones my sis-in-law asked me to plant for her. They are the Jack o’Lantern variety, so bigger than the pie pumpkins I planted last year, and thus there are fewer actual pumpkins (I think. I haven’t found very many at this point.).

I see you there, pumpkin

My marigolds are just starting to bloom. At least one of them is. I’m not a fan of the smell, but I have the seeds, and it’s nice to see a little color.

Marigold

At this point, I don’t bother to weed much, except to pull some stuff to toss to the chickens, who seem to appreciate it. They better, because I don’t think I’ll have enough cucumbers to give any of them to the chickens.

In other news, our reunion was great! It was so nice to see everyone in person again. Even though we had to Zoom one of our Sisters in because she was going through her last radiation treatment (breast cancer), the gang was back together! Next year is our tenth anniversary, so we’re hoping we can all gather in person for that one. It’ll be a blast!

My first week at my new job went, um, … Let’s just say it was interesting. Two companies merged last year to become the one company I work for, so they are still getting the computer systems and networks to talk to each other without choking on things. On the one hand, the IT dept is great! I’m getting really good at submitting tickets :). The people are great, including my manager and my team. I spent the week doing training (two days of learning the fundamentals of payroll … sheesh.), and I’ll spend this upcoming week doing more training.

On Monday I’ve got my first in-person book thing since the early spring of 2020, so I’m crossing my fingers that will be good. Never know these days, especially with the way things are going. I have another in-person event the beginning of Oct, so we’ll see if that sticks or if they switch it to virtual like they did last year.

Have a great writing week!

Nyx and Tibbers chillin’


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9th annual Writing Sisters Reunion #amwriting #amediting

Crystal River

“Come on. I asked you, and you said you would, and I quote, ‘be happy to write your post’.”

“That was before …”

“Uh-uh. Nope. No excuses. We have an agreement.”

“Not part of my job description, love.”

“It falls under the ‘and other duties as required’ clause.”

I give my writer my best narrowed-eyes look. “On one condition.”

“No conditions. You know damn well I’m trying to be productive, even if it’s being in a critique discussion with the rest of my Writing Sisters.” My writer plants her fists on her hips. “What did you do besides float down the river yesterday?” she asks in a tone of suspicion.

“I relaxed.” And a little recreation, but I’m not inclined to mention that. So what if I got caught up in a game of Frisbee golf? “Besides, you went on an outing, too.”

She narrows her eyes at me and raises a brow. “We went to a historical house-slash-museum.”

I allow an eye-roll. “Because you write historical fiction, right?”

“No, because it was an activity, it was interesting, and what if I do decide to write something historical?” She purses her lips. “C’mon. I work, and you write my blog post. I’m working on my writing.”

Sometimes I can’t resist yanking her chain. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of writing so far, love.”

“You know how this works. We go over everyone’s stuff. Today is my turn. Besides, we always whip up creative energy when we get together. I’ll be charged up by this afternoon when we have our writing time.” She adds a finger wag. “And I’m expecting you to be available, not off on some kayak down the river.”

I have to smile. Gods, I love when she gets fired up like this. It’s a special kind of energy those eight women wind up, even if one of them is connecting through whatever video chat thing they have going. “Of course I’ll be available, love.”

“And you’ll write my blog post?”

I toss an arm around her shoulders. “You know I will, as long as you are working.”

“Great!” She hands me her computer. “Here you go. I’m going to go for a run before breakfast.”

The ladies had a great session yesterday, from what the other muses tell me, so I’m not too worried. I’d better get another game of golf in before they start up today. Keep writing!

Tibbers and Nyx