Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Creative energies–welcome back! #amwriting #amrevising

Author doubts never go away. I think that’s been why I’ve been struggling with–what do they call it? Second book blues? The book two curse? Fear of book two not being as good as book one?

After seven first drafts, I think I have it figured out. Oh, and taking a novel-writing class helps, too. Especially my latest assignment: a set-piece scene. A set-piece scene is one that sets the tone, and includes conflict, emotion, and the senses. It’s a memorable scene that might be the midpoint crisis, or the climax, or at any point in the book.

The class example of a set-piece scene was the circus scene from Water for Elephants, where all hell breaks loose, the animals start stampeding, and the ringmaster gets … well, no spoilers.

I wanted to get something to my writing teacher before she left on vacation, so I tried to figure out what scene in my WIP would be considered a set-piece scene, or rather, what scene could I write that could be considered a set-piece scene.

I took a walk to ponder the possibilities, and came up with something I thought would work. It’s near the midpoint of the story, and puts my main character in danger.

Here’s the weird part: I drafted the scene, looked at it the next morning and tweaked it a bit, then submitted it. The verdict? Yes, it was a set-piece scene, and it was pretty good, too. I can feel the creative energy coming back.

“Because you listened to me, love.” My Muse, who has been keeping one of the recliners in a corner of my writing office warm, sets his crossword puzzle aside. Apparently his pub crawl buddies are all busy.

“I’m writing, and you’re doing crosswords? Seriously?”

He taps a temple with his pen. “Keeps the mind sharp.”

“Oh? American or Australian crosswords?”

“British. I like a challenge.”

Which is probably why he hasn’t given up on me yet.

He levers himself out of the chair and crosses my office, shoving the cuffs of his long-sleeved t-shirt to his elbows. The royal blue of the t-shirt almost coordinates with his purple Vikings helmet-covered lounge pants. I feel like I should microwave some popcorn and put in a movie, ala slumber party.

“I won’t give up on you, love. And after you went through the feedback from your Writing Sisters again, you’ve been much more receptive to my suggestions. You’re starting the revisions now, right?” He shakes a finger at me to emphasize his point. “Don’t get hung up on the revisions. You know better. Revise what you need to and keep going.”

“My next homework is an outline. I want to have that done by the time my teacher is back from vacation. And I have another bookstore signing tomorrow.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry about the outline. That’s a piece of cake. You’re getting your momentum back.” He squeezes, and plants a kiss on my forehead. “Keep it up, love. You’re doing good.”

I feel better about the story. That set-piece scene kicked off some other ideas that for some reason hadn’t been apparent to me before. And the changes will give a stronger motive to one of the characters; it’ll make his actions much more believable.

This is the part about writing I really like, the creative energy that makes me want to find a nice quiet place and do nothing but write without worrying about anything else.

Enjoy one of the last weekends of summer!

zoey chair mine
What? You got up, so it’s mine now.
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Writing Sisters Reunion–take #6

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View from the gazebo, Crystal River Inn

G’day all! It’s the first weekend in August, and Julie promised if I wrote her blog post today, she would work. Write, that is.

So far, I haven’t seen much writing going on. However, I have seen a lot of creative energy building up. So much the better. The other Muses don’t seem quite as frustrated as I’ve been, trying to get my writer to work.

Granted, Julie has loaded her calender a bit heavy this summer. I’ve been trying to convince her to take a break, spend some time away to write, but as usual, she resists. Something about “real life” and things like her job.

So every year I wait for this opportunity to ramp up my writer’s energy. They landed at this quaint B&B three years ago, and the energy of the river out back and the quiet setting make my job as a Muse a hell of a lot easier.

“I hope you’re writing my blog post.”

And now she decides to talk to me. “That was our deal, love. You write, I’ll do your blog post. So why are you not writing?”

“Did you hang out at the lake with us last night? Because we sure spent a lot of time talking about writing when it was supposed to be a break.”

View from the Blues Cruise

I debate whether to tell her. It was supposed to be a break from their critique circle, but four hours is a long time to listen to a very loud band below deck. If they hadn’t talked about writing, I would have been worried.

Besides, I wanted to hear the band. FYI, not my preferred type of music. “So what if I was, love? After the day you had in the critique circle, I figured I deserved a break, too.”

Still on the cruise as twilight rises.

My writer drops into a nearby chair. “It was a good session.”

She’s right. Her Writing Sisters were able to point out the things I’ve been trying to get her to see. It is so frustrating when she doesn’t listen to me or understand what I’m trying to tell her. Then again, she’s been distracted with all the stuff for her book–the bookstore appearances, the book fairs, and now the workshop for her Sisters in Crime meeting this coming week.

“Does this mean you are going to write today, love?”

She gets up to open the door to a screened-in porch that faces the river, letting in the song of the water. “I have to revise everything I’ve written so far.”

“It’s called writing.”

“I know, I know.” She blows out a breath. “When am I going to get my workshop done?” She shakes her head. “No, I’m going to work on book 2 today, not the workshop.”

“Good.”

“Did you find a good spot to hang out? They took the sitting log out from the river.”

The log that extended over the river is gone.

“Don’t worry about me. You focus on your writing, love. I’m around.”

She stands, turns to leave, then looks back. “Don’t forget the picture of Zoey.”

Cats. Every writer has them, it seems. “I won’t.”

Every year she does this, gets energized. The trick is keeping the energy going when she leaves.


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Getting back into it #amwriting

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

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

“Dude, did you just fry that gnat?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What? What’s funny?”

“Best you don’t know, love.”

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

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

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

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

“Good. So do I.”

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

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

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

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

zoey chair 3


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Back in the flow — sort of #amwriting

Last weekend’s writing conference was a blast, even if it was busy for me, with panels and presentations and one-on-one meetings with other writers. As an introvert, that sort of event, even if it is a wonderful meeting of writers doing writerly things and talking everything writing, is draining. On the other side of it, though, is the sheer amount of creative energy that coalesces at these events. I think it has a lot to do with all those muses getting together. It’s like a muse convention.

In any case, that creative energy has clung to me, and I have started writing again. Nothing major, but it’s a start. Right now I’m writing longhand, because I think that encourages the process somehow. And I can feel a sort of relief as I’m writing again. It’s like I get anxious when I don’t write for too long.

Then again, maybe that anxiety has to do with the blizzard we had this week, with around 5 inches of heavy wet snow. And damn it, the grass was just starting to turn green and the trees are starting to bud. Ugh. And now it melts. So, three inches of slushy snow + gravel driveway = almost impassable even with 4WD. I hope things dry out a bit by the time I go back to work on Monday.

In the meantime, I have the weekend slated for Easter entertaining preparation (read: spring cleaning). Nothing like the thought of relatives coming over to kick off a frenzy of cobweb chasing and dust bunny wrangling. But what better way to put off cleaning than to sit down and write?

I open the door to my writing office and discover the light is already on. And guess who is chilling behind my desk?

“It’s about time, love. I thought you would be a bit more industrious after the conference.” My Muse pulls his feet off my desk and exits my chair, sweeping an arm in its direction. “I warmed it up for you.” The smirk on his face tells me he probably did more than warm it up. I’d better check for whoopi cushions or tacks.

“Would I do that to you?” He sits on a corner of the desk, one leg dangling. His dark denim jeans, white t-shirt, and flannel shirt in the traditional red and black checkerboard pattern, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, makes me wonder what he’s up to. It’s like he’s preparing for a wilderness tour. Not that I’m complaining. Nope. Not complaining about the rugged look at all. I should be thankful there is no fedora or bullwhip in sight.

“Really, love? Why would I be up to anything but nurturing your creativity?” His crooked smile tells me I’m more right than I hoped.

“Uh-huh. Like you and all those other muses at the conference didn’t swap ‘how to get your writer’s butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard’ stories? I’m sure you have a few new ideas.”

“I do. But I won’t use them unless I have to. You seem to be getting your stride back. Good job.”

“Don’t get too excited. You know I have to get ready for Easter.”

“Yes, but you’re writing again. And you set yourself up to be accountable with your project.”

What I suspect he didn’t say was something about being disappointed that being accountable to him isn’t enough. “You know, you are really good at your job. It’s just … I need someone who can help me work through the process again.”

“Do you know how long I’ve been helping writers work through the process?”

Honestly, I’m afraid to ask. With my luck he probably worked with Dante. Probably gave the man the idea for the circles of Hell. “No, but I’m good with that. Not knowing. I’ll be diving in to that after Easter. Promise.”

He studies me with those blue eyes of his. The room is getting warmer. I swear it is. His eyes narrow. “Good. I’m going to hold you to that, love.”

Ahh, yeah. O-kay. Anyway …

This weekend focusing on a much-needed, long-delayed bout of spring cleaning. Despite the three inches of rapidly-melting slush outside. Ick. Just when everything had finally dried out, we get this. Winter, you made your point, now go on vacation until, like, Christmas. Okay, maybe Thanksgiving. Just go away.

Have a wonderful writing week!

 


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Another awesome conference! #UWWriters #writingcommunity #amwriting

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Whew! What a weekend! I’m here in Mad City, Wisconsin for the 30th Annual Writers’ Institute. The conference has gotten so popular that it now runs from Thursday morning through Sunday noon. And there is plenty of great stuff to go around. First, though, a well-deserved round of applause to Laurie Scheer and her team of tireless minions–er, assistants who help organize and run this conference.

(yes, you can say it: Julie takes lousy pictures.)

Laurie Scheer 2019 cr

Laurie Scheer welcomes writers to the 30th Annual Writers’ Institute

One of the keynote speakers this year was Jane Friedman, who spoke about writing for love and money, and about the myth of the “starving artist”. She shared the stories of various artists who managed to combine their creativity and business models into successful careers, such as Jim Henson and Alain de Botton. The key to success: use creativity to find more readers, because as more people demand your work, the more your writing (business) will grow.

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

 

The following day Jennie Nash was our keynote speaker. She shared three reasons authors give for writing a book. Writing a book has a high emotional cost, and low ROI (return on investment), so every author she and her team work with over at Author Accelerator are presented with the question: Why write a book? The answers boil down to these: to find and claim your voice (which may have been suppressed in the past), to influence other people or make an impact, or to write a book before reaching those pearly gates. And ultimately, “writers gotta write”. Find the reason that speaks to you and tap into that energy.

Jennie nash

Jennie Nash

So many great sessions, so little time. I got to the conference on Thursday and caught three sessions. One was about a digital brand cheat sheet, presented by a high-energy social media influencer. She showed us the potential of social media to reach far beyond your family and friends.

Another session explained how bookstores–at least independent ones–go about decided what books to stock, and the best ways for writers to succeed in getting books on their shelves. It comes down to Fit–is your book a fit for that store, Timing–is the store ready to pull in new books, and Approach–suggestions on how to approach a bookstore about carrying your book and the things to accomplish beforehand (like ISBN numbers and early reviews).

An agent shared the biggest pitfalls writers make while revising their stories, starting with the familiar “starting the story in the wrong place.” Other things to watch for include characters that are not fully formed on the page, a lack of a physical sense of setting, raising stakes, and not following through on your promise to the reader (what is the story you are setting in motion). These things can be spotted by critique partners and beta readers, so the moral of the story: you can’t do it all on your own.

I popped into a session about author websites, which gave a lot of the same information Dan Blank did in his author website video series (check out his WeGrowMedia site and sign up for his newsletter. Really. If nothing else, his kids are cute 😀 ). Another session listed ways to “bring back the thrill” of your writing; making it fun again. The ten points included giving yourself easy goals and rewards for your accomplishments (and yes, a piece of good chocolate or a latte counts 😀 ), playing with your reader by inserting inside jokes (case in point: R. R. Campbell used the names of the universities in his books for the jokes, and no, I’m not going to tell you–mwahahahaha), listening to your characters and what they want to do, and surround yourself with people who believe in your abilities and encourage you. Finally, remember you are competing against no one–you are the only one who can tell your story.

Good stuff. I participated on a panel about writing books in a busy life, where we shared our own strategies and offered ideas on how other writers could carve out that time to write. A number of attendees found me later to express their appreciation for the panel, because it gave them some direction on how they could overcome the excuses of not having time to write. And yes, I learned a few things myself. I’m sure my Muse will remind me the next time I complain. 😀

I presented two sessions, one on “Setting as a Character”, which had a full room. I hope the writers got something out of the session. It was my first of the conference, and somehow I ended up with a lot of time left over. Hmm. My second session, about point of view, was much less attended, but one of the other sessions about outlining was very popular (I know it was, because some writers spoke to me before the session about wanting to sit in, but they also wanted to sit in on the outlining session).

The highlight of my experience, though–besides getting to see some of my Writing Sisters–was the Success Panel, where authors who have utilized the WI or Write-by-the-Lake or other writing programs from UW-Continuing Studies are now newly-published or have a new book out. Check us out.

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Success Panel 2019

The closing ceremony is Sunday, when we wrap up the conference. The energy generated by so many writers and creative people infuses the atmosphere here. It always amazes me how wonderful the writing community is. We try to help each other, support each other, and encourage each other. And every year I encounter writers who are attending for the first time, and see their wonder at these welcoming arms.

There is a reason the Writers’ Institute is listed as one of the top writing conferences in the country. And every year I have to agree. It has once again recharged my creative energies and given me lots of ideas on how to approach aspects of my journey as a published author, including wielding social media tools and focusing on “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”.

If you have a writing conference on your wish list, take a look at this one for next year. You won’t be disappointed!

zoey1


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No rest for the writer #amwriting #writers

FIRST order of business: A huge hearty THANK YOU to everyone who hosted me for my book release blog tour! You were all great, and busy–holy cow, I think there were three blog tours running at the same time. Bravo and thank you to all those who stopped by mine and the other tours!

Woo-hoo! Finally the weekend! Kids are at school, the weather is spring-like, and I can relax and unwind from–

“A-hem.”

Damn. He’s behind me, isn’t he. Good thing I decided not to do my version of the Snoopy dance.

“Like I haven’t seen it before, love. Go ahead. Get it out of your system.”

Well, now I don’t want to do it. I turn. Sure enough, my Muse is giving me the “are you quite finished” look. “What?”

He leans against the desk in my writing office, all rugged eye candy, especially with those fine-fitting jeans and his burgundy henley, sleeves shoved halfway up his forearms. He crosses those sinewy arms, which just pulls my gaze to his broad chest.

“You’re not usually so blatant about that, love.”

Damn again. I force myself to focus on his face, with the dimple in his chin and that bare shadow from five o’clock. And those blue eyes …

“Hey,” he barks as he snaps his fingers. “Focus.”

I shake my head to shuffle my thoughts. That was weird.

“Not really.”

“Would you stop that?” I’d feel better if he couldn’t read all my thoughts. Especially those thoughts.

He chuckles, and the room warms. Or maybe it’s just me. “I’m your Muse, love. And it’s flattering.” He raises a finger. “But you need to focus. You have stuff to do before you leave next week.”

“I know. I know. I just finished the blog tour. I think it went pretty well.” Now to catch up on all those other blogs I didn’t get to. Not sure I’ll ever catch up at this rate. “Speaking of, I hope you and Mr. E got your pub crawling done for a while.” I have to get moving on Book 2. For the eighth time.

He smiles that crooked smile that makes the room get even warmer. “You have other priorities this week. Sounds like it’s going to be a grand gathering this year.”

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April 4-7   Register now, because it’ll be a blast!

Yes! I can’t wait! There is something about being around all those other writers at the conference that stirs up creative energy.

“And you need to get your presentations put together.”

Um. Yeah. “You really know how to crash a weekend vibe.” At least he didn’t remind me of …

“You have cleaning on your list.” He holds up a piece of paper–where did he snag my list from? “Oh, and that can’t wait.” He ticks off an item. “This can wait, but you better do this one this weekend.”

“Where the hell did you get my list? And which one?”

“The dreaded ‘clean the refrigerator’ one.” He sets the list on the desk beside him. “So, can we get the presentations done tomorrow? Then you have the whole next day to clean.”

Oh joy.

This year will be a busy one at the Writers’ Institute, now that I have a real book I can sell at the book sale. And two presentations. And two panels. So, I’ll be getting further behind in my quest to catch up on reading blogs. Next week’s post will go live a day later than usual so I can get all the good stuff in from the big days at the conference. And it’s all good stuff 😀

Enjoy your weekend!

zoey chair

Does this chair make me look fat?

 


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Snowstorm? Again? Good excuse to work on promo stuff

Yep. We got 10 inches of snow on Wednesday. Another storm coming in this weekend is forecast to grace us with another 4-6 inches of snow.

I shovel the snow off the deck so it doesn’t build up. The deck is anywhere from 3 1/2 feet to 5 feet high depending on the ground (decks are generally level, the ground is not 🙂 ) Most of the deck is now level with the snow I’ve been shoveling off.

snowman-_tiny_snowmen I’m running out of places to put it. This next snow is supposed to be wetter than the stuff we have been getting. Wetter snow = heavier snow, but also snowman snow. Maybe I’ll just build snowmen instead of shoveling.

Sooo tired of snow. Sooo can’t wait for spring. The vernal equinox is a month away, and as we experienced last year, it is no guarantee spring will arrive with any haste. Damn.

So, in light of the wonderful–not–storm, I’ll keep plugging away at promo stuff. I just listened–well, watched–a Dan Blank series about author websites. If you don’t know Dan Blank, you’re missing out. Seeriously. He was a keynote speaker at Writers’ Institute a few years back. He’s got some great advice for writers. And he always includes pics of his two boys in his weekly newsletter.

Anyway, the gist of the series was simplicity. Keep things simple. And connect with the reader as you would a person in real life. I have to say I’m kind of more okay with my author website not being finished yet. I think the whole idea of being simple will help me fend off the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the choices: themes, plugins, pages, oh my!

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A lot of things still need to be done between now and March 12. I was hoping my Muse would stop by, but so far, no sign of him. I think he got bored with my looking through seed catalogs last night.

His loss. Me, well, I’m just wishing for more spring, less snow.

Another thing I’m chewing on is signing up for book festivals. There is a writers mini-conference (with an opportunity to sell books) happening in a month that my sister-in-law is involved in as part of a Friends of the Library group. I won’t be going this year, since I have no idea when I’ll be getting print books. She did invite me to the dinner the evening before the event, where David Housewright is the keynote speaker. Cool!

There are other opportunities, and I need to toss my hat into the ring for panels our Sisters in Crime chapter does. The group is a valuable resource, from events authors can participate in to getting the scoop about writers’ conferences. I can’t make Left Coast Crime, and Thrillerfest, but Bouchercon is in Dallas this year. Might have to go to that one.

Still no sign of my Muse. Hmm. I wonder if he and Mr. E are off on a pub crawl again. Anyway, today’s docket includes finalizing some promo stuff, ordering some swag, and I think I’ll squeeze some more seed catalog browsing in there. Between shoveling, of course. 😐

Keep Writing! If you are in the path of this weekend’s storm yet again, stay safe and warm!

zoey nap