Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


Contemplating a quiet summer #amrevising #mngarden

Before the pandemic (you all remember that, right? Life before?), in 2019 when my book came out, I remember scrambling to figure out how to “get out there”, basically how to engineer bookstore appearances, book fair registrations, and all that stuff we authors do to make ourselves known to readers. I don’t know how many bookstores or libraries or book fairs I did that year, but I do remember them. Or some of them, anyway. I went to my first reader/writer convention in March 2020.

For a day. Then everything shut down.

And I couldn’t write. For almost 2 years, something put a stranglehold on my creative energy, and though I tried, I could not write. Of course, anything related to in-person stuff was shut down, and virtual, while a great option, just isn’t the same, especially when it comes to talking to random people who might buy your book and become fans.

Now things are back. Last year, really, is when all the things started happening again. And I finally, somewhere late 2021, got my writing going again. I’m this close to a resubmit of Book 2; waiting on talking to a few more beta readers before doing another revision and sending it off to my agent with fingers crossed.

I’m working on a couple other projects, too. The thing I find I’m not doing (or terribly interested in doing at this point) is setting up those in-person things: book fairs, art fairs, bookstore appearances, all the stuff. Mainly because I don’t have a new book yet, but also because after the past couple years, I’m pretty content to be a homebody.

Oh, I know when Book 2 finally comes out I’ll force myself to do all the things again, but I dread it. Okay, I dreaded it the first time, but did it because that’s what you do to garner readers. Same will go for Book 2. And hopefully I’ll have the first book of a new series on the publication journey.

But this summer will be pretty quiet, except for the occasional panel, and maybe a book fair. I do have a signing event in July, along with a panel. Now all those things I’ve been setting aside since spring of 2020 are staring me in the face and begging for attention (you know, like organizing that stuff that came home from the office when they made everyone work from home and cleaning the refrigerator; actually, a lot of that deep cleaning stuff).

And I did get the garden in–now is about the time I need to start going out and stirring up those nasty tiny weeds before they decide to really get going. I didn’t have as much cut-grass mulch as I needed, so I’ll have to rake more the next time we mow what we affectionately call the “back forty.”

And it’s hot. July temps in the upper 80s and it’s only the first week in June. Ugh. We got all of what, one or two weeks of spring … maybe. I miss spring!

Anyway, the struggle to make writing the priority before garden and cleaning and–okay, not work because that’s how I pay the bills 40 hrs a week–is ongoing. Can’t wait for my Writing Sisters reunion in August!

Keep on writing!


Addressing Pacing #amrevising #amediting

If you caught my post last week, you know that I have yet another round of revise and resubmit for Book 2. I had a nice conversation with my agent this week about her concerns and various ways I could approach her concerns. And, apparently, a Bullitt car chase is not on the table (you’ll have to read last week’s post to get that one 🙂 )

The main concerns are weak-ish secondary characters, and pacing in the middle. I think I know how to handle the character issues. Part of that solution will be digging into the characters’ lives before the story starts. And today I actually came up with something that I think will work well.

However, that doesn’t address the pacing concerns. In a mystery, the idea is to have the sleuth discover clues that lead them to the culprit, but in a way that doesn’t slow the story down too much. In Book 2 a major source of clues is a collection of photographs along with notes in a journal, along with a map.

Not so exciting (and no, there aren’t any compromising photos in the mix), but essential to telling both the amateur sleuth and the reader who is involved and hint at a motive.

I printed out one of my writing teacher’s craft posts from the Blackbird Writers Discussion forum on FB. This post was about middles (posted on Jan 18, 2023: not sure this link will work, but here it is Writing craft post #3), timely for me. From Chris’s post, I see more than one mention of the middle being about action, movement.

Yikes. Then there’s reassurance–action can be big or small, but the middle has to be “active”. Thing is, I’ve created a threshold, that point where the main character hits that point in the story where she makes a choice to stop what she’s doing for reasons she believes are important enough that she feels going further down that path will hurt people she cares about.

And the reversal comes soon after, when something happens that forces her to cross that “threshold” (see, Chris, I did read the post 🙂 🙂 ). But that doesn’t help the earlier part of the middle that is less “active”.

Have you run into that issue, where you have a “saggy middle” in your story? The question is, how do I add more “action” without making it obvious? One thing I am doing is “what if”. You know, brainstorming by asking “what if”. What if her mentor’s relationship wasn’t as ideal as my MC thought? What if there aren’t notes to accompany the photos? What photos raise the most suspicion? What if the other photos are taken out of the scene completely? What if there are different pictures that raise suspicion and add clues more effectively? What would those look like? Would that prop up the pacing?

Anyway, you get the idea. I find asking “what if” is an effective way for me to work through ways to address stuff like this. I write out my “what if” questions in longhand as stream-of-consciousness. When the weather is nicer (and warmer) I talk through “what ifs” on walks. I’ve gotten through a lot of “hmm, now what” and “this doesn’t work right” situations this way.

IN any case, I have my writing teacher’s post close at hand. That way I have a direction of sorts for my “what ifs”.

Have you ever used the “what if” tool to work through problematic scenes? Do you use a different method of working through parts of your story that move more slowly than they could?

I have one more piece of homework to finish, then I’ll dig back into Book 2 armed with suggestions from my agent and whatever pops up during my “what if” sessions. I know something will percolate to the top that will be an AHA! That’s usually the way it works with me, and then I wonder why the hell didn’t my Muse mention that particular idea sooner 🙂

Anyway, after “enjoying” single-digit weather for the past week (not to mention double-digit below zero temps at night and negative double-digit windchills), we’re supposed get within spitting distance of freezing this weekend–woo hoo! Heat wave!

Keep on writing!

Throwback kitties: Nyx and Tibbers


Okay, got enough for a while, thanks! #mnsnow

After a few years of ho-hum snowfall, Mother Nature decided to remind us that yes, it really is WINTER. The week before Christmas we got maybe 6 inches of snow. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day we had a blizzard–it was tough to tell how much snow we got with all that blowing. THEN, we got more snow the beginning of this week. Did I hear you ask how much?

Well, not as much as Buffalo, NY got, or the mountains, but we got plenty.

Yes, you read that right. TEN inches. Remember, that’s all on top of the probably 8 to 10 inches we already got from the last couple snowstorms.

On the bright side, we don’t live in northern MN, where they got twice as much (at least) so far this season. I like to look at snow (as long as I’m not driving in it), it’s pretty, but shoveling it is a pain (this was heavier wet snow, not the light fluffy stuff–that all blew away in the blizzard). Hubs has used the tractor and snow blower more in the last three weeks than he did all last winter!

It just makes me want to hibernate until spring; good for writing, right?

Actually, watching the snowstorms reminds me of my book, Murder in Plane Sight, in which Winter played a big role. In a way, people who live in northern climes that get the “fun” white stuff almost have it made when throwing stuff at their characters. I mean, there’s nothing quite like being out in a snowstorm. I can think of a handful of MN authors off the top of my head who used winter–snowstorms and just winter in general–in their books to add to their characters’ troubles.

Who? Well, let’s see. William Kent Kreuger, Allen Eskens, Chris Norbury, John Sandford, Matt Goldman, Tami Hoag, I could go on. These are authors I’ve read recently (like, in the past 2-3 years 🙂 ). That’s one of the fun things, right? Set your story in a period of inclement weather, whatever the area is “famous” for, and throw some fun “forces of Nature” in to make things interesting.

In my book, my characters have to deal with a nasty winter storm by driving through blinding snow. Which is neither wise nor easy, since the snow reflects the headlights back into your eyes and you can’t see anything because of that as much as because of the snow itself. Allen Eskens had one of his characters escape the bad guy–right into fresh, deep snow and frigid temps.

Chris Norbury threw his character into remote northern Minnesota in a snowstorm. Driving in a snowstorm in the city is one thing; at least there are streetlights on both sides of the road. Driving in a snowstorm in rural areas? Not recommended; there’s a point when if you don’t have tracks to follow, there’s no way to tell where the road is. Of course, you don’t know if those tracks will lead you into a ditch.

On one hand, though, it’s way easier to follow someone in fresh snow. Matt Goldman’s character had that fortune, until he got to an area where the snow had already been tramped through. John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers took advantage of that, all except for the part where you can follow someone through the woods, but you have no idea what is under the snow to trip over.

And that’s just the snow. That doesn’t even count the cold. Hmm, I think I’ll save that for another MN mystery 🙂 . But MN isn’t the only place with natural challenges you can throw in your character’s path. You don’t have to treat them like the Donner party. What about floods, or hurricanes, or sleet, or tornados? Or extended periods of hot, humid weather? By utilizing what we all have to deal with, and not only the nice days when the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming, you can use the setting as a character in your own story. And of course, the classic example of that (modern day example) is Where the Crawdads Sing.

Wait, what about using the weather to give your character an advantage? That would be a nice change, the thick fog to hide their approach to a building, or the rain to hide the sound of that squeaky stair tread. Or a nice summer day when they can go on that hike or swim in the lake or enjoy a romantic evening stroll.

Oh, I did resubmit Book 2 to my agent before the end of the year. Crossing fingers she’ll like this revision. Now back to my police procedural project. Hope you all had a good Christmas/holiday of choice!


Routine is key #amrevising

First, Happy Autumn! My favorite season has arrived–warm days, cool nights, and colorful trees. It’s great, all except for the sunset around 7p part. And the sunrise around 7a. It’s late enough that the morning runs I was doing before I logged on for work are almost too late now for me to get back and shower before work. Sure, I work from home and have some flexibility in my start and stop times, but I still like to get started by 7:30a at the latest. So, a run and shower in that timeframe is becoming a challenge.

I might have to start using the treadmill again. I prefer to run outside if I can, but it’s harvest season now, and the neighbors (we’re talking huge cash crop farmers) have trucks and tractors moving all the time during daylight hours, kicking up clouds of dust on the gravel road I use. No thanks.

The garden is on its way out. I’d share pictures, but it’s in sad shape, probably because I haven’t weeded for, like, months. The tomatoes are slowing down, likely because they’re now succumbing to blight. I planted blight-resistant varieties, so we got a lot of tomatoes, and of course as long as the bacon supply lasts, BLTs are on the menu.

Bonus: my pumpkins are almost ripe! I wasn’t sure they would have enough time, since they didn’t get going until July (note to self: start the pumpkin seeds in the house in spring). I don’t have many, maybe a handful, but that’s more than I expected. Enough to cook and freeze for pumpkin bread over the winter.

But anyway, I wanted to talk about routine (and my current lack of it). At Bouchercon I was reminded that a number of well-known authors schedule their writing time and defend it. Then I remember that a lot of those authors are retired.

Huh. Go figure.

Evenings seem to work better for me. NaNoWriMo is coming up, so another opportunity to reestablish a routine. I try to maintain a routine, and I’ve tried making the time sacred, but doggone it, real life sure likes to throw stones in the gears (and a husband who delegates anything having to do with internet searches, like plane tickets and cellular hotspots, to his formerly-in-IT wife. And of course, those are price comparison and reviews searches, which, as we all know, are almost as big a time suck as FB or research for a book).

So, after our next major out-of-the-routine duty–flying out to Virginia for our nephew’s wedding and staying an extra day for sightseeing in DC–the plan is to reclaim those sacred two hours after supper.

Routine does help. I’ve heard authors swear by it; because it’s the routine, their writer brain is all warmed up when they sit down at the keyboard. I find that by the end of NaNo, I’ll take a day or two to relax (or catch up on all that other stuff I didn’t do because I was writing, but needed to get done), then I’ll get back to sequestering myself where it’s quiet and edit/revise/write for a couple hours at night. It’s easier after maintaining that routine for 30+ days. I draft my books the NaNoWriMo way even when it isn’t November.

As for the rest of the family when the writing routine takes you away from them and into your own writing space, just let them know ahead of time that that’s the plan. I’m writing, no bothering me unless someone is dying or the house is on fire (I think I’ve seen a doorknob hanger with something like that). And routine gets shot to Hades when sh** happens, like my BIL dying unexpectedly, and my hubs is planning to fly out west with his siblings to take care of things. Guess who gets to find and book his flight? Oh, and guess who gets to set up the cellular hotspot and hope it’s easy enough for him to figure out (he’s not a complete Luddite, but don’t ask him to send an attachment with his email unless I or one of the kids is around).

(On the plus side, the man can fix almost anything. And he cooks!)

Here’s to reestablishing a routine. Noise-cancelling headphones, an internet blocker, and a comfy chair are waiting for me.

Happy Writing!

Flashback: itty kitties Nyx and Tibbers


Has anyone seen my focus?

Photo by Daisy S on Unsplash

If you have, please send it home.

Yep, it’s been that kind of a week. I’m stuck in revision mode, but you know when you get to a spot you know you need to revise, but haven’t got a clue how to do it and not make it sound stupid? That’s where I’m at.

So I’ve been spinning my wheels, taking brainstorming walks, and debating whether to stick a pin in it and move on to the next spot. Thing is, how I revise this spot will affect other revisions later in the book. So, I need to figure this one out first.

Or do I work on another project for a few days and then go back to Book 2? Or do I take some time to work on my website and do all that other “administrative” stuff, like finding in-person events over the summer (you know, like street fairs, book fests, that sort of thing), the sort of stuff that is tough for writers to do in the first place. Although, it is nice that there are a lot of in-person things again.

I think I got out of practice, or just really comfortable not doing that stuff again. If I’m not at an in-person event, it means I can spend that much more time writing, right?

I have to give a lot of credit to real life stuff for derailing my focus. Who knew that worrying about a child trying to “adult” and having a tough time of it (because of her choices, despite the suggestions and shared wisdom of her parents) would torpedo so much creative energy? We offer guidance, suggest course corrections, but she’s still at the “not listening to my parents for the principle of it” stage.

Man, I can’t wait until that 21 year-old brain matures. If we’re lucky, she’ll listen and take our advice into consideration when making choices. Until then, we’re still pretty much dealing with a teenager. Sigh.

On the bright, “I can’t wait for it” side, I have my personal writing retreat (three-night stay) next weekend. Woo-hoo! Happy dance! Granted, I have expectations, and I know the weekend may not live up to them, but I’m hopeful. Intentional. If the weekend goes well, I’m going to try to schedule another personal writing retreat this summer.

Crossing my fingers! I’ll try to let you know how it goes; I will probably do my regular post, but if I’m on a roll, maybe not on my regular posting day.

After that, we have to get the garden planted; my tomato plants are more than ready to get into the ground. My pepper seedlings, on the other hand (and my brussels sprouts) are not doing well this year. I think I overwatered them, and they’re struggling to recover. I’ll have to go to the local greenhouse and get some plants. My cukes are coming along nicely; after last year and replanting 3 (4? 5?) times with only one plant as a result, I decided to start my cukes this year. I don’t normally, since I’ve never had much trouble when I’ve planted them directly in the garden, and cucumber plants don’t like being transplanted.

Anyway, after a brush with summer and nasty storms, the weather is settling into a more spring-like pattern–finally! It should be pretty comfortable next weekend, somewhere between the low 60s and mid-70s F for temps, and cooling to the mid-50s or so at night. The trees are waking up, and some are fully dressed again. I love the return of green plants!

Have a wonderful writing week!