Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Painting the Idea Wall

One wall of my writing office is covered with a smooth, glossy surface, currently home to a Rorschach test of various colors. An indigo splotch is running down over a yellow stain to meet a red splat.

I stare at the chaos. There’s an idea I can keep. But that orange one over there is a dead end, I think.

“You know, love, you’d have better luck if you focused more.” My Muse closes the door behind him with a quiet snick.

Of course, he’s right. I drop the powder blue goop in my hand into the bucket of discarded ideas at my feet. It lands with a satisfying bloop. “It’s spring.” ‘Nuff said. The grass is getting green, my tomato plants are outgrowing the nursery “pots” I started them in, and it’s just plain nice outside, at least for the weekend. Sunny and seasonal.

I turn to see my Muse staring at the whiteboard. He’s tucked his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, drawing my attention to his admirable backside. “No news this week?” he asks as he half-turns in my direction. An eyebrow arches. “What?”

Er, ahem. I hope my face isn’t as red as it feels. “Nothing.” I move up beside him. “My agent is on vacation for the next two weeks. Besides, I’m waiting for my readers to send me feedback.”

He crosses his arms on his chest and scans the multi-colored wall. “This looks good.” He points to a somewhat coordinated section of wall. “You can use this.”

“I know. I just need to refine it. I think it’ll jack the danger for my main characters if I go this direction. I just don’t know if I should keep this or not.” The area I indicate is a nice pattern, but I’m not sure if it’ll help the plot.

“It’s only the second draft, love. See how it works.” He settles into one of the recliners facing the wall, examining it like an art appraiser. He scoops a glob from the idea bucket and juggles it in his hand. “What if the drug lord grew up there? What if she knows the chief? Or the victim?” He flings the glob.

It lands with a splat beside the indigo. He picks up another handful. “That way no one would suspect her of doing her illegal business in town.”

Hmm. I draw my finger through the fresh goop and smear it across the indigo. “Maybe. I’ll think about it.”

“You need to do more than just think about it, love.” He chucks a bright fuschia blob. It lands with a squish, then rolls down the wall in a thick, slime-like mass, leaving pink in its wake.  “You need to work through this plot sooner rather than later. The more you can get done sooner, the farther along you’ll be once you need it.”

And he’s right, of course. I drop into the other recliner. It’s coming together. I realized the other day how I can up the tension and conflict. Sort of.

While these ideas ferment, I’ll leave you with a few pics (because I know someone is expecting them–you know who you are 🙂 )

Remember those fuzzy chicks? They’re not so fuzzy anymore. They’ve got real feathers now. And they’re starting to hop-flap, so we need to be careful when we feed them.

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And one of my favorite parts of spring is finally here! I can’t wait until they’re big enough to pick. Can you see the asparagus spears just coming up?

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And I’d hate to leave you without a cat pic, because, you know. Some days I wish I was a cat. All I’d have to do is sleep all day long 😀

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Enjoy your weekend!


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Roughing It – 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of creating, writing, bringing characters in your mind to life on the page. When the energy propels you to get the words out, that story in your head takes shape. You can see the unfolding of the plot, the characters, the setting, every bit that is part of the whole. You can’t refine your work until it’s in front of you. Enter the first draft, better known as the rough draft.

I’m working on the first draft of my next novel, and hitting a stretch of frustration that my mental picture of the story wasn’t complete enough to make the draft a smoother ride. It’s not the characters; the book my agent is shopping introduces the characters. It’s not the setting, though I think I’ll have to do a road trip (twenty+ years since I’ve been there). It’s the plot. The timeline. The guideposts along the way.

I tried to outline, but I don’t think I had a clear vision of the story. With most of my other projects, by the time I got to the point of writing the first draft, I had a pretty good handle on them in my head. This one, not so much.

It occurred to me as I was trying to hit my word quota last night that I’ve learned some things over the course of thirteen novel first drafts. I figured I’d share them (don’t worry, there’s pictures at the end–but not of my cat 😉 )

In no particular order, here are 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts:

  • I’m a novelist. Not that I can’t write short stories–my first publishing credits were short stories–but the stories in my head tend to be novel-length: 80,000 words or more. It took me over five or six years to write the first draft of my first novel (not counting the trunk novel I wrote in elementary–jr. high school). I knew I wanted to write a book–actually, rewrite that first book–after my kids were born, but I didn’t want it to drag on until they graduated.

When I learned about NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days), I knew that was my ticket to finishing a book in a reasonable amount of time. The key to “winning” at NaNo? Kicking the inner editor into a cage and locking it (that’s besides the 1,667 words a day). I learned I need to treat a new project like I’m doing National Novel Writing Month, no matter what time of the year. It’s only with that 30-day deadline and a restrained inner editor that I’m able to put myself into the frame of mind to just write. It also seems to be the only way I can get back into the habit of writing every day.

  • I outline, in a loose-ish sense of the word. The outline is not the only route from beginning to end for me, but it gives me an idea of the journey. With my current project, I struggled with the outline. I came up with characters, conflict, and setting, but the path through from beginning to end was fuzzy, and it shows during my writing sessions. I’ve learned my draft goes much better when I have a good idea of the story (outline), BUT
  • I’ve learned the process of writing the first draft actually helps bring the story into focus. As I’m writing, I make both inline notes and off-line notes. This particular draft looks less like an actual book and more like a scriptwriter’s attempt to put a director’s vision into some sort of storyboard-in-words. The story is more clear to me now than it was when I started. Maybe that’s because my NaNo-style first draft method is a lot like free-writing. No takebacks, no revising, no editing, just inline notes and writing forward.
  • I’ve learned first drafts are called “rough” for a reason. It’s less like a rock you can polish into something to put in a ring and more like deadwood turned into a functional piece of furniture with class. Rough drafts are UGLY. At least this one is. I mentioned it to some online friends as “sucking like a lemon soaked in turpentine”. Yep. Pretty much. I will never be like George R. R. Martin, with a first draft that’s ready to publish right off the finish line. Then again, my draft takes 30 days to finish, not five or six or more years.
  • I’ve learned to trust my method (your mileage may vary). This project taught me that skipping steps in the beginning (I didn’t lay out a timeline, or figure out the major plot points (just thought about the general direction), or fill out my storyline worksheets from Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days) results in uncertainty and missing my word quota.

When I work through my process, I can often exceed my word count because I can just write. I don’t have to think about where I’m going next. I know I’m headed in the right direction because I plotted my course (heh, see what I did there) ahead of time. It’s like planning a route when you drive to a writers’ conference or retreat. You know pretty much how to get there, even if there are detours along the way. My process has changed over the years (more free-writing, less fill-in-every-entry-in-the-worksheets), but it works for me. This is the first time I got lazy (or uninspired) about planning/outlining, and boy, do I know it.

I’m on the home stretch. One more week (and I get an extra day this month because March has 31 days–heh), and I’ll have 50k words and a complete or almost-complete first draft for my next book. Then the scramble to prep for hosting the fam for Easter in — OMG — two weeks?! I’ve gotta get moving on that.

SO, I might miss my mark in the interest of not embarrassing myself with my in-laws. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a peek into my garden this summer.

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onion seedlings

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tomatoes and a few peppers

Have a great weekend!


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The waiting game

I add the last entry to the list on the white board in my writing office and fail to suppress the urge to squeal like a teenager. I won’t admit to the happy dance, though.

Another step closer.

My Muse appears bearing gifts: a bag of tasty Ghirardelli chocolates and a six-pack of Moon Man beer. The best part: he’s wearing that burgundy henley. A worthy distraction.

“Congrats, love.” He sets the beer and chocolate on my desk and gestures at the board. “How many?”

“Thirteen.” It’s still sinking in. My agent got my manuscript into the hands of editors at thirteen publishers. And she said so far she’s gotten positive responses. That is, they’re looking forward to reading it.

He scans the list. “Looks like a nice selection.”

“Are you kidding? These are great.” It’s still sinking in. The whole “I really have an agent” to “Oh. My. Gawd. My manuscript is actually on an editor’s desk at that publisher.”

He loops an arm around my shoulders. “You’re doing great, love. Now, why haven’t you finished the outline for the next book?”

He smells like spring, that fresh, green scent of promise and sunshine and rain, that scent that makes you want to breathe it all in that first day the grass turns bright green and the sun glows against a brilliant blue sky. “Can’t focus.”

“Bullshit. You’re not trying hard enough, love, and you know it.”

Silence. I’m not even trying to think of a response because I know he’s right. I’m at the brainstorming stage of my next book. I sort of know what the story will be, but free-writing through the outline a few times will help me cement the major plot points.

“I’ll get it done. I have to have it done by the end of the month so I can do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo in March.” Besides, the weather for the next week or so is supposed to be spring-like, as in March temps in February here in MN. Lots of opportunity to go for walks to help me think through the plot lines.

“I’m going to hold you to that.” His Indiana Jones fedora appears on his head. “You need to get to work.”

So now it’s a waiting game. My agent will keep me updated on responses, but I know it’s just like when an agent asks for a full when you’re querying agents. It takes a little while for that person to get to your manuscript’s spot in their TBR queue. I expect it’ll be a few weeks before we hear back from any of them.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on the outline for the next book, and planning my garden. I’ll have to start seeds in a few weeks. This year will be a canning tomato year, and hopefully my peppers will do better than they did last year (last year was a bad year for my peppers). Maybe I’ll do garbanzo beans this year. I always like to plant something new or something I haven’t planted for a while.

Here’s your awwww to start off the weekend:

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Socks and Zoey napping

Pulled from the archives. Even though Zoey would chase Socks and (since she was bigger) often wrestle with her, sometimes they’d cuddle.

Have a great weekend, all! Get writing!


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Seasons Change

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It’s that time of year again, when the trees, once every shade of green, now look like some giant artist swiped a brush across their leaves. I’ve been taking alternate routes home from work so I can see the colors of the trees. Wish I could stop at every glorious burst of color to take pictures, but that’s not safe with no shoulders on the roads.

One route takes me along the forested river bluffs, where golds and dark reds peek through the green still hanging on. Every so often I see a treat of intense pinks and oranges.

One route allows a distant view of the trees along the river from the “flatland” side. From that distance, the foliage is more gray/green speckled with golds than a vista of individual trees.

Another route takes me through farm fields, but every farm site has trees around the main house. Those trees tend to be showy, mature maples with pinks, oranges, and golds gilding a green background. I love the colors of autumn! I wish I could “freeze-frame” them for a week or two so I could enjoy them for more than a couple days.

It’s chilly out as well, a good excuse to make chili for lunch and bake some banana bread. I actually wanted to make pumpkin bread, but we’ve been freezing very-ripe bananas, so I need to use up some of our “stash”.

Chilly outside means the cat who snubs us all summer now wants nice warm laps to sleep on. Makes it hard to write!

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Of course she waits until I’ve got my computer on my lap before she decides it’s time to claim her place. (And it’s kinda tough to get a good picture of a cat who’s sitting on your lap without chasing them away.)

The garden is now a weed playground. Went out yesterday to rescue any tomatoes and peppers left before the predicted frost this morning. No covering tender plants. I’m done with the garden for this year. Whew. The only things left that might survive are my one lonely kale plant and the beets I haven’t picked yet.

It’s also time for fall cleaning. *crickets*

Yeah. About that…

After I finish my revisions. Really. I promise.

Unless my son wants to bring his new girlfriend over. Then everything gets put on hold until the house is presentable.

I hope he gives us more than a few days’ notice.

Anyway, hope you all are enjoying autumn to the fullest extent, because winter (ugh!) is right around the corner. *peeks around the corner* The coast is clear so far, so hurry.

And one more pic to enjoy for the weekend. Writers, write!

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Gardening and Transitions

Rain whispers outside the window as I sit in my writing chair. Today is the third or fourth day of rain this past week or so, meaning I haven’t gotten out to the garden in a few days. I shudder to think what my zucchini will look like!

Hubby made all the tomatoes I picked into spaghetti sauce, so I need to get into the garden to pick some more. I love saying that. “Hey, I need an onion.” Then, “I’ll just go out to the garden and pick one.” Ha! Or, “I need a tomato for my BLT. I’ll be back in a minute.”

I did, after a few weeks of neglect, get back out to the garden and weed. The onions and potatoes are pretty much finished growing, and the sweet corn is done.

IMG_0669 The cilantro is seeding, and the peppers are doing okay. I only planted two cucumber plants this year because I’m not planning to make pickles, but hoo-boy, I’ve got more than enough to share.

The green beans are winding down, but they are so good! The best part is always the fresh tomato supply. I did take a pic of my tomato plants, but as you know, my picture-taking skills match those of a five-year-old.

The bane of my gardening activities, besides the bounty of weeds, is the ragweed. Both the common and giant ragweed are blooming now. If ragweed pollen was worth money, we’d be rich. In case you got confused by the “giant” classification for ragweed, let me show you:

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Those plants stretching above the chicken fence are giant ragweed. Rough estimate on height: 12-15 feet. Yes, I’m serious. Here’s a closer-up of the flower heads:

ragweed heads

Imagine about an acre or so of this stuff scattered around, and clouds of yellow pollen if it’s windy. And this isn’t even counting the common ragweed, which is a foot tall at the most. After about a half hour out in the garden, my eyes and nose are running, and sneezing fits make doing just about anything else difficult at best.

This week my son made the transition from bum–er, I mean, high school graduate–to college freshman. We moved him into the dorm this week. Part of me is thrilled–no more teenage sniping between him and his sister. Part of me is anxious. Will he acclimate? Will he make lots of friends? Will he study? Is he looking for a job (because he needs to get a job)?

Honestly, it’s up to him. All you can do as a parent is give them the tools. And as much as they think they know everything, you hope at some point they’ll realize that you, as the parent, actually know what you’re talking about.

Okay, to finish this short post off, on special request, cat pics.

socks on deck This is Socks, who went AWOL about a month ago. She got her name from the 4 white socks she had. Her fur was sooo soft! We suspect she either fell while slinking around an old collapsed house on the property and got hurt or worse, or she was the victim of coyotes. We miss her.

Our other cat is Zoey, who seems awfully content to be the sole proprietress of the place.

So there you have it. As for writing, I haven’t gotten back into it quite yet. It’s been busy. I think another deep run through my WIP is next on the list, but I’m not sure if I should wait to hear if I get a mentor from Pitch Wars. Slim chance, I know, but I can hope.

Anyway, have a great weekend!zoey sleeping

 


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Cruel Summer (Heatwave)

Love that song by the Bangles!

Anyway, despite the three-digit heat index and lack of any breeze whatsoever yesterday, I ventured out to the garden because I hadn’t been out there for a few days (because of our tropical heat and other more enjoyable things going on, like hanging out with a couple friends). First …

UGH.

The human body sweats to cool off–the action of sweat leaving the skin cools us. When the humidity is tropical, sweating doesn’t work so well. The air’s too wet to accept the sweat.

Imagine muggy, humid air thick around you. Toss in no breeze and lots of hungry mosquitoes. Or just imagine Florida in July. After about 30 seconds, you’re covered with a thin sheen of sweat that has nowhere to go. After a minute, that sheen is now a coating of sweat drenching every inch.

Thank goodness we only get this kind of weather once or maybe twice per summer in MN. (We just like to complain about it 🙂 )

Anyway, the garden wasn’t too bad considering I haven’t been paying much attention to it lately. The weeds are back, and they’re supercharged, but in fewer numbers than I expected.

The zucchini are now in full-production mode. I picked 6 that needed to be fed to the chickens (I’m sorry, when they’re the size of small children, they’re too big to eat), and about a half-dozen more. My grab bag of seeds surprised me this year with one plant each of 4 different varieties. Here are the light green ones. (yes, I know 4 zucchini plants is just asking for trouble. The chickens like them.)

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I picked a whole lot of green beans too, but the mosquitoes didn’t help. They just buzzed around my ears and found ways around the bug spray I’d applied. Have I mentioned how much I hate mosquitoes?

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The white panel is there for my sugar snap peas. After reseeding, I got a grand total of 3 plants. (and yes, I used fresh seeds) The white flowers everywhere are the radishes I let bolt. I do that for the bees, so they have a reason to hang out. You can see the bean plants as well, and the corn.

Speaking of, we had our first sweet corn from the garden last night. Mmmm! Much to my dismay, however, someone else is also enjoying the corn.

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The scattered cornstalks and trampled onions are evidence the dogs have been helping themselves. Yes, the dogs. They pull the stalks out and strip the cobs to eat them. What you can’t see is the evidence it’s not just the dogs. Raccoons or chipmunks or squirrels have been invading as well. Normally we put a fence around the garden to prevent this, but this year, well, I’m tired. Now, the fence has jumped up the priority list. It’s too hot yet to put it up, but next week it’ll have to go up. It’ll give the cucumbers something to climb on, anyway.

Most everything else seems to be doing well. The tomatoes continue to be unruly. I don’t know who thought tomato cages (the cone-shaped ones) were a good idea, but they are failing miserably at their job. The tomato plants have surpassed the supporting capacity without even trying. And that’s with trimming. I’ll have to stick with the hog panels like I did last year. They’re way sturdier, and if I tie the tomatoes up, they’re happy climbing on the panels.

There you have it, a quick update. My sister’s in town this weekend, so the garden is on its own for a few days.

Two weeks until the reunion! I’m still hammering on what I’m hoping is the last revision before I send my WIP to the agents waiting. Of course, there will be more revisions; Pitch Wars is coming up, and I want to enter it there. I’ll lose time this weekend, but I only see my sister a couple times a year, so I’ll bring my computer, but anticipate getting little done.

Have a great weekend. Stay cool and write on!


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Anticipation

Can you believe we’re halfway through summer already? No, not the actual astronomical summer (you know, like the solstices and equinoxes), the school’s out summer.

We’re halfway through July. O. M. G.

I feel like I missed a big chunk of it so far. Wait, I did. Two weeks’ worth after my surgery. Not to mention all the other busy stuff.

Ack!

Finally got the weeding finished (and of course I need to start over, but I’m tired). Started picking zucchini and green beans. Mmm! Fresh green beans from the garden trump frozen every time. Canned beans don’t even come close. And it’s early enough in the season that zucchini actually sounds good. (Yep, just wait a couple weeks 😮 )

I’d post pics, but I haven’t taken any since I beat the weeds back. I’ll try to post some next week. The corn is tassling, so we should have some in a week or so. Raspberries are ripening, but it seems like they do an every-other-year thing. Last year we had a bumper crop. This year, not so much. I’m not picking wild black raspberries this season, either. I made a couple batches of jelly with what I had frozen from last year, so we should be good for a bit. Besides, I really don’t want to be lunch for mosquitoes.

Made it two-thirds of the way through revising my WIP, and I should be able to finish this weekend. Whew! I’m behind, and the two weeks I was out of commission didn’t help. Now that I’ve caught up on weeding for a minute, I’m focusing on finishing.

The best thing coming up? Nope, not my sister’s visit next week, though I am looking forward to it. Nope, not the pool party family gathering the weekend after.

*Drumroll*

My writing sisters reunion retreat! Three weeks. *happy dance* Not only do I get to spend a few days with some crazy creative writers and good friends, but I get to focus on writing. All weekend. This year we’re having a plotting weekend. So. Much. Fun. There’s nothing quite like getting a bunch of writers together and helping each other with plotting new stories. We throw so many wild ideas out there, the brainstorming wall needs cleaning a couple times a day.

I’ve made some writer friends in the blog-o-sphere, and I was thinking about what it would be like to spend a day with them talking about plots, writing, and all the fun stuff that goes with those creative processes. Man, I think it’d be a hoot! We’re scattered across the country, many countries, but wouldn’t that be cool?

My point is, if you can gather with a couple writer friends for a weekend, just a girls/guys weekend where you do nothing but talk writing, do it. If you know a writer who lives fairly close, meet at a halfway point. There’s an energy that surrounds us creative folks that just seems to multiply when we get together.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wait. Almost forgot. I suppose you wanted an update on the orphans, right? Well, we found a new home for the pair. I put an ad in the local paper, and we got one call from a gentleman who wanted them both. He just got a kitten about the same age as the orphans, and wanted a buddy for him.

We dropped the kittens off last weekend. Now, before you worry about the sort of home our little foundlings are in now, let me tell you, we have no worries. The gentleman, in his late 70s or in his 80s, has a menagerie. Seriously. We drove up and saw a well-kept yard. Behind the house, a number of fenced areas housed chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, peacocks, and at least one donkey.

This gentleman took the kittens from their box and cradled them in his arms before handing them off to a couple friends rocking on the porch, one petting the other kitten. An old collie kept an eye on everything.

Yep, I think they’ll like their new home.

Okay, you want a couple final doses of cuteness? Here you go.

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