Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Writerly inspirations #amwriting

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So I ran across this quote through a fellow writer on Facebook. I read it and thought “YES! SO MUCH THIS!”

Um. Yeah. Then i got back to my writing office and found this:
indianna-jones-hat-whipAnyone else think my Muse didn’t find the quote’s image of a muse as humorous as I did?

I haven’t seen the fedora and bullwhip for a while, and I didn’t expect to see them; I’ve been writing–working on my homework for my writing class. Now that my writing teacher has finished her week-long writing retreat, I’m planning to turn in my next assignment in a few days. The first 20 pages of my book.

Hey, it’s incentive. *eyes the fedora and bullwhip*

“A-hem.”

Um, he’s behind me, isn’t he. Yeah, not a question.

“I hope you aren’t taking Ms. Kingsolver’s advice literally, love.”

Gulp. I turn to find my Muse standing inside my personal space. Rather, looming. He’s six-foot-two to my five-foot four. I look up, but slowly. I mean, he’s so close I may as well take advantage, right? I don’t get this kind of view of broad chest and lean muscle every day. Even if it is covered with a royal blue t-shirt that fits him quite well. And is that coconut scent from sunscreen? I always think of the beach when I smell that. The beach and Banana Boat sunscreen. Do they even make that anymore?

“Julie.”

Oh, yeah. I finish getting my eyeful and reach his face. “You are in my personal space,” I say as an excuse, though I’m pretty sure he sees right through that.

“Yes, I am. And do you remember why I’m in your personal space?”

I show him my notebook, complete with line-outs, scribble-outs, and arrows. “I’m doing my homework. See.” I indicate the fedora and whip. “I don’t know why you brought those. I’m working.”

He shrugs. “I got inspired by your writing teacher.”

What? Oh, the quote on Facebook. “Aren’t you supposed to meet Mr. E for a pub crawl?” Not that I think he’ll be distracted by the idea, but it’s worth a shot.

His strong hands land on my shoulders and he turns me around, adding a tiny shove toward my computer. “No. I’m here until you get your homework done.”

Okay. I can work with that. I mean, he is my Muse after all. Heck, he’s been my Muse since my senior year in high school. And no, I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was.

“Focus, love.” He bends close, until I feel his breath on my ear. “And remember, your writing teacher approves this message.”

You had to be there. Seriously.

Welcome to Summer! (unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s winter) And now we get to watch the days get shorter (I know, still 24 hrs, but a few less minutes of daylight every day from now until the winter solstice. Boo.)

And here’s another Barbara Kingsolver quote for inspiration:

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Happy Writing!

Zoey4

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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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A Muse break

“This one?”

“Is it the one at Once Upon a Crime? The one Meg took?”

“You know, you could come over here and look, love.”

“I’m doing my homework.” My writer, sitting across the office in one of the recliners, glances up from her notebook. “I don’t care. Just pick one. I’m trying to get this done, which is the whole point of you doing my blog post, remember?”

Bloody hell. Fine. “Then don’t complain if it’s the wrong one.” There. “You know, you should have had more books on the table.”

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Author signing at Once Upon a Crime bookstore

She rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”

All in all, she said the event went well, even if she didn’t know beforehand the bookstore sells the books on a consignment basis instead of ordering them ahead of time. I tried to tell her, but she didn’t listen. Luckily she had a bunch of books in her car. She came home with no books, and reveled in her fortune for the rest of the day. Not much writing got done despite my efforts.

“What are you writing?”

“If you want to know, you could write the post yourself, love.”

She shakes her head and puts her headphones on.

As frustrating as it’s been to get her settled enough to write again, she’s putting in some nice effort. I keep telling her she has to focus more. If things were up to me, she would go away to a quiet cabin somewhere for a week, where I could really work on her. There is a place I put on her radar. Will she take my suggestion? Who the hell knows.

Of course, when I look up to check on her, she’s watching me instead of writing. Cute, but not productive. “Focus, love.”

She slides one headphone off. “What?”

“You know exactly what. Get your homework done.”

She sticks out her tongue before sliding the headphone back into place. At least she’s writing. When she declared she was going to take an online writing class, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. I mean, she’s got a book to write, and a class would distract her.

No worries. Julie has been far more focused because, she says, the class is helping her write the infamous Book 2. And it’s with her writing teacher.

Thank the gods. I was considering pushing her into that urban fantasy again. And no, that has nothing to do with getting a cameo. We Muses work our magic away from the spotlight.

But it would be kinda fun to see what she comes up with.

“Don’t forget to put a picture of Zoey at the end.”

“I’ve got it, love. Finish your homework.” Which might be a challenge over the next months since her kids are home from college for the summer. Maybe I can get her to repurpose her son’s room sooner rather than later. And her book promo stuff. I miss the days when all my writer had to do was write.

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“Did you put in a picture of Zoey?”

Sigh. “Yes, love. Get back to work.”


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Book launch party = success!

APL event 4.

Last weekend I held a book launch party at our local public library, the first of this type of event I have ever done.

Yikes. I wasn’t sure what to do or expect. Thankfully a bunch of my writer friends *waves* have done this sort of thing before and posted about their experiences. The impression I got from other writers is that everyone kinda does their own thing.

How do you plan this sort of thing when you’ve never done it before?

You don’t. I knew I wanted to read the first chapter of the book. Other than that, it was “make it up as I go”.

It was a good turnout, even if half of the people there were relatives (some of whom came from the Twin Cities, no less). Having worked at the library, I recognized most of the locals. The library is a small-town library, with enough room for maybe thirty chairs comfortably, and almost all the chairs were filled.

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I drafted my daughter to take pictures for me, but didn’t know what to tell her to take pictures of. She did miss the airplane-shaped cookies the library director made for the event. Those were cool, and everyone liked them. The library director had a new grandbaby arrive the night before the event, so she missed out (but she got to see her first boy grandbaby!)

After introductions, I read the first chapter of my book, which is short enough to read and ends with a cliffhanger.

APL event 1

Then questions. My daughter (actually, my hubs fed her lines) asked a bunch when no one else did, so it was a nice Q&A session. Afterwards, people mingled and bought books. There were a few people I haven’t seen for a while there, so it was nice to catch up a little with them.

The best part was hearing how much people enjoyed the book. Few of the attendees had read the book, but one patron, who is a voracious–and discerning–mystery reader, loved it. She is someone who won’t hesitate to tell you if she didn’t finish a book or doesn’t like an author’s writing. She is great word-of-mouth advertising!

The local newspaper guy was there, so I also got my picture in the paper.

paper photo_crAll in all, it was a great event. We invited family over to our house afterward to visit for a bit (and bribed them with pizza 😀 ).

Our local library and the library league are great at sponsoring  events like this, and bringing in authors. We have had Marc Brown (Arthur children’s books) and the authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day), as well as many others, do presentations. Check in with your local library league to do events at the library. I mean, where else do booklovers go if there isn’t a bookstore handy?

This weekend I’m heading to a local indie bookstore with a reputation for supporting local mystery authors for a signing event with a fellow member of our Sisters in Crime chapter. It’ll be another first for me, but I’m looking forward to picking my fellow author’s brain a bit on setting up signings at other bookstores, which he’s been busy with since his second book came out early this year. I have to set up more author events, and it’ll be nice to get some tips.

And SPRING! The trees are getting green, the grass is super-green, and I saw tulips blooming yesterday. The local greenhouse has flowers out now. There’s nothing like those bursts of color after a long, gray, and dreary week. I stopped in to pick up seed potatoes and onion sets, because last year I didn’t get there early enough and all the potatoes and onions were gone. I’ll go back to get seeds and plants in a few weeks once hubs gets the garden tilled.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

zoey_cr


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Writer = yes, marketer = not so much

Hope everyone had a good Easter/Passover/Spring or whatever you celebrated (or didn’t). The weekend was gorgeous here, all sunny and spring-like. Family, food, and got to catch up a bit with the in-laws.

I think Winter is still trying to steal the spotlight, though. Forecast for today: wintry mix. C’mon, already. Give it up. Go on vacation until Turkey Day.

Everything is getting nice and green. The trees are starting to put their leaves on. I can’t wait until they start flowering. There’s nothing quite like driving through town with trees flowering. Roll down the window and smell the beauty!

Now that Easter is over, I get to put more time into marketing *cringe*. I know it’s a necessary part of the process, but now that I’m getting back into the writing groove, it’s taking time away from what I want–need–to do. Write.

One step at a time. I have to break things down into small bites, or I get too overwhelmed. This week I did an interview with a local podcaster who talks to Minnesota authors. That was fun, and we did it at the library in the city where I work (I  think I found a great new place to focus 🙂 ). She said she would let me know when the podcast will “air”, but not until later in May or June.

Today is Book Launch Party day! The local library director has been super in organizing this (yes, this is the library I substitute at) with ad announcements in the local paper, and even put the announcement on the light sign outside the city offices on the main drag into town:

light sign 1_crMy name in lights!

It’s my first book launch party, and the library director has never held one; even though the library has hosted a number of authors, there hasn’t been a launch party. When I checked into how to do a launch party, everyone does things a little differently. One of my Writing Sisters had some great ideas that will be fun.

A number of my family members plan to be there, and some local friends. I’ll draft my daughter to take pics. So what does one do at a launch party? I figure the usual author stuff: introduction, how long it took to write the book, where the idea came from–the questions I’ve been asked most often so far. Read a chapter, and hold a drawing. I’m testing the idea of having a prize that might translate to online giveaway drawings. I’ve got these:

drawing cups kona If you have read the book, kona coffee is in there. I haven’t done any online drawings yet, but I’m thinking a mug and coffee might be a good prize. What do you think? I also have other items to give away for promo stuff online, but I haven’t had a chance to look into doing that. It’s on my list. I can always do something with my newsletter–which I haven’t kicked off yet, either. Sigh.

When I found out today is Independent Bookstore Day–man, I could have set up something today at a bookstore. The Midwest Indie Bookstore organization is running a passport sort of thing to encourage people to visit independent bookstores over the summer, so they have a nice, convenient list of indies in MN, WI, etc; I can approach these stores in the future.  Next week I’m doing an author signing with another mystery writer at a local indie. He’s visited a number of bookstores, so I’ll get some info from him.

I’ll let you know how things go today. I’m not keen on being the center of attention. I know I need to write more books to keep the momentum, and I’m struggling with putting that into the mix of full-time job and part-time book promoter. I’m still behind reading blogs, so I’m sorry about that. I’m trying to catch up 🙂

Enjoy your weekend! May your spring flowers start blooming!

zoey couch1


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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

30th-writers-institute-email

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.)

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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