Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


16 Comments

Of Revisions and Muses

The writing office is empty.

Bloody hell. Now where’d she go? I hate this time of year. She’s too distracted by Spring–and yes, I capitalize it because it’s becoming a pain in my ass, just like my writer these days. On the whiteboard wall, I see nothing’s changed. Stands to reason since her agent returned from vacation a couple days ago.

What the … Her laptop is on her desk along with this:

dragon3_cr

Seriously? I’ve put too much time into my author; there’s no room for another Muse.

A whoosh carries through the open back door of the office, like a giant swinging a huge bloody flyswatter. Before I get to the door, Julie steps through and combs fingers through her hair.

I lean back against her desk, arms crossed. “Where the hell have you been, love?”

An iridescent green head pokes into the office through the door behind her, red eyes locked onto me. I’ve got to deal with her Night Fury conscience; I don’t have fecking time for a whatever-the-hell kind of dragon this is. “Where did that come from? I’m not playing ‘lead muse’ to a team. I work alone.”

Julie runs a hand over its golden nose and nudges it back out the door. “Don’t worry about him,” she tells it. “He’s kinda grumpy.”

The dragon glares at me. I return the favor and add a little bit of Muse temper. It snorts and disappears back out the door. She takes over the glare, hands on her hips.

“What the hell was that for? So I took a break.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“My daughter gave it to me. It’s the first thing she’s ever brought home and said she bought especially for me, and she’s almost 17. What the hell are you so pissy about? I’ve been working on my outline.”

Uh-huh. If that’s work, I’m going to have to get the big guns out. “And what did your sister-in-law say about the manuscript?” I ask, knowing full well what her feedback was. I just want to see if Julie’s been thinking about it instead of goofing off on the competition.

Her eyes narrow. “You’re jealous.” A smile inches across her face, deeping the dimple in her cheek. “You know, you seem a little insecure for a Muse. That’s so cute.”

I ignore the heat in my cheeks and give her my sternest Muse look. “I’ve worked with you for how many years? I’m not going anywhere.” Unless she replaces me. Naw, she wouldn’t do that. Would she?

She crosses the office and pats my shoulder. “Don’t worry. That one is more suited to my fantasy stuff, and I’m writing mystery right now. And stop writing my blog posts for me.”

“If you were in here doing it, I wouldn’t have to.”

She sticks her tongue out at me. *Thhppptt* She brushes past me and settles in at her desk. “Go away until I’m done with this. I need your help with one spot my sister-in-law mentioned in the manuscript.”

“Fine. I’ll be back in an hour. I’ve got to take a walk.” I think the forest path should do it. “One hour.”

I wave. “See you in an hour. Don’t get lost.” Geez. Who knew he’d be jealous?

Anyway, now that he’s gone for a bit, I’ll finish this off. My sister-in-law finished her read-through, and loved the book. Said she’s going to read it again, in fact. Now, before you get the idea that because she’s family she’ll gush over the manuscript, I want to say there’s a reason I asked her. She’s a retired elementary school teacher and was a librarian. She knows books. She reads books. And she’s not a blood relative 🙂 . She reads John Sandford (MN author), William Kent Kreuger (MN author), and Kathy Reichs.

She loved the book, yet had a few things she noticed. One (and remember my earlier post on the subject) thing: she wanted more technical details.

Yeah. The very thing my agent has been telling me to dial back because that’s probably tripping up the editors.

Why, you ask? She was married to a pilot, so she knows the airport (my book is set at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport), and the main character being an aircraft mechanic is interesting to her. And she loves the TMTI (my opinion) that Kathy Reichs has in her books.

She had some other very good suggestions, and she mentioned some of the things she really liked. And she specifically said: “This is going to be a series, right? Because it has to be a series.”

😀 Talk about warm fuzzies!

Anyway, the revision is due to my agent on Monday, so I’m looking at the things my SIL suggested. There’s one in particular I think I’ll focus on that’ll have a bigger effect on the story than some of the others.

And for those who missed flower pics last time (I don’t grow flowers intentionally unless it’s to use up seed in the garden, because weeding 🙂 ), here you go:

violet yellow fuzzy_cr

yellow violet

violetpurple

purple violet

And, of course I have to close with Zoey, who refused to stand still or look at me when I took her picture.

zoey roam_cr

Have a great weekend, all! Next weekend I might have to get the garden started 🙂


16 Comments

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.

chicks 2_cr

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?

aspargus2

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 😀

zoey1

Enjoy your weekend!


15 Comments

Just a bit o’ pics

Hey there. Today is family gathering day. Last week, I threatened to have just pictures. I know, I know, you are sooo dreading this, and I won’t blame you if you leave now. I promise I’ll have more to say next week.

Oh, before I get to the boring stuff (you know, pics), a quick update. Another publisher crossed off the list. Three to go, and hopefully one of the question marks will come back with a positive response, but I’m not holding my breath. After talking to my agent a couple days ago, I’ll go back through the manuscript and make some tweaks before she sends it off again.

Alright, if you don’t make it through the rest of the post, have a great weekend! 😀

Zoey sit_cr

Is this my good side?

Zoe2_cr

Hey, that’s my spot!

zoey3_cr

Is there enough room for me?

Here are our new additions:

chicks

Brown leghorn chicks

Enjoy your weekend!


18 Comments

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.

IMG_0023_cr

onion seedlings

IMG_0022_cr

tomatoes and a few peppers

Have a great weekend!


19 Comments

Writing and waiting

Today I use a green dry-erase marker for my writing office whiteboard. You know, for St. Patrick’s Day (even though St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish to start with). Three more publishers off the list as passes, but I add a new one to the bottom. The editor reached out to my agent, so of course she pitched my manuscript, and the editor asked to see it.

Yay! I mean, anytime another editor gets eyes on it is another chance an editor will love it, right?

My Muse arrives in full regalia: well-worn (in every sense of the word) jeans, tennis shoes, a bright green Guinness t-shirt, and a green hat with the requisite “Kiss me, I’m Irish” motto in shiny gold letters. I’m almost surprised he didn’t do a temporary dye job and go red- or green-haired for the day. Almost.

He hands me a mug of steaming coffee. “With Irish Creme, doncha know,” he says with a grin and a pathetic attempt at an Irish accent. “It’s too early fer green beer, but I’ll bring that along later.”

I feel my eyes narrow and a wince escape my control. “Dude, you’re Australian. You’re not even very good at American accents. Gonna have to work on your Irish accent.”

He sips his own coffee with a loud slurp. “So you say.”

“Seriously. When have you ever had to do an American accent? I mean, outside of a Southern accent, and you slip with that. I can’t think of one project, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen most of them.”

“You’re going to blow my cover, love.”

“Phhfftt. Like anyone’s going to know.” I sip the coffee, and suck in air. Woof. Cough. “Holy crap. Just how much Irish Creme did you put in here?”

“Enough. I added a little Jameson to even it out.” He takes another horrendously loud slurp and evaluates the board. “Three more passes.” He points to the new addition. “How does this one look?”

“They’re an independent. They’ve got a lot of mysteries, thrillers, and such on their list.” I wander to the window and look out.

A path covered with bark mulch wends into the woods. A white guidepost stands at the end just outside the office. Another appears beside the path around the first bend. Beyond it, fog hangs thick, obscuring the path and the next guidepost.

My Muse stands next to me. I notice now the rainbow and pot o’ gold motif on the mugs. “What’s up with that?” he asks, lifting his mug to point.

I brace myself for another sip of altered coffee and wonder if the caffeine will counter the Jameson. “My new draft.” I sidestep until I can see a guidepost beyond the fog bank. “I kinda know where I’m going, but I’m not sure how to get there. I’m missing a lot of stuff I’ll have to go back and add. I’m still a day behind in my word count because of it.”

“Or are you behind because you missed another day this week?” At my questioning look, he raises an eyebrow. “I’m watching you, love. Are you going to make your NaNo?”

“Yes, I’ll catch up. I’m taking Monday off from the day job.”

He tsks. “And how much writing do you suppose you’ll put in tomorrow? You’re going to be ‘out’ all day.”

I roll my eyes. “It’s a writers festival.” A local one I’ve never heard of before. Apparently the group has been doing an annual gig in Bloomington. This is their first year in Rosemount. I found out about it through the local Sisters In Crime newsletter. “It’s not downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul. It’s for writing. Not a substitute for the super-awesome UW Writers’ Institute in Madison, but it’s something.”

“Then you’ll have to buckle down, love. You’re going to miss your mark otherwise.”

Yep, I know. And I still haven’t started getting ready for the family Easter gathering. Sigh. I need to start getting the house cleaned (ugh) and organized (double-ugh), since we’re celebrating the weekend before Easter.

The publisher news is disappointing, but I expected to get passes. And there’s still nine publishers who haven’t reported in, including the new one. There’s still opportunity. I haven’t talked to my agent about what happens if none of the publishers like the manuscript. I expect she’ll pick another bunch of publishers to try. The feedback we’re getting is more “we like this part a lot, but this part doesn’t resonate with us” than “thanks but no thanks”. The brief critiques aren’t particularly useful, but it’s nice to know why they passed, and what they liked. It’s kind of interesting when one passes because of something they didn’t think worked for them but others really liked.

So, off to a writing thing tomorrow, then hammer away at the draft. Have a Happy St. Pat’s Day for those who celebrate. Also, Happy Vernal Equinox a few days early 🙂

Write on!

IMG_0017_cr

Don’t wake me until the weekend!


14 Comments

The Freedom of Free-writing

Often when a writer is stuck–blocked–we hear the suggestion to “just start writing, it doesn’t matter what, just write.” In my experience, there’s something to that. For me, the very act of putting pencil to paper (as opposed to fingers to keyboard, which works, but not as well) seems to kickstart my stalled creative energies.

“…the backup seminar director–former classmate that gave Sierra a hard time? … no, friend. So, would he know about the FBO? What would he know? maybe he’d be able to give some insight.

Remember, keep conflict w/ Chief. Have to show he’s a dick, and make sure wife (PD clerk) behavior changes when he’s in the room. Need to have some PD harassment when Sierra alone. What would Quinn do while Sierra is at airport?

Sierra and Quinn to PD. Is teacher’s daughter in waiting area? or waiting area empty so they can talk to PD clerk, see her behavior b4 Chief enters waiting area, escorts teacher and daughter into waiting area. Conflict between Chief and Sierra

…AgCat? Pawnee? Cessna 188?…turbine–which? JT8D? naw, probably PT6. What other plane would FBO have? 182? Seminole? Cherokee? 310? probably single engine–turbine? Or maybe Cessna 210? don’t do lessons, so wouldn’t need to keep it down to 172 or 182… What about …”

Pretty disjointed, right? Every writer has a way to brainstorm, but whether they write the ideas down or just talk them through, the storm is messy. Necessarily so–if it wasn’t messy, we’d probably call it something like “stream of consciousness” or “conversations with one’s self.”

Free-writing allows you to just write through your ideas without any constraints. I find as I free-write I’ll make notes I go back to later on, like the note about changing a character name, or the other note about checking on BCA offices in northern MN. It’s the lack of structure, I think, that encourages idea-generation. I don’t have to worry about complete sentences or even spelling (except I still have to read it 🙂 ). It’s like throwing ideas against the brainstorming wall, but without the goopy mess.

I’ve been working on an outline for my next book. Any good story has conflict, suspense, chase scenes–wait–no, that’s TV shows from the 80s. I end up writing a sentence or three about each scene conflict, then bridge them–sort of. My process has evolved from typing the mind dumps into the computer (at least in the beginning) to using pencil and paper, because I’ve discovered the act of writing helps me work through the story. Once I have a pretty good idea about the outline, I’ll enter it into the worksheets I’ve got in the computer (I use Karen Wiesner’s worksheets from her book First Draft in 30 Days).

Of course, everything is fluid. An outline for me isn’t set in stone; it’s more a series of guideposts through the story. The more I free-write through the major scenes, the more I refine them. For instance, the victim in the book is the son-in-law of a favorite teacher, but the teacher must be a suspect. So, there has to be a reason he’s a suspect. At first, I had one idea, but it seemed a little weak. As I wrote, I added another reason. Better, but still not quite there. Ooo, I’ve got it. The idea I finally hit on makes the conflict more personal, and raises suspicion to the point where when he is taken into custody, it makes more sense.

Each writer works through planning (or pantsing) differently. The more you write and the more you learn about the process and practice of writing, the more fine-tuned your process will become. It’s like gardening every year. What works one year may work the next year, but maybe not. Then you try something new, and it either works well, sort of works, or bombs. You adjust for the next year. Each year you get better, because your process evolves.

If something works for you, by all means, keep it going. But don’t hesitate to try something new for a project. You might discover it works really well, or at least well enough to give you options when one method isn’t working for that particular project.

Do you free-write when you brainstorm a project? What works for you?

Have a great writing weekend!


16 Comments

Fiction in real life settings

You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, right? Writers struggling with plotting or generating ideas are often told to look at the latest news stories, especially obscure ones, for ideas.

On the flip side, and more common, is fiction taking place in the real world. From Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum in the streets of Trenton, NJ to William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor in northern Minnesota, fiction takes place in the world we know. Unless we are writing science fiction or fantasy (except urban fantasy), we use places we’ve visited, or places we’ve heard about from other people who’ve been there. Maybe we get a great idea for a story, then go “on location” to the place we want to use as our setting. (Hmm, maybe I should set my next book in Hawaii. Or the Caribbean. Or New Zealand. 🙂 )

Even urban fantasy uses real life places. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a resident of Chicago (LOVE Dresden!), Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is set in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series spans the globe from Arizona to Japan and the UK.

Research is a great reason to travel and see places we want to write about. Sometimes, though, we stick closer to home because that’s what we know. Maybe it’s the place where we grew up. I’ve set a book in a small town in rural Minnesota similar to the one I now live near. Maybe it’s a place we lived while in college. Maybe it’s the place we visited and wish we could move to (Kauai, definitely. Or maybe Seattle.)

The book I’m working on (shhh, don’t say anything about my still-unfinished outline–I don’t need my Muse showing up just now) is set in a place where I lived while in aviation school way back when. Like, 25+ years ago (OMG, I was in college 26 years ago. Holy shit–I’m getting old.)

Needless to say, there’ve been some changes in the past quarter century. Even though my book is set in the early 90s, some things are the same. Some things are vastly different. (I see a road trip in my future. 🙂 ) So I hop onto Google (gotta love the Internet for research!) and search for my old alma mater.

Lots of changes. As in, “holy cow, seriously?” changes. Definitely a road trip in my future for research, and a bit of nostalgia along the way.

But (there’s always a “but”, right?) depending on the story, it’s a good idea to make a few things up along the way. Unless you’re writing historical stuff that needs to be fairly accurate, that is. You don’t want readers to stop by your main character’s “real” house, the one you saw during your driving tour and decided would be perfect for your character. Imagine having strangers knocking on the door and asking to see Sassy Simpson’s bedroom where she found that bloody knife, or Logan Loveless’ kitchen where he finally kissed his dream girl.

And you, as the homeowner, have no idea who they’re talking about, even though they’re waving a book and pointing to the chapter that relates said event in mind-blowing detail.

Yep, probably not the best idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the setting, just tweak it a bit. Add a street or three that don’t exist in real life to plant your main character’s domicile. Rename some real life businesses or create some new ones in town.

Hey, it’s fiction, it’s supposed to be made up.

Er, I’d better get back to my outline. My Muse hasn’t shown up yet, but I suspect he will soon. It’s a super-nice weekend, an “April in February” weekend, so I’ll have to squeeze in a little garden planning. And taxes. Ugh.

And a walk or three. You know, to help me with my outline 😀

Have a great writing weekend!