Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Serendipity, sort of #amwriting #amlearning

someone reading a book

Serendipity (Merriam-Webster): the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for also : an instance of this

Serendipity (Dictionary.com): an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune; luck:

It’s been one of those weeks. You know, the ones where nothing seems to go right, yet sometimes it does. I know, sounds weird. Let me try to make sense of it (because I know you have nothing better to do than read a rambling post 🙂 ).

There’s been a few things going on lately, besides the gawd-awful, waay-to-early-in-the-season heat wave we’ve been having. This is July weather, not June. Man, I miss mid-seventies in June. We’re almost at 10 straight days of 90+ degree (F) heat, with little to no rain. My tomatoes are loving it; everything else has yet to offer an opinion.

First and most anticipated is our Writing Sisters reunion–IN PERSON! Yippee! I miss those gals. We had a virtual reunion last year because, well, pandemic. We’re all fully vaxed now, but we still hit a few speed bumps I wasn’t sure we would manage. There is still anxiety about the pandemic, especially since so many in the general populace seem to have lost any sense of, well, critical thinking. I wonder how many know someone who had polio or died from it, which wasn’t all that long ago. And smallpox. Do they know why we don’t talk about smallpox anymore? Anyway, we smoothed out those speed bumps, and come the first weekend in August, I’ll be enjoying a weekend in WI with my favorite fellow writers.

Next, I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ll be a casualty of a corporate buyout at the end of July. When I found out my position was being eliminated, I decided to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement benefit before I go (something I should have been doing all along. Lesson learned.). The class I’m taking focuses on the user experience, which sorta has something to do with technical writing. I am learning a lot more than I thought I would, and I did discover the relevance: some of the job postings I’m considering mention the user experience (UX). Hey, if asked, I can speak like I know what I’m talking about now. Bonus!

The other thing about my position being eliminated and our company’s software dev process being adjusted: because the release schedule for our software seems to have slowed down, I’ve been taking advantage of the “down” time to do some online learning about the tools I use. Good thing, too, because I’ve learned some stuff that will help me with my job hunt. Again, I can speak intelligently (or make a good show of it 🙂 ) about things I wouldn’t be aware of if I hadn’t started doing online tutorials. On the down side? I’ve learned some things I should have been doing but didn’t. I’m toying with the idea of making some last-minute changes to some of the projects I work on. Then again, in a month and a half it won’t matter. But I’ll be learning something, right?

Speaking of job hunting, I’ve had a few interviews now. Most of them went well, but one I had this week went really well, so I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get a call for a second interview. Again, I’m so glad I decided to look into those online tutorials and webinars, because those topics are now specified in job postings. Now to adjust my portfolio so it looks like I can do really cool stuff (which I should have been doing over the past half-dozen years, but didn’t have the time or need to do).

A casualty of all this school stuff and job-hunt stuff over the past few weeks has been my WIP and current revisions. Sigh. I half-expected one of my MCs to knock on the door of my writing office and scold me for leaving them in limbo. Now that the garden is in and seems to be holding its own, and my last class assignment has been turned in, I plan to get back to them. Promise!

So, overall, things seem to be, well, not falling into place so much as being part of a life-affirming realization in the sense that actions I chose to take (the class, online tutorials) in response to losing my job at the end of July were decisions that will help me find a new job sooner rather than later (crossing fingers!!). Serendipity sounded like the right word, at least for today.

Stay cool, everyone! We’re a week or so away from the solstice, so enjoy the long hours of daylight!

Keep on writing!

Wake me when it cools down


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A little potpourri #amrevising #amgardening #amreading

Dontcha hate it when all those pesky real-life responsibilities get in the way of your writing? Cleaning, paying bills, full-time job, cleaning, paying taxes, migraines, COVID vax, updating my resume (yep, I’ve fallen victim to the acquisition company’s line: “I’m sorry, but your position will be eliminated as of the middle of summer), socializing with the fam. You know, the stuff you have to do because you’re a grown-up (at least in age). Hang on, I have to go open the chicken coop so the girls can get out and stretch their legs.

Okay, I’m back. We lost a chicken a few weeks ago to some unknown predator. Could have been a raccoon (though why a bandit would bother trying to kill a chicken is beyond me; I don’t think they’re that ambitious), or a hawk (except hawks don’t usually eat the head right away), or a skunk (again, would they go through the effort), or more likely the tomcat we’ve seen roaming around (and that treed Zoey last week). Hey, as long as the remaining four do their jobs and lay eggs …

Speaking of outdoors, hubs tilled the garden. Since last year, he’s tilled two spots: my usual garden, and what he calls “his” garden, where he plants potatoes and the sweet corn I swore I would never plant again. This year I asked him to save a spot for the pumpkins he asked me to get for him (Pepitas variety, in case you’re wondering. Hull-less seeds so he can roast them in the fall). Besides, my SIL asked me to grow some pumpkins for her. The two varieties need some space so they don’t cross-pollinate. Hubs planted some potatoes already, with more in line to plant.

Me? Nothing in the garden yet. In MN we know we can have frosts as late as the week before Memorial Day. In fact, we’ve had frost warnings the past few days. Which doesn’t bother cool weather crops like lettuce, spinach, cabbage and relatives, and a few others, but in my world I’d rather plant once instead of plant some, then later plant or re-plant the tender stuff. Besides, I have a revision to finish.

The seedlings are looking really good. I’ve started hardening them off, which is a fancy way of saying putting them outside for a while so they get used to cooler temps and wind. I figure I’ll stick with my usual timetable of Memorial Day weekend for planting.

Things are looking up for in-person events this summer–YAY!! I’m mostly excited about the probability of seeing my Writing Sisters in person at our reunion this year. Okay, I’m excited to see my fam (sibs and such) at our summer gathering, too. Last time I saw my sibs was during our Christmas Zoom. My dad made a surprise visit a couple weekends ago, because he wanted to get out.

Now, my dad has this wonderful (not) habit of calling just before he leaves home (instead of, like, the day before) to see if we’re going to be around for a visit. Luckily, he’s about an hour and a half away, so that gives us some time to quick-clean (trust me, it’s not nearly enough time, because all that cleaning gets in the way of writing 🙂 ). He didn’t used to call ahead; my mom would. In fact, I got a call from my mom one day (years ago!). She asked if Dad had talked to me about the piano.

Me: Um, no.

She then gave me a heads up: Dad’s on his way with a piano (from my aunt and uncle).

Me (and hubs): What?!

We managed to find a place for it before he arrived. After that, I think my mom explained to him that the appropriate thing to do (especially when moving an upright piano) is call ahead. (A little backstory so you don’t think my dad is crazy-spontaneous: we had talked about getting the piano (which my aunt and uncle (Dad’s brother) wanted to get rid of), but moving an upright piano isn’t exactly an easy task. Calling moving companies was on the to-do list. I think my uncle complained (?) to Dad about what to do, and Dad took it upon himself to move it for us).

BTW, I’ve tried to pawn that same piano off on my brother (since we rarely use it anymore), but he got an electronic keyboard for the girls instead. Good plan. Way easier to move a keyboard than a whole piano.

Well, better get back to revising. And of course, I’m only halfway through thanks to real-life responsibilities, so yet another week before I turn it in. I promise. 😀

Write on!


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Story structure skeletons #amwriting #amreading

I’ve been reading a bit more these past few months, something I’ve been doing less of over the past year (since we all know how busy we were last year–NOT 😐 ). As a writer, I’ve caught myself noticing more lately how stories are structured. I probably always noticed, just not noticed. Know what I mean?

My preferred reading genres follow what I like to write (or is it what I write follows what I like to read?) Anyhow, I gravitate toward mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and urban fantasy. There’s always the occasional non-fiction book, whether craft-related or maybe research for a book.

In any case, lately I’ve noticed some things in the books I’ve read that remind me of my writing classes, specifically the things my writing teacher still says in my head regarding the structure of a story, which hits upon the basics of fiction: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/crisis, and climax/resolution, preferably with a twist and/or big reveal. The “things to pay attention to” between the beginning, the middle, and the end might vary, but it seems those three anchors remain no matter what craft book or class I’ve had.

Some lessons use the three-act structure, some the 7-plot point structure, some the hero’s journey, some try to “save the cat”:

and there’s probably a hundred more variations on the idea, but those core tenets are the ones I hear repeated in my mind when I’m “outlining” (i.e. writing a timeline) or revising. All the different interpretations of story structure follow the same basic path. Try doing a search for “story structure” and just look at the images that come back.

I just finished another book that made me think of this structure in particular, because of the character arc, which followed the story arc: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/black moment/point of no return, revelation/climax, resolution.

As writers, I think we learn from every novel or story we read, maybe not always consciously, but subconsciously. As I read this latest book (if you must know, it was Anne Frasier’s The Body Reader), my writer brain noted the structure:

  • This is what started it all, shaped the character. This will determine how the character approaches life.
  • Dead body? Okay, who is it and whodunit? Off we go.
  • This is–wait, what? OMG, seriously? No way. She can’t … I can’t believe she’s going along with this.
  • Oh, whew! Good, she’s gotten back on track. Sort of. Oh, that’s such a bad idea. Don’t do it!
  • Ha! I knew he was involved. Wait, oh …
  • Holy crap! No way!
  • Uh oh …
  • Whew! Saved! Now, where’s …
  • Oh crap! C’mon, get him!
  • Yeah! Got him!
  • Now what? Oh, good. Sigh of relief.
  • What’s the next book?

Which, I realized as I progressed through the story, was the classic structure, the skeleton of the stories I’ve read and really enjoyed. I thought about some of the other books I’ve read recently. Even urban fantasy books follow the structure, though granted, the obstacles in the way of the main character(s) tend to be way more intimidating than in a regular story (I mean, which would be worse, going up against the bad guy pointing a gun at you, or facing a titan with near god-like powers to fry you where you stand and all you got for Christmas was a skull with a spirit and a carved wooden staff (Harry Dresden, in case you were wondering)).

Which, of course, encouraged me to taked a closer look at my current project, Book 2. Inciting incident, check. Rising tension, check. Black moment? Sort of. Note to self: work on that. Climax? Yeah, that works. Maybe there should be another incident. Tension? Yes, but could be better. Hmm. Add this to jack up tension. Higher stakes. What about this? What if …

Bottom line, reading allows us to see how other authors drape their stories on the skeleton of story structure and utilize it to keep the reader’s interest. It reminds me to pay attention to my own work to make sure I’m taking advantage of a proven formula. So even though I’m not writing, I’m still learning. Yep, I’m going with that.

Now to get back into Revision Round #3. May you all have a creative week ahead!

Keep on Writing!

Aren’t you supposed to be writing?


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Return of the Muse

My blog-writing, fantasy novelist buddy Diana Peach from Myths of the Mirror has invited her visitors to write a short story about our muses.

Heh.

I remember the last time we had a muse read-around. Man, what a blast!

I’ve finally passed 50k for NaNoWriMo–yippee! Of course, the story isn’t done yet. I’ll take a couple weeks to finish, or at least get mostly finished with it before I return to Book 2.

My Muse has been writing my posts during NaNo. Mostly. Thing is, when I hit 50k, he called Mr. E and the two of them took off on a pub crawl Down Under, because apparently bars around here are substandard.

Image by mlproject from Pixabay

A crisp breeze gusts through my writing office, sending shivers through me. The back door clicks shut. A scent of fried food, stale beer, and sweat permeates the air. My Muse toes off his deck shoes and hangs up a red windbreaker on the coat tree. He’s wearing a new pair of jeans, judging by the lack of worn seams, and a rugby jersey. Not as nice as his burgundy henley, but it does leave his forearms bare.

“That was a short crawl. Thought you and E would make a long weekend of it.”

He leans a hip on my desk, and crosses his arms on his broad chest. “He said he had to get back to Mae.”

“And you can’t find another muse to hang with? Diana has a whole convention over at her place.”

He grimaces. “The Merc and I have an understanding.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. He understands I don’t follow his orders or requests, or hell, directions to the nearest Seven-11, and I understand a lack of personal hygiene and the stench of battle are none of my business.”

“O-kay. I sense a bit of animosity there.”

He pulls up a chair and straddles it, bringing his face even with mine. Whoa. His eyes are bluer than I remember. Was that divot in his chin always so enticing? And dimples. I haven’t noticed his dimples for a month. Is it getting warm in here?

A finger-snap yanks my wandering imagination back. “Are you paying attention, love?”

Um, sure. “Would you mind repeating that last part?”

“I said, I tried to warn the Bossy Muse about that guy, but she insisted her writer needed a change of scenery.”

“Scenery?” I ask. “Seriously? I mean, I get the whole Conan the Barbarian thing for the fantasy genre, but even Schwartzenegger would be a better Conan than that brute. At least his nose wouldn’t be crooked.”

My Muse arches a brow. “Schwartzenegger? Why him?”

“I don’t know. He did the movie.”

He shakes his head. “Anyway. You’ve had a couple days off.”

“Hey, one day for enjoying crossing the finish line, and one day to deal with my migraine.”

“I’ll give you the migraine day, but you need to finish the story so you can get back to Book 2.”

I lean back in my chair. “I know. That’s the plan. I figure I’ll give myself until Christmas on this project, then hit Book 2 after Christmas, since we won’t be going anywhere for the holidays anyway. I’m sure there will be another COVID-19 surge by then.”

“Good. Get back to work, love.”

Thanks to Diana for the opportunity to join another round of muse posts!

Keep on writing!

Hey, you! Why aren’t you writing?


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NaNoWriMo Week 1 recap #nanowrimo #amwriting

Hey! *waves* Talk about a crazy week! Fall has returned to the “great white North” with record-setting temps in the 70s this week. Yep, you read that right. The first week of November in MN has temps in the 70s! Makes it almost worth the 6 1/2 inches of snow we got two weeks ago worth it.

Almost.

And since it’s been so nice, it would be a sin to not take advantage of it, right? Finished cleaning up the garden and went for a run outside. It felt glorious (except for all the dust from the gravel road). We have a couple more days before seasonal temps return (to the tune of around 40-50 degrees F).

Oh, and look who we found hanging out in our grove this week: (NOT a picture of our actual visitor because I take lousy pictures and I do not have a telephoto lens (because I take lousy pictures 🙂 )):

I saw a great horned owl in our grove years ago when we first bought the place, but haven’t seen one since, though I think I might have heard it a few times. This week, hubs got out the binoculars, pointed to some place in the grove, and said “Look.” Yeah. Unless you know ex-act-ly where to look with binoculars, good luck seeing whatever the hell it is the other person is pointing at.

He took me down the driveway (through the grove) so I had a different angle. Sure enough, it was a great horned owl. So cool! That’s one of the best things about our little 8-acre island in the middle of vast farm fields: we get to see all kinds of wildlife. There’s a resident red-tailed hawk and another hawk I’m not sure of, maybe broad-winged or Cooper’s. A pair of wood ducks hangs out every spring on their way to wherever they nest. Saw a possum cross the yard last week, and I’m pretty sure a woodchuck lives in the ruins of the old timber-frame farm house. I’m not going to mention the rabbits. So many rabbits. Ugh.

And back to NaNo, Week 1. I’ve managed to keep up this week. Not my usual 2k words a day, but I’m making the 1667 word quota, with about a hundred words to spare. It was touch and go the first couple days, though.

With the “oh my gawd I cannot deal with election Tuesday” this week, I had a video chat with my Writing Sisters, two of whom are joining me in this crazy NaNo adventure.

And one of them, who is attempting NaNo for the first time, expressed her frustration. “Why did I ever think this was a good idea? I blame you, Julie.”

In some secret, dark part of me, I rubbed my hands together and laughed maniacally. Mwahahahahaha!

In the kinder, brighter part of me, I empathized. NaNo can be pretty intimidating.

She asked how I do it.

This is what I told her:

  • The internet is a time-sucking distraction, even when it comes to research. I can pop to the internet to look something up, such as popular boys names in the 1950s, and pretty soon I’ve lost a half-hour of writing time. This year I’m getting serious with my lack of discipline. I turn the internet off (well, not off, hubs would not appreciate that). I started using a program called Freedom.to that will block me from accessing the internet for a period of time. I even splurged for a lifetime membership (which is half-price this month and actually reasonable).
  • What about when I have to look something up if I can’t go to the internet? I make an inline note within brackets to remind me, then when I revise, I’ll look it up.
  • Don’t go back to revise something you wrote earlier. Chuck that inner editor into a cage, close the door, and put the key into the back of the desk drawer. If I need to revise something or come back to it, I make inline notes again, sometimes like: gawd, this sounds stupid fix it later. 😀
  • What about keeping track of details? I have a character “bible” in OneNote, which also includes setting details (I use Karen Wiesner’s worksheets from her First Draft in 30 days book). I also use Scrivener, which lets you keep notes for scenes and stuff. I can keep track of what day it is or whose POV it is that way.
  • Music or no music? I actually like to listen to instrumental music along the lines of The Piano Guys, George Winston, David Garrett, the Narada artists, etc. Sometimes I’ll go full nature with thunderstorm or ocean wave soundtracks. It seems to help me corral creative energies.

I did run into a problem in the beginning, though. I like to write out a timeline or series of events for a story (some might call it an outline, but that word seems too rigid to me), then I’ll write the story following the timeline. It’s how I’ve written every other book, and it works, or has worked for me.

Until now.

I wrote out the timeline for this book over a year ago. I know what happens in the book, but I’m not sure about the transitions. I found myself plodding along from point A to point B at such a slow pace that my usual 2-hr writing session only netted me maybe 500 words.

I’ll never hit 50k in 30 days at that pace.

So I decided to try the method one of my other writing sisters uses. She writes in scenes, and then weaves them together later. It works for her.

Guess what? It’s working for me with this book (hey, after 4 unfinished first drafts, something’s gotta work, right?). I’m getting through the scenes and hitting my word counts. Yay!

We have a couple more days of unseasonably-warm weather, so I’ll be trying to enjoy it while still getting my daily word quota.

Keep on writing!