Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Don’t say it’s Snow #minnesota #amwriting #winter

snow2

It is. The four-letter S word. NOOOOO! It’s too early! It’s only almost the middle of October.

Then again, we will miss out on the BLIZZARD hanging out in North Dakota. Whew!

So not ready for this. I’m still trying to enjoy the fall colors. Sigh. Then again, bonus: what a great excuse to stay inside and write! Granted, this weekend–tomorrow really–is only a taste of winter, and we get back to our regularly-scheduled autumn next week. Cooler than average, but no snow.

I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the garden; I’ll try to get it once the weather clears up in a couple days. The only things really left are the kale and the brussels sprouts. I’m not going to cover the peppers or zucchini. They will fall to the cold.

I’ve got one more unit left to finish for my class. I get to write a query and synopsis for my WIP. However, I’m going to finish the draft first. Translated: put off writing the query and synopsis as long as possible. ๐Ÿ˜€

And for those preparing for NaNo this year, I’ll see ya there! (buddy up if you want: my NaNo handle is Aislinge) Depending on how far I get with the draft for Book 2, aka my WIP, aka my class project, I’ll either keep working on that, or start drafting–again–another project I keep thinking about. And I’m going to squeeze in a short story somewhere in there. Our local Sisters in Crime chapter is putting an anthology together again this year. Deadline for submission is December 1. Whether my story will get chosen or not, who knows, but it’d be great if it was.

Another short post this week. Somehow I always feel like I’m trying to keep up or catch up. It’s tough enough to keep up with things around a full-time job, garden stuff (except that’s pretty much done now), and house upkeep (read: the house is sooo not clean). Crossing my fingers any sort of cold or flu stays far away.

Some of my writer friends have been under the weather lately. I know I can’t write or work on the computer when I’m sick, so I tend to watch TV, or maybe read. TV-wise, I will often pull out a How to Train your Dragon movie or a Star Wars movie. What about you? What do you do besides sleep when you’re sick?

Happy Writing and may Winter stay away for another month!

zoey2

Bah! Wake me when it’s over.

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October Already?

nature-2609978_640

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I’m still trying to figure out where September went. Or maybe I just blinked and it vanished. The trees are starting to wear their colors in our area. I was driving home from work and noticed the hills along the river have more yellow in the green now. There are a few brilliant pinks around, but more of the deeper magentas.

It’s my favorite part of autumn. The colors, fewer bugs, the garden is pretty much finished, and there’s something about the apples, pumpkins, and squash that are ready about now. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the cooler weather; a great excuse to find more “cozy”. You know, hot cider, flannel, fireplaces lit, curling up with a good book, but no snow. Not yet (except way up in northern MN, where they got a dusting earlier this week).

I haven’t grown pumpkins for a few years, but I might have to next year; I’m thinking it’s past time to make pumpkin bread. I’m not one for pumpkin pie, but I have a good recipe for pumpkin bread. And apple bread, but it’s the first part of the harvest, so I’m not tired of apples yet. I just bought my first tote bag (about a peck) of Honeycrisps. There’s a new variety out now, developed, like the Honeycrisp, by the University of MN: First Kiss. It’s the first year it’s available, so there aren’t many around yet, but I’m interested in trying it.

Yes, I’m already thinking about next year’s garden, and I know what I’m not going to plant: zucchini. Nope. No zucchini. I cooked up zucchini only once this year. I’m debating about cucumbers as well. But the chickens love cucumbers …

Saturday I’m off to another book festival, so Sunday is slated for writing. I still have a homework assignment I promised my writing teacher I would finish by Monday. And all those blog posts I’m behind on. So my word for the weekend is: FOCUS.

Short post this week, so I can practice FOCUSING. On the bright side, NaNoWriMo is coming up in a month. I always take the opportunity to reset the habit of writing every day. Which means, FOCUSING.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and keep writing!

zoeyprowl

On the prowl


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Giving her the heebie-jeebies #amwriting #mystery

The unit I’m working on in my writing class has to do with setting, how it can become more than just a backdrop or stage for the story. The words you use to describe the setting also contribute to the atmosphere or “feel” of the story. Think Edgar Allan Poe. When you read his stuff, notice the descriptive words he uses. For example, here are the first few sentences of “The Fall of the House of Usher”:

ย DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was –but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.

No sunshine and rainbows and unicorns there. Just that little bit will call clouds to rain on a parade. For comparison, I use the first page of Where the Crawdads Sing, which I’m almost finished with. I like it, but it’s a bit slow. The descriptions are really some of the best parts of the book. Delia Owens makes the marsh a character in the story:

capture-where-the-crawdads-sing

There is so much atmosphere here that the reader has the sense of standing out in the marsh and experiencing some sort of transcendence. And notice the personification of the swamp. The setting should get co-star billing in this.

Back to my homework. My current assignment (*aside to my writing teacher*ย yes, I am working on it ๐Ÿ˜€ ) is to take a character and put them into a setting that makes them uncomfortable. And they can’t leave the setting during the scene.

See where the heebie-jeebies comes in? Part of the task is to decide whether to use a scene that’s already written, or write a new scene. I haven’t quite hit the part of the story where this comes into play.

It’s one thing to put a character into someplace unfamiliar; that’s almost like cheating, because any unfamiliar place can make a person uncomfortable. Discomfort can range anywhere from that lost feeling one can get in a huge parking ramp at the airport to the goose-pimply spooky feeling when you wander into an old house at night to get out of the rain … and the door slams shut behind you (and yes, for all those Supernatural fans, I’m counting the days until the last season premiere!).

But that’s too easy, right? Okay, how about the ol’ “fish out of water” trick? Take a yuppie and drop her in the woods miles from civilization (and you know she’s wearing heels, because they always do), or take the farm-raised nature kid and make them find their way through Times Square at rush hour.

Eh, still too easy. The point of taking the class, besides to get my butt in gear on Book 2, is to exercise my author muscles and build a great story. So, if anyone has read my book, you know that my main character had a stalker about six years before the book starts. She’s worked hard to overcome that visceral fear of being followed, and she’s conquered that fear.

Or has she? *rubs hands together and cackles*. So I will put her in a place where she learned to be comfortable again once her stalker was put in prison. And make sure she thinks someone is following her. That’ll make her squirm.

Think about a place you are comfortable, like the library, or the gym, or the coffee shop. Now, think about being in that place when a massive storm moves in, and there’s a weird creepy guy who has been staring at you for the past hour. The lights go out! Thunder crashes. Something brushes against you. In the next flash of lightning the creepy guy isn’t where he was–he’s gone. And you can’t leave. Mwahahahahaha!

Yes, this example is dripping with cliche, and I now have a scary movie script started ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s all about using the setting to affect the character in a way that bumps up the tension in the story.

I’ll be trying to catch up on reading blogs and doing my homework this weekend. Hope you get some writing time in, too!

zoey chair

Hey, you’re not taking my picture, are you?


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Yoga pants, backups, and co-horts #amwriting

As I’m frantically trying to catch up on all the blog posts I need to read, I ran across this one from the Writers in the Storm blog. BTW, if you don’t follow that blog, you should.

The post talks about what writers need in order to create, beyond the obvious pen and paper, or computer, or typewriter, or cuniform tablet (for those who like to go old-school and have a lot of clay around). Things like backups–you do back up your writing on a regular basis, right? Right? Do it now; I’ll wait.

Other necessities include a beverage of choice, whether caffeine-enriched or not. And snacks. Gotta have snacks! I like Chex Mix, the bold flavor. And Turtle Chex Mix. And boring stuff like carrots (because they are crunchy ๐Ÿ˜€ ).

Comfy clothes are a must, because who likes to write when they are all dressed up with nowhere to go? I rely on sweats, unless it’s too warm for sweats, then lounge pants/ pajama pants work. And as many pairs of socks and slippers as it takes to keep my toes warm.

The list item that really made me think is the one about needing to belong, and to have fellow writer friends for support. It made me think again how grateful I am for my Writing Sisters. Not everybody has a tight circle of writing friends, but having a few fellow writers to hang with is enough.

Don’t forget about writers’ groups, either. Our Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime is another wonderful, supportive group I feel fortunate to be a part of. It’s a club not just of writers, but readers as well. And online writer friends are also treasures; if you get an opportunity to meet any of them in person, do it. It’s like meeting an old friend, even though it’s the first time you can give them a real hug or pat on the back.

The post struck me as something to remember; I’ll have to print out the infographic and hang it in my soon-to-be-set-up-before-Christmas writing office. I thought I’d share it with my writing friends, because you’ll relate.

For those in the US, enjoy your holiday weekend! For everyone else, enjoy your shorter weekend ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

Summer is almost over? Noooo!


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Creative energies–welcome back! #amwriting #amrevising

Author doubts never go away. I think that’s been why I’ve been struggling with–what do they call it? Second book blues? The book two curse? Fear of book two not being as good as book one?

After seven first drafts, I think I have it figured out. Oh, and taking a novel-writing class helps, too. Especially my latest assignment: a set-piece scene. A set-piece scene is one that sets the tone, and includes conflict, emotion, and the senses. It’s a memorable scene that might be the midpoint crisis, or the climax, or at any point in the book.

The class example of a set-piece scene was the circus scene from Water for Elephants, where all hell breaks loose, the animals start stampeding, and the ringmaster gets … well, no spoilers.

I wanted to get something to my writing teacher before she left on vacation, so I tried to figure out what scene in my WIP would be considered a set-piece scene, or rather, what scene could I write that could be considered a set-piece scene.

I took a walk to ponder the possibilities, and came up with something I thought would work. It’s near the midpoint of the story, and puts my main character in danger.

Here’s the weird part: I drafted the scene, looked at it the next morning and tweaked it a bit, then submitted it. The verdict? Yes, it was a set-piece scene, and it was pretty good, too. I can feel the creative energy coming back.

“Because you listened to me, love.” My Muse, who has been keeping one of the recliners in a corner of my writing office warm, sets his crossword puzzle aside. Apparently his pub crawl buddies are all busy.

“I’m writing, and you’re doing crosswords? Seriously?”

He taps a temple with his pen. “Keeps the mind sharp.”

“Oh? American or Australian crosswords?”

“British. I like a challenge.”

Which is probably why he hasn’t given up on me yet.

He levers himself out of the chair and crosses my office, shoving the cuffs of his long-sleeved t-shirt to his elbows. The royal blue of the t-shirt almost coordinates with his purple Vikings helmet-covered lounge pants. I feel like I should microwave some popcorn and put in a movie, ala slumber party.

“I won’t give up on you, love. And after you went through the feedback from your Writing Sisters again, you’ve been much more receptive to my suggestions. You’re starting the revisions now, right?” He shakes a finger at me to emphasize his point. “Don’t get hung up on the revisions. You know better. Revise what you need to and keep going.”

“My next homework is an outline. I want to have that done by the time my teacher is back from vacation. And I have another bookstore signing tomorrow.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry about the outline. That’s a piece of cake. You’re getting your momentum back.” He squeezes, and plants a kiss on my forehead. “Keep it up, love. You’re doing good.”

I feel better about the story. That set-piece scene kicked off some other ideas that for some reason hadn’t been apparent to me before. And the changes will give a stronger motive to one of the characters; it’ll make his actions much more believable.

This is the part about writing I really like, the creative energy that makes me want to find a nice quiet place and do nothing but write without worrying about anything else.

Enjoy one of the last weekends of summer!

zoey chair mine
What? You got up, so it’s mine now.


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About a Book, Writing, and a Dragon

Hi! I’m back! Hope you all had a fun holiday weekend, or at least got some reading and writing done.

Oh, you are wondering about the dragon, aren’t you? I finally saw the third How to Train Your Dragon movie. If you haven’t seen any of the movies, you should. The third one was as good as the others–better, because what’s better than one Night Fury? A Night Fury and a Light Fury! Anyway, my daughter–who is supposed to be saving her money for college but somehow missed the memo–brought me my very own Night Fury.

It even lights up and roars. You’ll have to watch the third movie to really get that.

Another fun thing that happened this week is the latest issue of InD’tale Magazine came out. It’s a magazine about books for writers and readers, focusing on books published by small presses. If you want to go directly to the fun part, click here. If you want to check out the whole magazine, you can find it here. My review is on page 109.

I suppose I should post something about writing, since this is some sort of a writing blog, right? I’m progressing on Book 2, slowly but surely. This week (since I’m, like, two weeks behind on reading blog posts) I read a post on Janice Hardy’s blog (BTW, if you don’t follow Janice Hardy, you’re missing out on a treasure trove of writing tips) about purple prose. I also started listening to the audiobook version of Where the Crawdads Sing. If you have read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The descriptions in the book are rich. She describes the marsh, the swamp, the sand, the weather. Reading it as a writer, I wonder how someone comes up with prose like that. But also as a writer, after reading a post on purple prose, I have to wonder where to draw the line. So, here’s a screenshot of the prologue of the novel courtesy of Amazon’s look inside feature.

Prologue of Where the Crawdads Sing

So, is this purple prose or not? The descriptions build the atmosphere of the story, and they are wonderfully fluid. I think genre has a part in determining where the line is drawn. Literary books have more “flowery” description, I think, and the readers accept it. A murder mystery, on the other hand (yes, I know the book is a murder mystery, but it’s more literary than a police procedural or crime novel. I don’t think Catherine Coulter would get away with descriptions like this in her FBI books (in fact, one reason I don’t read her books is the stark lack of “atmosphere”, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary)).

So, how does a writer determine whether s/he is crossing that line between good description and overdone description? That is one of the values of critique partner(s) and/or a writing group. They should be able to tell you if you’re overdoing it, or if you aren’t doing enough. The key is to give the reader enough so they can feel like they are in the setting. If they are in a funeral home, the smell of flowers would be something a character would notice. If it’s winter, the reader should be able to feel the biting wind. And if the setting is Georgia in August, the character would probably be swimming in sweat, barely able to breathe air so humid it could put out a fire all by itself.

So, there’s my contribution to writing wisdom for the week ๐Ÿ˜€

So, have a great week. Do some writing. Do some reading. Do some weeding–wait, that’s my to-do list. Enjoy your weekend!

Must be nice to be a cat!


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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 rememberย 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