Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Waning Garden — whew!

Yesterday was the autumnal equinox, the first day of fall. The trees have started changing–my favorite part of fall. Well, along with the cooler weather, fewer bugs, and … wait, it was 93 and tropical humidity yesterday, and I’ve been fighting squadrons of airborne vampires. Ugh.

Oh, and the other thing I love about fall–the garden is almost done. So much time, and weeds, and mosquitos, and chipmunks, and OMG tomatoes and cucumbers and green beans and zucchini. I’ve been taking the surplus to work because there’s no way we can consume it all before it goes bad.

And they appreciate it, since a good number of them live in subdivisions or apartments where they can’t have a garden.

So, here’s some pics of my sad, sad garden. And I haven’t pulled weeds for-ev-er. So, fair warning 😀

potato row Here’s my forlorn garden. The bare row was the previous home of the potatoes. I’ve pulled the onions, and I decided to pick my final green beans. I’ve pulled half of those plants, and one of the remaining zucchini plants. The cucumber died a few weeks ago (secretly, woo-hoo!). One plant, and I had more cucumbers than I imagined from a single plant.

Brussels sprouts

The poor Brussels sprouts. Sigh. Since I don’t use chemicals, the cabbage worms have been eating well. I hand-pick the caterpillars every other day, but those little green buggers are easy to miss. We’ve been eating beets, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, etc, so I haven’t picked any sprouts yet. I was hoping to wait until after the first light frost to pick them because they’ll be sweeter, but I can’t wait much longer. 🙂

tomatoesAnd the tomatoes. Uff-da. I planted a lot because we wanted to can tomatoes this year, but hoo-boy. Fourteen plants. Note to self: Do not plant anywhere near that many next year.

canned tomatoesWe’ve canned 37 quarts of tomatoes so far. My hubby made a batch of chili, and a batch of spaghetti sauce, and we still have enough tomatoes to do another 7 or 8 quarts.

And I had to include more monster zucchini squash. They are the sneakiest, hiding until they’re huge so I can find them. 😀

monster zukes

Once the first frost hits, it’ll be the end of the garden except for the Brussels sprouts and the kale. Now if I can remember not to overdo the garden next year…

Yeah, right. I say that every year. Next year my goal is a garden half the size of this year’s garden. Uh-huh. We’ll see. I always seem to forget just how many veggies I get from a few plants.

So, there you have it. The raspberries are starting to ripen again, second run. As long as it stays fairly warm, the raspberries will keep going. Last year I had sooo many raspberries I made a couple dozen half-pints of jelly.

Oh, almost forgot. Now with the weather getting colder–well, except for this past week–Zoey has the tendency to take advantage of a warm chair. As soon as I or my husband get up from our chairs, Zoey jumps in and makes her claim. And of course, she looks all innocent when we come back.

zoey steals chair

Enjoy the first weekend of autumn, but don’t forget to write 😀

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High Five and Fireworks

I finish erasing lists on the white board in my writing office, leaving a single publisher. Nope. I erase it, then rewrite it bigger, with fancy 3D letters and everything. Maybe some colors. Oh, and fireworks arcs and explosions. Hmm, my board’s not quite big enough.

The door to my office whooshes open, but before I can turn, two strong hands grab my shoulders, spin me around, and my Muse gives me a bear hug that leaves me breathless, as in “Let go, too tight. Can’t breathe.”

He gives me one last squeeze and steps back. He’s wearing my favorite (on him 😉 ) burgundy henley shirt, sleeves pushed up his forearms, and his so-well-worn jeans. “I knew you could do it, love.”

“The work’s just beginning. I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ll have to do. Hoo boy.” I turn back to the board. “How was the pub crawl? You’ve been pretty scarce. Hangover much?”

He settles an arm around my shoulders. “No hangover, but a few of the others had a rough night. Figured I’d make sure they all found their ways back to their writers.”

“For a whole day?” Something sounds suspicious. “You sure you didn’t spend some extra time with one of the gals? Moka? Latte?”

He gives me the stink-eye. “That whole pub crawl turned into something like a roaming street party. I have no idea how many muses showed up. Enough so that it was dawn before they even headed home. It was great.”

O-kay. Not my idea of fun–too many people, er, muses in one place.

“You might want to post what happened today, love.” He hands me a bottle of Moon Man. “Then we can get to work.”

He’s right. So, here’s my news:

I’ve signed a two-book deal:

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Woo-hoo! High fives all around! Happy dance! graphics-snoopy-360370

There will be a lot of work in the coming months. Right now, the estimated release for my first book is 2019. I’ll be trying to do all those things authors are supposed to do over the next months. Yikes!

It’s still sinking in. Whew! The journey’s not over, but it’s getting even more interesting. 😀

Have a great weekend everyone! Hope your muses made it home 😀


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A gathering of muses

A newspaper lays across my desk in my writing office, but it isn’t any newspaper I recognize. It’s not the local Enterprise or Hub. It’s called the Inspiration. The headline reads: “First Annual Muse Gathering”.

Hmmm. Why do I have a funny feeling about this?

Before I can read the article, my Muse sweeps into the office and swipes the paper from my hands. “Hey, I was reading that.”

He folds the newpaper and tucks it under his arm. “Don’t bother. It’s boring.”

Then I notice his attire. No worn jeans here–the ones he’s wearing look like they came fresh from the indigo dye factory. And is that a silk shirt? It’s a rich maroon that adds a little color to his complexion–not that I’m complaining. Oh, no. Sooo not complaining.

“Ah hem. Earth to Julie.”

Ahhh, yeah. “Where are you going? Is that really a silk shirt?”

“I’m going out. Mr. E is picking me up.” He points to my laptop with the paper. “And while I’m out, I want you to write.”

“Out? With Mr. E? Mae’s on a deadline. How can Mr. E go on a pub crawl? And you never dress like that for a pub crawl. What kind of pubs are you planning to hit?”

He waves the paper in my direction. “Doesn’t matter, love. You need to write. You’re falling behind.”

I snatch the paper from him and zero in on the front page. “Are you kidding me? Since when do you guys all get together in the same place?”

He swipes the paper from me and points to the headline. “Since now. See. First.”

“So who else is going on this muse party bus? And do you really think a silk shirt is a good idea?”

“There’s no smoking in pubs anymore, love. Not here, anyway. There’ll be a half dozen of us or so. D’s mercenary muse, A’s Moka and her cousin, G’s muse“–he counts off on his fingers–“she’s pretty broken up, but she’s going even though her ex will be there. P’s muse, muse Brad, and C’s muse Lorelei said she might meet us. She’s looking for a new pumpkin beer for her author.”

Man, there’ve been a lot of muses showing up in the blog-o-sphere lately. “So, the fancy clothes are for what? Planning to sweet-talk some Moka?”

He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “No worries, love. I’ll be back before last call.” He plants a kiss on my forehead. “But you are cute when you’re jealous.”

I shove him away. “I’m not jealous. They’re muses.”

He chuckles and tosses the paper onto my desk before heading to the door. “I want to see words, love.” He points to my laptop. “Get to it.”

Ugh. He’s right. Real life’s been invading my writing brain. School starts for my daughter on Monday, and the new/remodeled school isn’t nearly ready. Hey, hang on. That coiled bullwhip wasn’t on my chair before.

Okay, I can take a hint. He’s out whooping things up, and I’m here. Well, at least I’ve got some craft beer and chocolate. That should last me for a while.

Happy writing!


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Get ready … get set … Re-draft!

I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to challenge myself to a self-imposed NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days) this month (yes, I know the “official” NaNo month is November, but I need to get my butt in gear NOW). I’ve learned the best way for me to get a draft done (at least at this point in my writing journey) is to do a NaNo. I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet for daily word counts and everything!

I’ve been procrastinating long enough. Technically, this WIP isn’t even a new project; I wrote it the first time during another self-imposed NaNo this past March. So, even though technically this isn’t a first draft, I’ve made enough changes to the plot that I may as well start over.

That’s another thing I’ve learned: the process of drafting–writing with a muzzle on my internal editor–helps me work out the plot. Or work out the kinks in the plot. Or see what’s wrong with the plot. All of the above.

So, I’ve brainstormed changes to the plot, and of course I won’t know if those will work until I actually start drafting. Or is it re-drafting? For my past few projects, I’ve ended up writing two “first drafts”: one that helps me see what works and what doesn’t in the original plot, and one that takes those discoveries and uses them to build from scratch again.

It’d be like drawing out plans for a shed or tiny house you want to use as a writing space, like a detached writing office. You dream up the perfect size, imagine it in the perfect location, then get out the ol’ ruler and graph paper to draw it out. Maybe even use cutouts of a desk, chair, shelves, dog bed, cat pillow, whatever. You figure out how much wood you’ll need, pick out paint and siding and even a cool window or two.

Let’s assume you’re handy enough to give it a good go. So you start framing your spiffy new writer cave according to your hand-drawn plan. The floor is the easy part–it’s a rectangle. Can’t get much simpler than that.

Okay. You’ve got your base floor done, so now for the walls. Once you’ve got the framing finished, you can see the skeleton of your project. With the walls up, you can start to see how it’ll look.

Now finish the walls, put on the roof (not shingles yet), and cut holes in the walls for the windows. You’ve got plywood on the outside, sheathing on the roof, and places to put windows.

Wait. That’s one’s not quite in the right spot. Hmm. Don’t forget to measure how far over you moved the door. And make sure to check the angle of the roof–you don’t want it to leak.

Er. Yeah. Hmm. Looks kinda wonky. That wall’s not quite square. And oops, the roof angle is wrong. All wrong. You’ll have to pull that off and redo it. And that window’s in the wrong spot–you’ll have to take that wall down and redo it. Oh, but that means the desk won’t be able to go where you wanted, you’ll have to shift it over. Wait, then the built-in shelves will have to be shorter. Oh, and a skylight. That’d be awesome.

Ugh. So you go back to your plans, erase and redraw to take into account what you’ve learned the first round. Then, you disassemble everything except the floor. Wait, gotta do that too–it needs to be six inches wider.

And so you start over. Re-draft. Except now when you get to the point where all the walls are up, the roof is sheathed, and the windows are cut, it looks much better. Oh, and don’t forget the skylight. Wait, maybe not a skylight.

Once it’s “drafted”, you can refine it, paint it, add shingles, a nice door, lights, etc. Eventually, you’ll have a nice little writing cave.

Kinda like the writing process. First plan, then draft. Then maybe you can work with the draft, but maybe it makes more sense to start over. Or take it down to the floor and try again, because you figured out what doesn’t work.

It’s a process, and each time I use it, I learn a little more about what works for me. Each time I try something a little bit different to see if it makes the process more effective.

Anyway. Enjoy the last hurrah of summer vacation this weekend. I’ll be writing. Will you?


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Retreat Recap

It’s been almost a week since I said goodbye to my Writing Sisters. Man, that was a great weekend! Great atmosphere, great scenery, great food, and best of all, great company!

Last week’s post hit the Internet before we settled in for our all-day session. We spent all day Saturday going over our exchanged pages. I thought I’d give you an idea of the types of things we help each other with, like plot, characters, and pacing.

We do a round table (sometimes literally; the coffee table at the B&B was a wagonwheel with a glass top–yes, a real wheel, with the hub sticking up though the glass), and randomly choose one victim–er, I mean, one project to start with. My project was the first 4 chapters (approx. 20 pages or so) of my small-town mystery WIP.

The feedback I got was priceless: The main character is a little flat. Love the setting. Love the old farmer neighbor, but the MC has to be more familiar with him. Felt like I was right there in the house. Why doesn’t she want the house if her father worked on it–it’s all she has left of him, so why is she resisting? I thought the great-aunt was alive. I miss the energy of your other character [in the project my agent is shopping].

Then the suggestions, again, invaluable: What if the great-aunt is still alive? The MC needs to have a closer connection to the great-aunt. You could have the great-aunt work on the mystery with the MC. What about the story you told last night [at the restaurant while we were waiting for our meal]? What if you used that?

Click. That’s it.

The story I told at dinner the night before was one I heard from my BFF from high school (I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say it involved a nursing home, a volunteer, and a suspicious death). Our mentor always reminds us of a few important things to keep in mind: a) need to draw the reader into the story right away, b) the reader has to care about the MC right away, and c) (for mysteries) there has to be a dead body in the first 20 pages (or at least the first 10-15%) of the book.

I have a dead body in the first sentence–the story is about solving a 70-yr old murder–but if I could get a more recent dead body (recent as in less than 70 yrs ago), it would ratchet things up. To draw the reader in, I can play up the mystery, make it more important to the MC, and give the antagonist a stronger motive to keep secrets buried. To do that, I need to make the relationship between the MC and her great-aunt tighter. And by using elements from the story I told at dinner, I can crank up the threat to the MC.

Mwahahahaha. Have you ever felt like a mad scientist?

I’ve got a plan to revise the story, and I know the story will be much stronger after incorporating suggestions from my writing sisters. We look at each person’s story in the same way: Do/Can we care about the MC? What does s/he want? Does the plot make sense? Does the MC behave the way we think s/he should? Are there enough questions to lure the reader on? What’s the story goal (one of our mentor’s favorites 🙂 )? Why does the MC do/not do this?

It’s like a writing class: we point out story elements that work or don’t work, and suggest changes to make the story better. Another big aspect of our group: we trust each other. If you’ve ever been in a writing group or critique group, trust is huge. If you can’t trust someone’s suggestions, then it’s a waste of time (which is why I don’t let my husband read any of my stuff–he’s not a writer and doesn’t read unless it’s a maintenance guide (BTW, I envy everyone who has a significant other who can read a draft or WIP and give you valid observations that help you improve your writing. Just sayin’.)).

We review everyone’s projects, even our mentor’s project. We care about each story, each MC, each strong supporting character. The process takes all morning, then a break for lunch, then we finish up in the afternoon before breaking for dinner. We are fueled by mutual encouragement, creative ideas, and chocolate.

We didn’t get much opportunity to work on our own stuff this time, so we decided to add an extra day to our reunion next year. That should give us some time to revise with the suggestions in mind, and still get a little feedback to make sure we’re on the right path.

Of course, after five days away, I returned to a garden filled with prolific weeds, lots of green beans, and monster zucchini despite assigning garden duty to my daughter. The chickens appreciated the huge zucchini and overinflated cucumbers, I picked a few very nice beets, and found these cherry tomatoes, the first of the season:

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And yes, they were yummy! We’ve trapped about 8 chipmunks so far, at least one of which stole my first ripe regular tomato (I went to pick the tomato, and half was eaten. Damn chipmunks!). Happened with the second tomato, too. So, we relocate the critters a few miles away on the other side of a creek. Now I’m waiting impatiently for the next ripe tomato. I’ve got bacon stocked for BLTs 😀

Enjoy one of the last weekends before school starts (which means summer is almost over–eek!). Happy writing!


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Rural Retreat

Raucous laughter echoes off the high ceilings in the room we’re gathered in, my writing sisters and I. We’re staying in an old farmhouse that’s been transformed into a B&B. The house is over a hundred years old, and housed four generations of family farmers. There are barns, sheds, a river, and a prairie labyrinth, which we explored before heading into town for a magnificent meal at a local inn.

My Muse appears in a doorway behind our meeting area, wearing a faded t-shirt, worn jeans with a tear above a knee, and a green baseball cap with a yellow leaping deer silhouette. With a fishing pole in one hand and a cooler in the other, he tips his head, a silent request for a quick word.

“Excuse me, gals, but I’ve got to get more water.” I sidle out of my corner seat past a couple of my sisters and head toward the room where our hosts have put a pitcher of ice water, brushing past my Muse.

He follows me. Once we’re out of sight and earshot, I turn to him. “What’s up? We’re talking about writing. You can sit with us in here.”

“I know, love.” He gestures at the view of the river out the wide picture window. “I’m going to hang out there for a while. Might catch something.”

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I indicate the cooler. “Like what? A six-pack?”

He gives me his lopsided grin, the one that makes it feel like the room temperature rose just a bit. “Maybe. Or maybe I’ll catch one of those wide-mouthed bass the innkeeper talked about.”

“And then what? Fry it up for supper?”

“Maybe.”

I fill my water glass. “And you felt it necessary to tell me this why?” As if I wouldn’t be able to find him when I need him. He never strays very far when we have a reunion; too much creative energy invoked, and the other muses are around. Besides, I was in the middle of a great discussion with my sisters.

“Well,” he says as he points his rod toward the river and the fallen tree conveniently located for hanging out, “there’s enough room for two on that tree. You know, in case you want to bounce ideas around.”

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The tree is inviting, especially the way it hangs over the river. It has a thick coat of moss that looks more comfortable than sitting on bark. There’s a gazebo on the shore as well, though I imagine the mosquitoes have set up a base camp there. “I think I’ll check the tree out later, after it warms up. We’ll probably sit out in the gazebo for a bit, but there’s only six chairs–we’ll have to bring another one out.”

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He nods. “I’ll be there.”

We’ve had the fortune of staying at some wonderful places over the past few years, each with its own charm. Last year our stay at a mansion was wonderful due to a comfortable area to gather, a location within walking distance of downtown, and a patio overlooking a neat yard. This year, our B&B is on a former farm, complete with restored prairie and a river lending its name to the location. The tiny village of Rural, where our B&B is located, is tucked into a wooded area that feels more park than town.

The weekend, as usual, is proving to be a great meeting of creative minds. We’ll work all day today, with breaks to enjoy the locale–and we’re looking forward to testing out the gazebo. Not keen on the mosquito squadrons, but maybe we’ll get lucky and there won’t be many (pfft, yeah, right).

Tomorrow is our final day, when we’ll wrap up the weekend and bid each other “write-well”. Even if we don’t get any actual writing done. we’ll discuss our projects, work through ideas, offer suggestions, and just enjoy being a group of writers “talking shop”.

Enjoy your weekend–I know I will!


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So, what do writers do when they gather

Less than a week to go before I reunite with my spectacular writing sisters–yippee! (if I was more “hip”, I’d have a meme here with the Pointer Sisters and “I’m So Excited”)

I’ve talked about my writing sisters before, but you might wonder: just what do these seven women do when they get together? Come to think of it, when I mentioned to a colleague what I’m doing next weekend, he asked me what we did. What do writers do when they get together? It’s not like heading to the lake for a weekend of fishing and grilling and water-skiing.

Well, right, it isn’t. For someone who doesn’t know writers, they might think of a beatnik coffee house, where they take turns wearing a black beret and reading poetry to the whispering beat of a snare drum.

Give me a minute while I laugh hysterically.

Okay, *wipes tears and catches breath* Now I’ll tell you what a group of writers really does.

Keep in mind our writing group is close-knit; we aren’t the writing group that meets once a month to critique a few pages, and maybe drink tea and keep the bakery in business with consumption of Danishes and biscotti. We’re more like, um, a writer’s version of sorority sisters.

Yes, really.

We usually meet up for lunch on Friday, and spend an hour or more catching up on the past year. Then we take over a bed and breakfast; there are enough of us that we reserve the whole house. Once we’re settled, we gather to review the pages we’ve sent around to the group.

We don’t usually break out the wine and chocolate until later 😀  We head out for a late supper; if our B&B is in town, we enjoy a walk to a local eatery. We usually don’t work much after supper, but we will continue earlier discussions. And wine and chocolate.

Saturday is our working day. After a good breakfast, we gather together and go through the discussion topics we’ve agreed on. Our mentor has been teaching for many years, and is a wonderful facilitator. We break for lunch, then get back to it in the afternoon.

We usually take an hour or so for our own projects around supper time. After that, we’ll finish up earlier topics, and work on odds and ends. And wine and chocolate.

Sunday is our last day, and we’ll work for a few hours before we need to check out of the B&B. After fond farewells, we part for another year, in contact through email, video chats, and FB.

If this sounds a little dull, well, trust me, we’re a spunky group. I mean, what would you think if you heard a group of women talking about the best ways to kill someone and dispose of the body? Or whether college friends would trust each other with a secret that could send one or more of them to jail. Add a little chocolate and wine, toss in a healthy dose of creative energy along with our muses (and yes, my Muse does his share of instigating antics), and you’ve got a helluva fun (and productive) weekend.

So, whenever someone suggests writers are boring, I scoff. They’ve never met my Writing Sisters 😀 I’ve got some pages to read yet, then critiques to do before next weekend, so I’ll sign off.

Enjoy your weekend, and write!