Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Cabin fever yet?

Today I finished my second week of working from home.

Needless to say, the home office idea is climbing on the to-do list. However, it’s still below spring cleaning, mostly because every time I see a cobweb or dust bunny or muddy dog prints on the kitchen floor I am reminded how much better I am at procrastinating than I was yesterday. Or last week.

On the bright side, we had SUNSHINE today! Yippee! And warm weather, around 50 F. I enjoyed a couple nice walks. It’s amazing how good a sunny spring day makes you feel.

So, in the spirit of a long-awaited awakening of trees and weeds, and a drier yard (short-lived low mud levels since we’re supposed to get rain this weekend), I have a couple pics of my baby plants.

This year hubs and I decided to try using genuine grow lights for the seedlings. For years we have been using shop lights with fluorescent lightbulbs. They worked great in the beginning, and hubs rigged them up so I could adjust the height as the plants grew.

Thing is, those bulbs weaken over time, so the last time I started seeds, the plants ended up leggy (tall and spindly) even though I had the lights almost touching the plants. Plants get leggy when they are stretching to get more light. That’s why being able to adjust the distance between the lights and the plants is important. Keep the light close enough so the plants don’t need to reach for it.

Anyway, grow lights tend to be pink in color because apparently seedlings like red and blue wavelengths in particular. These days, grow lights are often a combination of red and blue LEDs.

Ready?

You sure?

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.

Peppers, onions, and more peppers. Can’t see the tomatoes very well.
Peppers, onions, and kale in the blue container

Do the plants like the grow lights better than regular lights? It’s hard to say so far. Once the plants get big enough to transplant, it’ll be easier to tell if the oh-my-god-PINK light makes a difference.

Now, to help your retinas recover …

I’ve worked from home before, and Zoey has a routine in the morning: come downstairs (she sleeps in my son’s room), stretch and roll around on the floor, snack, then beg to be petted. Since I sit toward the front of my chair, there’s room behind me for her to jump up and hang out behind me.

Has she ever sat on my lap while I’m working? Nope. That is, until this week.

I’m not sure if she was just curious about what I was doing, or just felt needy since my son had returned to his apartment the night before.

Anyway, it was fun while it lasted.

Hope everyone is staying safe, washing hands, practicing social distancing. Remember, you can still enjoy the outdoors, just not within 6 feet of anyone else. Sunshine does a brain good!


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Happy Spring! #amreading #amwriting

Minnesota welcomed the vernal equinox with rain. And more rain. And the next day? Below freezing temps in the morning. On the bright side, it was sunny all day, albeit with a nice brisk, crisp, north wind.

Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

Nothing like March to assure us Mother Nature is dealing with indecision. Spring? Nah, maybe more winter. Well, on the other hand, spring is kinda the thing now.

Sheesh.

To make things worse more interesting, everyone, for the most part, is in quarantine. I’ve been working from home pretty much all week, and for the foreseeable future. On the plus side, no hour commute each way. On the negative side, since I do not have a dedicated office, and this whole “don’t go out if you don’t absolutely have to” thing, it’s getting to be an interesting exercise in co-habitation.

If hubs and I were thirty years younger, we could really enjoy it 😉

In any case, I am taking the opportunity to continue procrastinating on spring cleaning in order to work on Book 2. Of course, with those two extra hours, I should really catch up on that.

“Yes, you should, love.”

I look up from my writing desk. My Muse, with the sleeves of his burgundy henley shoved halfway up his forearms, shows me a finger coated with dust. He wipes his finger on his worn-well jeans before he saunters to my desk and rests a hip on a corner near me.

I lean back in my chair. “I thought you needed a break. Besides, it isn’t like you are susceptible to this COVID-19 thing.”

“I’m not, but they have cancelled writerly gatherings everywhere.”

“And? It’s not like you need an excuse, is it?” Not that I want him to go anywhere, but he’s started reminiscing about his adventures, like, all the time. If I hear another story from the bubonic plague in Australia

He leans over me. I catch a scent of the woods in spring, with that fresh, loamy musk promising new growth. “You realize, love, this is a great opportunity–with few excuses, mind you–to work on Book 2.”

“Yes, I know. And I am. I have pages of notes.” And it isn’t as bad as I thought. I think once I finally nailed down the plot (after writing more than three-quarters of the story), things fell into place. Now it’s a matter of verifying the timeline and fleshing things out.

“I’m aware. And without that commute, you have two more hours each day to spend on it.” He straightens and crosses his toned arms over his broad chest. “With me.”

Who the hell else would I spend them with if I’m writing? I stand to face him eye-to-eye, since he’s still leaning on my desk. Wow. I’m always amazed at how blue his eyes are. “You’re not thinking about moving on, are you? To another less-aggravating writer?” He can’t. After all these years, I don’t think I could work with another muse. Or Muse.

A crooked grin deepens the divot in his chin. His low chuckle raises the temperature in my office. Or maybe it’s just me. “No, love. I don’t want to break in another writer. I’m talking about your distractions.”

“You mean like the veneer of dust you so helpfully pointed out?”

“That, and the rest. I know how you get when there’s too much other activity in the house.”

“Which is why I have this.” I sweep my hand to indicate my writing office.

“Hmph. This isn’t a physical space, love. You need a physical space.”

“I’ve been doing fine for years.”

An eyebrow arches. “Really, love? Let’s work on that during your breaks from Book 2, when you let the story sit after each round of revision.”

Whatever. After I manage some spring cleaning. We postponed our family Easter gathering, so there is no hard deadline. Still, I’ve been letting things languish way too long. I’ll have to collect cobwebs and chase out the dust bunnies before it’s time to plant the garden. 😀

Stay safe, everyone! Stay calm, wash your hands, maintain social distance, and WRITE ON!


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Now for something a little bit different #minnesota #spring #gardens

It’s time. I start getting seed catalogs around Christmas, and stash them until about now. I’ve been getting those pesky marketing emails from other seed catalogs too, but there’s something about looking through an actual catalog to feed thoughts of spring and warm and gardens.

Not that the past week has been miserably cold. It’s been downright balmy here with temps around freezing. Warm enough to make snowmen, and we have enough snow. Part of me is tempted to build a snowman for old times’ sake. Part of me says, “You know, you should be writing. Or at least cleaning.”

I know a lot of you like my garden posts, so I figured I’d share my pre-garden fun (because hey, why not?)

Every year when I plan my garden, I have the old standbys I always plant: tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, green beans, radishes, brussels sprouts. I always like to plant something new, or something I haven’t planted for a while.

Last year I got all my starts from the local greenhouse; I didn’t start any of my own seeds. That was convenient, but also restrictive: I’m limited to the varieties the greenhouse has. Which is fine, but I like particular varieties of some veggies, like peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

I don’t know what onion variety I planted, but the onions were far smaller than in previous years. I like the Candy variety, which are usually baseball-size or larger onions. I intended to plant sweet snacking peppers, but the variety I got at the greenhouse ended up being too spicy for snacking. The tomatoes were okay: the Early Girls did fine (but they are small tomatoes), but the other variety succumbed pretty quickly to the blight that plagues the garden. I thought I had gotten a resistant variety. I thought wrong, apparently.

Over the years, I’ve learned what veggies grow best, or at least which ones I have the best luck with. Every year is different. Last year was bad for tomatoes, meh for onions, but a great one for brussels sprouts and peppers.

Garden, 2019

This year I’m planning to buy some starts, like brussels sprouts and peppers, and start onions, tomatoes (some tomatoes anyway), and maybe kale.

For new stuff/stuff I haven’t planted for a while, a pie pumpkin is on the list this year. I haven’t planted pumpkins for years, because, like cucumbers or zucchini, one plant = lots of pumpkins. I’ve been thinking about making pumpkin bread, so what a great excuse 😀 I can bring the overstock to work and pawn it off on them 🙂

No zucchini, though. I think I cooked one zucchini all last summer, and brought the rest in to work. I can use that space for something else. This year on my “new” agenda is Persian cucumbers, if I can find seeds. Somewhere they were listed as the type of cucumbers you find in the store as those snacking cucumbers. We’ll see. I haven’t made pickles for years (I learned my lesson the year I pickled over 3 dozen quarts), but maybe I’ll do a dozen this year. Maybe.

I have to thin out the raspberry patch, too; they’re starting to choke out the asparagus (which also should be moved, or a new patch started). I love raspberries, but they spread! The problem is deciding where to move them: someplace close enough to monitor, exposed to sun, and not in an area we tend to mow. I know, with eight acres that might be a challenge 😀

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on that front again. In the meantime, take a break and page through some seed catalogs. The pictures of flowers and veggies always reminds me spring is coming!


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Automatic writing and plots? #amwriting #nanowrimo #writerscommunity

Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

As I was working on my WIP (yes, THAT one), I realized something. An odd/ad-libbed/spur-of-the-moment aspect of a minor character I created on-the-fly solved a problem I was having with the plot.

A big problem.

It was weird. It made me think of automatic writing, which made me think of one of my fellow authors/bloggers who has just released the last book of her Hode’s Hill series (Congratulations, Mae!) In the first book of the series, Cusp of Night, spiritualism plays a big role, and automatic writing was one facet of that whole movement. Anyway …

Holy crap. I solved one of the problems I’ve been trying to figure out by first creating a minor character I didn’t expect to have and then giving that character a part I didn’t know I needed.

Huh?

See where the automatic writing comes to mind? This sort of thing happens to me on a regular basis. I work through the bigger aspects of the plot, barrel ahead with the mantra, “it’s a crappy first draft, I’ll fix it later”, agonize over the stuff I can’t figure out, then somewhere down the line a piece falls into place, and POOF, the plot becomes more solid, and the story “works”.

It’s like my Muse is doing his job, but his timing is off. Sometimes waay off. *checks for Muse, then in a stage whisper: Psst, I think he’s on a beer run.*

Image by Vicki Becker from Pixabay

As fiction writers, we often have story ideas and plots in our heads. For me, the plot lines often seem pretty straightforward at first. The timelines work, the characters have appropriate motivation, and all is well in the planning stage.

Sometimes in the beginning the plot lines are more like a tangle of yarn that needs to be teased into quasi-order. It’s when things look like they’ll work that you have to keep an eye on those buggers, or they’ll start dodging around like a litter of energetic kittens.

I walk through the timeline over and over, and think I have the threads woven together in some semblance of order. Then I start the first draft.

What seemed to make sense suddenly doesn’t. And of course that realization doesn’t happen until I’m halfway or two-thirds of the way through the draft.

I think the more we read, and the more we practice storytelling and plotting and creating character arcs, the more instinctive we become as writers. I’ve been asked by people how I knew the plot wasn’t working. The only thing I can come up with is “I just knew.”

We know what works because somehow along the way we learned it, even if we haven’t taken a class or gone through workbooks or read Save the Cat or The Writer’s Journey. We can use the tools, whether beat sheets or timelines or whatever your preference, but there’s a part of us we may not be conscious of that knows what pieces and bits to add and when.

And that seems to be the way it works, at least for me. I’ll put something in a story, unplanned but it works, then way later on in the story I’ll write something and think wow, it’s a good thing I added that unplanned thing earlier because that makes this part work.

Magic. Or my Muse. Both. Bottom line, the more you practice, the more you read, the more you learn, the more those writer instincts will help you so you don’t get two-thirds of the way through the draft before you realize the story doesn’t work.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it 😀


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A-Musing Solstice Salutations #amwriting #wintersolstice

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

What the … The last thing I expected to see in my writing office was my Muse sitting in one of the corner recliners with my laptop. Of course, to see him dressed the way he was … oh boy.

The red and white striped sweatpants, like a wearable candy cane, would have been eye-searing enough without that sweater. Think bright green, with tinsel garland and strands of tiny blinking lights sown across it in tiers, complete with miniature glass ball ornaments.

Oh. My. Gawd. He looks like a Christmas tree sat on an elf. The only things missing are curly-toed slippers and a Santa hat. I’m not sure whether to laugh or … yeah, gotta laugh. I manage to choke back a guffaw. “Um, where the hell did you find that outfit?”

He looks up at me, his angular cheekbones, blue eyes, and the little divot in his chin contrasting with that get-up. “I’m getting into the spirit of the season.” He flashes his crooked grin, the one that always raises the temperature in the room.

Even now, with that ridiculous outfit, it’s getting warm in here. I shove the sleeves of my hooded sweatshirt to my elbows. “It’s hideous.”

He raises an eyebrow. Pretty sure I’m having a hot flash. Yeah, I’ll call it that.

“Really? I thought you’d like the lights.”

“Um, yeah, I do,” I admit. “What are you doing?”

“What you should be doing, love.”

I can’t believe he’s writing a blog post without me asking, begging, or bartering with him. “I came in here to write my post.”

“Way ahead of you, love.”

“Ah, o-kay. Why? You always grumble when I ask you to write posts for me.”

“What’s wrong with me writing posts when I want to? I thought you would be happy you didn’t have to beg.”

Well, sure, but it’s kinda like when kids do stuff without you badgering them to do it. “What do you want?”

His eyes widen. He puts on what I would call his innocent face. “I never said I wanted anything, love.”

I open the back door and stand in the breeze from the snow-covered yard to cool down. “Riiight. Just tell me now so I can grumble about it.”

He sets the computer aside and levers out of the recliner. “You’re letting the cold air in.”

“It’s hot in here.”

He reaches over my head and pushes the door closed. “It’s not.”

I stare into twinkling Christmas lights before taking a step back. Into the door. “So, let me get this straight. You are writing my blog post without my asking because why? You’re feeling generous?”

“That, and it seems people like when I write posts.”

Actually, I think it’s just him. He usually has some sort of writing wisdom to share. The fact that he’s incredibly easy on the eyes has nothing to do with it.

Nope, that has absolutely nothing to do with it.

“I think I’m going to stand outside for a few minutes.” I turn to open the door again.

“I’m almost finished. Then it’s your turn, love. You only have a few more chapters left for the Book 2 draft. Then you can dig into that other project you keep thinking about.”

“See, I knew you wanted something.”

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

This will be my (and my Muse’s) last post until after the New Year (except for the standard Merry Christmas/Happy New Year posts 😀 ). Enjoy your holidays with friends and family. Safe travels to all.

Keep writing!


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Still behind in the home stretch #nanowrimo #amwriting

Image by Steve Howard from Pixabay

My writer finally comes through the door to her writing office. I have to make a show of checking my non-existant watch. “Where the hell have you been, love?”

She grimaces at me. “I know, I know. I worked at the library two nights this week, and I’ve still been writing every night, so …” She trails off into a grumble.

“Watch your language. You’ve been distracted.”

“Duh!” Julie grabs her laptop and plants herself in one of the recliners in the corner. More grumbling. She’s wearing her NaNoWriMo hoodie, but it doesn’t seem to be helping much.

“Would you like to talk about it, love?”

“I have to write.”

She’s so grumbly I can feel the creative energy being repelled. Sigh. I settle next to her in the other recliner. “Tell me.”

“You already know. Why should I tell you?”

“Because by actually saying it you will feel better. And yes, I can feel the energy shift. When is your daughter supposed to be home?”

“Soon.” She chews on a knuckle. “I didn’t get as much writing done last weekend as I had wanted to. I worked at the library and tried to write. I did write when it was slow, just not enough. I even wrote every day this week, and I still didn’t hit my word count. And I’m not going to get that short story done to submit for the anthology.”

“You could, love. That’s the one with a hard deadline. Your draft doesn’t have a hard deadline.”

She looks over at me, her face flushed. Frustration, I think. “I don’t know how to write it. I’m stuck. You know what? I think I need to write something different. I want to work on the Spring Brook story. Or I could revise my police procedural. Or maybe work on that urban fantasy you keep pinging me with.”

The urban fantasy would be a nice change of pace, but now is not the time. “Tell me what’s distracting you, love.”

She bounces her head back against the recliner. “Everything. Do you realize Thanksgiving is next week already? And my daughter is home this weekend, then coming home for the Thanksgiving holiday two days after she goes back. The energy is,” she rubs at her eyes, “different. Harder to work with. And I have housework to do, even if it is the bare minimum. And I have to get my new computer set up. And damn it, I need to be writing.”

“Yes, you do. So what do you need to do to get there?”

“Stop talking and start writing. Go finish my blog post. Please.”

I try another test. Most of the creative energy is still not sinking in. Bloody hell. “I’ll call Wander in. Maybe she can help.” There’s something about dragons that helps my writer open up.

Not Wander, but close.

“Fine. Whatever. Let me try to hit my word count tonight, alright?” She glances at the clock on the desk and groans.

I lean over to her. “Relax, love.”

“Easy for you to say. Finish the post, then help me with this transition.”

And I expect that’s how the weekend will go. If I can get her to hit double her word goal over the next two days, she’ll be on track to hit 50k by the 30th.

Wish me luck!


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Hometowns and history #amwriting #Englishteachers

“Just come back later,” I tell my Muse, who is wearing a look of concern. Then again, he had that same look last night when I finally returned home from my author event. “I’ll make up the word count this weekend. Promise.”

My Muse crosses his arms over his broad chest and taps a foot. “You are supposed to be writing, love. You didn’t write anything yesterday.”

“I know, I know. I had an author event.”

“All the more reason I should be writing the post.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “I’ll count these words, okay?”

He sighs. “Fine.” He waves a finger. “You will make up your word count and get ahead this weekend. Your kids are not home. No excuses.”

Except for the bathrooms that need cleaning. And the vacuuming. And …

“Julie. You need to write. Your short story has to be submitted by the end of the month.”

“I know, I know.”

Last evening I had an author event at my hometown library.

The “new” Myrtle Maybee Library in Belgrade, MN

When I was growing up, I spent a LOT of time there perusing their collection. I would ride my bike the five or six blocks (small town blocks, not city blocks) to the library at least once a week and check out enough books to last a week 🙂 Despite being quite small in size, our local library had a lot of books. Then I discovered I could order books from other libraries!

Since then, the library has moved to a larger location. The new place used to be a hardware store, and is a little more than twice the size of the old place. Ah, the memories!

I saw some familiar faces and got to reminisce a bit. Since my dad sold the house last year, I haven’t had a reason to go back until now. So much has changed, but so much is still the same. I met people I haven’t seen for years, and to my pleasant surprise, I remembered their names! (You know what I mean, right? The old “I know I know you, but I can’t for the life of me remember your name” dilemma.)

The person I really wanted to see again showed up. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Anderson, was my favorite English teacher. She loved Anne McCaffery’s Pern books as much as I did. She may not remember, but I remember telling her I was going to write a book.

See, I did it! Me and Mrs. Anderson, my high school English teacher

It was a great crowd. The library scheduled my visit during the time the book club normally meets, so the book club members were there, along with a number of other locals. My old piano teacher was there; my siblings and I all took piano lessons from her. She is now teaching my nephew!

Mrs. Adrian and me. Still teaches piano to my family (my brother’s kids take lessons from her)

It was a long day, but a great day. Our former neighbor (she still lives there, we don’t) was kind enough to take pictures for me (thank you, Kathy!). There is something nostalgic, and somehow comforting, about going back to the place where you grew up (provided you had good experiences there, of course). I met my dad at the local cafe, but I had to smile when he called it by the name it had way back when we first moved to town. Since then, it changed names at least once, and is now a Mexican restaurant with a nice supper crowd.

Okay, back to my NaNo writing. I missed my word counts this week, but it was a busy week, with my Sisters in Crime meeting and a day of subbing at the library, plus the author event. No kids home this weekend, so I’m planning to hit it hard to catch up and give myself a bit of a buffer. We’ll see how that works out 😀

Have a productive writing weekend!