Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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It’s all in the voice #amreading #amwriting

Image by Rebekka D from Pixabay

Now that the garden is pretty much finished, except for the peppers and the cool-weather stuff like kale and brussels sprouts, I’ve been spending more time writing–well, okay, reading. And not just because Jim Butcher’s Peace Talks came out and the next one, Battle Ground, is being released this very same year! Harry Dresden rules!

I’ve been reading mysteries (and the various flavors of them) lately, but I always make room for select urban fantasies, like Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and Jim Butcher’s Dresden, of course. During the wait for the highly-anticipated release of Peace Talks, Butcher’s first new Dresden novel in, like, five years, one of my blogging friends suggested a different series, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

So, I figured, what the heck. It’s UF, and M said it was good. So I read the first book of the series.

Now, for those who don’t read urban fantasy, one thing popular in the genre is snark. The snark is often based on things we know, like books (The Princess Bride, for one), TV shows, movies, or other things of common “modern” knowledge. Butcher does it well. One of my favorites is the first line of Blood Rites: The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault. Not snark as much as tongue-in-cheek.

In the same scene, as Harry is running away from the bad guys, he mentions how his boots were made for walking, not running through hallways (or something like that).

When done well, it makes for an entertaining read. In the Kate Daniels series, they (Ilona Andrews is a husband and wife team) do it so well I laughed out loud more than once (even the second time around). Everything from references to Rambo to the Three Musketeers to jokes made by the main character that the reader “gets” but no one else in the scene does because they aren’t old enough.

Anyway, there are 10 books in the Kate Daniels series. I blasted through the first book in a day. Heck, I blasted through each book in two days (because I had to take time off to do important stuff like pick tomatoes and cleaning 🙂 )

Needless to say, I didn’t get much writing done the days I got sucked into Kate Daniels’ world.

Here’s the thing: Many people will only read a book once. I like to reread good books years after I read them the first time to enjoy the prose and the story again. As a writer, I want to figure out why I want to read it again. It’s like watching a TV show in reruns a decade or more later, like MASH or Seinfeld.

This series, however, was different. I have never felt compelled to reread a series right after I read it the first time. Ever. Not even the Pern books by Anne McCaffery. Not even the Eve Dallas series by JD Robb.

When I finished the last book of the Kate Daniels series, I felt drawn back to it. I couldn’t stop thinking about reading it again. (I blame you, M!)

Then my writer brain piped up. Why do I feel compelled to reread this series right after I read it the first time? What is it about the story that makes me want to jump right back into it? It’s like other UF series where the main character is pitted against tougher and tougher opponents, and discovers more about herself and what she can do. It’s like Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series or Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, where each book reveals a little more about the main character and how/why she changes.

But I never felt compelled to reread those series. Why was this one different? The clever snark? Yes, but other series have clever snark. A kick-ass heroine? Sure, but again, other series have kick-ass heroines. Hot guys the main character tries to resist but eventually falls for? Yep, the others have that, too. Awesome secondary characters? Yep, they all have some great backup singers.

World-building? Sure, but like other UF, the world we know is filled with magic and the associated creatures, and the explanations for the juxtaposition are all different, from “it’s always been this way” to some cataclysmic occurrence that introduced magic into our world.

So, what’s left?

Voice. That elusive element that is part of a writer’s style, or at least style for a particular book or genre. Voice is that thing we’re all told we need to find for ourselves, that maddening part of writing that is so hard to define, but we can pick out in other writers’ prose. It’s the voice that draws me back, I think. Andrews’ voice in the KD books is easy-going, natural for the character, and engaging, with a touch of laugh-out-loud humor.

Note that a lot of UF is written in first person POV, so voice and character are woven tight with each other. Come to think of it, almost all the UF I’ve ever read is written in 1st POV.

I won’t even attempt to explain voice, because there are so many other writers and writing teachers out there who have done a good job of it. Check out Janice Hardy, Jane Friedman, and Lisa Hall-Wilson, for starters. Lisa Hall-Wilson has been doing a good series on POV and voice in recent months.

In other news, I have one lesson left to turn in, then I’ll check in with my writing teacher (who runs the program) to see what my next steps are. And just maybe my son will send me some more pictures of his kittens 😀

Happy Writing!


Summer reruns #1

Yep. It’s the part about summer when you are flipping through channels at night after the mosquitoes chase you inside and the air conditioner is humming and it’s really too late (or too close to bedtime) to dig into much writing. So I figured if TV shows can do it, so can I 😀

This post originally appeared in August of 2014 (Oh. My. Gawd. I didn’t realize I’ve been blogging that long!) Enjoy this blast from the past!

Orignally appeared August 17, 2014:

It’s one of the last weekends of summer, and school starts in a couple weeks. Where did the summer go? Granted, summer really didn’t get going here in MN until late June after we had torrential downpours that caused mudslides, closed many roads, and wiped out my garden TWICE. And it’s been a nice, cool summer. Love it! The temps, that is, not the fact my garden is a month behind. Still waiting for my tomatoes to hurry up and get ripe!

My vice, though, is lazy weekends. There are many summer weekends that include trips to various family gatherings including graduations, weddings, and birthdays. On the weekends we get to stay home, I have a tendency to kick back in an easy chair, whip out my computer, and write. Besides, the cleaning will be there tomorrow, right?

Part of me feels guilty for neglecting regular household chores, but I do have two teens in the house, and they are responsible for dishes, their own laundry, and cleaning bathrooms (Yippee!). Part of that guilt keeps my muse hanging in the wings, reluctant to sit down next to me for an hour or two of writing. The procrastinator in me clamps a hand over the guilt’s mouth and threatens it with bodily harm if it screams.

My inspirations during the summer include gorgeous sunsets and those quiet mornings when the mist hangs in the air. It’s humid and a little cool, but the fog curtains the trees and blankets sound. There’s a sense of awe that brings to mind a timelessness that leads my writer’s mind toward scenes that involve characters emerging from the fog on horseback or standing within a grove, that muted quiet swelling to fill their ears and hush their words. The fiery pink sunsets remind me to stop and watch, to impress in my mind the splendor of the vibrant colors so I can recall them later.

What inspires you during the summer? Is it gardens of flowers? A sole wildflower in the shadows of trees? The sounds of crickets or frogs at night? The smell of freshly-cut grass or hay? The buzz of cicadas? The sweat on a glass of homemade lemonade or the slow drip of ice cream down a cone? Take ten minutes and describe what you sense in the summer at one of your favorite places. It doesn’t have to be a scene, just pick a place on the beach or at a fair or on a walking trail and describe the sound of the waves or the smell of cotton candy and caramel corn.

Gotta go. My muse is waiting and his coffee mug is empty!


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Reading as a writer … for fun? #amreading #amwriting #amrevising

I indulged in a bit of reading for fun this week, since I figured out what scenes to submit for my assignment.

Okay, fine. I was procrastinating on my homework. There. Happy?

I haven’t read much of anything for a while, with the revisions and homework and all. Oh, and that pesky full-time job. And the garden.

With the upcoming release of Harry Dresden’s new adventure, Peace Talks, I decided to reread the last book in the series to refresh my memory, since it’s been, oh, years since Skin Game came out. Then I had to reread the book that introduced Mouse because hey, it’s Mouse.

After reconnecting with Harry, I was ready for more snarky urban fantasy, or at least snarky mysteries with a paranormal angle. And what luck! Another of my favorite urban fantasy authors just released a new book (some snark included). Not only that, but I ran across a book from a fellow member of Sisters in Crime that sounded like a nice break from serious. And writing.

I have now read 4 books (Skin Game (Dresden), Blood Rites (Harry again), Ann Charles’ first Deadwood book Nearly Departed in Deadwood, and Patricia Briggs’ latest Mercy Thompson book, Smoke Bitten) in the span of three weeks (one of which took me all of a day and a half to read), when I haven’t read much of anything for months.

Reunions with old friends (Harry and Mercy) are great, and meeting new ones (Violet Parker, with her purple cowboy boots) is fun, but you know you are a real writer when IT happens.

Yes, the infamous “Aha! I see what you did there” moment when you read a scene and you can “see” the structure of the scene and how it lures the reader on.

Here’s a “for instance”: In Nearly Departed in Deadwood, Violet has 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. She becomes friends with a codger who has a gun named Bessie and a total lack of subtlety, meets the tall dark handsome sexy guy next door to the office (sparks there), and starts dating the tall blond handsome rich guy whose family owns the jewelry store in town. So, sparks between dark sexy and Vi (who resists her attraction to him, yet he obviously likes her), but she dates blond handsome (she likes him more than dark sexy, or so she tells herself).

What’s more fun for readers than the tension between a girl and the guy she is determined not to be attracted to? Oh, and toss in the guy who is a chick magnet and rich. So, what does the author do? She includes a scene in which the codger and dark sexy guy are with Violet at the ER (her daughter broke her arm). Dark sexy is being the good friend, keeping Vi calm and comforting her like any sexy guy would (you know, holding her close), when blond handsome shows up.

Boom! The classic setup for tension with love interests. And the guys, of course, have been trying to win her affection in their own ways. Vi is determined not to fall for dark sexy (he’s been teasing her, all innocent-like, since they met), so she greets blond handsome like a lonely girl greets her boyfriend after he’s been gone for a week.

I find myself noticing all these little things now, the rising tension between characters and in scenes, the scene “cliff-hangers” that draw the reader on, and especially the fresh metaphors and descriptions (how the hell do they come up with those?). The first time I noticed the craft behind the story was when I read Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, his debut novel, and I couldn’t put it down. I paid attention to what he did that compelled me to read on.

Questions. Every chapter didn’t have a cliff-hanger, per se, but each had some question I just had to find the answer to. Same with the Dresden books, though those are more “how is he going to get out of this?”

Part of me misses that reader ignorance: the point of reading the story is to escape and live in another place and time for a bit without caring about anything except what happens to the characters–find and stop the bad guy or get the prize. I can’t do that anymore without noticing things with a writer’s eye. The setup, the character arcs, the tension, the description, the way other authors convey emotion.

Does it ruin a story for me? Only if the author does a middling or lousy job of keeping my interest (and then I analyze why it doesn’t keep me reading). When I notice these things, I try to take mental notes so I can improve my own writing. After hearing Allen Eskens talk about the craft and how he approaches a story, I notice that now in his books and others.

Reading like a writer means missing a little of that magic that readers search for in a good book, the escape where the real world goes away for a while. But reading like a writer makes me appreciate more the bits and pieces of what creates that magic to begin with.

Happy Summer Solstice! Just think, from this point on (until the winter solstice), the days will be getting shorter. Or, don’t think about it. Yeah, probably better for the psyche if we just enjoy now and express surprise later when it’s dark before 8p again.

Write on!

Zoey sleeping on chair


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Progress … in more ways than one

budding tree branch
Image by MargGe from Pixabay

True to the forecast, Easter reminded us with a couple inches of snow that Winter tends to linger here in Minnesota. All week it felt like November: in the thirties instead of the our typical fifties this time of year. The returning birds didn’t seem to mind too much; they’re just as raucous as usual in spring.

One afternoon amid the cacaphony of the birds staking claims I heard the dog thunder off the deck, so naturally I go to see what on earth she took off after.

soaring bald eagle
Image by 272447 from Pixabay

Three bald eagles, one not old enough for the white head and tail yet, were soaring over the grove and the clearing beyond, suspiciously close to the chicken pen. They looked like they were there to laze about and fly in circles, but I suspect they were eying some easy pickings. The dog was barking and chasing them, as if that would discourage them if they decided to snatch a chicken.

One even flew around one side of the grove, it seemed to test the dog’s determination to chase it (which she did), or as a distraction so the other two could conduct their thievery in peace.

If you ever get to see bald eagles up close (we’re talking maybe 10 feet above the house or less), it’s a treat. Not sure I’d feel the same way if they had a chicken in their talons, but wow, it really is awe-inspiring. They did leave after a few minutes, and yes, we still have all of our chickens.

So ends week 5 of working from home. I contacted our ISP again this week to see if they could do anything about the abysmal speed. I got lucky; this tech support person changed our router settings so we are using a less-congested channel. Yay. Now the internet is at least usable during the day (still nowhere near the 6 Mbps we could be getting). It’s a good thing, too, because the ISP we were thinking of using came out for a site survey. Survey says there are too many trees in the way on the edge of town for a good signal (their transmitter is not on the water tower like we hoped). Sigh.

I turned in my first assignment for my new class. The beauty is I can use excerpts from my WIP for my homework! Speaking of WIP, aka Book 2, I’m starting the first round of revision. One thing I’ve learned about my process is that first–wait, eighth in this case–rough draft helps me put together a plot that works. Then after letting the manuscript sit for a bit, the reread allows me to refine the plot, so when I do start revising, I can adjust as I need to.

I suppose a lot of writers work that way, but I find I have a much better sense of where the story is going now, so I can make sure there is the proper set up early on. And that helps smooth things out later.

So those first seven rough drafts that didn’t work weren’t wasted effort, but they sure felt like it. Two freaking years of effort! Argh. Now it feels like: “Duh, of course this is how the story works. Sheesh. I can’t believe I thought it would work any other way.”

Then I look at those authors who release a book every year (you know who you are), and wonder how on earth they manage a functional plot the first time around. I consider myself more plotter than pantser, but I usually have a story all laid out in my head before I start. Not this time.

Granted, a lot of those authors don’t have a day job (read: retired), but still. Then again, a lot of it, I suspect, is practice. The more you practice, the better you become at putting together a plot that works without wasting–erm, spending time on seven(!) false starts.

The trees are starting to leaf out, our seasonal spring temps are due to return (yippee!!), and my seedlings are looking good. Hope you all are weathering this stay-at-home stuff.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and keep writing!

Zoey the cat sitting on teal recliner


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Feeding the Muse?? #amwriting #writingcommunity

So, as I’m sitting in my writing office catching up on my blog post reading, I run across an interesting post. It’s a great article on cultivating and recharging your creative energies. These things are all on my to-do list. Maybe I should take a break and do something other than write for a day. Then again, my nest is empty right now, so I should …

“A-hem.”

I look up from my laptop and check my non-existant watch. “Yep. Figured you’d show up about now.”

My Muse responds with an exasperated sigh. “I’ve been here, love.” He slides the ottoman–which really serves no purpose except as someplace to set my laptop when I get up from my recliner–toward him and settles on it, elbows on his knees. He must have a drawer full of fisherman’s sweaters; the one he’s wearing now is a heathered maroon. The black sweatpants aren’t as chic as the sweater, but hey, just about anything looks good on him.

“How many of those yumm–er, cozy sweaters do you have?”

An eyebrow arches. “Enough. Look, I’m not here to discuss my wardrobe.”

“Ohh, great subject. So, where did you get them? Scotland? Ireland? Are they all wool, or …”

His blue eyes lock to mine. “You’re stalling.”

It’s getting a little warm in here. I shove my sleeves to my elbows. “I’m writing.”

“You aren’t working on your WIP. You should have at least half your word quota done by now.”

“I do. The words are just in my blog post.”

“Not where they need to be, are they?” He shakes his head. “I do give you credit for trying.” He shakes a finger at me. “Try harder.”

“You know, I ran across this great blog article about …”

“Feeding the muse?” His mouth curls up at the edges. “You do realize the article is talking about the writer not the muse, don’t you?”

I open my mouth to answer, then shut it.

“It’s about opening yourself to creative energy. All those things, they encourage you to be more receptive to me. Your Muse.”

This time I concentrate on keeping my mouth shut, because I could go so many places with that. Oh boy, sooo many places.

And it is definitely getting warmer in here.

“Reading, dabbling in other creative activities, taking time to unplug and do something not specifically creative but something to help you quiet your mind. All those things make my job easier.” He retrieves a beer from the mini-fridge. “But …”

I knew it. Of course there’s a catch.

“They are not excuses to not write.” He bends until he’s level with me. “Not excuses. You do these things, and then you write, because these things help you call up creative energy. Understand?”

I swallow hard. “Yes.”

“Say it, love.”

“I can do the things, then I have to take advantage of the energy and write.”

He sits back on the ottoman. “Close enough. You have a whole day with an empty nest. I expect you to write double your quota.”

It’s going to be a nice weekend, balmy. We’ve had below zero wind chills, -20 and colder, the past two days, so I’m looking forward to temps around freezing 😀 It’ll be a nice day for a walk.

In any case, check out the article. It’s a good reminder to recharge your creative batteries every so often. I haven’t been reading much lately, but I find listening to “new age” instrumental music helps stir up my writing juices. What is your go-to activity that helps you “feed your muse”?

Have a productive and creative writing weekend!