Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


15 Comments

When readers speak #amreading #amwriting

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Have you ever been invited (or allowed 🙂 ) to sit in on a book club discussion of your book? In my mind, my book isn’t one a book club would pick. I always envision book clubs picking more, erm, mainstream? Is that the term? Things like A Man Called Ove or The Kite Runner or Tuesdays with Morrie. Mysteries? I suppose if it’s a mystery book club they might.

Or if it’s a book club dedicated to women in aviation, they might. This young (as in started recently) book club, Aviatrix Book Review, focuses on women in aviation. There are some amazing women in this group, and the founder invited me to join. If you are interested in finding books (all ages) about women in aviation that go beyond Amelia Earhart, check out the site. They’ve collected way more books about aviation than I ever thought there were.

Anyway, like all book clubs, each month features a different book. As circumstance (and fortune) would have it, Murder in Plane Sight is the book for March! The club has so many members that multiple small groups meet to discuss the month’s pick. I had the privilege of sitting in on the first group discussion of the month.

Honestly, I wanted to hear what readers thought of it. Keep in mind that most of the books (adult) fall into the nonfiction category, with a healthy portion of memoirs and biographies. Fiction is a much smaller percentage, and I’m not sure, but mysteries are an even smaller percentage of those. My book was the first fiction book of the year.

Many of the members are also writers. All of the members in the discussion group were writers, some published, some not. Good potential for a discussion of craft. And we all know writers love to talk about craft!

What I like is hearing what other readers (especially readers who are writers) think of the story and the characters. This helps me know what aspects of a story appeal the most to readers, and what things I managed to accomplish in the story, like keeping the reader’s interest. The winner? Characters. Everyone loved the characters, and loved to hate the bad guys. One question I didn’t expect: How did you get so deep into the character who has been through trauma when you’ve never been through that same trauma?

My first reaction? Oh. My. Gawd. I did it. I made the character that real. That’s what we strive for, isn’t it? To make the characters so three-dimensional that readers ask things like that. This is the reaction we writers want to get from readers. This is why we study the craft, practice and practice the craft, and hope the little bit of fairy dust we shook from Tinkerbell is enough to draw readers in. This is one of the things writers love to hear from readers. It makes all those endless revisions worth it.

Another interesting question: How did you keep track of the mystery, and the clues, and all that? Of the writers in the group, I was the only mystery writer (although one writer wants to write mysteries and is studying that aspect of the craft). And I probably looked like a deer three seconds before it meets the grill of your car.

My first thought? I have no idea. Seriously. I don’t put together a “murder board”, with the pictures and maps and pins and strings everywhere. My second thought? I’m not sure. I just do it.

Which is so not helpful to a writer who wants to learn. I know this. So I scramble to explain something I do that I don’t understand myself. Except I do. It’s the result of years of reading, and many classes on craft, and a lot of revision. At some point, I think it becomes something like an innate sense: because as avid readers and students of the craft, we’ve read it and heard it so many times we just know. Kinda like being able to hear grammar issues when something is read aloud. But how does one explain it in a way that is useful to someone who wants to learn it? It’s a conversation that would last a lot longer than an hour-long book club discussion.

That discussion was an eye-opener for me. And fun! Oh, if you are wondering, they really liked the book. Even readers who don’t normally read mysteries really liked the book. Which is reaffirming to an author. It’s a signal that yes, I can do this, and do a decent job of it.

Bottom line, if you have an opportunity to join a discussion of your book, whether by readers or writers, try to join in. You might get insights on your story you never thought about, or learn you managed to relay something to the reader you never expected.

I have a virtual book festival today, so I’m off to swap out my PJs for something a little more formal, like sweats 😀 There’s still time to register: Cabin Fever Virtual Book Festival. It’s fun, it’s free, and it’s all about books and writing!

Two more weeks until SPRING! Yippee!

Don’t look at me like that. You got up, now it’s my chair


11 Comments

Revision Round Three – Revelations #amwriting #amrevising

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Last week I mused (heh, no, not that Muse 🙂 ) about story structure, how I saw the structure in the book I finished reading, and how it made me think about the structure of my own project, creatively called “Book 2”.

I am “old fashioned” in the sense that I prefer to review/revise on paper (and no, I’m not THAT old, or fashionable). I think it has to do with screen time (a full-time job as a tech writer means 8 hrs a day in front of a computer screen to begin with), as well as the whole effect of writing “longhand”. Reading on paper is different than reading on a screen. So I printed out my draft and worked through it page by page, scene by scene, with the recent refresh of story structure in mind.

Of course, plot tweaks make their way into my notes, as do questions about motives and characters, all par for the course during revisions. Refining characters means making sure their goals and their obstacles make sense. Sometimes their motivations change. Case in point: my primary antagonist started out with greed as a motivation. Now, after two revisions and the question of “What’s in it for her?”, her motivation has shifted from greed to more of a public service. In other words, I remembered something I heard or read about antagonists, namely villians: they are the heroes of their own stories.

Wow.

That adds another dimension to that character. There were hints of it already in the story, but when my subconscious finally got around to shouting the reminder, things fell into place around that character. Switching over to the protagonist, the question shifts to: What does she have to lose? As we writers know, the more the protagonist has to lose, the more the reader will root for them, right? This resulted in more notes about her story goals and the “what ifs” that go into the things that prevent her from reaching those goals.

Then, since it’s a mystery, not only do there have to be clues, there have to be false clues and enough suspects so the reader doesn’t figure things out too quickly. We like to call these “red herrings”, even though herring is more gray and white and tastes really good pickled, especially with saltine crackers 🙂 . After I listed my suspects, I realized I didn’t have enough red in my herring, so a note to add a false lead or three.

Getting back to the story structure itself, in the middle part of the story, there should be a black moment or an “all is lost” moment, where it looks like the obstacles in the character’s way seem too big to conquer. In the book I read, it was a point (and I realized this later, when my writer’s subconscious slapped me up the side of the head and yelled in my ear) when the main character stopped moving toward the resolution of the main mystery thread of the story.

As I went through my draft, I realized that even though there is moment where it looks like it’s going to be a LOT harder for the character to reach her goal, it wasn’t dark enough or difficult enough for her to continue. Note to self: figure out what would make her stop moving toward her goal.

And all these notes on how to make the story better were spawned, in part, by reading that book and seeing how the story was structured. It reminded me of all those things my writing teacher has been saying. I think sometimes it takes us a while (at least it takes me a while 🙂 ) to see how the story should work.

Getting back to revising, fleshing things out, and refining the story. Sometimes, especially with this book, I wish I could skip all the false starts and get to the bare skeleton of the story sooner, so I can put that energy toward refining the story, but I’ve learned that for me, it’s the way my subconscious writer brain tells my conscious writer brain which direction to go. Either that, or my Muse is working some seriously-annoying Muse magic to try to teach me something. Or he’s just being annoying. I wouldn’t put either past him.

Now, back to revising!


19 Comments

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!


21 Comments

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