Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


Motivation, or lack of #mnsnow

In less than a week I’ll be in Tucson for Left Coast Crime. I’ve finished reading the books from the authors on my panel. I’ve got my swag ready. I’ve got to drag half a dozen of my books with me because the bookstore decided they couldn’t find my book to supply for the convention (that’s a whole other story).

And I should be working on book 2. I set my “what ifs” aside so I could read 5 books before the convention, but now that I’ve read them, and have some good questions prepared, I find I’m resistant to jump back into my writing until after the convention. I’ve got almost a week–okay, maybe half a week–before I leave, so I’ve got time now.

It’s like I feel I need to “save it until after.” Like for some reason the time between now and when I leave is somehow reserved for all the mental anticipation and energy of going on a 5-day trip. Like it’s a sort of reward for going to the convention, like the convention is a chore that needs to be completed.

It’s not. I’m looking forward to reuniting with friends I made at last year’s convention, and at Bouchercon last fall. I’m looking forward to the experience of seeing a new place, and of being away from home and all the responsibilities here. I get a break from work and from all the distractions of home (hours of news 😮 ). I get to enjoy early summer temps (70s!) instead of the forecast snow/rain mix, although I will miss out on the 40s they’re predicting for the end of the week.

I’m not looking forward to dragging my books with me, but it’s better than not having any because the bookstore, for some reason only they can rationalize, chose not to order my books to stock for LCC despite the fact I filled out their form to have them carry my book. Twice.

Maybe it’s the weather. I am so DONE with winter! We got 2 inches the other day, and they’re predicting 2 to 6 more inches today. The weather wonks have put this season into the top 10 snowiest for MN. Oh boy.

On the bright side, the equinox is in a couple weeks, meaning spring is almost here! Yay! We’ll only have to deal with the snow (and the subsequent muddy yard and driveway) for another month or so. Better than getting all this snow in December and having to put up with it for three more months.

Motivation to work on book 2 is sketchy at this point. Maybe because I need to really work through the “what-ifs” before I do any more revision, and my brain is busy churning through all the fun I plan to have at LCC. Or it’s busy thinking about other projects I really want to get back to. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I take advantage of the time I have now to shift some focus to book 2, because darn it, I want to hand it over to my agent and get back to my police procedural.

Then again, I’m also thinking to save the work for all the time I’ll be spending in the airport, on the plane, in my hotel room in the mornings before all the activities fire up. I mean, what better time to work through “what ifs” than spending 2-3 hrs at 40,000 feet?

Doesn’t mean I can’t do it now, too.

So, creative brain, get your shit together and focus.

Don’t forget to Spring Ahead this weekend for Daylight Savings Time!


Thinking outside your mindset #revising

One of the things often recommended to writers of all levels (well, okay, maybe not William Kent Kreuger, Nora Roberts, or Stephen King level) is to find a critique group. My Writing Sisters are a great example of a critique group, and when we get together every summer for our reunion retreat, we critique and offer constructive feedback to each for whatever project someone is working on.

That’s once a year. We used to hold monthly critique meetings, but we’re all at the stage now that when we would like help with something, we can ask the group, and we’ll have a virtual critique session when we do our monthly Zoom chats.

I was fortunate enough to come across another mystery writer, whom I’d never met, who put out a request for writers interested in a suspense critique group. It turns out the author is in Madison, WI. Another writer who expressed interest in joining is from Duluth! AND she has the same publisher I do. Talk about small world!

Anyway, we’ve been meeting about once a month for a little over a year, and wow, I feel so fortunate. One of our members has insight into writing that reminds me of my writing teacher. The other member is as of yet unpublished. Every time we meet, I always learn something, which is awesome.

Critique groups can be tricky. Finding one that is at a level that will be helpful to you at your level (that is, an accomplished writer vs a beginner) can be hit and miss. Finding one in which all the writers don’t hesitate to give advice or make observations that can be blunt, but nice about it, is even trickier.

Our suspense critique group hits those notes. Score! Each of my fellow writers offers great insights and feedback, and I learn something each time, even when it’s not my month for a critique.

So this month one of the other writers in the group was on the critique block. She’s writing the second book in an unpublished series; she’s got a great story started (we only exchange up to 5k words at a time), and great characters, and great writing, but there was too much stuff in the first few chapters that really didn’t move the story toward the mystery. I noticed it, but I couldn’t really put my finger on just what felt “off” about it.

Then our other member asked a question: Why does this have to be the second book in the series?


That was it. Once she asked that question, the writer under critique, who’s been struggling with the story, said she’d always thought of the book as the second one in the series.

So the next question was: Why?

I know I’m not the only writer out there who comes up with a brilliant story in their head, and gets things lined up a certain way, but when you start to write it, something about it makes it more of a struggle to write than it should be. And so often a writer keeps pushing in the same direction, even though somewhere deep down they know there’s something not quite right with it.

Ultimately, the question was the right one to ask, because as we discussed it, if the book was, say, the first of the series, the writer wouldn’t have to try to cram a bunch of backstory into the first few chapters. The writer truly appreciated the question, and that idea, that the book could be the first of the series, opened her to a possibility she hadn’t considered since she’d always thought of the book as the second in a series.

It’s almost like, “Hey, you can color outside the lines. It’s okay, and that might even add to the awesomeness of the picture.”

So, bottom line, critique groups are a great way to look at your work from different directions, and maybe even a direction you hadn’t even realized was there.

I turned in my homework this week, so I’m just waiting for the professor to get back to me. Until then I’m digging into my latest round of revision. It’ll be good to get Book 2 refined and back to my agent so I can work on my police procedural.

Happy writing!


Addressing Pacing #amrevising #amediting

If you caught my post last week, you know that I have yet another round of revise and resubmit for Book 2. I had a nice conversation with my agent this week about her concerns and various ways I could approach her concerns. And, apparently, a Bullitt car chase is not on the table (you’ll have to read last week’s post to get that one 🙂 )

The main concerns are weak-ish secondary characters, and pacing in the middle. I think I know how to handle the character issues. Part of that solution will be digging into the characters’ lives before the story starts. And today I actually came up with something that I think will work well.

However, that doesn’t address the pacing concerns. In a mystery, the idea is to have the sleuth discover clues that lead them to the culprit, but in a way that doesn’t slow the story down too much. In Book 2 a major source of clues is a collection of photographs along with notes in a journal, along with a map.

Not so exciting (and no, there aren’t any compromising photos in the mix), but essential to telling both the amateur sleuth and the reader who is involved and hint at a motive.

I printed out one of my writing teacher’s craft posts from the Blackbird Writers Discussion forum on FB. This post was about middles (posted on Jan 18, 2023: not sure this link will work, but here it is Writing craft post #3), timely for me. From Chris’s post, I see more than one mention of the middle being about action, movement.

Yikes. Then there’s reassurance–action can be big or small, but the middle has to be “active”. Thing is, I’ve created a threshold, that point where the main character hits that point in the story where she makes a choice to stop what she’s doing for reasons she believes are important enough that she feels going further down that path will hurt people she cares about.

And the reversal comes soon after, when something happens that forces her to cross that “threshold” (see, Chris, I did read the post 🙂 🙂 ). But that doesn’t help the earlier part of the middle that is less “active”.

Have you run into that issue, where you have a “saggy middle” in your story? The question is, how do I add more “action” without making it obvious? One thing I am doing is “what if”. You know, brainstorming by asking “what if”. What if her mentor’s relationship wasn’t as ideal as my MC thought? What if there aren’t notes to accompany the photos? What photos raise the most suspicion? What if the other photos are taken out of the scene completely? What if there are different pictures that raise suspicion and add clues more effectively? What would those look like? Would that prop up the pacing?

Anyway, you get the idea. I find asking “what if” is an effective way for me to work through ways to address stuff like this. I write out my “what if” questions in longhand as stream-of-consciousness. When the weather is nicer (and warmer) I talk through “what ifs” on walks. I’ve gotten through a lot of “hmm, now what” and “this doesn’t work right” situations this way.

IN any case, I have my writing teacher’s post close at hand. That way I have a direction of sorts for my “what ifs”.

Have you ever used the “what if” tool to work through problematic scenes? Do you use a different method of working through parts of your story that move more slowly than they could?

I have one more piece of homework to finish, then I’ll dig back into Book 2 armed with suggestions from my agent and whatever pops up during my “what if” sessions. I know something will percolate to the top that will be an AHA! That’s usually the way it works with me, and then I wonder why the hell didn’t my Muse mention that particular idea sooner 🙂

Anyway, after “enjoying” single-digit weather for the past week (not to mention double-digit below zero temps at night and negative double-digit windchills), we’re supposed get within spitting distance of freezing this weekend–woo hoo! Heat wave!

Keep on writing!

Throwback kitties: Nyx and Tibbers


Revise and return of the Muse #amrevising #amediting #MNwinter

I’m sitting in my writing office, my butt in a nice comfy recliner, laptop on my, well, lap. My mouse pointer hovers over the Word document my agent returned to me: Book 2 with her notes.

“G’day, love.”

“Thanks for scaring the shit outta me–not.” I try to slow my pulse. “You couldn’t use the door like usual?”

My Muse leans against the wall separating the alcove from the aforementioned door, arms crossed over his broad chest. He’s wearing wild tie-dyed sweatpants, a baja beach hoodie, and Birkenstocks–with no socks. His skin is burnished, his short blond hair sun-bleached at the edges. His slow smile deepens his dimples. “It’s cold outside.” He lifts a foot. “Forgot my boots.”

“Forgot your boots, my ass. I hope you enjoyed your walkabout in summery Aussie land, cuz it’s supposed to get nice and cold here.”

He chuckles, a deep rolling sound that makes the room feel warmer. Or maybe it’s just me. He grabs a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and settles into the recliner beside me. He smells like the beach, like sun and sand and coconut and ocean. “I did.”

“And I bet you thought about me exactly never.”

He chuckles again. Yep, pretty sure the room’s getting warmer. “Of course I thought about you, love.”

“Oh really? I have a hard time believing you were thinking about anything besides enjoying the sun and surf.”

“You got feedback from your agent on Book 2.”

“Well, if you know that, then you know I have yet another round of revision to do.” Yep, still not quite there. Pacing in the middle. The novelist’s bane.

“You make it sound like the book’s on it’s way into that drawer from which no manuscripts escape.”

“I know it’s not that bad. It just needs some tweaking. And less PDA. And less ho-hum. And more Bullitt car chases.”

“I’m going to have to stop you with that last one, love. No car chases in Book 2. And you already took out most of the PDA. Which is disappointing.”


“But I can see her point.”

“Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side with this.”

He sighs. “I am. But this is your ‘break away from your current publisher’ book, so your agent is right, and you know it.”

My turn to sigh. “I do. But I don’t know how I can step up the pacing in the middle without pulling more words. It’s already down to 81,000 words, which is 10,000 less that Book 1. And there’s the scene of the accident that isn’t. Without that … How do I keep up the tension? That’s part of the ramp-up to the climax.”

My Muse raises a brow. “You’ve already started working on a replacement for that scene.”

Grumble. “Yes, sort of. The replacement doesn’t address my agent’s concern, though. That that particular scene might be one too many for the purpose. My replacement scene would do the same thing, just be more, um …”


I can’t stop an eye roll. “Fine, yes.”

“So, when are you planning on looking at all her comments?”

I hover the mouse pointer over the file. “This weekend. I have homework to do, though. Pulling that neck muscle a few days ago didn’t help, either. I lost two days of work.”

“Yeah, that can be a pain in the neck.”

I give him my best side-eye. “Really? That’s the best you can do?”

He chuckles. “Do you have a deadline for your homework? You know, that really isn’t homework.”

“It is. I need to do it to finish my credit by exam.” I’m starting to think it would have been easier to take the class. Then again, a couple hundred dollars for 4 credits is way better than $1400 and four months of night classes for those same 4 credits. Unless the professor decides my credit for exam submissions aren’t good enough and I’ll have to take the class anyway. That’s the risk, despite the fact I have over a decade of experience to back up my credit by exam request.

“And when do you plan on reading the rest of your agent’s feedback? You talk to her on Tuesday.”

“I know. I’ll read her feedback before then.” And I’ll have to formulate some sort of response or fix for each of her concerns. Some will be easy–less PDA. Some, not so much.

“Don’t worry, love. We’ll figure it out. If nothing else, there’s always a Bullitt car chase.”

And that’s my plan for the weekend. Considering we’ve got arctic air sitting over us for the next week or so, keeping us far below freezing, I’m pretty sure I’ll get it done. Or, mostly done.

Happy Writing, and stay warm!

Kitty throwback: Nyx napping


Timelines, Plotlines, and Muses–oh my! #amediting

Have you ever worked on a book for … ah, years, and then, after you learn more about the craft, gone back to that book and read it? That book that you spent months–years–editing and revising and editing some more, and querying, and editing some more … Yeah, that one.

And after tucking it away for a couple years, you go back and read it, and realize that the elements of the story are all there, but the order of events needs to be shuffled. That timeline you hammered on for years needs to be blown up. Well, okay, just the whole freaking middle of the book, but still. I’ve got things pretty much rearranged, but then there’s the tweaks to the plotline.


The water in my glass on the little end table beside my recliner ripples.

“Seriously?” I call out. “You don’t have to slam the door.”

I hear the rustling of a coat and a pair of thuds before my Muse comes around the wall separating the alcove from the outside door of my writing office. He’s wearing a purple Minnesota Vikings hoodie and black sweatpants, with thick purple socks to round out his outfit. He presses his lips together, lines creasing his forehead, hands planted on his hips.

Um … “What’s with the door slamming?”

He shakes his head before pulling a beer out of the mini-fridge and dropping into the recliner beside me with a sigh. “It’s fecking cold outside and windy.”

“Dude, it’s January in Minnesota. You’re lucky it isn’t below zero.” Actually, we did “enjoy” below zero weather before Christmas. Nothing like Mother Nature reminding us that yes, it really is winter. Like the foot and a half of snow we’ve gotten since November wasn’t enough of a reminder. “I take it you didn’t go ‘Down Under’ over the holidays.” I mean, it’s not like he has to fly on planes or anything. I think it’s like a wormhole.

He swallows some beer. “We call them ‘portals’.”

“Okay. What’s got your undies in a twist?”

He raises a brow. “How many times do you plan on going through that timeline, love, before you settle on the scene order and just write the transitions as you need them?”

“Until I’ve got all the pieces where they should be. I’ve got most of the scenes reorganized. I just need to add a few short scenes, and at least one more vignette.” I’ve got a couple spots I’m still struggling with. How many times should my MCs talk to a supporting character? I’m debating combing two of the scenes. And there are still a couple scenes I’m wondering if I should toss because they are character-development scenes, not necessarily part of the investigation.

“Do you suppose if you do remove those scenes that you could work the character development into other scenes?”


He leans back in the recliner. “You’ve been over this book how many times, love?” He holds up a hand before I can answer. “I think you did the right thing by reorganizing it.”

“You suggested it.”

“Technically I inspired you to reorganize it. And I think it’s a good thing.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.”

He pegs me with those intense blue eyes of his. “But you have got to get this project done so you can start on Book 3.”

“I know. My agent hasn’t gotten back to me about Book 2.”

“But when she does, you should start getting the plot together for Book 3.”

“I’m well aware. You’re not planning on going on walkabout, are you?”

He says nothing for a moment. “Tell you what. I’ll be back in a couple days. I need some sun and heat.”

Well, it is the middle of summer in Australia. “I get that. I’ll manage. I’ve got my book dragon.”

“I want you to have this project ready to send to your critique group by the end of the month, love.”

“That’s the plan.”

I’ve got some time; I’m thinking my agent might get back to me on Book 2 by the middle of next month or so. I definitely want to have this project ready for critiquing before then.

Oh, and bonus fun I just learned about today. My son’s girlfriend’s family invited him to go with them on their annual trip to Texas at the end of March. It’ll be a 10-day trip (I think), and they need a cat sitter. Yippee! Since I’m a fully-remote worker, I can work from their apartment. I might have to split cat duties with my daughter, but hey, four cats–at least one cuddly one–is better than one cat who doesn’t sit on laps anymore. So, work during the day, cuddle cats and try to write at night. I’m up for that 🙂

Happy Writing!

PS: I’m having some trouble with lag on WordPress when I write posts. Any suggestions?