Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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How many tries for that (kinda) perfect opening?

It was a dark and stormy night.
It was a really dark and mega-stormy night.
It was night, and dark. And stormy.

Meh.

The night was darker than an inkwell and more stormy than the Classics IV.

Ugh. Ick. (sorry not sorry for the link 😀 –I couldn’t help myself 😉 )

Wind whipped across the field, caressing the wheat into undulating waves …
Wait. Not dark enough.

Wind tore across the field, whipping at the grasses, pale waves snaking across the expanse. Lightning lit the night, flashing against angry clouds, exposing the undulating darkness boiling in the sky.

Hmm. Better.

How many times do you rewrite that first line? That first page? The opening scene? If you’re like me with my Book 2 project, the count is reaching double-digits. I think I’ve hit 6 or 7 do-overs. At least.

I won’t go into the multiple reasons and ways to rewrite that first line/page/scene/chapter because there are a lot of resources about the subject, such as Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. Which, by the way, is a very good book. My main struggle at this point isn’t that first line or page, it’s the opening scene. I’m still trying to get going on the 6th or 7th (8th?) run at my rough draft for Book 2, and I feel like if the opening scene isn’t working, it may be causing the sticky wicket in my brain. Or is it my story that’s in need of some adjustment sending my opening off the rails?

Have you ever started a story, and it just didn’t “feel” right? Then you restart it, and it still doesn’t feel right? And even when you change the opening and think it’s finally going to work, it still feels wonky? So you rewrite it again. And again. And it seems like nothing is falling into place, even though you’ve got a working plot roughed out.

This spring when we got together for the Writers’ Institute, my writing sisters helped me with the plot. It was great, because it “felt” a lot better than my first stab at it (no, the victim is not stabbed in this one 😉 ) I ran with that, and though I liked the revised plot more than my first go, it still seemed a bit off. And I continued to struggle with the opening.

Every year before our reunion retreat, we–my writing sisters–exchange about 20 pages for everyone to review, then at the retreat we discuss each other’s pages and offer feedback. This year I shared my entire 6th (7th?) first draft–all 20 pages of it (Don’t tell my Muse I still haven’t started the next do-over; he’s gonna lock me in my writing office every day and stare at me until I write a thousand words. 😐 And he’ll probably hide my chocolate, too!).

Again with the help of my “sisters”, I’ve got a few tweaks to the plot that should solve some of the issues my subconscious kept niggling me about. I remember thinking a few things in particular didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t figure out why. I need to listen to that niggling, because it means somewhere in the ol’ gray matter my writer’s brain is paying close attention. Sure beats a two-hour detour (no, I’m not going to tell you how I missed a turn and ignored that little voice that kept telling me I should stop and turn around).

About that opening line/scene: don’t sweat it too much until you’ve got the first draft (and maybe second draft) finished. Seriously. And even though “they” (you know, all those more experienced writers and writing teachers) say the first line (or paragraph) should give the reader a sense of WWWWH, fine-tuning it can come after you’ve got the plot holes filled, the timelines in order, and the character arcs smoothed out.

You want to drop the reader into the middle of the action or at least some sort of goings on. No waking up and looking in the mirror or weather report unless it is pertinent and not boring or cliche. Even if you open with action, it doesn’t mean that’s the right action to open with. Case in point: when I workshopped my police procedural in a novel writers’ Master Class, I had an action-packed opening scene, or so I thought. My writing instructor guided me to make it better.

I wrote a new opening scene that keeps the gist of the action, but it now gives the reader a much better sense of the main character and the flavor of the story that follows. And it feels right. Or at least more right than the first one did.

The longer you practice writing, the easier it will be to recognize when the opening just isn’t “there”, and the better you will get at fixing it. Bottom line, if something feels off or wonky with the opening, it’s probably your writer’s brain (or muse) poking at you and telling you to try it again, because what’s there isn’t working. Listen to it.

Happy Writing Weekend!

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Recharging Creative Energies

 

from balcony

View from Julie’s balcony, Crystal River Inn B&B

*leans over balcony railing* “You bloody well owe me for this.”

“Yeah, yeah.” My writer yells from the yard. “I told you last weekend I wanted you to write the post while we’re here.”

“This is not part of my job description.”

My writer waves. “I’m going on the lake tour. You can catch up when you’re done.”

“You heard the part about owing me, love. Trust me, I will collect.”

Julie piles into the van with her fellow writing sisters without another wave.

So here I bloody am writing her blog post. Again. But this time it isn’t to be nice. Mercury is in retrograde, and damn it, my writer has an energy drain that’s been pulling her down since last weekend. She asked me to do this, but I agreed on one condition: she has to work on Book 2 every single day for the next month.

She blew her July NaNo. I’m ready to take bets on if she will manage to get 30k words done in a month. A thousand words a day. I’m ready to pull out all the stops on her.

You writers think we muses have it so good. You think all we have to do is sit on a shelf like some fecking holiday elf and you magically get inspired.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to figure out how to encourage your creative energies to kick around ideas and images in your head. And if that doesn’t work, like it isn’t working for my writer (damn it all to bloody hell and back), we have to gather it ourselves and shove it into you.

It’s like trying to collect sparks from a Roman candle and cramming them into your head like …  Trust me, it ain’t easy. It helps that the reunion is at such a quiet location, with a river running behind it. It gets my writer to open up to the energy, which makes my job a hell of easier.

Besides, I left my bullwhip and fedora at home. Hasn’t been working anyway. Now that Julie has finished the list of stuff she got from her editor (THAT wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be), she can focus on her next project. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to just sit by and wish the creative energy to infuse her.

No, I’m going to fecking channel the energy into her. I didn’t take that Muse refresher course for nothing. And I didn’t learn the rules so I wouldn’t break them. Besides, they’re more like guidelines…

Signing off, because I’ve got a Muse rule or two to break.

Get your arses writing!

crystal river


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We’re not related, but we’re Sisters

It’s that time of year again! Yep, it’s the end of July, my daughter just turned 18, and OMG, where did the summer go? I mean, it’ll be August in … eek. Wasn’t it just Memorial Day?

I’ve talked about my Writing Sisters before. We even had a panel at the Writers’ Institute this year. This coming week we’ll be meeting for our annual reunion/writing retreat. We added an extra day this year because we always seem to run out of time, especially if we want to do some writing on our own.

Our reunions are as much about catching up with each other’s lives as they are about writing. I’ve said it before: how often do six–now seven–women start out strangers and end up sticking together like we have?

Pretty sure it’s not very often.

We are a writers’ support system, studying writing and practicing the craft together, with a healthy dose of critiquing, brainstorming, and encouragement thrown in.

That’s not all. We learn about each other’s lives and struggles. We offer shoulders to lean on (yes, you can hum “Lean on Me” now 😀 ). We know the names of each other’s children, grandchildren, pets. We offer condolences and get well wishes when someone suffers a loss or illness in her family. We send birthday wishes and holiday greetings.

Hmm. Isn’t that what families do? We aren’t related, but we have become a family of sorts. Writing Sisters.

Writing is a solitary pursuit in many respects, but we all know we need at least one other person to help us see the things we cannot because we are too close to the story. We need at least one critique partner to help us revise. We hang with one or more other writers, either in real life or online, in the interest of improving our craft through constructive feedback and sharing of knowledge, a writing group that works for us in our pursuit of whatever writing goal we have, whether a memoir, a poetry collection, or a new series about a vampire version of Sherlock Holmes (yes, I went there 😉 ).

Where was I going with this? Hmm. Oh, yeah. If you don’t have a writing partner, see if you can find one, online or in real life. There are a number of FB groups, as well as other online groups like FanStory, WritersCafe, NaNoWriMo, and Scribophile, to name a few. In real life, check out independent bookstores, a local chapter of a national authors’ organization like Sisters in Crime or Romance Writers of America, or the local college English department.

If you find the right group or partner, you have an opportunity to connect with other writers who can help you improve your craft, and may become like family along the way.

Have a great weekend, and hey, get some writing done!


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It doesn’t seem real #mystery #amreading

It does, but it doesn’t. It’s the “is this really happening” feeling that makes you want to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming.

I sent my edits in, looked through the new paperwork my editor sent me, and stared, in dumbfounded silence, at a list of all the things I need to do before the book comes out. Yikes.

And I finally got a release, er, not really date, more like timeframe.

My debut novel, Murder in Plane Sight, is due to be released in March, 2019.

*silence*

*looks at list of stuff to do before release*

*more silence*

Ho-ly shit. How am I going to do this and work on Book 2?

*reviews mental list of writing friends that do it and shakes head in amazement*

A few days after I sent in the latest revision of my manuscript, I got the first mockup of the cover. Wow. Granted, I had mocked up a dummy cover with my own idea, so what they sent resembled the one I cobbled together, but to actually see it, with my name and the title and everything, makes this whole thing even more real.

A pair of hands weigh my shoulders down. Strong fingers squeeze reassurance. “This is where you wanted to go, love.” My Muse, standing behind me at my writing desk, leans over me and peers at my computer screen. “Remember your ‘100 things to do before I die’ list? Publish a novel is on there. Pretty high up on the list, too, if I recall.”

Going to Hawaii is on there, too, along with Germany. Checked those off a long time ago. “I know. It just … doesn’t feel quite real yet.” I turn in my chair to look up at him. “Where have you been? It’s, like, oh-my-god hot outside. No surfing?”

He leans back on my desk beside me, hands braced on the smooth wooden top. “I thought you said you were starting a NaNo project in July. The what, third or fourth ‘first draft’ of Book 2, right? I figure I’ll get you going on that. Besides, it’s hotter than the Amazon jungle out there.”

He’s right. The humidity index where I’m at in MN right now is higher than in the Amazon. Our local news has delighted in sharing that little tidbit. “I’m still working through the outline. And did you see this list?” I shove the list of tasks at him. “How am I going to do all that?”

A crooked grin eases across his face as he sets the list aside. “You know you already have some of it done.”

“The parts I have done aren’t what worry me. It’s all the other stuff I know I have to do, like a newsletter. And a press release.” It’s a good thing I bookmarked Staci Troilo’s posts about author media kits. “I’ve been paying attention to what the other authors I know are doing. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about it all. I don’t know how they do it.”

“One step at a time, love.”

“All while I’m working on Book 2? Time is the part I’m worried about.” And getting Book 2 written, revised, and polished for publication; I know that will happen sooner than I expect, because stuff like that always does.

“You’ll do fine. I’ll be sticking around; Mr. E is helping Mae with her new series, so he’ll be busy for quite a while yet.”

Not that it ever stopped him before from going on a pub crawl with my Muse. “It just doesn’t seem real. Not yet, anyway.”

“It will soon enough, love.”

Everything is moving forward. The line edit of the manuscript is next on the list, along with finalizing the cover. I’ve got a few suggestions before that happens. Once I have a cover, I’ll feel much more comfortable starting promotional stuff. All while working on Book 2–sheesh. So, I’m thinking a six-month sabbatical in a mountain cabin or on a tropical beach–wait, mountain cabin is probably better. No way to laze about in the sun there 😀

I also have to work on my website/blog, so at some point things will start to change here. Or get monkeyed up as I try to figure out how to do it. I’ve been paying attention to various posts by my writer friends about websites, and newsletters, and media kits, so I’ll be gleaning information. Thank you ahead of time to all those authors for discovering what works and what doesn’t, and sharing that knowledge with the rest of us.

I was happy to hear the release would be in March–that’s before the Writers’ Institute next year. I’ll be there, and I’ll be able to show off a real book this time. It’s a fantastic writers’ conference; if you’ve wanted to check out a conference but still aren’t sure, you can’t go wrong with the fun in Madison (except blizzards, but on the bright side, the blizzard during this year’s conference was the first one they’d ever had, in 29 years!). Save the dates! (psst, rumor has it they’ll have a super keynote speaker next year, so get on their mailing list for updates 🙂 )

Enjoy your weekend! And if your weekend is extended due to the holiday (in the US), enjoy the extra days. Stay cool and keep Writing!


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Look here–Born in a Treacherous Time Blog Hop Stop #amreading

Please welcome author Jacqui Murray, who is making the rounds with her new release, Born in a Treacherous Time.

BIATT

Title and author: Born in a Treacherous Time
Series: Book 1 in the Man vs. Nature series
Genre: Prehistoric fiction
Cover by: Damonza 
Available at: Kindle

I asked Jacqui a question to learn a bit about Lucy, her main character:

What one characteristic would you say allowed Lucy to survive in a world populated with Sabertooth Cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?

Really, with our thin skin, dull teeth, and tiny claws (aka fingernails), Lucy had no right to survive against the thick-skinned mammoth or tearing claws of the great cats of that time. But we did. The biggest reason: Even then, Lucy was a problem solver. She faced crises and came up with solutions. Where most animals spent their time eating and sleeping, Lucy had time left over. This, she used to solve problems.

 To me, that thoughtful approach to living, one no other animal exhibits, is why we came to rule the planet.

I’ve often wondered how people survived against those big prehistoric predators. Sounds like our bigger brains gave us the advantage!

Here’s a bit about the book (sounds like my TBR list is getting longer again!):

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

 Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

And an early reader review:

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

 “I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

 –Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Get in touch with Jacqui:

http://twitter.com/worddreams
http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher
http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray
https://worddreams.wordpress.com
https://jacquimurray.net


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Have you heard this writing tool?

No, I didn’t forget a word in the title. If you’ve been following this blog the past few weeks, you know that the past couple of months I was working on my manuscript for my editor. I sent my edits in last week–woo-hoo!

In the process of trying to make up for a nutso April when I didn’t get much editing done–but hey, I did get stranded in WI by a blizzard–I searched for anything to help me speed things up.

It’s easy to add a sentence or edit a whole paragraph, but sometimes I end up with a long convoluted sentence that should be split, or more than one way to “fix” something. Besides, if there’s something wonky, I’ll catch it when I proofread it, right? Like those awkward sentences that are grammatically correct, but just don’t flow. Or those two words that should be swapped, like “you were” and “were you”.

I use a few proofreading methods, like printing out the manuscript in a different font so it looks “fresh” to the eye, and reading the manuscript from the last page to the first page, which interrupts the brain’s tendency to anticipate what the next sentence should be (yes, it works, until the brain figures things out 😐 ).

As writers, we are too close to our work to really look at it objectively. That’s why leaving the manuscript sit for a few days to weeks is good; you gain a little distance from it. But I didn’t have a few days, much less a week, to let the story rest. And I printed out the manuscript once, but I didn’t have time to do it all over again. Besides, I was at my dad’s house.

Another thing I’ve heard about to help with the proofreading process is text-to-speech (actually, it’s reading the manuscript out loud, but no one said you had to do it yourself 🙂 ). There are a number of programs out there that will read what you’ve written. I tried a couple, one of which is Natural Reader, which I tested. I spent way too much time looking for something cheap. Yes, I know the online version of Natural Reader is free, and there is an iPad app, and maybe I’ll use it sometime, but I knew there had to be something included with Windows 8.1, with the whole accessibility thing and all.

So I looked it up. Turns out that Windows has a built-in voice that can read websites and stuff. And bonus, Microsoft Word (I use Scrivener to actually write, but I compile the manuscript for Word when I read through it) has a text-to-speech function. A-ha!

First, you set up the Narrator voice in Windows. I have Windows 8.1, but it should be the same process in Win10; you’ll have to do a search for text to speech. In the Control Panel, there is a Speech Recognition option. In there are the settings for the Narrator. Select the option for Text to Speech. TTS

Next, select the voice. There are only three options in my version: 2 American (male and female) and one British (female). I didn’t look to see if I could get any more; I just wanted something to read to me. I picked Zira, the American female voice. She just sounded nicer.

speech propertiesAdjust the voice speed. You can use the Preview button to hear the voice. Set the speed, then apply the settings with the OK button (I didn’t include that in my screenshot).

Next, I opened my Word doc. Do you know what the Quick Access toolbar is? It’s the tiny toolbar with the W icon for Word. It has the most used stuff on it, like Save and Undo. Mine is in the upper left corner above the menu bar.

menubar

You’ll have to customize the toolbar to make the Speak command available. (FYI, I have Word 2010, so the newer versions might be a little different. You should be able to use the Help to find the Speak command.) Click on the down arrow with the line above it on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar to open the toolbar’s menu.

word options

You’ll see the commands on the toolbar marked, but you need to add the Speak command. Select the More Commands… option way at the bottom.

Now this is a bit more involved. At the top of the left panel where it says Choose Commands From, change where it says Popular Commands (click on the down arrow) and change it to All Commands.

Then you will have to scroll (luckily the commands are alphabetical) all the way down to Speak. Select Speak, then click on the Add>> button. The Speak word moves from the left panel to the right panel. Click OK to finish.

word options2

Now you should have the Speak command easily accessible in the Quick Access toolbar.

menubar

All you have to do now is highlight a chunk of text and click the Speak button. Granted, it’ll only read about 700 words at a time no matter how many you select, but I found that is enough to hear the section, fix anything, and read it through again.

It’s not perfect, and it will spell some things out when it doesn’t know how to pronounce them, but I heard misspellings (“h-d-d” instead of “had”), missing words (rather, I didn’t hear the missing words 😀 ), and awkward phrases. The voice is a bit robotic, but it’s better than computer voices were 10 years ago. Even sounds more human than Stephen Hawking.

Anyway, I found the Speak command a huge help. I even heard it read character facts that were different than they were in an earlier chapter. For instance, my character started off wearing a sweatshirt, and two chapters later she was wearing a sweater. Same day, only hours apart, and no, she hadn’t gone home to change. I think I found and fixed more stuff because I heard it. And I think it helped that I wasn’t reading aloud myself, because I suspect you still miss stuff because you’ve gone through it so many times.

Anyway, sorry about the long post today, but I wanted to share this tool with you. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it so much I’ll spring for the Natural Reader. I’ve been thinking about Dragon Naturally Speaking as well (speech to text), but guess what? Windows and Word have something like that built in as well. I’ll test it out a bit to see if it could work for me before I drop money on Dragon. (BTW, Google also has a speech-to-text feature in Google Docs, so you can check that out, too).

Oh, and I have to share this. Last night my husband came in from outside (I was working on a photo board for my daughter’s grad party tomorrow) and said I had to see something. And bring a camera. This is what I saw.

zoey top of trailer 1

And where was she?

zoey top of trailer 2

We moved our current house onto the property twenty years ago, and while we were remodeling, we lived in a trailer house. Needless to say, the trailer is still on the property being used as storage right now. Don’t know how she got up there, but she did get down on her own. I suspect she used a tree.

Have a great weekend!


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WI 2018 — Remember the Joy

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Laurie Scheer’s Welcome

Aaaand, they’re off! It’s Laurie Scheer at the podium, welcoming writers to the 29th annual Writers’ Institute. Writers of many ages, many genres, from many different locations gather for a full weekend of things writing related.

Pssst. Hey, Laurie, what’s up with the lousy weather this year?

There were presentations on Thursday afternoon, but I waited until the official welcome on Friday to start my Writers’ Institute experience this year.

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Ann Voss Peterson

Our keynote speaker this year was a UW-Madison alum, Ann Voss Peterson, who brought along her Wonder Woman action figure. She’s written 49 novels and novellas, and is a writing partner of J. A. Konrath. She spoke on “A Writer’s Life”, and gave us a short list of tasks for every writer that I’m going to have to post somewhere.

She listed four characteristics of successful writers:

Openness to learning — keep learning the craft though classes, conferences, and reading books.

Willingness to work — don’t see it as “work”, see it as writing “practice”. Even professional athletes practice to be really good.

Willingness to take risks — yes, show your writing to other people, send out those queries, enter that contest.

Perseverence — yep. This was Hank Phillippi Ryan’s point in her keynote speech a couple years ago. Gotta keep moving forward.

She went on to remind us to define our vision of a successful writer’s life (p.s.: the most important thing in this vision should be to WRITE), that we should set goals that you can control, to connect with the writing community, and remember why you wanted to write in the first place.

Once you remember why you wanted to write in the first place, figure out how to make it concrete so you can remember the joy of writing. Her Wonder Woman reminds her of playing with action figures as a kid, and making up stories. When she needs to remember, she can take a few minutes to play with her action figures and reconnect with that joy.

We–my Writing Sister and I–did the “10 Clues to Writing Mysteries” presentation, which went well considering it was my first one. There were so many good presentations running at the same time that our room was pretty empty.

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The Writing Sisters panel

Our Writing Sisters panel also played to a sparse audience, but again, there were a number of great presentations going on at the same time. By giving other writers a peek into how our group works, we gave them ideas on building their own writing group, even if it’s only a writing partner to start.

Now, don’t tell my Muse, but I went to a presentation about growing your creativity, which included introducing a few new muses for writers. Aha-phrodite gives us the act of paying attention. Albert (Einstein) leads us to think and ask questions; he likes lists and putting 2 unlike things together to see what happens. The Spirit of Play helps us make our creative process more fun. And Audacity … Okay, I missed the notes on that one. Anyway, it was an interesting presentation. My takeaway: take time to pause and be grounded/centered.

Tomorrow is when the weather really starts moving in. Rain, wind, cold, and eventually freezing rain and snow. Sunday is supposed to be a snowstorm in both Wisconsin and Minnesota (MN’s starts tomorrow, with predicted snow from 6 to 10 inches), so I’m going to shelter in place until Monday.

It’ll give me some time to actually get some writing done. Or at least write down the plotlines my Writing Sisters helped me work out for Book 2. These past days with my Sisters have been fabulous, with all of us together again.

This weekend charges my writing energy battery. Now to ride that energy, and hopefully sustain it.

A hearty thanks to Laurie Scheer and her tireless second-in-command, Laura Kahl. Next year is number 30, and I think Laurie has me on her list, so I’ll be back again.

Remember the joy of writing, the excitement and wonder. Oh, and stay safe if you’re in the path of Old Man Winter, who needs to go back home and let Spring have the floor.