Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


29 Comments

And then it hit me

BAM! A brand new, never-before-imagined idea blasts through my brain.

Oh. My. Gawd.

Seriously? Is this real?

My Muse straightens to his full six foot-two height. If he leans forward, I think our foreheads would collide. “You have a problem with this, love?”

The storm is still rampant in my brain. Quick, I need a notebook. Damn. “Well, yeah. I mean, I should be working on Book 2. It’s NaNo, and my opportunity to re-draft …”

He rests a hand on my shoulder. “And how’s that been working for you?”

“Ahh, not well. I’m still not feeling it, but it’s only the first week.”

“Right. So, here you go.”

I shake my head and retreat to pace my writing office instead. “It’s a whole different genre. I haven’t written urban fantasy before. My agent doesn’t rep urban fantasy; the only fiction she reps is mystery. That’s a whole month of working on something that isn’t a genre my agent could rep. If I’m not working on Book 2, I should at least be working on my rural mystery.”

My Muse leans back against my desk, arms crossed on his oh-so-fine chest. “Uh-huh. You’ve been mulling that one for years. And you wrote that Irish contemporary fantasy. Some would call that urban.”

“Only because it wasn’t epic or traditional fantasy. I’ve still got an epic fantasy book I need to finish.” I can’t believe this. “I can’t spend thirty days writing something I haven’t thought about before. I don’t even know where I’d go with it. I’m not a pantser. At the very least I have to noodle on it for a while before I start writing anything. That’s thirty days I could–should–be working on Book 2, or my other mystery.”

“Other writers who write multiple genres often have multiple agents for the different genres. You know, a romance writer who also writes mysteries or fantasy. They have one agent for the romances and one for mysteries.”

I stop. Stare at him. “Not the point. It’s THIRTY FREAKING DAYS. I need to work on—”

“Don’t raise your voice, love. I’m standing right here.”

“Have you seen the urban fantasy market? You can’t go anywhere without tripping over a book about were-whatevers, or vampires, or gargoyles, or dragon-shifters, or hell, angels and demons. It’s saturated.”

“Uh-huh. And how far can you go before you hit a wall of mysteries? It’s the second biggest genre behind romance.”

“But there’s a ton of subgenres in mystery. Crime, noir, historical, cozy, detective, police procedural, oh my gawd. Lots of people read mysteries.” I start pacing again. “I can’t believe you did this.”

“You feel it though, don’t you? That pull. That burn to write. I know you do, love.”

Damn it. I hate it when he’s right. “That’s THIRTY DAYS I won’t be spending on the stuff I should be writing.”

He raises a finger. “Aha. Did you hear yourself? You said ‘should’ be writing. You should be saying ‘need’ to write. Hear the difference? Which story do you need to write?”

I shake my head. “The big thing now is diverse characters. I don’t write diverse, unlessย  you count strong female protagonists in non-traditional careers.”

“It’s got potential, love.”

I stop again, hands out as if offering my last suggestion. “I don’t even know what the freaking story is. I’ve got the first few lines. That’s it. I have no idea what happens next. I don’t even know who the main character is, much less the supporting actors or even the story goal. And first person POV? What the hell are you doing to me? I’ve got a contract obligation for Book 2.”

“I’m getting you excited for your project.”

I can’t spend thirty days writing something I have never thought about until just now.” Where’s my Night Fury conscience? Wait, no, where’s my book dragon? She can help me push back. Except she’d probably agree with him. “C’mon, I work full-time, plus sub at the library, plus the whole gotta-take-care-of-the-house thing before it turns into a hovel. I can NOT believe you’re doing this to me.”

He chuckles. I suppress an urge to slap that grin off his swoon-worthy face. “It’s my job, love, and you know it. So spend thirty days writing something different. It’s reignited the writing fire in you, right? You can’t wait to get home and get started.”

He’s right. Damn it, he’s right. I want to chase this idea. I want to sit down and start writing this, not help files for software. OMG, I’m going to be distracted by this all day.

“If you’re really good, maybe you can finish the urban fantasy and still work on Book 2 during NaNo.”

“ARE. YOU. INSANE?”

He blocks my path and locks me with his piercing blue gaze. “Are you a writer?”

Sonofabitch.

 

Advertisements


22 Comments

A Book Lover’s Tag

It’s a week before NaNoWriMo. Well, actually less than a week, but who’s counting? A few of my blogging friends have taken on a Book Lover’s Tag in the past couple weeks. Annika Perry, a wonderful blogger across the pond, kicked off the challenge to her readers. Another one of my blogging friends, D. Wallace Peach, took up the challenge and passed it along. Then, still another of my good blogging friends, Mae Clair, shared her response to the Book Lover’s Tag.

So, since I’m finishing up my “homework”, to be turned in to my publisher by November 1–which also happens to be the first day of NaNoWriMo–I figured I’d take the easy path to this week’s post, instead of boring you with my NaNo prep and my Muse’s stern, er, presence.

So, here we go:

still-life-teddy-white-read
Do you have a specific place for reading?

My favorite place is a recliner in our family room. If I’m drawn into the book, it doesn’t matter much what the rest of the family is doing. Barring that, I can read just about anywhere, like in a waiting room or in the break room at work.

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Bookmark, if I can find one. I’ve gotten some nice swag ones from some authors I know, and one of my writing sisters gave me a beautiful one. It’s almost too nice to use. If I can’t find a bookmark, then a random piece of paper will do.

Do you eat or drink whilst reading?

Yep. Eating or drinking while reading depends on the time of day. I like to read when I eat breakfast or lunch. I usually have a glass of water handy, or if it’s the right time, some craft beer. Or wine. And chocolate. Of course ๐Ÿ˜€

Music or TV whilst reading.

Boy, that’s a tough one. I prefer no TV, but since I do most of my reading in the family room, and my husband has this thing with having the TV on All The Time, I’ve learned to block it out. Which is pretty easy if I’m deep into the book. I can listen to music, but I’m just as comfortable reading in silence

One book at a time or several? book stack

I used to read several books at a time at a pretty good clip. I still read more than one book at a time, but at a far slower rate than I did before I started writing more. To speed things up (ha!), I do listen to audio books when I exercise, either running outside or on the treadmill.

Do you prefer to read at home or elsewhere?

I prefer to read at home, even though I will read other places. Home is where the cozy is ๐Ÿ˜€

Read out loud or silently?

Silently. I sometimes will read my own work out loud to hear any problems with the sentences.

open book

Do you read ahead or skip pages?

I only read ahead if I’m not drawn into the story, or the scene is dragging. You know, like, when is this scene going to be over and what’s in the next scene. If I’m sucked into the story, I just read faster ๐Ÿ˜€

Break the spine or keep it like new.

I don’t intentionally break the spine. I’m all about taking care of books.

Do you write in books?

OMG, no. Even non-fiction, no way. Wait. Nope, pretty sure no. Highlighting, yes, in non-fiction books.

What books are you reading now?

Hoo-boy. I’m into about four books right now, and a beta read. John Sandford’s Dark of the Moon, Lee Child’s Echo Burning (audio), D. Wallace Peach’s The Bone Wall, Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. Yikes. And these are between writing sessions. No wonder it’s taking me so incredibly long to read a book.

 

What is your childhood favorite book?

So many to choose from, depending on how old I was. I loved the Three Investigators books by Alfred Hitchkock; no Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew for me. And one book I remember in particular is Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. I wore my copy out. Anne McCaffery’s Pern books were favorites back when as well, and I still treasure them. Dragons! What’s not to love?dragonflightIsleOfBlueDolphins

What is your all-time favorite book?

Only one? Seriously? No way. Can’t pick just one. There have been so many books I finished and thought: “Wow. This is my new favorite book.”

Okay, okay. If I had to pick one book and only one book to take to a deserted island … I can’t. Arrgh. Noo. I can’t. I can list my favorites by genre. Yes, I think I can do that. My favorite fantasy series (see, I still can’t) is the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I tried to read J.R.R. Tolkein’s stuff, but I could only manage The Hobbit. Urban fantasy? Jim Butcher’s Dresden series, hands down. SciFi? The Pern books, of course. Crime mystery is J. D Robb’s In Death series.

Okay, enough. I can’t do it. Too many books, not enough time! New favorites might be on my TBR list, and I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

And there you have it. Tell me what your faves are.

Next week is NaNo kick-off. I’m pretty sure my Muse will be at his post to keep me motivated ๐Ÿ˜€ Have a great writing weekend!


19 Comments

Once upon an author #JohnSandford

As you may know if you’ve been stopping by for the past few weeks, even though my first book isn’t due out until 2019, I’m starting to do more prep work for that period when I finally have a cover, something real I can use to stir up interest before the book comes out.

You know, the scary stuff like author signings and meeting people.

I went to my first author signing (not my own ๐Ÿ™‚ ) last night. One of my wonderful sister-in-laws offered to come with me; she’s wanted to go to a signing, and this was a great opportunity. I missed William Kent Kreuger this past August, but John Sandford is another Minnesota mystery/thriller writer whose name I’m familiar with. I’ve started reading Sandford’s first Virgil Flowers book, and I’ve got the first Lucas Davenport waiting. (yes, I know the Davenport series came first, but Sandford’s latest book is a Flowers novel).

There’s a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that’s been around for decades. Their claim to fame is their support of local (read: Minnesota) mystery writers. Any MN mystery/thriller author knows about Once Upon a Crime.

onceuponacrimelogo

Disclaimer: I wanted to go in order to talk to the proprietor about setting up my own signing or maybe book launch. You know, ask how far in advance I’d need to contact them to schedule it. John Sandford was a bonus ๐Ÿ™‚

This area of Uptown is within blocks of a couple of Minneapolis’ lakes, namely Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. It’s also my sister-in-law’s old stomping grounds. She pointed out where she used to live, where her husband used to live when they were still dating, and the tennis courts and walking path she used to frequent–which we walked–around Lake of the Isles.

I’m glad she came along. Driving in that area was, well, interesting. The Lowry Hill area is made up of mansions, cool old houses that make you wonder what the original builders did for a living. If you like architecture of that sort, it’s a great place to go.

The streets were narrow. As in, if there are cars parked on both sides, which there were (and don’t get me started on how the hell people could actually parallel park like that), there was barely enough room for two cars to pass between them. More than once I thought my SIL (who drove) would scrape a layer of paint from her car.

The bookstore is cozy. As in the realitors version of “cozy” (you know, small). We got there about 10 minutes before John Sandford was scheduled to start, and it was standing room only. There must have been forty, maybe fifty people there; I couldn’t see around the corner in the store to know how many there were.

OUAC 2OUAC 1

All around the room above the bookshelves were those enlarged book covers left (and some signed) by mystery authors. And books! (well, duh, it’s a bookstore) Mystery/thriller/suspense books by everyone from C. J. Box to Jim Butcher (Harry Dresden) (huh? I was surprised by that one) to John Sandford. But no Patterson.

You heard me. No John Patterson books. Nope, don’t know why, but I suspect Patterson has so many that if they did carry his books, there wouldn’t be room for anyone else.

John showed up a little late, reminding us how horrendous the parking situation is in that area (I wondered if he found the parking spot reserved for him on the side of the building).

OUAC 3

He spoke a little about the new Virgil Flowers book just released, Deep Freeze, then opened the floor for questions. People had some great ones, including what his plans were for not only Flowers and Davenport, but some of his other side characters, like Kidd.

It was a great session. Sandford, 73, was candid and a joy to listen to. Hey, did you know Jonathan and Faye Kellerman live, like, four doors down from John and his wife? They get together regularly for dinners and such. And in case you were wondering, he expects his new house to be done by Christmas–2019. He did recommend Mick Herron in particular when someone asked what authors he reads (and he doesn’t read women authors much).

I enjoyed the evening, and learned a few things about both John Sandford (he used to deliver mail in Wayzata back in the day) and his fans, who asked interesting questions like who his favorite characters were and if it was easy to kill off a major supporting character. He said he was planning to kill Lucas’ wife off, and the whole room gasped. Then he said he just made it a really bad accident instead (because his publisher said he couldn’t kill her). The room let out a sigh of relief.

I’m planning to attend a few more signings there, and my SIL is game for more. If she hadn’t been there, I would’ve been a basket case driving in that area. The narrowness of the streets would’ve been my undoing (I mean, besides the one-ways and unfamiliarity with the area). I’m not claustophobic, but I’m not good when it comes to getting within inches (centimeters?) of parked cars. Yikes!

Rainy day today, so I’m planning to finish reading through my manuscript and starting the few revisions I noted. The manuscript is due on November 1, the day I’ll start NaNoWriMo this year. Hopefully that’ll kick me out my slump.

Have a great writing weekend!


26 Comments

Outside a Writer’s Comfort Zone

Raise your hand if you’re a writer. *hands raise*

Now, raise your hand if you don’t like crowds, or being in new places with new people, or are uncomfortable outside your home territory, or will take any opportunity to not drive to the nearest metropolitan area so you don’t have to fight city traffic, even if your favorite author is having a signing there.

*hands raise and wave*

Thought so. Writers have a tendency to be less outgoing, more focused on a smaller portion of the world at large where they are comfortable, like the hometown they grew up in or the neighborhood where they know the people living on their block. We’re introverts. Writing is a mostly solitary pursuit. I say mostly because we all know that at some point we need the help of a critique partner or a writing group.

With the advent of the Internet (Yes, there was a time when the Internet did not exist, and people had to call on a telephone that had an actual cord, or write letters by hand and mail them, or meet face to face if they wanted to communicate with each other.), it’s easier to connect with other people from the comfort of your own home.

It’s a good thing, because finding a writing group might be a challenge where you live. Finding a writing group online is much easier, and you don’t ever have to meet in person. You might not be able to if members are scattered around the world.

If your goal is to be published, and hope readers outside your immediate and extended family want to read your work (even better, to pay to read your work), there’s a lot of value in meeting people face to face. It’s called networking, and we all know the more people who know you and your writing exist, the higher the probability that someone you don’t know will want to read your work.

*din of mumbles about having to meet people rises*

Hey, if you want to go anywhere in this business, you’ve got to get your name out there. And to do that, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone.

*gasps fill the air*

Yes, I’m serious. That means finding places where readers gather, like libraries and bookstores (hey, no thinking about how many books you can buy. You’re trying to convince other people to buy your book). It also means leveraging the work other writers and organizations have done to connect with people who want to read stuff in your genre, whether it’s kids’ books, poetry, or even non-fiction.

My first book isn’t due out until 2019, and I haven’t even talked to my editor yet, but I know now is the time to work on connecting with readers who might want to read my book. You know, before I’m working against deadlines.

This week I went to my first local Sisters in Crime meeting. Sisters in Crime (SinC) is a national organization of mystery writers, with local chapters around the country. I’ve known about the Twin Cities chapter for years, but I’ve never been to a meeting before this week because of that whole driving in the big city thing. Turns out the area where they meet is a nice little residential area close to Minnehaha Park (yes, that Minnehaha, the one Longfellow wrote about in the Song of Hiawatha).

The first thing that surprised me was the number of members. I’d guess there were at least thirty people there. Many of the members, like Julie Kramer and Ellen Hart, are award-winning mystery writers. Maybe some of that will rub off on me!

I don’t have a cover, or a release date, or even a for-sure title, but I know by taking advantage of these events and going to meetings, that is, getting out of my comfort zone, I’ll be laying the groundwork for marketing when I need it. The Twin Cities SinC has connections, and their name shows up on lists of library guests and other events. They have something going on every week for the next month and a half, including a huge reader/writer event coming up at the state fairgrounds, a number of guest panels at libraries, and a new event planned at a local Barnes & Noble that includes some big-name writers (no Patterson or King, but Chuck Logan and PJ Tracy, among others).

It’s not just groups like SinC, either. Any venue that supports and promote authors, like libaries and bookstores, is a link in the networking (and marketing) chain. In order to take advantage of their resources, I need to get out of my comfort zone.

Scary, yes. And even more scary to an introvert is being on a panel at a writing conference where people are watching you, and listening to you, and you have to pretend you know what this writing thing is all about. And here’s the crazy scary part: I’m presenting a session at a writers’ conference that I proposed by choice.ย 

What?!

Yes, I know that means I’ll have to speak in front of an audience. And yes, it kind of freaks me out that I sent in a proposal at all, but it’s the best writers’ conference in the upper Midwest, as far as I’m concerned.

What the hell were you thinking?

Networking.

You can’t network if you don’t get out there and meet people. Sure, you can do a lot of networking through the blog-o-sphere, Facebook groups, and other online writing groups, but what about all the people who don’t have eyes on the Internet. All. Day. Long. They exist. I’ve seen them.

It’s uncomfortable, I get it. But it’ll be beneficial to your career as a writer in the long run. Start by going to author events and signings. Maybe check around for a writers’ panel at a local venue. Get used to being out of your comfort zone. Then you can start actuallyย talking to people. Yes, it’s okay. Ask a fellow attendee what they liked about the author’s book. Ask them what they like to read. People like to talk about stuff like that.

Then talk to the author who is speaking, signing, or on a panel. Ask how they went about getting the event set up. Talk to the people who organized the event. Tell them who you are, what you write, and ask about setting up an event of your own.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is once you get going. It’s that first step that’s the hardest.

Rainy weekend in my neck of the woods, so I’m going to write. Really. I mean it this time.

Have a great weekend!


13 Comments

Good intentions gone where?

I check the calendar hanging on the wall beside the whiteboard in my writing office. Tomorrow is October.

October? Already? Holy speeding month, Batman!

And how much did I get done writing-wise? Not 50k words, that’s for damn sure. Did I get through my edits? Hell, no. I canned over 50 quarts of tomatoes, and I’ll probably have to do one more batch. I subbed at the library for my daughter twice a week all month. And got her tech registration and Chromebook for school (yeah, almost 3 hrs of standing in line). And procrastinated on my self-imposed NaNo.

Sigh.

A squeak from the desk chair interrupts. I turn. My Muse leans back in my chair, shakes his head. “You’re pathetic, love.”

“Hey, I’ve been busy all freaking month. I’ve got half of my edits done.”

Your edits, which are minimal. You don’t even know what your editor is going to want.” He gets to his feet, the chair squeaking again in protest. I need to find some WD-40 for that.

“I’ve been doing stuff. I’m starting to plan my marketing and promo. I even registered a web domain. Now I just have to figure out how to switch over from my WordPress domain to my registered one. And I’m going to the local Sisters in Crime monthly meeting next week. My sister-in-law said she’d go to Once Upon a Crime with me. John Sandford is going to be there in a few weeks.” I should read a few of his books before then. I mark the dates on the calendar. It’s the tip of the iceberg.

“I can’t do a whole lot yet. I don’t even have the final title. My publisher might want to change it. And I’m so far behind in reading blogs that my blogging friends probably think I ghosted them.”

He leans against my desk, arms crossed on that fine chest of his. “You need to get your shit together and you know it. Marketing stuff, sure, but what were you going to work on this month? Oh, yeah, the second book in the series.”

“It’s drafted,” I protest. “It needs major work, but at least it’s drafted.”

“Uh-huh. And what about your other book, the one your agent said has potential but needs work? You haven’t even gotten through all her comments. When are you going to work on that one? And you’ve got paperwork to fill out for your publisher.”

“That’s more marketing and promo stuff. I need to brainstorm on that. I’ve got other marketing stuff I’m working on, too. There’s been a lot of good blogs posts lately on promo stuff. And networking. I’m going to do a session on writing mysteries at the Writers’ Institute next spring.”

“That’s not until spring.” He straightens, adjusts the fedora that appears out of nowhere, then sets his hands on his hips. I try not to notice the bullwhip now hanging from his belt. “When are you going to write, love?”

It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself. I’ve had something going on after work almost every day this month. There’s been a little time, but I don’t want my family to think I’m totally disconnected. And sure, I have an awesome writing office in my imaginary writing paradise, but in real life, a recliner in the bedroom has lost its appeal. I’ve started planning a takeover of my son’s room. Even though he doesn’t come home all that often while school’s in session, he’s still got a lot of stuff in his room.

“The tomatoes are almost done, so I won’t have to pick and can those. Tennis is almost over, so my daughter will be able to work her shifts at the library again. I’ll have time.”

My Muse approaches, stops inches from me. “You will make time, love. No more muse pub crawls until you get your shit together, so don’t think I’m going to give you any breaks. You are going to write.”

“I’ve got to do promo …”

His finger poking my chest cuts me off. “You’ve got to write. And my job is to make sure you do it. Got it?”

Gulp. “Got it.”

Yeesh. He’s right, though, as usual. I think things will quiet down a bit; they always do about this time of year. So, butt in chair, hands on keyboard. I can do this. I’ve done it before. Deep breath.

You know what I’ll be doing this weekend. Mostly. I’ve got grass to mow around the garden so I don’t need a machete to get to the raspberries.

“I’m still here, love. Why is your butt not in that chair?”

Dammit. Okay, gotta go. Have a great writing weekend!


61 Comments

A gathering of muses

A newspaper lays across my desk in my writing office, but it isn’t any newspaper I recognize. It’s not the local Enterprise or Hub. It’s called the Inspiration. The headline reads: “First Annual Muse Gathering”.

Hmmm. Why do I have a funny feeling about this?

Before I can read the article, my Muse sweeps into the office and swipes the paper from my hands. “Hey, I was reading that.”

He folds the newpaper and tucks it under his arm. “Don’t bother. It’s boring.”

Then I notice his attire. No worn jeans here–the ones he’s wearing look like they came fresh from the indigo dye factory. And is that a silk shirt? It’s a rich maroon that adds a little color to his complexion–not that I’m complaining. Oh, no. Sooo not complaining.

“Ah hem. Earth to Julie.”

Ahhh, yeah. “Where are you going? Is that really a silk shirt?”

“I’m going out. Mr. E is picking me up.” He points to my laptop with the paper. “And while I’m out, I want you to write.”

“Out? With Mr. E? Mae’s on a deadline. How can Mr. E go on a pub crawl? And you never dress like that for a pub crawl. What kind of pubs are you planning to hit?”

He waves the paper in my direction. “Doesn’t matter, love. You need to write. You’re falling behind.”

I snatch the paper from him and zero in on the front page. “Are you kidding me? Since when do you guys all get together in the same place?”

He swipes the paper from me and points to the headline. “Since now. See. First.”

“So who else is going on this muse party bus? And do you really think aย silk shirt is a good idea?”

“There’s no smoking in pubs anymore, love. Not here, anyway. There’ll be a half dozen of us or so. D’s mercenary muse,ย A’s Moka and her cousin, G’s muse“–he counts off on his fingers–“she’s pretty broken up, but she’s going even though her ex will be there. P’s muse, muse Brad, and C’s muse Lorelei said she might meet us. She’s looking for a new pumpkin beer for her author.”

Man, there’ve been a lot of muses showing up in the blog-o-sphere lately. “So, the fancy clothes are for what? Planning to sweet-talk some Moka?”

He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “No worries, love. I’ll be back before last call.” He plants a kiss on my forehead. “But you are cute when you’re jealous.”

I shove him away. “I’m not jealous. They’re muses.”

He chuckles and tosses the paper onto my desk before heading to the door. “I want to see words, love.” He points to my laptop. “Get to it.”

Ugh. He’s right. Real life’s been invading my writing brain. School starts for my daughter on Monday, and the new/remodeled school isn’t nearly ready. Hey, hang on. That coiled bullwhip wasn’t on my chair before.

Okay, I can take a hint. He’s out whooping things up, and I’m here. Well, at least I’ve got some craft beer and chocolate. That should last me for a while.

Happy writing!


15 Comments

Retreat Recap

It’s been almost a week since I said goodbye to my Writing Sisters. Man, that was a great weekend! Great atmosphere, great scenery, great food, and best of all, great company!

Last week’s post hit the Internet before we settled in for our all-day session. We spent all day Saturday going over our exchanged pages. I thought I’d give you an idea of the types of things we help each other with, like plot, characters, and pacing.

We do a round table (sometimes literally; the coffee table at the B&B was a wagonwheel with a glass top–yes, a real wheel, with the hub sticking up though the glass), and randomly choose one victim–er, I mean, one project to start with. My project was the first 4 chapters (approx. 20 pages or so) of my small-town mystery WIP.

The feedback I got was priceless: The main character is a little flat. Love the setting. Love the old farmer neighbor, but the MC has to be more familiar with him. Felt like I was right there in the house. Why doesn’t she want the house if her father worked on it–it’s all she has left of him, so why is she resisting? I thought the great-aunt was alive. I miss the energy of your other character [in the project my agent is shopping].

Then the suggestions, again, invaluable: What if the great-aunt is still alive? The MC needs to have a closer connection to the great-aunt. You could have the great-aunt work on the mystery with the MC. What about the story you told last night [at the restaurant while we were waiting for our meal]? What if you used that?

Click. That’s it.

The story I told at dinner the night before was one I heard from my BFF from high school (I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say it involved a nursing home, a volunteer, and a suspicious death). Our mentor always reminds us of a few important things to keep in mind: a) need to draw the reader into the story right away, b) the reader has to care about the MC right away, and c) (for mysteries) there has to be a dead body in the first 20 pages (or at least the first 10-15%) of the book.

I have a dead body in the first sentence–the story is about solving a 70-yr old murder–but if I could get a more recent dead body (recent as in less than 70 yrs ago), it would ratchet things up. To draw the reader in, I can play up the mystery, make it more important to the MC, and give the antagonist a stronger motive to keep secrets buried. To do that, I need to make the relationship between the MC and her great-aunt tighter. And by using elements from the story I told at dinner, I can crank up the threat to the MC.

Mwahahahaha. Have you ever felt like a mad scientist?

I’ve got a plan to revise the story, and I know the story will be much stronger after incorporating suggestions from my writing sisters. We look at each person’s story in the same way: Do/Can we care about the MC? What does s/he want? Does the plot make sense? Does the MC behave the way we think s/he should? Are there enough questions to lure the reader on? What’s the story goal (one of our mentor’s favorites ๐Ÿ™‚ )? Why does the MC do/not do this?

It’s like a writing class: we point out story elements that work or don’t work, and suggest changes to make the story better. Another big aspect of our group: we trust each other. If you’ve ever been in a writing group or critique group, trust is huge. If you can’t trust someone’s suggestions, then it’s a waste of time (which is why I don’t let my husband read any of my stuff–he’s not a writer and doesn’t read unless it’s a maintenance guide (BTW, I envy everyone who has a significant other who can read a draft or WIP and give you valid observations that help you improve your writing. Just sayin’.)).

We review everyone’s projects, even our mentor’s project. We care about each story, each MC, each strong supporting character. The process takes all morning, then a break for lunch, then we finish up in the afternoon before breaking for dinner. We are fueled by mutual encouragement, creative ideas, and chocolate.

We didn’t get much opportunity to work on our own stuff this time, so we decided to add an extra day to our reunion next year. That should give us some time to revise with the suggestions in mind, and still get a little feedback to make sure we’re on the right path.

Of course, after five days away, I returned to a garden filled with prolific weeds, lots of green beans, and monster zucchini despite assigning garden duty to my daughter. The chickens appreciated the huge zucchini and overinflated cucumbers, I picked a few very nice beets, and found these cherry tomatoes, the first of the season:

IMG_0883

And yes, they were yummy! We’ve trapped about 8 chipmunks so far, at least one of which stole my first ripe regular tomato (I went to pick the tomato, and half was eaten. Damn chipmunks!). Happened with the second tomato, too. So, we relocate the critters a few miles away on the other side of a creek. Now I’m waiting impatiently for the next ripe tomato. I’ve got bacon stocked for BLTs ๐Ÿ˜€

Enjoy one of the last weekends before school starts (which means summer is almost over–eek!). Happy writing!