Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Introvert much? #amwriting #amrevising

Summer Solstice this week!

So as I’m trying to figure out what to write for this post, I keep thinking about the writerly part of my life. Writing and revising, sure, but there is a lot more to “being” a writer.

I think most writers are introverts. We’re so much more comfortable huddling at home with our notebooks, pens, and computers than we are at in-person events like book fairs, writing conferences, and writer/reader conventions.

Okay, that last one comes from knowing that Bouchercon, THE mystery writers/readers convention, is being held in Minneapolis this year. This convention is to all flavors of the mystery genre as Comi-con is to comic books, sci-fi, and superhero stuff. Well, we don’t dress up as our favorite characters … of course, our favorite characters aren’t blue, or wear robes with light swords, or have pointy ears, and we usually don’t debate which Spiderman or Batman actor was the best.

As writers, the craft is our focus. One thing writer conventions have is the opportunity to expand our knowledge of the craft. Is it enough for introverted writers to venture out and gather with hundreds of other writers? Eh, maybe. But hundreds?? The thought alone is enough to keep an introvert at home where it’s nice and quiet.

If we’re serious about getting that elusive book deal or pulling the trigger on self-publication, we know the whole introvert-stay-at-home-away-from-people thing isn’t going to cut it. Not only do we have to sell our books somehow, but one thing that can help on the book-selling front is a blurb from an author who is better-known than you are.

And that’s one of the things that should inspire writers to get out and meet other writers. It’s actually the most fun part of conventions, if you ask me. Talking to other writers–what’s more fun for a writer than talking about writing with someone who enjoys it as much as you do? Yes, being a member of a writers’ group like Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America is good for access to other writers in the same genre, but meeting them in person?

Granted, you probably won’t be meeting James Patterson or Michael Connelly or Lee Child, but you could meet Brian Freeman or William Kent Kreuger. Or Kellye Garrett. Or Rachel Howzell Hall. Kellye, by the way, is an amazing people person. And Kent is one of the nicest people.

Yes, I know William Kent Kreuger. Check out his Cork O’Connor series.

I can hear you say it: Sure, but all those people! I can’t do crowds like that!

Neither can the rest of us. But for four days we can hang out and meet people. Why? It’s called “networking”. When my book 2 is ready (soon 🙂 ), I can ask authors I know personally for a blurb. Doesn’t mean they’ll give me one, but knowing them personally gives me an advantage over someone they’ve never met.

Blurbs aren’t the only reason to network. Knowing someone who knows someone is valuable! Looking for a cover designer? Check in with that author you met at Left Coast Crime who has amazing covers and ask who they use. Looking for an editor? Ask around for recommendations. How about reviewers? Again, ask around.

And when you join a group of authors who are rebooting a local “meet the author” series, knowing someone like William Kent Kreuger or Matt Goldman or Brian Freeman is gold. Nothing like getting a NYT-bestselling local author to help the visibility of an author-reader venture!

More on that to come. In the meantime, stay cool this week (it’s going to be ugly-hot in most of the country for the next week or so) and keep writing!


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So, how did the event go? you ask #mnwriters

Fellow SinC author Barb Deese and myself

Last week I went to my first in-person event. I went as a representative of our local Sisters in Crime (SinC) chapter, and my fellow author and our chapter’s Member-at-Large joined me to man the booth while I was in my panel and when I was doing my workshop.

There weren’t as many people there as in the past. Small wonder. There were more, though, than there would have been if a couple of the local news stations hadn’t come by. A number of people said they came by because they saw it on the news.

Anyway, didn’t sell much (low traffic), but the panel and my workshop went well. Our panel was about women protagonists, and we did the panel as our newly-formed group, the Midwest Mystery Works.

MIdwest Mystery Works: (r to l) Chris Norbury, Brian Lutterman, moi, Bob Junghans (writes as Rob Jung). Missing: John Baird Rogers

We’re testing the waters as a group of mystery writers, hoping the logic of numbers will work on our favor (more brains, more ideas, more opportunities, hopefully). Of the five of us in the group, four of us have female protagonists, so it was a good panel. It was really interesting to hear the guys talk about writing from the POV of a woman and the considerations they have to be conscious of that I don’t have to think twice about.

My workshop, 10 Clues to Writing Mysteries, was well-attended: about a dozen people give or take, pretty good considering the attendees paid $15 for each session. My SIL was one of the room monitors, and she shared that the evaluations rated the workshop pretty high. And I have no idea what that means in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think I sold any additional books because of it, but I do think we gained a few new members of our SinC chapter.

All in all, it was a good day. A long day for sure, but a good day. It was so good to see some of my author compadres in person again. In a couple–EEK! Okay, how about a week and a half or so until I head to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime. Here’s hoping it isn’t cut short like San Diego. I’ll be on a panel, and moderating a panel for the first time. I had a great time in San Diego for the one day I was there, so I’m looking forward to (hopefully) four days of fun with writers and readers.

Needless to say, since I’m trying to read a book from each of the four authors on the panel I’m moderating, I haven’t been writing as much as I should be. Still waiting on a couple beta readers, but darn it, if I don’t hear back from them by the end of the month, I’m sending the manuscript off to my agent anyway.

After a couple gorgeous early spring days last week, we’re back to 30s and maybe 40. Ugh. It even snowed the other day, just a coating, but still. Hope you are all enjoying spring where you are (and fall, for those south of the equator). Keep on writing!

Who’s waking me up?


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Doing the shuffle #amediting #amrevising

While I’m waiting to hear back from a couple beta readers (heck, I even drafted another couple readers because my current ones have gone AWOL on me–you know who you are), I’ve been working on my police procedural, the one I set aside for a few years while I shifted my attention to Murder in Plane Sight (shameless plug 🙂 ).

I read it for the first time in years, and now see the problem with it–well, one of a few problems, anyway. It’s not balanced. The first half is mostly character development, while the action happens in the second half. Not the way to construct a mystery (hey, I think I’ve learned a few things over the past few years! 😀 )

So, I wrote each scene on an index card, and used those to rearrange the scenes. Some people do it completely on the computer, and I started doing that with Scrivener since I write in Scrivener, but I think it’s easier to actually shuffle physical cards around. I also think it’s easier to see more of the whole picture–dining room table vs laptop screen.

So I played “shuffle the scenes” this week, and I think I’ve got things balanced now. Now comes the fun part: sure, I rearranged the scenes, but each scene has to be revised so it fits into the new flow. Luckily the first few scenes and the last few scenes are fine as they are. It’s just the middle 50% that needs work. Kinda like all those books between the bookends that you want to rearrange by title, author, spine color, or size. Okay, not really, but you get the gist.

I’ve got my first in-person event next weekend–yippee! I’ll get to see some of my fellow Sisters in Crime buddies in real life! I did see some of them in person last fall, but I’ll see a few others outside of a small rectangle on a screen. And my sister-in-law is part of the group that organized the writers’ festival, so I’ll get to see her for the first time in a couple years as well.

And the Solstice is only a week away! Tough to tell with the below-zero wind chills yesterday. I think the “feels like” temp was somewhere south of zero despite the air temp being in the low 20s. Sure felt like January. Crossing my fingers that Old Man Winter is ready to call it a season and let Spring get her fingers in things. I am so done with winter; this year has been colder than average since Jan.

It’s tax season–ugh, and my class is back in session–boo, and the dust bunnies are starting to follow me around the house, so I’ve got a few things on my list, not to mention a couple more books to read before Left Coast Crime in April. I am so ready for my personal writing retreat in May!

Hope you are all staying warm (for those in the way of winter storms and this lovely cold we’ve been enjoying here in MN). Happy St. Patrick’s Day early! Keep on writing!

Nap time for Zoey


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Writer to writer: POV #amwriting

I promised a writing craft post this week, which I haven’t done for a while. See, this is what happens after the garden is done and we get a foot–yes, a FOOT–of snow over the course of one day. No worries on the snow, though. It’s supposed to be close to 50 degrees F this week. It’s just those days until then …

I’ve been doing more reading lately than I have for a long time, trying to clear off some of the entries on my TBR list. Pretty sure I haven’t made a dent, though.

Anyway, I was reading a book a couple weeks back that got me thinking about POV. Raise your hand if you remember the last time you read a book written in 3rd person omniscient. I mean, that was written this century.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I haven’t read omniscient for, shoot. Hmm. Agatha Christie? Most books I’ve read are in 3rd limited, 3rd deep, or 1st person. I write in 3rd deep (or try to), and I have written in 1st person, but 3rd omniscient? Tagged onto that is tense. Most books I’ve read are written in past tense (“I dashed up the stairs”, or “He eased around the corner”), a very few in present tense, usually in 1st person present (the Divergent books), rarely in 3rd person present.

I think writers choose POV depending on 1) how comfortable they are writing it, and 2) how deep they want to pull readers into the character(s).

In first person POV the reader gets the story, both the feel and the plot, from only one character, as if they themselves were in the character’s head looking through character’s eyes. Add present tense, like in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and the reader experiences the story “in real time”. Even with past tense, the reader is right there in the action. Can’t get any closer than that.

Yes, I know there is 2nd person POV, but you don’t see it much in fiction. I write in 2nd POV for my job as a tech writer. Just sayin’. Moving on …

Third person deep or limited POV takes the reader another step back from the action. It’s like first person without being first person. You’re deep into the character; not looking through their eyes, but pretty close, like you’re in a mind meld with them, but not them. The reader still only knows what that one character thinks and feels. Is third person limited the same? I used to think so, until I read an article about it. There is a difference, but I don’t remember what it is. I think it has to do with how much the narrator pops in to describe or explain things, but don’t quote me.

Then there’s 3rd omniscient, the “god” view. This puts the reader into the story, but not into any one character, so they can see and feel all the action and get the feels of all the characters in the scene without being limited to one POV character. It’s the most “distant” POV. Because of that, I think it would be tough to draw the reader into the story unless it’s a very compelling story. It’s one reason I don’t write it.

So, back to the books. I read Laurie Buchanan’s Indelible. I know Laurie from the Writers’ Institute, so of course she’s on my TBR list. What first struck me is the book is written in 3rd omniscent, present tense. Yes, present tense, which brings the reader closer to the action than past tense. The characters and the plot were intruguing, and even though I knew from the beginning who the bad guy was (omniscient, remember), I cared enough about each character to follow them through an intriguing story that had enough surprises to keep me interested.

Before that, and after that, the books I read were written in 1st person, past tense. A LOT of urban fantasy books are written in 1st person (in fact, I can’t think of any off the top of my head that are not in 1st POV), which is what I’ve been reading a lot of lately. However, I did read Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things, written in 1st person, past tense from the viewpoint of an adolescent girl in the 80s. Again, I tried to pay attention to how the book was written, and why the character drew me into the story.

As I was reading each of these books, the writer in me kept asking “why”. What compelled me to keep reading? Why did I feel close to the characters in 3rd omniscient?

With the 3rd omniscient, it was partly the present tense, which brings the reader closer to the story than past tense, and partly the voice. Oh, don’t forget the setting: an idyllic writing retreat in Oregon! If it really exists, I wanna go there!

With the 1st person, it was the POV, but again, the voice. It wasn’t just seeing the setting and story through the POV character’s senses, but the voice of that character, and how she described things, and the secrets she knew but never came out and said (hence, the title, Unspeakable Things).

Voice. That thing we writers always hear, but have a hell of a time trying to define. It’s that something about a writer that lets us recognize an author’s work as theirs rather than someone else’s. We are told we need to “find our voice” in our writing. It’s maddening, because no one ever really tells us how to do that outside of “just keep writing. You’ll develop it”.

So helpful … not. Far be it from me to give anyone advice on finding their voice, because I’m still searching for mine. Anyway, maybe I’ll delve into that a little next time.

Or I’ll bail and make my Muse write the post 🙂

Anyway. Gotta slog through a foot of snow to check on the chickens, so I’ll spare you more ramblings. Just think, in less than two weeks the days start getting longer again! Yay for the Winter Solstice!

Happy Writing!


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Unreliable narrators and reader expectations #amreading

someone reading a book

We’ve all heard the term “unreliable narrator”. It’s what we call a character we can’t trust to tell us the truth of the story. Sometimes we don’t see the “unreliable-ness” of that narrator right away (or maybe it’s just me 😉 ), but sometimes we see it becuase a different POV character sees the world of the story in a way that feels more accurate.

Narrators can be unreliable for many reasons, from simple naivete to a highly-biased view of the world due to a mental or behavioral condition. Think multiple-personality disorder or sociopathic characteristics. Or maybe they are so jaded by their life that reality is always distorted through their lens.

I haven’t written an unreliable narrator (not intentionally, at least), but I do have characters who behave a certain way because they see the real world through a filter woven from the cloth of their life experiences. They don’t narrate, but POV characters interact with them, and their slant on the world comes through that way.

Needless to say, I haven’t read many books in which the POV character is an unreliable narrator, so I’m not familiar with how those stories work out in the end. I’ve just read a story in which one of the POV characters is unreliable in a big way, but the reader learns this early on. Once I realized the character couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth of the world the way it was, but only the way she saw it, I expected the story to work out a certain way.

Did it? Well, yes. Sort of. It was good for conflict and tension. There was the inevitable “is that really how it happened, or is that just how the character remembers it” question each time the character’s story was told from someone else’s perspective. This led to the question of a different character’s true nature. Is he really abusive, or does she just see him that way? Was her child truly sick, or was there some sort of Munchausen syndrome by proxy going on?

Which adds up to a story fraught with questions and conflict and tension. A good story overall, but at some point, I disliked the unreliable narrator so much I didn’t care what happened to her at the end. I did care about other characters and how the unreliable character’s actions affected them.

Even with the unreliable character’s potential redemption at the end of the story, I felt unsatisfied. I did see opportunities to strengthen other threads that would affect other characters a bit more, threads that could reflect facets of the unreliable character’s story and thus put more pressure on the character(s) I did like, but that part didn’t happen the way I expected. If the author had pushed that angle a bit more, would it have made the story better or worse?

As a beta reader and fellow author, how do I critique the story? If I hand the story to someone else who reads more books with unreliable narrators than I do, would the story meet their expectations?

Writing is subjective, as are all creative endeavors. There is no doubt the author is skilled. It’s the story. It’s like my appreciation for the ability of an opera singer, even though I do not like opera. I can appreciate the talent of a great actor, even if I don’t like a lot of the projects they have done. I’m one of the two dozen people who think The Great Gatsby isn’t worth more than a meh.

All I can do is share my take on the story and offer suggestions the author can either use to make adjustments, or ignore. I’m only one reader, so don’t just take my word for it. Ask that reader over there what s/he thinks about it. You’ll get a different answer for sure.

Keep calm and Write On!

What? We aren’t getting into trouble …