Unlock the Muse – February 25, 2020

We’re two months into 2020 and – hopefully – we’re making huge strides toward accomplishing the goal we established at the beginning. We have a plan, and we’re going to town on it, right?

Maybe not? Life and other obligations have risen up in the way of working on my goals. Things like work and children, birthday parties and sleepovers and pot lucks. Fortunately, the things I’m up against are good, positive things. I knew they’d come up, and I attempted to plan for them.

This week, take a good look at how things are going so far. Are you still moving forward toward your goal? Be honest with yourself and make sure you’re working on the right goal. Now is the time to evaluate your progress so far and decide if you can realistically accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Do you need to step it up a notch? Or maybe you need to dial it back a little.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

A character’s regional, ethnic and socioeconomic background will to some extent determine what vocabulary he uses. List a few of your main characters and five words that they would use.

If there isn’t a specific reason for all, or most of your characters to have a similar background, this sort of exercise can help you develop distinguishing traits for each character. This can give them voices distinct from each other, and make your stories more interesting.

It’s play week. During Planning month. Therefore, here’s your roll of the Rory’s Story Cubes, Action edition, along with a plan:


  • Step One: Roll! (Okay, I did that one for you. You’re on your own for the rest!)
  • Step Two: Examine the images. If you find yourself inspired by one or all of the images, proceed to Step Three. Feeling uninspired? Skip to Step Four.
  • Step Three: Write, using one, four, all of the images, for however long the muse leads you.
  • Step Four: Choose a pair of images that seem to have nothing to do with one another. Write for ten minutes putting both images into a single scene.

Happy writing!

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon: A Review

I chose to read Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon for the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #32, a book by a WOC (or, woman of color). I had several fantastic choices just from among my own bookshelves, so I didn’t have to look far. I added this book to my library after reading Nicola Yoon’s other book, The Sun is Also a Star for last year’s challenge. I fell in love with her breezy, hopeful style in the midst of tragedy and family drama. And Everything, Everything did not disappoint.

This book tells the story of Madeline, an 18-year old girl suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency. She has essentially been locked away inside her own home her entire life, with very little contact from the outside. The only people she has regular contact with are her mother and full-time nurse, Carla.

Madeline knows she must stay inside and that her mother is doing everything possible to keep her from getting sick. While not always, she is at present content with her life – with her books, her online classes and movie nights with her mom. But then a new family moves in next door, and Madeline’s contented life begins to turn inside out.

I couldn’t help being drawn into Madeline’s story. I felt very sympathetic toward her and her situation despite the sometimes foolish decisions she made. And the end that came was not the end I anticipated.

I chose the audio version of this book, excellently narrated by Bahni Turpin and Robbie Daymond. I enjoyed this book very much.

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt: A Review

For the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #3, a book with a great first line, I chose to read Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt. I ran across this book sitting on my kitchen counter where my fourth grader had left it. He was reading it for school. Like any good mom, I picked it up and took a look at it to see what sort of material the school expected my children to read. I read the prologue, and I was hooked.

Here’s the first line:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.

The metaphor is carried along for a few more sentences and the book comes back to this image again later in the story. As I read this line, I could feel the hitch in my breath and the anticipation that comes from being at that top position of a Ferris wheel. This is the sort of sentence that drops you immediately into place within the fictional story world.

This is primarily the story of Winnie Foster, a ten-year-old girl living at the edge of a wood. She’s bored with her extremely orderly life, strictly enforced by over-protective parents. It is also the story of the Tuck family, who after drinking from a magic spring, are unwittingly blessed – cursed? – with eternal life.

The Tucks have been living as discreetly as possible, and have managed to keep their secret for 87 years. Until Winnie reaches her breaking point and runs away from home. She wanders into the wood and stumbles on the Tucks’ secret. The Tucks take Winnie to their home with the goal of getting her to agree not to tell anyone their secret.

Winnie doesn’t know whether the Tucks are telling the truth, or if they are crazy. She wants to go home, but is at the same time, intrigued by the lifestyle of this other family which is so different from her own. The situation grows even more complicated when it turns out Winnie was followed to the Tucks’ home by a curious stranger who seems to know more than he should.

I enjoyed this book very much. It is written for children, so therefore short. It didn’t take me very long at all to finish it. It is funny and surprising and even a little bit sad. I’m not entirely sure it lived up to the breathless anticipation initiated by that opening line, but it is still a good read. My son enjoyed it, and was anxious for me to finish it so we could talk about it. If for nothing else, that would have made it worthwhile to read this book.

Unlock the Muse – February 18, 2020

Life is notorious for disrupting plans. This past Christmas, for example, I had plans to take my family over the mountains to spend the holiday with my sister and her family. However, a minor health crisis kept us homebound. Our next best option was to use one of the long weekends – Martin Luther King Jr Day in January, or President’s Day in February. This then, is how I found myself spending the weekend at my sister’s looking for snow instead of writing this blog post. Plans are funny that way.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week, courtesy of my sister:

Imaginary friends no longer fade away as children age. Instead, they now grow more real. Adult’s imaginary friends are fully visible and tangible. Tell us all about your imaginary friends.

This is a no-plans-required sort of exercise. Don’t overthink it, just have fun!

1. A detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.
2. An intention or decision about what one is going to do.

1. Decide on and arrange in advance.
2. Design or make a plan of (something to be made or built).

The word plan dates back to the 1670s as a technical term in perspective drawing, and from 1706 as a “drawing, sketch, or diagram of any object.” It comes to us from the French word plan meaning “ground plan, or map” and from the Latin word planum, meaning “level or flat surface.”
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – February 11, 2020

My focus so far for this year has been to set a goal and make a plan for achieving that goal. I’ve established for myself monthly and quarterly milestones to help keep myself moving forward. The time has come to put the plan into action.

This week, take specific steps toward reaching the first part of your goal. For me, that means 25,000 words added to my draft in the month of February. Which means putting in time at the keyboard. Toward that end, I am designating Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday for the rest of the month for focusing on writing.

Here is this week’s writing prompt:

When you have an idea, write it. Sure, it might hit you in the grocery store. Write yourself a note. Plan to write about the idea for half an hour that night.

I don’t know about you, but I take a notebook with me nearly everywhere I go. I keep scratch paper handy at my desk. And when there’s nothing else available, I have my cell phone, and I can jot down a quick note. Ideas are a shifty sort of creature, and you can’t plan on them showing up when you’re ready to work. Instead, you’ll need to plan on working when they show up.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to put your plan into motion. The goal is set. The plan is established. Now go!

I’ll leave you with this little thought about plans:

Plan Quote 1

Happy writing!

Becoming, by Michelle Obama: A Review

I chose to read Becoming, by Michelle Obama for the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #30, a fiction or nonfiction book about a world leader. I realize the First Lady of the United States likely does not qualify as a world leader in most circles, but I decided to go ahead with this book anyway. I think it’s close enough.

This book is Michelle Obama’s memoir, and she’s divided it into three segments: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. In the first part she talks about her early life, growing up in Chicago’s Southside. Raised in a hard-working family of modest means, she eventually graduated from Princeton University, then going on to get her law degree from Harvard University. She met Barrack Obama shortly after beginning her career in corporate law.

Part two focuses on Michelle’s relationship with and ultimate marriage to Barrack, their early experiences in politics, and becoming a family. She undergoes a significant career change, taking a hefty pay cut in the process. In this section, Michelle talks about Barack’s growing political influence – from community organizer to state government to being elected Senator.

Finally, in the third part, Michelle talks about her experience as First Lady of the United States. She talks candidly about her time there, and her struggles to maintain her own identity as a woman, a wife and a mother. She covers the eight years her husband was president from transitioning into the White House to transitioning out.

I thought this book was well written. I especially appreciated Michelle’s candor in relating the personal experiences that shaped the woman she’s become. I chose the audio version of this book, narrated by Michelle Obama herself. This lent a feeling of sitting down for a personal conversation with the former First Lady, albeit a one-sided conversation.

I may not agree 100% with Michelle’s politics, but that doesn’t interfere with enjoying a good book. I can agree wholeheartedly with her ethics. She has an important and worthwhile message to share. It is always an enriching experience to see the world through someone else’s point of view. I enjoyed this book very much. And if you’re inclined to read it, I would recommend the audio version.

Unlock the Muse – February 4, 2020

This week sports fans watched the biggest game of the year in American football – Super Bowl 54. Regardless of who won the game, you know that going in there was a game plan. In preparation of the big game, coaches and players were no doubt busy watching film, drilling plays and making an overall plan of how they want the game to go. They made plans and contingency plans. They made adjustments to their plans on the fly as the game moved forward. At halftime, plans were reevaluated and adjusted again. Plans succeeded and plans failed, but the game moved on toward its inevitable conclusion. And more than likely, even the winning team’s plan did not go exactly right.

Writing is much the same. With the obvious exception of the opposing team. You are competing only against yourself. Still, a plan must be made, complete with back-up and contingency plans for when thing inevitably go awry.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Make a list of your 10 favorite novels. Then write why you enjoy them. Can they help you with your novel?

The hardest part of this exercise might be choosing just ten favorites. There is a reason we gravitate to certain genres, certain authors. We are drawn to the things that make us feel good, that make us happy, inspire us, or maybe even scare us a little. There is always something we can learn from those who have gone before us.

Last month my focus was on setting a goal. It is intended to be a year-long endeavor. Now, for the month of February, I’ll build on what I set up in January and create a solid plan for accomplishing this massive goal.

First, create the plan. If you haven’t already lined out your plan to accomplish your goal, take this week and draw up a detailed plan. Let’s get to work and do this!

Happy writing!

Lucky Suit, by Lauren Blakely: A Review

I picked up Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely as an Audible freebie some months back. I finally got around to listening to it as it works well for the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #15, a book about or involving social media. This might be sort of stretch as the social media involved is an online dating site and an online poker site. But I think I’ll go with it anyway.

In this story, Kristen has had too many failed blind dates set up by her grandmother, so she’s decided she is done with IRL dating. Unwilling to give up on the idea of a romantic partner, however, she turns to an online dating site and begins chatting with a few potentials. Then she meets one who could possibly be The One.

Meanwhile, Cameron is in Miami on business and meets Kristen’s grandmother at a car auction. He is amused by this “old lady” who acts nothing like one, and they quickly become friends. They join an online poker site and play a few rounds while waiting for the auction to begin.

When Kristen and Cameron finally meet in real life, both are intrigued. There is a connection between them, but something is just a little bit off. It isn’t clear if the relationship will survive the truth.

This was a fun romantic comedy. It was short enough I could finish it in a day. I haven’t read much romance fiction for awhile, and I really enjoyed this one. It was just the right sort of light reading I needed after the much darker fiction I’ve been reading lately.