The Kinder Muse Newsletter for August 2016

mom's masks

The two masks that adorn this newsletter were created by my mother, Connie Relf. I remember watching her bring them into being. . .Occasionally, she would talk about her process as well as her intention. Her goal? In part, to give a face – or faces – to her inner Shaman so that she could gaze at them and be reminded of her creative path.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

I’m just curious what face your inner Muse/Shaman  shows the world.


Lakeside Chat: Characters
By Tyree Campbell


Oh, dear, another rejection slip.  So you scream, “What do they bloody want?”  Every once in a while, you’ll get a rejection slip that gives you the faintest glimmer of a clue.  See, editors don’t have time to teach you to write [they figure writing is your job; they’re peculiar that way].  But maybe this one tells you that your characters suck.  Oh, not in so many words.  Usually it’s something on the order of, “Poor character development.”  But they won’t tell you WTF that means.

I will.

Not only will I tell you, I’ll show you.  So have a seat, grab a writing implement of some kind and some papyrus or a clay tablet to write on, set the tumbler with those two fingers of Knockando on the end table, light ‘em if you got ‘em, and let’s insert a suitable cliché here.

One day, in response to my comment about the lack of character development, a young lady informed me that her story had quite a few characters, and she proceeded to name them.  Huey, Dewey, Louie, Donder, Blitzen, and Sneezy.  Well, yes, those characters appeared in her story.  But there was nothing to them.  They were as insubstantial as insert appropriate simile here.

She said, “But I described them; the reader knows what they look like:  three white ducks, two reindeer, and a guy with a handkerchief.”

Yeah.  And?

“And what,” she said.  [Alternatively:  And what she said!]

To help you grasp what it is that editors want, let’s take a look at some other characters.  This first one is from a story titled “Sentimental.”  It won SpecFicWorld’s Speculative Fiction Writing Contest [and $150.00] back in 2002.

“The bed remained unmade from the previous morning, the quilt bunched in the shallow depression along the left side where she slept, one pillow on the floor, silent witness to a restless slumber.  Absently she straightened the bedding, a twinge of guilt prodding her into action, then went into the bain to draw the bath.  Waiting, she peered through the steam at the reflection in the mirror.  No new wrinkles to admonish her that the leaves were beginning to turn in her year.  It should have been a glorious time, a prolonged flurry of orange and cerise and yellow before the brittle browns finally took up residence, but strawberry was the color of her mind now.  She prodded a cheek.  No sagging yet, not even an incipient jowlishness.  The sun had treated her well, all those years, and the work had kept her fit.  She drew the chemise over her head and searched for other gravitational effects.  Her reflection fogged over while she conducted the daily check for lumps, as routine now as brushing her teeth—.”

Look what we can infer about the character of this character:

  • She’s aware that housekeeping is not her strong point; she cares more for her overall health.
  • You could add that she’s a bit concerned about cancer.
  • She’s French, or at least of French descent; possibly Quebecoise.  [Lives in north central France, btw]
  • She’s probably close to forty years old.
  • She spent an active career generally in sunlight.  [She is, btw, an archeologist]
  • She’s lonely, and saddened by growing older alone.

[The “strawberry” remark refers to a woman she has just met, from another world, who has bright red skin, and who has left her.]

But she is so much more interesting, even in this brief passage, than if the writer had written something like, “Pierrette stood five-four in her stockinged feet.  She’s thirty-seven, and spent much of her adult life on archeological digs.  She’s French, lonely, and growing older.”

Let’s try something simpler and more direct.  This passage is from “Blindmary,” published by Khimairal Ink [lesbian publishing company] back in 2005, I think it was.  The narrative is written in the first person, and these are her [Brilla Cooper’s] observations about another character.  [Background:  she’s an investigator on another world, trying to solve a murder.]

Foley was a nodder.  He nodded his head in agreement while I spoke, and he nodded while he returned fire.  On the fingers of his left hand he ticked off his speaking points.  “Parrish died from two stab wounds, one in the groin, the other under the right armpit, either of which would have been fatal.  Each of the seventeen miners carries at least one knife.  It’s likely the murder weapon never will be found.  As for motive, there’s beer here and often some stronger drink, and there’s the occasional disagreement and brawl.  Maybe something got carried too far, and was settled privately.”  He paused, staring at his hand—he’d run out of fingers.  “Hell, Cooper, everyone in the outpost thinks he has reason to kill someone here at one time or another.  It just hasn’t been acted out before this.”

So let’s see. . .

  • Foley is organized in his thoughts.
  • Foley thinks solving the crime will be difficult because of the number of suspects
  • She is paying attention to him and his list.
  • Foley has a behavioral characteristic, nodding, that distinguishes him as a character.

But what if the writer had simply said, “Foley was a good if jaded Police Chief.”  Sigh.  Borrrring.

In the same story, Brilla Cooper meets the blindmaries:

“. . . [ I looked] over the groups gathered at the tables.  The blindmaries clung to the men, laughing with them but without apparent mirth, hanging on their every word as if it sprouted directly from a philosopher’s mouth, moving the empties out of the way, and lighting the tobaccos of those few who smoked.  Yet I realized now that there was nothing implicitly sexual about their behavior.  At the closing of the tavern some of them might accompany their men to bungalows for the night, but such was an expectation along the same lines as the laughter and the interest.  And the demeanors were not feigned or perfunctory.  Each blindmary behaved genuinely, and this despite the little abuses heaped on them—condescending touslings of their hair, maulings of praise for getting a joke or grasping a point of argument, petty tolerances of remarks they offered in support of the points of their men.  The observation constituted evidence of a sort—yet I could not see how it meshed with the crime I had been sent to investigate and, if possible, solve.”

Through Brilla’s observations, we know something about the character of the blindmaries [you may assume they are human[oid] in appearance, a point made clear earlier in the narrative].

  • The public behavior of a blindmary is that of utter devotion to her man, despite the many abuses and disrespects offered her.
  • The blindmary is not acting in accordance with the needs of, let’s say, the ‘oldest profession.’  Rather, the blindmary actually feels this devotion, and is oblivious [deliberately or autonomically] to the treatment of her.
  • Men!  Yick!
  • Brilla has good observation skills, and at least some background in sociology.

[Possible connection with the reader:  how many women in relationships tolerate this behavior for the sake of the relationship?]

But what if the writer had simply written:  “Men!  Yick!”

No, that last passage brings the psyche of the blindmary to life.  She becomes real to the reader.  By implication, so do the men, in a negative way.

[Not that it matters, but “Blindmary” was inspired somewhat by the Irish tune “Blind Mary.”  In the instance of the story, a blindmary is a female who turns a blind eye toward the treatment of her.  An excellent story in a roughly similar theme is Tanith Lee’s “The Eye of the Heart.”]

This next passage comes from a supernatural thriller titled “Crotalus.”

Phil was whining again, but Lydia didn’t care, not today.  An anniversary had to mean something, after all.  Phil always groused whenever he had to accompany her to the mall [in the lingerie department he always peeked, or glanced out of the corner of his eye; he never simply looked], or drop her off at the salon, or let her introduce him to her colleagues at the company Christmas party.  He couldn’t be bothered.

Well, he would by God be bothered today.

“Turn here,” she said, pointing.

“No.  All they sell there is cheap jewelry.”

Lydia made a fist of her left hand, so that he could see the ring.  “This is cheap jewelry, Phil.  It’s a zircon.  We were poor when I married you, and that’s okay, but we are not poor now, and it’s our twenty-fifth, and I think I’m entitled to at least one diamond before . . . Phil, you passed the turnoff.”

  • Well, this one’s pretty straightforward.  Let’s see. . .
  • Phil and Lydia have been married a long time
  • The marriage has sunk into bitterness on Lydia’s part, ambivalence on Phil’s
  • They started off poor, but now have enough money for a few luxuries.
  • Phil is something of a voyeur [a point not developed in the story]
  • Lydia is about to put her foot down.

Or the writer could have written:  Phil and Lydia are a bitter older couple with their marriage on the rocks.  Of course, if the writer had so written, the story would not have been published.

In “Crotalus” is a third character.  Let’s take a look.

“Rattler Bob’s arm pointed to a sign on the back wall.  “At your own risk.  Long’s that’s understood.”  He might have been part Mexican, or part Native American, but he was all grizzled.  His salt-and-pepper beard looked as infested as a hideout for outlaws.  The pungent odor of old sweat escaped through the holes in his faded gray jersey as he shuffled to a corner and picked out a long pole with a length of nylon tied so that it formed a restraining loop at the far end.  “‘F’y’all don’t mind, I’ll do the extractin’, an’ y’all kin do the holdin’.  That a’right?”

This is really a simple description, but much more readable than height, weight, hair color, and accent.  Even though the mode of this part of the narrative is “tell,” the reader is nevertheless “shown.”

And now we have a story called “Vapors,” which garnered a magazine’s “Best of Issue.”  Background:  two women, married to one another, land on future Earth, where, unbeknownst to them, such relationships are illegal.  They have come to find out why Earth has stopped colonizing other planets.  At one point in the story, the two [Charlene and Krysza], take refuge in the apparently abandoned building that houses the office of the person who can answer their inquiry.  Alone and illegal, they have just engaged in you-know-what.

The man who entered was rotund and genial, his expression on the verge of befuddlement.  He paused just inside the doorway, laced his fingers across his ample chest, and said, under his mask, “My my my.”

He had the eyes of one who had seen the body of a woman and took pleasure in the viewing, but did not regard her nakedness as a forthright invitation to couple.  After a moment, he turned away, without blushing.  “Dear me.  I’ll only be a moment.  Please forgive me for interrupting.”

Krysza’s jaw dropped.  “Who are you?”

From somewhere in his tent of a shirt he fished a key, which he began inserting into one drawer after another in the desk.  “My my my,” he said, oblivious to the question.  He had a coarse, rather high voice that addressed his surroundings but no one in particular.  “I’ll only be a moment.  Yes yes yes.  Now where did I put those . . . ?”

Gingerly Krysza and I finished untangling, and got dressed to the rhythm of his my-my-mys.  Presently he uncovered the object of his search—a box of data cards—and eased himself around the corner of the desk and made for the door.  Befuddled he might be, but he had remembered to secure each drawer.

“Wait,” I said.

“Hmm?  Oh, dear me.  No no no.  Please, indulge yourself.  I can review these files in another office, you know.  Yes yes yes.  Well, of course you don’t know.  My my my.  Of course not.”  Chuckling at some private mirth, he opened the door and started to step through.

“Please wait.  I think we came to see you.”

“To see me?  Oh, my dears, no no no.  I assure you I have absolutely no interest in your—”

“About Eridania,” said Krysza.

“Oh.  Oh?”  Relief washed over his face and sparkled his eyes.  “Eridania, you say.  My my my.”  He held aloft the box.  Under the mask his bulbous nose quivered as he gave a tiny cough. “These are the referent project histories.  A message was forwarded to me from an STS, after passing through so many offices, so many offices, yes yes yes.  They’re coming back, you know.  Well, of course you don’t know.  No no no.  How could you know?  I must study—”

I think this time I’ll let you compile your own list of what you learned from this.  It’s about time you did some work, too, you know.  [btw, the writer of “Vapors” says he was inspired by Peter Ustinov’s character in “Logan’s Run.”]

The next two passages are from “Gallium Girl,” a coming-of-age werewolf yarn that got nominated for a James Tiptree Award.  Here’s the first:

Stepping into a steam-filled shower stall always gave Lybbie the feeling that she was a ghost, a spectral entity hidden—no, trapped—within her own contrived misty aura.  Here she was safe, the outside universe reduced to vague images that broke through the steam here and there but never lingered long enough to reclaim her.  The steam muted her senses.  She was aware of the heat of the water without feeling it.  The only sounds that reached her ears were consistent with the shower.

And you can see that she is. . .

  • Lonely and perhaps reclusive
  • Finds refuge in the familiar
  • Withdraws to feel safe

But what if the writer had written:  Lonely Lybbie takes refuge in a shower, because it’s familiar and she feels safe there?  Yeah, you know the answer.

From the same story, here’s the second passage.  At McD’s she has just met a woman who inspires her to act impetuously.  The story, btw, is written from Lybbie’s point of view.

“Short for Elizabeth?” asked the woman.  Dryness lent a touch of smoke to her contralto.

Lybbie cringed.  “You wouldn’t believe me even if I showed you my birth certificate.”

“Perhaps not.  But I wouldn’t laugh, either.  Oh, and I’m Claire.”

The coffee cup in Lybbie’s hand paused halfway to her mouth.  “Oh, but that’s who I sleep with,” she blurted, and almost dropped the cup on the tray.  “Oh, jeez, I didn’t mean to say that.”

Claire brushed aside the faux pas.  “That doesn’t sound to me as if you’re referring to your boyfriend.”

“I don’t have . . . I mean, no, that’s my teddy bear body pillow.”

Shut up, Lybbie.  Shut up shut up shut up.

  • Lots of material here.  Frex:
  • Lybbie can act impetuously.
  • Lybbie’s real name embarrasses her.
  • Claire has one of those voices like, maybe, Garbo.
  • Lybbie does not have a boy friend.
  • Claire is compassionate.
  • Body pillow is Lybbie’s way of dealing with sleeping alone.

How about this passage, from a story called “Striations,” about flaws and atonement.  It takes place on the Jovian moon Ganymede.  We’re not looking at the point of view character [who is a thirteen-year-old girl], but at the woman [Harper] who has assaulted her.

As soon as I voiced the protest, she spun around and rushed at me.  I was too stunned to flee.  Her hands squeezed my throat as she lifted me to her eye level.  Her face was a mad, twisted thing, like a Picasso on a controlled substance.  The scarring stood out like veins.  Her eyes were pale as ice, hollow and unseeing.  She shook me, just once.  It hurt, from my neck to my toes, and flooded the space behind my eyes with sparks.  Then, ever so gently, she set me back down on Ganymede.  Her hands brushed my clothing, removing unwanted particles, as if I were about to go outside and play with the Hampton twins.  I expected her to turn me around, give me a swat on the ass, and send me on my way with a caution not to beat up Billy again.

  • Harper has impulsive moments of madness
  • Harper has a quick recovery
  • Harper can act in a manner reminiscent of a mother

Yeah, but when the writer talks you through the event like this, you get a much better “feel” for the character of Harper.  For both characters, actually.

This next one is from an award-winning story, “Acorns,” subsequently republished as “Reluctant Lady.”  It’s a brief passage as a Lady of the Lake finds refuge for a night in a strange city.

“Cloak tight, Vianna found a doorway with steps in an alley beside a store and sat down, slumping against the jamb.  The cloak served to cushion her, in the way of her kind, so that she slept comfortably.  She dreamt of water, pining for it.  Despite the abuse humanity had heaped into the lakes, the substance of water itself was pure, nourishing the spirit and the soul, a proper medium for the purity of the magic she wielded.  In her dream she submerged herself into it, glowing with the vitality it bestowed, dark hair floating all around her, the thin white gown she wore under the cloak now clinging to her.  Water enhanced her beauty.  Motionless, she might have been marble worked by Michelangelo, the curves of her body tenderly buffed by the Master’s gentle hands, the eyes always seeming to watch those who watched her, the eyelashes like snowflakes, the mouth half-open, sensuous and inviting.  In the water she remained still, waiting to be called, waiting to be summoned.  To almost anyone passing by the doorway she was a shimmering, a trick of the night or of the dawn.

These were the worst moments for her:  tucked inside the cloak, alone, out of water and out of light.  Thousands of light-years from her world, her forests, her lakes, her waters.  Trying to nudge in the optimal direction a people that did not wish to be nudged, that had no ears for her, no eyes for her and for the promise inherent in her being.  Pearls, she thought, closing her eyes, before swine.  In these dark moments it was easy to sink into a bleak oblivion, even if just for the night.  It was easy to forget that every now and then, oh so heart-wrenchingly rarely, she saw a spark in someone’s eyes, something to which she might add her own light and thereby alter, just a little, the race of this people toward oblivion.  Inside the cloak, where she had to hide—it was the way of her kind—where she was alone in the dark.”

Make your own list on this one.

This passage comes from the opening to “Devotional.”  It pretty much speaks for itself—creating an overall mood along with a character who has to deal with it.

“The last flake of old primer slipped from the window sill and onto the gritty pine floor to mingle with the others that had fallen over the years.  Emily crossed her forearms along the rough bare wood and leaned through the opening.  Moonlight the exact color of the little fish in the creek behind the house cast her freckled face in pure white and pious shadow and brightened her eyes to the blue of Rigel on a cold winter’s night.  Something dark moved in the clearing that separated the house from the forest—a nightbird, or perhaps a bat.  It flitted down behind the irregular row of slabs of rotting wood and pitted granite that marked the cemetery, vectoring in on some insect fluttering among the family ghosts.  Emily shivered.  Something was always dying out there.

She knew the names on the markers by force of paternal rote.  Pa had beaten them into her, branding her like a steer with the hot iron of vengeful memory.  Her ancestors had moved here from eastern Kentucky just after the turn of the century.  Ages varied, and causes of death.  Smallpox, influenza, malnutrition.  And gunshot, lots of gunshot.  She counted the headstones to twenty seven, without seeing them.  These are your kin.  She always knew they were there.  Sunlight glinted past them into her window in the morning, sharping her eyes.  In the afternoon, the shadow of the house, a massive sundial gnomon, reached to the chipped granite stone over Orville Harper to tell her the time had come to prepare dinner with Ma.  And at night the ghosts stirred to remind her of where she had come from and where she was going.”

Now, you might argue that this passage is more about setting than about character, and you do have a point.  But remember, all stories are about characters, and how they deal with the milieu and events of the story—about how they deal with their setting.  It should be obvious from the opening mood here that this character [Emily Harper] is going to deal with this mood through the course of the story.  How she copes with it, and what she has to go through, is the very crux of the story.

In the following passage from “Suttee,” a passionate woman’s husband has been killed during a rebellion.  She is recalling one of their last conversations, as she transports his coffin to what will be his final resting place.

“There was also a voice, and it was not hers.  The words oscillated, soft and loud and soft again, in cadence with the swirling all about her, but she had heard the words before and now in her dream she could wash herself in the sound of his voice.  He had been about to depart on an assignment when they had fought, and his tone was not kind, but it was his tone, his voice, and in the dream she clung to that like a child with a favorite blanket.  Everyone dies, he had said, was saying, and it is better to die a death for something you believe in.

“Death is still dead,” she cried, had cried.  Then, ever so softly, “The only thing I believe in is you, mo ghra.”

The swirls swallowed her then.  There was more, but when she awoke, she could not recall what it was, only that he had been there, inside her, one more time.

Content atop the casket, she went back to sleep.”


  • She’s Irish.
  • Lying on the casket is a very Irish way of coping with grief.
  • There is no greater love, and no greater loss, than hers.
  • She is conflicted by the fact that she would rather have him alive and have his cause fail, and yet she knows he could have behaved in no other way for him.

Finally [I heard that sigh of relief!  Grr…], there’s this passage from “The Martian Women,” which also garnered a “Best of Issue.”

Chief Justice Krishnaman demanded clarification of her address.  “My ‘skip,” she said tersely.  Inwardly Fourcade winced.  She had neglected to add the courtesy tag, “Your Honor,” despite his advice, his pleas.

“Surely there are berths available in the Mars Orbiters or in the Outer Processing Stations, M’selle Timberlake.”

Fourcade relaxed slightly.  At least the judge had not called her Traci.  Courtroom decorum aside, to have done so would not have elicited a desirable response from her.

The woman’s thin lips parted in a bleak smile.  “There are rules there.”

So we know. . .

  • Traci has scant regard for authority.
  • As she is on trial here, she has likely been accused of some sort of offense, which means she is regarded by others as someone who would commit such an offense.
  • [Fourcade, btw, is her attorney].
  • Traci allows the familiarity of her name only to a few selected people.
  • She is independent and willful.

You’ve read some examples of how a character can be presented [actual development takes a little longer—like, the whole story].  I don’t say that you should do it exactly the way I’ve shown it here.  I do say that there is far, far, far, far more to a character than just what’s on the driver’s license, and that if you want your story to be published, one of the things you’ll have to do is make the character more than a photo on the DL.

One last point:  if you would like to read the cited stories, plus much more, go and order a print or eBook.  I’ll be glad you did.  Oh, and please don’t order from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Order from the publisher.  That way, both the actual publisher and the author make the money, and not some grubby middleman.


I’ve posted the first three chapters of my novella, The Waters of Nyr. This is part of my Boortean Universe series. I’m planning to focus on the next book in the series, Beacon Lights of Ranat, this fall. 


WHO: Published and yet-to-be-published writers, poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, editors, copywriters, and content providers, indie publishers et al. Whether you’re a local OBcean, live in San Diego at large, or are “just visiting” the area, you are welcome to join us.

WHAT: The Ocean Beach Writers Networking group for serious professional writers.

WHERETe Mana Cafe  on Voltaire, between Cable and Bacon in Ocean Beach.

WHEN: This Thursday, August 18, we’re meeting from 4:00pm – 6:00pm for beer tasting! Just $5.00 for a flight, which includes an appetizer. The regular Thursday time from 12:30pm-1:30pm will resume on the following Thursday.

WHY: To connect, share resources, referrals – and more!

HOW: Just go to FaceBook and click  “join” on the Ocean Beach Writers Networking Group and/or email me at  to be placed on the weekly newsletter list.

Please be sure to thank Te Mana’s owners, Marguerite and Jason, for welcoming us. Check out this awesome menu as well as their beer-on-tap, decadent Mimosas et al. Wines from Argentina and Chile have arrived! Show your appreciation for the inimitable, cheerful and dedicated staff by tipping often and generously.

Since last month, I’ve posted four new interviews to this series:

And there’s more on the way! If you would like to be interviewed for this series, just email me at for the questions. 


Who doesn’t love contests?  Here are the particulars for the first contest: On the Benefits of Rejection

WHO: You, the writer. You, the insightful writer.  You, the insightful writer that despite having articles, novels, poems, stories et al rejected, continues to write – and submit!

WHAT: This free-to-enter contest is quite simple, really. All you need to do is follow the guidelines below.

WHEN: August 1 – 31, 2016

WHERE: Right here at my website. The winner – and winning article –  will be posted at the site.

WHY:  Because writing contests are fun – and you have a chance to win a coaching session – a $150.00 value – with YT! That’s why!

HOW: By submitting your entry (yes, just one) to

 The Guidelines

Given the “WHO” portion of the above particulars, you most likely intuited the basic theme for this contest: Rejection. But it’s not just about having your work rejected, declined, or a host of other verbs (some more euphemistic than others); it’s about how you handle that experience – and what you learn – as a result.

Or perhaps another way to think of it is this – How do you keep writing and submitting along with the rejections pilling up?!

So, now onto the specifics:

In a 300-700-word max “essay,” delve deep into your experience with the above – and yes, humor is welcome. When submitting, be sure to include the following in your subject line: Rejection Contest Submission/name/title.

Furthermore, when you submit your essay to, it is with the understanding that

1) The winning post will be published at this site for all the world to see;

2) There is no monetary compensation other than the prize of a life or writing coaching session;

3) The work you submit is your own; and

4) You retain the copyright, and are giving me, Terrie Leigh Relf, permission to post your work.

Questions? Please email me at and be sure to reference this contest in your subject line. I’m looking forward to your submissions!

Write on!


Songs of Eretz Poety Award Contest
Here are the particulars for the second contest sponsored by Steven Wittenberg Gordon, the publisher of Eretz Song:

The annual Songs of Erertz Poetry Award Contest runs from September 1 to October 15 this year.  THE WINNER WILL BE AWARDED A ONE THOUSAND DOLLAR CASH PRIZE and publication in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review. Unpublished work as well as previously published work (reprints) will be accepted.
Every poem will receive a personal response from the Editor of Songs of Eretz–from a few kind words to a mini-critique.

The Guest Contest Judge will be Former Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.


I would really like to know! Please email me at to chime in.
Thank you!

Formerly titled The Boortean Embassy Salon, I will be sending out an announcement about this within the next few weeks!

Thank you for reading!
Looking forward to connecting with you all soon!

Terrie Leigh Relf
Writer, Editor & Writing Coach

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