Flexing my literary muscle

Whenever I write a novel,
I have a strong sense that I am doing something I was unable to do before.
With each new work, I move up a step and discover something new inside me.

~ Haruki Murakami

Image from pexels.com

Facing Reality Bites

I submitted the middle-grade of my heart to an editor who was at our local conference last fall and haven’t heard a peep. I just went to my sub timeline and marked it as a No Response = PASS submission.

Closure is good. Not always painless, but still, a good and necessary perspective.baby finch 008

Birds and Munchkins

Happy Solstice!  Happy New Year!  Happy Happy!

I’ve been hard at work on revisions and had The Plague for about ten days. I’m just now easing back into life. One good thing about being ill is I could keep a close eye on the feeders and bird bath, and so caught lots of  fun activity. Here’s a finch-in-flight in front of a fellow finch.

various birds 005

Here’s a Northern Flicker:

various birds 017

This is our first winter with a heated bird bath and it was the best investment for our feathered friends, especially when temperatures were below zero early this week. I’m always so happy when someone drops by for a drink.

The other day I was working at the table next to the window overlooking the main feeder, the many finches, chickadees, juncos, etc. chirping away, when I became aware of SILENCE. I looked outside and there was not a bird to be seen. Not a one. I scanned the power lines for a predator, and finally located a hawk at the very top of our old maple tree at the other end of the yard. I was craning my neck for a better view when it took flight. Within a minute, birds began to reappear out of the plum bushes behind our fence, reminding me of the Munchkins in Oz.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are . . .”

Kestrel on a Wire

Kestrel 024
© Tracy Abell 2012

It seems only fitting I would interrupt today’s revisions of BIRD BRAIN
to photograph this American Kestrel hanging out behind my house.

The feeder birds probably weren’t too thrilled when the predator flew into the
neighborhood, but I feel as if this little falcon brought me some good revision karma.

There’s a certain clarity of vision that accompanies hooked beaks.

New Running and Writing Perspectives


I'm developing new perspectives 
regarding running and writing,
perspectives I hope will sustain me.

I am a creature of habit
and while there's no harm in my many years 
of ordering aloo gobi at Indian restaurants
or my drawer filled with black shirts,
black shirt   black shirt   black shirt

I'm realizing I do myself a disservice when I,
for example, get so focused on how fast I can run a certain
trail that I get locked into that one workout.

Last summer I ran three or four times a week
on the trails in the open space,
trails that include lots of rocks and inclines.
When it came time for the annual road race 5k to benefit my kids'
high school I was sure I'd kick butt.
Well, I did cut some time but nothing close to what I'd hoped for,
and I didn't know why.

Now I think I do.

Every run was on the same couple loops,
starting from the same place 
and ending at the same point.
My muscles got used to those runs and settled in at that level.

Here's what the trail system looks like where I run:
Hayden Green Mountain trail map
image from BigDaddyMaps.com

While it's true there are many trails, 
not all those trails are great for running.
Many are so steep I'd be faster hiking them than "running."
So I gravitated to the trails that had long sections of tolerable inclines,
wanting a decent-length workout. 

This summer I'm trying something new:
I go off on tangents, even if those trails are short or quickly turn steep.
I'm keeping my muscles on their proverbial toes as I mix up my workouts.
As a result, I'm not obsessed with my time and allow myself the luxury of 
watching coyotes or jumping sideways at the sight of a snake.

Jim Fixx cover
Every step I take is a good step.

So what does this lengthy screed have to do with my writing?
I'm back working on the project I set aside in April in order to focus
on other revisions, the project that's different from any other book I've written.

This project intimidates me and I really have no clue whether I'm hitting the mark.
But I'm using new writing muscles and that can only make me a stronger writer 
(assuming I don't run screaming into the night).

Something else I've learned?
New perspectives are not only good for the muscles but nourish the soul.


Friday Five: The Catching Up Edition

1)  Zebu turned 16 this week and got his driver’s license.
Knowing him, that’s what he was dreaming about in this old photo:
passport Harlan 001

2)  Zippy is training for the MS 150 Colorado Bike Ride next weekend
and has been going on looong rides in the 90+ degree temperatures plus
commuting to work via bike which means a return ride of 12+ miles uphill.
(It’s a good cause and he’s low on fundraising so if you have a couple bucks
to toss his way he’d be thrilled).

3)  Wildebeest is living with Casa Bonita workmates and enjoying
the freedom of a home so messy he temporarily lost his phone.

4)  I am waiting to hear back from a critique partner on my revisions
before I can finally, finally send them off. In the meanwhile I’m revisiting the project
I set aside several months ago and tweaking the synopsis with a new perspective.

5)  The nest cam is still running at Cornell University and here’s the youngest
hawk looking quizzical on her return visit to the nest the other day:
Hello #3

I’ve been out of the loop here but hope everyone is doing well.
Wishing you all a great weekend!

How Do You Know When to Let Go?


Cross-posted from From the Mixed-Up Files . . . of Middle-Grade Authors

According to Thomas A. Edison, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I’m not sure to what Mr. Edison was referring with that statement, but I do know much writer-ly advice disagrees with the sentiment. How many times have we heard that writers should stuff our unsold manuscripts beneath the bed and start something new? Fellow writers, agents, and editors caution against obsessing over one manuscript. They tell us to let go and move on. Give it up, already!

I wholeheartedly agree with that advice in regard to a first manuscript.  And maybe even the second. Write those books, learn all you can in the process, test them in the market, and move on. In fact, I’ve pretty much subscribed to the Write Your Next Book approach since I began writing novels. I’d give the manuscript my best shot and then put it away to write another. In fact, I’ve been so concerned with writing the next book I have two drafted novels I haven’t looked at in a couple years; it’s as if I’ve convinced myself whenever I’m not creating brand new work I’m treading literary water.

But I’ve recently realized the Write Your Next Book advice doesn’t always ring true. I wrote and polished a book I love (my fifth) and while writing my next book (a story I was exceedingly excited about, one that’s high concept and has a bigger hook) received editorial input on that fifth book.  Conventional wisdom says I should continue with the hook-y work in progress.  Exploit the commercial potential and finish that shiny, new book!

Instead, I set it aside and went back to the old. Am I obsessed? Delusional? Clinging to the past?  Maybe. But thanks to the editor’s comments I now understand where the story was lacking. I understand why readers weren’t connecting with the main friendship and why they didn’t believe the protagonist’s fear. And because I’ve written a whole bunch more since that fifth book went out, I have faith in my abilities to make the revisions work. I want the story to shine the way it always has in my head and heart.    

So I’m going to offer my advice:

  • It Is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if your love for the story hasn’t wavered.
  • It is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if working on it helps you learn more about the writing process.
  • It is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if the changes you’re making aren’t merely a superficial editing but represent a significant revision.

That's my thinking, but I’d love to hear your take on all this.  How do you know whether it’s time to move on or take a step back?


Guided Revisions


I’m nearing the end of BIRD BRAIN revisions, 
and have called upon my spirit guide.

                                                                                 Image from morguefiles.com
Methinks I’m home free.

Revising. Again


Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman,
before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.
 ~ John Quincy Adams 

I had the great good fortune of receiving a free manuscript evaluation and critique 
from Sacha Whalen via the Blue Boards.

It was fast and comprehensive.

Sacha had much good to say about BIRD BRAIN,
but pointed out (among many other things), that
the opening chapters could be stronger.
She even gave me an excellent suggestion on how to do that,
a way to raise the stakes throughout the story.

So here I go again.
I’m mostly excited, but also a little bit scared.

Courage is saying, "Maybe what I’m doing isn’t working;
maybe I should try something else."