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."

Friday Five: The Catching Up Edition


1)  Hello, friends!  Maybe you noticed I’ve been AWOL from TracyWorld.  Why?  Busy, busy, busy.

2)  Last weekend with the help of Zippy, Wildebeest, and Zebu, I placed 12 tons of landscaping
rock around the perimeter of our newly landscaped yard.  Yesterday I spent the day with a Rug Doctor,
bringing the basement carpeting back to life.  This weekend I’ll be cleaning walls and beams in preparation
for the painting crew.  I appear to be nesting.  No, I’m not pregnant.

3)  Despite the above, I’ve been working on BIRD BRAIN revisions.  This round, I’m working off  ‘s 
comments, and am thrilled with the improvements.  I’m so grateful for all the wonderful critiques I’ve received,
and am looking forward to querying soon.

4)  Tuesday night I got together with  who was in town.  We’d never met in person but bonded 
immediately and had a wonderful time in a sports bar on election night.  Really.  If you have to suffer through a
political crap storm, you want to do it with someone smart and funny.  I’ll always remember I was with Phoebe when
I learned civil liberties champion Sen. Russ Feingold lost his re-election bid (shame on my fellow cheeseheads!)

(Because we were sporting I VOTED stickers, the bar gave us a free brownie sundae but I don’t know how to
send phone pic to email).

5)  Yesterday Wildebeest turned 17.  I keep thinking I’m too young to have a child that old, but I guess the
facts are against me on that one.

I’ve missed everyone and hope to catch up on LiveJournal when I get a little more breathing room.
I wish you all a glorious, early November weekend!


Where I Write


I’ve been thinking about my writing process lately,
and how I need to be in different spaces/places
at different points in a project.

A while back,  wrote about walking on the beach
and how that inspires her writing.
I commented that I was currently working in a closed room, 
back to the window, 
facing my whiteboard,
earplugs inserted.

It felt a bit pathetic to admit that,
but it was what I needed at that point in my BIRD BRAIN revisions.

No distractions.
Just me inside my head,

But for the past week, I’ve been sitting in my chair in front of the
sliding glass door, watching as 
birds fly past,
land on the wires,
or hop about the plum tree branches. 

Eurasian Collared Doves                                                                                         © Tracy Abell 2010

I’m still doing BIRD BRAIN revisions
but maybe it’s because I’m so much closer to being done
that I need the visual inspiration that got me started on this project.

I need birds.
A couple weeks ago, I did not.
And I’m not sure why.

Do you have different work spaces for each stage of your projects?

Bird Brain in Gear!


Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.
It was lovely here and we had many feathered visitors.

                                                 © Tracy Abell 2010 

I’ve received helpful feedback on BIRD BRAIN
and am madly revising.  The book is already so much stronger!

Hugs and smooches to  ,  , and [info]lorrainemt!
You guys are the very best.  

So I’m headed back into the revision cave,
but wanted to extend wishes for a glorious Monday filled with
happy writing and maybe a bird friend or two.



On Sunday I worked for hours cleaning up my flower beds, but took time out to aim my camera at the lovely fall foliage
and the backdrop of blue, blue sky.


These leaves are neither fully here nor there in coloration, but are in transition.

Just like me and my project.

BIRD BRAIN is so much closer to being ready to face the world than it was a few weeks ago, 
but there is still work to be done. 

Right now BIRD BRAIN is a healthy and happy green, but I hope to crank up the intensity
and also bring out those glorious yellows and brilliant reds.

Hokey, but true.

What, Me Worry?


Last Friday I sent BIRD BRAIN to the four generous souls who
offered to read and critique my manuscript.
It’s much, much too soon to expect responses, but that hasn’t stopped 
my mind from turning into a writhing nest of worries and fears.

AGNES by Tony Cochran

Maybe I’ll just get it over with and go put underpants on my feet.

Girding My Loins


I’m ready to wade back in there
and begin reshaping BIRD BRAIN’s opening chapters.

And then complete another (final?) round of revisions.

I’m equal parts anticipation and dread.

                                                                                                                                                          Image from morguefile.com

Cue whatever music it is I need to hear right now . . .

Conference Wrap-Up


I’m coming out of my RMC-SCBWI conference-induced fatigue,
and wanted to share some morsels 
before the passion and meaning behind the words grow too dim.

Bruce Coville gave our keynote speech on Saturday morning.
My favorite line:  "The blank page is hard, not because nothing’s
there, but because everything is there.  The whole world."

He ended his talk (titled The Art of the Heart: Writing True for the Child)
with this: "Let us not take joy, let us give it.  Let us give it courageously."

Just a short while later, I had my one-on-one critique with him.
He read the first 10 pages of BIRD BRAIN.  
Good news: he thinks the voice is strong.
Not-as-good news: I need to rework the opening pages to set them in a scene
rather than exposition.  I kind of knew that, but had a secret hope he’d love it as is!
(Major thanks again to  for helping me out of a slump so I could get those
pages ready for submission!)

One of the few sessions I was able to attend (due to responsibilities), was Social Media 101.
Drew Shope, of Thrive Social Media, is a 25-year-old social media guru who convinced me to start tweeting.
I’m having fun thus far but fear the Undisciplined Time Suck.
(I’m @TracyAbell)

I attended Elizabeth Law’s session on First Pages.
The overwhelming message of the day was Slow Down the Action.
(This is what was said regarding my first page from FRAMED, too.)
Of course, during another session, editor Kate Harrison and agent Elena Mechlin
both said they like a story that gets going immediately to pull them in.

(L-R Moderator Bobbi, Elizabeth Law, Elena Mechlin, Kate Harrison, Rotem Moscovich)

My favorite Elizabeth Law line of the weekend came in response to a question.
Q: If an editor or agent suggests revisions, is it appropriate to ask for clarification?
A:  No, work in the dark.  Spend a lot of time.  Hope you get it right.
(The answer is, Of course!)

I had a wonderful time and bonded with Bruce Coville.
When my critique time was up, I thanked him.
He said, "You betcha!" then said with considerable dismay, "I sound like Sarah Palin."
That’s all it took.  We were off and running (next writer hadn’t yet shown up).

It was a wonderful, exhausting weekend.
But next year, I hope to scale back on conference-day duties so I can fully enjoy.

(Local writers Stephanie Blake and Jeanne Kaufman yukking it up)


Goals One and Two Reached!

Last June I wasn’t sure I could keep on writing,
and the thought of attending my local SCBWI conference again
without any professional/career progress to show after another year
of effort was horrible to contemplate.

I needed to accomplish something that would help me hold my head high.

So I set two goals: I would apply for a conference manuscript critique AND 
finish the revision of BIRD BRAIN before the conference.

A few weeks ago, I found out I’m having a critique with Bruce Coville.
(Goal One: check!)
And today, just a few moments ago, I finished my revision.
(Goal Two: check!)

There are still days when I doubt my sanity in all this,
but I have to believe I will prevail.

Springing into action


A new week, a new month.
Shiny new possibilities.

I have plans for September!

(Here I go again, another oversized photo.
This time I didn’t have trouble uploading it to LiveJournal,
but I can’t resize it; when I click on the corner, the photo goes blue.
Plus, I can’t put text beneath it.
What’s going on?!  And does anyone have advice?)

Plot Revealing Itself?


A couple weeks ago I wrote about my panic over
characters revealing themselves.

Wise writer-friends weighed in on how they enjoy this aspect
of novel-writing because it means (among other things) that
my characters are still speaking to me,
and that I’m getting to know them just as I get to know people in real life,
and that I should bask in those little revelations because they add an element of surprise to the process.

Such wise friends.

I’m now hip to (and content with) the character revelation thing,
but am now wondering how you all feel about plot points revealing themselves.

What I’m struggling with is that I have basic plot points figured out,
but I have to keep tweaking and tweaking to fine-tune them.

Do you all have this issue with plotting?
(I’m not even sure if I’m making sense here so will try one last description):

It’s as if I know the plot points but it turns out that’s not enough to write this draft;
I have to keep rethinking/reworking the plot points to get where the story wants/needs to go.

I was making such headway but in the last couple days have gotten bogged down
in figuring out what I thought was already figured out!

Anyone have insights?

Juvenile Behavior


I’m supposed to be working on BIRD BRAIN,
but keep getting distracted by three juvenile Western Scrub Jays.

I saw one hopping around my patio table this morning,
checking out the umbrella turn-handle as if hoping it would yield food.

Fortunately, she came around the house and found the motherlode of peanuts.

                                                                                                              © Tracy Abell 2010

The youngsters aren’t able to extract the whole thing the way adult jays do,
but they peck at the shells until they can pull out one peanut at a time.

(This qualifies as research, right?)

Selective Neglect


I went out into my garden just now.
It’s not a pretty sight.

I’ve neglected it for the past couple months
as I focused on my writing projects.

Here’s Lamb’s Ear strangled with bind weed:

Yarrow upstaged by thistle:

Sunflower in a neck-and-neck race with incredibly tall thistles:

Yesterday Zebu came out in the front yard where I was busting sod,
a task I began a month or so ago.
I’m taking out a huge area of lawn to be replaced with rocks
and isolated plantings.

Zebu asked, "Do you expect to have this done by winter?"
I replied in the affirmative.
Zebu expressed some doubts.
"Not only that," I said.  "But I’m also going to have the kitchen all painted
and finish my book."
He said, "Something won’t get done."
I said, "Well, it won’t be my book.  I’m finishing that."

He went back inside,
and I dug out another piece of lawn.