She’s baaack . . .

     

I checked the thermometer and it read 51 degrees.
So I stopped work on CLOSE TO HOME
and changed into my hooping togs.

There on my dry-concrete patio,
surrounded by snow piles,
beneath the blue sky,
bathed in sunshine,
I hooped.

As I gazed up into the sky,
I saw a red-tailed hawk soaring and gliding.

Instead of thinking "Oh no, it’s Claudia!  She knows I’m not working on my chapters,"
I smiled and watched her until she was out of sight.
Then I finished my thirty minutes of hooping.

Now I’m ready to get back to those chapters.
            

Mentor Monday: Deadlines

           

As I revise CLOSE TO HOME with Claudia’s help,
I’m grateful for her insights and  encouragement,
But I’ve realized something else this mentor program gives me:
deadlines.

I’ve mentioned my aversion to adding new scenes.
My natural inclination in these situations is to
delay,
dawdle,
and defer.

I can be a world-class procrastinator.

But procrastination isn’t a great game plan for the mentor program.
I’m now accountable to Claudia Mills.
I’m not saying Claudia gives off this vibe:

                                                          © 2010 Tracy Abell

However, I did make an agreement with her to turn in a certain number
of chapters by this Wednesday.
And I don’t want to disappoint her.
Or ruffle her feathers.

She’s kind
but she’s also determined.

It’s best to honor our agreement.

                                                      © 2010 Tracy Abell

Mentor Monday: Characterization

     

After my initial meeting with my mentor, Claudia Mills,
I had to make a decision about my main character.
I needed to decide how "mean and rotten" I wanted her to be.

Claudia pointed out that as long as the reader
has a sense of the character’s pain,
they will accept less-than-loving attitudes and behaviors.

Some of the actions I brainstormed for my main character
were really and truly rotten.
Those actions would undoubtedly ramp up the story’s conflict
and create huge potential for dramatic pay-off.

I thought and thought about this girl and what she was about.

Then I read a middle-grade novel that’s received lots of buzz and an award.
The main character is mean.
Really mean.
And even though the author did reveal the main character’s pain,
the emotional scale felt way out of balance.
That character’s pain wasn’t enough for me
and I had no sympathy for her.
In fact, I was a wee bit pissed off when I finished that book.

Obviously, there are many, many people who love it.
I’m just one reader.
But that book helped me decide:
I do not want CLOSE TO HOME told in the voice of a mean and rotten character.

Will my main character be perfect?
Absolutely not.
Will she say and do some bad things?
Absolutely.

My job is to to do right by this character,
and I’m going to work hard to find the perfect balance for the emotional scale.
               

Adding Scenes

        

It’s official.
I simply loathe adding scenes during revision.

That’s what I’m working on now, and yesterday
it took The Grackle’s penetrating gaze to keep me on task.

I’ve been thinking about why writing new scenes is so hard for me,
and the best I can come up with is that this manuscript has already been worked so much,
the storyline and characterization feel set in stone.  Solid.
(Note: solid does not preclude shitty-in-places).

So even though I know the story will be stronger with the additional scenes,
it still requires a huge shift in my writing brain to insert new stuff into my characters’ lives.

My friend, Pam Mingle, recently told me
she loves writing new scenes during revision.
And that she prefers new scenes to tinkering with what’s already there.

Clearly, opinions run the gamut from Loathe to Love.
Where do you fall on the spectrum?
         

Mentor Monday: Emotional Ping-Pong

       

Last week I promised to share some insights
from my mentor, Claudia Mills.

Claudia is helping me revise a middle-grade novel
about two girls, one homeless and the other, not.

The first time I met with Claudia, she praised my
"wonderful sense of the shifting terrain of interpersonal
dynamics and psychological nuance."

But, it turns out my sensitivity and attunement to my characters
is also the main stumbling block in my story.

Claudia went on to write in her comments:
"It’s that you are SO good at psychological nuance that I sometimes
felt as if I were watching a ping-pong match . . . feelings were shifting
back and forth with such frequency that I lost sense of where
we were in the overall shape of the story."

She was absolutely right.
And I have a feeling some of my earlier readers had that same issue
(whether or not they were able to articulate it that way).

So that’s what I worked on in my opening chapters
(plus some other issues regarding initial conflict).
I focused on the psychological dynamics in each scene,
watching for the ping-pong effect.
I wanted to build tension in each of my story’s relationships.

I worked and worked.
Last week I met with Claudia to discuss the revisions.

While I nailed the revisions of the initial conflicts,
it turns out I’d written some more emotional ping-pong.

I was frustrated with myself,
and as we talked, I wondered if I’d ever fully grasp what she was saying.
I mean, I’m a hyper-sensitive person and I feel lots of emotions all the time;
I wasn’t sure if I could write characters any other way.

And then Claudia said this:
Your task is to give yourself room to build.

Cue the epiphany music!

I cannot write scenes in which characters’ feelings
jump all over the spectrum from one moment to the next.
Even though they might feel that way inside,
I can only allow their emotions to move incrementally within each scene
so that there’s somewhere for them to go as the story progresses.

For example, if I write a character expressing full-blown anger
toward another character in the opening chapters,
there’s not a lot of room to maneuver the emotions of their relationship.

I need room to build.
It’s as simple as that.
            

(This was taken yesterday afternoon and somehow the imagery feels right for this post). © 2010 Tracy Abell
                         

Revising and yearning for spring

   

I met with my mentor yesterday.
The good news is, she loved what I did with the opening scene.
Bad news, I continued to make some of the same mistakes
she’d pointed out after the first read.

I’m going to share her insights with you next week.

For now, I just want to say I’m looking forward
to when all that sad, dead-looking foliage
outside my window comes back to life.

In the meanwhile, here’s a clematis from my patio last summer:

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend.
            

Dorothy, whaddya think?

While waiting for mentor feedback,
I have gone back to another project.

Not having much fun.
It’s hard getting back in this story’s flow.

I feel exceedingly rusty
and wonder if I need a jolt from the oil can,
 

a bit of courage,

or maybe just a little faith in the journey.

                           

Won’t get fooled again

      

What is it about writing stories that renders us
(and by us, I mean, me) clueless?

I’m revising a manuscript I used to think was pretty damned solid
but with the help of my mentor, I’m realizing I’d hit many wrong notes.

The opening chapter is so much better now
which makes me very happy
but also makes me wonder
what the hell was I thinking before?  

How could I miss the obvious?

I felt a bit shame-spirally last night as I contemplated my cluelessness
but am now trying to focus on feeling grateful for a stronger manuscript,
and am reminding myself I will carry this awareness to later projects.

I won’t get fooled again.
            

Friday Five: Notebook Love

       

1)  I love spiral-bound notebooks.

2)  I love this notebook I’m using for revisions,
a notebook formerly used by Wildebeest:

3)  I love that I can keep my pen and pencil handy
for immediate use:

4)  I love that I have pages and pages in which to jot any old thought that pops into my
head and that I can rewrite sentences and figure out characterization issues and vomit
out any angst and uncertainty here, and generally just have lots of room to move:

5)  But maybe most of all, I love that the back cover has a drawing by Wildebeest:

              

Clothes pin?

     

I’m supposed to be revising right now.
I was, up until two minutes ago
when I tiptoed away from my pages.

The thing is,
the whole project seems pretty stinky right now.

I’m not sure if I should
(A) call it a night before I do more damage or
(B) put a clothes pin on my nose and keep at it.

Maybe I will 
(C) crack open a cold beer and ponder the situation.
             

Exhilaration vs. Hyperventilation

           

I love roller coasters.
But I also panic at the thought of roller coasters.

I’m feeling those same mixed emotions as I prepare to embark on this revision.

I’m thrilled at the thought of finally creating the book I’d intended
but also a bit nervous about what I might experience along the way.

I know there will be thrills and spills.
And undoubtedly this revision will involve some screaming
and white knuckles.
Followed by more screaming.
Let’s just hope I don’t ever wet myself,
not even a little bit.

Okay,  here goes . . .

Two on a Tuesday

             

ONE:
Heading off this morning to meet for the first time
with my new mentor, Claudia Mills.

She’ll be working with me to revise CLOSE TO HOME,
a MG I love and want to see published.

I’m grateful to the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI
for instituting this new mentor program.

TWO:
Zippy convinced me to buy hot meats bird seed.
Huh?!

Sunflower Meats, hot chili peppers, and safflower oil.
Supposedly, birds don’t mind the heat but squirrels do.

Zippy thought we’d get a greater variety of birds
if we offered hot meats rather than plain old safflower seeds.

But so far….
no takers.

On the plus side, I haven’t seen any squirrels with pained expressions, either.

(And so you don’t think we’re completely heartless,
we have one of those squirrel corn-cob-thingies available for gnawing).

                        

Contorting in Synopsis Hell

       

So I’m working on a synopsis right now.
Fun.

Not.

I decided I’d like to blog about the not-fun.
And wondered if there was a cool image to go with my entry.

When I Googled I was thinking of an image that was
slimy or sharp-toothed.
Noxious and sulfurous and all-around-yuck.

Something that taunted.

Instead, I found this.  A Romeo and Juliet synopsis/mind-map:

Go here for larger view.

And now I’m not feeling so daunted by the task ahead of me.

(Whaddya say, kellyrfineman?  Bet you can do this, right?)
            

On the upswing

Waiting for feedback on revisions of funny boy book.
Feeling good about the changes that make it a stronger book.

Rather than obsessively peeking at that ms again
I read my second middle grade.  Again.
Decided I love that book too much to let it die.

Hear that, universe? 
Close to Home deserves a publishing home
and I’m not giving up on it.

I have no idea what any of this means except that
it feels good to have positive feelings about one’s writing.
Now and again.
Because I know all too well how that pendulum swings the other way.

But as of this moment, the pendulum and I are on the upswing.

       

Hunkered down in revision mode

On Monday morning I suddenly realized I wanted to revisit my middle-grade that’s out on submission.  So I’m tightening and reworking some things.  It feels good to make the story even better. 

And

, in case you poke your head out of your writing cave today I want you to know I’m rooting for you.  Writing the ending is sometimes SO hard because I don’t want to say goodbye to my characters (and then there are the times I want to load them all onto a bus at gun point just so I can drive them off a bridge).  Maybe that’s a little of what you’re feeling; a bit of melancholy.  Either way, put down the paintbrush and get that story written!

Report back when you’re done, and I’ll do the same.

            

Talking to Myself

I just completed a painful set of revisions on Chapter Sixteen and wanted to highlight my writing buddy, the voice-activated recorder. I wasn’t looking forward to those revisions because while there was a lot right about that chapter, much had to change. Not only basic plot points but some nuance. It was going to get ugly.

Then I got out my voice recorder and just talked for ten minutes as I sorted out my plan of attack.

I’ve always had to talk through plotting or characterization problems but what I finally realized was that because I can’t write when I’m talking aloud, I often lose pieces of the puzzle. Talking wasn’t enough if I couldn’t retain everything. So I bought this handy gadget that catches every um, sigh, and epiphany. For those of you who are like me and must talk out loud to unravel your stories, I highly recommend a voice recorder.

I’ve even stopped cringing at the sound of my voice.