Steve Holt!

I spent the day reading and critiquing a writing friend’s middle-grade manuscript, and just hit SEND.

There’s only one man on the planet who truly understands how pumped I am right now, and that man be Steve Holt!


My Insides Match My Outsides

For the past several days I’ve been working on the first 90 pages of my YA, zooming in on one particular relationship between two characters. I first went through the pages and highlighted every interaction between them in yellow. Then I went back to the beginning, highlighting in red the words I want to delete and using green highlights for the new words I added. It’s been a slow process but I feel as if finally, finally these characters are unfolding at the right pace and that I’m avoiding the dreaded Emotional Ping-Pong (something that was rampant in a YA I read over the weekend).

So imagine my delight when a few minutes ago I opened my computer to resume work on my project and I realized the screen mirrored the glorious colors outside.More fall leaves and computer screen 001

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Picture this: Tracy trapped inside her house, armed with nothing but a camera, as rain pours down outside.

Someone left the Kong out in the rain...

Someone left the Kong out in the rain…

Mourning Dove 005

Nothing like waterlogged nut-munch...

Nothing like waterlogged nut-munch…

Squirrel rainy day shots 030

Birds squirrels & rainy day shots 031     Birds squirrels & rainy day shots 032

Leaves in puddle 040So far all this rain in my neighborhood has only added up to really, really soggy ground, but just 20 miles away the city of Boulder is flooding. It would be best if the rain stopped falling. I’ve got no pull, but perhaps the weather goddesses will listen to Batman:

“I am vengeance. I am the night. I. AM. BATMAN!”Batman in rain 007I believe the rough translation is: KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE RAIN, YO!!!

Making Courage a Habit

A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.          ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because I didn’t write much over the summer, it’s been difficult finding my groove again. That nasty little voice whispers in my ear, calling me delusional as I try to shake off the rust and gain some traction on my project.

I’ve had a few starts and stops, but for the past three days have written 1000 words per day. It’s starting to feel like a habit again although each day there’s a flutter in my chest as I prepare to sit down to work. “What if today I can’t do it?”

But as the wise Mr. Emerson pointed out, courage gets a bit easier each time you face down a particular fear. So right now I’m off to write my 1000 words for the day with the knowledge that I’ve done it before and can surely do it again.

Courage.Cowardly Lion receiving courage

Beauty All Around

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  ~ Khalil Gibran
Poppy 007
Poppy 009
Spider and Flowers 078
Spider and Flowers 074
I’m totally down with your sentiment, Khalil, except maybe the wind could lay off my poppies? You know, so they could hold onto their bloom for longer than a day?

Two Personal Reminders

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.                                                             ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.                                 ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

Assorted birds 033


Winter Reflections

“Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium.                                            There is no life without water.”                                                                                                               ~ biologist and Nobel laureate Albert von Szent

© Tracy Abell 2013

© Tracy Abell 2013

A Tip from John Irving

“A writer’s job is to imagine everything so personally 
that the fiction is as vivid as memories.”   ~ John Irving                        

Missing Mr. Vonnegut


"Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here.
There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you’ve got to be kind."

                                                      — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater)

                                                                                                                   image from


Need the Funny


I’m fast-approaching my freak-out limit what with
dead birds falling from the sky,
dead crabs washing up on shore,
Sarah Palin as 2012 presidential candidate,
spineless, tone deaf Obama and his new Wall-Street-insider-Chief-of-Staff,

It’s time for something funny.
How about a monologue from Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin’s
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe . . . . . . . . . . .

This is Judith Beasley, a suburban housewife who used to sell Tupperware:

Judith Beasley char Lily Tomlin

About a month ago, I was shown some products designed to improve the sex lives of suburban housewives.
I got so excited, I just had to come on public access and tell you about it. To look at me, you’d never suspect
I was a semi-nonorgasmic woman. This means it was possible for me to have an orgasm—but highly unlikely.

To me the term “sexual freedom” meant freedom from having to have sex. And then along came Good Vibrations.
And was I surprised!
Now I am a regular Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

As a love subject, it surpasses my husband Harold by a country mile.
But please, this is no threat to the family unit; think of it as a kind of Hamburger Helper for the boudoir.

Can you afford one, you say? Can you afford not to have one, I say.
Why, the time it saves alone is worth the price.
I’d rank it up there with Minute Rice, Reddi-Wrap, and Pop-Tarts.

Ladies, it simply takes the guesswork out of making love.

“But doesn’t it kill the romance?” you say. And I say, “What doesn’t?”

So, what’ll it be? This deluxe kit? Or this purse-size model for the “woman on the go?”
Fits anywhere and comes with a silencer to avoid curious onlookers.

Ladies, it can be a real help to the busy married woman who has a thousand chores
and simply does not need the extra burden of trying to have an orgasm.

But what about the guilt, you say? Well, that thought did cross my mind.

But at one time I felt guilty using a cake mix instead of baking from scratch.

I learned to live with that. I can learn to live with this.

Thank you, Jane and Lily.

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."

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)


Friday Five: The Steven Wright Edition



Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

Cross country skiing is great if you live in a small country.

Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.

A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.

I intend to live forever. So far, so good.


Wishing everyone a weekend filled with much laughter and just enough absurdity to keep it interesting.

Taste: It’s All Subjective


I just read two YA novels by two well-known authors.
(Note: these authors are not on LiveJournal).
I’ve read and enjoyed other novels by these authors.

But I did not like either of these books.
At all.

The first was filled with repetitious interior dialogue,
as the narrator told the reader about his thoughts/feelings four different ways.
The second was based on an unbelievable premise that required a light touch
but instead was handled with a sledge hammer.
My jaw dropped when I read the final page because I couldn’t believe an editor let it go.
Then again, the entire book was written that way.

But you know what?
I did a quick online search, and discovered that all sorts of people enjoyed those books.
Books are a matter of taste,
and I need to remember that as I work to get my stories published.

Thomas Jefferson advised "In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." 

That’s probably good advice, Tom.
But while I won’t argue with people’s taste regarding these books,
I’m not jumping in to swim alongside popular opinion.

That’s a reader’s right.
A right shared by those editors reading my manuscripts.

Ms. Brain, She Desperately Needs a Song


There are lots of contributing factors to my current State of Grumpy:

It’s incredibly windy right now
which means I can’t work in my garden
which means no exercise
since my hip is still messed up and I can’t do much of anything else
which also means I’m gaining weight.
And did I mention it’s Monday?
A really windy Monday?

But I also just realized I haven’t written much of anything in a week
as I’m still in CLOSE TO HOME limbo as I wait for readers’ responses.
I cannot work on BIRD BRAIN until I can give it my undivided attention
because I’ve started and stopped that project so many times I’m
afraid it’ll dwindle into nothing if I don’t give it the respect it’s due.

So there I was.
Crabby, crabby crabby.
Until I grabbed a book off my shelf, THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: Craft and the Writing Life from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop,
and opened it to Barry Hannah‘s piece, Mr. Brain, He Want a Song.
This is what I read:

". . . this is why I find working writers to be among the happiest folks in the world.  Among the unhappiest are those who are not working and have endless questions.  You do not want to get within a block of these people.  The Great Suck – big bottom lip, the sulk, the neurotic and despondent vortex.  But working writers are like unprosecuted felons."      

I’m off to my PT appointment but as soon as I’m home,
I’m going to write some flash fiction or a poem.
I cannot stand wallowing in The Great Suck.
However, I probably won’t go so far as to commit a felony
(unless you count writing really bad poetry as a crime).

On this Mother’s Day


The following was written in 1870, yet here we are in 2010,
still raising our voices against violence and war.
Here we are in 2010, with a president who publicly jokes about the use of predator drones.
Here we are in 2010, knowing in our hearts there is a better way.

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Inspiration for today’s work


As I get ready to write today,
hoping to choose the perfect words for my final chapter,
I hold Jeannine’s work up as inspiration.

From BORROWED NAMES by Jeannine Atkins:

As if staying in one place
is the sole measure of goodness,
as if ponds are better than running rivers or rain.

Jeannine sets the bar pretty damned high, doesn’t she?


First they came . . .


Yesterday Arizona’s governor signed into law legislation
making it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant.

It is the first state in the country to do so.
Word has it the xenophobes’ next target is Colorado.

(Mike Keefe 4.24.10)

"SB 1070, also known as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act,”
would allow police officers to arrest a person based on “reasonable suspicion ” that he or she
is an undocumented immigrant. Police departments could face lawsuits by individuals who believe
they are not enforcing the law." 

Isn’t that great?  The fear-based, angry white mob that would be better served directing its rage
at Wall Street, NAFTA, CAFTA, etc. can now sue the police for not arresting enough people of color.

As Martin Niemöller said in 1946:
"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Niemöller knows from whence he speaks; he spent time in Dachau.

Building Tension and the Big O


I met with Claudia yesterday to go over revisions.
The take-home quote of the day?

You’ve done an excellent job building tension in the story; it builds and builds and builds. 
Like an orgasm.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I create orgasm-worthy middle-grade fiction. 
But I don’t think I’ll mention that as a selling point when it comes time to schedule school visits.


Thankful Thursday: The Feathered Edition


"The great thing about being a beginner [birdwatcher] is that it doesn’t
take much to please you.  And if you have any sense, you will keep that."

                          —-Simon Barnes from HOW TO BE A BAD BIRDWATCHER

                                                                     © 2010 Tracy Abell

Okay, here’s what it says at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
Compared with males, females have paler heads that contrast less with the gray back.

So would you say the American Robin in my photo is male?  Or female?

Thoughts on a St. Patrick’s Day



Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect. 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Smart women believe in hard work with a dash of good fortune.

~ Me

Wishing everyone a happy, fortune-filled St. Patrick’s Day!

Friday Five: The Color Edition


I’m currently reading R.A. Nelson’s DAYS OF LITTLE TEXAS, and came across this line:
The next morning the sun comes up like three-day old orange juice. 

And I thought, wow.

Later, I was hooping while listening to Regina Spektor, and heard this:
Blue lips, blue veins
Blue, the color of our planet
From far, far away

So then I started thinking about colors
and how they can create such powerful imagery.

I grabbed a book off my nightstand, Laraine Herring’s WRITING BEGINS WITH THE BREATH,
and found this:
The yellow, diamond-shaped sign with the words "SNOW ZONE" on it was covered with snow,
revealing only "S  W   NE" to drivers.

From my bookshelf I opened T.C. Boyle’s THE TORTILLA CURTAIN to this:
His hair was red, for one thing — not the pale wispy carrot-top  Delaney had inherited from his Scots-Irish mother, but the deep shifting auburn you saw on the flanks of horses in an uncertain light.

Besides his workbench and chair there was a heavy safe in the corner, a lavatory with a greenish mirror, and shelves full of boxes and worn-out clocks.

Can’t you just picture all that?
Wishing each of you a glorious weekend filled with COLOR and life!

Frederick Douglass on Haiti


I regard her [Haiti] as the original pioneer emancipator of the nineteenth century. It was her one brave example that first of all started the Christian world into a sense of the Negro’s manhood. It was she who first awoke the Christian world to a sense of "the danger of goading too far the energy that slumbers in a black man’s arm." Until Haiti struck for freedom, the conscience of the Christian world slept profoundly over slavery.
– Hon. Frederick Douglass, ex-United States Minister to the Republic of Haiti, January 2, 1893.

Here’s the link to Douglass’s entire World’s Fair lecture.

Haiti has always struggled mightily
to survive on her own terms.
She’s strong, I know.
I just wish the universe would quit testing her.


That’s what she said

said, "Carol Lynch Williams has created some kind of miracle in the THE CHOSEN ONE" and she was right. I finished reading it yesterday and could not stop thinking about it. High stakes and lovely writing.

said, "A beginning is filled with so much hope." Jeannine was referring to the blank page at the beginning of a project and I realized that that hope is what keeps me in the writing game. Each time I start a new book, I know the sky’s the limit on what I can accomplish.

Zippy’s mother once said "We’re talking about rulers and we end up talking about blue-green algae. Isn’t that strange?" I dug that 12/23/91 gem out of my old quote book because this past week I spent the day with my in-laws and was reminded how odd yet fun it is being a part of that family. (Although sometimes the odd outweighs the fun).

Anne Lamott said, "Hey, who fucking cares?" when she was in the bathtub, feeling down on herself as she stared at her post-pregnancy thighs. I think Anne’s wisdom applies to an awful lot of stuff in my 47-year-old life. Feel free to remind me of this sentiment when I fall into a shame spiral.