Holding to the vision

As I continue to work on the YA-manuscript-with-many-warts, I take solace in this bit of wisdom:

Every great work,
every big accomplishment,
has been brought into manifestation through holding to the vision,
and often just before the big achievement,
comes apparent failure and discouragement.

~Florence Scovel Shinn

The way I see it, I’m currently smack-dab in the middle of an enormous puddle of failure and discouragement which means Big Achievement could very well be nigh.

*scans horizon before getting back to revisions*

Chekhov on a Bunny Monday

I’m not sure what put the light in this rabbit’s eye*, but I know where mine came from: today’s writing session was great fun. Even though I’m writing a first draft and, therefore, not overly hung up on language, I put down some good stuff. And that makes me very happy. Even after reading the following:

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~ Anton Chekhov

Much of what I wrote today is more tell than show, but I still had a damned good time.

*okay, it was probably the sun

Inspirational Poetry

GET FUZZY by Darby Conley                                         September 26, 2016
getfuzzy-9-26-16


Inspirational as in “Now I don’t feel so bad about my poetry.”

Thanks, Satchel!

 

 

.

Live music lessons

Last night’s concert with Shovels & Rope and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats filled me with joy and admiration. I’m not a musician nor have I ever played one on TV, but I felt a kinship with the people on the Red Rocks Amphitheatre stage.

Why? Because as I watched and listened to all those talented musicians, I understood on a gut level the work they’ve done. They’re creative people who have put in years and years to get where they’re at, and they’ve enjoyed glimpses of triumph and then been dragged down low. They’ve been discouraged yet kept going and when something wasn’t working, they tried something else. Every one of them took chances and eventually triumphed.

I want to be like those musicians when I grow up.

Antique Typewriter (with lettering)

 

 

.

Letter to Self

Dear Tracy,

Angst and uncertainty are part of the creative process. You know that. You also know those feelings are best handled by writing and pushing through to the other side. But sometimes those feelings become so huge and unwieldy and the voices are shrieking so loudly in your head that you convince yourself you hate the project and want to quit it forever.

Please don’t give in to those feelings.

Instead, remember this: sometimes you feel stuck and unable to move forward NOT because you’re no-talent and the project is worthless, but because your approach is wrong. Sometimes you can’t make progress because something deep inside your creative self digs in its heels and refuses to budge. Sometimes you just need a little time to find the way.

Your project doesn’t suck. You don’t hate it. And it would be a sad, sad thing if you quit it forever.

Love,
Tracy

One Novel Idea

Looking at photos on the computer, I came across this:

(I can't find photographer's name)

This picture is in my bedroom. I bought the print when I was pregnant with Wildebeest because of the Kurt Vonnegut quote from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.**

One night while we were reading in bed, I mentioned to Zippy that I needed a new writing project. He pointed across the room and suggested I write the story of those five babies.
I did, and it became Framed: Toby Hart’s Official Police Statement. (In the second draft or so of the middle-grade novel, I had to kill off one of the kids. Well, not bump her off, but delete her storyline. Oddly enough, it was the baby who is front and center.)

The book didn’t sell and I have a bunch of notes on how to rewrite it, but in the meantime, despite the rejection, the babies and I share a kind coexistence. Kurt would want it that way.

** Full quote:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth.
It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded.
At the outside, babies, you’ve got about 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.

Friday Five: The TracyWorld Edition

1) While much of Bob Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED is good music to run to, Ballad of a Thin Man is not a song that will put pep in your step.

2) Zebu is binge-watching all six seasons of LOST (and luring me in from time to time), and what pops into my head at least once per viewing is How are none of these people badly burned and peeling?! Yo, Dharma Initiative, you remembered the lima beans but forgot the sunblock!

3) I want to live in a world in which cookies and beer have no caloric consequences.

4) I have SO. MANY. PHOTOS on my computer that haven’t seen the light of day, so here’s a random selection (capture of a Red-Tailed Hawk eyass from the Cornell Labs cam a couple years ago):Capture

5) I recently read T.C. Boyle’s WATER MUSIC and Zadie Smith’s ON BEAUTY (part of this effort), and am trying hard to be inspired by their prowess for description rather than allowing their mad skills to intimidate me so much I take a match to my manuscript.

Not Ready to Quit

I’ve been at this writing thing for a while, working toward publication. There have been highs and lows throughout the journey, validation followed by rejection. It’s been tough, but I’ve always been tougher. Something inside wouldn’t let me quit. Something inside knew I did not want to give up.

Several weeks ago, I began to seriously consider quitting.

Seriously, as in, I actually said out loud, “I’m thinking about quitting.” And I spoke those words to a new non-writer acquaintance who’d asked about my writing. That was a huge moment, because during all the years of writing in the bleachers during Zebu’s basketball games and being asked by other parents if I was a teacher grading papers, I always said, “No, I’m a writer.” If they asked more questions, I’d let them know I was writing novels for kids and when the inevitable question came, I’d say, “No, I haven’t been published yet.” And it was okay. There was a core of steel in me that allowed me to have those conversations. I knew I’d keep writing until my stories were published. I knew I’d prevail.

Nothing specific happened in the past month or so to shake my convictions, but somehow I felt I’d reached my limit. As in, maybe it was time to quit putting my work out there to be judged because maybe, just maybe, it was unhealthy to continue making myself vulnerable to others’ opinions. Sending out a manuscript is like offering my heart on a plate so that it can be stabbed, sometimes repeatedly.

So I gave myself a little break. A break from writing and a break from decision-making about writing for publication. I kept reading, though. One of the books I read was a YA from an author who’d written one of the best books I’d read in 2013, an author who sells gazillions of books and seems to be an awesome person. The YA I read was a huge disappointment. Weak, weak, weak. I was flabbergasted. And slightly annoyed. I knew better than to write a protagonist who doesn’t change and secondary characters who serve as placeholders and plot lines that go nowhere, fizzling out into big nothings. Why do I know that? Because I know how to write.

And just like that I knew I wasn’t ready to quit writing for publication. Not because I have any delusions about knocking that author off the best-seller list. And not because I’m angry with the publishing world that has, thus far, excluded me from the club. I’ve gone back to work on my YA because I want to continue doing what I know how to do, and to continue learning how to do that even better.

I am a writer. And no, I haven’t yet been published. Whatever.

Image from MorgueFile.com by Alvimann

Image from MorgueFile.com by Alvimann

Friday Five: The Kathleen Duey Edition

ONE:
So what do you do when you’re more than a year into a project yet
still confused regarding the viability of said project?
Hire Kathleen Duey – Writing Consultant Extraordinaire.

Kathleen Duey pic

TWO:
And how does that consultation take place?
Via Skype in which you’re face-to-face across the miles,
looking into Kathleen’s friendly face below those flaming tresses,
as she shares her reaction to your opening pages and synopsis.

THREE:
Will she automatically like what you’ve written and advise you to
continue in that vein?
Not in my case. But that’s good because the reason
I contacted Kathleen was to jar myself from the space I was in with
that project, and to get me thinking in new and different directions. If she’d
told me I was on the right track I would’ve wanted my money back.

FOUR:
Did she share brilliant insights and suggestions?
Yes and yes! Kathleen offered a plot device I hadn’t considered which
will make the storytelling easier while adding complexity to the plot. She also
had oodles of general insights and if I had to choose a money quote from our
session it would be “I don’t really know this kid yet and I’m thinking you
don’t know him much better.” That was painful to hear but not unexpected;
it was the wake-up I needed. (She then shared techniques for
getting to know him, getting to know all about him…).

FIVE:
Well, it kinda sounds as if your project needs a major overhaul so aren’t
you a little overwhelmed?
Absolutely. But I also finally, finally feel as if I might be able to do this concept
justice (a concept Kathleen very much loved) and so am trying not to look
too far ahead as I begin at the beginning (again). This project is my Grow
and Learn and Mature as a Writer project, and I want to embrace the
experience.

BONUS:
If you get the chance to hear Kathleen speak at a conference, do it.
I heard her years ago when my energy and drive were flagging and
she made me not only want to write again, but to write well. She’s smart
and passionate and incredibly supportive of other writers.

Thank you again, Kathleen!

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.

                       

Maurice Sendak on Melville and Diving

  

Herman Melville was always using the image of the artist as diver. 
He loved that word. Having to dive from some height, meaning, of
course, taking a serious risk. Because if you dive and you're lucky,
you'll come up with gold from the bottom of yourself. You dive deep
into the self. But you can also drown, you can smash your head upon
the rocks — there are terrible risks in diving from a great height. But
if you didn't dive, then you were not an artist in his terms. Without
risk you were just a middle-of-the-road type guy. 
               
                  ~ Maurice Sendak from Writers Dreaming by Naomi Epel

I'm afraid of heights
and sometimes I'm afraid to dive deep into myself.
However, I never want to be a middle-of-the-road type guy.

Inviting all my creative friends to join me in taking the plunge 
today and every day.

                   

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                        
                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                          

Art Blossoms

                 

Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.
                                                      ~ Cicero


                                                                                                                                                                 © Tracy Abell 2011
      


My current project is cherry blossom-free, but the glorious natural world keeps me going.
In art and life.

Wishing everyone a week filled with Nature’s inspiration and rejuvenation.  

Seeking Out the Unremarked

        

 Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

                                     Albert Szent-Gyorgyi


                                                                                                                            © Tracy Abell 2011       

Szent-Gyorgyi was a physiologist credited with discovering Vitamin C,

but this quotation gets to the heart of what it means to be a writer, too.
In fact, when reading it I immediately thought of something Marilynne Robinson told me (paraphrased):
 
Most experiences are unremarked.  The tendency in writing is to focus on the already evaluated
and already delineated. Instead, as a writer, aspire to bring to the forefront the unobserved.
 
Every story has already been told; it’s the telling that makes each different.
 
                

Hawk-Writer

              

Hello, Monday!

 
                                         © Tracy Abell 2011

This Sharp-shinned Hawk stopped by yesterday,
and watched as I photographed it from my deck.

“A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer.
A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay,
but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.”

                                                                                       ~ Ernest Hemingway 

Apologies to Barb ( ), but I’ll strive for hawk-writer this week.
                       

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."
 ~  ANNA LAPPÉ

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)

                

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?
            

           

Friday Five: The Ellen Hopkins Edition

             

Last night I got to hear Ellen Hopkins speak.
I haven’t read any of her books, mostly because I never felt in the right emotional space to do so.
CRANK is some heavy duty bleeeep, people.

Well, after listening to the smart and funny Ellen in person,
I decided if she’s brave enough to write them, I can summon the courage to read them.

1)  Ellen started writing CRANK in prose but got 50 pages in and realized it wasn’t working.  After
hearing Sonya Sones speak, Ellen decided to try writing it in verse.

2)  She put huge amounts of thought into the format and where each word ended up on the page
because she was (is) especially mindful of the YA reader’s needs.

3)  In answer to a question, Ellen said that yes, it feels as if her brain is half story and half format.

4)  When she writes, each page has to be right before she moves on which means that when she reaches
the end, it’s done.

5)  She cautioned us to always be honest in our writing and so if writing a romance, to show the flaws.
Don’t set up readers for a lifetime of looking for a kind of perfect love that doesn’t exist.  Her example
was that she’s been married 25 years and considers her husband Mr. Mostly Right (because there are
those days…)

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND, EVERYONE!
                        

Friday Five: The Marilynne Robinson Edition (Part Deux)

        

Last week’s Friday Five with Marilynne Robinson went over well
so I thought I’d share some more insights from her scary-smart mind:

1)  Be aware of the effect metaphor has on other metaphors.  Rather than writing your story as "beads on a string," view it as a resonating chamber in which all pieces must be affected by whatever else is vibrating.

2)  If you write with a public in mind, you’re dead.

3)  When you’re writing something and encounter great difficulty, don’t be discouraged.  You can’t write good fiction if you feel you already know everything about what you’re writing.  Stumble on something?  It means it’s a legitimate question.  Set it aside and let your mind do the work.  Don’t have to flail away until you find a "solution."  Don’t force the issue by using your Front Office Mind.

4)  Your Front Office Mind is how you operate on a daily basis (getting rid of telemarketers, making appointments, etc.)  The Front Office Mind is not the mind you use when you write.  The other mind, the middle mind, is where all the work is done; it’s been thinking about things for a very long time, waiting for you to ask. 

5)  Short story has a responsibility to itself: the posing of a question that somehow answers itself.

Bonus gem:  Pay attention to when you’re writing well so that it’s easier to fall back into that mode the next time.
              

Everybody Needs a Mentor

          

I’m back home after my fourth meeting
with my mentor, Claudia Mills.
And I just want to say,
if you ever have the opportunity to participate
in a SCBWI-sponsored mentor program,
do it!

Claudia isn’t just an ace at pacing and tension,
unafraid to tell me when I’ve struck the wrong note,
but also a mentor who is generous with her praise.

I practically float home after sessions with her.
She not only makes me feel good about what I’ve accomplished
but also fills me with a steely determination to meet her expections.
I never, ever want her to regret the compliments she’s given me and my writing.

And because so much of this journey is spent alone, in my head,
I’m going to be bold and link to Claudia’s blog post from today
in which she said insanely nice things about my writing.

You know, for those days when I’m feeling delusional.

Check out your local SCBWI chapter to see if you have a mentor program.
If not, maybe you can get one started.

Because every writer needs a Claudia in her corner.
                 

Friday Five: The Marilynne Robinson Edition

    

In May-June of 2003, I had the great good fortune to study with Marilynne Robinson for three weeks at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.   


Here are some gems from Marilynne:

1)  If you have any luck at all, when you sit down to write you won’t end up writing what you intended at all.

2)  You can’t find a story without writing it all out (don’t focus on page limits or word count).

3)  Don’t be loyal to the investment you’ve made in a weak scene instead of loyal to the scene itself.  Does it deserve to die?  If so, then kill it, no matter how long you’ve sweated over it.

4)   A character shouldn’t look like a type but a personality.

5)  The tension in a piece of fiction is not how it ends but how it arrives at its ending.

Bonus Gem:  You should always keep something in front of the reader’s eye; it’s like leading a blind person through the reader’s house.
              

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.

And Carson McCullers’s THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER:
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!
                
      

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.