Where to buy Traci Robison's books

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Buy Gates the Hours Keep at:

May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day.  I spent this morning mulching and weeding flowerbeds and getting in Jim's way as he tried to clean the garage.  I'm finally settling in to do a little writing. 

Memorial Day began after the Civil War as a day of remembrance honoring veterans.  Since then the holiday has expanded to include visiting and decorating the graves of loved ones who weren't veterans.  It's also become associated with backyard barbecues and long weekends for traveling, camping, catching up with friends and family, or catching up on chores.  My Memorial Day memories involve visiting cemeteries to decorate graves with fresh-cut peonies and playing trombone in the high school marching band for a service led by the local VFW.

I'm wishing I'd made it home to put peonies on my grandparents' graves.  Those I picked yesterday are in a vase on my table instead.  I can't look at them without thinking of Grandma and Grandpa, from whose yard the peony plants came.  It's my way of honoring them across the miles.

Today write a scene involving a gesture of honor or respect.

May 24, 2010

Rites of Passage

Yesterday I co-hosted a bridal shower for my goddaughter, who's getting married in July.  I haven't participated in many bridal showers and have never hosted one, and through the process of planning and the party itself, I've realized how little I know about this rite of passage so many women go through. 

I felt like an ethnologist observing the inner workings of a women's secret society.  "No, you can't throw the bows away!" one woman told the bride as she began opening gifts.  Another instructed her to say who the gift was from, hold it up, and tell everyone what it is.  "There sure are a lot of rules to this," the bride said.

Most of the older women seemed interested and engaged, teasing the bride or making comments about the gifts.  A lot of the younger guests hung back, lounging on lawn chairs or texting on their phones as if they were only half-present.  I wonder how the ritual will be changed by the time those women are the elders.  Will people still have bridal showers?

Since I have ceremonies and rites of passage on the brain, today's writing prompt involves rituals.  Write about a ritual or rite of passage you have observed or imagined.  Include details involving each of your senses.

May 21, 2010

Research and Inspiration

In an interview with Jeffrey Brown, Isabel Allende discusses the role of research and inspiration in writing her new book Island Beneath the Sea . After four years of historical research, the story truly began to take shape only after the main character came to her in a dream.  Allende says the idea of writing a historic novel is to, "have the research and don't show it."  Her research focuses on the details of how people lived rather than the major events history books record.

After the research was complete, the protagonist appeared to Allende with a voice and a name, and the story flowed from there. "Before I have the voice of the protagonist in my head I can't write the book," Allende says.

I have to admit, I'm a little envious that she was inspired in a dream.  So far my attempts to dream about my story have been fruitless.  My husband read recently that eating sugar before sleeping can result in nightmares and suggested I might benefit from a couple cookies before bedtime.  (As if I needed a justifiable reason to eat his specialty, chocolate-chocolate chip.)  I downed the cookies dutifully and proceeded to have a nightmare-filled night just as he'd promised.  I dreamed a sweet kitten tried to eat my thumb.  Later, I was in a flock of people in a clearing surrounded by corn fields and soybeans, and we were being shot at by a man on a plateau while some of his "bad guy" buddies blended in to spy on us, lest we try to escape.  And the last nightmare took me back to my days as a bank teller.  I'd forgotten I was supposed to open the bank, then forgot the alarm's security code, then forgot how to sign on to the computers--one panic-inducing brain fart after another until I woke, still stymied and panicked.

Still, if he's willing to bake the cookies, I'm willing to try again.  

Here's the Allende interview if you'd like to watch it.

May 17, 2010

Monday Morning Jump Start

I've decided to post a writing prompt each Monday to help kick off the week's writing.  Build a scene beginning with the phrase below, and feel free to post what you've come up with in the comment section.

The lilacs framing the town square were in full bloom, and all the folks in Bellewood . . .

May 15, 2010

Out Loud

During grad school, my husband and I gave up cable TV so we could afford to eat and to have high-speed internet access.  Back then, the little leisure time we did squeeze out, we filled with trips to the gym, the occassional movie, and reading aloud to one another.  Five years out of grad school, our habits remain pretty much unchanged.  The TV picks up a few more stations over the air, and Netflix instant view could turn us into zombies any day; but we still make it to the gym now and then, and we still read aloud to one another.

The first books we read together were Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy, old favorites from Jim's childhood.  I have to confess, if he fell asleep while I was reading, I'd sometimes skip ahead.  Sacrilege, I know, but I honestly didn't want to know all about the entwives.  We followed the trilogy with a few random picks, The Keep by F. Paul Wilson and Bernard Cornwell's Redcoat, among our favorites.

Our latest read is The Name of the Wind.  When I picked it up in the bookstore, I fell in love with its prologue, "A Silence of Three Parts"--the voice, the sense of place, and the idea that silence, which seems singular on the surface, could be so distinctly partitioned appealed to me.  Paragraphs of praise, which covered the back and inside pages of the book, couldn't persuade me as well as the author's own opening pages.  In truth, I've yet to glance at the critical acclaim.  Read out loud, Patrick Rothfuss' book has an enjoyable cadence plenty of novels lack.  Tonight it's my turn to listen!

May 14, 2010

Sarcasma the Mutant Muse

Sarcasma the mutant muse dropped by and hung out with me all day, and together we created some passages that read like my main character's account of his sixth grade summer vacation. What can I say? I've been writing not-so-cheery scenes lately and needed to cut loose a little. So, if you promise not to hold this against me, I'm willing to give you a glimpse of the goobledy-gunk for your enjoyment, horror, or shrug-inducing apathy.

Here goes: Last winter my best pal died. It made me feel real sad--kinda like you feel when the top of your ice cream cone falls on the sidewalk and starts melting by your toes while you're left holding the empty, stale cone. Yeah, it was a lot like that. A sticky mess at my feet and me left with nothin' but emptiness.

May 12, 2010


The other night I watched NOVA's What are dreams? on Netflix.  During the program Dr. Deidre Barrett of Harvard talked about problem solving and dreams: "Just say to one's self, 'I want to dream about X tonight,' as you're drifting off to sleep, and in my research I find that about 50 percent of people can do that, if they just practice that for a brief period of time. And about half will get an answer that is really gratifying to whatever the issue is." 

I used to do that frequently--half day-dreaming and half problem-solving to put myself to sleep.  Sometimes I would have dreams that brought to life the characters or settings I was working on, and although they seldom related directly to the plotline, they did give me new insights.  During the past year or so, though, I've rarely remembered my dreams.  If I dream of characters or plots, I'm always seeing them from a distance and revising as I dream.  Something will play out, and I will think, "No, that's not right." and replay it a different way.  It's not nearly as enjoyable or useful as those dreams I used to have.

After the program, I decided I'd experiment and think about the scene I'm working on as I went to sleep.  I actually did dream about it and remembered the dream.  Score!  But, editing mode was kicking in even then.  One of the men in my dream threw a spear, and I thought, "He wouldn't throw that, he'd jab with it."  Fine.  Rewind.  He jabs.  The other man's shield cracks.  Dreaming brain complains, "Isn't his shield bronze?  It wouldn't crack."  And so on  . . .

Anyone else have experience using dreams to problem solve?  Anyone else have a control-freak editor in their dreaming brain?

May 10, 2010

Zone of Focus

I signed up for my second photography class at the local community college today. I'm a little nervous about having weekly assignments and not crazy about spending three hours of an all-too-short weeknight in class, but I'm excited to learn more. Five weeks into my intro class, I already understand my camera better and have dared to move out of the automatic setting and into aperture priority.

My husband enjoys photography, too, so I've been filling him in on each week's lessons. The other day when we were discussing depth of field (the zone of sharp focus), he made an interesting comparison between photography and writing fiction.  Like a photographer deciding how much of an image should come sharply into focus and what elements can be blurred, a writer decides to zero in on one character or part of a scene or to focus broadly and make almost every detail sharp.  Both methods can produce beautiful results.

I often write key scenes--especially those that are emotionally difficult--as if I'm photographing them through a zoom lens.  At first the image is broad and blurry in places; the scene feels out of reach.  Little by little I add in more details, often re-writing the scene from scratch and discovering new elements in the process.  One time through I'll focus on sensory details; another time, on character interactions and dialogue; another, on the character's inner feelings.  With each pass, I come closer to feelings and actions more comfortably viewed from a distance.

That's how I deal with the tough scenes.  What methods do you use to get through them?