Where to buy Traci Robison's books

Buy The Taking at:

Buy Tangled at:

Buy Gates the Hours Keep at:

July 31, 2010

Where in the World

During the past week I've been researching routes and key cities on the Persian royal road.  I've been looking for mountain passes through which my characters can travel and a port from which they'll sail.  It's more work than planning my own vacation!

Photo by Chuck Coker
Along the way, I've come across some interesting sites on old maps--though most didn't help with my current project.  Here are links to some of my favorites:

July 30, 2010

Cut Loose

My hips don't lie.  They whine and cry.   It's been two days since my last bellydance class, and I'm aching more than yesterday.  I started learning bellydance last fall, so you'd think my body would be used to it, but I guess in the month between classes, my hips and thighs decided to go on strike.

What does any of this have to do with writing?  Very little.  I'm not learning to dance as background research for a bellydancing character.  I'm not planning an essay on the history and development of the dance.  In short, by learning to dance, I'm not necessarily doing anything useful.  I'm simply having fun.

As a writer, I feed my time, my thoughts, my memories into my work until sometimes it seems there's nothing left of my life undevoured.  I've lived that way since I was a kid, notebook in hand, always ready to capture the moment for future use.  But I've learned moments are elusive.  Sometimes you have to live them and let them go. 

Video by American Mutoscope & Biograph Co.; 3June1904; H46819.  Camera, A.E. Weed. Performer: Princess Rajah.

July 26, 2010

I Don't Remember

Photo by majorbrighton
Today's writing exercise is one of my favorites from Bonni Goldberg's Room to Write. More than once it's helped me break through writer's block.

Begin with the phrase "I don't remember" and don't stop writing until you've filled two pages. Whenever you feel your momentum lagging, repeat "I don't remember" and take off again. Don't direct your writing, but simply see what emerges. You may focus on a single topic or several.  Don't worry about punctuation or the quality of the writing. This is just mining work.  Whatever looks interesting can be refined later.

Here's an example:
I don't remember the hog barn. I remember the horse sales, the dust and corrals filled with possibilities that wouldn't be mine. Most of them skinny. Young and unbroke or old and used up. Not a good horse for a girl who doesn't know how to ride. I only sat in the sale once. The room was smaller than I expected. I remember it like a den. Dim-lit. A small dusty pen surrounded by board benches on a floor that rose in regular steps like theater in the round. Of course, I didn't know what theater in the round was back then. It was only like an enclosed grandstand, a circular one, scrunched small. Dirtiness. Flies and the scent of too many bodies in a small, shut-in space during heavy August heat. I remember a bony man, old and dressed in a gray button-down shirt with a pocket hanging, torn, and stains smeared down its front. He'd open a gate, and horses would enter through a loading chute from the pens out behind. Some would rush in, scared, and circle the pen, looking for escape. Ponies and mules. Nags and foals. I loved the smell of them. That horsey scent that isn't leather or manure or saddle-soap or straw. I don't remember one horse in particular. I remember grays and blacks. It seems there was one, a flea-bitten gray or a roan. One horse I really wanted, and when it entered the pen, my heart beat faster, waiting, hoping. My father's bid card didn't budge.

When you examine what you've written, you may find a topic you'd like to write about or an experience for one of your characters.  Does the writing reflect a theme you frequently write about or one you'd like to explore?

Usually I do this exercise from a main character's point of view, and in the process gain insight about the character's background and motivations.  Even when the exercise doesn't relate directly to the scene I'm working on, it often helps me understand where the action will go.

July 20, 2010

Books, Amplified

Today Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth was released as the first amplified edition for Apple's iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.  Publisher Penguin Group and Starz Entertainment collaborated to create the interactive e-book, which includes text, videos from the upcoming Starz miniseries Pillars, and supplemental information much like the "making of" features included on DVDs.  Although it's not the first e-book to incorporate video, Pillars of the Earth is the first to join portions of a current mini-series with the book on which it is based.

"The Amplified Edition offers a truly integrated multimedia experience of Ken Follett's imagined story," says Molly Barton, Penguin's director of business development in an AP article . "The Amplified Edition brings you the imagery, architecture, music and clothing from the time period while also offering readers the chance to explore the process Ken Follett went through with (miniseries producer) Ridley Scott to bring his story to life on screen."

"This is a fantastic way to keep the consumer engaged in the iPad application, the series and the book at the same time," Ferrell McDonald of Starz Entertainment is quoted in USA Today

This collaboration is a smart move for Penguin, taking advantage of the upsurge in e-book sales and the popularity of Apple's products and demonstrating an understanding of how consumers are using media.  Such ventures may boost sales, but only large publishing houses may have the resources for similar muti-media editions.

Assuming multi-media edtions become popular, what will be the effect on writers trying to break into print?  To what extent will publishing houses focus their production on new avenues for known winners like Follet's 1989 novel?  If new authors choose to bypass traditional routes and self-publish electronically, will their text-only works be overshadowed by amplified editions?  

July 19, 2010

Pack Your Bags

This fall Jim and I are taking trip to Italy to celebrate our tenth anniversary. For months I've been daydreaming about seaside villages and time-worn cities, art I've only seen in textbooks, and foods I've never tasted. When I go to the gym, I crank the treadmill to the steepest incline so this flatlander can conquer the hilltowns. I've broken in my walking sandals. I've made sure my passport's up-to-date. There's little left to do but pack.

Packing. There's the challenge. Three weeks of essentials and clothing in one impossibly small carry-on bag.  I've been checking out packing tips, and despite finding good advice, I'm still a little daunted about choosing the right things from my quirky, discount store wardrobe to wear in fashionable Italy.  If only I could bring an empty bag and fill it while I'm there!

For today's writing exercise, imagine you've accidently taken your character's luggage.  Open it up and take a look inside.  What did he/she pack?  Is the packing orderly or a mess?  Is there something in the luggage you didn't expect to find?  Is there something the character didn't pack but should have?  Describe the luggage itself.  One piece of baggage or a cartful?  Worn or new?  And, finally, after you've snooped through it, return the luggage to your character.  How does he/she react to the mix-up?

If you come up with something you'd like to share, feel free to post it in the comments.

Photo by Italy Travel Experience

July 16, 2010

The Delete Key is Not Your Friend

I've recently started meeting with a couple other writers to go over our work and talk about writing.  During our last get together, one of them mentioned she's been seduced by the delete key.  Her hour of writing at times come down to a single paragraph able to survive the cut.

"Remember how you used to do that when you were working on Quin's story," my husband said, and the long days of little progress came back to me.  I'd honestly forgotten the constant cycle of typing and deleting.  I wonder now how much of what I instantly deleted might have been useful when I started to work on revisions.

The rough draft of my first novel was handwritten.  Deletion wasn't an option, but scribbling was plentiful and often therapeutic.  A few angry scratches of the pen can release alot of frustration.  

Some pages would be covered with false-starts, nearly identical paragraphs began and abandoned over and over until one finally took off.  But even the most scribbled-up page was moving forward, and I could often find something worth keeping amidst the mess.  The photo on the left shows a typical page in the draft, full of crossed out words and a star marking the portion I'd salvage.   

Although I'm now composing my work mostly on the computer, I'm treating it more like writing in pen.  Nothing gets deleted.  I think of the draft like a mine, full of valuable ore and inevitable waste.  A passage that doesn't work for the current story, might work in another.  I lose nothing by keeping it in the rough draft, and I'm not constantly interupting my momentum.

July 12, 2010

Ah, Sleep

For the past few nights I've had a terrible time sleeping, and let me tell you, when I'm groggy, I'm not at my best.  This morning Sadie begged multiple Scooby Snacks by standing in her usual spot and staring at her treat box while I made my coffee.  She always gets one while the water boils.  In a fog, I gave her three before I realized she'd had more than her allotment.  I told her the con game was up, and she lay down to sleep.  Lucky her!

Sleep in general might be a snooze to read about, but to me anything in general becomes dull.  Specifics bring depth and uniqueness to whatever you're writing, and even a topic as tiresome as sleep can be revived by details.

Today, I challenge you to make sleep interesting.  Write a scene in which your character is sleeping (or staying awake) and include all the details that make the act unique to your character.  Is the character alone?  What is he/she feeling or thinking?  Sound sleeper or insomniac?  Is something keeping the character up (worries, work, noise, celebrating)?  Is it day or night?  Are there any bedtime rituals the character follows?  Clothing?  Setting?

If you come up with something you'd like to share, go ahead and post it in the comments.  I'd love to read it.

Photo by Benderish

July 10, 2010

Strut Your Stuff

This post is all about you.  Yes, you, formerly anonymous blog reader.  Sound off!  What do you like best about your writing?  What have been your greatest successes or most satisfying projects?  What keeps you writing day after day?

Don't be shy!  And don't be modest.  I want to hear your good news!

July 5, 2010

The Power of Place

How do you use setting in your writing?  For me, settings function not as simple backdrops, but as characters in their own right.  Places have moods, energy drawn from and shared with those who happen past or linger.

I've noticed the sense of place falling out of my latest draft as I struggle with the plot and protagonist.  Characters spout off dialogue like actors on an unlit, empty stage.  Their voices and actions ring hollow.  I've been noting sections of my draft where I need to provide a deeper description of the setting and have begun fleshing out the scenes with those details.

With that in mind, today's writing prompt focuses on setting.  Use the photo above as a stepping off point for creating a scene.  You might describe the view or place a scene out on the street.  Who is looking out the window?  Why?  What does the character see, hear, smell, feel?  Are there others in the room or is the viewer alone?  As you're writing, remain aware of the setting and include sensory details drawn from the scene's environment.

As always, I'd love to read what you come up with, and you're welcome to post your creation in the comments.

July 2, 2010

Getting Together

I spent this morning working with a couple friends on setting up a group blog about writing at  The Writer's Vibe.  After too many months of writing alone, it felt great to get together with them and talk about writing and the books we love (or don't love).  Nothing like a little human interaction to infuse the writing with new life!