Where to buy Traci Robison's books

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Buy Gates the Hours Keep at:

September 27, 2010

Give It Your Worst

Only a mediocre writer is always at his best. — W Somerset Maugham

Photo by San Diego Shooter
To master any skill requires practice, and--in the beginning, especially--practice isn't always pretty.  Too often writers give up because their expectations overwhelm their abilities.  If you keep working, you will improve, and you will write a whole lot of crap along the way.  Accept that and give yourself permission to be less than your best sometimes.

Today's exercise is one a friend and I have used as a pick-me-up when the work of writing overshadowed the joy of writing.  It's simple.  Write the worst scene you possibly can.  Cliches.  Clunky dialogue.  Bad jokes.  Throw in anything you like and really stink up the page.  When you've finished, read it over--out loud if you like--and let your inner editor chew on it awhile so you can get the real work done.

September 24, 2010

Etruscan Places

I've been fascinated with Etruscan art and culture since my freshman year of college, when I learned of the Etruscans in an art history class.  The uniqueness of their language, much of which remains undeciphered, along with Greek and Roman descriptions of Etruscan culture combined to create a romanticized view of the "mysterious Etruscans".  Modern scholarship has swept away much of that mystery but none of my curiosity. 

Last June archaeologists discovered the remains of a house in the ancient Etruscan city of Vetulonia, which is one of our planned stops on our trip to Italy.  The area near Vetulonia is one of the settings in my novel Gates the Hours Keep, and Jim and I are both looking forward to exploring the region firsthand. 

We'll also be visiting the necropolis in Tarquinia and museums with Etruscan collections in Orvieto and Volterra.  I'll be sure to give you an update and post a few pictures after our trip.

September 20, 2010

Enhancing Description . . . The Emotional Filter

Photo by Malingering

We've all written scenes that fall flat despite descriptive detail, good dialogue, and fluid pacing.  "Show don't tell," is oft-quoted advice, but showing isn't always enough.  To give a scene more impact, filter the details through your main character's senses, interpreting the scene as he or she would given past experience and personality.

Here's an example:

Simple description:
Patricia stepped into the smoke-filled tavern and looked around.  Country music blazed on the speakers mounted above the antique bar, which was lined with men in cowboy hats and preppy button-down shirts.   She looked at their boots as she approached the bar.  Every pair gleamed like it was brand new.

"Beer," she told the bartender, who smiled at her. "Something dark."

With Emotional Filter:
Stepping into the smoke-filled tavern, Patricia waved away the stale cloud that wafted in front of her face and held her breath, preparing to dive in.  Country music blazed on the speakers above the antique bar.  She fought the urge to plug her ears and wondered whether the faux cowboys, in their perfectly-shaped Stetsons and preppy button-down shirts actually enjoyed Garth Brooks at an ear-splitting volume.  Approaching the bar, she eyed their boots.  Polished leather and unworn heels, every pair looked fresh out of the box.  Typical, she thought.

"Beer," she told the bartender, a fellow wearing a string tie about as authentic as his smile. "Something dark."

September 17, 2010

Information Overload

According to a August 25 article in the Wall Street Journal, 40% of e-reader owners report reading more than they did before owning an e-reader.  Portability is a leading factor in the increase.  Readers are able to carry multiple electronic books and read them in places they wouldn't haul a backpack load of texts.  The same article reports that the social publishing and reading website Scribd.com is used for sharing books and documents 10 million times each month.

People are used to staring at screens, small and large.  They're reading more, and they're also reading differently.  In the following NPR clip, author William Powers talks about his new book Hamlet's Blackberry and his take on information overload in the digital age.

In an excerpt from the book, Powers states: "The more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside ourselves to tell us how to think and live. There’s always been a conflict between the exterior, social self and the interior, private one. The struggle to reconcile them is central to the human experience, one of the great themes of philosophy, literature, and art. In our own lifetime, the balance has tilted decisively in one direction. We hear the voices of others, and are directed by those voices, rather than by our own. We don’t turn inward as often or as easily as we used to."

I'm wondering how the changes in reading habits and shifts away from introspection will affect the type of books readers choose to read.  Will the market for books shift toward easy reads, something to digest quickly during a commute?  Will serial novels become popular?  Or, will tastes remain largely unchanged?

What do you think?

September 13, 2010

Nobody's Perfect . . . A Character Building Exercise

Photo by evilpeacock
Nobody's perfect, right?  And as much as those foibles and quirks might irritate us in the day to day, they also keep life interesting.  The same might be said for your main character's flaws, which often propel him into the story's key conflicts.

Choose a character or two from your story or pick one from a book you've found compelling.  Identify the character's worst fault.  Think about how this flaw plays a role in shaping the story.  Does it create a crisis; interfere with his ability to overcome that crisis?  Does the character recognize his own failing and act to correct it ,or is he obvlivious?  How does the flaw affect other characters and interactions?  How does it tie into the story's theme?

September 10, 2010


Photo by LunaDiRimmel
For as long as I've been writing, my characters have been hitchhiking in my head, taking over mundane moments every day, and even kidnapping a few of the extraordinary.

More than anything else, they latch onto music. I'll hear a song for the first time and something--in the tone, the beat, the voice, or, most often, all those elements together--conjures a sense of a soul or situation. When it fits a character already in mind, the song becomes that character's, and every time I hear it, I slip into that character's thoughts. Sometimes a song births a whole new set of people and places and plots.

My brother and I used to play a game with our single-track record albums. We'd select random songs and while each played, we'd write whatever came to mind. Song after song, we'd write without stopping until we'd had enough, and then we had to read them aloud. I couldn't wait to hear what the music had shown him.

I still use that exercise my brother invented when I feel stuck or my writing seems stale. It unshackles my thoughts and reminds me why I love to write. Thanks, Scott, for giving me that.

September 6, 2010

A Matter of Taste

I'm hungry, and I'm craving chocolate.  Before I can eat the chocolate, I have to finish posting this blog.  (There's a story arc for you.) 

Since I'm pre-occupied with visions of peanut clusters, today's writing exercise focuses on the sense of taste.  Consider how wine connoisseurs draw from multiple senses when describing a glass of wine.  Take a look at this example from Benito's Wine Reviews: "While still a bit young, this has an initial aroma of boysenberry jam. There's a touch of toast there as well, but once the wine breathes and softens, you get elements of green pepper, earth, and it becomes light and mellow."  Notice how the description moves from specific flavors "boysenberry jam" "toast" to physical or even emotional qualities.  The wine breathes; it softens.  It's mellow.

For today's exercise use taste as a gateway into sensual description.  Sample an unfamiliar food (or truly savor an everyday one) and write a description of the taste beginning with the literal details and progressing toward fantasy.  Build a scene around your experience of the flavor.

. . . And now I want wine with my chocolate.

Photo by beatbull

September 4, 2010

Listen Up . . . Sources for Free Audiobooks

So much to read, so little time!  A former co-worker of mine could stroll all over campus and beyond, reading as she went.  I know my limitations.  If I try to walk around with my nose in a book, someone's going to wind up hurt.  I've decided to take advantage of some of the free audiobooks available on the web so I can fit some more lit into each day.   

Founded in 2005 by Hugh McGuire, a Montreal-based writer and web developer, Librivox offers audio files of books in the public domain that are read and recorded by volunteers.  In partnership with Librivox, Project Gutenburg, a source of free e-books, provides most of the texts, and the Internet Archive hosts the audio files.  I've downloaded a few podcasts from Librivox and have been happy with the quality of the recordings. 

Free audio books from Librophile.com and BooksShouldBeFree.com filled the number 23 slot on Kiplinger's list of fabulous freebies 2010.  Just this morning I've downloaded podcasts from each (Northanger Abbey and the Scarlet Pimpernel).  Can't wait to have a listen!

September 3, 2010


T.D. Theobald recently joined the contributers at writersvibe.  I so enjoyed his most recent post, Little Things, I wanted to share it.  He mentions keeping a list of unfamiliar words and quotes that catch his attention or inspire him.  His post has me thinking, are all writers fascinated by words?  Or, are words only valuable as tools to build the ideas a writer hopes to share?