Archive by Author

Let Your Little Light SPARKLE

24 Dec
This creative family e-card conceived by hostingthemuse inspired me to do something fun.

This creative family e-card conceived by hostingthemuse inspired me to do something fun.

Once again this year I failed to take a decent family picture and send out holiday cards in the snail mail. So last weekend, inspired by Chick Eva, I realized that my last hope was to do something electronic. Eva is the source of much of the creative mischief in my life, so feel free to blame her for what followed.

Last Friday I got this idea for a song in my head and started fooling around at the piano. As a Florida native, I’ve never seen a white Christmas. Nor have my kids, who listen with wide-eyed amazement as my husband regales vivid tales of playing in snow during his childhood in Chicago. Why not have fun with the juxtaposition of wishing for snow in Florida when we literally were in even the 80’s over the weekend? How cool would that be?

My husband shook his head at me the way he does when he knows I’m taking on something I shouldn’t and he’ll be forced to help me. He covered me with that look that says, “Really? Again? Why?” He pretends I’m forcing him to play along with me, but I know that secretly he likes it.

Grumbling that the chord progression was too hard to remember and that he’d never be able to play it all together, he sat down next to me. We’re two music hacks trying to arrange a song, and it’s a frustrating process. But he kept working, making music from my clunking notes. “This is all I want for Christmas,” I pleaded.

Later that day, while driving my daughter to her roller skating class, I tossed my notebook to the back seat so we could brainstorm ideas for the video. She sighed loudly, as only an almost-thirteen-year-old girl can do, reluctantly scratching pencil to paper as I suggested possible visual shots we might take. She rejected thought after thought I suggested. “That’s a stupid idea,” she hissed after one. “I just don’t see the point of doing it all.”

I clawed the wheel. This was her inner critic lashing out at me, even herself. I felt adrenaline surge in my chest as if a dark hunter were trying to steal my precious bear cub. If we weren’t already late for skating, I might have pulled over.

“Don’t say stupid,” I rebuffed her before proceeding. “And don’t ever…ever call an idea stupid. You have a long time to become fearful and bitter and cynical. You’re only 12. You have a lifetime ahead of the world and experience telling you not to try, that things are too hard, that your creative ideas are stupid, pointless, worthless. Don’t start blocking yourself now, or I promise you, you’ll never feel fully fulfilled. It’s taken me a long time to stop listening to that voice in my head telling me not to be bothered, not to risk being laughed at, or worse yet, ignored. I’m 41; if you can learn from my painful journey, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

“I believe that the God who created the universe gave us the gift of creating, too. It’s a healing gift, maybe the only hope for the world you’ll grow up in, a world that often seems like it’s better suited to hating, tearing down and destroying–even killing–than to loving, building up and creating. Maybe that’s why God came to earth as a baby; maybe it’s the most beautiful literary metaphor of all time. I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know everything, and sometimes I question everything. It’s okay to question, to not know. But please don’t kill your artist now. I love you too much to see it happen to you, too… ” I drifted from my emotional diatribe back into silence.

“Fine,” my daughter finally said. “What if we had our big nutcracker lip sync one of the refrains?”

My five-year-old son was enthusiastic from the start, especially when I promised him he’d get to sing into the “mike-a-phone.” We spent the weekend working as a family, even roping in some of our awesome neighbors. Below is the result of our shared efforts. From our family and community to yours, Merry Christmas!

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SOAR! to See More

10 Oct

Do you ever feel like your project is just too big, too difficult for you to handle? I did. Whenever I’d start to work on my novel, or more precisely think about working on it, I’d more often than not culminate in overwhelmed defeat and just give up.

SOAR: Feel free to expand.

SOAR: Feel free to expand.

Then last fall, I received a piece of advice from author Mark Spencer that has changed my perspective: Don’t be afraid to expand. 

This gem came to me while taking an online class through Writer’s Digest University, for which Mark was my amazing instructor. Besides writing the actual submissions each week, which was very motivating, I would whine ventexpress to my Mark how overwhelmed I felt by the whole process of trying to write. He assured me that my despondent, neurotic anxieties were actually ‘normal behavior’ for writers, thereby proving myself to be one.

Still, I complained that I didn’t even know if I could fit my story into one book, which is when he told me to feel free to expand. What a horrifying suggestion, I thought at first, to make it bigger than it already was! In retrospect, my fear was telling me to make the story smaller, simpler, easier. But the story itself was telling me otherwise. Mark told me to listen to the story, and in so doing, to myself.

When you're SOARING, the size of the sky is freeing, not frightening.

When you’re SOARING, the size of the sky is freeing, not frightening.

This fall, I’m taking WDU’s Advanced Novel Writing course. Mark’s helping me through another chunk of my novel, impelling me with insights and encouraging feedback that only an experienced author can give.

It’s still a bit scary to look at it all from up high, seeing how much there is yet to be done.

But with my synopsis providing my birds-eye view, I can soar down to my sharply focused target–crafting one precious scene at a time–without fearing the size of the surrounding sky.

TWIST and BOUNCE to Progress

5 Sep

Attention, OK-Mart shoppers: this month I’m offering a BOGO. Blog One power word, Get One free! Like that multi-tasking TWIST?

Once again this fall, I’ve undertaken a Writer’s Digest online class to force me at gunpoint inspire me to make progress on my historical novel. So August had me twisting to churn out 15,000 words. And by TWIST I mean writhing and squirming on the floor from the pain of an inescapable deadline.

To make it, I had to say ‘no’ to volunteering more at my daughter’s school, which was very hard for me to do. I also put my son in full-day preschool, which was even harder. I thought I would be overridden by guilt. Instead, I was energized and motivated by such a generous gift to myself, a gift that my inner artist deeply appreciates and is returning in kind.

LA InterchangeStill, I struggle with my internal antagonists: insecurity, indecision, imperfection. Once I get going in a scene or section of a scene, I’m happy in the process of actual, you know, writing. To me, crafting dialogue is the icing on the Brussels sprouts. But it takes a lot out of me to get there or decide the exact events within a given scene. I get stalled, even overwhelmed, by the infinite possibilities. It’s like Frost’s The Road Less Traveled but on the twisted East LA Interchange. It’s hard to see where each road will take me, if it will connect to my other roads, and even how to find the right on ramp.

All roads diverged at a point of plot,
And sorry I could not travel each
And be one writer, long I thought
And looked down one longer than I ought
To where it bent in the story line…

This is where the BOUNCE comes in. When I encounter an interchange or detour, my natural inclination is to pull off at the next exit for a Diet Coke and Snickers, maybe catch a movie, flip through my Facebook, alphabetize the cereal boxes in my pantry–anything to avoid driving.  However, I am retraining myself to bounce through it instead.

Taking on a buoyant attitude of BOUNCE propels me from a defeatist all-or-nothing something-is-wrong-with-me mentality to a resilient something-or-something-else whatever-gets-me-to-the-next-sentence outlook. Once through a stressful trouble spot, I can relax again. Even if I’m not exactly sure where I’m going, I took a road to keep traveling. And that has made all the difference.

FLARE! into the Night

5 Jul

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This silent sky envelops all my soul,
A fading flicker dimmed by dark despair.
Alone and empty, lost in this black hole,
I search for stars but see hope shine nowhere.

And yet I burn, sole evidence I live,
With longings, disappointments, failures, fears.
Such toxic fuels, if used, new power give.
Ignited, inner anger disappears.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no path, no safe and structured rise,
But only straggled streams of struggling light.
Ideas like constellations fill the skies
Once braved to flare into the hopeless night.

DIVE! to Your Quiet Place

26 Jun

You’re standing at the deep end, waiting for a clearing, your toes palpating the smooth brick edgers. The pool is packed. Children squeal and splash, whine and wade. Parents chase and cajole. A toddler passes behind you screaming, “Nooo!”

You bend your knees and stretch your arms forward, bringing your hands to a point. You, too, are a parent. You, too, are a child. So you dive.

Gliding below the surface with a gentle break, you slope onward and downward. You open your hold and touch your splayed fingers to the bottom. When you look up through the rippled light, bodies run but their words are muted, distant. At last you can hear your own thoughts, your own words. You realize that you can stay here for as long as you want. You’ve always felt restless, but now you rest contently in your comforting, watery quietude.

You are a mermaid, one made for two worlds. For you, breathing the water below the surface is as natural and essential as the air above it. When you stay on land too long, you suffocate. To this peaceful place you long to return, muffling the noises and focusing on your private passion. Here is where you find your flow. Ideas pour out, and time passes unnoticed. Why did you wait so long, you wonder, so long to return to this place you love.

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Have you ever had a dream like this, too, that you could breathe underwater? For us mermaids, going down for creative air is essential. But contrary to common artistic guilt, getting there does not require planning a solo vacation. Instead, we each can slip into it unnoticed amid the chaos by claiming small moments with ourself and our laptop, piano, paints, sewing machine, whatever.

During this season of busy family fun, how do you get to your quiet place? What would you like to do next there?

PADDLE! Tandem in Marriage

6 Jun
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Marriage is a lot like paddling in a tandem kayak.

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“Daddy’s yellow boat” offered my husband a solitary escape to tranquility.

Not long after my daughter was born, my husband took up kayaking. There was a major problem, however: the kayak had only one seat. This was intentional. The early months and years of parenthood are enough to make any semi-sane person develop cartoon blood-shot swirly eyes if they can’t ever get away from the diapers and screaming.

Nevertheless, I protested the single sit-inside-style boat. After all, as a new mother I was the one who had the greater demands on my time, I argued. Being affectionately dubbed by hubby as “the cafeteria,” I was forced to stay open 24/7 including nights, weekends and bank holidays feeding and caring for our new tiny roommate. At the time, I was also working full-time. If I couldn’t escape for a relaxing half-day paddle through a Florida mangrove, why should he?

Now that we are in our seventeenth year of marriage, a lot has changed for both Michael and me, including my narrow views on kayaking.

  • Everyone needs to paddle on their own sometimes. In retrospect, my husband really needed that time alone. I, too, needed alone time and independent interests (which the Chicks have helped me honor), but instead of carving these out for myself then, it was easier to try to keep him from doing so for himself. Graciously allowing it for him meant acknowledging my own needs, which as new moms we all tend to minimize. That said…
  • The lure of lush Hawaiian islands to be reached and explored stayed in our sights as we paddled out to sea in tandem.

    The lure of lush Hawaiian islands to be reached and explored stayed in our sights as we paddled out to sea in tandem.

    Marriage works best in tandem. When baby was old enough to be left with grandma, Michael first coaxed me out into a tandem kayak during a trip in Hawaii. There was something very satisfying about paddling together, in the same direction, toward a common landmark. If you want to turn in the same direction, both rowers must communicate. Otherwise you’ll either go in circles or get driven by the current.

  • You rest; I’ll paddle. Forging through powerful Pacific waves, my arms screamed at me to stop. That’s the beauty of a tandem kayak. You can take a break to rest on your oars while your partner keeps paddling. Other times, you need to let them rest while you work harder to keep the vessel moving forward, or at least not too far backwards or off course. There is no score card. We’re each doing the best we can at any point in time. So if one rower feels they need to rest, the stronger one must keep paddling for them both. It’s harder, yes, but it doesn’t last forever. Each rower finds strength at different times, and no rower can–or should–paddle without breaks. The important thing to remember is…

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    Behind each smiling photo of a married couple are struggles. Two people row together and in turn to get through a sea of challenges from family and work to health and emotions.

  • We’re still in the same boat. We may be struggling, individually or together, but we’re in this together. If we get turned over, we’ll tread water and get back in. We’ll keep paddling until, eventually, we reach land. Even if it’s not the idyllic island we intended, we’ll both be glad for the shared break on a sandy beach.

I hope you enjoyed the Chicks’ month of PADDLE! And to committed couples everywhere: happy paddling!

For the rest of June, come DIVE! with us into summer.

SPROUT! Encouraging Other Artists

3 Apr
Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Seedlings come in all varieties. Whether newfound ideas or individuals, they are important artistic sprouts for us to encourage. When either a creative project or a creative person is first placed into our lives, we as artists—regardless of where we are in our own journey—can help both them and ourselves grow by our openness, attention and support.

In the past week, I’ve met not one, but two amazing women. For the sake of privacy and universality, let’s call them Young Sprouting Artist and Young-at-Heart Sprouting Artist, or “Yo” and “Yah” for short. If either reads this post, she’ll know who she is.

In each instance, a casual conversation quickly escalated to an immediate connection. I had a hunch I knew the reason, and in both cases, my artistic intuition was subsequently confirmed. After a group exercise class at the gym, stay-at-home mom Yah eventually shared that she is a prolific painter who longs for her first art show exhibit spot but feels discouraged by obstacles. Under even more unlikely circumstances that I won’t detail here, young elementary school teacher Yo eventually shared how she longs to write a Young Adult novel but also feels discouraged, perhaps by her own inner critic more than anything else.

I wanted to reach out and hug Yah and Yo. Mind you, my artistic journey is far from its own apex. Nevertheless, I was overcome with a desire to encourage and support each of these beautiful women. In those honest moments, my artistic soul screamed within, wanting to affirm to them: “Yes, you are an artist! And you are not alone!”

That’s how and why we 4 Chicks dreamed ourselves into online existence. The support and love we experienced for each other’s creativity was so powerful in changing our own lives that we wanted to share it with others. But before all that, we were four extraordinarily ordinary moms who giggled at calling ourselves “artists.” Here’s a quick Chick Quiz to give you an idea of our transformations over the past three years:

  1. Which Chick has written four YA novels? (Hint: the first one, Olivia Twisted, comes out November 2013 from Entangled. Oh, and this fabulous, funny Chick also won a prize at the last SCBWI conference for her costumed impersonation as Honey Boo Boo.)
  2. Which Chick has written multiple picture book manuscripts, finished one novel and started another, while taking on exciting new roles as a college professor and seminar leader? (Hint: she never has a bad hair day. That should give it away.)
  3. Which Chick won a national contest to have a children’s book published and is working on an historical novel based on the life of a female pirate? (Hint: she wrote Addie and Ollie in one evening but has been writing the novel on and off for…much longer.)
  4. Which Chick edited our theme song video, started running triathlons, marathons, Tough Mudders, and is currently studying to be a nutritionist and personal trainer.  (Hint: her muse name comes from all the creative parties she throws at her house and also for hosting our monthly meetings. Yes, her rattan pool furniture is our “set.”)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like healthy grass, the roots of healthy artists grow horizontally, strengthened by the support of other shoots and reaching out themselves.

Tomorrow I’ll be at a nearby community college, where I was asked to attend a fine arts student expo to speak casually about the blog, blogging and freelancing with those looking to pursue artistic careers. Coincidence? No such thing. After being so deeply inspired by Yo and Yah, I’m more excited than before to share whatever artistic seeds I’ve learned along the way.

Have you met someone recently who could use your artistic love? Or is it your own germinating idea? Either way, cherish your sprout and help it grow together with you.

DIG! Gold in the Mountains

20 Mar

beachmound2I am greedy gold digger. And you can be, too. But first, a day trip.

Last Saturday we met up with my husband’s family in nearby Cocoa Beach. As I enjoyed chatting with my sister-in-law from a low lounge chair, I watched Michael help my son build a sandcastle.

“What is that?” I asked my husband when he returned.

“A castle,” he said. “With a mote, see?”

To be clear, this was not a castle. It was a hill of sand with a plastic shovel shoved on top. Slurping the last of my Diet Coke, I prepared to answer the call. I would mold this plain monolith into an architectural triumph truly worthy of its oceanfront real estate. Or so I thought.

beachmoundThat’s how it is at the outset of imagining our creative project. We envision a grand construction, replete with well-hewn walls, arcing steps and majestic spires. Digging around our idea is the easy part. But like my sandy heap, when we dig into itto form it into something more than a moundit can feel like an unmanageable mountain. Parts we thought we were solid start to crumble as we touch them.

That’s how it was with my would-be historical novel. My initial years of staggered research would have never ended either, if it hadn’t been for my Chicks pushing me past it. I’d still be digging myself into a hole, hoping to find new treasure to help my story take shape. I was hiding under the seemingly legitimate cover of research, convinced I needed more to put it all together.

“You have enough,” Eva told me one day as we floated around her pool. “Don’t be afraid to fill in the blanks.” Some time later she gave me a pirate reference book I didn’t have, in which she wrote further assurances:

“Tracey, you fought a good fight, did all the research possible and now is time to walk the plank. Don’t be scared and jump right in. The water will feel warm and calming, and all those ideas will come out flowing.”

While Florida gopher turtles like this one dig holes in my yard for shelter, I want to come out of my safe hole and do a different kind of digging.

While Florida gopher turtles like this one dig holes in my yard for shelter, I want to come out of my safe hole and do a different kind of digging.

Every time I start a new scene, which I’m happy to say I did again this week, I get scared anew. The urge is to dig down into the earth to search for more glittering gems, or worse yet, to simply avoid picking up a shovel altogether.

But in order to actually create something, I need to dig inside. Inside my settings.  Inside my characters’ heads. Inside my plot. Inside my imagination.

“I have enough,” I remind myself. “Fill in the blanks.”

That’s where I’m digging now, onward and upward. I’m proud to be the greedy climber I am today. Inside is where the gold is. And however long it takes, I’m determined to find it, up in these here mountains.

TANGO! Unleash Your Passion or Get off the Dance Floor

27 Feb
The Seduction Dance

My tango takeaway: passion + practice = progress!

Let me preface this post by affirming that I am a happily married woman. That said, I recently found myself in an intense tango with a stranger whom I had only just met. I was drawn to this new partner under the most unlikely of circumstances, but the passion took over.

Okay, let me explain this metaphorical tryst before my husband of seventeen years installs secret spyware on my laptop. For months, I’d been plodding through a rather unpleasant scene in my novel, seeming unable to finish it. My character had to face a lot: a major death, charges of murder, a funeral, and above all, her own secrets. I seemed to be writing in circles, deleting more than I added most attempts and feeling, like my character, doomed.

Lunge back to my real life, the one without imaginary friends. A real-life friend and neighbor began to make me aware of details regarding plans underway to rezone schools in our county. I just didn’t have time to get involved, I thought. Besides, my friend and many others like her seemed well informed and fired up enough to fix any problem; I was confident they’d work it all out for the best. But then she insisted I should come to a school board meeting, that many of the proposed plans broke up our neighborhood and had my home and many others going to a school that would not allow my son to walk or bike to school like my daughter had done.

The fire was lit.  “One Neighborhood – One School” had become a rally cry among my neighbors and others asking for neighborhoods to be kept together while saving walkers and bikers, one which I thought summed up my new-found position as well. After attending a rezoning meeting, I was suddenly overcome with a desperate desire to do something, and to do it quickly, before the plans were finalized and set in stone. Sixteen haiku poems and a theme song poured out. My 11-year-old daughter helped me turn the song into a music video, which was reviewed by one newspaper reporter and even featured on local TV.

Chaines turn back to my imaginary world. Yesterday I finally finished that 3,000-word scene. It’s as if dancing with a new, intense passion reignited my long-standing, deeply desired passion of putting down this story. I’m as committed to it as I am to my marriage. Both take work, I know, and passion is what keeps each of them alive.

Here are some TANGO! rules of engagement I’ve learned. And a one-two-three-four…

  1. You gotta have passion. This is rule numero uno. En el tango o en la vida, your passion is what will propel your creativity. Lack of a driving passion bordering on obsession leaves the dance or the work flat. Just watch the first few episodes of Dancing with the Stars in any given season. While every contestant is learning the fundamentals of dance upon which they will improve over the course of weeks and months, those who cannot tap into their inner passion are always the first to go. It’s why even Pamela Anderson’s long legs couldn’t save her from losing to Drew Carey in week one last fall. The judges described her dancing as needing more “intensity.” That’s passion: intense, vibrant, alive.
  2. You gotta have technique. In dance, technique refers to the thousand repetitions of precise steps and combinations in the classroom that improve over time until they become second nature. My ballet mistress calls this desired phenomenon muscle memory. So it is with exercising our brains. The more we write/paint/compose/sew/take pictures/make films/create, the better we write/paint/compose/sew/take pictures/make films/create, and the more natural it becomes to do it.
  3. You gotta have structure. Practiced technique is tested with structure. Literally the beat and time of the music dictates when you do what. Lunge on one, snap head forward on two, wrap free leg around partner’s hip on three, be dragged gracefully on four. In real life, we call them deadlines. And we need them every bit as much as a dancer needs a rhythm. Trust me, it’s much harder to improvise dancing to a 3-minute song than to learn prescribed choreography and perform it.
  4. You gotta know what you want. In tango, the dance of seduction, the couple wants their mad attraction to come to its final pleasurable, um, climax. With the school rezoning, I knew what I wanted with easy clarity, perhaps because it was for my kids. For myself, it’s a lot harder. It’s too easy to get distracted by the necessary to-do’s of the day to forget that writing my novel isn’t another chore. It’s something I chose, something I want to choose to work on consistently, because it’s something I really, really want.

And so at the end of our month of TANGO!, I’m reminded of another group of awesome chicks, the Spice Girls, whose Wannabe lyrics make a great springboard for comments. So what’s your zigazig ah?

[You:] Yo, I’ll tell you what I want,what I really really want,
[4 Chicks:] So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
[You:] I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
[4 Chicks:] So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
[You:] I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really
really really wanna zigazig ah!

ZOOM! The Sound of Progress

16 Jan
I can ZOOM! Really I can. I'm just driving a smaller car, so it takes me longer to get there.

I can ZOOM! Really I can. Maybe I’m just driving a smaller car, so it may take me a while to get where I want to go.

ZOOM: How can one word mean two seemingly opposite things? I wondered. Etymology has become one of my passions since embarking on writing a story that takes place 300 years ago. I love how learning the origin of a word gives precise, seductively nuanced clues as to its evolved meaning.

ZOOM is what’s called of echoic origin. It was first derived from the onomatopoetic sound it makes, starting in the late 19th century as industrial machines–and the very world itself–were getting faster. The word became more commonly used during the Golden Age of Aviation in reference to the sound pilots heard as they made an accelerated turn or ascent.

Change and speed remain the essential elements. A ZOOM climb requires full throttle. Anything less, and you might stall or even fall.

The invention of the ZOOM lens in the late thirties began the word’s alternative connotation, seemingly contradictory yet actually congruent upon closer inspection. When we–our vehicle, our lens, our minds–move quickly, we get closer to destinations once far away. That then allows us to focus in with microscopic clarity.

DSCN0019There’s a time and place for both ZOOMs. For example, planning and rough draft phases require a powerful rapidity of movement. Heavy throttle.

This is a challenge for me. I tend to search for shapes in the clouds while I’m trying to fly. Editing and playing with words is what I love best. ZOOMing in. But I’ve found that I simply can’t do that and make the progress I want at the same time. When I try, I just don’t reach enough speed to ever lift off the ground.

Throughout this month’s power word challenge from the Muse so far, I’ve been chanting ZOOM! to help me focus on one important task at hand before jumping to others. It seems simple, but it really has helped me check daily things off my to-do list in priority order. Yet even more, ZOOM! has been and will remain my 2013 mantra to counter my obsessive detail binges with complementary doses of accelerated ascents, blissfully blurry and unfettered by the stalling impediments of perfectionism.

Which is the greater challenge for you? To go fast or to focus? When we balance both in our projects, our lives, we can truly move. And to this slow-moving Muse-seeker, more progress with my novel in 2013 would be music to my ears. Or to paraphrase King Solomon and The Byrds:

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to ZOOM up, a time to ZOOM in 
A time to go fast, a time to look close
A time to fly, a time to land
A time to progress, I swear it’s not too late

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