Dusting off the Keys

There was a time a bunch of years ago when I was writing 2-3 hours a day, after I got home from work, after Abby was in bed. I wrote a bad book then another. I needed to learn what not to do. I wrote very few short stories. Middle and high school had been the time for stories, but not adulthood. Being an adult meant the big stuff. Eighty to a hundred thousand words of brilliance.

Except, well, it wasn’t all brilliant. Maybe there were glimpses of it, portions where the reader would say “wow.” But overall, I had a lot of learning to do and wasn’t selling.  At one point someone at a conference suggested I write short stories to get my name out there. It felt like a step back. No. I was writing BOOKS.  And I was going to make a ton of money and quit my day job and sell movie rights…

But reality hit. I needed to get my name out there, like he said. So I tried to remember how to write a story, how to condense an idea  into three to five thousand words of intensity where every word mattered. It was hard, harder than a novel in some ways because there’s no time or words to waste.

In the midst of relearning that craft, I wrote a little book, merely for my daughter, to make a happy ending for a real life situation that hadn’t worked out so well for us. And wouldn’t you know that’s the book that sold. First it went to a little publisher, then a bigger little publisher. When that went horribly wrong it went to another little publisher where it resides now.  I marketed it the best I could, but the whole time was thinking, “But I want to write a big book! A grown up book!” I went through a period where I read like crazy. A book a week, plus the aforementioned 2-3 hours a night of writing. I also attended 4-5 conferences and workshops a year. I was on a networking, learning, writing roll and couldn’t be stopped.

My short story writing got better, my novel writing got better. I even dabbled in screenplays which, if nothing else, made me a better novelist as I learned that all media should be tight and without wasted words. After trying to sell my adult novels for a long time, with nibbles but no bites, I stopped trying. I completed a 50k Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) book two years ago but since then? Nothing. I’ve penned and sold a few short stories but haven’t even thought about writing a new novel. Part of me wondered if that opportunity had passed, if I’d written too many short stories to ever go back to long fiction. Maybe I didn’t have it in me. I had gotten lazy and had become overwhelmed which is a deadly combination to any writer.

I stopped reading a book a week and have been lucky to read 4-5 books a year. Where did all the time go? Life. A new boyfriend. Being a single mom. The day job. Night school. Canning Jams. More pets than I can handle. In essence, anything at all to keep me from writing. Keep me from potentially failing. Keep me from rejection letters.

In the meantime, since about 97% of my friends are writers, and since my Facebook news feeds are filled with one “I signed a contract/sold a story/will be at a signing” post after another, part of me wanted to just crawl in a hole and give up.

But then about a month ago I got an email that I’d sold the newest short story I had written. About two weeks later, my PayPal revealed I’d just received cash from my first pro writing sale for another short story I’d written years ago (in the frenzied writing time).

Last weekend I got up at 8am, got an X-Large coffee from Dunkin’ Doughnuts (with a turbo shot) and edited an old 500 page manuscript. I was at it for about 14 hours straight. It felt good. Really good. Sunday, it was a six-hour shift. But I finished. Then I read 300 pages of The Kite Runner all at once. Not with resentment because it was so damn well-written but with appreciation for the words and story, and a realization that I too know how to write. Maybe not that well, but I can write. I just have to actually do it. Not hide under the covers. Not make excuses.

Tonight I am going to edit the remaining short stories that are set for a collection I’m putting together. The rest of the week, edit a novella that has been sitting in the corner like a neglected child. There is a lot to do, a lot of lost time to make up. A lot of creativity coursing through my veins again.

Call it mania or excitement or a return after too long a hiatus, but I’m back.

-Tracy

Don’t forget to check out  my  AMAZON PAGE   to see all my fiction currently for sale.

Drinking and Writing

I come from a background where alcoholism and drug addiction were rampant. I saw a lot of lives ruined, some quickly, some gradually over the course of decades. As such, I always get a little paranoid if I drink. I  wonder if it’s too much, or too often. For anyone who knows me, I hardly ever drink. Sometimes at Cons, always at NECon, but not much in between. I get tipsy pretty quickly, usually after one drink.

In the last several months, I’ve noticed I really haven’t had anything to drink. I’ve also noticed my writing has just about dropped off entirely. There have been bursts of creativity but mostly I’m down for the count. I’ve also put on weight so I  feel like a sloth slugging along staring at a blank page. munching leaves and willing words to appear.

Maybe I need to lighten up, accept that a drink here and there won’t hurt me and it really does kind of go hand in hand with writing. If you ever go to a writers’ conference you will see that. Everyone doesn’t abuse it and there are some who abstain entirely, but for the most part, it’s part of the process, even if only a small part. Maybe it helps calm a person so all the random creative thoughts can be compartmentalized into chapters or characters.  Hemingway and Fitzgerald were examples of what not to do in terms of imbibing, but damn if they didn’t produce some amazing fiction.

There’s something to be said for using a supplement to move the creative process along I think, within reason. Sure, people can get carried away and an occasional glass of wine can spiral into gallons but hell, people can choke to death on sandwiches, or OD on Nutella or warm chocolate brownies.

Liquor has been used for centuries to plod writers and artists along. Without it, our libraries (except for the non-fiction sections) would be barren.  I like Lucid Absinthe a lot and even in small quantities (half a shot) it alters my perception a bit. That’s all well and good but it also puts me to sleep in a matter of minutes. That’s certainly not going to up my word count.

Lots to consider as I face most of the weekend alone in my house with my MAC taunting me, begging for some keyboard activity that doesn’t involve Facebook news feeds and comments.

I will be in Foxboro all day tomorrow 9am-3pm with members of the NEHW if anyone wants to stop by. For details, click HERE. I’ll have books, bread and butter pickles and strawberry jam for sale.

Have a great weekend all and here’s to perpetuating the stereotype.

-Tracy

To see all the work Tracy currently has for sale, please go to her AMAZON PAGE.

Writing Block and Happiness


It’s funny the things that can block you from writing. Since I was about five years old, and learned to relay the creative/crazy thoughts in my head into the written word (in very bad penmanship which has not improved) it’s been mostly easy.

I’d come home everyday itching to transform what happened in my day from hum drum to exciting, to take disturbing life events and give them happy endings in stories, and mainly to purge myself of whatever angst I was compelled by at that particular point in time. Some periods in my life were more productive than others. From the time my daughter was born, for example, until she was three and I got a divorce, I couldn’t write. I should have, as it might have relieved my stress but I couldn’t. I was tired and overwhelmed and didn’t even give it much thought.


Once I got a divorce, I wrote like a maniac, non stop for years and years. A lot of other life stuff happened in between and I wrote through all of it. The more stress the better as far as my fiction was concerned. My body not so much. I was always losing or gaining weight, battling migraines and hives. I got an inhaler a couple of times because I had trouble breathing. And then there was the time I had to get a heart halter monitor because of all irregular heartbeats. In the end, there’s never anything wrong, just drama that fueled good fiction.

So the last six months I’ve had my share of drama but probably about 75-80% less than I’ve been used to most of my life. And what little there is, I shrug off. The problem is that I’m content. I met my boyfriend coincidentally when all the drama stopped, or more likely he was at the heart of my recognizing insane situations and walking away.

Or maybe it was just time to let go of bad habits and rabble-rousers. In any event, because I’m content and happy and not riddled with angst and worry, I find myself pretty blocked from a creative standpoint. I have nothing to say, nothing to exorcise.

I spend a good deal of time marketing my work so that takes keeps me busy. And another chunk goes to editing my old stuff for the Kindle and an upcoming collection being put out by a new press. And then there’s the NEHW and Epitaphs and the marking of that. But when I was really  “writing,” I always found time. I had to or else I’d implode from all the stuff in my head.

But now…well, as much as I hate that I haven’t been writing much new fiction, it is really nice to feel like this: Unburdened, calm, not battling my responsibilities alone.  Things come up, life isn’t perfect, but now I have someone to lean on and that makes all the difference.

I’m sure I’ll find a way to be happy and to write, but in the meantime, taking a break isn’t such a bad thing. If I can learn to live without stress certainly I can learn to write without it.

Tracy L. Carbone’s novel The Soul Collector is available on Amazon. Please check her main Amazon page as well to view all her fiction work.

My First Teaching Experience


On Friday I visited a local middle school in New Hampshire, gearing up to teach Brainstorming to five 7th grade classes in five hours. Until a few days before I wasn’t sure what I’d cover, how I’d entertain the 12 and 13 year olds for that long.

Last summer I took my dog and puppy to a park to play, and ran into a woman who was there with her husband and new baby. We got to talking and she said “I teach 7th grade English.” I was all over that and told her I’d love to come talk to her students in the fall. It took us this long to coordinate the visit partially because my book wasn’t coming out until November and also because I was a little paralyzed by the idea of teaching anything to a whole bunch of kids.

I’m a mother, so I’ve done my share of one-on-one teaching. And I’ve spoken on several panels at writing conferences and at work events. I’m fine with public speaking. But knowing what to say in this situation? Highly intimidating.

A couple of days before, I had written up a Brainstorming handout, shown in the last blog, so I felt slightly more confident. But still…

I walked into the classroom a little past seven A.M. on Friday and instantly felt just fine. The kids were all excited to meet “the author.” They were all so polite and nice. We said the Pledge of Allegiance, which was a routine I’d forgotten was still practiced. It was kind of neat, saying it again with them.

The first class went off without a hitch, and even the students I expected to feign disinterest, had their hands up to volunteer ideas as we co-wrote the story up on the board on a brainstorming map. At the end of the class, the teacher took a photo of the white board. Next week, she’ll put the map up on an overhead and the students will each write their version of the story we started.

After each class was over the teacher photographed all of us together, which was SO FUN. I had no idea how enjoyable the day would be. In the midst of photographing the second class, there was a LOCKDOWN. I was confused at first, because we didn’t have that kind of drill when I was young. We all walked, in orderly fashion, back to the room. We sat on the floor in the corner, silently, for about fifteen minutes. It may have been longer or shorter, not sure. The shades were drawn and at one point someone in the hallway tried to turn the doorknob to confirm it was closed. The experience was a little unnerving but I was truly impressed by how quiet and well-behaved the students were. No one made a peep.

After that, we continued on with the next three classes. For each one, I chose a different main idea, supplied by the children. It was impressive seeing how quickly we could go from a blank white board to one housing a fully fleshed out story and characters. I was as thrilled as they were even if I acted all matter of fact about it. The pupils were amazingly creative. One of them said “This is really fun.” I said “Isn’t it? I do it all the time.”

I sold and signed some books, which was great, but honestly, the best part of the day was knowing I inspired these middle schoolers and showed them how much fun creativity can be.  I’m hoping in 5-6 years to see some of these young adults send in requests to join the New England Horror Writers.

After this experience, I am enthusiastic about visiting other schools in the area. If you are a teacher or parent in New England and would like me to come to your school, please contact me. I’m happy to come in to meet you and outline my lesson plan.

My middle grade mystery novel, The Soul Collector as well as several other short stories in print, and on Kindle, are available on Amazon.

-Tracy

Brainstorming and Creativity for Kids

By Tracy L. Carbone

Before you can sit down and write a story or essay, you need to have an idea in place. But what if you don’t?

What if your teacher tells you to write a story to pass in the next day and you don’t have a clue who the main character is, or what happens to him, or her?

That’s where BRAINSTORMING comes in. Dictonary.com defines Brainstorming as:

a sudden impulse, idea, etc. or a fit of mental confusion or excitement.

That about sums it up. When I’m stuck for ideas, I have a few tricks I use to create a story.

The first one is MY CREATIVE NOTEBOOK I read a book called Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. In it he said to carry around a notebook and write down everything you see. That sounds silly I know, but at the end of each day, you should try to write down any images you saw that struck you. For example: old man in bright white sneakers, twin girls with red hair, dog with three legs, fat man in blue sweatshirt walking dog with blue sweater, Albino woman dragging crying toddler by his wrist.

Those aren’t real examples. I just made those up but those are the kinds of things I write in my notebook. When I’m stuck for story ideas, sometimes I open that notebook and within a few minutes, I’ve discovered some wonderful writing prompts.

THE WRITER’S TOOLBOX The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan is a kit filled with writing prompts. This box is filled with Popsicle sticks containing First Sentences, Non Sequiturs (transitions) and The Last Straw. The Last Straw sticks “create a dramatic arc.” They create conflict so your story doesn’t just drag on.

The kit also contains a huge stack of Sixth Sense Cards, which each contain images. Some examples are: someone’s red leather journal, a crooked umbrella, a child with wings, a chewed on pencil. Finally, there are four wheels in the box. One for Protagonist, Goals, Action, Obstacles.

CREATIVE BLOCK by Lou Harry. This is a small book, shaped like a block. It’s filled with pictures and phrases to spark your imagination. once you get a lot of great ideas floating around in your head, what’s next?

You know how sometimes you wake up from a dream and you don’t remember exactly what happened, only that there were lot of strange images? Often that’s how a story starts. You have a lot of ideas in your mind but no plan. You can’t be quite sure what’s going to happen but you know you’ve got plenty to work with. You need to organize all those thoughts to make a plan.

And this is when I make my BRAINSTORMING MAP. I have attached a copy here. Start with a central idea or question in the middle, in a box. For example, “Four teens find a suitcase filled with money.” From there put boxes  around it for all the characters. Branching off from each character, write ideas, traits, hopes, and connections to the other characters. Remember this is all stuff you’re making up so use your imagination. Once you start writing, you’ll be surprised how quickly the page fills with ideas.

Once you have a map of ideas in front of you, then it’s a lot easier to write a story. It will almost write itself.

I hope you have a great time writing, and that these brainstorming techniques will spark your creativity! You can find links to all the books I mentioned on my website at www.tracylcarbone.com.

My book, The Soul Collector as well as several other short stories in print, and on Kindle, are available on Amazon.

On Getting Story Ideas

by Tracy L. Carbone

One of the most common questions I am asked as a writer is where I get my ideas from. The honest answer to that would be something like, “How do I stop the ideas from coming?” The thing about being a writer is that each thing you encounter, even the most mundane, can spark an idea to file and use later. Above, I found a smiley face in a bread stick. Writing prompts are all around.

To make sure I don’t miss any opportunities, I follow the advice of Ray Bradbury in his book, Zen in the Art of Writing.

At the end of each day I try to write down anything even remotely interesting that I’ve seen. It’s not a diary per se, but a list of images. For example, I might jot down,  “lady yelling at kid in store, street musician in Fanueil Hall, melted chocolate on seat, almost getting in a car accident.” Sometimes it’s months or years before I flip through the ideas in the book and use them but they’re always there, waiting their turn.

Street names are another great trigger for creativity.  When I’m driving, if I’ve got a passenger who can type for me, I use the note function on my phone to write down streets names or important things to burn into memory.  My  daughter and  I recently completed a very long drive through Canada and northern Maine. That area is rife with images. Here are “phone notes” from the drive to give you an example. “Crawford Bible Fellowship, Lord’s Point, Hardscrabble Farm, Big red building with small brown barn, buildings boarded up, devil faces on telephone poles, Harm’s Way.”

Add to that some pictures I took along the way and the story can almost write itself. I look at the pictures below, recall the memories, and it’s a walk in the park if you toss in a little creativity.

But what about when it doesn’t seem there are any interesting things to write about? Well, I highly recommend this little gem of a book. It’s called Creative Block by Lou Harry. It’s got short phrases and photos to jolt you into making a mental image and hopefully a story. It’s surprisingly helpful for such a small book.

Once you’ve got burning ideas, just start typing, or hand writing if that’s your preference. Before you know it, you’ll have a nice little draft of a story, or a great scene in a book.

Happy writing!

Tracy L. Carbone ,  is the author of The Man of Mystery Hill, a middle grade paranormal mystery, published by Echelon Press. Buy now on BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon or in many fine bookstores.

Follow Tracy on TWITTER for continual updates.