Author Archives: Tracy Abell

March Madness in the Bookshelves

Hello, my name is Tracy and I’m college basketball-obsessed. It’s been three minutes since I watched a men’s NCAA game, and I’m quite sure I’ll sneak away** from this post to check out another. I’d like to say my family is supportive of my attempts at recovery, but they’re not much more functional than me. And in the case of my 16-year-old son, I’d say he’s got it worse. At least I’m not constantly checking scores on my phone.

(Why yes, it is an ancient flip-phone. What’s your point?)

In addition to love-love-loving college basketball, I adore reading. Fortunately, there are lots of books out there for middle-grade readers who enjoy this sport. While I couldn’t find any books aimed at young people on the art and science of bracketology, I did find a broad array of fiction with basketball playing a prominent part in the story.

MASON DIXON: BASKETBALL DISASTERS by Claudia Mills

Tracy’s note: While author says she personally is “not tall, not very coordinated, and has no hustle,” Mills wrote a convincing story about a reluctant basketball player who makes funny observations on his way to becoming a player.

PLANET MIDDLE SCHOOL by Nikki Grimes

Tracy’s note: Grimes does a beautiful job writing in verse about what it’s like to be a 12-year-old girl who lives and breathes basketball, and then experiences both physical and emotional changes that affect how she views the boys she used to only see as competitors.

BASKETBALL (OR SOMETHING LIKE IT) by Nora Raleigh Baskin


Tracy’s note: Being the mom of a long-time basketball player, this story, told from the point of view of three sixth-grade boys and one girl, rings absolutely true regarding parental expectations, highs and lows of competition, and the politics of team sports. While this book definitely would hook young readers, I think parents would also enjoy and benefit from these narrators’ insights.

STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG-TIME by Lisa Yee  

Tracy’s note: Stanford loves basketball so much he’s willing to be tutored in English by “the world’s biggest nerdball, Millicent Min” so that he can be on the team. I can relate, seeing as I have to get these blurbs evenly spaced before I can get back to my beloved games. Aargh!

THE REAL SLAM DUNK by Charisse K. Richardson

Tracy’s note: This story of 10-year-old Marcus and his twin Mia doesn’t contain basketball action, but instead delivers a message about how it’s okay to dream of being a basketball star as long as you have other dreams, too.

DRAGON ROAD by Laurence Yep

Dragon Road cover

Tracy’s note: I’m interested in reading this book about a 1939 Chinese American basketball team, but stopped when I realized the protagonists are recent high school graduates (the book was shelved in the juvenile section of  my library but is at minimum an upper middle-grade story). If I can find time between games, I’m going to continue reading this.

The NCAA brackets have now been set. I watched Selection Sunday with my two sons as the teams and initial match-ups were announced, and am giddy with anticipation. Happy March Madness, everyone! The first games aren’t until tomorrow so you still have plenty of time to pick up a book. Please add any other basketball-inspired books in the comments and also tournament favorites or predictions.

**I watched the last minutes of the Wisconsin – Indiana game.  Shhh!

Tracy Abell wishes her free throw percentage was higher because, you know, they’re FREE throws. 

All Those Who Care About Children, Please Stand Up

This is a group blog of people who write books for children, and it’s safe to say that people who write for children care about children. The same can be said of teachers: they care deeply about children’s well-being. So do their classroom aides and the school librarians, bus drivers, crossing guards and custodians. Even the literary archetype of evil-lunchroom-lady-beneath-the-hairnet cares about children. Mothers and fathers, of course, care about children. As do grandparents, principals, office secretaries, coaches, school nurses, babysitters, daycare workers, pediatricians, and child psychologists. Aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters – they all care about children.

I’d go so far as to say the vast majority of people on the planet care about children.

I am a mother, and I reject the notion that advocating for children’s safety and well-being is a political act. I reject all false equivalencies between cars and assault weapons, knives and assault weapons, falling-off-ladders and assault weapons. I also reject the notion that there’s a right and wrong time to discuss massacre prevention. Because if not now, when?

Please understand: I don’t pretend to have the absolute solution. All I know for sure, with every fiber of my being, is that we must make some changes.  Big changes.  Meaningful changes.  A society is measured by its treatment of its most vulnerable, and few are more vulnerable than kindergarten children.

If not now, when?

flowers and birds 023

 

Tracy Abell is a former teacher who is very grateful for the men and women who work in the schools with our children.

 

Tragedy Averted or How I Almost Talked Myself Out of Another Manuscript

Years ago I came up with an awesome high-concept novel. I’d only written one other book at that point, a low-concept book begun in secret and pretty much written as a challenge to myself. I wrote early in the morning before my kids were awake, marveling at how the words added up. Writing a novel was like living an alternate existence free of poopy diapers and tantrums, and I loved it. When the manuscript was “done” I made a few attempts to get it published before recognizing it as a learning project.

The second book was a whole other matter.

By then I was a member of a weekly critique group for adult fiction. The focus was on publication.  My critique partners loved my new premise and when our annual conference approached, encouraged me to get an appointment with a visiting editor or agent. I’d only written about five chapters but with input I polished opening pages, wrote a synopsis, and practiced my pitch in front of the group. I talked about my project. A lot.

And then a strange thing happened: I had no desire to write that very cool, high-concept book with its unique setting.  In talking about my project I’d talked myself out of a manuscript.

Since then I’ve warned other writers about the perils of talking too much. I cautioned my sons’ elementary school classmates to keep story ideas to themselves until they’d written at least a first draft. I brought in an inflated balloon and as I told the story of Tracy’s Abandoned Project, let out a bit of air. Throughout the whole sordid tale of me blah-blahing to my writing partners, I slowly released more air and by the time I reached the part about losing my love for the story, the balloon was flat. And lifeless.

Shouldn’t someone who goes around bossing other people on the issue of keeping their mouths shut know better?

Despite my No-Talking-Before-Completed-Draft policy, I fudged a bit on my latest project and shared a one-line description with my new agent (and felt validated when he liked the premise). I still successfully finished the draft. But when talking to a critique partner about whether I should rewrite the book in third-person I remember hesitating before answering his questions; it felt risky. But hey, I had a first draft. So I talked.

And not only did I talk to him but also to my spouse. I’m blessed with a partner who fully supports my literary efforts and never, ever complains about me not bringing in an income. However, because he never finished reading the one manuscript I asked him to read (in his defense, my learning project), I’ve armored my heart by only speaking about my projects in generalities.

But suddenly I was talking to him in great detail and it was wonderful to finally be one of those writers with an involved spouse. It felt especially good because my agent had just read the first fifty pages and synopsis of the second draft and basically said he liked my premise but not the execution. A couple weeks later he dropped me.

I needed to start all over. Again. But I wisely recognized I was still too fragile to work on that particular project so set it aside and revised another manuscript. When that was finished and sent off, I felt ready to return to my difficult project.

I began talking about the story again, trying to sort out some character issues. I brain-stormed with my spouse and felt I was getting closer to truly knowing the kids at the heart of my story. And yet, I couldn’t gain any traction; I was unable to move beyond character sketches to drafting and despaired the story would ever get written.

Then one day not too long ago I experienced what felt like a balloon-inspired epiphany: Stop talking and write the story.

Hello, I needed to get back to the guilty pleasure of stealing away to scribble down scenes, sharing in the lives of people no one else has met. I needed to return to writing for me.  Me and no one else.  And that’s where I am right now.  I’ve got this story inside I want to tell, and if I keep quiet from here on out we’ll make it.  However, I need to trust my instincts no matter how many drafts I’ve written.

But just in case I ever falter in my resolve, I can check in with one of my favorite writers:

“It makes me so uncomfortable for them. If they’re talking about a plot idea, I feel the idea is probably going to evaporate. I want to almost physically reach over and cover their mouths and say, “You’ll lose it if you’re not careful.”   ~ Anne Tyler

(By the way, you can buy a signed copy of this quote on ebay for only $399).

* * * * *

These days Tracy Abell is talking less and writing more, although she reserves the right to talk to herself when she’s feeling stuck.