Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Tina Laurel Lee

It is my pleasure today, to introduce the remarkable, indispensable, Tina Laurel Lee. Anyone who has been hanging around these parts this past week knows that it's been a virtual lovefest here. But, if you haven't, here's how Tina and I have been getting each other back into the revision groove.

I love the name of Tina's blog: Watch Me Practice. It is so clear that she is on this journey to learn, and also that she takes her journey one step beyond, and teaches others what she has figured out. This gives her blog a uniquely welcoming atmosphere. So, I encourage everyone (after leaving her a question here, in the comments, of course) to visit her blog, and stay a while. But first, please give Tina a warm welcome.

Tina, thanks for being here today!
Why don't you start by telling us a bit about yourself.

Okay, and thanks for having me! I was born on a farm north of Mankato, Minnesota, grew up in a town called Austin, Minnesota. I was a big reader, and someday wanted to make books and have children. After high school I moved to the city (Minneapolis, Minnesota) where I met my husband, who always was a city kid and never a big reader. We worked together in a shelter,caring for little kids. Before we knew we loved each other, we were pretty sure we wanted to have babies together. After we got married, I had my first child, and while he got bigger, I got an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, where I taught and learned craft. It was a great experience, both the parenting and the mastering. Read about it here. I graduated after the three year program and immediately had a second baby. Now I am writing, reading, while parenting two school aged children, living just a block away from the library. Most of the time I know I have the perfect life, sometimes I forget.

What are you currently working on?

I am in the midst of a major revision of a young adult novel that I have been working on and talking about for years. Here goes:

It’s a book is about Heather, a fifteen year old girl who lives at St. Jude’s Homeless Shelter. The director there, Jude (don’t confuse him with the patron saint of hopeless causes, the shelter’s namesake, but do believe he’s saintly if you must), has big plans for Heather and her brother. He also has big hair and influence and is not afraid to use it. Through a series of Jude’s machinations, Heather responds to an increasingly odd group of characters, to the revelation of her own self destructive tendencies, to scary new feelings, and finally discovers that the world is made in the very least by what you hope for, and freedom gained only by abandoning those same hopes. (I would take any and all feedback on that pitch.)

But I also have couple of other projects with a word count (more than just ideas). Only one of which, I’m actively working on. It’s a book about two young superheroes unraveling a plot where polar bears are being exploited (I haven’t quite worked this all out yet). I’m trying to spit this one out as an exercise in readability. I’m hoping this book will play the line between Middle Grade and YA. Too soon to tell (anything, really).

What made you start to write seriously?

I wrote when I was young. Here’s a question I ask myself, what made me stop? The first time I stopped was when I read my first book (written at 9, read at 12). I threw it away in disgust and put down my pen. Then I took a creative writing class in high school and the teacher told me I had writing skills but my subjects were trite, so I stopped again.

In college I failed at comp and thought that confirmed I was a horrible writer (it really only confirmed I was a horrible reader, analytically speaking). I didn’t start writing again until I was pregnant with my first child (pregnancy and creativity went hand and hand for me). I stopped with the birth of my second, not to pick it up again until she was three.

And writing is not like riding a bike. Too much thinking involved. Picking it up again was hard. After that I had to do The Artist’s Way in order to come back to writing. I like to say that The Artist Way taught me good thought hygiene (keeping your thoughts clean=not getting caught up in the thoughts that don’t serve me). My own phrase, but it’s apt. It is what I need if I am going to be a successful writer.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

I like yours. I like the ones that have taught me how to be a part of a community. I like the ones of the people that I feel like I have gotten to know. I always find new blogs to like but the ones that I end up sticking around for are the ones that are interactive, bloggers that are a part of a community, that is willing to give as much as they get. I guess I found community first at Murphblog and then I have reached out and found it more at other places. It has been a learning thing for me because this public friend building doesn’t come naturally. Finding the boundaries around what to share publicly and what to keep private is challenging. It involves so many people and I find that hard to negotiate.

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

My blog has gone through many machinations as I tried to figure out why I am here on the Internet. When I started I decided that I would provide a writing exercise everyday and write predominately on process. Then later I decided I would post my daily writing every day. And then when I lost interest in that I floundered for a long time.The thing I want from blog posting is community building. I also like how blogs help me find what I want to read, I’d like to contribute to that. I like to save the things that I like on my blog too. I figure my blog is a tool for showing my gratitude and being generous. So I’m trying my hardest to share the little bit that I have, mostly around the writing life. I don’t know where this fits in it all that, but for fun I coined my own genre called Pioneerpunk, but as I revise perhaps like the term Prairiepunk better.

Tina--what online resource have you found most helpful?

This online stopwatch really helps you keep butt in chair (or in my case butt on the large blue exercise ball that is supposed to sit in front of my computer but more often gets bounced around the house by my children).

And, what has been your biggest trial in writing?

Finding the time. Realistically making myself take time because until there is a book that someone has validated, there is very little else to show for my time, and I am someone who values productivity. My two main occupations, writing and parenting are very hard to quantify (I should add homemaker and teaching to that list and make it four).

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

The lovely stopwatch from above. Scrivener is a nice tool. It lets me write in bits and pieces. Learning to need writing has helped. Now the writing itself is a tool to keep me sane (when I rely on it, I keep doing it).

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

I didn’t know what I would say to this question until I answered the above question. I am big on books about writing. I love to read them and I find them helpful. So choosing one is difficult. But I would have to say The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron turned my writing life around (although I find the book very repetitive and bordering on new-agey self-help, which is a big criticism). The basic exercises, sitting down and writing everyday and the week by week examination of your beliefs, allowed me to give up some of my more damaging thoughts.They didn’t go away, but I now keep working despite the discomfort that I feel when my thoughts tell me that everything I write is crap and there’s no way I will ever make any money at this. The fact of the matter is, there is no way that I have a chance at anything if I don’t keep writing and I better not sabotage myself with bad thought hygiene, if I want to keep doing it. The book essentially teaches you writing as meditation.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

I want to get my YA ready to query. It probably still needs a lot of work and I don’t know how long it will take. But I really just want it to be readable and interesting. That is my pie in the sky goal. I have learned so much from writing this first book that I sometimes worry that it is not salvageable. I have thrown everything in it but the kitchen sink and what it needs most now is focus. But I’m not sure that I have the eyes to do that anymore. My readers have been really helpful. Based on their comments, I have rearranging and fine tuning to do, and my next round will tell me where I am at. I want to keep on working as hard as I can and still enjoy the process, but I'm not sure when to keep plugging away and when to move on, but the book is definitely not ready to query.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

Becoming an expert (sort of) on something that I love as much as books and reading.

Tina--if you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

Hard one: Percy Jackson? Pippy Longstocking? Probably Laura Ingalls because I totally glorify those homemaking arts, canning, sewing, slopping the pigs, men who play the fiddle. But I would miss the Internet, my word processor, modern music, and if I were realistic about it there would probably be so many chores that it would be hard to find time to read. And yet easier to find the time to be an introvert. Maybe I will write that book someday where I can have it all, a farm full of old-fashioned arts and crafts and an Internet portal hooking my character up to everything else with a blink of an eye.

And, just because I’m curious, which do you prefer, coffee or tea?

I love coffee, watching half and half rise to the top like a billow of smoke when you pour it in, the thick rich earth taste, and the caffeine. But I switched to tea a couple years ago, which I enjoy, it's just not the same thing.

Thanks, Tina, for the great interview! Everyone, make sure to make Tina feel at home by posting a question or comment for her in the comment section--she'll be stopping by to answer!


  1. Tina--Thanks so much for sharing all this. I love your idea of practicing good thought hygiene--that's something I definitely need to work on! I really hope that you write that story--the internet portal in a Laura Ingalls world. Awesome.

    If you could share one thing that you learned about writing from the MFA program, (I know, one thing?) what would it be?

    And, I loved that piece about being pregnant and writing--a wonderful analogy!

  2. Gosh, thanks for everything, Kelly! I have enjoyed reading your blog and getting to know all the people you have had here on Fridays. I'm very honored to be one of them. Your blog is fantastic! And now I'm on it (Technically I was earlier this week too, I don't know how I got so lucky!)

    As far as the MFA goes, the best thing I learned from it was to be a good reader and responder to others work. My whole life I had read and it was the escapist qualities of that that made me want to write, but the responding to the books I read in a more present way gave me the tools to become a better writer.

    And I love to give feedback to other writers about their work. And I'm really good at it because of all that practice I got during those workshop classes. Yay! Thanks MFA. Oh and hearing other students respond to the same piece of writing helped me learn tons too.

    Blogging is a little like that as well! Watching everyone respond to things, you can learn a lot.

    Thanks, Heather, for reading my Summer Tantrums piece! And it's nice to be here!

  3. Wow. I have lots to say, as usual. First, I am jealous that you are a block away from the library, even though it would be too dangerous for me to live that close. Also, you'r book sounds amazing, kind of like, 'It's Kind of a Funny Story,' but less...insane, no literally.

    When you said, "Here's a question I ask myself, what made me stop [writing]?" I got chills.

    Your good thought hygiene quote is now written on a post it and on my wall.

    Pioneerpunk = awesome!

    I am totally saving up to buy Julia Cameron's book, unless you have another resource to recommend.

    Regarding your YA WIP, why;d you leave out the kitchen sink?

    Percy is a good choicr, Laura...I couldn't be Laura, well, Laura plus the iPad maybe.

    Great, great, great interview you two! And I love that candid photo.

  4. Jon--the Artist's Way actually got me writing again at one point in my life, so I would recomment it as well.

    And, I agree on all your points! What a fantastic job Tina did letting us into her writing life.

  5. Jonathon Arntson- good morning! You have made the friend building easy. I thank you for that. And Heather called it, glitter abounds.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Glad you like the thought hygiene and the pioneerpunk. Together we will make a movement.

    As far my WIP goes. I think I was mistaken and I did get the kitchen sink in there. But right now I'm working on taking a lot of things out, but not the kitchen sink. I think I'll leave that in. On everything else I'm going to use my axe.

  6. Whoops. Boy that sounded gross. Excuse me! Together we will make a pioneerpunk movement. Ha!

  7. What an awesome interview! A block from the library does sound kind of like living down the street from a candy shop when you're seven. Though those Minnesota winters are cold! I know from experience (born and raised in MI but visited family in Duluth every year). I am rooting for you, so get that WIP done and out there. I can't wait to check out your blog. I'm new to the blogging thing myself and completely empathize with not knowing what format to go with, so I tried something weird, but its fun! Good luck!

  8. Why, thanks, Lisa Green. One of the great things about living down the block from the library is sending my kids down there too. Much better for them than a candy store! But I have to bundle them because it is very cold today. Oh the stories they will be able to tell their kids! Your rooting for me means a lot. Good luck with the blogging adventure. I'll go to check yours out!

  9. Excellent interview! It's so fun to get to know other blogger/writers. I use an exercise ball when I write upstairs. So funny!

  10. I loved learning more about Tina! Great interview! I like the premise of your wip! I also didn't recognize you, Tina, without your hat! And now that I look at your pictures, you and Heather look a bit alike!

  11. Great interview and good to get to know you better. First, kudos for writing while pregnant and with young kids. That takes a lot of energy to do both and still be sane.

    Do you feel the MFA was worth the money? Just curious.

    And when you decide that you wip is not ready, are you able to put a finger on what it is that needs to be fixed?

    I'm not at home for the next few days, but I'll try and sneak back for the answer. :)

  12. Heather, I called you Kelly way up there in that first comment. Sorry. Can I use morning as an excuse again?

    Elana, nice to see you! I always imagine that the exercise ball makes me have to work for it when I sit and write. Keeps me warmer up here in the frigid north.

    Kelly- I've been meaning to take my hat off. All last summer and now that it is winter again, I think it might be too late. Thanks. I'd like to be just like Heather.

    Laura- Hope you are somewhere having fun! Lucky for me my MFA only accepted folks they could fund. So I had and assistantship teaching comp and creative writing (I am so much better at teaching creative writing). I'm not sure I would have done it without that because I really wanted the experience teaching. It was worth it but I didn't have the money. Just imagine what a crazy mother I was while teaching and writing and mothering. My writing suffered for it. Everything else is okay I think. Thank you for the question and the kudos.

  13. Nice job on the interview. Both of you.

    That stopwatch is sweet. I can see it without contacts.

  14. Thanks, Paul Murphy. I like the large one myself. Although I don't often write without my glasses/contacts, I probably still couldn't see it. I should let people know, it comes in smaller sizes. But I believe they all ring the same.

  15. Tina--I just assumed you were calling me by my last name--I have friends who do this. So--I wouldn't have even noticed if you didn't fess up.

    Kelly--I noticed the similarites in my blog picture and Tina's interview picture--funny!

    Tina--I have been using that stopwatch ever since you sent me your answers--it's good stuff.

  16. Hi Tina,
    Good luck finishing your YA novel to query. I'm having a hard time finishing my chapter book.

    Happy New Year,
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Children's Author

  17. Congratulations Heather and Tina for a great interview. I enjoyed knowing Tina more and within the interview and the comments I could sense the our Tina community.

  18. I love this...feel like I really know you now after a long time communicating. Glad you found community at my blog, Murphblog. Oh, wait, it's not my blog, is it?!

    I wish you sooo much luck on getting published. And am sooo jealous you've got a library that near. Wow!

    Also, one of my kiddos is named after a LITTLE HOUSE character. We loved the books THAT much.

  19. I like how your picture is looking up to HK's pic. It's like the duo that was meant to be.

    Anyone wanna buy me an iPad?

  20. I would never have said either of those things, but it's midnight and I am lingering on the computer hoping to get some inspiration to write. At first glance, nothing changed, but then I reread some of your interview and now I'm re-inspired!

  21. Tina Laurel Lee I learned some new things about you today. I never knew before that you ever stopped writing. In my mind you have always been a writer & reader of books - without any interruptions. It was just who you were and who you would always be. I guess I figured that you were writing in private in those times when your pen was still.

    I the term "good thought hygiene". As you know, I have been working on that a lot as of late (and not just about my work). You are, as always, an inspiration and I, as always, am glad to be that little girl trying to put my moon boots in the void left in the snow by yours.

    I love your idea of Laura with a Portal and I will be waiting to read that book.


  22. PS - You two do look quite a bit alike. You could be sisters even.

  23. Thanks, J. Aday. Good luck to you with your picture book.

    Ocean Girl- Thanks for coming over. I so loved your blog post yesterday! Happiness is a Warm Gun! I still have that in my head.

    Anita- I love it! That is just what I mean!! Let's get published together! And oh why didn't I think to call my son Almonzo? Manly for short.

    Jon- I'm going to go gaze at your picture right now, read some of your words and get busy on the writing.

    Sis- Thanks! You're an inspiration too. We need to collaborate! Lefse Anyone? And you inspired me to think of LIW in moon boots!

  24. We actually thought about Almonzo but named Boy something even weirder...from another book!

  25. I'm so late to the party! I apologize for that... I got sick on Friday which resulted in multiple shots in the bum and my missing all blogs until this evening...

    Great interview! Very interesting! I love that I found myself nodding and smiling throughout to things that I do myself. Good luck!

  26. A. Grey--There is no such thing as late to the party--it's ongoing, and you are welcome to come whenever you are able, and wearing whatever you want!

    I hope you are feeling better! See you this Friday *wink, wink*

  27. A. Grey- Have you heard of fashionably late?!
    Thanks for coming!

  28. I'm very late reading this interview due to travel and sporadic internet use and writing time. Just read it and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Tina a little more. Your YA novel sounds fascinating. When to keep plugging away at a story and when to move on has been a somewhat constant dance in my head lately with two of my stories. So far, I'm sticking with one and putting the other down.

    And I really enjoyed learning about your writing journey over your lifetime.

  29. No worries, Paul. Thanks for coming by. I'm with you on the writing time and the dance. Blogging is a part of that as well! I really appreciate your comment.

  30. Great interview and you can post on