My non-fiction proposal is with an acquisitions editor right now. A new publisher who deals with nonfiction, with the kind of story I tell in the Doris Diaries. I would gnaw my fingernails, if I was a nail-gnawing kind of gal. I’m not. I’m a harp-on-it-in-my-mind kind of gal. Harp on it until I have a meltdown. Which I just did. (Sorry, honey.)
Mind you, I did not “submit” this manuscript, and I’m not awaiting “acceptance” or “rejection.” I eschew those labels. No one owns my reaction. I know my work is good. Either they like it or they don’t. Nothing personal. And I’ll move on if this manuscript is not a fit. On to the next publisher on my checklist. Easy peasy.
But it gets a little grueling. My talented friend Mike Copperman submitted his collection of essays about teaching in rural Mississippi to some 125 agents and kept getting nos. He finally got a yes, and his book is forthcoming now (see his story here).
My gifted friend Jordan Rosenfeld wrote a whole book on persistence (called, amazingly, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, out NOW from Writer’s Digest Books). She, too, has been plugging along in search of the right book with the right publisher, the right reader wanting what we have written.
I have been working with my Great Aunt Doris’s diaries since summer of 2011, when I first opened the box of mysterious papers after her death, and realized what a treasure I held in my hands. I have published two collections of her diaries from the teen years in the Roaring Twenties. The things I know about the Prohibition era astound me. The lengths to which I’ve gone already in pursuit of sharing the Doris Diaries with the world – well, 5,000 miles by train, four states, three years, countless hours, and many speaking engagements, period costumes and hairdos later – well, now it’s time to move into World War II and Doris’s San Francisco years.
Will this be the right publisher? Is this the right time and place? I don’t know. I was promised a weekend read, so I have fingers crossed for a speedy answer this time. Trust me, you’ll know if there’s good news.
It never gets old, the thrill of the chase – the elusive unicorn in the woods. It gets very old, however, hearing no. So one day at a time. One page at a time. If you’re on this same journey, hang in there. We’ll go together.
Blow a dandelion with me and let’s see what happens.
You know how it feels when your child attempts to do something, and you know it’s going to be difficult, but you stand back and watch her struggle anyway? And maybe she’s not so successful? And then she tries again, a few years later, and struggles, and is still not completely successful? You cheer her on no matter what, even though you have the gut feeling that she might not make it?
That’s what it has felt like with my first novel, Tongues of Angels. This novel, TOA for short, was my creative thesis in grad school. My poor thesis advisor read it at least three times, and it was a ghastly 500 pages long at the time. I feel for her, I do. I pitched the novel to agents and to more agents, and got lots of maybes but no yeses. I took chunks of it to writing conferences and got a pat from Jane Smiley and a hug from Michael Cunningham, and I had a long correspondence with Ron Hansen in which he encouraged me to push onward.
I workshopped it and book-doctored it, had alpha readers give it thumbs up – and a librarian at the university took it home to read over Christmas break and showed it to her brother who’s a screenwriter in Hollywood. The novel became a story treatment that went the rounds, including landing on Salma Hayek’s lap. I have a check for $1 that is my movie option. If someone bought it I would have received $40,000.
And then – I got divorced, and putting food on the table for my three girls became priority number one. I struggled for a couple of years as an editor at two different weekly newspapers; at the latter one, the Alameda Sun, the owners decided that we should put out some books, to broaden the reach of the publishing company. Who had a book that was ready for prime time? I did. Scarlet Letter Press launched its first book with Tongues of Angels, but in order to broaden the distribution they decided that iUniverse would be the best bet for getting onto Amazon and around the world.
So we did that. Online selling was not huge yet, and ebooks were just a blip on the radar. The book sold some hundreds of paperback copies but not millions. The reviews were very good. The press was outstanding. I did several readings throughout California and got excellent coverage. But I spent most of my time trying to get independent bookstores to carry it, and when they would carry it, would they please pay me? I am still owed, to this day, hundreds of dollars from indie bookstores that never paid for their books.
Ten years later, in 2013, I was in a coalition of independent writing women and we were all publishing amazing work. The indie movement had taken off, had rocketed into the stratosphere, and I got myself a Kindle and had a revelation. Let’s redo TOA with a new cover and try it as an indie! A fantastic designer, Chelsea Starling, redid the cover for the 21st century, and away we went. Reviews were still excellent, and then I got picked up by Booktrope and they were delighted to republish my older books. They wanted TOA in their stable. So I sent this little baby back through the channels again – same cover, re-edit, proofing, and now, back into the world for a third time.
Is the third time the charm? Maybe.
Here’s the synopsis:
A lifelong vow. A Catholic priest with questions. A penitent woman with a secret past. A jealous friend. The fourth in this lover’s knot? God. A true love story that shocked the Catholic Church, and pulled back the curtain on the priesthood.
Average 4 ½ stars on Amazon.
And here’s what the critics said:
David Baker, Snapshots of A Marriage: “As erotically compelling as the Song of Songs.”
Dan Barnett, Chico Enterprise-Record: “Sexually charged: I was struck by [Park Tracey’s] lush, hothouse, erotic style.”
Christa Martin, Santa Cruz Good Times: “Tongues of Angels swings open the doors to the Catholic Church, lifts up the chasuble and exposes what’s underneath…Her novel talks about all the things [they] hope we won’t talk about.”
Kelly Vance, East Bay Express: “Hot under the collar…A scandalous yarn.”
Jordan Rosenfeld, Forged in Grace: “Julia Park Tracey brings wicked honesty and scathingly hot prose to this soulful novel; with crackling nuance, she seduces readers. Tongues of Angels is both sexy and spiritual.”
Thanks for stopping by my blog, and enjoy Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop. Some of the other participating blogs are still giving out their free gifts, so if you missed any of the days, go hop through and see what presents you can collect.
Ever feel like a schmuck? I have the cure. In no particular order, here are some exciting or dreary adventures that happened to me whilst on the road or giving local readings. Feel better about yourself immediately upon reading!
The bookstore owner giving the reading got my name wrong, my genre wrong, and said the novel (Tongues of Angels) was self-published when it small-press-pubbed. I may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Read more about this memorable event here.)
The Portland bar that was supposed to premiere the Rebel Girl cocktail for the Doris Diaries debut forgot and did not buy any of the ingredients. Disappointing, after much ado, publicity, hoopla and advertising. Luckily, they had other alcohol. Lots of it.
A second bar later on the same tour also did not buy the ingredients for the drink, and the owner was sick, leaving his right-hand man, a waiter, in charge. The right-hand man was annoyed at having a reader in the restaurant and only grudgingly set up the mic. He then stood in front of me, blocking me from the audience, as I was reading, and later, yelled at me in French from the back of the room. Yes, I was heckled in French in a Mexican restaurant in Arizona.
A city library had zero attendees for my reading. I had bought advertising in the town ahead of time, sent flyers around, PRed like crazy, and so did the library. Two librarians came and listened to my presentation. We all felt like schmucks.
I basically had to change my entire poetry reading at the podium because someone had brought impressionable children, just old enough to ask questions. The selection I had prepared was a romantic/sexy set of poems, and – I just couldn’t do sexy talk in front of the kids. Awkward? Yes.
I pride myself on my vintage costumes when reading from The Doris Diaries. At a local reading for the first volume, I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do, I wore a lovely green ensemble, authentic from underpinnings outward. When I took my seat, I heard seams tear, I felt elastic give, and suddenly I was a sausage bursting its casing. With 50 people watching. #Sexy? You betcha.
At another reading soon after, I wore a different vintage dress, less sausagy, but with some beautiful ribbon scrolls all around the skirt. As I waited for the reading to begin, I sat at a table and signed books. When I rose to go to the platform and read, the ribbonwork caught on the arm of the captain’s chair and tore out the back of the dress. I kept my front to the audience and kept smiling, despite the draft.
I prepared a standard bio for the bookstore host to read in introducing me, but he scrapped that and instead, rewrote it in rhyme form (not his strong suit). I have blanked out most of the words, but what still haunts me is that final jarring line: “She’s always racy – Julia Park Tracey.” #fml
I gave a poetry reading and had brought along my book, Amaryllis, for sale. As I grabbed one of them to sign, the book flipped open and I realized that the innards of the book were wrong. The inside sections were put together incorrectly, and the poems and acknowledgements were mixed up. Obviously a mistake at the printer – five years ago. I wonder in horror how many of those have been sold. #thingsthatkeepmeupatnight
The time I was on tour, taking Amtrack from city to city, and the crew got my suitcase off the train but not my books. That’s right. Book store, no books. Ring this up: No sale.
I’m not done writing books or giving readings, so I expect I’ll have more adventures to add to this list in the next few months. (I’m in the throes of promoting Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop as we speak.)
I survived NaNoWriMo. What is NaNoWriMo? It was the kooky idea of a handful of friends who challenged each other to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, and that launched an international movement to get others to join in, and now, a dozen years later, NaNoWriMo is a juggernaut where normally sensible people do insane things. Let me tell you about how NaNoWriMo went for me.
I vowed, rashly, to get out of bed at 5 a.m. and write my fingers off every day until I had hit my 50,000 word goal. I planned ahead, writing myself an inspirational note on the kitchen chalkboard (“NaNoWriMo 5am BITCHES!”) and pre-setting the coffee-maker. I pre-plotted a little tiny bit. Like, the first two chapters. After that, I was in the land of Pure Imagination…
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing. In NaNoWriMo, the motto is, “No plot, no problem.” Just keep writing. So I got myself out of bed, poured the coffee, wrapped up in a blankie and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Things went along pretty well until I got to about 40,000 words, and then I hit The Wall. In NaNoWriMo circles, this is a very common occurrence. About the third week of November, the enthusiasm wanes. The adrenaline wears off. It becomes a slog through mud. A deathmarch toward 50K. I had run out of plot. I had a crick in my shoulder that wouldn’t go away. I was sleeping on a heating pad and popping ibuprofen daily. What time is it? Advil o’clock. I was afraid I was out of story. It worried me. I mean, what if my imagination had run dry?
Then I went to a write-in without my laptop. I took a notepad and a pen and hand-drafted a chapter. Then another. By the end of the two-hour session, I had consumed a Mexican hot chocolate and a currant scone, and drafted the last five chapters of the novel. I went home and hit the laptop. The only day I couldn’t write was Thanksgiving Day, and it was a maddening day, torn between peeling potatoes and vacuuming cat hair and making a cheese platter while my eyes glazed over, thinking of what was in store for my heroine. I tell ya, the life of a novelist is no picnic.
But I finished. November 28, and I slammed the door on this (extremely) rough draft. I’m taking the month of December to let the draft marinate, so to speak, and revisions begin January 1. This, the second volume of the Veronika Layne Hot off the Press series, will be out in spring.
So what did I learn from NaNoWriMo?
1) Goals are important. Set them. Pursue them. Try to make them. Adjust the timeline if you have to. But give yourself something for which to strive, as a writer and as a human being.
2) Don’t live in a vacuum. Pay attention to the world and let it affect your writing. You are not a precious flower under a bell jar. You are a creature of the universe, and your work should reflect that. The Ferguson/Michael Brown case unraveled in November, and I found myself writing some of that passion/compassion into my novel.
3) Pursuant to item 2, go write with friends. Don’t be a recluse. I discovered a handful of women writers in Alameda I never knew, who have — through this firewalking experience — become my friends. I see us writing together and supporting each other’s work in the foreseeable future. And those are Good Things, as Martha Stewart says.
4) Take a walk every day. Whenever I needed to work out a scene or a sticky plot point, I took a walk. The act of moving the body, breathing fresh air and the change of scenery made a huge difference to me and the story.
5) Write a crappy first draft. Don’t sit in judgment of your rough draft. Let it flow, and then revise the heck out of it. Anne Lamott said it years ago, in Bird by Bird: Write a shitty first draft. Don’t edit until you’ve drafted something. In NaNoWriMo, you don’t have that kind of time or luxury. And the good news for writers is that the longer you write, your first drafts will get better, too. You won’t be working with dreck. You’ll be working with a rougher version of the story. And that is an encouraging development.
The result of this year’s NaNoWriMo experience is that I find I’m a better writer than last year, and the year before that. I know how to work out the kinks. I know how to take care of myself in the stress. And I have learned to take friends with me — don’t do it alone. All of these are winning strategies for more than just spewing out a novel in 30 days. I anticipate using my lifeskills for — pretty much — forever.
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Have you read Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop? It’s online at you-know-where and you can order it from your local bookstore, too. I have to ask, because this is the biggest shopping season of the year. And it’s Cyber Monday today – so if you’re thinking about cyber-shopping, why not pop into Amazon and click, click, click?