2020 Vision

Austin Tracey

My apologies for the long silence. When last I wrote here, we had moved to the country and my husband was seriously disabled by his back injuries; he retired and we left the busy East Bay for Wine Country-quiet. I have been working on several projects in that time, namely my historical novel about the Orphan Train mama who lost her children and set about getting them back. That novel is in revisions and needs another deep dive. (Not this week, she said, juggling several pins, but one of these days soon.)

The Crow’s Nest

Another sideline has been our cabin, the Crow’s Nest, which we renovated from the studs out, and welcomed many guests, both as vacationers and as creatives, to come stay with us. Check it out on AirBnB here.

Young Luther Bailey, graduating from Southern University, before he became an engineer, home designer and building contractor. He built some 200 homes in Portland, OR, and Phoenix, AZ, in the 1910s-1940s.
Here’s a link to a recent story I wrote about him
(pg 10-11).

We’ve spent the past two years as innkeepers, and that was entertaining; I’ve been revising the novel, then resting (but still innkeeping) between rewrites. In the “rest” times, I’ve been to writing programs or conferences like the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Associated Writing Programs. I started another book project, a biography of my great-grandfather Luther R. Bailey, Doris’s father, the architect, and have gathered much of what I need for that project, including publisher interest.

I was buzzing along on this project and chatting with an agent about my historical fiction in early 2019 when our world came to a crashing halt. My stepson, who I raised from age 5, our Boy, Austin took his own life in February 2019. And that has changed everything.

Playful smile with sister Simone last Thanksgiving.

We are learning to live without our Boy, and it has been the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. We have lived very small in this dreadful year. It’s felt unbearably sad and riddled with confusion and doubts. I have written little and worked almost not at all.

Meanwhile, racism and politics have raged, children are locked in cages, the earth is burning… The Russian River flooded and marooned us in our cabin-on-stilts; my husband had major surgery in May; fires swept the North Bay and we evacuated in the fall… Our son in law lost his childhood home near Sydney, Australia, to wildfires there in November; a tree dropped a huge branch and damaged our roof just last week. And we’re in the middle of a presidential impeachment crisis that we hope will strangle the ugliness of the current administration and begin to lead us back to center.

I got a semicolon tattoo two weeks after losing Austin, and have met others with this powerful symbol of suicide and rebirth.

It’s been a hard year, friends, neither creative nor productive. I set goals in December 2018 that are laughable now; we lead lives that are so other-focused that “2018 Julia” couldn’t even imagine. But I’m writing this — yes, pretty much the first “thing” I’ve written in months — to say that I will write again, we will keep living, our family is stronger for the terrible trials of 2019, and we are making plans for a different life ahead of us.

Nothing is yet confirmed nor written in stone (I mean anything, anywhere in life — but also, for our current plan), but if all goes as it should, we are looking toward a different view in 2020. We are looking at saying yes to life, a kind of resurrection, grabbing on to what we can and living it wholeheartedly.

Fingers crossed that it will happen. Watch this space.

A different window, a new view?

A Whole New World

It’s been a bit since I posted, mostly because my dear husband has had some health issues, which led to his early retirement, which led to us moving from the island of Alameda to the beautiful redwood forest of Sonoma County. He gets to enjoy baseball and all of his favorite sports programs as well as breathe in the fresh air and peaceful surroundings. I get to write on the deck outside, with sky and trees as my ceiling and walls. Honestly, it’s pretty amazing. It did, however, suck up a ton of my time, so I wasn’t able to blog.

I’m writing a historical novel just now, and have been for the past year, off and on, as I could around the adventures of health care, care-giving, and moving. The novel is about a mother who struggles to keep her children after her husband’s death. The year is 1854 and women’s rights are few; the law prohibits them from acting as their own children’s legal guardian when there is property or money involved, and the children are considered “half-orphans.” The setting is New York, and a strong undercurrent is the Hudson River, and the many rivers that sweep us off our feet. She makes a series of choices to protect them and some of those choices may be gross errors, but she has survival in mind. She can’t know the effect of her choices until it’s too late to turn back.

The story is based on my great-grandfather Will Gaston (born William Homer Lozier), who was an Orphan Train baby. After a ton of research, I was able to find his roots, and it was the story of his birth mother that really struck me. I wondered how could a mother give up her children. This literary historical fiction is my way of exploring that question.

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I’ve written about the subject of the Orphan Train and I spoke at the 2017 Orphan Train Complex gathering in Concordia, Kansas, in June. The more I dug into the research, the more kind of obsessed I’ve become. I thought this was going to be a nonfiction history, but as I dug deeper, I realized that the main character’s perspective was missing, and I wanted to give her a voice. Martha Elizabeth Lozier, my fourth great-grandmother, tell us your story!

So I’m writing a novel.

But that’s not all. I’m also working with a dear friend who has started an online/pop-up bookstore called All Things Book. I provide their social media presence and have been blogging about books there. My ATB blog is called Book and Bone and would love to have you follow along.

The other thing that’s taking up my time is our cottage — not the one we live in, but the second one on the property, which we call The Crow’s Nest. We’re hoping to finish refurbishing this little gem so we can offer it as a writing retreat for my writing friends. We’re an hour and a quarter from the East Bay and San Francisco, unless there is a lot of traffic (like Friday night), and trust me, the silence of the trees and the lack of passing sirens, airplanes, cars, and otherwise ambient noise–it makes writing downright pleasurable.

Here’s a pic of the house in progress (it’s a tiny house, 380 sq ft). Hope to have this baby up and available by end of 2017.

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IMG_6052So that’s what I’ve been doing, and this is where you’ll find me — on the deck in the redwoods, or in my little office, writing my novel, my blog, or getting the Crow’s Nest ready for company. Are you ready? Come by and have a glass of wine. News of the development/publication of the novel forthcoming.

Do Not Disturb: Am Writing.

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“Lady Writing a Letter,” Jan Vermeer. c 1670

Don’t try and stop me. I have writing to do.

I’m writing while I fold laundry and wash dishes.

I’m writing while I sit by my husband’s bed awaiting his back surgery.

I’m writing while I drive home late at night.

I’m writing when I get up at 3 a.m. to let the cat in. Or out.

I’m writing when it looks like I’m reading. Or spacing out. Or chopping vegetables.

Because, for me, writing doesn’t look like writing until the last 10 percent.

“Genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” — Thomas Alva Edison

Writing — for me — is like that, too, sort of. It’s all in my head until the last bit, which is writing it down (on paper or screen). I don’t sit at my desk and wonder what will come. I write all the time, and then sit down and let it out.

And that’s about all I have to say. Tomorrow I have an essay to write. A chapter to finish. Some poetry that is weeping my name.

I’m almost ready.

Wait and see.

Fishing for stories

fishing 1
Willie Doris Upshaw Bailey, fishing — with a veiled hat and white gloves.

I spent Saturday digging through old newspapers to see what frolics my great-grandmother was up to as president of the Daughters of the Confederacy in Portland, Oregon, 100 years ago. Let’s just say there plenty of genteel hijinks that involved white women doing the Virginia Reel, reading nostalgic poetry in “slave dialect” and guest speakers telling “many clever darky stories.”

Can you tell I died a little bit inside when I read that?

I did a lot of family research while working on the two volumes of the Doris Diaries (I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do and Reaching for the Moon, from the 1920s). In those hours of internet and library research, some at home and some in other states, other cities, I went looking for Doris and her father for the books, and often found her mother instead. Willie Doris Bailey, nee Upshaw, was my great-grandmother, and she was a Southern lady. She left the south when she married my great-grandfather in about 1901 and they moved to Boston so he could study architecture. When he finished, they moved to Portland, Oregon, where they remained almost the rest of their lives (except for a brief stint in Phoenix in the early Depression years).

fishing 2
…and she caught one, too. #whitegloves #pinkiesup

And in all that time, she never lost her accent, Doris recalled. I keep reading about Willie Doris, whom I remember as a very old lady (she lived to be 99, dying in the late 1970s). And in everything I read about her – well, I’m not sure I would have liked her. She was a fervent admirer of Robert E. Lee and claimed that they were distant cousins (I have traced our names through the Sewell line and there is cousinhood there, but still quite tangled).

She was a leader in the Daughters of the Confederacy, holding teas and exhibitions to celebrate Shiloh Day and Jefferson Davis’s birthday, in Portland, decades after the war ended. She was even a DOC delegate to the veterans’ reunion in Atlanta in 1919, one of the last, since few veterans remained. She did not shrink from her heritage, not at all. She owned it like her family had owned slaves.

I follow her activities in hundred-year-old news tidbits and I shake my head in dismay. Your side lost, lady, I want to tell her. Let it go! Slavery was not a sustainable model. It was bad for everyone – and the aftereffects are still damaging today. I sit here, a California progressive, a Green Party member, looking back at my slaveholding ancestors and I have no words for the apologists. What is there to say but it’s over – and yet, just this week I have been signing petitions to tell South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag that waves over the dead bodies of nine people who were praying in a church when they were gunned down.

It remains to be seen what I will find in my quest for answers. I’m not even sure what I’m seeking. But I sense, as a West Coast native with nothing but love for my multicultural, gender-fluid, tree-hugging, pot-smoking neighbors, that I will have a pretty rude awakening ahead of me. The reckoning between what was then and what is now remains to be seen. Come along with me, won’t you, as I figure it out?

 

Weekend Wonders…

Saturday is the first day of NaNoWriMo and I am raring to go. So ready to start writing book #2 of the Veronika Layne series that I keep spacing out of conversations and falling into my story. I was up on a ridge, hiking, in my mind today, and suddenly there was a love scene happening, and then I realized my husband was talking to me and I had to snap out of it. I wasn’t fantasizing — I was writing. In my mind. Just like that.

NaNoWriMo is a 30-day bootcamp to write a novel. I wrote one last year and it was one of the best experiences — such a challenge — but I did it! And loved the results. That novel is still in the revision stage, not quite ready for the world, but definitely worth keeping. I need to get my second Veronika Layne book out into the world in spring, so it has to be written. And revised. And sent to my publisher. So. What better way to get it done than to force/squeeze/panic/deathmarch my way through it? Fifty thousand words in 30 days? BRING IT.

And just for kicks, here’s the working cover and title:

Veronika #2 cover

All I can tell you now (since I haven’t written it yet) is that she gets an assignment for the newspaper that takes her on a wild ride, with a few pit stops for making hot sweet love, and — well, I’ll stop there. Because it all will come out in NaNoWriMo.

This week I’m freelancing madly — I have interviews almost daily, and deadlines at the end of the week, to get these stories done and off my desk before NaNo begins. Most of these are for Alameda/Oakland magazines, but also for Sweatpants & Coffee and some other sites TBA.

This weekend, speaking of coming events (was I?), I’ll be at the Holiday Fest at Temple Israel in Alameda, signing and selling books. They’ll be specially priced for my neighbors and friends — hope to see you there!