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 know I wrote on this topic about six months ago, but I’m working on new things, so I said yes to the invitation to share my WIP. I was invited by Laurie Baxter (click here to visit her blog post). Thanks, Laurie!
What is your working title of your book (or story)? Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News: #2 in the Hot Off the Press Series
Where did the idea come from for these books?
I wanted Veronika to have some more adventures, of course, but my friend Woody Minor told me a true story about a local Victorian house that possibly had Gold Rush coins hidden in the walls. I took that idea and ran with it.
What genre do your books fall under?
Veronika is a mystery. My Hot Off the Press series is suspenseful and romantic, but closer to NA mystery than anything else. You could also call them chick-lit but NA (New Adult) is the preferred term these days.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Veronika Layne chases a story about a Hollywood real estate house flipper, mysterious gold coins, and why someone is buying up old houses on San Pedro Island.
Will your book(s) be self-published or represented by an agency? Booktrope, a hybrid publisher, is representing my Veronika Layne series, as well as Tongues of Angels.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote this quickly, as a NaNoWriMo project — thirty days! But revisions took quite a bit longer. I revised for several months after that. it’s a short book, just 50,000 words, so it goes fast, both reading and writing.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I think you can compare Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News with anything that Dick Francis wrote — it has the same steeped-in-her-occupation as Francis’s jockeys or other MCs. You could also compare Veronika with Bridget Jones, for getting into sticky situations and feeling like a flop.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My friend Woody gave me the idea, but I have been nurturing Veronika Layne inside of me for some time. She has the characteristics of my daughters — smart, feminist, fun — with the shrewd journalist I longed to be. She has some of my insecurities but she hasn’t yet attained wisdom. I’m enjoying watching her grow as a woman and as a reporter.
I also included a character named Flo who was a real-life sweet friend and neighbor of ours who painted beautiful florals and still lifes. I have several of her paintings. The story about Flo is mostly true. Here’s some of the real Flo’s work:
I still miss Flo today, and was happy I could include her in this sub-plot about a talented artist who acts as Veronika’s surrogate grandmother. These paintings are in my office and I see and love them every day.
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.”
Sitting on my desk is an invitation to renew my subscription to Poets and Writers, a magazine I have loved and hated over the years. I have treated it as my bible, my oracle – tell me how to get published! Teach me all your secrets and ways! And I have burned with jealousy when new voices, that is, the same white, nerdy, khaki-wearing writers who had the luck or the moxie to be in the right place at the right time, or have somehow broken the glass ceiling, grace the cover.
In recent years, I’ve felt dismissed and insulted by P&W, as well. Their grudging admission that self-publishing exists – and is a booming business – feels akin to acknowledging that the gardener has a family and that the maid might have a social life. It’s there, yes, but no one wants to know about it.
I have published several ways, besides my lifetime of newspaper and magazine articles, my years in journalism. My poetry collection, Amaryllis, was published by Scarlet Letter Press, and the remaining boxes of the press run sit in a corner of my hallway. It sold copies at my launch, and via local book stores, and still sells at readings. But unless I want to pay for the privilege of consigning locally, this little gem will eventually fade away. If you buy it off Amazon now, I walk to the box, select a copy, and mail it to you. When they’re gone, they’ll be gone-like-the-dinosaurs extinct. But P&W respects this.
I self-published my two Doris Diaries women’s history collections: I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do and Reaching for the Moon. These are the real diaries of my great aunt, who was a flapper in the 1920s. Her diaries are hilariously flip, sassy and charming. Since the actual diaries are part of a family trust, I wanted to maintain control of their destiny. I did all the research, writing and transcribing. I paid for editing and publicity. I used iUniverse for the publishing because they would format and manage some of the other publishing duties; the books are available on any ebook platform and also through Ingram or Amazon. The two books are the result of years of dedicated research, study and effort. And both have won numerous indie publishing awards.
But they’re self-published. And I can’t tell you how sneeringly the work has been treated. Reviews refused. Book events turned down. Although Doris, my late auntie, has a growing fan base on Twitter and Facebook as well as in the Portland, Ore. Area where the diaries were written, I have been unable to get bookstores to carry them (even though they have full return via iUniverse). Even Powell’s, the book mecca of Portland, with its warren of aisles, as detailed as a stack just for Portland, Oregon, diaries and autobiographies, wouldn’t take them.
My newest novel, Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, is repped by Booktrope, a hybrid publisher who walks and talks like a trad pub and acts like an indie. That is, I get high caliber editing, design and marketing from my dedicated team and I don’t pay a penny for the privilege; but all books are POD (print on demand) and ebooks are heavily favored. It’s the best of both worlds, and I love it. Booktrope respects me as an author, which is more than I can say for iUniverse, whose reps seems to call on a weekly basis attempting to milk me of more money (good luck with that). Not sure how P&W feels about Booktrope yet.
I’m not an Iowa grad, that is, I have not gone through the much revered Iowa writing program. I do, however, have a journalism degree and a master’s in English, both of which have given me many years of fruitful creative work as well as the means to make a living. Somehow, against the dictums of the canon and the ivory tower, I managed to be named our city’s poet laureate, without ever appearing on the cover of Poets & Writers. Despite the toffee-nosed attitude of P&W, sneering down at the lowly who weren’t selected as a Yale Younger Poet or winning a week at Yaddo, I’ve somehow managed to make a career and a name as a writer.
So do I send in my $9.95 or not?
I’ve been debating. Because I am sick, sick to death of the snotty attitude toward indies. Yes, there’s a lot of indie crap out there. But hello! – traditional publisher are putting out hardcover volumes by Sarah Palin and Snookie and the Kardashian machine all the bloody time. How is that any more respectable than independent publishing? How does that make indies less worthy?
A few years back, I threw off the yoke of verbal oppression in my work – that is to say, I stopped “submitting” my work for “acceptance” or “rejection.” I send in my work. It suits the need or it doesn’t. No harm, no foul. And certainly no rejection. My self-worth doesn’t hang on some random (house) editor’s mood that day.
So can I extrapolate that to my subscription to P&W?
I can — at least, I’m willing to hang in another year to hope for the best. I’ll send in my check. I love the classified ads in the back of P&T, showing me who’s open to manuscripts, nudging me to apply for a retreat. For those alone, the subscription is of value (I don’t believe one should just go to the web site and take for free). I will follow the Four Agreements and not take it personally when, once again, P&W grudgingly admits that some authors are doing well as indies, and don’t need the sacred kiss of the Big Five to succeed.
But it would be nice – wouldn’t it? – if the old guard would be a little more open to the changes in the industry that are coming.
A few years ago, I went to Europe to visit my eldest daughter, who was working in London for six months. We met up in Paris, and after some days there and in Belgium, we crossed the Channel to England and finished our sojourn by visiting a plethora of literary sites. People who know me realize that I am a Jane Austen aficionado and understand that a trip to her native land, and a walk through her very environs, is like a heroin hit to me: once is not enough, and I suspect I’ll anxiously pursue more of All Things Jane until I die.
The literary trail began in Paris, with a visit to Shakespeare and Co., the bookstore-cum-refuge for ex-pat Americans. Hemingway hung out there when he was writing in Paris with the Lost Generation. There, I found his short book, A Moveable Feast, and devoured it like a box of truffles. Each small chapter, savored, melted deliciously, bringing the reader almost unto tears. Indulging, I remembered how formative Hemingway was when I first began writing in earnest (no pun intended), how important the declarative sentence, the dearth of adjectives, the use of the appositive was to him, and how that shows up in my work, when I’m on it. How he says we must always endeavor to write the one true thing in our stories.
We walked the Left Bank boulevards and hopped trains to Flanders, into Belgium, slipped on cobblestones, supped on bread and cheese and wine; climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur and savored the silence in St. Sulpice; strolled among the tombs in the city of the dead called Père Lachaise, a cemetery housing Moliere, Chopin, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Heloise and Abelard, so many more with stories to tell.
We left behind the City of Lights, and arrived in London in time for Shakespeare’s birthday, and though thwarted in our efforts to get to Stratford-Upon-Avon, we ate birthday cake in a pub called Shakespeare’s Head. We strolled in Hyde Park near the statue of Peter Pan, taxied through Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill, where Pongo and Missus had their Twilight Bark, and passed Platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross railroad station, where a luggage cart sits frozen halfway through the wall, caught in its magic, left behind by one of Harry Potter’s mates.
No matter where you go in England, there’s something or someone literary, whether it’s Dickens or Bronte or Woolf or Pepys. A walk through the National Portrait Gallery was like flipping through an old yearbook – there he is! There she is! I gazed on their faces, some of which I’d never seen before. Who knew Byron was such a fop? That Mary Shelley was so demure, Wordsworth so dour or Keats so tragic? I didn’t, and yet I did know, from sitting in their words, like soaking in a tub with the most delightful essences and bubbles to surround me.
And there, in a case like a precious jewel, was the one known portrait of Jane Austen, a sketch and watercolor done by her not-very-adept sister, looking like a child’s scribble, or my big toe. Flat, lifeless, sour and awkward, the little icon gazes into the distance over my left shoulder, her neck impossible crooked, her arms crossed and fading from sight. Was this my Jane? My hilarious, observant, wicked Jane? Alas for all of us, the pathetic miniature is all we have.
There is a quote that hangs on my bulletin board, a handwritten index card faded from sunlight:
“Although sometimes I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining, I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance, of aching inability.”
So saith the sage John Steinbeck.
I took along notebooks and wrote poem after poem along the way of my travels, grasping for an image that wasn’t a European cliché, a snippet from the known world, and tried hopelessly to capture in some rare new form. The mot juste. The one true thing.
But I look over what I wrote and think my words are no closer to capturing the light than Austen’s portraitist.