Countdown is on for my book launch — August 8, in Grass Valley, 6-8 pm, at the UUCM: Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains. I’m ordering cake! I’m placing ads!
You like cake, don’t you?
We’ve been collecting reviews, including this starred review:
Planning the book tour, writing essays and blog posts, and the like–it’s the kind of zany fun part of getting published. It’s midsummer, and ideally I’d be sitting out in the hammock with a book or a notepad. But not this year. Why, you ask? A couple of reasons.
Weird weather– it was chilly for most of June for some reason (cough–climate change–cough!)
I’m doing some research that involves reading old family letters and they would blow around outside.
We have a ton of ants and mosquitos this year, probably because of high rain and snowpacks over the winter. Too many bugs– on and near the hammock.
I must admit it — I have a small case of breast cancer. I was diagnosed in March after a wonky mammogram, had lumpectomy surgery in May, and have been undergoing radiation treatment over the past few weeks. Two more weeks to go, and I will be super radiated and ready to launch. My diagnosis was early, and it’s a Stage 1A, one breast, and they have high hopes for 100% cure. So my fingers are crossed as much as anyone can cross them. I haven’t posted about this on social media but it’s true. I was planning to post *after* I finish radiation. As in, fait accompli. So far, so good.
So bear with me as I go squiggly with book release excitement. Know that I am finishing up revisions on my historical novel slated for next fall release through Sibylline, and the letters? Research for the next novel, also historical fiction based on my an-sisters, as I like to call them. Won’t this look good on a cake?
It has been a long winter and spring, and we are finally in the home stretch before The Bereaved arrives at bookstores and Kindles everywhere.
Nervous? Not really.
Big plans? Yes!
I loved this “Eye” artwork and was so happy when Sibylline’s art director chose to use it on the cover. I’m leaving the cover image large so you can see the details, and I’ll tell you more about it. Take a look at how it turned out:
The theme is Victorian mourning, and the Eye artwork centers the book cover. The background is a flocked Victorian wallpaper. It was more golden in an earlier version, but the red really pumped up the energy. The Orphan Train is the bottom photo, an old photo from as late as 1900, or as early as 1870. Hard to tell from the kids’ clothes. This is kind of the quintessential Orphan Train photo that shows up when you Google the term. On the right is a portion of the New York Home for the Friendless, which was an orphan “asylum,” or orphanage, where children who had lost their parents, or whose parents couldn’t keep them fed and housed, landed, if they didn’t make it another way. And on the left? That’s little Willie Gaston, about 8-10 years old. Hard to tell, because children dressed like undertakers in the 1860s.
William L. Gaston was my great-great grandfather, and I have several photos of him throughout his life. He married Winifred McDonald, and had two daughters, then one of them (Laura) had two daughters. Little Winifred (named for her grandma) was my Meemaw, but I never knew her; she died when I was less than a year old. The stories die out over time and no one remembers who came from where — until Ancestry came along and helped me find all the footprints and arrows and signposts.
The Bereaved is the story of how my 2x great-grandpa went from New York to Ohio as an orphan–but it’s told from his mother’s point of view. Who was Martha Seybolt Lozier? My third-great-grandmother, whose DNA runs in all my cells and mitochondria–who was this, and how did she lose her child? Read the novel and find out.
I will be posting more about my upcoming book launch, book tour, and some side quests along the way, to illuminate Martha’s story, and Will’s, and my own. It’s always more complex than you think. But get this: As I learned about Martha, I also found her parents, and their parents, and so on, back to Puritan times, where another long-forgotten grandmother appeared, just in time to become my next historical novel. That woman’s name was Silence Greenleaf, and I went on a trek last fall to find her.
I’d like you to meet here here, first, and next fall (September 2024), in the pages of my next novel, Silence.
That’s the topic for another day, so I’ll leave you wondering about that, and anticipating the release of The Bereaved, my eight-years-in-progress baby. Links for preorder below. Thanks for checking in!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everyone says, “Oh, I’ve been so busy.” I have, too, but in a low-key way. In January of this year, my brother-in-law Dennis was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer. I had just made a rigorous plan for my books, writing, and marketing for 2014, and had gathered full momentum already. But I realized that some things are more important than writing blog posts or tweeting about my writing projects. So I put most of my work aside and made myself available to help.
Dennis was a Vietnam veteran, in the 25th Infantry, 1969-71. He was just a kid, but he did his duty, was injured twice, earned two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. Along the way he was sprayed with Agent Orange. One of the most stunning things the VA man told Dennis earlier this year was that, because of where Dennis was on certain dates with his division, “That was the day you were killed. It’s just taken this long to catch up to you.”
I took Dennis to the doctor when he needed a ride. He wasn’t able to drive with his oxygen tank, and walking was also a challenge, but we sped around the open corridors of Kaiser Santa Rose popping wheelies in a borrowed wheelchair. I sneaked a few Playboys to him. Because of various health reasons, radiation was not an option, and neither was surgery. Chemo was brutal. He suffered multiple strokes that left him incapacitated and in a long-term care facility, was anointed by the monsignor and made a miraculous recovery to almost his former self. He was able to walk, talk and reason again, and soon was home. But there could be no more chemo. It was a matter of enjoying what time he had left.
I was with Dennis on his last day in early June, a scant six months after diagnosis, taking my turn at companionship, preparing food and tracking medicine. It was a very long day. He wasn’t himself, didn’t feel well, and the hours dragged. By the time my sister Carolyn got home from work, I was exhausted but it was clear he wasn’t well, so I stayed. The nurse came late that night, and we had him settled for bed. But when we went to give him his next round of meds, he had stopped breathing. That was it — life and death, just a breath between the two. We held him and said thank you and how much we loved him, and he was gone.
A few days later my sister asked if I would speak at Dennis’s memorial, and while I was honored to do so, I knew I had to figure out what to say, and for me — a lifelong writer — that was an assignment that, for once, kind of sent me into a tizz. I don’t get writer’s block, as a rule. Because I have been a journalist and have written to deadline since high school, on newspapers, in the heat of rushing to press, very little stops me from getting words onto the page. But this was a tough one.
During the springtime and early summer, my husband and I had purchased a fixer-upper, and I found that throwing myself into cleaning house, clearing garbage and weeds, and shoveling dirt — I could think again. So I wrote the short essay of my life, and delivered it at his funeral earlier this month. And after the sound of the gunfire salute, the playing of Taps, and the long memorial barbecue afterward, I found that I still have a writing path, I still have a career that needed my attention, and I kind of wandered back to my desk.
So here I am — and that’s where I’ve been. And I have news. Not fallen from heaven like a meteor, unexpected and surprising, but some things I have worked for over the years, with diligence, endless writing and earning my way up the ladder.
Last week, I signed with BookTrope, a new publishing company that is changing the way books get out into the world. I am very excited to be a BookTrope author, and the first offering will be my new chick-lit novel, formerly called Shell Game, but with a title change in the works. The heroine is Veronika Layne, a tattooed and pierced young reporter who stumbles on a mystery in her town, and has to race against real estate developers to save shell mounds from destruction. Drawn from my days as a weekly news reporter in a small city, this heroine is smart, rebellious, and persistent, has a crush on her rival reporter, and is determined to save the day. Sassy, sexy, smart — Veronika will steal your heart. First in a series, by BookTrope!
BookTrope will also republish both of my Doris Diaries books as well as my novel, Tongues of Angels; watch for that news on social media and links here. The Doris Diaries will become part of the “matriarchal legacy” line at BookTrope, and will be released together in March 2015 as part of Women’s History Month.
And last but not least, I got this letter in the mail yesterday:
It’s true! I will be appointed as Alameda’s Poet Laureate (a two-year term) in September at a City Council meeting. Very exciting! I will be leading poetry readings, visiting the schools and senior center, and judging contests. I will be using the hashtags #PoetLaureate and #whypoetrymatters on social media — look for them!
So I’m back on track, with lots to do. Thanks for hanging in there and know how much your readership means to me, today, and every day.
This week I’m writing as part of the “My Writing Process” blog tour. I’d like to thank Rebecca Lawton for inviting me to write my story as part of the blog tour. You can read more about the lovely and talented Becca Lawton at http://beccalawton.com/ and http://beccalawton.com/blog/.
1) What am I working on? Currently I am hard at work transcribing diaries from 1930. I’ve been editing and publishing Doris Bailey Murphy’s diaries for about two and a half years now; I’ve published two books about the 1920s and am heading into the Great Depression, 1930-33, now. I transcribe her fountain-penned pages and laugh at her thoughts, and then I stop and go look for background information to tell me what she means. Sometimes I learn a lot about one thing – like grapefruit farming in the Arizona desert in 1930. Or the real estate business as the economy was crashing in 1928. Or Portland architecture. I’ve also got two novels under construction. One is in the resting phase before major revisions begin; it’s a literary contemporary novel. The other is a work-in-progress as we speak, about 32,000 words of a genre romantic suspense about a girl reporter and her sidekick on the trail of some buried Native American bones. I’m aiming to finish that and get it up on Kindle later this year.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? My work is a little niche-y – or cross-niche-y. I’m a journalist by training, so I write fast and generally pretty cleanly. I don’t struggle over sentences or word choice; I keep writing til the thing is done. This comes from years of hard deadlines, editing my own and others’ work, and no time for revisions. One learns to write well in the first draft, or one doesn’t keep one’s job long. I was early on the scene in the blog world; I had been writing a column in the newspaper since 1996, and it was an easy step to take it to the Internet. I’ve been blogging for 11 years now, and have kept my main blog (Modern Muse) alive all that time. That has given me a facility with the conversational style that newspaper writing or literary writing haven’t. I’m also a literary scholar; I’ve written for publication about Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and the Harry Potter phenomenon. My training in literary research has helped me immeasurably in the Doris Diaries project. When you put all this in a cocktail shaker and agitate it, you get my conversational novel style with rich literary allusions. My editorial reportage tends to be more readable, and so does my literary work, I’ve been told. So there ya go.
3) Why do I write what I do? Short and sweet? I have stories to tell. And I am pathologically afraid of being una dona priva di narrativa. I hate being censored.
4) How does my writing process work? I write early and late in the day, with down-time in the middle of the afternoon. I let the pot boil, as it were, for some time, and then sit down and just pour out the story. I wrote my collection of short stories in just a few weeks, but I’d been stewing on them for about six years. If I get stuck, I start typing notes. I work on the story, leave a gap with a note like “add conversation here” and keep going. Don’t let those things slow you down, writers. Just keep telling your story. Come back and fill in later. I’m a good editor, but I need editing, because I often can’t see my own errors. So I will do the first or second pass, then hand off my work to other trained eyes. I do a lot of editing for others, and it’s a pretty fair exchange. I’m used to being told what to fix. My ego is not involved. And if I think the editor is wrong, I won’t change it.