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?

Where I’ve Been

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.

My late brother-in-law Dennis, in the mountains he loved so much.
My late brother-in-law Dennis, in the mountains he loved so much.

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:

The letter I received naming me Alameda's Poet Laureate.
The letter I received naming me Alameda’s Poet Laureate.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s new? “My Writing Process” blog tour

Vintage grapefruit crate label 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. 

You are the god of your story. Do what you want.

 

Bright lights, big cities

Busy days. (Note to self: why is “busy” spelled this way but sounds like “bizzy”?) I know, I’m addicted to busy, but life is full and there’s always a lot to do. Indulge me, will you?

April and May were full of Tongues of Angels adventures, because Indie-Visible released the novel as a 10-year anniversary edition, and I was all over the place online, in several blog-carnations. It was good. It was busy, but it was good. That firmly under way, I turned to finishing off the second of the volumes of collected diaries, and all the proofing, indexing and final approvals needed.
RFTM Cover for internetAll to good ends, friends, because the second installment of the Doris Diaries is here: Reaching for the Moon. Yes. It is finished, and ready for your approval and delight (click that little link and it will take you to Amazon, or print the page and take it to your indie bookstore and ask for them to order it special via Ingram.) And if you read it and like it, why PLEASE do go to that Amazon page, or Goodreads, and post a review? Because it is fresh and new, there are zero reviews yet.

And lord knows, I love a review.

I’m in the midst of planning what’s next, that is — book tour! I have a handful of dates in the Bay Area this fall, and a week in Portland set for September. Southern California and Arizona visits are also in the works. Very exciting events coming this way:

  • Sept. 3-9, a giveaway on GoodReads (5 copies of Reaching for the Moon)
  • Sept. 7: Neptune Beach Festival, Alameda — I’m reading (in costume) 1-1:30 onstage, between bands!
  • Sept. 8: Art Deco Society’s Gatsby Summer Afternoon (costumes required! hosting a table, signing books)
  • Sept. 21: Sonoma County Book Fest (at Santa Rosa Jr. College), all day; Indie-Visible book table (signing books)
  • Sept. 22-28: Portland via Coast Starlight train
    • Sept. 24: Architectural Heritage Center: speaking on “The Works of Luther R. Bailey,” Doris’s father (my great-grandfather) – 7 pm
    • Sept. 25: Hollywood Theatre, Sandy Boulevard. “Wings” silent movie featuring the accompaniment of the Columbia River Theatre Organ Society. Complimentary Champagne and book launch, brief reading before film. Book signing, 6:30. Film at 7. $10/general; $8 seniors/students, $7 members of the Hollywood Theatre.
    • Sept. 26 (tentative): Cocktail reception at Heathman Hotel, featuring no-host bar, costumed reading.
    • Sept. 27: Eugene, OR: Tsunami bookstore reading, with other women writers. 7 p.m. Book signing after.
  • Oct. 6: Sonoma County book launch, Occidental Center for the Arts, 4 p.m. Slide show, author interview and Q&A.
  • Oct. 25: Doris in San Francisco; The Rabbit Hole, 7 p.m. Featuring costumed bartenders, reading, music of the Jazz Age.
  • TBA:  Books Inc. Alameda reading.
So there you have it. A busy schedule, with travel, meeting far-flung friends and more. Watch for updates….those TBAs and Tentatives will turn to solid gold soon.