I love my local bookstore. My daughter and I stopped by Blue Frog Books today with a few copies of The Fall of Our Secrets and my press release. I started with, "I live in town, and I have a book coming out next month." The proprietor smiled, glanced at the gorgeous book (it really is, thanks to Martin Blanco) in my daughter's hands, and said, "Well, then, let's set you up to do a signing!" I thanked him for making things easy and saving me the song and dance I had planned--which he said I was welcome to do if I liked (I declined).
We talked about time frames, and I learned that James Brown's son, Daryl Brown, will be at the Blue Frog next Tuesday August 12th on his national book tour with his book, Inside the Godfather, Never-Before-Told Stories of James Brown by His Inner Circle. Pretty cool. Sounds like I'm in good company.
We decided on Saturday, October 25th, 12:30 to 2:30, for my signing. This might end up being a nice alternative for those who can't make it out to the release party October 2nd. Today was a very productive day, as I also learned I'll be participating in a fun ladies night event at another local business (more details soon!). Man, I love it when I have a Saturday off from my dayjob!
In the last three days I've attended two incredible concerts. This is a photo from outside the first show in Detroit, Jack White's hometown. Last night's show was at the Masonic Temple, one of the city's great historic buildings, which White had a hand in saving from demolition a few years ago. The first night was viewed from plush seating in the fifth row (though we never sat); the second, from the crowded, screaming, quaking humanity of the general admission pit. I feel so fortunate to have been at both ... and to have given myself permission to be overindulgent and attend two concerts in three days.
I realize that might sound funny. But I'm a mom. A wife. A Registered Nurse. A writer. A homeowner. A pet owner (with two pretty sick and needy pets recently). I'm also a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend. Like so many women, I wear tons of different hats. It is a constant balancing act keeping them all straight and doing justice to each. The one hat I neglect most often, the one that stays crushed at the bottom of the closet, is the one I didn't mention. I am also just Tracy. Before I was any of those things listed above, I was me.
Don't get me wrong. I love being me while wearing those hats. But I learned after having my kids (to be specific, years after having my kids), that if I don't occasionally invest time doing something for the sole purpose of my own enjoyment, I start to really suck in all those other roles. I lose myself. I lose track of the little things that make me me. My love of music, to name one. After my daughter was born, and then my son two years later, I lost a solid 6 or 7 years (not kidding) of music. Forgot about it. And not just music. Books. I missed the release of so many books and albums in that time that when I rediscovered my first loves, after finally climbing out of the diaper pail (gross but that's how it felt sometimes!), I truly felt as if I'd found myself again. Left standing out in the middle of nowhere, still a young adult who hadn't yet grown into any of the hats I am now lucky enough, blessed enough, to wear. Except now I'm not a young adult so much as a forty-something adult. And it is so much fun nurturing that forgotten part of myself now, especially since I've discovered that the infrequent times I do choose to indulge, those experiences make all the hat-wearing versions of me a nicer, richer, more engaged me. True story. I know most of you know what I'm talking about.
Two most favorite moments from the last three days of concert whirlwind:
*Being part of the hushed audience at the Fox while Jack White sang You've Got Her In Your Pocket, completely overcome with raw emotion, his voice cracking and his hand covering his eyes at one point. THAT is creative passion.
*And singing along to Just One Drink, my friend and I turning to face each other and shouting "I drink water, you drink gasoline" at the exact same moment, before turning our attention back to the rock concert onstage, that strange and wonderful joyful not-guilty pleasure that feeds my soul and makes all of my hats fit so much better.
So, this happened.
I’m now represented by Jennifer Mishler of Literary Counsel. Okay, maybe I did this a little backwards, getting a publishing contract before a literary agent. I guess that’s just how I roll—can’t do anything by the book (sorry, bad pun).
Anyway, this isn't widely acknowledged or spoken about, but I’d be a traitor to my peers if I didn't say it. Many of us spend months or years querying literary agents in an attempt to secure representation. Often, this is done while maintaining a full time job, going to school, raising families, and carving out actual writing time (querying is not writing, doesn’t scratch that itch). Somebody once asked me how many queries I’ve sent out, and at the time I think I joked that I wasn’t counting until I got an agent. I’m still not counting. I don’t need to know. I think it really comes down to this: querying the right agent at the right time with the right material, persistence, and luck. Sure, there's obviously more to it than that. And I'm not naive enough to think that everything will be easy from this point on. I know this is just the beginning. I'm so happy to have a beginning.
For me, it’s been a long road, and I’ll admit there were a few times I wholeheartedly threw in the towel and swore I was quitting: quitting writing, quitting querying, just flat out quitting. Enough. The problem is, I can’t quit writing. I have tried. I’ve put serious effort into rehab and recovery, avoiding my laptop and trying to silence the characters and stories in my head. The end result is always the same. Me, giving in to the addiction, resting my fingers on the keyboard, and welcoming the surge of adrenalin as I fall willingly back into words.
I’m so incredibly fortunate that Fran Black and Jennifer Mishler decided they like those words. My agent (wow, listen to those two words!) is excited enough for both of us about my next book, and all those after that. Which is good, since I’m currently still a little stunned. Numb. Dazed. Not catatonic or anything, but trying to wrap my head around the fact that I now have this great agency in my corner, believing in me and ready to help me be heard, be read. In terms of how stoked I am, I’d say today ranks right up there with all the biggies, the best and most amazing days in my life so far, no exaggeration. Thank you Literary Counsel!
Yes, it's a little early to announce an event for the fall. After all, it's the middle of summer! In my house, I'm not even allowed to utter the word "fall" or any other words that could possibly be associated with the beginning of another school year. But this has nothing to do with school.
I will be at the Howell Opera House Thursday, October 2nd, with family, friends, acquaintances, and hopefully lots of people I haven't met yet, celebrating the release of my first book! I'm the first to admit that this is something I've envisioned for a long time, but was never certain would happen.
Our beloved Opera House in my own town has a storied past, and I feel incredibly lucky it will be home to my book party.
Please join me anytime between 6 and 10 pm October 2nd, 2014, at 123 West Grand River Ave, Howell, MI. Books will be available for pre-order (link coming soon) as well as for purchase at the event. I'll be available to answer questions and chat, and I look forward to signing copies. Appetizers and sweets will be served, along with my famous brownies. I may even read a paragraph or two from The Fall of Our Secrets, assuming I can muster the nerve!
On first glance, the two seem completely alien to each other. They are not.
I say Dancer Girls because that’s what my daughter is, a Dancer Girl. My daughter and many of her peers have found a magic elixir in dance. Structured, intuitive, instructional, artistic, precise, fluid, and regimented all at once, dance is her drug of choice. She started like most other mini-Dancer Girls, pink tutu and all. We've all seen them, hoards of little girls and teenage girls in cute, sparkly, adorned costumes pirouetting onstage. How can this possibly have anything in common with feminism? I’ll tell you.
Feminism is a loaded word for most of us. In its best incarnation, the word feminist conjures a vividly strong woman, confident, smart, effortlessly carrying the flag of women as equals. In its worst, we find the almost cartoonish version of a feminist: militant, butch, abrasive, male bashing. In neither image is there room for ballerinas. Or is there?
In support of my Dancer Girl, I have watched hours upon hours of dance classes, dance competitions, dress rehearsals and recitals. This year, after 10 previous years of much the same, a light bulb went on for me and I suddenly began watching through a very different lens. I’m sure this has a lot to do with me being all tangled up with the new characters in my next story.
My stories always start with people. More specifically, women. One woman, or maybe a pair, people that I recognize instantly not because I've known them in my life, but because I know right away I identify with them on some level. I've been thinking a lot lately about my female characters, and my newest additions, who don’t even have a story to live in yet. They will, I’m working on that. But before there is a real, legitimate story with a plot and twists and turns and that cool A-Ha moment, there must be well developed characters—at least for me.
I've realized that all of the female characters I've written have feminist qualities. I’m not saying they are all feminists. Many have a long journey ahead before discovering that they alone possess the power to change their own lives. A few could proudly wear the feminist badge, but even they have moments of self-doubt, poor decision making, questionable motives. Don’t we all? That’s the human condition. But a good part of the enjoyment I reap from writing comes from writing strong women; or women who are forced to become strong, and are better for it.
To step outside of my own fiction, I took an interesting trip down memory lane through some of my favorite books. I learned that I have very little patience for weak female characters. Granted, some great works of fiction start with women we cringe for, certain they don’t have a chance; women who perpetually wait for rescue, all the while wringing their hands and railing at the fates in their hopeless, woe-is-me whine. OMG. Yes, sorry not sorry, I said it. This kills me, but even this, sometimes, spurs me to keep reading. I have to. I have to get to the part where she realizes she need not rely on anyone but herself; you know, that part where we finally cheer and forgive all of her wimpiness and self-doubt, certain that she now understands at least a little about feminism. (Sure, it’s nice when the strong, smoking-hot knight in shining armor rides in and promises lifelong security and undying romance, but we’re talking about feminism here. He can wait to swoop in after she has realized her own potential!).
So, as I sat watching maybe my thousandth hour of dance, eyes still tearing up now and then at my motivated, beautiful daughter tap dancing her heart out, I started to look at these Dancer Girls in a brand new light. Against the back drop of two new female characters I hope to build a fascinating, compelling fictional world around, I saw the girls on stage for what they really are. Strong. Driven. Artistic. Smart. Confident. Self-assured. They are the future generation of successful women. They have learned, from instructors who model grace, strength, intelligence, honed technique and self-respect, that the skills they've spent years developing in dance will serve them well in life. I’d bet each of these Dancer Girls is pretty sure she will succeed at whatever course she sets her mind to. That is feminism. Wrapped up in our daughters who have discovered the power and magic of dance.
There’s this thing I do between words. In my dayjob, I am a Registered Nurse. I started out twenty years ago at Sinai Hospital in Detroit, working on an Endocrinology floor and then a Medical/Surgical floor. After a few years, I decided to try life as a visiting nurse and I found my niche. Though the decision was based mostly on the desire for a more flexible schedule in anticipation of one day having children, I quickly learned that home health care was a good fit.
The years I spent in the hospital, caring for patients with a wide variety of illnesses, trained me well for the autonomy of home care. No fellow nurse in the hallway to pull in for a second pair of hands, no physician at the desk to help out with a quick remedy or solution to an acute problem. I arrive with my bag and my skills, and I can usually tell within a few minutes of laying eyes on my patient how things will go: good, bad, or worse. In my field, a common misconception is that home care is where old nurses go to die. Not literally, of course, but the myth we are constantly working to shatter is that home care is easier, slower-paced, less intense, and requires only the most basic of technical and interventional skills. I’m here to tell you this isn't true, and the reason why is also why I am glad I’m a nurse.
I’m a Jack of All Trades. In less than an hour, I can do a full assessment on you, picking out any anomalies that need attention. I call your doctor and update her--via the office nurse--on my concerns, and if I’m lucky, I get a call back later that day with her plan of action. While we’re waiting for that call, and of course using extensive sanitizing and disinfecting protocol, I start an IV for your newly ordered medication we’ve received through our infusion pharmacy. I mix your antibiotic, begin your infusion, and take care of changing your wound bandage while the IV runs. When the doctor’s office calls back, I quickly do a lab draw for the CBC your doctor wants run stat, labeling and storing the blood in my bio-hazard bag next to an ice pack. Once I've instructed you on the new medication that is now waiting at your pharmacy, I disconnect the IV and flush the line, securing it until tomorrow.
Before I leave, I let your constant companion back in from the yard: let’s say he’s a Bernese Mountain Dog (my personal favorite), too big and fluffy to be underfoot during all of your medical care, but friendly and anxious to see that you’re just fine in spite of me. I make a detour to your kitchen, where I warm up the lunch your son left for you and grab a protein drink from the fridge, depositing both on the table next to you along with your phone. In one final survey, I retrieve your remote control from behind the couch, place your blanket back over your legs, and mark your calendar with my next scheduled visit date and time. In my car, on the way to the hospital to drop off your lab specimen, I call your son to tell him about the new medication he’ll need to pick up, making sure he understands he must give it to you 2 hours apart from the Iron pill you take at dinner time. At some point during this brief, productive hour, I've entered all of this information into your chart in my laptop, which has safeguards and passwords galore to keep your protected confidential information just that. I finish charting sitting in the hospital parking lot, in my car, while the details of your visit are fresh in my mind, before I turn on my GPS to begin navigation to my next patient.
I’m actually more tired after breaking all that down in print than after the actual job! I enjoy it. I am gratified when I see clinical findings slowly improve day by day, when I see the smile on my patient’s face as I remark how beautiful that photo of her grand-daughter is, and especially on the day I discharge the patient who is well enough not to need me anymore. I am lucky to have a dayjob which provides me such fulfillment … even in those rarer cases where the patient doesn't get better, where the situation is sadder than sad, because in those circumstances, I know I am blessed to be the person doing everything in my power to help, to effect change, comfort and calm.
Every nurse has a handful of triumphs to balance a heart full of losses. The triumphs aren't in the scenario described above. That one falls under “just doing my job, ma’am.” The triumphs are those moments we truly make a difference. Those instances when, if we hadn't been there, that patient’s life would have changed inexorably for the worse. Sometimes the very worst. But we were there. We happened to see the patient on the exact day she needed us, the exact day things went south. Even if no one realized it before we walked through that door, patted the Bernese Mountain Dog on the head, and laid eyes on the patient, we realize it instantly. Our assessment only confirms what our other senses have already told us, and within minutes we've called an ambulance, administered the proper medication, phoned the triage nurse in the waiting ER, notified the doctor, hugged the son, gathered the current medication list and recent surgical history, and given report to the arriving paramedics. Believe it or not, this is where the triumph comes in. Hours later. Hours after our work phone is normally turned off, but this time it isn't; it rings on the couch next to us while we watch TV with our family, seeing nothing, that patient still in our thoughts since the ambulance screamed away.
The triumph comes in the voice of the son on the other end of the line. His mother is stable, resting comfortably, and is expected to return home tomorrow. It was a clot, he says. Or maybe it was a collapsed lung. Or a host of other potentially life threatening problems—pick one. The emergency has passed, the problem has been neutralized, and the patient will see tomorrow. We will see the patient tomorrow, this time bright eyed and breathing just fine. This is why I’m a nurse. Just in case you wondered.
I'm so happy to share the cover for THE FALL OF OUR SECRETS, in stores and e-book format September 23rd! I'm wowed by the whole process, from conception to completion. I have to send a special thanks to Fran Black for being able to see inside my head and come up with the best possible depiction of my book, and cover artist Martin Blanco for bringing it to life. The entire team at E-Lit Books totally rocks!
Two days! That's it. Two short little days until The Fall of Our Secrets cover can come out of hiding! I must have wished on just the right number of shooting stars ... or lucky pennies ... or dandelion fluff, because I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a great team in E-Lit Books and talented cover artist Martin Blanco. Stay tuned!!!
Well … it’s been a while. March brings some difficult anniversary dates for me and solitude has always been my best remedy. A week into April, things are beginning to feel different, better, brighter, in more ways than one. Anyone who has ever lived in the Midwest, namely Michigan this winter, knows what I’m talking about. I do love winter, but am so happy to say hello to spring. And to upcoming summer concerts!
In the past few weeks I’ve made plans to attend three fantastic concerts this summer, and am still reeling from the excitement of today. This morning my concert wing-woman Ann snagged us fantastic seats to see Jack White, and the high I’m currently on is amazing. I’m sure the thrill will mellow a bit over the course of the next few months until July, but the anticipation in and of itself is, in some ways, just as exciting as waking up the day of the concert. Because between now and then, for roughly the next ninety days, and then another twenty or so until we see Thirty Seconds to Mars and Linkin Park, I’ve got oodles of new and well loved music to listen to while I’m writing.
Words and music are inseparable to me. I’m sure it’s a result of teenage study marathons in my bedroom with one record album after another playing on the turntable. I had all the greats for a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. John Cougar Mellencamp’s American Fool. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Duran Duran, INXS, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin. Too many to name. Any free time between homework and the plethora of teenage obligations I must have had was spent writing for pleasure. Short stories, song lyrics, novel beginnings with high hopes. The constant in all of that, more than any specific writing tool, space, method, or habit was music in the air. I’m sure that’s why I must have a soundtrack playing in the background now when I write.
My playlist changes all the time. It changes depending not just on what scene I’m writing, but what mood I’m in that particular day or moment, and what mood my characters are in. And it changes with each novel I write. It’s funny that my current work in progress has already necessitated some Jack White as well as Thirty Seconds to Mars. Music addict that I am, after getting my TSTM concert tickets I immediately purchased and incorporated a ton of their songs into my playlist and they just flow seamlessly along with the writing. No need to purchase any Jack White, as I own almost everything the man has released in his various incarnations, and what I don’t have, my good friend Ann does; she’ll let me borrow in exchange for brownies (a blog post for another day: the great importance of coffee and chocolate as additional writing tools).
I realize that my passion for music, especially live music, isn’t something that is felt by everyone. That makes me feel even luckier. The love of music in multiple genres can be traced back to my dad, a high school teacher whose den was stocked with shelves of literary classics I devoured and two huge cabinets of musical classics he shared with me—sometimes against my will! I am a true product of my environment. Before starting my own collection, the music in the air of my childhood was The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Bob Seger (also a Detroiter, like Jack White, something my dad made sure I knew), Led Zeppelin, George Winston, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Roger Whitaker, ABBA … should I go on? The groundwork was laid before I turned ten. The common theme in every piece of music I fell in love with was the story inside. I know now that as I’ve aged, I haven’t really grown up. I haven’t really changed. Not so much. The best songs, my favorites today, are still the ones that tell a story.
Jack White is a great story teller. So is Eminem—another Detroit native and also in my current playlist. The stories don’t have to have a happy ending, a moral, a lesson, or even be complete tales. Sometimes the story exists without a single word; the words are there, hidden, spoken through the music. The stories are a glimpse, a hint at the human experience, at life through someone else’s eyes. They make us feel. That’s it. Just feel … something. Something powerful, insightful, impactful. Set against a really beautiful or rocking or haunting melody, could there be any better way to tell a story? And, to revisit the idea of live music, seeing the artists who wrote the story singing and playing their hearts out on stage is pretty much the best thing ever. The feelings stirred by those songs--those odd combinations of words and music organized into a three minute masterpiece we can’t get out of our head--those feelings are magnified a thousand times when we get to hear the artist tell us his story in person. Words and music.
Emotion. It is the element that makes great books impossible to put down. Page turning fiction pulls us in and holds on, keeps us reading by letting us recognize the characters and their struggles. In every good book I’ve read, I see a glimmer of myself in one of the main characters. Something I identify with. Some common ground, whether it’s that the character knows the trials of being a mother, drives an old car she is always worried will break down, or is elated that she has finally landed her dream job. Maybe she’s tired of her Asthma acting up. Maybe she misses her dad, especially when this time of year rolls around. Maybe she has moments of clarity in which she realizes how very lucky she is to be blessed with love in her life, amazing family and friends.
All of these are connecting threads between reader and story. But without the emotion behind them, they’re just threads. I've known this since my first few creative writing courses in school. It’s fairly basic. Knowing something and putting it into action are two different things. I know I shouldn't have that chocolate ice cream before bed…but dammit, I really want that chocolate ice cream, and I’ll do better tomorrow! Right? It’s hard sometimes to do what we know we should, especially when it comes to infusing real emotion into a story. If it was easy, every book we read would be wonderful and leave us wanting more.
The best advice I've ever received was from an editor who’s been invaluable in helping shape my work. She keenly pointed out that, as a Registered Nurse working primarily in Geriatrics, I tend to keep my emotions in check. It’s a self-preservation measure that I suppose I've developed as a way to handle the sadness I am surrounded with on a regular basis. This ability to control my emotions, to put them away in a little box in some remote corner to be dealt with later, is probably what allows me to continue working in my field. But it can be detrimental to my overall well-being as well as to my writing. The editor’s advice? Write from my heart. Open the box and let those emotions out. As readers, we not only want to know the character’s joy or sorrow and what caused it, we want to experience these feelings right along with the character. We want to cry, that heavy dread that weighs us down even though we know it’s just a story, when the character feels as if her life is over; we want to rejoice, that heart-lifting, buoyant sensation, when she finds out it is not.
With a lot of soul searching and effort, I learned to flip the switch: keep my emotions in check as nurse, let them out as a writer. Or at least I thought I had. Nurse dayjob and Writer nightjob. Two distinctly different states of mind, obviously. What I find, though, is that opening the floodgates to my emotional reactions when I am writing has had a noticeable effect on my dayjob approach. As I've worked hard to allow my emotions through in my story-telling, the emotion has spilled over into my life as a nurse. So far this is a win-win. I really must remember to thank that amazing editor (you know who you are).
Of course I am still learning how to temper my emotions in patient interactions, but now I know that it’s okay if sometimes I hug a patient’s wife when she is distraught over bad news; it’s okay if the patient sees reflected in my own expression the sadness he is feeling. It makes me a better nurse, and I know I can handle this shift in my approach. After all, I've had twenty years of self-preservation. I’m pretty tough by now.
This entry isn't about what kind of nurse I am. Sometimes I get side-tracked.
The idea here is emotional writing. We all have different triggers, different passages or scenes that can make us fall apart with only a few words on a page. We feel what the character feels, and we wish we could step into the story and help. Likewise, the scenes that are celebratory are a whole hell of a lot of fun. We are right there with the character when the goal she’s been working toward for the last 280 pages is finally achieved. And we've read great books that can make us smile with satisfaction as tears roll down our face. What a great balance. That’s impossible without emotional writing. The events, scenes, character’s reactions in these instances are all hollow without the deep, intense feelings that go along with them.
In my previous blog post, the idea of total immersion was mentioned in the comments section, in regards to concentration. Total immersion is probably the single most important key to my ability to write emotionally. Normally, solitude is a basic requisite in order for me to write effectively, even if it’s solitude induced by my beloved earbuds and playlist amid the fabulous chaos that can be life with a spouse, kids, dogs, cats, or even in the middle of the ballet studio for my daughter’s 7th dance class that week. Most of the time I wait to write until the dust has settled and my house is sleeping, oversized orange tabby Rico by my side. Music in my ears, chores done for the day, I dive into the manuscript and tap into my feelings as I put word after word on the page. Sometimes it's like therapy. Sometimes it's exhausting. It is always fulfilling. My writing skills are so much richer for that editor’s advice. The upcoming The Fall of Our Secrets is a heart-wrenching, gripping emotional journey that follows two women, childhood friends, as they struggle to find footing in their adult lives. These two women are real because of the recognizable, emotional impact in their story, not because of the events that occur.
As a writer, I must not only put myself into my character’s shoes, but allow her feelings to overtake me as she experiences the highs and lows of her journey. These are not always my own specific feelings. In my current work in progress, my character often behaves and reacts differently than I would; she should, she is a different person than I am. But I have the groundwork for her emotions. The best study course for this is life itself, and allowing ourselves to fully invest in it. Where the character’s emotional reactions escalate from that basic starting point depends upon the events in her past that have shaped her life so far, and where she sees herself in the future. The emotional reactions of my characters are influenced by the love in their lives, or lack thereof. They’re altered by who supports them, who is working against them, and what drives them toward their goal.
Well written fiction stays with us long after we have closed the back cover—or pressed the power button. In the same way we worry about our friend who is going through a hard time, or we’re excited for our sister who looks to be setting foot on the path to success, in the way we think about these people periodically throughout our day, a great story continues to make us think after it’s finished. We've gotten to know these characters, rooted for them, cried with them, railed at the unfairness of the fates with them, and celebrated the ultimate achievement of their hard-won goal. In a great story, we've done all this from inside their minds, hearts and souls. We are them, and they are us, at least some small facet of us. This is the result of an emotionally well written story.