Cool Books, Cool Authors:
Julia Park Tracey
Julia writes novels and edits her Great Aunt’s Diaries.
I’m glad I’m alive” Doris Louise Bailey, a teen in the Prohibition era, writes this sentiment over and over in her diaries as she struggles with a life-threatening bout of scarlet fever. But it’s also an apt summation of how she lived in the years following her brush with death. Reaching for the Moon: More Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen (1927-1929) contains Doris’s true-life adventures as she flirts with boys, sneaks sips of whiskey and bets on racehorses – breaking rules and hearts along the way.
The Doris Diaries is a women’s history project for publishing the diaries of my late Aunt Doris, who was a flapper in the 1920s, a Bohemian and a student in the 1930s, and eventually a social worker in the 1940s. Her diaries are rich with Portland and San Francisco history, and the two volumes I produced myself drew thousands of followers and readers, and garnered several awards. I published them to showcase the eloquent writing of this articulate young woman on the cusp of historic turning points; she never published these, so I’m fulfilling her legacy. The profits from the diaries go to a scholarship fund at her alma mater, Reed College.
BookTrope is republishing both the Doris volumes plus my first novel, as well as a chick-lit series I am writing now.
I am delighted to say the switch was their idea. I was recommended by a sister author to BookTrope, who is only taking writers by personal recommendation these days (they were inundated with unsolicited subs and had to close the doors).
The difference between editing her aunt’s diaries and writing her own novels is marked.
The Doris Diaries are loads of fun, because the more things change, the more they don’t — Doris’s trouble with men, with finding an affordable studio in San Francisco, with hating her boss, with partying all night, with crashing the car and having to explain to her parents — this is all stuff we can appreciate. But lard it with contemporary slang and news items, and you find yourself laughing all the harder. Or weeping for her. The project does, however, feel more scholarly, looking up corroborating news items or where a certain house or restaurant might have been. Footnotes! Appendices! Indexing!
My own fiction is like letting the ponies run free — write a story from thin air and be the god of these characters’ lives. It’s positively Zeusian. It’s freeing, but then again, I have to do all the work, not merely clean up and straighten the chairs after the party (to mix metaphors a bit.) All the fun, all the responsibility.
What’s interesting is how success comes so slowly. You have to work for years to really get good at craft. I worked in the crucible of newspaper, where there is no second draft, no second chance. And I started there before computers, so we literally had one shot, no corrections, and had to literally cut and paste before deadline. You learn to write cleanly, to get the material you need, because you can’t go back and check the website or get another interview. There have been times when I burned with jealousy over other people’s successes (You got a book deal? Just like that? You write crap! What about meeee?). And it seemed that years went by and I did “nothing” with my writing. But all of that living counts as apprenticeship, you know. It’s all material. Use it. Just keep writing. Keep submitting. And savor the journey.