Like so many of our novels, Tracy created The Gravity of Birds from other works.
“I had two short stories I liked, but couldn’t seem to finish. One was about how the relationship between two sisters is altered when one is forced to assume the role of caregiver for the other. The second story concerned a young man, recently out of school, who unexpectedly finds his career on a downward trajectory, a situation he’d never prepared himself for. No matter how I tried, none of the endings I came up with seemed to fit, but I didn’t want to abandon those characters.
Around the same time I was in the process of moving, and packing up an old family portrait—my great, great, great grandmother and her two daughters. That was the way I’d always thought of them, as “the two daughters.” For some reason, on that particular day, I realized they were sisters, as well. (For whatever reason, I hadn’t thought about their relationship to each other before, always defining them by their relationship with their mother.) The minute I thought of them as sisters, I wondered if they might be the sisters in my story. And since I was looking at this very old oil painting, I wondered if that might not be the thing the young man finds that has the potential to change his fortune. After I knew how the various pieces were related—sisters, painting, young man—the rest of the story came together fairly quickly.
Tracy found the publishing journey “illuminating.” But she feels she’s been incredibly fortunate, “I’ve benefitted from the generosity of many other writers in the Bay Area who have been beyond gracious in offering advice and support, and in sharing their own experiences.”
One extra, fun active that Tracy does is called Spine Poetry – I tried it a couple times, but not with any great success. Tracy does a better job.
Although I’d love to take credit for inventing spine poetry, I came late to that party. I’m not sure where the idea first originated, but I do know that Nina Katchadourian, a professional artist, started a project called Sorted Books in 1993. She arranged books so that the titles, when read in sequence, created wonderful bits of verse or exposed idiosyncrasies in the various owners’ libraries. There were likely earlier attempts, but my own introduction to spine poetry had more to do with the haphazard way I organize my bookshelves than anything else. I noticed W.S. Merwin’s Migration sitting on top of Bernhard Schlink’s Flights of Love, and a book or two away were Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist and Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves. It was a moment when I realized two things: one, I have lots of books somehow related to birds; and two, I could rearrange my bookshelves to see what I might be able to come up with in the way of “title verse.” It’s an enjoyable way to procrastinate. I’ve almost been able to convince myself I’m taking a break from writing to do something equally artistic. Almost.
Her favorite Spine poem:
A match to the heart
Everything ravaged, everything burned.
(Austin Grossman, Gretel Ehrlich, Chris Cleave, Wells Tower)
For the Newbie Writers Podcast – go to Episode #123