Tracee Lydia Garner is a speaker, private writing coach and author of 13 best-selling books. Born and raised in the DC Area, she holds a degree in Communications from Old Dominion University. She tremendously enjoys the written and spoken word and prior to entertaining full length novels, was a contributor to her alma mater’s campus literary magazine for her poetry.
Tracee submitted her first offering in a contest and won the grand prize, which launched her writing career and gave her inroads to her long time love affair with writing and publishing. Tracee has been published both trad and as an indie author. She has also been an adjunct professor teaching, How to Write the Novel, Small Business Marketing and PR, and the Self-Publishing Boot Camp. She currently works with individual, aspiring writers to coach them through the process of finishing their books and pursuing publication. She also helps aspiring authors find clarity with their work, zero in on their goals and teaches a vision board full workshop. In addition to writing, Trace enjoys marketing, graphic design, making videos for her books with popular apps, event and conference planning, and of course loves to read.
Tracee is a member of the Romance Writers Association, the Romance Writers Association, the DC chapter of RWA, Sisters in Crime (SinC), the Faith, Hope and Love, online-only chapter of the RWA, and the Nonfiction Book Writers Association.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you and the Write 2 Be magazine folks for the opportunity.
I knew that I wanted to be a writer, I would say way late. By that, I mean that writing found me when I was depressed, in the thick of college, failing miserably and very uncertain and rather dismal about what I wanted to do and be for my life path and a career. So, I entered a writing contest hosted by a large and reputable publishing house, and I won the contest. The first thing that gave me is was validation. Sometimes you need encouragement first in what you’re doing before you can really get into it and believe it to be a calling. Yes, you can have a calling with no validation, but it’s an encouragement and confirmation that this is where you should be. So only in the last ten or so years is it that I can genuinely say I feel the writing was a “calling.” And yes, I’ve been at it for some time. Another reason I know is that I just can’t seem to stop. LOL So, I think when you’re first doing something that you enjoy a lot, you honestly don’t even know how far you can go or that this is what you’re meant to do, until much later.
I only know it’s a calling now because I can’t imagine myself NOT doing it; the ideas continue to come, random characters continue to burden me with their experiences. You can evolve into that and anything really with time, and while you love something, you don’t know how it’s going to fare for you until you’ve almost given it up and abandoned it a few times. I’ll also say that for me, the calling is really teaching, and speaking, and encouraging others. That’s the calling, and I just choose to do that through my writing, helping both myself and others.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
My current story, Against My Window, is about Tony, a married man who asked his wife, Jina, for divorce. At the open of the story, however, he’s been involved in a near-fatal car accident, having developed amnesia, and can no longer remember why he asked for the divorce in the first place. This story is about what the heart knows and believes, which Tony knows he loves his wife in his heart, but he’s caused a lot of pain by asking for the divorce, uncertain about his motives. Time will tell if he can remember the reasons for everything, the deep hurt he caused his wife and child and whether his marriage can be salvaged.
Ultimately, my books are about hope and overcoming adversity, triumphs, and finding love or purpose, sometimes both in the romance books. The things that seem like what everyone goes through every single day and at first, may feel you’re getting nowhere, only to discover little things around the corner, surprise, the unexpected, and the friendships that were there all along. My nonfiction book is about giving instruction for overcoming life’s issues, and finding purpose and working out the things that ail you. In the reader, and my characters come out all right, better and stronger for their journeys.
3) What projects are you currently working on?
So, let’s see I am working on A LOT at preset. Currently, I have a four-book series and I’m almost done with this Jameson family that I’ve been writing the last couple of years, hoping to release the fourth and final book in the series this winter. I also write nonfiction and will release a book on disability in October, which is National Disability Awareness Month. This book talks about my own experiences navigating life through using a wheelchair, with nine varied topics covering employment, finding a job, mental health support, defining physical health, housing, transportation services, and more. This book marks Volume one, and later I’ll be opening up a call for submissions for other people with disabilities, their families, and caregivers to submit their own stories and fill subsequent volume releases. My hope is that when all is said and done, I’ll have a five-volume compilation and a library of varied but modern thought leaders to address a wide range of topics that disabled people and their families will refer to over and over again.
Looking ahead, I hope to release a book on entertaining. This is a subject I have loved for some time, from my planning church singles Valentine’s Dinner to other soirees, a book launch and fun family functions. Throughout the more than ten years or so worth of different events that I’ve hosted, I think so many of us have a fondness for gathering friends, family, and food to celebrate all kinds of milestones in our lives. I personally think there are plenty of little party planners out there who are always the go-to in their family for the events, and they turned out beautifully. In Gather Together (the book’s tentative title), this will be an opportunity to share that.
4) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
Besides winning the contest, which was twenty years ago now, sometimes I feel that my personal most significant achievement is in the simplicity of staying the course and still writing after all this time. So many writers write a few books and leave for many reasons, from low sales, one-hit wonders, and simply because they may feel discouraged over the isolating endeavor that has nothing to do with money. Writing is very isolating, and it’s just you and your word processing vehicle of choice (and God too) pounding and working it out, and that’s hard to do day in and day out.
I’ve been writing pretty straight for 20 years, I have 15 books under my belt now, and while I feel like I could’ve had even more books out if I hadn’t procrastinated and wasted time along the way, I’m still delighted doing this after all this time. Though I’m a mid-list author at best, I continue to push forward.
In the next five years, I see my career just growing. I hope to make the New York Times or the USA today. At the same time, I’m not a great marketer; I do my best. Still, one never knows there could be a breakout book yet to be realized, and anything can happen. God can open any door for you even when others might not understand how it happened, He knew all along. I’ve also recently hired a screenwriter to turn one of my books into a screenplay, and I actually have that back now, and I am currently going through it to fix or make any changes; I’ll be registering that, and I’ll be shopping it soon.
I’m looking forward to the next chapter in a different genre, and I hope that after studying what the screenwriter has done, I can adapt my other books in that series and sell those too. Finally, I have a few children’s book ideas that I’ll pursue.
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
Early on in my career, I would say that I didn’t handle rejection well. I let it depress me, and I had just to evaluate what I was doing, and sometimes the things people say can dampen your spirit. We as writers need to remember that if you don’t have family, friends that are not avid readers, they may question the validity and the ultimate success of such ventures. Once a close someone did ask me, “Well, how many books can you write?” To me, that meant they believed I would write a couple of books and be done AND that this was how it went for every author; that they all wrote some books and were done with their writing life. Never thinking that this was a lucrative career, not that other authors until their death had written a hundred books, fifty books, and had stories piled up in their computers waiting to be visited with and finished. They felt the writing was a kind of finite novelty that would just end after a few releases. I had first to admit how that nicked my spirit a little and then tell myself that this isn’t their lane, they don’t even read, and that this is my chosen profession. I’m not here for five or ten books; I’m here until death do us part. We’re married.
You have to give yourself a pep talk and make a conscious effort to keep going no matter what people say. No matter how dismal your monthly royalty statements are, keep going; when you feel sick and ill and have a chronic disease, keep going. When people think you should be done at ten books, and you have more than 100 stories inside of you; keep going and pray and believe that you can overcome rejection and just stick to it no matter what.
The second, naysayers are the gatekeepers to the publishing house and what we have to tell them about their personal thoughts and rejection of your work is first that they come from their own experiences and that very narrow view can’t possibly help them see your work as marketable and secondly, that while they may like it personally if they do, they are simply not going to buy everything. It’s just impossible that they would accept everyone. We have to be careful about what publishers say and do is not a reflection that our work is poor. It’s about what they can buy and what they think about current trends and salability. That’s not something to be taken personally; that’s their business projection.
Rejection can propel you sometimes, you have to let it bum you out, for a time, a day, a few hours (you don’t get more than a day, with some wine and chocolate or whatever you like, to self medicate) and then you got to dust your shoulders off, use it to motivate you and move past any negativity they’ve tried to cloak around your neck.
6) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
I don’t have a schedule that I stick to per se, I do have a time of day that works, and that’s usually nights and weekends due to still working full time. It can take me about a year to finish a novel, although I have finished one in as little as six months, as it came on so strong and that was a one-time record for me. Not only are nights and weekends for writing, but there’s so much else that is part of my writing career: from planning marketing efforts, social media management, and then I also am doing a ton of workshops about writing and promotion for different writers’ groups.
For my writing schedule, I’ll take a small break after work for dinner and family time and then be back to my office about 6:00 p.m. to write until bedtime. As a “pantser,” I’m writing as much as I can, getting to about page 250/300 before I’ll go back to the beginning, before the story gets too unwieldy, and make sure it’s working, that things are occurring in chronological order and that it makes sense. At this point, I’ll also discover any plot holes and make notes regarding missing scenes. Once I have this completed, I try to keep going until the end with a final first draft that I’ll edit the entire story, then edit one last time on my end on the printed copy before going off to my freelance editor. To date, as a pantser, I’ve only outlined one, single book and that book is about eight years old now. I felt like outlining, for me, (note, do whatever works,) but outlining blocked a sense of the divine spirit that I think gives me ideas and tells me which way to go, speaking subtly to me as I write. Outlines also make me feel boxed in and stifle some ability to wander with the story. While I say this, I always want to stress that there is no right or wrong way to write a book. And I still read books on plotting and pantsing, always desiring to learn something new that I can take with me and implement for whatever method I use.
7) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
Never do I believe there’s a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to meet complete success with their writing. There are some writers who have gotten on to the New York Times and USA Today best-seller lists in their 70s-80’s and older, and some who have just started writing. So no, the only point where it’s too late, is when you’re in the grave and I can’t say I believe that either because there have been manuscripts discovered long after a person dies, only to then be cleaned up, edited and published by the finder or as part of the estate releases under the author’s name posthumously. So even posthumously, while no fun for the author, it is still possible to realize a goal.
Sometimes you may not have the resources to publish where you are right now; however, because life is so short, because of tragedy, because of COVID, I mean just think about 600,000 deaths (and counting) and if you do have a book inside, you can, and you should do it, no matter what. No more of this waiting until retirement, waiting until empty nester, waiting and waiting. You can get a book deal, and you just have to be willing to suffer a great deal of rejection and push through that. I believe in book deals, and I feel more people could have them and just may have given up right before it was about to happen. I also think others have let an unwillingness to change their work, get good feedback, implement suggested edits, make the tweaks, resubmit, etc., be why they do not have a book deal. This is not the case for everyone, but I believe this is the case for more than a few who admit it. Ultimately, keep going no matter what. Keep trying, no matter what.
8) Are you an avid reader and have you always been? What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?
I have always been an avid reader. I can remember in elementary school, a teacher’s aide who read to us at circle time had the most mesmerizing storytelling ability. His voice and animation riveted me, and his changing tones to embody the characters just made story-time the highlight of my day. I loved listening to him. I did have somewhat of a hard time focusing and reading the number of books I’m used to in the pandemic, but I also discovered audiobooks, something I hadn’t been into pre-Pandemic. For some reason, I can’t read or listen to fiction in audio and I still love holding my paperback books for fiction. In nonfiction, especially self-help and books on writing, business, coaching, and marketing have been my go-to for this past year. Some of my favorite authors are Brenda Jackson, Jacqueline Thomas, Naima Simone, Irene Hannon, and Julie Lessman. Because I’m working on a book launch, I’m reading Book Yourself Solid, which is about attracting clients, building your business, and being more instructional. I also do private writing coaching, and I have a small number of clients that I’m trying to grow. I love teaching and always have, but for my book on disability, I’m flushing out some of my materials for that and preparing for a stellar launch.
9) The Pandemic was a challenging time for some writers and creative individuals but also for others it was time that they needed to focus on their creative passions. Which side of that spectrum do you fall on? Are there any lessons or nuggets of wisdom that you gained during the Pandemic that help you within your writing career? Did the quarantine stifle your creativity or did it make you even more driven to get things done?
I actually have a delayed reaction, I must admit, when things happen, particularly national events and tragedy, since I was in my twenties when 9/11 happened, I remember dismissing the possibility of something so horrifying the first two days. Then I was somewhere crying several days later. And this delayed processing, probably a protection mechanism, has repeated itself in my life in other instances, so the same occurred with the pandemic; in that I was getting a LOT done, I was able to work from home, praise the Lord, and I was cruising along. It was only this year that I felt a kind of delay, a real fatigue, and annoyance, and like wow, we’re still kind of languishing trying to make things happen. So I did feel it but not when everyone else did. It caught me much later. For one, as a person with a disability, I think I used the fact that I was being sent home to work as an excitement I didn’t know I would enjoy so much. So I had that wave, and I rode it, and I’m still pleased about that.
My writing didn’t really suffer too bad, I continued to work on my projects, and I did a ton of virtual speaking events, this was something else I was excited about as because I teach on Zoom, and do my writing coaching, I was already accustom to the technology and knew a lot about using it. I helped some event planners adapt to the technology just so they could carry on with their event and that was another wave to ride at least for a time. Now everyone has Zoom fatigue. My point was these little things kept me busy and kept my mind off of what wasn’t happening, which was awesome. So for me, for the most part, I think I fared well having this outlet, and the fact that writing is already so solitary and so isolating. It was something I was already doing alone, from home, and it wasn’t adversely affecting me. What was concerning was the missed live events, and while I did lament the extra cash flow that book events brought me, I embraced this, knowing that this was a time I also needed the much-needed rest and learning. I learned so much about doing my website updates, teaching myself, YouTube and learning Instagram ads, and really tried to embrace the time despite the sad parts of the news and my own feelings of un-productivity. It’s was hard to feel productive when you weren’t out and about do your book signings but I also think that I work harder at home, than I do at my work office because you never seem to fully turn off and for many, the blurred lines of office/working and home were terribly blurred that folks should set some time to redefine these parameters. Overall the pandemic gave me a reprieve I needed to really focus on my writing and despite the tragedy of it all, I was so grateful for the time to be forced to be still and trust God.
10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry as it is being represented today? Do you lean more towards traditional publishing or self-publishing as a preference? Does being a hybrid author interest you?
While there have certainly been so many advances in publishing, essentially I feel, brought on by issues in the mainstream, such as the murder of George Floyd, a race reckoning under President 45, a come to Jesus moment publishers had, and their realization (everyone’s realization really) that there are spaces of racism in every sector. Even things that went on with various writing organizations opened the eyes of many. Sadly I feel, some of that enlightenment is already beginning to wear off, and we, the state of Black books, authors of color overall, if you didn’t get in at this time, may unfortunately, be back where we were.
If you had something ready to go with publishers, I think you got picked up. If you were still trying to get prepared, there may be only a few more “inclusive” boats loading and readying to depart, and while that’s sad, I will say one of the reasons to chart your course is because you’ll never be without a lifejacket on your own boat. Your boat may be small, it might not have a robust (crew) team of people to handle various components of your book’s production, and to help you, that’s not to say you can’t still be successful in your small boat. When I think about some of the publishing upheavals, even I had been thinking of submitting to Kimani Press under the Kensington Imprint and while the execs of color remain, there is a shift, and I feel that had I had been one of these authors, I probably wouldn’t have handled it well. The gatekeepers, already biased and prejudiced against our work just keep narrowing. Narrow optioning and narrowing minds would put me in a constant state of uncertainty, and by controlling that on my, the only real difficult issue I have is what book covers designers to select.
One of the things I’ve been talking about for ten years that I have yet to hear much about in the mainstream is simply the pressure you can feel when you do have a traditional contract. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m not saying it’s not; it is. I’ve been there, but it’s a stressful thing, and I’ve been there (insignificant stress) too. There is something hard but personally liberating about charting your own course and working at your own pace without pressure and stuffing your work into the boxes OTHERS have said are the correct box, and this and only this (type of writing) will fit in that box. You have to know yourself and know what you can handle, and I think everyone should have a go at least one, two-book deal, just so they know the two paths, which means self-publishing a couple of books too. Try both, do both. It’s wonderful, and you’ll know exactly which one is right for you in the long haul.
What is important to remember is that while you’re waiting, because waiting for a traditional publisher or an agent to pick you up is a real-time suck, it’s a constant, send off, hope and pray, wait for a letter of some sort, and this process repeats itself over and over again. We’re talking 2-6 years of your life. Now in that time, you can wait and try to sell this one book, but I’d advise you MUST be writing those other, subsequent books. When you get the deal, eventually, you’ll have ten plus additional books you can now submit! Do not waste time, and when you get tired of waiting, when you get tired of rejection, because you will, you’ll have those same books you wanted a publisher to pick up, ready to be published by you.
Being a hybrid author does interest me; however, it’s just that added stress of pleasing two homes: books for agents/editors and meeting royalty goals/expectations for the traditional publisher and self-publishing my own work. Of course it’s doable. All of these things interest me but only where there is no full-time employment. For me, I know that then will be the time for me to pursue being a hybrid author, and it’s so attractive because it’s a beautiful way to dip into both pots and grab the money bag. With that said, some publishers have stipulations on your characters and your ability to be a hybrid, so you’ll have to be careful of really reading and ensuring you understand the items in your contract and ensure you don’t breach those rules even if it’s accidental, it’s still a potential breach and worry about some of these business issues can stifle creativity and cost you a whole book deal or a book deal in the future. To be a hybrid author, you’ll need to be very organized and have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit to pursue all of that.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
Not only for your own authenticity, but it can be an opportunity to be transparent with your thoughts and life views through your characters. Writing for me is all over the mental health needs. A way to live vicariously through my characters, to express feelings and thoughts I have but don’t always feel comfortable sharing publicly. Writing is also a way to process some of the most hurtful things we experience in life, from death and grief to the unexplained loss and why God permits so much adversity. I see a piece of myself in all of my characters. As I work out their problems, I’m working out my mental difficulties, mental anguish over the things that I cannot change, and I feel better helping characters meet a satisfying and happy ending. In fact, in two of my books, I’ve written about missing persons. This was simply because, at a young age -probably in my early 20s, there was the missing person named Natalie Holloway. At that time, I was consumed with news coverage about her and her whereabouts. I would yell at the television, “Where is she?” I followed every clue reported, every detail to the last known person with her, to the beautiful backdrop setting of Aruba, and all of these facts just weighed on my mind. I remember rushing home from college then to see if they had found her, where was she, what the evidence suggested, ultimately and tragically to this day, of never finding her.
Even though I didn’t know her, reports had me feeling a great deal for her Mom and Dad, and the rest of her family plagued by the unknown. I think those missing details in that story and the unsolved mystery caused me to channel all of that into a book where I had control, where I could bring some peace to a fictional family and could solve a missing person case, thus writing a better ending to the real-life case no one could solve. While it’s still fiction, and while it happened again to a little girl named Relisha Rudd, a seven-year-old in the DC area where I live, also never solved, but a story I was consumed with the details surrounding her disappearance. I feel drawn to true crime, and a need to impart some better ending than the ones I saw day after day on television. So absolutely, writing is entirely part catharsis, part psychological salve to deal with the day’s issues. I’m eternally grateful to have such a creative outlet in my life and such an important coping tool.
Thanks again Jimmetta. Be blessed.