This podcast transcript was meticulously crafted of locally sourced alphabet letters by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.
Here are the books we discuss:
Sarah Wendell: Hello, and welcome to another DBSA podcast! I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and with me is Jane Litte from Dear Author and Tracey Garvis Graves. We sat down with Tracey to talk about her book, On the Island, and about her journey towards publishing, self publishing, her experience writing different genres – slightly different genres – her new book, what she’s working on now, but we start out by trying to recommend to her a Julie Garwood book, which is probably appropriate, considering that Garwood’s older historicals are very much like crack. Many readers have said On the Island is like crack, and so let’s pass the crack along!
And, speaking of crack, this podcast is brought to you by Signet, publisher of J. R. Ward’s Dark Lover, the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, now with a hot new look, available wherever books are sold.
I think this podcast is just pretty much going to be all book crack. It might be expensive; be warned.
The music you’re listening to is provided Sassy Outwater. I’ll have more information at the end of the podcast as to who this is and where you can get it for your very, very own.
I have just realized that this is podcast number 82, which is awesome, so thank you for listening. And now, here’s Jane and me and Tracey Garvis Graves. On with the podcast!
Jane: Now you like the, The Wedding, and I hated that book.
Sarah: Yes, I like –
Jane: You like Ransom, which I hated.
Sarah: Yes, I liked Ransom, and I liked The Wedding, and I liked For the Roses. I did not like Castles.
Jane: Castles is terrible. I like For the Roses too. I would say that For the Roses was the last book that I liked from Julie Garwood.
Jane: Except Rebellious Desire; I was not a fan of that one.
Sarah: Yeah, but that’s the one that’s 99 cents.
Jane: And I didn’t really like Gentle Warrior either, but Honor’s Splendour has an iconic scene in it.
Tracey: I’m going to read, I’m going to check those out when I get home, and I’m going to buy them.
Jane: The Lion’s Lady is hilarious.
Sarah: The Lion’s Lady is wonderful.
Tracey: It's all historicals on this shelf?
Jane: So, The Lion’s Lady, the heroine is from, she was raised in a Cheyenne tribe –
Jane: – and so their, their traditions and customs for marriage and divorce are very different –
Jane: – so when she moves to England and they marry, she marries, and I’m, I can’t actually remember if they were married or she just thought they were married – Do you remember, Sarah?
Sarah: I think that in her opinion they were married, except that they weren’t officially married?
Jane: Right. So then, she continues to divorce him whenever he makes her angry.
Jane: Like – And he doesn’t understand what’s going on!
Sarah: So, like, he’ll come home, and all his shoes are, like, all out in the front porch, and he’s like, what the hell is this?
Sarah: And the staff are like, well, she divorced you.
Jane: And he’s like, what are you, what are you talking about?
Tracey: Which one is that?
Jane: That’s The Lion’s Lady.
Tracey: [Laughs] I’m going to read that one first!
Sarah: Oh, it is, seriously, it’s one of my very favorite of hers. Like, I could re-read that any time.
Sarah: Especially because there’s some ridiculous moments, like, I, I can’t remember if she’s with the Cheyenne or the Dakota, but she’s blonde, and her coming into the, into the tribe that she lived with was foreseen by an elder, and so she’s this blonde lioness in the vision. Because of that, she has this really weird position where she’s adopted into the chief’s family, but she’s still, you know, blonde-haired white lady, and so when it’s time for her to go, they’re like, no, actually you need to go learn how to be with those people, ‘cause you look like them. You should go there. And she’s like, I don’t particularly want to, but fine, you’re telling me that this is my purpose, and so all along, she has this tremendous sort of purpose-driven sense of herself, and [laughs] she can also defend herself, so every time the hero tries to defend her, she’s all like, what? I didn’t, I have no idea what to do with myself here. Don’t mind that I have a knife. I used it.
Jane: She has to pretend to be defenseless –
Sarah: And stupid.
Jane: – because she’s been told that that’s what is expected of her.
Jane: So she hides her –
Sarah: She hides her badassery under all of her skirts.
Tracey: Oh, my God!
Sarah: The best thing about this book is that I remember reading it, and I learned what I think is a really important lesson in how to deal with people. There’s one scene early in the book where the heroine is reminiscing about another woman in her tribe who is very envious of her, and she says something about how her, that, that person’s behavior has revealed their character and that you have to listen to someone’s behavior and to understand them and don’t listen to what they say, listen to what they do, and then she keeps applying that lesson to other characters in England, and I was like, I was like, I don’t know, 14 years old, and I was like, that’s the mo-, oh, my God, you have rocked my world.
Tracey: That is a good lesson!
Sarah: Right! And I, I had no idea, but it is still a very useful thing.
Jane: There’s so many quotable lines, like in The Bride, when the priest says, well, how are you – She wants to make changes and, and the priest says something to her like, how, if you were confronted with a bear, how would you be able to eat that? And she’s like, well, one bite at a time!
Tracey: What happened between that and that other shelf up there?
Sarah: Well, with Julie Garwood and, oh God, Jude Deveraux did this. Didn’t Judith McNaught also turn to romantic suspense? There was, like –
Jane: Elizabeth Lowell.
Sarah: Elizabeth Lowell. There was like, it was like a mass exodus, all at once.
Tracey: I was just going to say, was there a mass exodus memo?
Sarah: There was a memo. I never saw the memo, but apparently they received it, and it was matching, and they all got up out of historical, and they started writing romantic suspense. Catherine Coulter did the same thing.
Jane: Yep. Yep, yep, yep.
Sarah: And I remember being on the beach with a Catherine Coulter romantic suspense and thinking, this is going to be so awesome, ‘cause I loved her historicals, and this is great, and I opened it up, and it was the worst goddamn book. I think it was called The Maze –
Sarah: – and I hated every minute of it, and, except that it was a library book, I desperately wanted to chuck it into the ocean and take it out with low tide, ‘cause it was horrible.
Jane: Well, the worst part about it is Catherine Coulter writes about lawyers and the judicial system but has clearly never ever had any contact with anybody in the legal system.
Jane: She constantly refers to The Supreme Court – The Supreme Court, so she’s, and throughout the book, and then she always capitalizes “The” in front of “Judge,” so it’s “The Judge” and –
Sarah: Oh, no.
Jane: It’s terrible!
Sarah: And they are authors of such standing that, like, I’m sure that some of their readers followed them, but I couldn’t do it. It was just so not satisfying.
Jane: But I mean, I, I guess they probably got bored. I mean, how many times can you write about a girl from the Dakotas coming over and marrying an earl?
Sarah: You can write that every year! What are you talking about?
Jane: Like Lorraine Heath?
Sarah: You’re damn right! Or, or like Loretta Chase, who, who started, has started writing about dressmakers who all marry dukes.
Jane: I know. That’s, isn’t that some kind of height of ridiculousness?
Sarah: Yeah, I can’t, I can’t follow that one. I’m just like –
Jane: I, I’m off the train.
Sarah: You’re off the train? [Laughs]
Jane: Although I did see her at RT, I think it was last year or the year before, and I kind of got choked up in front of her.
Sarah: Oh, that happened to many people, and she was completely over- I think Tessa Dare just, like, broke down, and she was like, what, what’s wrong with you?
Jane: [Laughs] I know. It was, it was – and I, and then I was like – ‘Cause I know that she’s read our blog from time to time, because she’s emailed me about something –
Jane: – and so I, I was like, I want you to know I really love your books, even though we say some things otherwise. [Laughs] I mean, it was like, I’m trying to, like, I’m, I’m like, I have never been out in public before.
Sarah: The thing with, with a writer like her, or even Catherine Coulter, she wrote the first romance that I ever read, and I, when I met her at RT two years ago, I could barely, like, form a logical sentence. I just, like, made a bunch of noises. I still don’t even remember what I said, I was so blown away just by, by talking to her, and I haven’t liked a book that she’s written in the past 10 years!
Jane: I know.
Sarah: It didn’t matter! She’s Catherine Coulter! I nearly crapped myself!
Jane: Do you get that, Tracey?
Tracey: What’s that?
Jane: Do you get readers who meet you and are flustered and don’t quite know how to act around you?
Tracey: No! Everybody’s been totally normal. Most, most of them. [Laughs]
Sarah: You’re lying; we know you’re lying.
Jane: All right, so, today we’re here with Tracey Garvis Graves who wrote –
Sarah: Yeah, we should get around to introducing her, shouldn’t we?
Jane: And Tracey actually lives not so far away from me, so I’m going to tell you the story about how we met. We met last year at RT, and I’m, we’re having dinner together with a group of some mutual friends. I had never met her before, and I knew that she lived near me, and so I said to her, I’m from the same state, and Tracey says, no, you’re not. And I said, y-yeah, I am.
Jane: And then Tracey’s like, no, you’re not. [Laughs] And I –
Tracey: I had a really firm opinion about it. I said she did not.
Jane: And so I had to take out my driver’s license –
Tracey: ‘Cause I made you get your driver’s license. [Laughing]
Jane: – to prove that I actually lived about 10 miles away from her, but it wasn’t until she saw my driver’s license – She thought I was, like, punking her by saying I had lived in the same state.
Tracey: I was so confused.
Sarah: I’ve met many people from your state. There’s a lot of people there! It’s not that far off the mark.
Jane: Sarah came here to publicize her book and has had some scary times on the Interstate with cows or something. What was it?
Sarah: Tractors. I, there’s two-lane highways and tractors, and the tractor gets on the highway, and the tractor goes really slowly. Well, I live in northern New Jersey. I live about 14 miles due west of New York City, so all of the highways near me have, like, six lanes.
Tracey: [Laughs] And go fast.
Sarah: Each way, and go really fast. So not only did I not know what to do with the tractor, but I had forgotten how to pass on a two-lane highway. ‘Cause I hadn’t done it in, like, 10 years! I’m, I was, like, behind the tractor, and I’m going to a really small town in, I think it was in the northwest part, and it was really, really, really small. So small that my arrival was front-page news in their local paper, and I totally took, like, five copies of that paper, let me tell you!
Sarah: I was front page news! It was awesome!
Tracey: Well, yeah!
Sarah: But I got behind this tractor, and I could not pass the tractor, and the farmer kept looking over his shoulder at me like, why aren’t you going? And I’m, and, and I borrowed Jane’s car, so I was afraid that if I passed the tractor incorrectly, not only would I wreck, but I’d kill her car, so I tailgated a tractor for, like, 30 miles.
Sarah: It took me 45 minutes. It was horrible!
Tracey: Pass on the right next time.
Tracey: No, don’t do that.
Jane: Yeah, that’s what the shoulder’s for, Sarah.
Sarah: I just, there was like a bunch of stuff that was taller than soybeans but shorter than corn, and I was like, I could drive through that, right? I mean, I’m in a big car. I could, I could totally drive through it, but like I said, I, I live in northern New Jersey. I’m used to, like, you know, everyone’s either driving the speed of sound or the speed of light or they’re getting off the highway. There’s no tractors. [Laughs] I don’t have a farm problem. It was probably my worst driving experience to date.
Jane: Tracey wrote the pedophile book called –
Sarah: Oh, God. [Laughs]
Jane: I think, I – [Laughs]
Tracey: That’s not the official tagline.
Jane: You remember last week when we talked about Jessica Clare’s reality TV books?
Jane: And I said, I, I said, everyone goes into that book thinking they’re not going to like it, Wicked Games, and then their reviews are all like, wow, I liked this against my will!
Sarah: Did you see the comment for the transcript? The woman who does our podcast transcripts commented and said, you know, while I was typing this transcript I thought, you know, I’m not going to like it, and I read one, and I totally loved it!
Jane: That, that’s my experience with On the Island, ‘cause I was like, there’s no way I’m going to like this book where it has the teacher seducing the student. I’m totally against that.
Tracey: You were not alone.
Jane: And, so, I ended up reading it, and I really liked it, and for all those who are concerned about an inappropriate relationship between a student and a teacher, you can be comforted by the fact that their relationship, or their intimacy relationship, doesn’t begin until T.J. is of legal age, although they’re in Maldives, so who knows what the legal age is there?
Tracey: I don’t think there actually is a legal age there, but…
Jane: So she, the teacher could have been boning him –
Jane: – way before that, you know, magical age of 18, but –
Tracey: But she didn’t!
Jane: She didn’t! So, but Tracey, I know you’ve actually got a lot of people kind of accusing you of promoting this kind of unhealthy relationship.
Tracey: Mostly from people who haven’t read the book, but yes. I still, to this day, see messages on my Facebook wall or somebody will email me and tell me how much they did not want to read my book, which, when it’s your debut novel, that can be sort of problematic.
Tracey: ‘Cause you really don’t want people to say that, or to think that, upon reading your blurb, that I do not want to read this with a vengeance. So I feel like once they read it and they realize that it really wasn’t something that they thought it was going to be and how much they enjoyed it, then that makes me really, really happy to hear.
Sarah: Wait, you mean, like, judging a book without having read it –
Sarah: – is not an accurate basis of forming a judgment?
Tracey: Yes. A, a very strong one! A very long one, sometimes.
Sarah: What the hell kind of crazy are you peddling here?
Tracey: [Laughs] You know, I feel like – And people have asked me before, why didn’t you make it an older guy and a younger girl? And I always tell them, because then I would have lost my entire conflict. The whole conflict was about two people who should never, ever, ever be together, and if the reader could actually, by the end of the book, not only decide that they could be together but root for them to be together, then I had accomplished something.
Sarah: Besides, nobody writes the older guy and the younger girl. Like, nobody does that.
Tracey: That’s never done. [Laughs] And there would have been really, I thought, silly conflicts with that age pairing. You know, they would have probably got in a big fight, and then they would have made up, and I, I just didn’t want to have, I just didn’t want that to be the conflict. I wanted it to be two people that completely changed by the end of the book.
Jane: But it’s not – I mean, I, when you read On the Island, the conflict really isn’t relation-, their relationship; their conflict is –
Tracey: Not dying.
Jane: – will they survive.
Sarah: Are we or are we not going to die?
Jane: How about we not get eaten by the ocean?
Tracey: That’s the big one, and that’s why I wanted to do it that way, too. I wanted there to be two conflicts, the conflict between them as characters and what was right and then also not dying.
Sarah: So wait, you have an external and an internal conflict between your characters, and you expect people not to judge it before they read it?
Tracey: I know, it’s such a long list of thing that I had expectations for, but yes, external and internal conflicts together are my favorite kinds of stories to read.
Sarah: Your book takes place largely on the islands in the Maldives.
Sarah: Did you have to go for research?
Tracey: No, but I did spend an inordinate amount of time researching that location online, to the point that I don’t know that I ever want to write a book that requires that much setting research ever again.
Sarah: I don’t know, I think you should go. [Laughs]
Tracey: Well, I –
Sarah: ‘Cause it’s beautiful!
Tracey: I do want to go there someday. We, we want to take the kids when they’re a little bit older and can appreciate that kind of trip, because it really is very, very, very far away. It makes Hawaii look sort of like a skip and a jump, so I want to wait a little while until the kids can appreciate it, or maybe just not take them, I don’t know, but I think they’d get a kick out of it.
Sarah: I vote for not taking them the first time and then take them the next time. You can stay in one of those overwater bungalows where they sort of dig out some sand and that’s your pool.
Tracey: I definitely want to do that, or the kind that have the glass bottoms, where you can basically see everything that’s going on underneath you.
Tracey: It, it sounds like a beautiful place.
Jane: Do they have running water there?
Tracey: Oh, the resorts are beautiful!
Sarah: Oh, yeah, the, the resorts that are there are, like, the highest end of each chain, so if each hotel chain has a, has a five or si-, even if it’s, I don’t even know if there’s six stars, but the highest level of, of resort that each major chain has, one of those highest levels is located there.
Tracey: Yeah, it’s, it’s supposed to be really, really cool.
Sarah: I always figure when there’s those places with glass bottoms that all the fish sort of have a morning meeting. Like, okay, look, there’s people in this one and there’s people in that one, so you guys got to over here, and I’m going to go over there, and we’re going to, okay, at two, two o’clock, we switch. I’m going to take a nap, okay, then it’s time for you to come over, and like, all the fish, like, coordinate, because there’s nothing to – it’s just like, there’s never any just, there’s just sand. There’s always fish!
Sarah: Like they’re listening, and they coordinate.
Tracey: Yeah. I would like to go there.
Sarah: Yeah, ditto!
Jane: So tell us a little about your publishing history, because it’s ve-, it’s very unusual at the time. It’s not so much unusual now, but you were kind of at the very beginning of when self publishing was breaking out.
Tracey: Yeah. I, I wrote On the Island because I really wanted to see if I was able to write a full-length novel, so it was written as an item on my bucket list that I wanted to cross off. I’d always loved reading, was a voracious reader, but I always kind of wondered if I could write a book. And so in the spring of 2010, I started writing On the Island, even though I tried to talk myself out of it several times, because it was such, just a crazy idea. But I thought, well, I’m just writing it to see if I can write it, so I’m not going to worry about that right now. And it took me about a year to write, and toward the end of the book, I was really invested in it emotionally. I wanted to see other people – I wanted to share this story with other people and see them read it and, and wonder if they saw what I was trying to do, ‘cause like I said before, I really wanted to have these two characters that should never be together and then see if I could get the reader to actually buy into the story and root for them to be together. So I went through the querying process. I tried to get an agent; I queried 14 agents and got 14 form rejections, so nobody even requested a partial, and that was really disheartening. That’s definitely not an easy process to go through, but I knew, I guess, in some way, that the premise itself was probably the problem, that nobody really wanted to take a chance or apparently even read this book.
Sarah: Yes, but they’re happy to judge it without reading it; all of us are.
Tracey: That book was judged by everyone before it had been read. And I was actually really disappointed; I, I had won a first chapter critique on Twitter from an agent, and I was so excited, ‘cause this was when I was querying, and I thought, oh, this is just fantastic because at least somebody will read it, and she didn’t really like it. She was horrified, I think, by the age difference and then accused me of writing a Mrs. Robinson book and then told me nothing really happened in the first chapter, even though that was the chapter that the plane went down in, so –
Sarah: Wait. They get ma-, I, they, what they – Whoa. Wait, they get marooned on an island –
Sarah: – but nothing happened.
Tracey: Well, and they crash, they crash on the, in the water in the end of the first chapter, but she said it was really kind of all scene setting, and nothing was really happening, which I don’t agree with at all. I started the story as close to the beginning as I could, you know. Even to the point when I was writing it –
Sarah: Doesn’t it, doesn’t it start in the airport?
Sarah: Like, they’re in the airport, getting on the plane?
Tracey: Yeah, they get on the plane, you intro-, you know, both characters are introduced, we give a little bit of why they’re there.
Sarah: And the, and the hero’s friend is like, dude, your tutor’s hot, and he’s all like, shut up.
Tracey: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah, the tutor, you know the guy is like, yeah, your tutor’s hot, and they get on this plane, and, you know, problems start almost immediately so that by the time they get to the Maldives they’ve missed their charter, so they have to get on the charter, and the pilot has a heart attack, and – I, I’ve read more boring first chapters before, there’s no doubt about that, so – I was really kind of disappointed. That, that was sort of like the, the last of the wind went out of my sails, and she didn’t want to, she didn’t want to read any, any more of it. So that’s kind of when I decided that I would just self publish it, because the people that were reading it – I’d given out some ARCs on my blog, and I used quite a few betas for On the Island, probably eight or nine –
Sarah: That’s a lot of betas!
Tracey: Yeah! You know, I just wanted to get – I, I had no way to judge whether it was any good or not, because I’d never written a book before, and I didn’t know what I was doing at all, which was why, you know, it took me a year to write it. And so, the people that were reading it were sending me these messages like, I, I stayed up super late last night. I’m exhausted today, ‘cause I had to see what happened next, and I thought, well, maybe there’s a few more people out there that‘ll feel that way, and my husband was like, you know, you really don’t have anything to lose by not self publishing this, and my critique partner said the same thing, ‘cause I was really down for a while. By this time, I really wanted people to read this story. I hired an editor and a copyeditor and a formatter, and I chose my cover art, and I went through that same process that, that all self publishers have to go through –
Tracey: – and then I self published it.
Jane: She went through –
Tracey: The ones they *should* go through.
Jane: There you go.
Tracey: [Laughs] Good point. And I –
Sarah: So wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, so you have an older woman and a younger man, and people are judging it without reading it, and then you got it professionally edited?
Tracey: Yes. I had a content editor, which was a really thrilling/scary experience, because this was the first person that was going to read my book that I didn’t know that would give it to me straight that I was paying to tell me if there was something wrong with it, what was it, what can you tell me. And so I basically opened her editorial letter and looked at it with one eye closed –
Tracey: – because I didn’t know what she was going to say, and I kind of thought, well if she tells me it’s really bad, then, then I don’t know what I’m going to do here, but the first sentence of her editorial letter was that it was a very strong manuscript, and so once I saw that part, I was like, okay, I can pretty much take anything that she gives me.
Jane: My friend calls this the shit sandwich, that –
Jane: – that an editor, or anybody who gives feedback, should do it in the form of –
Tracey: Positive, negative, positive.
Jane: – the positive, negative, positive.
Tracey: Yeah. And it was 12 pages long, so it wasn’t like she didn’t give me feedback, but she – and I don’t, and some of the feedback was really, really good. It’s like any feedback, some of it I, I disregarded ‘cause I didn’t agree with, but the things that I did – I think a good content editor should make the manuscript stronger, and I think she did. And so after I went through her edits and we talked on the phone and such, then I had it copyedited and learned a lot of things, and I continue to learn something every single time I have a manuscript copyedited, which is another step that I find is in really short supply right now, but so important, ‘cause I really wanted the book to be as error free as I could get it.
Jane: But one of the things I’ve heard about self-published authors, they don’t know where to find quality people.
Tracey: Well, and I think the problem with that now, and I blogged about this the other day, everybody’s an editor. Everybody has, has set out their shingle now and are claiming that they can edit manuscripts, but what I’m finding is that they’re not remotely qualified. There’s a conflation between proofreading and editing. People tend to think –
Sarah: Yes, I have, I have heard that, that oh, well, I’m, I’m really nitpicky, and I notice when commas are missing, so I can be an editor.
Tracey: Yeah, and that’s not copyediting. I mean, I – a good copyeditor, I remember learning about compound noun modifiers from my first copyeditor, because I didn’t have hyphens in any of mine, because this was a rule that I probably learned in 10th grade English or something like that, that I’d forgotten. And split infinitives, and just, there’s just so many things that a good copyeditor has taught me over the years, and I haven’t been doing this very long, but the, all the manuscripts that I’ve had copyedited, I’ve learned something.
Sarah: I remember when I submitted my, one of my books to the editor at a publishing house, and I mean, I write for the Internet. No one tells me to stop. It’s not like I got a limit. And I remember getting back the comments and learning so much about my own tics and things that I never noticed about my writing that I could improve.
Tracey: Oh, yeah!
Sarah: It’s – and you do not see the, the –
Sarah: – the repeated mistakes that you make until someone points them out, and you’re like, oh, my God, I do that every other paragraph –
Sarah: – shit! [Laughs]
Tracey: Yes! And then the next time you write, you look for that first.
Sarah: Don’t do that, yep.
Tracey: Yeah, there were just things – I was spelling the word barbecue wrong for a long time –
Tracey: There’s no Q in barbecue; did you know that? There is no Q in barbecue!
Tracey: I learned that with Covet’s copyedit. I’m like, huh. I wonder if I’ve ever spelled that wrong everywhere. I don’t think I use the word barbecue a lot in my books, but – Yeah, so, I mean, it was, it was a really good learning experience, and it took me probably six weeks to go through the content editing and the copyediting and just, I mean, I just went through that book over and over and over and over and over and over until I finally got to the point where I was either going to start messing it up and taking out things that were actually good or messing with it too much, so… I went through all of that, and then I uploaded on September 4th of 2011 and just kind of sat back. I had a full-time job, so it was just one of those things where I was really at that point in time thrilled that I had accomplished this goal that I’d set out, which was just to write a book, and it ended up really kind of encompassing everything about my life at that time. I mean, I was just, I was just really, really happy.
Jane: So then it was not an immediate success.
Tracey: I sold about four copies a day for the first month. I remember the first time I sold five in a day. I was just absolutely thrilled, and my husband would come home every day from work and say, “How many?”
Tracey: ‘Cause I kind of used my, I would get up in the morning and, and use it from whatever I’d gone to bed with, and I would start over, and that was when I’d start counting, and so I would tell him, and the day that I sold seven was just, I couldn’t even wrap my brain around that, that seven people had purchased it. And it went on like that for a couple months. It just ticked up higher – probably every week I saw an increase by maybe two copies a day? I don’t know, but it, it just, it was just kind of a little, quiet book that people started telling people to read. Because people that read it decided not to judge it. [Laughs] They, they read it, and then they told their friends, don’t judge this book.
Sarah: Wait, really?
Tracey: I’m telling you to read it! Don’t, just don’t even look at the synopsis, just read it!
Tracey: Yeah, talk about making it harder for yourself.
Sarah: If you could go back and redo your synopsis or your cover copy, would you change it?
Sarah: [Laughs] No plan.
Tracey: ‘Cause I wanted to be, I wanted to be upfront. I didn’t want anybody to not know what they were in for. I wanted them to make sure that, that they knew. But I – ‘Cause I feel like a little bit of controversy helps sell things. I mean, it wasn’t a super calculated move on my part –
Sarah: Hell, yeah, it does!
Tracey: – but I wanted there to, to be some sort of, I wanted it to sort of spark an interest, like, well, what’s going on here? I mean, I suppose it’s no different than when you look at Flowers in the Attic or something like that. I mean, you’re kind of like, what’s going on here? I want to check this out.
Jane: So then after, was it about six months?
Tracey: It was around Christmas time. So I published it in September, early September. Around the, from Christmas to New Year’s, I probably at that point started selling about a hundred copies a day, and I was over-the-moon thrilled. Some blog, I had sent the manuscript out to a lot of bloggers to see if I could get a review, and I, I basically got crickets from all of them, which I understood, but I had a couple bloggers that reached out to me on their own. I think they’d seen something on my Twitter feed, and I remember one blogger reached out to me, and she said, has anybody read this yet? Have you had any bloggers? And I’m like, no, no, and she’s like, well, I’d be happy to read it! And she read it, and she loved it, and so I was so excited, because I had something to put on my, my product page, you know [laughs], sort of a little blurb, and, and it just steadily sort of grew that way, until Amazon reached out to me in early March.
Jane: So before Amazon got involved and you were selling a hundred-some copies a day, did you think to yourself, I would self publish another book or that this was a serious avenue for you for publishing?
Tracey: No. Not at that point. And I had started my second book. I started my second book when I was querying, because that was sort of the advice given to take your mind off the whole soul-sucking querying process. Just start your next book and don’t worry about it. So I started, had started my next book, was trying desperately to fit in some writing time. I used to write from 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. every day, but then my son started middle school, and so he was up at 6:00 a.m., so I was having a hard time fitting the writing time in, because now I had a kid up with me in the morning, and I didn’t before. So I was mostly kind of trying to focus on that, on getting the second book done, and I wasn’t really thinking long term. I mean, it’s, it seems strange now that I wasn’t thinking more long term back then, but I still didn’t really have high hopes for the book, for On the Island. I mean, I just was still, a hundred people a day, a day reading it, or buying it at least, was so far in excess of what I had expected or had even hoped for that I was just really happy.
Jane: So then in March or so, Amazon contacted you.
Tracey: Yes, they contacted me by email and asked me if I would be open to them featuring On the Island in an upcoming promotion called the Big Deal. They couldn’t tell me exactly when, but it was going to be run, running from possibly the last two weeks of March is what they were thinking, and did I want to be under consideration? There were going to be a certain number of books, but they couldn’t tell me how many, they couldn’t tell me the exact date, and they couldn’t tell me for sure if I’d be chosen, but they wanted to know if I was interested, and I had to write back with very specific verbiage, letting them know that yes, I am interested in doing this, and there were some terms, basically, you know, to be eligible for the promotion, so I was, you know, ecstatic because I thought, yes! This is, this is just fantastic! And so I said yes, and they did end up choosing the book.
Jane: And was that the turning point, then, the tipping point for On the Island?
Tracey: Yes. It was, I was not real happy about the 99 cent price point, because they had told me that if I was chosen they would have to discount my book, and it was at $2.99, and I had never wanted to do the 99 cent price point, but I knew that the exposure from Amazon would be well worth it, and it was only going to be for eight days, and then the price would go back to normal, so I woke up on March 17th of 2012 and realized that my price had been reduced to 99 cents, and that’s how I figured out that I was part of the promotion.
Tracey: I was like, okay, well, they did, you know, they did choose me.
Jane: Amazon’s so good at communicating.
Tracey: I know! It was all very cloak and dagger. We don’t know if we’re going to include you, but we might, but –
Tracey: Yeah, and so I was really, really happy. My rank at that point was in the 900s, which was as low as it had gotten, high, however you want to look at it, and then by the end of the eight days, it was at number 7 on Amazon, and so that was pretty freaky to me. No, excuse me, it was number 8. So it had the Hunger Games trilogy and the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy and a Nicholas Sparks book and then On the Island.
Sarah: And is that the point where you crapped your pants?
Tracey: I did.
Tracey: I took screenshot after screenshot. I, I didn’t even know what to do with myself at this point in time. I was literally tongue-tied, and it was a very – I just remember going to the grocery store on the last day of the promotion and being like, this is the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.
Jane: But then after the promotion, you continued to sell more copies.
Tracey: Yeah! It stayed in the top 10 for two months, which I, I just, now, looking back, I realize how strange that was, because I had told my husband, what will probably happen is when the promotion ends, I’ll probably just drop back down, and maybe I’ll keep a better rank than I had before, and I, and that did start to happen on Monday or Tuesday of the, when the promotion ended. I think I dropped down to number 12 or 13, but then on Thursday morning I woke up – I think it was Thursday or Friday morning – and I was back up to, like, 11 or 10, and I told my husband, I said, I, you know, I might be getting sticky, which is obviously something, something you want after a promotion is to, to stick where you were or at least around there, and then I did, and I think at that point in time, the visibility of being in the top 10 just became a snowball that helped other people see it, and the reviews were generally very positive, with a lot of don’t, you know, be worried about reading this book; it’s not what you think – Which I appreciated, because, you know, I, I kind of needed that – [laughs] in a big way. So, yeah, it was definitely a turning point for the book. It was, again, just all, all expectations completely blown out of the water.
Jane: So, of the 14 agents that turned you down, did any of them come calling back when your book started snowballing and started gaining attention?
Tracey: Well, yes. Yes and no. I had queried Dystel & Goderich. I had queried one of their agents, and it, it was actually the tipping point that – that, along with the agent that thought my first chapter was boring – he, he just form rejected me. The other agent, the Twitter agent, had said I was, had a boring first chapter, so that was what actually, the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I decided to self publish. But, but Jane Dystel, the president of the agency, reached out to me and, and I’ll be honest; I sat on that email for a couple days, because at that point in time, I was kind of like, well, wait a minute –
Tracey: – I tried to get somebody to read this book, and nobody wanted to read this book, and now you want to talk about discussing representation, and first of all, I had a full-time job still, and my email was exploding. I had people coming out of the woodwork. I had messages, and I couldn’t keep up with anything, and so I was just, I was a little bit overwhelmed, so I kind of took a couple days and just took a step back.
Jane: So how did the movie deal come about? Was that through Jane or was that at the same time, or – ?
Tracey: Well, I started getting, like I said, all these emails. Just, some of them were bizarre, and some of them were super exciting, and some of them were a combination of both, but I received an email from the vice president of production at MGM. And she said, you know, I’m, I’m just writing to you – ‘cause I had my email address right at the end of the book – and so she said, I’m just writing to see if the movie rights are still available. I saw this book, and I thought that it might be pretty cinematic, and now that I’ve read it, I think it’s wildly cinematic. I loved it. If, if you’ve already sold the rights, I’ll be the first one there on opening day to get a ticket, and so I freaked out. I was at work; I went to a conference room, and I called my husband, and I was dying. I mean, I was just literally, like, this is unreal. This is my Yahoo! address. This woman is writing me at my Yahoo! address from Hollywood. And I had, that was at the time where I had been talking with Jane, signed a contract for representation, so I sent the email to Jane, and Jane was like, well, don’t get your hopes up; they’re just fishing. And I was like, wah, wah.
Tracey: I was like, no, no, no, no, no!
Jane: She’s a dream killer!
Tracey: No! And then I got a similar message from a gal at Temple Hill, and she opened her email with, you know, you may not have heard of us, but we produced a, you know, this group of films called the Twilight films, and – so then I was like, okay, wow. So I sent that one on to Jane, and at this point in time, I had no intention of pursuing a traditional publishing deal. I was very happy; things were going very well. I had a paperback that was selling well on Amazon, and so Jane actually ended up finalizing the movie rights, I think it was the first week of May, and it was the week after I hit the New York Times bestseller list for the first time. So everything, April and May of 2012 were a complete blur.
Sarah: Question: And I know you get asked this a lot, and most authors do, but I’m always very nosy about this. What was, what was the thing that led you to this story? Not like, where do you get your ideas or how did you think of the story but what was, what led you to this particular story? Did you want to invert the older man/younger woman trope? Were you thinking, yeah, research going to the Maldives would be awesome?
Sarah: Like, what were you, what was your, what was your sort of point of access to, to this particular story? Because one of the things that caught a lot of people’s attention, I think, was that it was very unique but also accessible.
Tracey: Those were the two things, exactly! I get bored easily when I read a romance. I have, there has to be an external conflict and an internal conflict, because a lot of times one or the other won’t hold my attention. So I kept thinking, if I was going to write a book, I wanted it to be different than what was out there, and I know that the desert island trope is not, by any means, unique in that it’s never been done before, but –
Sarah: It’s still enjoyable!
Tracey: And you look at, like, it hasn’t really been done that much in books. I mean, we have Lord of the Flies, but that was not a romance. And I –
Sarah: It really depends on how you read it.
Tracey: Well, it depends, yeah –
Tracey: – whom you’re looking at character-wise.
Tracey: I loved the movie The Blue Lagoon. I mean, I loved that movie. My mom took me to see that movie when it came out in the theater, and I was probably a little too young, and she didn’t want to take me, but I begged, because I loved Brooke Shields, and I wanted to see that movie, and then, so, when Cast Away came out, and it was just Tom Hanks, I remember being really frustrated, like, oh, my God, you wasted this opportunity to have this big budget film, and you put one guy on an island with a volleyball. And I remember being kind of irked about that.
Sarah: Well, that’s what most female characters are.
Sarah: Shut up! Even my dog disagrees. Yeah, we, we are just volleyballs.
Tracey: Apparently. We, you know, we don’t need to have anything on there but, but Tom, and I thought that was wrong. I enjoyed the movie. I love survival stories in general, so I started thinking to myself, and I, like I said, I tried to talk myself out of it for about three months before I wrote it because I thought, this is just crazy, but I’m like, has anybody done this? Has there actually been, in book form, a romance, you know, we had it in movies, we’ve had books that didn’t have romances on desert islands, and so, since I’ve always really liked that premise, I decided that I wanted to do something like that, and then I – and then, of course, if you’re going to do that, well, then who do you put on it? So, I kept thinking to myself, well, what if I could just put the most strange combination on there and see if that would work, and I went through all kinds of combinations in my head, and I didn’t always intend for it to be an older woman/younger guy type of thing. I just wanted to put something on there that would be interesting, and I did, if I wrote a romance, ‘cause I loved romances, I just wanted to have something a little different than the common tropes of two people that get together and then either have some sort of issue they can’t work through or a misunderstanding or maybe they’re thrown together and they didn’t really – I didn’t, I didn’t know what I wanted to do specifically, but I outlined enough of the book that I could start, and I had a general beginning and middle. I had no idea how I was going to get them off the island, and I didn’t know how I was going to them off the island for the longest time, but as I wrote, and I started at the beginning, and I just wrote what I knew, some of the story kind of came alive from there, because for the longest time, I really didn’t think it would work. I told myself I would start it because I didn’t have anything to lose but that I didn’t think I could pull it off, and there was one point during the manuscript that I thought I had, I was going to have to quit, ‘cause I thought, nobody is ever going to buy this plot point. I have written myself into such a bad corner that I can’t ever get out, and I’m done. But then, just like when I started, I thought, you know what, just keep writing. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. So, luckily, I did keep writing.
Jane: So then after On the Island you wrote Covet –
Jane: – which is a huge departure.
Tracey: It’s women’s fiction, which I feel like I’m blue in the face trying to tell people that it’s women’s fiction, but it’s, it’s viewed as romance, so that didn’t work out well. [Laughs]
Jane: So that is your most recent release, and it comes out in trade paperback in April?
Tracey: April 29th it’ll be out in trade paperback. It came out in hardcover and eBook September 17th. And then I also have the novella, Uncharted, which is the companion novella to On the Island.
Jane: So what, what is Covet about?
Tracey: Covet is about a married couple, and with Covet, I wanted to explore what happens when two people have an emotional affair, which can often be even worse than a physical affair, so I wanted to really just sort of, I was fascinated by the whole sort of dynamic that you see going on now, where people become very close to people they’re not married to, whether it’s a work person or a friend, and I think that with texting and emailing and all the things that we have now at our disposal, those lines can get crossed pretty easily.
Sarah: You mean like, you mean like compartmentalized relationships, like, this is the person I’m closest to at work, and this is the person I married at home who helps me raise my kids, and –
Tracey: Yes, but –
Sarah: – we have all these compartmentalized relationships?
Tracey: Mm-hmm, but finding somebody who you’re actually, you’re not crossing a physical line with but you’re crossing a pretty big emotional line, it’s a full-blown emotional affair. And I wanted to kind of explore this dynamic between three people, the two people that were married, and then the, the other person who was a single man who’d been divorced. So I didn’t want there to be, I didn’t want there to be another woman that was being cheated on by her husband, but I wanted to explore what would happen if, if somebody went outside the marriage to get some things emotionally that they weren’t getting at home, which I find to be a fascinating concept. I’m not sure if that’s a wild, widely held belief, though.
Jane: But it has a beautiful cover.
Tracey: It does.
Sarah: Covet easier than writing On the Island?
Tracey: No, I don’t think it was easier. It was also my second book. So, writing your second book after your first book, especially when your first book is, for the most part, fairly well received by a significant number of readers – obviously, there are people that hate On the Island, but I was really fortunate enough to have a fairly wide audience that, that did come to love the book – and so writing the second one, especially when I decided to write Covet and wanted to explore women’s fiction a little bit more, ‘cause those are my two favorite genres – writing women’s fiction, which was such a departure from On the Island, and writing that, starting that book before I had any idea what would happen with On the Island is probably not something that I would want to go through again. If I had a time machine, I would definitely go back and save Covet for maybe my fourth or fifth book, because it’s still a story that I love, and it’s a, a premise that I think is very relatable to women, but probably not the best book to follow up a contemporary romance with, although I’m going to do it again, ‘cause I’m going to do women’s fiction after the romance that I’m writing now. So I learned nothing.
Sarah: So what are you writing now?
Tracey: Right now I am writing a contemporary romance that is similar to On the Island, not that it occurs anywhere near an island or on an island or in water or anything like that – I want to be really clear about that –
Tracey: – because I’m afraid that they’ll – She’s writing another island book! It has a very strong external conflict as well as an internal conflict, and I actually am delving slightly into the romantic suspense, although I don’t think I have enough suspense, honestly, to maybe qualify it for that. And, and the romance is definitely front and center. There’s just an inciting incident that happens that the reader won’t really find out what happens on that ‘til the end, so there’s, there’s a little bit of a subplot going on with that, and then also the relationship between the two characters. The, the main character, the heroine, is the one who’s had the crime committed against a member of her family, and the hero is the crime reporter who is covering the story.
Sarah: Ooh, that sounds like internal and external tension.
Tracey: Yeah. It, it definitely has that, and I think that it’s, that’s something that I really enjoy writing. I really like there to be more going on than just the hero and heroine coming together.
Sarah: And if all there is is them coming together, that could be internal or just external, and that doesn’t sustain very long.
Tracey: Yeah, and I’ve read books that are one or the other that I liked just fine, but I think I like them more – I like to have a lot going on. I don’t like to have too many characters or different subplots, but I do like there to be something sort of bigger lurking out there than just the hero and heroine getting together.
Sarah: And that’s all for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed our conversation with Tracey Garvis Graves. I thought that was really fun.
Future podcasts will involve me interviewing Redheadedgirl with a great deal of wine involved on both sides of the conversation, and we have other interviews in the planning stages. If you would like to make a suggestion or if you want to ask us to talk about a specific topic or you just want to respond to what you’ve been hearing, guess what! You can totally contact us! You can email us at email@example.com, you can call and leave us a message at 1-201-371-DBSA, or, yeah, you can just open the window and shout. Maybe we’re nearby. You never know who’s actually your neighbor or not, as Tracey and Jane just found out, or found out recently anyway.
The music you’re listening to was provided by Sassy Outwater. This is an artist named Hevia, and he is from Spain. This song is called Son del Busgosu, and it is from his album The Other Side. I will have links in the podcast entry about where you can find this and more information about his music, which is pretty rad.
And this podcast is brought to you by Signet, publisher of J. R. Ward’s Dark Lover, the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, now with a hot new look. This book is available wherever books are sold, paper and digital, and I’m warning you now, if you start it, it’s pretty crack-tacular. Very hard to put down; really, just clear your schedule. If you’re going to start Dark Lover, at least reserve three hours, ‘cause you’re not going to be able to put it down! There’s crack in them there pages, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Thank you again for listening. This podcast wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if there weren’t so many people emailing and tweeting and commenting, saying I love the podcast! We love that you listen. Thank you very much for listening! And wherever you are, Tracey, Jane, and I all wish you the very best of reading, and with luck, maybe what you’re reading is crack-tastic. We hope so.