A bout with breast cancer and a betrayal by a loved one encouraged Tracy Seeley to search for her past in what she had believed to be a long forgotten childhood in Kansas. A plan for just one trip back to the past evolved into several trips to the Midwest that revealed her hidden feelings about the meaning of family.
Along with beautiful descriptions of a state most of us know little about and associate with...flatness and cornfields, Seeley paints for us an inner map. The map from the interactions of her childhood family to her present day relationships with the men in her life. Seeley has put away her wandering shoes long enough to join us for a WOW Blog Tour featuring her memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas.
If you would like to win a copy of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas, please leave a comment a the end of this post to be entered in a random drawing
. The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, June 30 at 11:59 PM PST
. For an extra entry, link to this post on Twitter with the hashtag #RubySlippers
, then come back and leave us a link to your tweet. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post the following day, Friday, July 1st. Good Luck!
With a Ph.D. in British Literature, Tracy Seeley teaches literature and creative nonfiction at the University of San Francisco. She can claim 26 addresses as her own including towns all across the midwest, Dallas, Austin, New Haven, Los Angeles, Caracas, Budapest, and Barcelona. When not tracking down Kansas addresses that no longer exist, Seeley lives in Oakland, California with her filmmaker husband, Frederick Marx. In an attempt to put down roots she has started a vegetable garden and is considering buying chickens.
Visit Tracy Seeley at:
-------- Interview by Jodi Webb
WOW: You're a professor of creative writing, so I'm guessing this book isn't your first attempt at writing. Can you tell us about when you began writing and the types of writing you've done?
TRACY: I'm really a literature professor who teaches creative writing whenever I get the chance. Those two parts of my life have evolved together over the past 10 years, but I began my career as a literary scholar, with a PhD in 20th century British literature. That was my route to becoming a professor. But I was always drawn to the literary personal essay, by everyone from Montaigne to Virginia Woolf to E.B. White and Annie Dillard. I first taught and studied the essay as literature and then gradually shifted to writing my own. So I've published scholarly essays on a number of writers, including Virginia Woolf--who's a literary hero of mine. And I've published a small handful of creative essays in journals like The Florida Review and Prairie Schooner. But My Ruby Slippers is the first book-length creative work I've done. I've been riding a big, exciting learning curve.
WOW: What made you decide to take the multiple trips back to your home state of Kansas?
TRACY: I first decided to go back because my mother had written a list of thirteen addresses in my baby book. These were all the houses I'd lived in by the time I was nine. Needless to say, we'd been very mobile, and unsettled, and mostly unhappy because of that. And because I didn't remember many of those houses and towns I was curious. When I was in my 20s, I started to think I'd one day go back, follow my family's wanderings and see what I found. By the time I went--20 years later--I'd also been feeling deprived of a real sense of place. Since we'd moved so often and weren't originally from Kansas, my family never really felt at home there, and I felt disconnected from it. I hoped to address that, or understand it somehow.
At first. I planned to go back only once. Do a quick trip, write a book. But on that first trip, I really fell in love with Kansas and knew I wanted to know it better, spend more time there, collect more stories from people I met and learned about. So I ended up going four more times. The last time, I lived in a tiny town called Matfield Green for ten days. That was one of my sweetest trips, because I could really settle into one place in my favorite part of Kansas, the Flint Hills.
WOW: During your trips were you keeping a record...either a journal or letters or photographs? Your descriptions were so vivid I thought you surely must have recorded your trips with a camera. Do you keep a daily or regular journal?
TRACY: I kept a daily journal, and was very conscious of wanting to pay close attention: to mentally record details, people, and conversations along the way. I also took a lot of snapshots--not great photos, but great recorders of detail. They helped me remember, once I started writing. On my first trip, I also had a tape recorder. I was doing so much driving, I wanted a way to record things without having to wait to write them down.
I don't keep a daily journal--though I know a lot of writers who swear by them. I've tried many times to start a daily journal, but always feel self-conscious and confused about my audience. Who is it really for? Maybe I'm just not disciplined enough. Who knows? I do carry a journal around--and whenever something really interesting crosses my path or my thoughts, I jot them down. I write stuff on my hand, on scraps of paper, on the flyleaves of books...probably not the best approach.
WOW: I'm so happy to meet another writer who can't get the journal thing going and is surrounded by invaluable scraps of paper. I once wrote a plotline on a church bulletin--before church started, of course! But let's get back to the one time you did manage to take daily notes...at what point did you see the outlines of a memoir in a trip journal?
TRACY: When I went back to Kansas it was with the intention of writing about it. I wasn't sure what sort of thing it would be, or how long. But then, once I stood in front of childhood houses or schools, and walked down sidewalks I knew my parents had walked on, the idea of connecting childhood memories with the memories of my trip started to take shape.
But it wasn't until I'd written about 200 pages and thrown them away, then tried out various chapters and written some anecdotes that I began to see the shape of the whole thing as the memoir it became. Like most writers, I discover what I'm doing by doing it. I finally settled on the structure of the book on about the fifth complete draft.
WOW: How did you select the memories that would create a flowing story?
TRACY: I chose the childhood memories that wouldn't leave me alone: powerful moments that followed me everywhere. In this way, I think the memories choose us. One was the day we moved from the town where I was in the middle of my kindergarten year. It broke my heart and has a lot to do with how I feel about moving even now. Another was the day I got lost walking home from my new kindergarten. Another was the day my father left when I was twelve. These are all fundamental memories that I knew had something important to offer.
So one of my tasks in writing the book was to do some hard thinking about why these memories stuck with me. What did they tell me about my own emotional life and sense of self- understanding? How could I tell them so that they communicated their emotional power and also gave me a chance as the adult writer to reflect meaningfully on them?
As I worked on My Ruby Slippers, the themes of loss and displacement became pretty clear, even in the stories I chose to write that aren't about me. In the chapter "Sacred Bundles, Secret Maps," I tell the story of a Pawnee girl named Sadie whose parents are killed in the late 19th-century. Her story is also about loss and survival and the importance of family stories--so it felt very familiar to me, and it fit the story I was trying to tell.
WOW: Was it difficult to leave memories out?
TRACY: Once I came to terms with the childhood memories I chose to include, it was easier to make choices about what parts of my Kansas trip would fit the book, and what I'd save for something else. A lot of my travel experiences ended up in a drawer.
Leaving things out just comes with the territory. Memoir writing is an art just as novel or poetry writing is--and the aim is to create a coherent work in which all parts serve a common purpose. So in writing memoir, we have to ask ourselves at every turn, "What is this book really about?" It's not about everything that's happened to us, but is a literary account of some aspect or slice of our life. We leave out far more than we include, but the choice of what gets left out should be about the integrity of the story--not about avoiding difficult subjects.
WOW: It seems every week we read about a different genre that is "dying." Earlier this month, YA was "dying," not long ago experts announced that memoir was "dying." So tell us, do you think memoir is on life-support?
TRACY: Declarations about a genre "dying" are usually about the publishing industry: Will Genre X continue to sell? Once a particular genre seems to have saturated the market, it's often declared dead. Like "vampire fiction is dead." As we know, vampires don't die--and I predict we'll see a new generation before long.
I'd like to think there's always going to be an audience for well-told stories. Some of those happen to be first-person accounts of real experience. We like reading human stories because we're human; and I especially enjoy a human story that's well-written and perceptive, that lets me in to the heart and wisdom and artistry of another person.
Whether the industry will continue to sell memoirs is another question, and this is also part of the problem. Publishing puts a premium on memoirs that are sensational or scandalous in some way, and really cashes in on celebrity memoirs--and I think that's unfortunate, because it saturates the market with books that aren't always artful, and sometimes aren't even true. That's not to say there aren't wonderful memoirs that sell well. But there are also memoirs that don't do the genre justice, and this creates a criticial backlash against all memoir.
Whether it survives as a genre is hard to predict, which is why I'm always skeptical about these death predictions. I'm finding a lot of memoir lovers out there, as well as thoughtful readers who will read good writing of any kind, including memoirs.
WOW: What can we expect from you next?
At the moment I'm on a ten-week summer book tour along with my husband, who's a filmmaker. So I'm doing readings and he's showing his new film all over the western US. We're having a blast. So first up, I'm writing about our journey on my blog
But I'm also starting to cook up a new book which won't be a memoir, but another kind of literary nonfiction. Because it's all new and just beginning to simmer, I don't talk about it. I don't want to talk it away. So stay tuned.
WOW: I'm hungry already and can't wait for a taste of the next creation in your writing kitchen!
-------- Blog Tour Dates
June 27, Monday at Writing Come Hell or High Water
Stop by for a review of Tracy Seeley's memoir My Ruby Slippers. Don't forget to return on Wednesday for a special guest post by Tracy.
June 28, Tuesday at Beyond Breast Cancer
Stop by to learn more about Tracy Seeley and how her battle with breast cancer influenced her to write her memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas.
June 29, Wednesday at Writing Come Hell of High Water
Discover yourself through writing with the help of Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers, a memoir about her journey through Kansas searching for family and memories in the 13 houses she called home during her childhood.
July 1, Friday at Readaholic
Tracy Seeley weighs in with why the world needs indie bookstores. Come share your favorite bookstore experience and win Seeley's memoir My Ruby Slippers.
July 13, Wednesday at Donna's Book Pub
Tracy Seeley offers readers a peek behind the scenes of publishing to learn how My Ruby Slippers went from idea to book. You'll also have a chance to win a copy of her memoir about the search for family.
July 20, Wednesday at A Slice of Writing Life
Tracy Seeley questions why it is we feel drawn to old our homesteads. She's also giving away a copy of My Ruby Slippers, a memoir about her return to her childhood homes in Kansas.
July 21, Thursday at The Cottage Bookshelf
The cottage bookshelf welcomes their first author for an interview today! Don't miss Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers and a big fan of being first!
July 22, Friday at Memory Writers Network
Have questions about memoir writing? Stop by Memory Writers Network when Jerry Waxler is asking Tracy Seeley for her tips about memoir writing.
July 27, Wednesday at Women's Memoirs
Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas, shares the road to publication in her interview about writing memoir. Return on Friday to learn about marketing your memoir.
July 28, Thursday at Steph the Bookworm
Take a vacation to Kansas today with a review of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas by Tracy Seeley.
July 29, Friday at Women's Memoirs
Women's Memoir is giving you some tips on marketing your memoir with the help of Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas
To view all of our touring authors, check out our Events Calendar here
If you have a blog or website and would like to host Tracy or one of our other touring authors or schedule a tour of your own, please email Jodi and Robyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's How to Enter:
1. For your first entry, just leave a comment on this post! Leave a comment or ask Tracy a question to be entered in the random drawing.
2. For an extra entry, link to this post on Twitter with the hashtag #RubySlippers, then come back and leave us a link to your tweet.
The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, June 30 at 11:59 PM PST. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post the following day--Friday, July 1, and if we have the winner's email address from the comments section, we will also notify the winner via email. Good Luck!