2017 Pitch Wars Potential Mentee Bio: TURNED AWAY

24 Jul

I somewhat can’t believe that I am writing one of these again, but here I am: entering Pitch Wars with a shiny new YA manuscript for the third year in a row! I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2015, chosen by the awesome Rachel Lynn Solomon, and in 2016, chosen by the awesome Diana Gallagher.

Why am I entering again if I was lucky enough to be chosen twice before, you may ask? Maybe I am tempting fate by seeking ANOTHER mentor as amazing as the first two, or fellow mentees as supportive, wonderful, and generally life-affirming as my friends from 2015 and 2016. Maybe I am a glutton, hoping for more of a good thing. Certainly, I love deadlines, structure, and constructive criticism. I’ll need a lot of help with this year’s book, as I’ve never written a full-length historical novel before, and whew, that’s tricky. Also, I’ve learned enough about this industry to know that the writers who succeed fight for every opportunity, even if it means their hearts could be broken by rejection. I’m not going to let this opportunity pass me by. Besides, I have a lot to give back to the Pitch Wars community, and would love to provide counsel and comfort to a new group of fellow mentees with my perspective from past years.

So here I am. Still unagented, though not for lack of hustle and revision. Still fighting. Ready to teach my battle techniques to the writers fighting alongside me, striking down the foes of rejection and self-doubt.

 

The Shiny New Manuscript: TURNED AWAY

Well, I have to admit that this newest manuscript isn’t quite “shiny” yet, considering that I just got to “the end” on the first draft a few days ago. I promised myself I wouldn’t spend time on a bio until the draft was done and I stuck to that! I have my work cut out for me, but luckily, I took the summer off teaching to get married and go on my honeymoon.

 

Me and the groom, and me and the horse, my ride up to the aisle!

Photos by Chuck Cray

Now that’s done (it was epic and there are more pics on my Instagram), I have lots of time to whip that manuscript into shape before the submission window. Like I said before, I love deadlines and structure, so this is perfect timing.

 

Here is my quick pitch for this new manuscript, tentatively titled TURNED AWAY.

1939. Rosa is a Jewish teen fleeing Germany for Cuba on the SS St. Louis with 936 other refugees. Josef is the Captain’s young steward with a dangerous secret: he’s half-Jewish. When the St. Louis is turned away from Cuba, they fight to find a harbor where the refugees, their romance, and Josef’s secret will be safe. A seafaring forbidden romance à la “Titanic” meets the time period, age category, and strong girls of “Salt to the Sea.”

And an aesthetic collage I made for it:

Novel Aesthetic for Turned Away

 

Even though he’s older than the character, Adrien Brody’s looks directly inspired my vision for Josef. I love the way that his unique nose somehow makes his face magnetic (at least to me). Josef has always been ashamed of his large nose, which is a dangerous feature to have in 1930s Germany. But Rosa, whom I imagine to look like Odeya Rush, feels the same way about Josef’s nose as I feel about Adrien Brody’s. Pertinent to my selection: Brody has Jewish ancestors who lost relatives in the Holocaust, and Odeya Rush is Israeli. The bottom row is, in order: a cartoon from the time of the St. Louis with the Statue of Liberty saying “Keep Out,” a clip from a postcard showing the St. Louis, passengers on the St. Louis, and an image of a burning synagogue during Kristallnacht. If you are interested in this part of history, I have saved many more images and links to resources about the St. Louis on my WIP Pinterest Board. You’ll find that it’s referred to as both the SS St. Louis and the MS St. Louis.

 

The Inspiration

My mother is Christian, and my father is Jewish. As a child, I had the freedom to explore both religions, or any religion that I wanted. As an adult, I had a bat mitzvah ceremony in Israel. While I am not religious, I connect to Judaism via culture and history, and I’ve always been horrified by stories of American apathy during World War II.

Those stories are frighteningly relevant in the modern political climate. The travel ban, in particular, reminded me of World War II. Yet a member of my family, who shares my Jewish ancestry, supports the travel ban. When I told this person about the SS St. Louis, and how Americans had felt toward Jewish refugees during World War II, it was clear they hadn’t been educated on the subject. They doubted the truth of what I was saying.

Learning about the Holocaust is emotionally draining. Growing up, I would often ask why we had to study these atrocities. My parents and my teachers would always say: “Never Forget.” We learned about the Holocaust so history didn’t repeat itself.

Yet, here was a member of my family. Forgetting.

At this point, I was halfway through writing another feminist YA contemporary, but it was so similar to my 2016 Pitch Wars book that agent rejections were really messing with my head. I was primed for a genre switch, and I finally had the motivation to write historical fiction, a genre I have long loved to read but have been scared of writing (Research! Ah!). Luckily, there are some wonderful resources about the SS St. Louis. My friend Rachel Simon descended from survivors. A friend of a friend had worked on a documentary about the SS St. Louis, and I’ll have the opportunity to meet some survivors during a local screening in October. Then, there’s the US Holocaust Museum. I literally shrieked with joy when they sent me a high definition version of the ship’s floor plan. While I still have research to do, it helped that I was already familiar with the time period due to my lifelong interest in WWII and my religion minor in college.

As I researched, the characters and plot for a YA historical novel appeared. Throughout my research, I searched for ways that passengers and crew affected the fate of the ship even though the power was mostly in the hands of politicians on shore. I also wanted to give my characters agency via romance. I basically grew up watching “Titanic” and I loved the idea of writing a forbidden romance on a ship. I didn’t want to go near a Nazi/Jew romance, because the power and consent issues in a relationship like that are…ick…which still hasn’t stopped writers from doing it. Luckily, there was a real crew member on the ship who was secretly half-Jewish. I based Josef’s character on him and there was my forbidden romance. It wasn’t a stretch for me to write a passenger whose parents didn’t want her dating out of her religion, since, decades later, many of my friends still struggle with this same issue. Somehow, I didn’t realize how much I shared with Josef until I was thinking about cutting his POV and my CPs convinced me not to. I’m very grateful for them, because exploring Josef’s conflicted religion and identity has been one of the most fascinating and personal parts of writing this book.

I’ve loved entering the world of this book, though reading about the fates of the passengers (and many of the crew) has made me cry more times than I can count. I hope that readers will love this story as much as I do, once it’s ready. If they cry, I hope they’re crying because they will remember.

 

About Me

A few years ago, I cofounded Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop, through which I offer editing and self-publishing services. At the moment, I’m working on some non-fiction projects I am very excited about! I am also an adjunct professor of composition at the University of Baltimore, and I long to get my hands on a creative writing class one day. I have my MFA in Fiction through UB, and self-published a book of linked short stories as my thesis. I also intern for agent Carrie Pestritto, and I am the social media and membership manager for the MD/DE/WV region of SCBWI. If you haven’t noticed, I’m addicted to learning more and giving back.

On the fun side, I love my rescue horse (who came to my wedding!) and dog. And oh yeah, my husband is pretty cool too. You can tell he knows my priorities from this picture of us right after he proposed, though luckily for our wallets, his common sense does keep my desire to adopt more animals at bay.

Tracy, Rob, LJ, and Ollie

If you’d like to go deep into stalker mode, you can read my past two mentee bios here: 2016 and 2015. They pretty much hold true, except now I’m on my fourth manuscript and my 2015 bangs are long gone!

I love procrastinating…I mean networking…on Twitter, so feel free to hit me up @tracycgold to chat! I was avoiding the feed while trying to get my first draft done, but I am more than happy to share about my past experiences in Pitch Wars, or Query Kombat, or as an agent intern, MFA student, entrepreneur, professor…you name it.

You can access the other potential mentee bios on this blog hop here.

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