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The cover of Tracy Coffee Gayle’s second novel gives clues to its content. It’s a collage of pictures and mementos from the lives of her characters as they travel through life and down memory lane, unearthing family stories.
Valerie, Jean & Me tells the story of three sisters, their mother, stepfather and baby brother. But these are not just characters on a page or merely stories in a book. These characters come to life in the text, as they do in Gayle’s creative imagination.
“My work in drama, both at Shelby County High School and with the community theatre, has helped me develop the details of my characters,” Gayle said. “In theater, you really have to put yourself into your roles and pay attention to the different actions and phrases that your character uses. I do the same thing with the characters in my books.
“Promise, the main character in this book, has a life of her own in my mind. I see her working through different scenes, and I write them down. That’s how the book comes together.
“I’ve always loved creating stories, creating characters that are real, messy and 3-D. My editor and mentor, Kate Larken of Motes Books, helps me to find my writing niche. She encourages me to make up stories that are so real that sometimes I don’t know what will happen next.
“The characters may be moving along in one direction, hit a challenge and turn to plan B or C. It’s what makes the writing interesting. It’s what makes the reading interesting.”
Valerie, Jean & Metakes the reader from the Bluegrass State to the Sunshine State and through “States of Mind” (the three sections of the book). It begins in the 1970s, with the young girls and their mother building a life with their new “daddy” and husband. It flashes back to the mother’s life in the 1950s and wraps up in the present.
“Throughout the book, life-long secrets are revealed,” Gayle said. “You see the characters at all states of their lives, trying to piece together who they are, who they were, and who they will become.”
As a fifth-grade teacher, Tracy Coffee Gayle spends her days nurturing children toward who they will become. She has been since 1998 a stalwart on the staff of Wright Elementary. She and her husband, Don, have four children, twins Suzanne and Jillian (13), Paul (12) and Gretchen (4). She says that her second novel – following Tilt-a-Whirl, published in 2011 – does not reflect her own home life.
“I see the way our children relate to one another and get ideas for the book,” she said, “but the siblings in the story don’t reflect the lives of my kids. It wouldn’t be fair to use them as role models.”
She said the initial idea for this book came from viewing old pictures from her grandmother and listening to family stories from her mother.
“I recall hearing them talk about going to dances, about going out on dates even after they were married,” she said.
She realized that people are different at the various stages in their lives. “None of us knows what our parents were really like when they were young. They lived in a different time and a different world,” she said.
Her writing grows out of her love for the craft. “When you love to write, you can’t notdo it,” Gayle said. “I want to show my children that you can pursue your dream. I try to model for them that you can do it.
“I can’t say enough good things about my publisher, Motes Books Kate taught me so much about writing, helped me through the publishing process, and handles my sales and distributions. I see the value in supporting local bookstores that carry books like mine. Motes Books sells through these venues.”
Tracy’s two novels, Valerie, Jean & Me, and Tilt-a-Whirl, can be found at 6thand Main Coffeehouse in Shelbyville and at Carmichael’s Books in Louisville. They are also available through her publisher, MotesBooks.com and Amazon.com.