Books: The Grace of Crows

An Interview with Author Tracy Shawn

Tracy Shawn has a Master’s degree in clinical psychology. Her first novel, set in coastal California, follows the emotional journey of a woman besieged by near-paralyzing anxiety.

Saylor Crawmore, the protagonist of The Grace of Crows, is deeply anxious about almost everything. Why did you find her anxiety so compelling?

I have suffered from severe anxiety myself and wanted to write a story that others could relate to, learn from, and ultimately gain perspective and a grounded kind of hope from, as well.

That can be tricky—transforming your own life into fiction. What challenges did you face turning Tracy into Saylor?

I really didn’t face too many challenges in this regard, because Saylor is a wholly fictional person with her own personality, history, and different kind of fears than me. Although, if she were a real-life person, we definitely would be able to commiserate about our anxiety!

A key moment in the novel comes when Saylor runs into Billy, a friend from her child, who’s now homeless. Why is Billy such an important character?

Billy can be seen as a symbol of Saylor’s deep-seated and irrational fear of losing everyone she loves. And yet, he is also a survivor with a loyal heart, the positive mirror of who Saylor really is.

I gather that Billy is based on a real person?

Growing up, I did have a childhood friend who I often thought about in my adult life. One day, I found myself crying just thinking about him, and somehow intuitively knew that something had gone terribly wrong with his life. I called a friend, who still lived in my hometown, and she said that she had picked him up hitchhiking just a week or so before and that he was now homeless and deranged. Unfortunately, I never found him, and from what I know through the grapevine, he probably is dead now. What’s weird is that when I was writing The Grace of Crows, I pictured him living under a pier, and found out later, that for a time, the “real” Billy actually did.

It’s tough getting a novel published. Can you talk about the process of finding a home for The Grace of Crows?

Oh boy, is it tough! I made many mistakes along the way, including querying agents before the novel was ready. After a large number of rejections, I decided to query small but traditional presses. Interestingly, after months of rejections, I had two that were interested. I signed with Cherokee McGhee and after a year of revisions and editing, it was published!

Can you tell me a little about Cherokee McGhee? That’s an interesting name for a publisher.

It is, isn’t it? I actually don’t know the reason behind the name, but I queried them because I liked that their homepage states that they “strive to bring excellence in literature that may be missing in the celebrity-oriented big houses of New York.”

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