Tracey Newman was driving through Reno, Nevada in 1989 when it came to her. A vision, clear as day, of a red-haired female pirate—formidable, fearless, beguiling—standing at the bow of a ship, wind in her hair.
Newman was taken aback by the power of it. She knew at once that this striking woman had a story to tell and she was the person to tell it. Over the next few months, she tried time and again to summon the woman and begin to write her story. Defeated, she shelved the idea and didn’t pick it up again for more than a decade.
Newman didn’t know it at the time, but the vision she’d conjured up that night was Jewyli, a character that would have a profound effect on her life. Through Jewyli, Newman would go on to conceive a host of other characters and an intricate plot spanning multiple continents and millennia.
More importantly, Jewyli would allow Newman to tap into unexplored facets of her creativity, to reimagine her world, and become something she’d never imagined for herself: a published author.
Newman was an adventurer from an early age—at least in her mind. An avid reader and television viewer with an affinity for medical dramas like M*A*S*H and Emergency!, she remembers taking to her notebook frequently to reimagine scenes that didn’t measure up to her narrative vision. She laughs, thinking about it now: “The audacity of rewriting an Emmy Award-winning show!”
Despite an active imagination and penchant for storytelling, the idea of writing for a living never factored into Newman’s childhood career ambitions. Instead, she wanted to be a paramedic, a police officer, or an archaeologist (an idea she says was heavily influenced by America’s favorite fictional archaeologist, Indiana Jones).
In the end she chose a different path entirely. Galvanized by the Oklahoma City bombing, Newman enlisted in the US Army in 1996. She completed her counterintelligence training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona before being stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where she would spend the next six years, advancing to the rank of Sergeant in 2002.
It was in the rigid and scheduled environment of Fort Campbell that Newman began to access the visions of Jewyli again. Sitting in her barracks room at the end of a long day, she finally felt compelled to open her notebook and write the story that had been building in her mind for more than a decade.
But this wasn’t going to be Jewyli’s story—at least not at first. As Newman had become better acquainted with her adventuress, it had become clear to her that Jewyli was “too cool” to tell her own story. “She needed a surrogate, a conduit to tell her story,” says Newman. “And that is how Nick Piper came to be.”
Nick, or Professor Nickolaus Adallyus Piper, is an amalgam of Newman’s wide-ranging interests and experiences. A famed archeologist stalked by demons and ensnared in a murder investigation, he makes for a complex hero and one that required a considerable amount of research to get right. “I read philosophy, I read science, I read a variety of different genres and topics,” says Newman. “And it was all these things working in my mind that helped me navigate who Nick Piper was. It was a slow process.”
Despite that—and the numerous false starts a decade earlier—once Newman began writing her story in earnest, the words flowed freely. She wrote the prologue within “a matter of moments,” and hit her stride quickly, deftly navigating dramatic changes in time, place and point of view.
A few years and 100,000 words later, Newman had a manuscript. Having been honorably discharged from the army in 2003 to care for an ailing family member, she was now back in her home state of Nevada, this time living in Henderson and working at the local Barnes & Noble.
It was a perfect place for an ambitious author, filled with people who cared deeply about books and books for people who aspired to publish them. Newman was thrilled to find that her colleagues were keen to read her manuscript and even more thrilled when they delivered feedback that was on the whole very positive. “As a writer, you become so immersed in your world and in your writing that you become blind,” she says. “So to have someone who’s able to come in without those blindspots and deliver critical feedback was incredibly helpful.”
Newman made some tweaks and began to investigate publishing avenues. She located the publishing section of Barnes & Noble and invested “a great deal of money” in books containing information she “in retrospect, could have probably found online,” before setting about the ego-battering process of finding a publisher.
It didn’t begin well. Like most new writers, Newman’s text was rejected numerous times. “I wept when they said they didn’t like it,” she says, clarifying, “well, they don’t say that. They say ‘we don’t think your book would be a commercial success.’ Still, I was devastated.”
Newman wasn’t going to give up. With every rejection, she went back to her manuscript, each time finding things that could be added, omitted, reworked and improved. “In a way, they did me a favor,” she says. “Any kind of obstacle or setback is really just an opportunity to figure out what went wrong, fix it, and keep plowing forward.”
One of Newman’s colleagues and fellow writers encouraged her to try a different tack. He had published his own novel using a self-publishing company called iUniverse and had a wonderful experience.
Newman was intrigued but cautious. She’d heard stories of would-be authors falling prey to scammers and disreputable companies, and had no interest in becoming one of them. But her research told her iUniverse was the real deal. They’d been around since 1999, had published a slew of books that had since gone on to become bestsellers, and importantly, they had her colleague’s endorsement.
Newman was sold. She polished her manuscript one last time, diligently pored over the terms of her contract, and submitted her book for publication. Illusion, the first book in the Through the Never Series, became available for purchase on iUniverse’s website soon after.
Though the hardest part was behind her, Newman knew her work was far from over. Without a traditional publisher motivated to sell her book, the lion’s share of the marketing fell to her. “Suddenly, I had to look at it from a business point of view,” she says. “I had to change hats, to go from the writer and creator to the businesswoman, and that’s not an easy thing.”
Newman had a couple of things working to her advantage. First, she already had an in with Barnes & Noble, a company she says is “unafraid to take on untested authors.” Right away, she was able to get her book on the shelves at her store and on the Barnes & Noble website.
Second, she was able to seek guidance from the marketing team at iUniverse, who impressed upon her the importance of having a website. “I looked at the options out there, I considered building it myself, and then I found Web.com,” she says. “From the start, everyone was so responsive and supportive. They really helped me get myself out there and get my book into the hands of people who wouldn’t have found it otherwise.”
Newman’s second novel, Rehoboam, was released in September. She has plans to spin her website into a blog and ramp up her social media presence but already she and her books have achieved a level of exposure that book signings and word of mouth simply don’t afford. “Over the years, I’ve met several people who have seen the book online or recognized me from the website,” she says. “I still find it amazing.”
Though Newman is still far from achieving celebrity status, she’s come to realize that for her, celebrity is not what it’s about. “I love writing,” she says. “I love every aspect of it. I love translating what is in my imagination to the page and being able to share that with people. To have someone pick up my book off a shelf, to give me a shot of telling them a story and entertaining or informing them is truly the greatest delight and privilege I could ever have.”