Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Jacqueline Luckett: Searching for Tina Turner
One writer’s search for the meaning of life after marriage leads to first novel
by Yvelette Stines
It started with a writing class at U.C. Berkeley Extension about a decade ago. This month, when Jacqueline Luckett’s debut novel, Searching for Tina Turner (Grand Central Publishing) hits bookstores nationwide it will mark the culmination of years of determination, hard work and faith.
The book also embodies Luckett’s challenge to herself years ago to write a story that would both capture and help her push through her “personal breadth of emotional pain” after her divorce.
“Several women I knew were going through a divorce at the same time I was. Each of us chose to move on to the next stage of our lives," she says. "I wondered how any of us were going to fare after our long-term marriages and that curiosity led me to Lena, the novel’s main character. Certainly in the first draft I didn't look to inspire or help other women. But as I moved on through my revisions, I found that the messages were there: reinvention and the possibilities of new beginnings."
A woman on the verge of change
Searching for Tina Turner is the story of Lena Spencer, a fifty-ish woman who lives in Oakland and seems to have it all—a wealthy husband, two wonderful children and a good life—yet she struggles to maintain her own happiness. When Randall, her husband, decides that he's had enough of marriage counseling, he offers an ultimatum: “Be grateful for all I've done for you or leave.” Lena, realizing that money can't solve her problems and that her husband is no longer the man she married, chooses the latter. Drawing strength from Tina Turner's life story, Lena goes on a journey to find herself after 23 years of being a wife and mother.
Luckett’s writing is already being compared to the early works of Terry McMillan. “A fierce, beautiful tour de force…a heroine for the ages,” says ZZ Packer in praise of Searching for Tina Turner. “Luckett is a writer to watch and admire.” This month, Essence Magazine named the book its January book club selection. Black Expressions Book Club has selected Luckett as a “Star on the Rise,” and will feature her and her book in their February 17th newsletter.
As someone who previously worked in the corporate world (she was a sales representative for Xerox), Luckett is now living her dream as a writer and published author. She planted the seed for her book back in 2004. That year Tina Turner was in the news for her compilation All the Best, which became her first album to go platinum in the U.S. in over eleven years. The Oakland-based writer, who had always been a fan of the feisty “Queen” of pop, rock and soul, became obsessed with Tina’s story of enduring spirit, grace and strength. It inspired Luckett to create the main character for her book, a woman on the verge of change.
“As I read I, Tina (Tina Turner’s autobiography), I put myself in Lena’s shoes and tried to imagine what Lena could gain from Tina’s story. I wanted her to focus on sections of the book that inspired her to move, without fear, into the next phase of her life.”
Writing again on a dare
Writing and storytelling have always been part of Luckett’s life. Growing up, she kept diaries, wrote poetry and published stories in a local newspaper. But in college, as a sociology major at CSU Hayward, she put writing aside. She then worked in sales, married, and raised a family. In 1999, she took that fateful creative writing class at UC Berkeley that re-ignited her love for writing.
“I started writing on a dare from myself,” she explains. The class was called Exploring Your Creative Potential. "That UC Extension catalog came every quarter, and I know now that the writing classes were calling to me. Fear and self-doubt made me question myself: what if I don’t have any creative potential? What if I can't write—what then? The dare I gave to myself was to follow through, to take the writing class despite how fearful I was of failing.”
“VONA gave me the confidence”
Also in 1999 she discovered the then freshly launched Voices of Our Nations (VONA) writing workshops, and became one of the first students to attend its inaugural year at USF. For the next four years, she learned from some of the nation’s top writers including Christina Garcia, Danzy Senna, Junot Diaz, Ruth Forman, Terry McMillan and David Mura. She attributes much of her growth as a writer to the VONA workshops.
“VONA gave me the confidence and gentle nudges I needed to step out into the world and call myself a writer,” she says. “Working with (the instructors) helped me step away from my awe of their talent and accept their wisdom as teachers and masters of craft.”
For Luckett, as is true for most emerging writers, writing the book was only half the battle. Getting an agent was a journey unto itself.
The journey to publication
In March 2007, while continuing to work on the book, she researched and developed a list of agents who she thought would be interested in her novel. She pitched three in person and sent out queries to a dozen agents. In October 2007, she heard from two agents who had previously rejected her novel. They contacted her after reading an article in O Magazine about her writers group, the Finish Party—eight women writers of color (including ZZ Packer). But once again, after some contemplation, those agents came back to her and said no. Her search continued.
“They had good things to say about the book, but they didn’t feel that they could represent it,” she says. Finally, a month later, in November that year she found representation with her current agent Richard Abate.
Still, even with representation, Luckett says she didn’t consider herself a writer until she received an Advanced Reading Copy of Searching for Tina Turner.
“I saw what I had thought and dreamed of and that every word, comma, period, and semicolon was my own—then I felt like a writer,” she says.
Next up: Book two—Passing Love
Not one to stop and take a break, Luckett just submitted the manuscript for her second novel, Passing Love, a story of two women who believe that the city of Paris will fulfill their dreams of a better life. She is also working on a non-fiction book with a friend about coming out on the good side of divorce.
For those who are pursuing literary dreams of their own, Luckett encourages others to “write, read, join a writing group, take classes and workshops, believe in yourself, learn to accept all feedback, work hard and live your dream.”
For more information visit www.jacquelineluckett.com.
Yvlette Stines is a VONA alum.