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Thriving At Work: A Disability Advocate’s Journey With Tracee Garner

No Woman Left Behind | Tracee Garner | Disability At Work


Ever wonder how to thrive in the workplace while juggling a disability? In this episode, we dive deep into the inspiring story of Tracee Garner, a bestselling author and disability advocate. Tracee doesn’t shy away from sharing the realities of navigating the workplace while living with a disability. She offers practical advice on overcoming challenges like ageism and gaining the support you need to thrive. But you’ll also hear her secrets to maintaining a positive outlook and crushing your career goals. Plus, if you’re curious about the day-to-day experiences of someone with a disability, Tracee sheds light on the little things that can make a big difference. This episode is packed with tips and inspiration for anyone who wants to excel in the workplace, no matter the obstacles.

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Thriving At Work: A Disability Advocate’s Journey With Tracee Garner

This conversation is going to be with Tracee Garner, who is a bestselling author. Tracee is also a speaker and a disability advocate. You are going to be so inspired by Tracee’s story and how she has had to deal with the challenges of being disabled and how she deals with her life on a day-to-day basis. In spite of all of that, she has been able to find success in the workplace. Tracee’s passion for writing has led her to write twenty romance novels, and I’m sure more are coming. Stay tuned for this insightful conversation with Tracee. 

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Tracee, thank you so much for joining me. How are you doing? 


I’m doing good, Rosie. Thank you. How are you?


Doing well, thank you. Tracee, I know that you are an author, and one of the things that we’re going to talk about is how you manage being in the world, working still, and, of course, being a Black woman and disabled. One of the reasons why I invited you on is because I would like to help those readers who may be finding themselves in the same situation and how you have coped. 


You have a bunch of books that you’ve already written, working full time, doing a lot, and again, being disabled. Those are some of the things that I wanted to start asking you about. Other than the disability, what has been the number one challenge that you have found at work, having that disability? 



The number one challenge is not uniquely necessarily to disability. What I will say is emerging in my late 40s is ageism. Ageism is something that’s a hot-button issue. We’re talking about it so much, and they say you can face ageism as early as 35, which is shocking and sad. Yes, there was a study, a report that said that some people are already looking at you at about 35, and that you’re not your prime.


Your cognitive functioning is a buzzword we’re hearing now in the climate and the political landscape, but certainly that, and sometimes just relating to your other peers, can be a challenge because I think that having a disability since I was two years old when I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. I think that I almost just had more maturity. I had a chronic condition, a lot of doctors and got my first wheelchair in elementary school. Things like that, I feel, put me ahead as far as my ability to handle some of the teenage and prepubescent angst that people face.


In the workplace, it has been about trying to get ahead and get to the next level. Prove myself. I feel like even though I have a disability, those things are still universal, whether you have a disability or not. I would just say it’s different. People, when they go in, they want to raise the intersectionality of who I am, being Black, disabled, a woman, as you say, and even sometimes being overweight can count against you. Also, ageism. That’s five different things that you’re not sure what people are picking to use against you.


I would say that my faith and my dad, being a pastor, he’s deceased now, but those things have given me fortitude and the ability to have a really good outlook and a good attitude. I’ve had it for so long, it’s almost second nature. It’s not as impactful. It’s more about people’s reaction to you. You do what you can and be as optimistic as you can, but you have to say that they’re limiting at the end of the day. Limitations are being placed on you that are not for you to self-absorb and carry around. That’s not your burden to bear.

No Woman Left Behind | Tracee Garner | Disability At Work
Disability At Work: Limitations are being placed on you that are not for you to self-absorb and carry around. That’s not your burden to bear.


Thriving With A Disability

As you said, you’ve been disabled since you were two years old. You’re right, because you had to accelerate, the typical teen things that happened were probably not as critical to you because you weren’t feeling well or you had to be in your wheelchair and all those things. When it comes to your job, how have you been able to cope with the promotions or trying to advance in your career? You have these, as you said, I’m going to call them strikes just so that we can understand them better. Being all of those things is nothing to be ashamed of. They’re not strikes. It’s just life. It’s just the situation that you’re in. How have you received good support? Have you been able to be promoted? Tell me a little bit about that.


Only recently have I felt coming into my own. Even though I think that there were some issues with just performance from my standpoint, only as you mature can you see where you may have fallen short. The other thing I’ll say is that I want people who have like a humorous type of spirit as I do to keep being humorous, to be themselves, and at the same time, realize when the situation doesn’t call for that.


What it is for me, and what I’ve discovered as I get older, is that it is a coping mechanism to tell a joke, to make fun of it, and a little self-deprecating humor. In the eyes of other people, I believe that can sometimes be mistaken for not being serious, not being dedicated or driven. You know that you are, but it’s this jokey spirit sometimes that can pinch you in the butt, honestly, if I’m being honest. I will say that as I’ve matured, as I’ve grown up, every now and then, I’ll hear some recurring things about myself and I’ll be like, “There’s something there.”


I only really discovered this a few years ago, but just not being able to get ahead and not meeting certain milestones began to crystallize for me that you have to play the game. As sad as that is, if you want to be working for the man, there’s nothing wrong with that. One of the things that has happened since the pandemic is people abandoning ships. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m this, I’m that. I’m not beholden to anyone.


Some of us are not willing to admit that even though we’re beholden to others, we can still make a creative individual dent in whatever we’re doing. You can listen to a lot of people say things like Beyonce, like, “Quit your job, you won’t break my soul,” and everything, but at the same time, some of those things are funding the fun stuff, not to mention the healthcare.

“Some of us are not willing to admit that even though we're beholden to others, we can still make a creative individual dent in whatever we're doing.” – Tracee Garner Click To Tweet

I, as a chronically ill person, deal with wheelchairs every five years, a new bed. I need power for the wheelchair, a charger, and a lift, a ceiling lift in the home to transfer from bed to chair, and vice versa, and then caregivers. These things cost a lot of money, and without really good insurance, they are tied to a group of other people who are bringing the cost down. We omit those things we don’t talk about.


A lot of entrepreneurs are out here flying blindly without coverage. We can paint a lot of different things in an illustrious light, but behind the curtain, everything breaks down. We have a forward-facing appearance and we don’t get to see you haven’t been to the doctor, you have a tumor that’s growing in you because you want the entrepreneurial lifestyle.


There is nothing wrong with that, but you need to be able to afford these other things. At the end of the day, I am still an entrepreneur. I have another career in my writing, speaking, and teaching, but I choose to work for the band a little bit longer, or as long as I want, and I like what I’m doing. If you don’t like it, I think that’s fine.


Abandon ship or look for something else, but a lot of broke people out here are talking about entrepreneurship being the most wonderful thing, not talking about the dark nights and not making their mortgage for the month. We do a disservice to each other, just painting, “This is all the rage. Work for yourself, make $1 million.”


In ten years, I’ll struggle. You just have to be honest. You have to be honest about who you are, what you want, and what you need. I got way far away from your original question, but trying to illustrate that If you want to move ahead, you have to be serious. One of my supervisors told me like, “Step up and change a little bit to fit this profile and get to the next level.”


Judgment And Criticism

You said a lot there, and going back to the judgment and the criticism, I don’t know if you saw it. I’m not on TikTok that often, but I did see a TikTok where Julia Roberts was sitting. It was a Saturday morning. She was sitting with her niece, Emma Roberts. Now, obviously, they’re both actresses and Julia had her glasses on and they were playing cards. She had her hair up, and she thought it was really sweet. 


It was a sweet moment. She wanted to post it on social media. She posted it, and she said the hateful comments that she got from so many people saying how ugly she’s aging, that it was a terrible picture. Why would she post it? Secondary to that, the infighting of all the comments. People are fighting with each other. 


She said, “It was one moment that I just wanted to share and give it out there and to the world because I thought it was really sweet and we were just having such a wonderful morning.” People attacked her because of how she looked. When that happens, Tracee, how do you handle those situations, especially in the workplace? How do you handle situations where people see you and can’t relate to you or don’t see your value? How do you deal with that? 


I think it’s really important. Women, especially, are not good at talking about how good they are and men are. There’s nothing wrong with being short, but a man could be 5’2″, have a beer gut, and still think he’s the greatest thing on Earth. He could have a little bit of a musty odor that everyone smells but him and still going around saying, “Baby, hey, how you doing?” Just thinking that someone will respond to even just the things that are speaking for him that he can’t hear.


We need to talk up what we are capable of and what we’ve done. No women that I know make a list of all the wonderful things they bring. It’s in a resume, but it’s still not enough. A resume, they want you to get it down to a page, 1 to 2 pages. If you’re over 30, you can have a little bit more leeway, but we’re not good at painting ourselves and our wonderful attributes in a positive light.

“Women need to talk up what we are capable of, and what we've done.” – Tracee Garner Click To Tweet

We hide. Even when people talk about their books to me. When I’m teaching my writing classes, people will describe their book and say, “It’s not that good, but I wrote this little thing. I think it’s contemporary, but there’s all this other stuff happening.” Just thinking about how that starts, Is this of any interest to me? Are you enticing me to want to buy it or to want to sell it for you and to become an agent or editor for you?


We start with the deprecation at the top, at the very thing we push out as well. “I did this little thing and it’s not a big deal. Don’t get all excited or anything.” We already diffused it. We already made it so terrible that nobody is interested. You have to work on finding the things that you contribute, have done, and are capable of.


The second thing I think most people don’t know is that you have to get some influencers. I’m not talking about social media, but I know that I had one of my positions for as long as I had worked for the man because of what someone else said about me. Even my boss commented one time, “There’s nobody in this town that doesn’t know you.”


I’m thinking like, “Yes. What are they saying about me?” I was thinking internally, and she was saying it positively. I was already going negative. I knew what people had to say about me was good, but I discounted her ability to take it as good. I thought she might want to turn it some way as a detriment, or she’s hard to get along with.


The other thing about me personally is that just as an advocate, you have to rouse people. You can come across as tough and belligerent, but in some cases, when I’m fighting for transportation after 7:00 PM just so people who use wheelchairs can have a quality of life, I am annoyed. I am angry. However, when people can take a step back and you get the transportation extended until 11:00 PM in your city or town, you say, “Who’s the you-know-what now?” You have to put on different personas to get people to be moved.


They’ll then give you an award. I remember taking on something, and it took me years to get this thing that I wanted to get done for myself and for other people with disabilities, and then they turned around and gave me a Tenacity Award. It was like, “Are you serious? Is this happening?” I didn’t know what I was going down there for, but it’s just that people are noticing. See if you can get some former bosses, some people who don’t have the same last name as you, who already love you. People that you actually work for.


People that you work with, your supervisors or whatever, your immediate upper person above you. Try to see if they will first give you advice on what you might do to move ahead because they were once your employer, so they’ll know. Ask them to put in a good word. They don’t even know. They don’t even think that you need it or that you need lifting sometimes, but if you ask and communicate, they will do it for you.


Day-To-Day Of Having A Disability

What is it like having a disability? Talk me through your day-to-day because I don’t have a disability and I don’t have the same purview, which I imagine happens in your workplace. Is it helpful for you to explain to your team and your employer what your day-to-day is like for you, and could you walk us through those logistics? 

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As soon as I get up, if we’ve had a little spat, I never have spats with my caregivers, but I do silently fume inside about, “Why are you late? This is taking a long time. I need to go.” Your ride may be coming for me and they’re coming at a certain time and the meter is running. I can’t tell them, “I need 30 more minutes.” “Okay, that’s $30 more.”


I think I’ve been really good about compartmentalizing some things that happen before I even get where I go in. I try to wipe the slate clean on the ride, listening to music, affirmations, something upbeat in my earbuds, or even prayer or scripture, just something to reset me. People don’t realize that if you have caregivers, you can take on a lot of their baggage.


Some of them have family issues, and some of them have wayward children, as we all do. Some of them have issues that cause them to be late. I have to adopt a sense of empathy for them that they had their reasons for not getting to where they needed to be on time. It’s just a domino. I take that personally for one, and then let it bother me, and then my entire day is going to be messed up.


Sometimes, I don’t always get the things that I want. I wish sometimes caregivers understood their role a little bit more and how important it is. A lot of people, I’m still working. The industry is a lot of older people and people think we don’t have lives. That’s the bottom line. People think that I need a friend when I’m doing the interviews.


I have a friend in Jesus. I don’t need any more friends. Friends are nice, but I need to do this job so I can get on my merry way and go do my job. You have to separate some things. The other thing maybe that’s difficult at work is making lunch or the inaccessible kitchen, bathroom sometimes can be an issue. These are little things. They don’t ruin your whole day, but they’re a logistical nightmare that most able-bodied people don’t think about.


Have you gotten the support that you needed at your place of work then?


Yes. The only thing I would say is that sometimes you can develop really good friendships. I learned another painful lesson about that after a long time of having this one friend who’s so helpful, they may get fired. You need to build relationships with more than just one person, but there’s always someone who’s kind and willing to help.


People are more willing to help than I think most of us give each other credit for. “Can I do that for you?” “Do you need help with that?” “Would you like me to fix this?” “Would you say if you wouldn’t mind?” Maybe during the holidays, you can remember them with a little gift card or something, “I appreciate you helping me every day with my lunch.”


You don’t always have to do that because that’s what a friend would do for free. It’s just a gesture to say, “I see you, thank you. You don’t have to, but I’m so glad that you do.” Sometimes, building relationships is hard just to have that friend thing. You would do anything for your friends. Sometimes, the workplace can be a no friends here zone. These are work colleagues. A lot of people have had rude reckonings at work about someone being a friend when no, they’re just a colleague.



Now you talk about having influences in your life. What have been the main influences in your life that have allowed you to be so optimistic? Your family, growing up, knew that you had this disability. They see you with all these challenges, and yet you still stay so optimistic. You’re an author on top of it, which we’ll talk about next. Tell me a little bit about those influences in your life.


We have this saying in my house, my mom and my dad, “If you can’t fold a towel, fold a washcloth.” That was just a little illustration of when I was younger, I had to fold these big towels and I hated it. I wanted to get out of it. I think it wasn’t that I really couldn’t do it. Instead of giving me a pass and saying, “That’s too hard for you, honey. Okay, never mind.”


So many parents do to this day. You just totally withdraw it. You take it off the table, meaning no work, chores, and sometimes family participation. Just sit down and we’ll serve and cater to you all day long. That can cause even sibling animosity sometimes. My parents never did that. I remember complaining about the towels and how big they were. My mom went and got a big laundry basket full of washcloths.


I became the washcloth lady. They’re nice and small. They were easy on my hands. I could fold it on my lap into a little square. It was just that one little thing that I’ll never forget that says you’re going to participate here in some way. We’re going to make adaptations. We’ll give you some concessions. Even when I say that I have a disability to my mom or anybody in my family, they will say, “Really? Where?” They start looking around. I will just admit that it is a losing battle. I don’t know why I keep trying.


Those little things that they did, never making me feel like I couldn’t participate in something or that I should get a pass because of my disability, were really important. I don’t want to make blanket statements, but so many of parents nowadays are like, “He can’t do that or she can’t do that.” Instead of saying, “We’re going to fix it, we’re going to get some duct tape, I’m going to sew this so that they can wear it, do whatever you have to do,” because that person will always have more dignity.


They’ll always find ways to adapt themselves and you adapt for them until they’re about ten and then they start getting creative and thinking of ways. I’ve made so many adaptations in my own life to this and that. Even to stir a pot, I cut off a sock toe and put it on my sleeve as a little thing to keep my arm from getting burnt. These are just little things that you think of because you have to and because your parents started you off.


That advocacy thing was because my big African American dad at the time would come down to the school and tell the ladies, the teachers, mostly White teachers, mostly White women, “This is what she’s going to do. This is what her IEP needs to say. She does this at home. She can do it here. Stop believing her when she tells you she can’t.”


Just really putting this foot down and speaking up for me because I would go to school and be one person and come home and have to work. Going to school was like, “I get time off. These people don’t know I can do anything.” That’s the contrast. You have to lay the foundation of you’re going to be here, you’re going to participate, and you’re going to do chores. They’ll be on the level that you can handle, but you don’t get an outright, “No, you don’t have to just go watch cartoons. Mommy and Daddy will do everything.”


I have to say kudos to your parents for saying you are still going to be responsible for chores and things like that because you’re right. A lot of parents would say nowadays, “You don’t have to do anything. You’re disabled.” That’s wonderful that he’d come to the school, although he called you out. 


Basically, and I’m thankful for it now. I hated it then, but when you get to be an adult, you realize, I have a lot of friends that have died in their 30s. I think that some of that is just from lack of activity, honestly, not having passion and purpose, and just wasting away. Some friends would say that is not the greatest view, but I still believe it.


I still believe in upper respiratory problems and breathing, and I wish I still had to do more. I wish I had kept swimming and doing adaptive recreation, especially as I get older and get heavier sometimes in some years. I know keeping those things and having my writing as a passion project. Look at Stephen Hawking. He could not move anything but almost his eyes with the technology that they follow on the computer, to type out things and to use his communication device. I believe that because he was so purposeful and his mind was so great, he was able to extend his life and live much longer than if he hadn’t done anything. Obviously, somebody took time to teach him as a child and to give him a love of physics and different kinds of science.


Bestselling Author

I know that you’re an author, and tell me how many books do you have now? 




Twenty books were written. That’s incredible. I believe they’re primarily romance novels. 


Primarily, yes. 


You said you had a passion. Just backtracking a second, the same thing happens to people when they retire as far as they stay sedentary or don’t move as much. They’re not as busy. They’re not as creative. A lot of people are dying younger. Now, people are living longer, but for people who don’t intentionally have a purpose or who are out there active, the same thing happens to them. That makes sense. Back to your authorship. When did you decide to become an author? You said it was a passion project and you’re still doing it. You’re working, you’re teaching, you’re an author and you’re a speaker. How does that all fit together, Tracee? 


I mostly write on the nights and weekends. I teach two classes two nights a week, and they’re anywhere from a few months to eight months, so it’s not the whole year. What happened is I fell into writing. It wasn’t something that I thought I would be doing. It happened when I was failing my academics. I got a bad grade in math for liberal arts. I hate math. Although I’m getting better at it in my ripe old age of 40-plus, but I just could not pass that. I prayed. One night, I was crying, “I don’t think school is for me. I don’t know if I’m going to pass. What if I don’t? I need something else.”


I prayed and asked for something else. I saw this online contest being hosted by a reputable publisher, and the grand prize was a $500 advance, a book deal, a trip to New York, and an award. I won and got my trip to New York and they paid for me and my mom and dad to go. I was walking around the streets of New York when I was twenty-something. It was amazing.


It was because of not only the math but also rejection by someone that I liked who wasn’t open to dating someone who used a wheelchair. Even though that was many years ago, I thought I’d write a couple of books and be done, but the passion just kept coming. The books kept coming. I kept finishing them.


I would read them and say, “This is pretty good.” I would get excited about my work, and I just kept submitting and releasing. Also, self-publishing is wonderful. Even though I had a traditional book deal for my first few books, another realization is that you can self-publish and don’t have any gatekeepers. There will be people who tell me that my writing is not good enough. It was good enough to win this contest and good enough to be published. You have people who say, “Only certain people are going to get into this industry.” It’s so wonderful to be able to chart your course. Self-publishing has turned into something that so many authors can do and do well and still have a place in the market and still make a lucrative career out of it.

No Woman Left Behind | Tracee Garner | Disability At Work
Disability At Work: It’s so wonderful to be able to chart your course.


I’ll probably never stop writing. I’ll probably be doing that as long as I can and I love it. It helped me to process as a twenty-something-year-old college student. That was another place. K through 12 was fine. I’m optimistic. Everything’s wonderful and then you get into college and you get to swim with the big boys. It’s just a whole different experience that I didn’t feel supported. Getting around campus was hard, toting books.


I needed a tutor for some subjects, and I would go to a really large university here in Virginia. I then went to community college because I got a D. I got placed on academic probation. Community college was the most wonderful thing. That’s where I wrote my book. It was in that four-year degree program, and then I went back to the big school and finished.


Just that smaller, more intimate, and feeling like people care. You weren’t just a student of 400 in a class and your professor’s this teeny tiny dot while you’re at the back of the classroom, or just trying to keep up and trying to understand. I wrote poetry first and I was in my campus literary magazine. I started writing longer, and when I saw the contest, I hurried up and got my novella done and sent it off. The rest is history. Processing those feelings of rejection put all that into my characters and still do so that they can get there happily ever after.


Tracee, I’m curious, are you physically writing the books? What is your process to write your whole book? 


I mostly type as much as I can. Sometimes, I can get to 350 pages just by typing. As I have become a little bit weaker because muscular dystrophy is a degenerative muscle disease that makes your muscles weaker over time, I’m using dictation more. You do not have to have any fancy software. I don’t have Dragon. I just use Google Docs or your regular Microsoft Word document that has a microphone where you can do dictation.


Even at night, when I can’t sleep, I’ll pull out my phone, I’ll send myself an email, hit the microphone button and just start talking. When I get up, I send it to myself and get up and copy and paste it into my main manuscript. The dictation, in 30 minutes, I can write 2,000 words or I can speak 2,000 words. That’s the only way and then writing sprints. You need community as a writer and any profession, get among other people.


Writing sprints: We write for 25 minutes, and we have a 5-minute break where we can talk about anything, about how we’re doing, and what the word count is if you want to share it. You write again for another 25 minutes. I usually do it towards the end of my books just so I can get it done and have that energy and that synergy of other writers doing the same thing.


I’m curious about that. Are those writing sprints like a paid subscription? Are they free? Do you just do it with friends and family? How do you do that? 


They are everywhere. In fact, ProWritingAid is having a 24-hour writing sprint. Someone will just come on and host it for like an hour or two hours and then they’ll just have rotating people to come and they’ll talk to you a little bit. Sometimes, I host them myself on Zoom with other writer friends. There are so many. You can find them on X, Facebook, and Instagram.


There’s some on Clubhouse, a lot of authors who run them themselves. They’re going to be writing anyway. They just invited friends, and I did that when I did a week-long writing challenge. I had a nightly session. You can join almost any of them. You can even use YouTube. You don’t have to have a live person. Many YouTubers have filmed themselves with other groups in a Zoom room, and you just start, and you write with them and pretend that you know them, hear their stories, and hear them talk about themselves during the break, and then you write some more. You can use your device, too. I won’t call mine her name out loud right now, but you can tell her to set a timer for you, and you can just go for it. You can do it by yourself but with a group, which is so great because you just feel more motivated.


Tracee, you’ve given us a lot of amazing information. I hope that anybody who has a disability feels seen and heard, and that’s why I wanted to have this conversation because I want to make sure that all women, disabled or abled body to be seen and heard. If there’s one takeaway from our conversation that you want to lead the readers with, what would that one takeaway be? 


My one takeaway would probably be to try to find something that gives you the most joy. When I did the contest, I felt validated and seen. That helped all my grades get better because I found something that I was good at. For the women reading who have children, help them try everything. Give them a buffet of options to try in life so they can find that one thing that they’re going to love for the rest of their life. It’s really important. People are stuck in situations and careers and jobs that they hate, and you just need to keep trying a lot of different things to find your one thing.


One thing that I’m going to add to that, too, as parents, especially with children, don’t solve all their problems for them. I think your parents were good at making you solve some of the problems that you could because, in this day and age, helicopter parenting tends to be like, “I’ll do everything for you.” There isn’t that critical thinking that develops throughout time so that when you go into the workforce, you’re walking in confidence. That is all fantastic advice. Tracee, thank you so much for being on our show. This was a wonderful conversation. Thank you for your time. 


Thank you, Rosie.

Tracee is the absolute epitome of resilience and adaptability. In spite of her disability, her race, and her gender, she finds joy in life. Her key takeaway was for you to try a variety of things until you find the one thing that you love. She also mentioned that for the readers who have young children out there, help them go through a buffet of options so that they, too, can find what they love in life. If you haven’t done so already, remember to check out the Promotion Readiness Checklist, or if you want to go a little deeper, check out the Unlock the Leader Within membership. With that, remember to be brave, be bold, and take action.                                                                    


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About Tracee Garner

No Woman Left Behind | Tracee Garner | Disability At WorkTracee Lydia Garner is an international best-selling author of 20 books, a motivating speaker, humorous writer and book coach, as well as an advocate for people with disabilities. Tracee writes fiction and nonfiction depicting African Americans triumphing over adversity and meeting success, whether that be in love or life pursuits and her many aspiring-now published authors that she coaches through the publication process. Tracee loves public speaking, teaching workshops, and talking about the craft of writing at every opportunity. She holds a BS in Communications and resides outside the DC metropolitan area with her family.