On Publishing My Debut Novel, A Smoke Stained Cab

With A Smoke Stained Cab, my debut novel, I’m learning there is no relief in simply being seen. It’s not enough for my book to be published—the reader needs to be understood. I want my reader to know that their fear is both real and the solution. The bravery in these student encampments is not outshone by the images of them being destroyed. I want my book to be a tool for those unsure of the reality these students are being projected into, one that middle-class America built as a method to overlook their privilege. There’s nothing left to invest in if we lose art, because no one wants to listen. There needs to be constant work in order to keep a space for those who want to push back against white supremacy. Any that exists is then taken down like a professor at a student protest. The reality has become so harsh that people are left to hole up in their own mind. But the coping strategy of delulu isn’t meant to be permanent. In its place, I offer the reader magical realism. As those of us who want to push back, are left to create messaging to each other within the corporate vacuum.

That’s where I found the need for these stories. To show the level of violence we’ve allowed ourselves to live amongst, biases that continued to get reinforced during Covid. Artists were no longer asked about their inspiration but told about their marketability. As a writer starting out, it became clear that I didn’t qualify and kept with my dissent during the rise of presses that stood for white supremacy. After all, the messaging was clear, get on board or get pushed down the algorithm. I watched as the industry closed ranks around the voices who they felt spoke for them. I watched with horror as indie presses began to close shop. Saddened, I stood amongst the handful of BLM protestors in Aix-en-Provence. After all, there will always be people seeking an explanation. It was clear, there’s still work to be done.

cover for A Smoke Stained Cab
A Smoke Stained Cab by Trista Hurley-Waxali

My parents prioritized dissent after my father was told he couldn’t keep his name. He never wanted me to forget who I am in a world that demanded being defined against whiteness. As a teen, I thought I stood for everyone who wanted out of the monarch mentality. Only to realize that power came from privilege and there were too many industries invested in keeping that aligned with suppression. I rebelled by continuing to write and walked the path of rejection. For acceptance in this climate isn’t truth, it’s placating to peace. Their hope is that we stop being angry, that they’ve pushed down all our mechanisms to cope. To turn our media into their idea of discussion. To keep the rhetoric white. I refuse.

Moving back to California was always part of the plan, I just wanted the conditions to be more in our favor. A delusion I created to soothe myself after 2017, when we were told our visa wasn’t going to renew in the new administration. There’s so much inherent violence in the process too, our ability to reside is held against the risk of getting caught protesting on the street. In an instant, I could be sent back to a place I haven’t lived in for 13 years. For being an immigrant in America means a constant internal hostage to reason.

The culture shock was felt coming from France. For intimidation doesn’t stop at the police being armed but rather the sight of someone’s father being thrown against the wall. There’s a brazenness of brutality within San Francisco, to where it’s common to see a group of financial bros crowding the street after an assault on a black man. My heart has become tuned for the sounds of a plea from the loved one to get heard by these monsters. The police only stop when they’re caught with enough shame.

Today people use AI software for apology emails because doing the right thing isn’t profitable for humans to engage. Tech companies continue to use villains for data points and bad business initiatives for parody. Enough is enough. And like anything online, buy my book. Why not? It can’t be worse than that thing you’ve already bought from Amazon. Plus it’s indie publishing! One of the few areas that still harbors your ideals about community.

I hope to begin the momentum of redefining what it takes to get a book published. To show the same effort of those who: built the stage, stitched the costumes and tuned the piano. We can’t continue to limit the creative mind to our youth and then smother it in age. There is no legacy outside joy, there will only be the depth of scars. We deserve better than this, to give ourselves clarity.

When Chiwan approached me with the idea for a newsletter for this manuscript, I listened. We agreed the stories were connected by tone but not necessarily meant to remain together. Other editors made it clear to me that they wanted continuity for the reader to invest in the lump sum for a book, where I felt that readers could decide which piece to read at their leisure. I never wanted to pressure the reader with a start and an end page, rather a continuation of thought. Chiwan had that vision and promised continuity with each chapter’s banner. Whereby the contract felt like the ribbon tying up the bouquet. A softness that the publishing world wasn’t giving at the time.


Order A Smoke Stained Cab from Writ Large Projects and receive an installment on Mondays for 8 weeks.

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