I got to talk to Tracy about writing and fairy tales and mythological creatures.
me: Tracy, what do you love most about writing books for young adults?
Tracy: Most of my books seem to fall right on the cusp of middle-grade and YA, although I do have some books that are solidly MG and some that are solidly YA. I find early adolescence so interesting; it’s when people really come into their own. It’s when friendships are based more on who we are than on what we like to do—two little kids who like unicorns will say they’re friends because they play unicorns together; when they get older they might gravitate towards friends with whom they have something more fundamental in common. Early teens start questioning assumptions they’ve grown up with and develop their own sense of right and wrong. I’m drawn to that questioning, that introspection, when they’re new and potentially threatening.
me: You've written about fairy tales and mythological creatures ... if you had the choice, which world would you live in? What creature would you like to be?
Tracy: If I had to live in the past, I’d definitely choose a fantasy of one kind or another, either mythology or fairy tales! I’ve learned too much about the past to find any time before the modern era appealing. The lack of sanitation, of medical care, of any idea of personal liberty, especially for women—forget it! So if I could choose a fantasy world, I think I’d take the mythological world of the ancient Greeks. Really awful things happen in myths (and in fairy tales) but in a lot of them, people seem to be having a lot of fun. There’s not much fun in fairy tales.
me: Ugh, the lack of liberty for women -- that is so true!! Makes me happy I don't live in a world created by George RR Martin. I was reading your website and love what you said about ideas being like sticks you can rub together and maybe, get a fire. What were the two sticks in your latest story?
Tracy: I love that, too. It’s wisdom I got from the great Newbery-winning author Sid Fleishman. In The Stepsister’s Tale, I started with just one “stick”—“What if Cinderella’s situation wasn’t as bad as she says? What if it’s just a typical blended-family story where the stepkid thinks that everyone’s mean to her and she has to do all the work? As I wrote and explored that idea (I’m almost 100% a pantser; the story comes to me as I write), the other “stick” turned out to be the danger of not facing reality and the harm that can come to people who refuse to see the world and their lives as they are.
me: What you said about the danger of not facing reality really resonated with me. Because my stories are realistic contemporaries, I really loved the classroom activities for teachers I found on your website. Can you tell us how you developed these materials?
Tracy: Teachers and librarians are crucial for writers of historical fiction, because while fans of HF are fiercely loyal, there aren’t many of them, especially when compared with fans of paranormal, dystopia, problem novels—the big genres for YA and MG. So it’s important for those of us who write HF to reach out to educators and try to show them how they can use our books. I’ve been lucky that some teachers have written those materials. My publicist came up with some great activities based on The Stepsister’s Tale. Others I wrote myself, and it’s hard for someone who’s not a classroom teacher to do! I had the help of teacher friends when I wrote and revised them and they’ve been downloaded lots of times, so I hope they’ve been helpful!
Thanks for chatting with me, Tracy! I look forward to reading The Stepsister's Tale.