Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, most recently Dark of the Moon and The Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). Tracy was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Regional Advisor for the Midsouth from 1999 to 2009 and is currently SCBWI’s US Regional Advisor Coordinator. She was awarded the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005. She lives in Nashville, TN, where she teaches (for just one more year!) at Vanderbilt University. For more information, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Do you begin with character or plot?
I begin with a question, usually about a character. For example, in King of Ithaka, I saw that Margaret Atwood had written a book about Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, whose long voyage home from the Trojan War is told in Homer’s Odyssey. I thought, “Huh! I wonder what Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, was up to all that time?” The absentee father is a problem that many kids grapple with today, but that isn’t new. It goes way back, at least to Iron Age Greece, when the Odyssey was composed.
For Dark of the Moon, my question was about Ariadne, the sister of the Minotaur. She betrayed her brother for the love of someone she hardly knew. This struck me as a weak plot-point in the myth, and I wondered if there might be more to the story than that.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I’m researching the city of Pompeii and what life was like there around the time that Mt. Vesuvius erupted (in 79 A.D.). I’d like to write a novel set against that background.
What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend?
I learned that Dark of the Moon got a starred review from the hard-to-please Kirkus Reviews! See here for the review.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Sharon Creech says that after she won a Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons, she worried that she didn’t write the way all the teachers and books and magazines tell you a successful writer should. She called her agent, all worried, and her agent said, “Sharon, your process is your process—honor it.”
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
Seat-of-the-pantser, definitely. The few times I’ve outlined (mostly because I was required to, for one reason or another), the actual writing has felt like homework. I love discovering things as I write, and often the work takes off in unexpected directions. Sometimes that leads me down a dead end, but more often it takes me to a better place than I had originally thought of.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
A view of Romeout the window. I even know what neighborhood in Rome I want to live and work in.
How long do you take to write a book?
It’s hard to tell. For now, I also have a day job, and so I fit my writing in around that. A year and a half, maybe, but the one I’m working on now that’s set in Pompeii has been around in one form or another for six or seven years.