Monday, September 09, 2013

Nashville Authors Series: Tracy Barrett

I have the great fortune of living in Nashville, Tennessee. There are many things to enjoy about this city, but as a librarian, one of the things I love the most is the literary scene we've got going on down here. There's Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books, the awesome public library, and a wonderful Southern Festival of Books to look forward to every October. 

As far as Young Adult authors are concerned, we have an embarrassment of riches here in Nashville, and I wanted to do a blog series to draw attention to their work.

First up is Tracy Barrett, whose book DARK OF THE MOON was my historical fiction pick for my genre reading challenge (which I am still keeping up with even though I haven't been blogging about it).  Some of her other titles include ANNA OF BYZANTIUM, KING OF ITHAKA, and THE SHERLOCK FILES. 

Here Tracy talks about her work and why she loves Nashville.

Are you from Nashville originally? If not, what drew you here?

I grew up in New York State, lived in Illinois for three years, went to college in New England, and went to grad school in California! While I was in grad school I did some skydiving and met a handsome skydiver from Nashville. We got married and moved here "temporarily" thirty years ago. I had never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line before but I fell in love with Tennessee and we've been here ever since.

How has Nashville's literary community developed over the years?

I think there's always been a terrific literary community here, but outsiders didn't know about it. When I first came here, the Southern Festival of Books was only a few years old, and I've watched it grow into one of the most important book festivals in the country. And then when our wonderful bookstore, Parnassus, got so much media attention, people started recognizing what a book-loving city we have.Social media has made writers and illustrators able to connect with one another more easily, and I've gotten to know some wonderful people that way that otherwise I might not have met (I'm talking about you, Angela!).

What is the best thing about Nashville's authors and illustrators?

Literary people are so supportive--we swap news about what editor is looking for what kind of work, which helps our friends connect with someone who might want to publish their kind of work; we recommend our friends to our agents; we match up aspiring authors with people who can help them polish their writing. Nashville keeps getting on lists of "Friendliest Cities in the US" and that's true with the writers who live here too.Nashville also has a very active chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the largest writers' organization in the US (and we think in the world, although that's hard to figure out). I love going to the Midsouth SCBWI conference every fall--it's like going back to summer camp, where you see friends you haven't seen for a year, but it's like it was just yesterday, and everyone's excited about the same things and eager to learn and have fun.

What do you love the most about living in Nashville? 

The pace of the city is just right for me--not too fast, not too slow. I love all the new restaurants. In the summer I love the amazing produce we can get. I love the seasons--spring and fall last so long. But most of all, it's the people. Nashvilleans are terrific!

You write a lot of historical fiction. What is it that excites you about that genre? 

I've always wished for a time-travel machine, and if I had one I'd definitely go back in time, not forward. But until someone invents one, historical fiction is the best way to experience the past. I read a lot of nonfiction and enjoy it, but I like when an author really does her research and writes a novel speculating about what life in the past must really have been like--not just the historical details, although they're fascinating, but how it must have felt to live in medieval England or ancient Greece or feudal Japan or pre-Columbian Mexico. What did people eat? How did they worship? What games did they play? How did parents treat their children? A good historical novel will make you feel like you are really living in a different time and place, just like a time-travel machine.

Which historical or mythological characters would like to write about in the future?

Right now I'm fascinated by fairy tales. There's a reason there are so many retellings of the classic fairy tales: the stories are wonderful, but they're all plot. There's no character development; this character is good just because she's good, that one is evil just because she's evil. They don't grow and change. Sometimes they learn a lesson, like Beauty figuring out that you can love someone who isn't good-looking, but she's still the same Beauty at the end as she was at the beginning. For me, figuring out why someone is the way she is, and seeing how she grows and changes through the story--that's the fun part. My next book (The Stepsister's Tale, to be published by Harlequin Teen in 2014) is a Cinderella retelling in which Cinderella isn't good and virtuous all the way through, and the stepsisters aren't evil. They're all just trying to figure out how to live in a blended family with different ways of life and expectations.

Which of your books seem to resonate the most with your readers?

My best-seller is Anna of Byzantium, and that's also the one I hear from most readers about. I think people like The 100-Year-Old Secret too, maybe because it's a mixture of contemporary with historical, in that the detectives are trying to solve crimes committed a century earlier.