Thank you, Tracie, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. I've been a big fan of your books for years, and I can't wait to read your new series of books based in Montana, my home state.
Q. Tracie, please tell us a little about yourself and your life.
I'm a Christian, wife of nearly 25 years to Jim, mother of 3 really terrific kids (2 grown daughters - 1 son still at home), writer, and managing editor of Peterson Ink, Inc. I have published seventy books, most are still in print in some form, and most appear on the bestseller list for CBA (Christian Booksellers Association). I write both fiction and nonfiction, historical and contemporary. Writing for me is a ministry and calling that I believe God has laid on my heart. I love to share the Gospel message with readers in this non-preachy manner. I also love to share Biblical application through the lives of my fictional characters.
We moved to Montana nearly 4 years ago after coming through this area on a research trip. I knew I wanted to write about the state after seeing it for the first time. I currently have a four book series out called HEIRS OF MONTANA. Book one LAND OF MY HEART picks up Montana history in 1863 showing some of the Virginia City and gold rush history. Book 2 THE COMING STORM deals with some of the various conflicts around the state, including the Indian wars. Book 3 TO DREAM ANEW continues to show examples of growth and development, The Battle of Little Bighorn and the struggles of living on the frontier. Book 4, due out in March 2005 is titled THE HOPE WITHIN and touches on the blizzard of 1886-87 and the continued trials and conflicts of the characters. The series has proven to be very popular with readers from all over the country.
Q. Where do you get your ideas for writing a book?
My ideas come from life. I read a lot of history and see snippets of things here and there, events that took place in which I know I could put characters and stir stories. I believe my imagination is a gift from God, and that by becoming an observer of all that is going on around me, I have an unlimited supply of ideas for stories.
Q. What kind of research did you do for your Heirs of Montana series?
First, we moved here. It's important to me to get a feel for the location so we traveled to the areas that I wrote about, took photographs, video and tried to pay close attention to all kinds of things like lighting, landscape, vegetation, indigenous animals, etc. Second, I read numerous books on the history of Montana, as well as talked to a lot of people. I interviewed with ranchers, farmers and others whose family had been in the state for multiple generations. I also talked with historians and other experts in a variety of areas regarding history, ranching, weather, Native Americans, farming and transportation. We try to keep our books as accurate as possible while still developing fictional stories, however, once in a while we do mess up and quote something wrong. We try hard, however, to keep that from happening, because the history is very important to story.
Q. I noticed you co-write with other authors. What’s the procedure? Did you contact them, or the other way around?
It's worked both ways actually. I have approached authors to write with me, and I have been approached by the author and publisher on other occasions. The procedure usually goes that one or the other has the idea for the series. We sit down and put together a synopsis of the stories we have in mind. The bulk of the research and writing generally falls on the shoulders of the first draft writer, with the co-author coming in afterwards to do rewrites, touch-ups, developing and fleshing out flat characters or scenes and even writing entire sections that they feel they have a stronger background or understanding for. Once both authors have a chance to go over the material we generally submit it to the publisher. It can be a lot of fun when you're really in tune with each other, and two sets of eyes are always better when it comes to catching mistakes and problems. :)
Q. What's the best advice for getting your first novel out to the public?
Word of mouth. I find that getting individuals excited about your work, and in turn getting them to share their excitement with other people is a wonderful way to get the book sold.
Q. Should a first time author of a novel get an agent? What's the procedure?
In this day and age most every publishing house is requiring agented authors. There are still a few that don't have this requirement, but it's rare. I think authors should attend writer's conferences and meet agents one-on-one and decide if the personalities fit. Being an agent is an important position for someone to have in the life of an author and it's vital that both people feel comfortable and happy with the relationship.
Q. What do you think about self-publishing?
I'd advise authors to be very cautious of self-publishing. It can be a wonderful experience, or a horror story. For example, I met a woman recently who had nearly $50,000 tied up in her self publishing experience only to realize that not one of her books had ever been copy edited. Now she's stuck with hundreds of unedited books that she isn't comfortable showing to her best friends, much less the buying public. Situations like this can really leave the author with a bad reputation and should be avoided at all costs. If self-publishing turns out to be the way to go for your book (for instance if you have a very narrow topic and travel around speaking on the matter and can sell books there) make sure you check with the publisher and learn if they have quality copy editors and proofers, content readers, typeset proofers, etc. Get a real feel for the production and find out what will actually be done to ensure you book is of the utmost quality.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Telling a good story that people can relate to today. Stories must touch the heart of the reader, give them hope, something to think about, maybe even dream on. I want people to come away from one of my stories with their hearts uplifted and their spirits refreshed in the Lord.
Q. How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I have a character sheet with about 100 questions I use to get to know my characters. I plot out each of my books using research and I don't begin a book until I have a detailed chapter synopsis. This acts as a road map for my writing. If I want to take a different road, I can, but the synopsis gives me a general feel and direction for where the story needs to go.
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
I'm inspired by many. God is my constant inspiration. My writing, as said before, is a ministry and I feel His calling in all that I do. My family is an inspiration--without their love and support, none of this would be possible. I'm inspired by friends--both those who write and those who do any number of other things. Lastly, I'm inspired by life and history itself. I love to retell the stories of old--to weave in the events of our ancestors for people to ponder and reflect on, and perhaps find their own inspiration.
Q. What kind of questions do you have on your character sheet? Do you ever use real people for your characters?
I sometimes base characters off of people I know, but usually keep them fictional. I have a list of 100 questions I ask about my characters to help me better know them. The questions are things like the obvious birthday/age, hair and eye color, etc. But they also include things like: childhood experiences that forever changed the character, fondest wish, deepest fear, spiritual foundation, phobias, what would the character see as the "perfect day", what does the character hate about themselves, are the character's parents living, do they have siblings, etc.
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
I'm always working on several projects at one time. Right now I'm working on a short story for one publisher, a new historical series set in Alaska for another, and a nonfiction collaboration.
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
Pray, read and don't be afraid or too prideful to admit you can always learn something. I've been writing full time for 5 years and part-time for over 10, and I'm still learning.
Q. What would you like our readers to know about you?
That my heart is for them to read my books and come away with a stronger love of God.
Q. Any last comments or advice?
Trust God to direct and never give up on your dreams. In high school I knew I wanted to write, but when it came to applying for creative writing class, I didn't make the cut. The teacher said I didn't show enough imagination or talent in this area. But the desires to write never left me, and God directed my steps to bring me to this place in my life. He always has a plan.