Christian Author, Tracy Groot lives near Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she was born and raised. Besides books, chess, good coffee and baked goodies, Tracy also loves the woods, backpacking, the open sky and adventure. She lives in a predominantly male household with her husband Jack, three sons, Evan, Grayson, and Riley, and Murphy, their Jack Russell. Tracy loves travelling and researching for books. Tracy’s novel, Madman, won a Christy Award in the Historical Fiction category for 2007.
TRACY: Eight. I started stories and didn’t finish them, once I realized an ending was required. I was in my late twenties when I got serious about it, and finally wrote something with an ending.
MARION: Did you know you’d be a writer when you grew up?
TRACY: Either that or a missionary, which is interesting because I had no idea what a missionary was. Just sounded cool.
MARION: Something happened to you one day on the way to college. Tell us about that and how it affected your writing?
TRACY: I became a Christian at the age of 16, and had a freaky Abraham-sacrifice-Isaac idea that I had to slap the writing on the altar and kill it dead for some sort of swap with God for this new life I loved. So I got rid of the gift (or thought I did), ditched the idea of college, and settled in with a job as an Accounts Payable clerk until I finally discovered that God actually gave me the gift to write, and I didn’t have to kill it, because it’s rude to kill a gift.
MARION: How did you land a job writing radio commercials?
TRACY: I worked in Accounts Payable in a big automotive corporation, and had more fun with office memos than invoices. I saved the memos and used them later when asked for my portfolio.
MARION: Your first two books published were young adult novels in a series called, Casey and the Classifieds. How did you sell these two books?
TRACY: I signed up for a consultation with an editor at a local writer’s conference, the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing. Along with the first two highly polished chapters and synopsis, I instinctively brought to the meeting what the editor told me later was a “pitch line.” I said, (and I think I even framed the words with my hands, like a director): “Picture this: Nancy Drew with an attitude.” The editor told me in later years that the line became textbook, and he actually taught it in a writing class. So pitch line, people, pitch line. Bring the definition of your book down to one succinct sentence that will put the picture right in the editor’s head. They’ll think you’re a rock star. Or at least, they’ll think you know what you’re doing. No one has to know otherwise.
MARION: You wrote a play, Consider it Joy, about James, the brother of Jesus, which you turned into a novel. The book sold as The Brother’s Keeper. Both this book and the sequel, Stones of My Accusers, got starred Booklist reviews. Your third historical novel, Madman, got a starred Publishers Weekly review and a Christy Award for historical fiction. All three of these books were set in Palestine during Jesus’ lifetime. What inspired you to write stories set in this era?
TRACY: I have no idea.
MARION: Tracy, I just loved the twist you brought to the tale midway through Madman – the winner of your book giveaway is in for a treat. Please tell the readers what Madman is about?
TRACY: Madman is a story about the Gerasene Demoniac, the one told about in the gospel of Mark, from whom Jesus drove the legion of demons into the pigs. To me, it’s one of the greatest love stories in the Bible. Kardus wasn’t even Jewish. Jesus crossed the sea for one tormented, misery-filled man, locked away in hellish isolation, all hope for deliverance non-existent. But I’m digressing…the book is a story about the demoniac, told from the points of view from his family, colleagues, and strangers.
MARION: If there is a way into madness, logic says there is a way out. Logic says. (Quoted from Madman). You successfully take the reader into the mind of the Gerasene demoniac. Was any special research required to accomplish this?
TRACY: I had an idea that if I didn’t tell his story truthfully enough, Kardus would deck me when I got to heaven. I had to fully understand what it was like to be demon possessed. Now, I’m in to certain forms of experiential research, but not this time. Instead, I prayed for God to lead me to people who had been possessed, so that I could interview them and do my best to understand what possession was all about. God provided many people to talk to, and many books to read, and I came to a pretty fair understanding of this heartbreaking state. In fact, I’ve received email from formerly possessed people who have asked, “How did you know? Were you possessed?” It wasn’t an easy topic to research. But Barry Moser once said, when I asked him how to go to painful places to get the goods and bring it back to my work, “You can’t be a coward; you have to go to the heart of darkness.” And Paul Mariani, who was with him, added, “And Jesus will meet you there.” I have found it to be so. I can’t be a coward when it comes to researching hard things. I have to go the heart of darkness, if need be, and take courage knowing that Jesus waits for me beside those hard places, like the safety and comfort that he is.
MARION: What are you currently working on?
TRACY: Well, I was working on a period book about Jonah. Now it looks like I’m working on a contemporary book about Jonah. Same theme, different century.
MARION: Tracy, you confess to being obsessively compulsive about research. Tell us about the crazy research you did for Jonah.
TRACY: I wanted to know what it was like to be thrown off a ship at full sail into the Mediterranean. So I went and did it. The salt was a surprise, since I live in Michigan near the Great Lakes and I’m used to fresh water. It cleared my sinuses in a most distracting way, when I’m trying my best to simulate drowning and take mental notes like a court stenographer hopped up on caffeine and Krispy Kremes. Yes, it was quite an adventure, and the captain I hired thought I was nuts. So did his crew. It was great. Not that it gave Americans a great name, they think we’re all insane writers who want to throw ourselves off full-sail ships.
MARION: Do you ever struggle with writer's block?
TRACY: Yes, it can be quite aggravating, but it can also be your shining best friend. I consider it a very vital part of the writing process. Writer’s block is simply your gut telling you that you haven’t fed the compost heap enough information to draw upon, thereby risking any number of things: weak description, weak characterization, weak motive, and worst of all, weak direction. If you don’t have a good gut-instinct direction for the story, you’ll end up taking it where it should not go; the danger is getting attached to new characters you may meet, when maybe you shouldn’t have met those characters at all. You may end up with a painful pile of massive rewrite on your hands, stuff you get attached to that you’ll later have to cut, when writer’s block could have served you if you had allowed yourself to sit with the pain and go where it was leading. Writer’s block can demand far more than you are currently giving, and will send you mercilessly back to the drawing board to figure out what the problem is. I don’t think people are willing to do this, much. They fear sitting with the frustration, they fear thinking it through; they fear the block is some indictment on their story or their writing, when the opposite is true; the block is an ally. I sometimes go for long walks to puzzle things out. That’s where writer’s block sometimes sends me. Or I’ll get out a huge dry erase board and start writing down why I’m feeling frustrated. Sometimes I’ll interview my characters. Nothing like a good Q and A with your characters to find out surprising things. This is not some esoteric exercise, it really works. Bottom line, put writer’s block to work for you by asking what it requires. It may be something as blissfully simple as better description for a delivery truck. Once you see it in your head, you can get it to the page and that one single thing could unlock it all. (I’ve done workshops on writer’s block, you can see I’m pretty passionate about it because there’s beefy type on top of this sentence. It’s a great topic.) One time all I could see in my head was flitting lightening arcs; turned out it was not evidence of a hallucinogen, it was exactly what I was supposed to be seeing. I’d just never seen it before. So I wrote it, I wrote exactly what I saw and what the lightening arcs were doing and man, what a scene that was. Sometimes writer’s block isn’t block at all, but something we’re seeing; we just don’t know that we’re seeing it yet.
MARION: What is the best writing advice you’ve heard?
TRACY: “Only a slob leaves it to the editor.”—Stephen King.
MARION: Tracy, you have an incredible sense of humor. Any chance you would write a comedy?
TRACY: Thanks for the compliment. My husband used to be appalled when I’d sit at the computer and laugh at my own stuff, but I figure, if it doesn’t make me laugh, I don’t have a hope in heck of making someone else laugh. I’d like to do some humor writing some day, though I’m not sure how it would play out, either in memoir or in contemporary fiction. I’ll have to content myself with occasional self-serving blog entries on my website.
MARION: Thank you for your time. May I wish you every success with your writing, and I look forward to seeing more of your books on our South African shelves.
TRACY: Thank you so much, Marion, and thanks for asking terrific questions. They were a lot of fun to answer. Here is my favorite writing blessing to you and all your writing compatriots, from Psalm 90:17: “May the beauty of the Lord our God be upon you, and give permanence to the work of your hands.”
MARION UECKERMANN’s writing passion was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then Marion has been honing her skills and has published some devotional articles in Winners at Work as well as inspirational poetry online and in a poetry journal. She has written her first Christian Women’s novel (unpublished) and is currently completing the sequel. Marion now lives in Pretoria East, South Africa with her husband, sons and a crazy black ‘Scottie’. A member and moderator of the South African Christian Writers Group, Marion can be contacted via email on marionu(at)telkomsa(dot)net or through her website www.inkslinger.co.cc