An Indies Introduce New Voices Q&A With Tracy Holczer
Tracy Holczer is the author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy (Putnam Juvenile), a Summer/Fall 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices pick for middle grade readers. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Los Angeles, where she writes full time.
“When 12-year-old Grace’s mother dies, she’s reunited with her estranged grandmother in a rural town she has never even visited. It takes a mysterious treasure hunt, a new best friend with a quirky little brother, dozens of origami cranes, and a town welcoming her with open arms for Grace to come to terms with her new family and discover her true home. Poignant, endearing and fresh, this beautifully told middle grade novel is full of wisdom and heart,” said Krista Gilliam of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia.
What inspired you to write The Secret Hum of a Daisy?
Tracy Holczer: Grace, in all her prickly wisdom, knocked on the door of my brain, in her too-tight Mary Janes, and wouldn’t leave. Very demanding, that one. I resisted at first, because I was hesitant to dive into feelings of grief and loss. I mean, really. There are whole professions dedicated to relieving those feelings for people and here I am, standing at the edge of some great abyss of misery, ready to dive in. Who does that? Me, I guess.
Ultimately, though, I could see the pinprick of light at the end of her tunnel and wanted to get her there. Also, I was inspired by the part of myself that is Grace. It’s easy to forget how strong we are, how very courageous, just to deal with the everyday uncertainty of life, let alone the horrible knock-downs. I wanted to celebrate that, and watch and see if this girl, who had lost everything, could find the hope to rebuild.
What thoughts went through your head when you received the phone call telling you that you had earned a spot on the Indies Introduce list?
TH: First, I must admit that I had just stepped out of the shower and madly wrapped myself in a towel as the phone rang. Forgive the imagery, but I love this because that’s life! Galumphing seems to be a necessary part of this journey. Nothing like taking a really important phone call with mascara racooning my eyes to keep things in perspective.
At first, I didn’t understand what the wonderful Summer Laurie was telling me. I got about every third word, and had to ask lots of questions, because she can’t possibly be telling me I made the Indies Introduce New Voices list.
But she was. So I thanked her, which seemed wholly insufficient, and then tried to have a normal, productive day. Which so didn’t happen.
What advice would you give a young reader interested in writing?
TH: I love this question. I would say, “Only pay attention to the people who feed you.” They are the only ones that matter. If they are feeding you good food or love or encouragement, if they feed you books or inspiration or knowledge — they are your people. Gather them around. The others? They may be everywhere and be hard to ignore. They are the people who say you’re doing it wrong or that you are weird. The people who take things from you — your happiness, or excitement or exuberance — those are not your people. Sometimes you must tolerate them, but this will build your character (and give you more to write about). Sometimes you have to do what they say, because they are teachers/parents/principals/relatives. But you don’t need to bring them into your heart. Save your heart for those people who will cherish it. Your life, your experience, and what you have to say is precious. Write about all of it. Write long and hard and with everything you have. With passion and persistence, you will get there.
How did origami cranes and The Children’s Peace Monument help inspire your debut?
TH: There was something about the folds of a crane that made me think about the secret folds of the heart. How we keep so many things tucked away. Also, I folded many cranes over the course of revising the story, and it struck me how a crane starts with a large square of paper, and you fold it smaller and tighter, until you aren’t sure how this can turn into anything good, and then, with one last fold, that square has transformed into something that flies. I’m still amazed, every time.
The Children’s Peace Monument actually came about from something my agent had suggested in rewrites about Sadako Sasaki and her story. At first they didn’t seem connected to me, but as I wrote Sadako more deeply into the story, it seemed like such a wonderful parallel to how we each grieve differently. How we all have our own way of handling death. It also seemed like a perfect fit for Mr. Flinch’s social studies class.
Poetry is featured in Secret Hum. Tell us a little about your interest in poetry and why you think it’s such an important tool for children.
TH: Robert Frost has always been a particular favorite of mine. I love all of his poetry because of its accessibility. I was one of those kids who did poorly during that part in English class when we had to discuss themes and symbolism. I think, because of that, I wrote this into the story:
“Thinking can steal the magic right out of a thing. The trick is finding a good balance.” Mama went on to tell me that those poems were like colorful bits of laundry all pinned to a line and blowing in the breeze. “Let the pictures come from the words, Grace. It’s the seeing that stays with you. And you might see something different on a different day.”
Grace’s first poem is so very simple.
I want children to feel comfortable coming to poetry and know that anything they write and want to call a poem is a poem. Here, children can see there is tremendous power in just a few words and that you don’t need to write a novel to tell a story.
Were books an important facet of your childhood? What book(s) did you read as a child?
TH: I dabbled in reading in elementary school. But I was a little too dreamy to really sit down and focus for long periods of time. However, if I could save and scrap enough quarters together to buy a book from the Scholastic catalog, I would read that from cover to cover, over and over again. Once I hit 11 and read Little Women, though, the dabbling was over. I was hooked. Another really influential book was The Hobbit.
Are you working on anything now?
TH: I am! I am hard at work on my second novel, tentatively titled The Natural History of Samantha Rossi about 12-year-old Sam who wants, more than anything, to be a scientist. And when her father comes home from Vietnam changed, she is convinced all she has to do is turn to her science books to reverse evolution. There are daring expeditions, a Series of Unfortunate Substitute Teachers, and an unending supply of meatballs. Sam should hit shelves in summer 2016.
If you were a bookseller, is there a book you would say every child just has to read?
TH: Weirdly, no. Every child brings a different sensibility to reading and will enjoy different books because of it. The book that changed my life wouldn’t necessarily change the life of anyone else. I would instead ask that child if there was a book they thought I just had to read. And then I would read it.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three titles would you want to have with you?
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Peace Like a River
- Walk Two Moons
Bookstores that haven’t signed up for the 2014 Indies Introduce Summer/Fall promotion can do so here. The list of participating stores will be shared with Indies Introduce publishers on May 19, so stores should sign up before then to receive specials on Summer/Fall selections.
The Secret Hum of a Daisy, by Tracy Holczer (Putnam Juvenile, Hardcover, 9780399163937) Publication Date: May 1, 2014.
Learn more about Tracy Holczer at tracyholczer.com.
ABA member stores are invited to use this interview or any others in our series of Q&As With Indies Introduce Debut Authors in newsletters and social media and in online and in-store promotions. Please let us know if you do.