I had the privilege and pleasure to meet Tracy Groot and her husband in January when she shared with my two book clubs her calling of storytelling. She also shared with us about her novel The Sentinels of Andersonville. Nominated for a Christy Award, Sentinels is one of the best books I have read this year. I expect Tracy to be back at the Christy Awards next year with her latest novel, Maggie Bright. The Christy’s are tonight, so what a great day to share with you my interview with Tracy!
Tracy Groot: I think it was when I sought to right what I considered was a wrong: In the early years of my marriage, my father-in-law told me that his family had rescued a Jewish boy during WWII. They risked their lives to shelter him for one year, and then they got him to England through the Dutch underground. I asked him, “Did he ever come back to thank you for what he did?” “No.” “Well — did anyone thank you?” “No.”
I wanted to thank him, on behalf of this Jewish boy. So I wrote a story to do it. I believe that when I did, I became a writer.
BTB: What inspired the writing of Maggie Bright, and how did you research the subject matter?
Tracy: I remember reading about Dunkirk while researching for my WWII novel, Flame of Resistance. In fact, the topic kept coming up, so I googled the story — and knew instantly I had to write about it. It was way too juicy to pass up! Peril and prayer, what’s not to love about it?
As far as research goes, I approach research from basically 3 areas: Book Learning, Site Learning, and Film/Documentary Learning. For Book Learning, I read several histories of an event to get a well-rounded view. I also read fiction relative to that period, so I can get a sense of vernacular. (For example, I read a few Agatha Christie novels set in the late 30s.) Site Learning is really important: I have a chance to get a feel for weather, space, distances, etc. For Maggie Bright, I spent some time on the Thames in London, to get a feel for Elliot’s Boatyard. I stayed in Dover for a few days, visited a great Dunkirk exhibit at Dover Castle. I also visited war museums in London, and hung out at St. Katherine’s Pier where I met a few owners of some actual Little Ships of Dunkirk that had rescued men over 75 years ago (talk about a thrill!). I also went to Dunkirk, in France, where I also found a fabulous little museum dedicated solely to the evacuation. It was pretty amazing to stand on the shore of the beach, where so much happened 75 years ago.
Period films and documentaries lend other great elements to research: I can pick up visuals of the day, through costumes and set designs. For Maggie Bright, I watched some 30s period films and several war films, including an excellent docu-drama called Dunkirk. It starred the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch, so I recommend it! 🙂
BTB: What do you want your readers to take away with them after finishing one of your novels?
Tracy: Lots of things. I hope they are entertained. I hope they find something that inspires them. I hope they learn something. I hope they remember my characters. I hope God uses some obscure little nugget to help them in some way — something I never thought about, and didn’t intend. That’s my favorite part of this writing gig, when God takes something and uses it as a catalyst for the reader; something that makes me go, “Really?! That inspired you?!” I love it when that happens! I’m far better on accident than I am on purpose. I’ll never forget when someone read The Brother’s Keeper, and commented on something that had me nodding to her like I’d intended it all along — truth was, I never thought about it the way she did. 🙂
BTB: Readers are always curious as to what a writer is working on or just what is next to be published. Can you give us a glimpse of current works in progress?
Tracy: I guess I am the current work in progress. 🙂 I recently set aside my current project because I realized that after writing 3 historical fiction novels in only three and half years, the well had gone decidedly dry. And I was in complete denial about that dryness. Call it pride — I’m a bit of a workaholic when it comes to writing. I get intense and deliberate about making a writing schedule, and keeping to that writing schedule; but what I often fail to schedule in is “Refill the Well” time. And three and half years of non-stop writing, with very little refilling of the well, is danger-zone time.
So, after several months of pretending that I was writing, when all I was really doing was treading water (no pun intended, because the current project is a story about Jonah, ha ha…), I made the decision to set aside my pen and get serious about filling up the well. And that may take time. But writing comes from what is in that well. So I’m being deliberate about the following: 1. Reading. LOTS of it. (Writing comes from reading.) And this means no research books! I can only read what I want to read, and what I’ve put off reading. In fact, just started a Classics Only book club! Always wanted to! 2. Homemaking. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a clean house. So I’m creating a systematic plan of attack to deep clean my house. (Order helps me to create.) I’m rediscovering the joy of baking and cooking — really planning mealtime, and having fun with it again, instead of falling back on the same old same old, which means recipes that are tried and true, but after a long stretch of time, boring! 3. Hobbies. I’m revisiting doing the things that I like to do: knitting, doing puzzles, visiting museums (for the fun of it, this time), doing a paint-by-number, watching old classics movies like Anne of Green Gables (I’m watching the whole series, and loving it!). 4. More social time. (And I emphatically do not mean more “social media” time.) I’m making a point to go out for lunch with old friends.
I will say this, as far as something sort of current: I own the rights to a novel I wrote, Madman. I bought the rights back from the publisher when I felt that they weren’t doing enough to keep it selling. I believe in the book enough to get it going again, so that is something that is in the works— looking for a new publisher for it.
I’m really not sure when I’ll be back in the writing saddle. But I will be, because I want to be, and want is usually an indication of destiny to me, and it’s up to me to put feet to it. So, in the famous words of a certain Terminator: I’ll be back. 🙂
Thanks so much, Tracy, for sharing with my readers. I know we are all anticipating your return!
Tracy Groot is the critically acclaimed and Christy Award–winning author of several novels. Her most recent books exemplify her unique style of storytelling—reimagining biblical stories within other historical contexts. Tracy’s novels have received starred Booklist and Publishers Weekly reviews and have been called “beautifully written” and “page-turning” by Publishers Weekly and “gripping” with “exquisitely drawn” characters by Library Journal. Tracy and her husband have three boys and live in Michigan.