An Interview With (And Fangirling Over) The Reader’s Traci Chee

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Sometimes I get really, really lucky.
 
Take, for instance, that time when I snagged an interview with Traci Chee about her debut novel The Reader. What made this extra lucky was that she sent along an ARC, which I devoured with a side of tea and chocolate. (My review is here.)
 
Anyway, I gave Traci a ring and promptly forced myself to ask real questions instead of spending an hour gushing about all of the things I loved about The Reader.
 

From far away, Traci’s writing journey seems like a straight shot skyward: About 18 months after writing The Reader, she snagged an agent. Once it was in editors’ hands, the book was snapped up quickly.
 
But all of that came after decades of hard work—she began honing her writing craft when she was 18, went to college for creative writing, and began a teaching career. Taking a leap of faith, Traci quit her job to write full time. And that, lucky for us, led to The Reader.
 
The book’s out today, and if you haven’t already bought it, get thyself to a bookstore. (And while I’m not opposed to e-books in the least, you’ll want this in print form to fully appreciate the extras—more on those below.)
 
Oh, and that interview I mentioned? It’s up on the Swanky Seventeens blog. It’s also below, for those of you who are a bit too lazy to click the link. (No shame.)
 

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Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
 
Purchase The Reader at Amazon, B&N, or Indiebound.

 
 

ON WITH THE INTERVIEW

Tracey: What comes easiest to you: plot or character? Do you plan these out ahead of time, or discover them as you go?
 
Traci: There’s only one thing that just comes to me easily, and it’s “that’s a cool idea.” I’m terrible at characters because it takes so long to find them.
 
I’m naturally a pantster, because for me writing is thinking. I don’t really know what’s going to happen, and then the words find me through the page. For me, it’s figuring it out as I’m doing it. I tried plotting out Book 2. I read that “100K a Day” book. It didn’t work out. Now, with the sequel, I’m learning how to draft on a deadline.
 
 
Tracey: This was a really intricate plot—multiple point-of-views, multiple timelines, a large cast of characters. Did you plot it all out? How did you go about making everything so interconnected?
 
Traci: In its original draft, this whole world was a girl with a book on a ship reading about a boy with a book on a ship. The library plotline came up later—I needed a mentor character to teach the reader the rules of the world.
 
It was extraordinarily difficult to keep track of the different timelines and how they all intersect. I invented strategies to keep track of things. There were a lot of charts and graphs. I relied a lot on the hero’s journey. And then I wanted all of the other stories to have mini heroes’ journeys.
 
 
Tracey: One thing I really loved about the book is all of the added details—the blood smears on the pages, the words written beside page numbers, blacked-out sentences. It made me feel like I was reading the book alongside Sefia. Was that an idea you had from the start, and what was the process like with your publisher to make it happen?
 
Traci: I brought it up to my publisher, and they ran with it. I’m so excited. I’ve been fascinated by the power of books and the book form since college. I’ve done quite a bit of museum-going in “what are the shapes a book can take?” I had some of the secret messages—not planned, but I hoped for them. It was a really interesting and fun experience working with people who are professional bookmakers on this.
 
 
Tracey: A lot of times, books with main characters of color don’t always have that reflected in the cover. Was this something you discussed with your publisher?
 
Traci: I was really lucky in that from the beginning. Right after I signed, my editor asked me for ideas for the cover. I was very fortunate that they showed me what they were doing and I liked what they were doing.
 
 

LIGHTNING ROUND

Where do you write?
At my desk.
 
 
Music or silence?
Both—it depends on how I feel.
 
 
Book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?
Any Hemingway
 
 
Paper books or e-books?
Paper. I like marking up my books. I like dog-earing my pages. When I read a book with those, it makes me feel like an archaeologist when I’m reading something someone else read.
 
 
Which fictional characters would you like to stumble upon in real life?
I’d love to find out the characters from The Book Thief are real because I love them so much. There’s this book coming out next year called Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco. I’d want to be friends with the main character and go solving mysteries with her. And this one isn’t a person, but I would love it if the time traveling ship from Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere was real.
 
 
Greatest piece of writing advice you can give aspiring authors?
Always keep learning. That is my general philosophy in my writing. I feel like to keep growing as a writer, I need to keep honing my craft. Whenever I start a new draft, I’m looking for ways to get better.

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Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog. The Reader is her YA debut.
 
Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or visit her website.

 

author interview, writing
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