The Secret Hum of a Daisy (Putnam Juvenile, May 1, 2014) is her debut novel, but the way she handles themes of family and reconciliation is with the touch of a pro.
It is the story of Grace, age 12, who desperately wants a home all her own while her mother has the urge to keep moving. Just when Grace finds the courage to tell her mother how she really feels about always moving around and her desire for roots, her mother tragically drowns. Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's doesn't even know. But when Grace discovers clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, she feels her mom might be showing her how finally to find her way home.
Question: Your book is about grieving and loss, but it's also about finding joy and love and our place in the world. Where did the idea for Grace and her grandmother and the bird art come from? What was your "ah-ha" moment when you decided to start writing your story?
Tracy Holczer: There really wasn’t one aha-moment, but more like a series of them. Grace came to me first. I had such a clear image of her sitting on the top step of a farmhouse porch that needed some repair. I had actually written a short story some time before with a child very similar to Grace, so when I saw this girl, the original short came into play.
That’s where Grandma was, and the idea that this girl had just lost her mom. The bird art evolved from an angel collection. Originally, Grace and Mama liked to pour over garage and yard sales looking for imperfect angels. Only the broken and misshapen would do. But then I wanted Mama to be more proactive and create, plus I had the origami in the story and so I needed the images to align a little better. Since they were already crazy about garage sales, the junk art just seemed like the right choice.
Q: What drew you into writing for children? Have you always been a writer? And have you always known middle-grade would be your home? Can you talk about your journey to publication?
TH: When I was a young child, I thought I wanted to be a writer. But in that same way you want to be an astronaut or a ballerina. It’s not a real job choice, it’s a dream. I loved writing and I loved books but when I was young, it took me awhile to figure out I was in charge of my own destiny and that if I really wanted it, I should work as hard as I could and hope for the best. When I had my third daughter and was able to quit my job, it was a wonderful, enriching hobby where I could attend conferences and workshops and do something that was all mine. When a writing teacher suggested I might try writing for kids, it was a natural fit.
Publication took a long time. I started writing for kids in 2002, and had been dabbling in other forms before that. I wrote a drawer book and then started working on Secret Hum around 2006. But family was my first priority so writing took a very long time. It also wasn’t the right time in my life to take on a career. But eventually, when my youngest was ten, I felt that might be a good time to dip my toe in the water and see if there was any interest. Figuring publication would be at least two years away from a deal, and who knows when/if a deal might happen, I felt that would be a good time to be working. And I was right.
Q: Your book is pasted with praise from some of the biggest stars of children's literature, with Richard Peck calling it "a lyric about love and loss," Patricia Reilly Giff saying it "will steal your heart," and Margarita Engle pronouncing it "poetic and tender." That's heady company! Do you just happen to hang around with Newbery medalists?
TH: Hahahaha! No! I wish. My fabulous editor, Stacey Barney, did that. She sent the book out and came back with this amazing praise. She surprised me with each one, and it was, and still is, very surreal.
Q: Grace is defiant yet so vulnerable, and she's trying to deal with weighty issues for a girl so young. What sort of reader are you hoping to reach with Secret Hum? What do you hope young readers take away from your story?
TH: I’m hoping to reach all readers, from 10 to 110. I think there is something in the story for everyone. Loss and redemption, hope and grief are so universal, that I wanted this book to be a salve for those who might have experienced these emotions. I have always loved a good cry and I cried all the way through writing about Grace. So although I never sat down to write a tear-jerker, I did sit down to write the kind of story I like to read, and I hope there are others out there, lots of others!, who have the same taste in books that I do.
Q: What will we see from you next?
TH: Another feisty girl named Samantha Rossi. The Natural History of Samantha Rossi is a story about 12-year old Sam who wants to be a scientist during a time when the door is just starting to open for girls with this sort of dream. Set during the Vietnam War, when Sam’s father comes home changed, she’s hopeful she can turn to her science books for the answer in how to turn him back. She comes from a great big Italian family, who, of course, have their own ideas about how to fix things. There are once in a lifetime friendships, daring expeditions, and lots and lots of meatballs. Sam will hit shelves in Summer 2016.