Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Traci Chee who wrote the young adult novel The Reader. I'm lucky to be a fan of Traci's and also a friend.
TMT: Can you start by telling us a little bit about you and your new book, The Reader?
Traci Chee: Thanks so much for inviting me to chat with you! I am a total book geek/word nerd, and I think that shows in my YA debut, The Reader, which is set in a world where literacy is unheard of, and a sixteen-year-old girl must teach herself to read in order to solve the mystery of her father’s murder and rescue her kidnapped aunt. It’s got a little bit of a ton of different things I love, including bookishness, magic, long walks in the woods, cowboys/pirates with hearts of gold, and secret messages!
TMT: The Reader is set in a fantasy world where books no longer exist. Can you talk a little about your writing process? Where did you start and how did the world of Kelanna influence Sefia or vice versa?
Traci Chee: I feel like I collect ideas from all over the place, and sometimes they all come together in a glorious creative chaos, which is what happened with The Reader: I walked into the McHenry Library Special Collections and was immediately entranced by their collection of art books. I started scribbling down a story about a girl with a book on a pirate ship for my friend Tucker. I’d been wanting to write about a cowboy with a heart of gold since seeing The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. And all of them sort of came swirling together when I set out to write The Reader.
TMT: What is the best writing advice you have received and what advice would you give student writers?
Traci Chee: “Always keep learning.” I believe that there’s always a way to improve as a writer, whether by reading craft books, reading more widely (and deeply), taking classes, participating in workshops, talking with other writers, or using the wealth of internet resources we now have at our disposal, and I think it’s so important to always be challenging ourselves as creators.
TMT: What are you reading and loving right now (or recently)? What are some ways what you have read influences your own writing?
Traci Chee: Keeping with my approach of “always keep learning,” I try to glean a little something from everything I read. Since I’m currently working on Book 2 of Sea of Ink and Gold, I’ve been studying Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm and Sabaa Tahir’s A Torch Against the Night, but I also like learning economy of language from poetry (Adrienne Rich comes to mind) and economy of story from short fiction (one of my favorite collections is Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino). Although I know it horrifies some people, I often read with a pen in hand so I can note passages I love and return to study them later (although I only mark up my own books, of course)!
TMT: Teach Mentor Texts is all about promoting the love of reading and writing. How would you finish the statements: “Reading is…” and “Writing is…”
A giant thank you to Traci for being here to share her book The Reader and give us some insight into her writing and reading life.
I'm a believe in the growth mindset and that we can work towards anything we set our minds to. Writing requires a certain kind of mindset. Like Traci says, it's important for writers to realize we are always learning how to weave stories together...or sometimes how to just keep going. Keeping an open mind and paying attention to what we learn works for us as writers is key.
I hope you pick up The Reader!
(P.S. Do you like to write notes in the margins as you read? I do!)