In May 2007, I created Kristen Tracy's website. In doing so, I learned plenty about the author, who is also a poet, was once a teacher, and is very, very kind. I wanted all of you to get to know her as well, so we drummed up this interview -- without using any actual drums, though.
When you started writing this book, where did you begin?
The first line has always been the first line. I worked on that for about a week. Then I started writing. I front loaded the first chapter with a bunch of interesting details, then the book became a quest to figure out how all this things had come about: the broken arm, the hamster, the canoe, etc. . . The story unfolded from there.
I wasn't concerned about the title. I think it can mean a lot of different things. In fact, until my father saw the cover, he was under the impression that I'd written a book about anger management. I grew up in a very conservative/religious community and I have a lot of conservative/religious people in my life. I didn't want to traumatize anybody (like my family). But I think my book is pretty tame. Recently, a poet friend asked if it would be appropriate to pass the book along to his fifteen-year-old daughter. I told him that Lost It is about as racy as a Molly Ringwald movie. Also, my book has great bear safety advice. I think that balances out the teen sex aspect. Seriously, there's nothing controversial about bear safety.
Though the trials and tribulations of Tess are somewhat serious, the humorous writing style makes them quite fun to read. Was the style intentional or accidental?
I like telling funny stories. In some ways, for this story, I think how I am in real life resembles how I am on the page. That said, the humorous style was very much a conscious choice. I knew before I wrote Lost It that I wanted to write a funny story about a girl who loses her virginity. I didn't want my character to be wounded by sex. And I didn't want the book to view sex through a moral lens either. That was very important for me.
Speaking of intent, did you stop teaching in order to write the great American novel, or did it just happen?
I wasn't teaching when I wrote it. I had been awarded a dissertation fellowship, which meant that I was given a year off to wrap up my poetry manuscript and finish my PhD. I'd finished my major exams, but I still needed to get things ready for my defense. So I worked on that, but I also wrote Lost It. That year is a total blur. I drank a lot of Diet Coke.
What did teaching teach you?
Teaching taught me that when wearing a black skirt, after writing on the chalk board, it's important not to touch your skirt with your hands. (This also holds true for black pants.)
What was your favorite class?
I had a class play a trick on me once, and it was brilliant and I loved it. I mean, I was mortified at the time because it was completely inappropriate. I can't tell the story here. It was a high school class.
When did you start writing poetry? When did you become a published poet?
I began writing poetry as an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University. I studied with Gail Wronsky and ended up in some wonderful classes with Oliver de la Paz who has his second poetry manuscript coming out, and Joseph Legaspi who co-founded Kundiman, an organization dedicated to the discovery and cultivation of emerging Asian-American poets. Joseph's first book is coming out this year. After Loyola, I kept at it. I studied with Brian Evenson while I was at BYU. (He's at Brown now.) I worked with Stephen Dunn at a retreat a few years before he won the Pulitzer and he's been incredibly kind and helpful with my work. I assisted Al Young's poetry classes in Prague and that was a great opportunity. He was the first person who encouraged me to try writing fiction. Then, I had the great fortune of meeting Stuart Dybek who has been essential for me in terms of transitioning from being a poet into being a fiction writer.
I'm leaving a lot of people out. My teachers have been amazing: David Rivard, Darrell Spencer, Kathryn Davis, Lance Larsen, Leslie Norris, Garrett Hongo (he was the first writer who ever told me I was funny), William Olsen, Bob Hicok, and many many more. Without them and their encouragement, I doubt I would've worked this hard at my writing. I've been lucky in that way.
How easy or difficult was it to sell your novel? Did you have an agent or a book deal before you started to write it?
It was both easy and hard. I had an agent. She took me on based on a middle-grade novel I'd written and about two dozen publishing credits I'd racked up in literary journals. (I have purchased an obscene amount of stamps in my life.) My agent didn't know that I wanted to write YA. I didn't know that either. I just did it. I don't think I told her that I was working on it. I just emailed it to her. She liked it right away. I remember being relieved. I think it sold pretty quickly after I revised.
Finish The Thought
You would love Lost It to be compared to . . .
I told a friend of mine about this question and I said that I was going to say Ulysses. And she said, Can't you answer that question seriously? And I said, What makes you think I'm not being serious? And she said, You should say that you want Lost It to be compared to Napoleon Dynamite. And I said, My book isn't anything like Napoleon Dynamite. And she said, Your book is really quirky and set in southeast Idaho and so is that movie. And the people who wrote it are Mormon and grew up in southeast Idaho and they studied at BYU. And I said, BYU is pretty big. I never met them. And I don't want to talk about being Mormon. And she said, But you're not Mormon anymore. And I said, Exactly. And she said, Your book is tonally similar to Napoleon Dynamite. And I said, Nobody in my book sells anything door-to-door and there isn't a llama and there isn't any dancing and my characters have sex -- underneath a canoe. And she said, You're missing my point entirely. And I said, I am just going to write this conversation down for my answer. And she said, Don't make me sound stupid. And I said, Okay. I won't.
You think Crimes of the Sarahs will inspire readers . . . to question the verbal skills of a parrots.
When you aren't writing, you are . . . thinking about writing (I'm pretty obsessed with it at the moment.)
In a year, Ben will . . . be healthy.
In five years, Zena will . . . be in Poland.
In ten years, Tess will . . . be fearless.
Bear - paws
Gum - foil
Classroom - asbestos
San Francisco - bison (parking is the next word that leaps to mind)
Apple juice - hash browns
Poem - SASE