Teresa (Tracy) Grant studied British history at Stanford University and received the Firestone Award for Excellence in Research for her honors thesis on shifting conceptions of honor in late fifteenth century England. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her young daughter and three cats. In addition to writing, Tracy works for the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, pianists, and stage directors. Her real life heroine is her daughter Mélanie, who is very cooperative about Mummy’s writing. Tracy is currently at work on her next book chronicling the adventures of Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.
Stephanie: Hello Tracy! Thank you for visiting Layered Pages again for a nice chat. Today I would like to talk a little about your book, The Berkeley Square Affair. Will you please tell me about your story?
Tracy: The Berkeley Square Affair opens in late November 1817 with my protagonists, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, settled in London and theoretically retired from the espionage game, though even they know they can’t really leave it, and Suzanne is still haunted by the secrets she is keeping from her husband. Late one night, their friend, playwright Simon Tanner, climbs through the library window of their Berkeley Square house. Simon is bringing them a manuscript that appears to be an alternate version of Hamlet. He was attacked on his way to their house by men hired to recover the manuscript. For Malcolm and Suzanne a lost Shakespeare play is like touching Excalibur, but it soon appears the manuscript may also have more recent secrets encoded in its pages.
Stephanie: Malcolm and Suzanne face many dangers. What is their closest call in this story?
Tracy: Probably danger that is more psychological than physical. Malcolm learning that Suzanne was a Bonapartist spy during the Napoleonic Wars and working against him. It shakes their partnership to the core.
Stephanie: Describe Malcolm in five words for me.
Tracy: Honorable spy in dishonorable game.
Stephanie: What are Suzanne’s strengths and how does she use them in helping people?
Tracy: Suzanne is very good at playing roles. She’s played one for her entire marriage to Malcolm, while at the same time in some ways she is more able to be herself with him than with anyone else. She is able to change roles quickly in the course of an investigation, whether subtly by shifting from political wife to mother of young children or more dramatically by donning a disguise. She has a knack for getting people to confide in her. She also has nerves of steel and is excellent at picking locks, both of which come in handy
Stephanie: Will there be another story involving Malcolm and Suzanne?
Tracy: Yes! I’m working on the next book in the series which takes place a few months after The Berkeley Square Affair and involves Laura Dudley, governess to the Rannoch children. Laura is found holding a gun beside the body of a duke she seemingly did not know. Malcolm and Suzanne are still dealing with the revelations in Berkeley Square and how their marriage and views of each other have shifted.
Stephanie: What advice could you give to writers on how to keep the suspense in a story?
Tracy: Try to put a reversal -at the end of each chapter.
Stephanie: Now let’s talk about your writing process a bit. Do you work with outlines or do you just write?
Tracy: I lay out my story on index cards (I used to use actual cards, now I use the corkboard in Scrivener). With Scrivener, I find I can start writing as I plot, because I can write scenes out of order. I always layout some of the plot and the major turning points before I start writing, but then I can begin to write scenes I know I will need and move them around as I work out the rest of the plot. I do multiple drafts.
Stephanie: Do you use visuals when writing? Like pictures to inspire you? Or do you listen to music, like some writers do?
Tracy: Yes to both! I find “casting” actors as my characters really helps me not just with how they look but with mannerisms, voice patterns, etc… I even use actors as images for real historical figures in my books. When I was writing Vienna Waltz, I find that really make the historical figures like Talleyrand come to life. I also look at a lot of pictures of settings. And I love to listen to music – usually classical (a lot of opera) and film scores along with some musicals.
Stephanie: How often so you write and how many words do you write at a time?
Tracy: I try to write every day or at least five days a week (some of those are weekend days), and I try to write at least 1000 words a day. A blank computer screen can be daunting, so when I sit down I tell myself I just have to write 100 words. Then I can take a break and look at Facebook or check email. I can pretty much always come up with 100 words. Then a quick break, then another 100. By the time I get to 400 or so I’m usually on a role. Breaking it up like this is also helpful for writing with a young child (my daughter is currently two and a half). I do work in bits and pieces at the play park, in a café, while she naps…
Stephanie: Now l have a question about reviews. What are some of the nicest things people have said about your books? What are some of the negative and how has that impacted you?
Tracy: One of my favorite reviews said my book read like a combination of Jane Austen and Len Deighton, which was so perfect because those were two inspirations for the series. I’ve also had some references to The Scarlet Pimpernel, another inspiration. I love it when reviewers enjoy the characters and the twists and turns of my plots. I try not to pay attention to the negatives because not every book will be to everyone’s taste and I need to focus on telling the kind of stories I like to tell in the best way I can.
Stephanie: Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?
Tracy: I’m so grateful to the readers who have taken Malcolm and Suzanne and their friends and family to heart. The support of those readers means to world to me – I love sharing these characters and the world I’ve created for them. And I love the fact that new readers are discovering the series with each book. Hearing from readers really can keep an author going on those days when (even 100 words at a time) the blank computer screen seems overwhelming.
Stephanie: Where can people buy your book?
Tracy: They should be in Barnes and Noble and other book stores and are also available on line through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Indiebound IBooks, etc…[links are on my website if you can pull them or just refer readers there].
Stephanie: Thank you, Tracy!
Tracy: Thank you so much, Stephanie, for having me! It’s a treat to get to talk about my books!