Why A California Author Sets Her YA Novels In Idaho

Jun 10, 2016

Kristen Tracy lives in San Francisco but sets many of her books in Idaho.
Credit courtesy Kristen Tracy

Author Kristen Tracy is coming to Idaho to promote her newest book, Project Unpopular. She’ll be doing a presentation at Boise’s Rediscovered Books June 16 at 7:00 pm. Talking about the book in the state is appropriate since, like many of the California-based writer's works, it is set in Idaho.  

Tracy is an award-winning writer of books for teens and kids. Her work has received rave reviews from places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, as well as from publications specifically about books for young readers. We started our interview with Tracy by asking why she sets books in Idaho.

Kristen Tracy: I think the answer is pretty straightforward. I write stories about kids growing up, and Idaho is where I grew up. When the Teton Dam broke, my father got a lead on a cheap house in a flood-ravaged area, so he moved our whole family to Idaho when I was five. I experienced all my milestones here, including falling underneath my own school bus. (My first middle-grade novel, Camille McPhee Fell Under The Bus, begins with that misstep.) 

Adam Cotterell: What do you mean you fell under the bus? Was it moving? Were you hurt?

It wasn't moving. We were boarding it … and I slipped on a patch of ice. I didn't get seriously hurt. My bus driver had counted heads that day and so she knew that something had happened to me. She went on to petition for an additional mirror on buses after that. And became the head of bus safety in my school district. So in a way, falling underneath my school bus was a good move. 

How important is Idaho in your books?

Idaho's culture and geography are pretty important to the books I set here. Ligertown. Craters of the Moon. Secret submarine testing at a lake in northern Idaho. Tourists in Yellowstone getting gored annually by the buffalo. For me, growing up, I found Idaho to be a quirky and interesting place. I'm always looking for an opportunity to add more "Idaho" to my books. In my new series, set at Rocky Mountain Middle School, my characters take a brutal Idaho History class, which mirrors my own tween years pretty accurately.

How different is growing up in eastern Idaho from other parts of the U.S.?

I don't know what it's like to grow up anywhere but here. That said, in addition to Idaho, I've lived in Los Angeles, California; Provo, Utah; Arlington, Virginia; Montpelier, Vermont; Kalamazoo, Michigan; San Francisco, California; and Providence, Rhode Island. And I'm glad I grew up here. Idaho is totally unique and has informed every aspect of my childhood. Also, once while hiking alone in Alaska I crossed paths with a grizzly bear. I'm pretty sure growing up in a news loop that had regular bear safety segments saved my life. 

How do you think setting your stories in Idaho impacts your sales and readership?

I think it helps. So many books take place in New York (I'm looking at you, Brooklyn). Same with other big cities. It's unique that my characters have friends who still take school off for harvest or live next to fields populated by ill-tempered cattle. I grew up in a rural farming community where my family had to drive fifteen minutes to get to "town," and my stories reflect that.

Tracy's books so far.
Credit screengrab kristentracy.com

What's the state of young readers in the U.S.? Are there a lot of kids spending a lot of their time with books?

I think children's book publishing is alive and well. I always tell people I have the best job in the world, and I mean it. The market is thriving. I write for two audiences, sixth graders and high school teens. And every year there are new sixth graders. And every year there are new kids entering high school.  Whereas if I wrote for adults, people stay middle-aged for a long time. That market doesn't replenish itself as quickly.

What would you say to an adult to get them to read your work? 

Many, many, many adults read my work … I think if you're still interested and curious about childhood and adolescence, and you like funny books, then I'm writing for you. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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