Shadow of Colossus was recently named a finalist for the Christy Award in the historical category. Tracy is a wife and mother of four, and lives with her family near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Welcome back to Novel Journey! It’s been a couple years since you visited with us. What have you been doing?
I’ve been hard at work on a series I’m really enjoying, the Seven Wonders Novels. The books are each set at one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and are fast-paced, historical suspense.
You published several books since the last time you visited Novel Journey. Has continued success made writing easier, or more difficult?
Perhaps it gets a bit more difficult the more you learn, because you become more critical of your own work. But overall, I’d say that it has gotten easier because I’ve come to trust myself more. My family doesn’t hear “I can’t do this! I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” quite as often. I’ve learned that even on the days when I don’t feel like writing I can push through and do it. I’ve learned that I can meet deadlines that seem impossible. And I’ve learned to intercept the biggest problems in my writing and fix them earlier.
I’m sure you’ve had your share of reviews. What impact did this have on subsequent books?
I’ve been blessed with some wonderful reviews, and these make me feel good for a bit, but I don’t think they really have an impact (for me) on subsequent books. As to whether these good reviews have impacted sales of the books, that’s really difficult to measure. When a review has a negative comment, I try to be open to the criticism. But often the very thing one reader criticizes, another will praise. Overall, it’s probably better to avoid reviews!
Are you a plotter or a SOTP (seat of the pants) writer? Why?
I’m a plotter, for sure. It suits my personality! I’m organized, driven, efficient and not very spontaneous. Don’t I sound fun? I enjoy the time spent outlining my novels, and don’t think I could do it any other way. There are always surprises, of course, when writing the first draft. But for the most part, I know where I’m going from start to finish.
How much marketing do you do? Do you market all of your books at once, or concentrate solely on the newest release?
I’ve done various amounts of marketing over the years, but what I have found to work best is targeting the most influential groups of people (booksellers, reviewers, even the sales reps at the publishing house) to get them excited about the books. And I’ve tried to make my website an interesting place for readers to visit. I do some book-specific marketing as each book is releasing, but generally I try to take advantage of opportunities as they come.
The last time you visited Novel Journey, you said your favorite part of being a writer is research. Higley: “I love to learn, to dive headlong into books and come up gulping for air, with my fists full of new facts.” With your upcoming historical release, is that still true?
Definitely! But since my last interview here, I’ve added a fun component to my research – travel! In the past two years I’ve been to Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Jordan doing research for the Seven Wonders Novels. My travels have yielded so much information, adventure and a real feel for ancient times and places, and it’s been great fun weaving all of that into these books.
So, tell us a little about your latest release:
City of the Dead came out last month, and is the second of the Seven Wonders Novels. It’s set in ancient Egypt, during the building of the Great Pyramid, and is a murder-mystery that challenges the pyramid’s engineer to stop a serial killer.
How did you come up with this story?
That’s always a hard question to answer. Ideas evolve so gradually, it’s difficult to trace them backward. I’ve always loved ancient history, and I thought the Seven Wonders would be a great way to “take a tour” of ancient times and places. When it came time to write about the Great Pyramid, I found the construction of it so fascinating that I wanted to feature its builder as the main character. After that, I conspired to send some trouble his way, and give him a secret that might destroy the kingdom.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
Hemiunu (or Hemi as he is called by most) is an actual historical figure. In fact, I’ve walked through his tomb! He was the architect and engineer of one of the oldest man-made structures in the world, and probably the cousin of the Pharaoh for whom he built it. I knew a man such as this would be very logical and rational. What better way to mess with him than to give him a mystery he can’t solve?
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
I loved immersing myself in ancient Egypt. It’s a fascinating culture, with highly developed religious and cultural systems. They’ve left us so many artifacts to study that we can get a fairly clear picture of their lives.
Probably the hardest part of writing this book was that I’ve never written a book in the first person before. I’ve written male protagonists, but to write in the voice of a man who lived 4500 years ago was challenging. I actually started it in third person, but after several chapters, Hemi’s voice was clearer in my head, and I switched. It was fun, but very different for me.
What does your writing space look like?
I’ve been blessed with my own office space in my home, which is a good thing because when I travel, I keep bringing back lots of stuff! My shelves are getting crammed with bits and pieces of the world.
What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?
I would go back to school, get another degree (in history), and perhaps go on to teach at the college level. This is something I’d really love to do at some point, so who knows?
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
Yes, I suppose there’s always a bit of ourselves somewhere in there, isn’t there? I mentioned earlier that I’m a bit like Hemi – logical, analytical. It was easy for me to imagine a character who finds it hard to take time for relationships like he should.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
I would love for readers to get a sense of the ways in which our Redeeming God has been at work in the lives of all people, throughout the entire drama of human history. His fingerprints are evident in all these ancient cultures, and always He preserved a remnant of faithful ones who would seek out relationship with Him. We are part of this continuum, and He is no less interested in us!
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
The third book in the Seven Wonders Novels, Guardian of the Flame, will release in October of this year. It’s set in Alexandria, Egypt, beside the Lighthouse, and features Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and a cast of fascinating characters getting themselves into trouble. I have really enjoyed writing this one! You can get more information and see the trailer on my website, http://www.tlhigley.com/.
Any parting words of advice?
Be careful to listen to God’s call on your heart, on the part of you that knows, really knows, who you are called to be. And then follow. If you know that writing, or any form of communication, is innately part of who you are, then don’t stop! There are myriad ways to communicate truth, and published fiction is only one. The important thing is to be faithful to the call.