I am so pleased to be able to share the first of two posts highlighting author Tracy Higley and her newest release, Isle of Shadows. This week, Tracy joins me for a quick Q & A about the book, and next week I’ll give you a sneak peek inside the story. That means you’ll have two chances to win a free copy of one of Tracy’s titles, including Isle of Shadows. Just leave a comment below and be sure to include your email address for notification. Tracy’s books are among my absolute favorites. I have no doubt that once you start reading them, you won’t be able to put them down.
Tracy L. Higley started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. She has authored nine novels, including Garden of Madness and Isle of Shadows. Tracy is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Ancient History and has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures. See her travel journals and more at TracyHigley.com
Tell us a little about yourself and where your writing journey began.
I have loved to write since childhood, and spent those years either with my nose in a book or writing. I created short stories, school newspapers, short plays. I can remember directing neighborhood kids and cousins at Thanksgiving in the plays that I wrote! Then there was the angst-ridden poetry of the teen years, and drama sketches for church ministry as an adult. I got serious about publishing in 1999 and decided to write a novel and try to get it published. My first book came out in 2002, and my 10th novel releases in March of 2013. Garden of Madness came out last May, and Isle of Shadows, an updated version of a previous title, releases this month.
What first sparked your love of history?
Again, I think it’s been there since childhood. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and there is so much history there. Since I’ve always loved storytelling, history felt like a grand, nearly infinite collection of stories. As I got older, my interest in the Bible joined up with my love of history, and made me curious about the people who lived in ancient lands.
What inspired you to write the Seven Wonders series?
Curiosity, mostly. I wanted to learn about so many ancient places and people, and the “Seven Wonders” list fired my creativity. A fun way to “take a tour” of ancient lands in the pages of books.
You do such a wonderful job of making history come alive on the page, it’s clear you do a lot of research. How do you go about finding the information you need?
Thank you! Bringing people along on the journey of discovery is one of my biggest joys in writing. The research is multi-tiered and ongoing, but generally I begin with a setting, then start exploring at a “high level” – sometimes even through children’s books – the major highlights of that place. I find a particular time in its history that appeals to me or has some action I like, and then start drilling down into the history through textbooks – often books that haven’t been in print for many years, but the internet is a great place to find them! At some point I create a binder with notes organized according to topic. Then I start writing, finally! As I go along, there is often more research, and sometimes I leave placeholders for small details and then research them all at the end. But with all that, my favorite part of my research process has been to actually travel to the sites of my books!
Isle of Shadows, originally titled Shadow of Colossus, was the first book in this series. What went into the decision to update and re-release it?
I recently made a shift to a new publishing house, contracting to write several new books for them. But they were also interested in re-releasing some of my titles from the past few years, updated, and with a slight shift in the marketing direction, including new covers and new titles. Isle of Shadows is the first of these, but Pompeii: City on Fire and Petra: City in Stone will also be re-released in the next two years.
Main character Tessa of Delos is a courtesan to an influential politician. What inspired you to tell this story from a hetaera’s perspective?
Well, that’s a strange, convoluted tale, but here goes! Years ago I wrote a time-travel book, Fallen from Babel, in which a present-day religious philosophy professor travels back to ancient Babylon, switching places with a diviner-priest in the courts of King Nebuchadnezzar and running for his life. I had great fun with that story, and thought it would be cool to do a sequel. I wrote a little section at the end in which it’s implied that another woman is going to time-travel, too, but to somewhere in ancient Greece. I had much of her story laid out in my mind, and when I decided on the character she would “switch” with, I thought that a present-day woman stepping into the life of a Greek hetaera (an enslaved courtesan) would be quite compelling. That sequel never happened, and around that time I decided to make a shift to writing historicals. The story wouldn’t let me go, however, and it turned out it was this courtesan’s story after all.
Politics play a major role in this story. Were the political issues based on actual accounts or were they a result of the creative process?
Both, really. The characters are fictional, but the issues facing the Greek world at this time are historical. The Roman Empire hasn’t yet made itself a mighty power, and the Greeks are trying to keep their many city-states strong through various alliances and scheming politicians.
I understand you’ve travelled to each of the sites you’ve written about. Which is your favorite destination so far? Why?
Yes! It has been great fun traveling through the Mediterranean world a number of times, visiting Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Italy. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I truly love Egypt. Both of my trips there were so enjoyable, and I’m still mesmerized by the ancient Egyptian culture.
Can we assume that your recent trip to Ephesus was research for your next Seven Wonders novel? When can we expect its release?
Another yes! I did recently visit Ephesus for the second time, gathering up bits of history, taking photos and videos, purchasing souvenirs for readers, and absorbing as much as I could to pour into my next novel, So Shines the Night. This next new book will release in a few months, in March of next year, and features Paul and Timothy in a city steeped in darkness and idolatry.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I’ve been focusing quite a bit lately on this week’s release of Isle of Shadows, but what is percolating in the background is the next book I’m working on. No title yet, but it will be set in Rome, Egypt and Judea a few years before the birth of Christ, and feature Herod the Great, Cleopatra, a secret society and a mysterious relic!