Family Drama, Secrets, and the Power of Starting Over With Tracey Lange
About Tracey Lange
The first thing you should know about Tracey Lange is that she is very down-to-earth. She’s as friendly on video as she is via email. Several months ago, I discovered Tracey through a roundup titled Writers to Watch: Fall 2021 and was immediately drawn to her story.
Told from multiple perspectives, We Are the Brennans is the story of an Irish family with a complicated history, starting with 29-year-old Sunday Brennan, who lands in the hospital after a bad decision she made. Her older brother Denny enters the picture and convinces her to come home to New York. As Sunday recovers from the accident, she comes face to face with the family that she’s abandoned for the past five years. The story unearths a lot of familial drama, secrets, and shame, but it also presents the Brennans as a close-knit, loyal clan who love one another and are willing to sacrifice everything they have for the sake of family.
Since its publication, the book has received several distinctions, including an Amazon Best Book of the Month (August 2021), nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Debut Novel (2021) and best of all–the New York Times bestseller list.
What prompted Tracey to write such a compelling, wonderful tale about family, especially a not-so-perfect one? “Messy family stories can help us find meaning and connection in a vastly uncertain world filled with vastly imperfect people,” she says on LitHub. Furthermore, she adds, “By examining ourselves and our family dynamics we not only avoid repeating painful history, but with greater understanding comes forgiveness, and the opportunity for redemption.” And I couldn’t agree more. We Are the Brennans is a story that explores the good, the bad, and the grey areas in people, and the complicated family dynamics that many of us are so familiar with.
Tracey believes that by exploring the tough stuff, we will come away from the experience much better than we came in. Her novel fits that mould perfectly. It is, as she says, cathartic–the act of reading about complicated families and writing about them gives us a feeling of relief, a lost road found.This is why I was so excited to chat with Tracey recently about her writing process, her fascinating journey from small business owner to author and what she has coming up next. I learned through meeting her online that we both share a love for books by Wally Lamb and Jodi Picoult, and I can’t wait to see what she’s going to publish next! Below is a lightly edited version of our conversation.
Here’s what she shared with us:
Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an author. Was this the career you always knew you wanted?
I’ve always been a voracious reader and loved to write, but I never considered writing as a possibility. For many years, I ran a behavioural healthcare services company with my husband. We raised a family, and things were going fine…until six years ago, I found myself with more time on my hands as my children were in school. So I decided to finally sit down and take writing seriously. I took some classes and enrolled in the Stanford Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing, and that was where I planted the seeds of my stories. I wrote an early manuscript of another story, workshopped it around and got some feedback. Then I went to a conference in Hawaii and that was where I met my agent. She gave me some feedback, and several more drafts later, it was presented and sold to a publisher. All in all, it took about five years.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given, with regards to careers and success?
There are two things that I learned throughout this process that truly helped me stay grounded. One is to simply stick with it. There will be lots of rejections, but you have to stay focused. Get used to the rejections, because it will happen, but don’t let that deter you from your ultimate goal. The other thing is to find your writer’s group. For me, it was the people from Stanford’s program. They were instrumental in helping me develop as a writer. They gave me feedback and support and accountability, and you really learn a lot from one another by being in that kind of group. Writing is a lonely pursuit, and at some point, you just need a sounding board, someone to give you honest feedback so you know how you’re doing.
What books are on your reading list right now?
Right now I’m reading the new Jodi Picoult novel Wish You Were Here. It’s really, really good. In a large way, it touches on the pandemic. Basically, it opens up as we’re getting hit with the pandemic…how to stay connected from far away. You’ll have to read it to find out.
When you’re writing – where do you write? What is the setting?
When I wrote my novel, We Are the Brennans, I wrote in my dining room with my family near me. It was chaotic and messy, but I loved it! I didn’t want to miss any of those family moments. Now, I write in my office at home, a room next to the kitchen. I’ve had this office for about a year, and it’s nice.
How have you been staying connected to your friends/family/community during COVID-19?
Oh boy, we’ve done a lot of Zoom calls. My family just visited me last week, and last summer too. The first year nobody really visited, so it was just mainly texts & video calls. Throughout the entire thing, I’ve stayed connected with my writer’s group from Stanford. It keeps me grounded and focused. I also have lots of family in Ireland, some in LA. But it’s just us here in Bend, Oregon right now.
Do you have exciting projects coming up? If so, please tell us.
Yes! I have a new book that has been purchased by a publisher, and it’s coming out in 2023. It’s another messy, dysfunctional family kind of story about a different family, but the general idea still revolves around family.
What is your dream brunch date? Where and with whom?
There are lots of people I admire but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to sit down for brunch with them. I feel like it’s a lot of pressure to talk and I wouldn’t know exactly what to say! Better to be a fly on the wall. But if I had to pick, I will say Wally Lamb is an inspiration. Would it be a treat to have brunch with him? Yes! Maybe John Boyne, an Irish author. I love, love his books.
What is your ideal comfort food?
As a rule of thumb, I rarely bring food into my office–my current office, that is. During COVID, though, we’ve eaten a lot of desserts. We’ve eaten more desserts than we normally eat, and we’ve tried just about everything. In particular, I love bread pudding. I think it’s very comforting.
Which authors inspire your work the most?
Wally Lamb, John Boyne, Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve loved her books. Also Bryn Greenwood, Donna Tartt, Ann Patchett. I’m drawn to books that are character-driven, and I love a little suspense, especially stories about the good and bad in people. Characters that are well-intentioned but have flaws. Maybe there’s another side to their story. I think that nobody is inherently all good or all bad, and books that dive into all the parts of a person are really attractive to me.