Tracy Deebs collects books, English degrees and lipsticks and has been known to forget where—and sometimes who—she is when immersed in a great novel. At six she wrote her first short story—something with a rainbow and a prince—and at seven she forayed into the wonderful world of girls lit with her first Judy Blume novel. From the first page of that first book, she knew she’d found her life-long love. Now a writing instructor at her local community college, Tracy writes YA novels that run the gamut from dark mermaids and witches to kissing clubs and techno-Armageddon stories… and she still has a soft spot for Judy Blume.
Tracy was kind enough to chat with SF Signal about her new book, Doomed!
Kristin Centorcelli: Tracy, will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Tracy Deebs: First off, thanks so much for hosting a stop on my blog tour. I’m thrilled to be here today. As for a little bit about myself, hmmm… while this is my first serious venture into the world of Sci-Fi fiction, I’ve been a reader of the genre since my father handed me Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land when I was twelve and it’s exciting to finally have a book out in the genre I love. In February, my first Urban Fantasy comes out as well, so it’s a really busy sci-fi/fantasy winter for me and I couldn’t be more excited.
In my time away from actually writing, I am a college writing professor. I’m also a mom of three crazy boys who keep me on my toes at all times and the wife of an electrical/telecom engineer whose talents I exploited shamelessly while I wrote Doomed.
TD: I thought you’d never ask! Here’s one that kind of starts out the adventure:
“Hurry up!” he says after a minute. “We don’t have all night.”
Before I can respond, the lights blink once, twice, then go out completely. My entire house is plunged into an inky blackness.
“What the hell!” Mackaray says, slamming the bathroom door open all the way. “Either get it done or not, kid.
You’ve got one minute and then I’m taking you back to the kitchen.”
I barely hear him over the pounding of my own heart and the panic clawing through me, trumping everything else. Even my fear of going to jail. I hate the dark, hate it, hate it, hate it. Ever since I was five and ended up getting trapped in my uncle’s storage shed, under a pile of heavy boxes that fell when I was looking for my Christmas presents. There’d been no lights, or windows, and I’d laid there in the dark for hours, crying, convinced that no one was ever going to find me.
Curiosity had been my downfall then as well.
“Tom?” Lessing’s voice drifts through the hall.
“Just checking. It looks like the whole grid just went down.”
“I can see that.” Lessing must catch the sarcasm in his voice because she shuts up quickly.
“Pandora—“ In his voice is a warning and I know my time is up. But he stops abruptly and there’s a muffled thump, followed by a slithering sound that has me imagining a bunch of snakes sliding down my hallway. I press myself back against the wall and try not to scream.
Something large moves in front of the doorway. “Pandora?”
“Theo?” I whisper incredulously.
He leans forward, until his face is only centimeters from mine. “Let’s go.” His voice is pitched so low that I have to strain to hear it even this close.
“Out of here. Come on, we’ve only got a couple of minutes before they come looking for you.”
“Looking for—you want me to break out of federal custody?”
“Would you rather I leave you here?”
“I don’t know. I—“ My head is spinning. Of all the ways I envisioned tonight ending, this wasn’t even in the top thousand. “Where’s Mackaray?”
“I hit him. He’s out, but I don’t know for how long. Now are you coming or not?”
Am I? I look back at the kitchen, where Emily and her father wait with the other agents. I can’t leave her—
It’s like Theo can read my thoughts, because he says, “Emily will be fine. She’s not the one in trouble here.”
He’s right; I know he is. But still. Can I do this? Bad enough to be a federal suspect—but to be a fugitive? How is it even possible? They’ll find us in minutes.
Except, the electricity just went out. Communications are gone. No cameras to catch us running by. No way to get out word of a widespread manhunt (or in this case womanhunt). No way for them to track me when they’re basically blind, deaf and dumb. It could work.
But still, do I really want to do this? Do I really want to go down this road?
Hell, yes, I do.
I slip my hand into Theo’s, not bothering to ask how he knew I was in trouble, and we glide as silently as possible through the hallway into the living room. He seems to know exactly where he’s going and I wonder how long he’s been here, prowling around the house, without anyone knowing.
He slides open the glass door that leads to the deck just enough that we can slip out. As he silently closes the door behind us, I realize this is it.
I really have reached the point of no return.
KC: “Doomed” is described as part The Matrix and part retelling of the Pandora myth. Is that pretty accurate? What inspired you to write “Doomed”?
TD: It is pretty accurate. Doomed melds the full Pandora myth (including the Titans Prometheus and Epimetheus, who are two of my main characters) with an MMO, a Stuxnet type worm that is taking down technology as we know it and a real life scavenger hunt that runs parallel to the game, all in an effort to stop nuclear annihilation.
As for my inspiration, the Pandora myth is my favorite Greek myth, but I’ve always thought she got kind of a bum rap. She was created by Zeus and programmed with insatiable curiosity for the express purpose of punishing the Titan Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods. He’s smart enough to refuse the gift that Zeus offers him, but his brother, Epimetheus isn’t. He marries Pandora and leaves her in possession of a box that they all know she shouldn’t open. But she’s been created for just this purpose, so of course she opens the box and then she gets blamed for unleashing evil when really she was only doing what she was created to do. I wanted to write a book that explored the myth, but that also showed Pandora in a more sympathetic light than we’ve seen her before.
So when I told my agent I wanted to write a Pandora book, she and I did some brainstorming and about an hour into the conversation, she asks me “What if Pandora opened an attachment instead of a box?” The concept fascinated me from the moment she came up with it and I spent the next few weeks buried in ideas and trying to figure out how they fit.
Eventually, I managed to piece everything —the MMO, the scavenger hunt, the email from her father, the blog, the countdown to nuclear annihilation—together the way I wanted it. But it all started with that one comment from my agent. And I’ve never looked back.
KC: When you write, do you usually know exactly where your story will go, or do you just see where it takes you?
TD: Actually, a combination of both. I start with a very general idea, then sit down and write a little, just to see what comes out. After I get a couple of chapters down, I start playing with the idea and plotting it out, determined to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. Then I use that as a guide. But as my editors will tell you, I’ve never once turned in a book (and I’ve written well over 20 now) that so much as resembled the outline/synopsis I originally wrote about it. I just have too much fun following the twists and turns as I write the book to stick to how I originally thought things were going to play out.
KC: Is there anything in particular that you need when writing to get you in the zone?
TD: Not really. I like to have a cup of tea with me, but other than that, I’m pretty easy. Again, I live with three crazily rambunctious boys, so I’ve pretty much learned to write through a hurricane if I have to. Although I’m such an extrovert that I do do better if I’m at home instead of in public somewhere. When I was young, I always thought I’d be one of those writers who sits in the corner of some coffee house writing her masterpiece. But every time I try to do that, I end up writing for twenty minutes and then finding someone or a bunch of someones to talk to. So I guess the answer to that question is I need to be by myself if I’m going to get any serious writing done.
KC: What are some novels (or authors) that have had a big influence on you?
TD: Cory Doctorow, J.D. Salinger, Patricia Briggs, Ayn Rand, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Leguin, Margaret Atwood, Joseph Campbell … the list could go on a really long time. I’m a very eclectic and prolific reader and there’s always someone new and fascinating to read.
KC: What are you reading now?
TD: I’m re-reading For the Win by Cory Doctorow. I love just about everything he writes and this book blew me away the first time I read it.
KC: Why do you think dystopian novels are so popular right now, especially in YA fiction?
TD: This is a really interesting question, and one I’m not sure I can do justice to, but I’ll give it a try.
The prevailing wisdom says that young adults, particularly, are so attracted to dystopian fiction because it mirrors the world they live in—closely controlled and yet wildly chaotic. While I agree that this is part of it, I also think the answer is more simple, and more complicated, than that. Have you seen the dystopian books out right now? They’re great stories, full of action and adventure, twists and turns, good and evil. Add in the very compelling journey of the hero that takes place in every dystopian—the exciting and terrifying external journey matched by the dark, frightening inner journey—and who wouldn’t want to read them?
Plus, I think so many of us are writing these stories (though Doomed is more an Armageddon story than an actual dystopian) because we’re concerned about the problems in the world we live in—climate change, fiscal disaster, divisive politics, war … the list goes on and on. Is it any wonder we’re writing stories—rich, compelling stories—where we can explore these themes on a symbolic and futuristic level? And is it any wonder that teens, who are just beginning to really understand and explore their role in the world, are drawn to them?
KC: What’s next for you?
TD: Publication wise, Soulbound, my adult dark Urban Fantasy writing as Tessa Adams comes out February 2 and I’m excited about that. The series will follow Xandra Morgan, a witch from Austin, Texas whose powers are finally, inexplicably kicking in after years of latency. The only problem is that her powers are dark—she senses and is drawn to violent deaths, so in the fact that she needs to find out how the women in the book died, it’s also a mystery. Plus, instead of going with Wicca, I went with Heka (ancient Egyptian magic) so it’s a little different than some of the other witch books that are out right now.
Writing wise, I’ve started working on Doomed 2, a book I am currently calling Splintered, though I don’t think that title will survive the whole writing process, so we’ll see.