Q&A with 'Freefall Summer' Author Tracy Barrett

Q: What inspired you to write a YA novel about skydiving? I’ve always wanted to write a skydiving novel, but I wanted skydiving to be an important part of the story, not just something added on for thrills. For a long time I couldn’t come up with anything.

I also like to write retelling of fairy tales and Greek myths, and it occurred to me that a modern-day retelling of the myth of Icarus (the teenager who flew too close to the sun and died) could work as the basis for a novel. I started off playing with that idea, and without a clear idea of where the story would go. Pretty soon it veered off from the myth, and I let it veer! You can still see echoes of the myth here and there, though, especially in the names of the characters and the locations.

Q: Have you ever been skydiving? What was your experience like? I’ve made eighteen jumps, seventeen of them when I was in my 20s, and one while I was writing Freefall Summer. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t think I’ll ever jump again! I never stopped being scared, and I figured that if the fear didn’t start going down after seventeen jumps, it wasn’t worth it. But I met my husband at the drop zone when he offered to help me pack my parachute! I never had any accidents and never saw a serious one, just some sprained ankles and things like that. Skydiving is actually a very safe sport, and it gets safer all the time as equipment and training improve. The fear comes not from a rational place, but from that instinct that has been telling you DON’T FALL ever since you were a toddler.
Q: I love your epigrams from The Whuffo’s Guide to Skydiving in the book. What made you decide to add those? I knew that for the narrative to be authentic I’d have to use a lot of skydiving jargon, and I didn’t want the action to grind to a halt while I defined what a character was saying. I played with a few different ways to explain the terms I needed to use, but I’ve always disliked glossaries in novels (nonfiction is a different matter, of course), and Clancy struck me as the kind of nerd (takes one to know one!) who would keep a notebook like The Whuffo’s Guide to Skydiving. It was fun matching definitions and fun facts with the story action of each chapter.

Q: Clancy and her dad have a really complicated relationship dynamic. How did this develop over the course of your writing process? When I began to build that relationship, I was still basing the story on the myth of Icarus, where the father, Daedalus, both makes the wings for Icarus and cautions him about them. I really related to that, having raised teenagers myself. I know how much you want your young-adult child to be bold and independent, while simultaneously wanting them to be careful. It’s a hard balance, and Clancy’s father, while he goes overboard in his hovering, certainly has reason to be overprotective, as the reader finds out.

Q: What inspired you to write a contemporary YA novel and move away from some of your previous topics related to myths and fairytales? I’ve written lots of kinds of books: nonfiction (mostly history and biography), historical fiction, a mystery series, an anthology of little-known Greek myths, fantasy, ghost stories, time travel, myth and fairy-tale retellings—you name it! I get bored easily and always want to try something new. I hadn’t written a contemporary YA novel, and of course skydiving has to be set in at least the twentieth century, so I went for it. Writing Freefall Summer was partially a challenge to myself to see if I could make an ancient, and strange, story relevant to today. It was a challenge, but I’m happy with the result!

Q: How long did it take you to write Freefall Summer? I wrote the first draft in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month in 2012. NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in the month of November. Needless to say, when you write that fast, what comes out is usually pretty bad, and that was true in this case. So I took some time revising the messy manuscript I had written. I had other projects going on at the time, so whenever I had a few weeks where I didn’t have to work on one of my other books, I’d work on Freefall Summer, which at that time was called The Icarus Complex. I signed the contract with Charlesbridge Teen in the spring of 2016, and then of course I had lots more edits to do, so you could say I was still writing it for quite a while after that. Its publication date is April, 2018, so Freefall Summer took me either 30 days or six years to write, depending on how you look at it!

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