In this episode, Linda Hengerer talks with Tracee de Hahn about Swiss Vendetta and A Well-Timed Murder, writing, and Tracee's process.
In this episode, Linda Hengerer talks with Tracee de Hahn.
Tracee de Hahn is the author of classic tales of intrigue and suspense published by Minotaur Books. Swiss Vendetta was inspired by her years in Switzerland. A Well-Timed Murder probed the heart of the Swiss watch industry. She is National Membership Liaison for Sisters in Crime.
Find her at TraceedeHahn.com to sign up for her newsletter and follow her on social media.
Get to know Tracee - the Tart Words Baker's Dozen:
1. Plotter or Pantser? Combo? Combo, definitely.
2. Tea or Coffee? Tea. Twining's Lady Grey.
3. Beer, Wine, or Cocktails? Wine and one cocktail, a perfect Manhattan
4. Snacks: Sweet or Savory? Sweet, really chocolate
5. Indie Published, Traditionally Published, or Hybrid? Traditionally.
6. Strict Writing Schedule: Yes or No. No.
7. Strictly Computer or Mix It Up? Absolutely mix it up. All the time.
8. Daily Goal: Yes or No. No.
9. Formal Track Progress: Yes or no. Yes.
10. Special Writing Spot? No.
11. Writer’s Block? Means I'm not working hard enough.
12. File of Ideas: Yes or No. Not a very organized one.
13. Favorite Author(s)? Too many to name.
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Transcribed by Otter.ai; Lightly edited by Linda. Please forgive typos or grammatical errors.
Episode 230 - Tracee de Hahn
Welcome to Tart Words. I'm your host, Linda Hengerer. And I'm a writer, a reader and a baker. I talk to writers about their latest book and what inspires them, chat with fellow author Suzanne Fox about what writers can learn from reading their favorite authors, and share fast and easy recipes for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Join me as I share Tart Bites, Tart Thoughts, and Tart Words. Today I'm speaking with Tracee de Hahn.
Tracee de Hahn is the author of classic tales of intrigue and suspense published by Minotaur Books. Swiss Vendetta, was inspired by her years in Switzerland. A Well-Timed Murder probed the heart of the Swiss watch industry. She is National Membership Liaison for Sisters in Crime. Find her at www.TraceedeHahn.com. Sign up for her newsletter, buy a book and follow her on social media at her website.
Welcome to the podcast, Tracee, I'm really looking forward to talking with you today.
Linda, I'm thrilled to be here.
Tell me about your latest book.
I guess you could say there are two kinds of latest books. The latest one that's out there in stores is A Well-Timed Murder. I've written two books set in Switzerland. My husband is Swiss and we lived there for some years. And that was the inspiration for those books. And A Well-Timed Murder is a follow-up to the first one, Swiss Vendetta, that can be read independently of each other. The first one was very much inspired by a tremendous ice storm in Switzerland. And you don't think of Switzerland as caring about ice and snow. But not every part is set up for ice and snow all the time. That really inspired the story of, you know, what could happen under the cover of the big snowstorm. Now the second one, A Well-Timed Murder, a little bit inspired by the idea of Switzerland as a very cosmopolitan place. Lots of people travel there, it’s in the center of Europe, you can come from France, and Germany and Italy and all these places. They have four national languages, all these kind of international bits that also applies to my husband's experience when he was at boarding school. And so at boarding school, it's a relatively small community. It was all boys back then at the school, and they came from all over the world. So it was like a microcosm of the adult world of Switzerland. And I thought, wow, that has a lot of potential for strange things to happen, you know, for the mystery to come into that life. And then I of course have the new book that I'm working on.
Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
So the books that…For me, place is so important, my educational background is in two things. I have an undergraduate degree in architecture. And I think that solidified my notion of places being very important. I always loved to travel. My graduate work later was done in history, European history. So a little bit of those things coming together. Definitely in Swiss Vendetta, looking at a place where I had lived, a place that was very intriguing to me, a place that was familiar, because I gotten to know it, but also was the other because I was new to it. And I think that's interesting when you write because when I wrote Swiss Vendetta and A Well-Timed Murder, I knew what was unique and fascinating to me as this quote outsider in a foreign world. I feel that when I wrote about it, I knew the little things that would come out as something that really characterized the place, kind of summed it up, encapsulated it, because I knew what stood out to me and my time there. Now the book I'm working on right now is set in Kentucky at a distillery. I'd like to say I'm from Kentucky, I don't know if you have this problem. But I was born in one state, lived most of my life and another, so I'm always hesitant to say my home state because I don't want to leave out Missouri, which is where I was born. But I lived most of my life in Kentucky, including years after college, if I can still we moved to Europe. And so it's set in a place that's so incredibly familiar to me. And it has actually been a little bit more of a challenge to write. Because when you know something really well, you don't have to think about it. And so writing this, I had to say what would reinforce the idea and the place of Kentucky, picking out the things that reinforce what we think we know and that are true about a culture or a place, and then adding in the other detail. And when I wrote my first draft of the book in Kentucky, I just kind of assumed people knew it. And I had to go back and say no, you need to layer in, what does it feel like to be in Kentucky and spring? How do people talk? How do they dress? What are the kinds of activities they do? So it's been a different kind of challenge, but a lot of fun.
Yeah, and I think a lot of people know Kentucky, if they know it at all, from the Kentucky Derby, which is the first Saturday in May. So it's springtime and a lot of times it's been rainy, so the track is a mess. But you're used to seeing flowers and green and the beginning of life again after a cold winter when things sort of go fallow.
In this one instance, I had a really strong physical idea and it was based on my sister, which is a compliment – my sister's very attractive.
You're elevating her to a main character and that's because you like your sister. I don't know that you would want to spend time with a character you didn't like.
Right. But I'm giving her a life that is very different than my sister’s. So you know, really, that's where everything else becomes fiction. But it was the starting point for kind of the physical person that we would see. And I had an in…and again, you know, I'll just extrapolate – none of the bad stuff is about my sister, but maybe my sister and me together, kind of an easy childhood is fine. As my sister and I say anything we didn't like, we've forgotten. We've scrubbed from our memory. And then what if something bad happens to you, you know, something that you didn't see coming? And it undermines how you feel about everything. And you think, well, was I just so naively trusting of everything before? Do I trust my instincts going forward? You know, if somebody, this involves her, her husband, this comes out in first three pages, her husband kind of being a very bad person, and she didn't know it, and you say, you know, how does that undermine my whole life? And so my sister has never had anything like that happen. But it was a little bit like, what would someone like her? What would it mean if her life was transformed by this external force? So I was able to start to say, That's gonna be the start of my book, we take a kind of average girl from Kentucky, and your life is up-ended. And I couldn't resist the distillery business. I do drink bourbon myself. And so that was fun.
And they've been so welcoming as a group. Bourbon Women is a group out of Louisville, statewide really, but their headquarter is [in Louisville], and then also people who, you know, are master distillers at different distilleries have been really welcoming to me and have spent a lot of time with me and willing to answer questions and help me get things right. And that's been a lot of fun. And there's that fine balance between that part of your character's life and then the main thrust of the story, the crime in the sense, you know, the crime that they're solving. So it's been fun kind of putting these bits of distillery in and learning about it.
The beauty part is learning about a particular subject and then using what serves the story versus everything that you've learned. Everything you've learned doesn't need to go in the story. But certainly, what you've learned can enhance the story because of the specialized knowledge.
Yeah, and it's interesting, too, because I've reached out to quite a few people. And there was a father and daughter who are both very engaged. He's a retired master distiller who now consults with many distilleries, and his daughter does marketing and really the business consulting side with different distillers. And so they come from two different points of view in their true hardcore professional life. And we'll be on this group emails together, I'll send them draft copies, and I'll get their responses. And it's funny how their responses…it's not that one is right and one is wrong. But let's face it, we all sometimes there are things you have two opinions on. And so it's nice because you can see the space for interpretation, the space to say not everything is right or wrong. Some things are well, it could be that way, or could be this way.
But some things are just perspective.
Right. They'll point out, oh, you can decide, as opposed to No, this is how it has to be. And it's nice to learn that too. What are the things that really have to happen? And what are the things that you can decide. What is law and what is good manners, you know, in a way in custom. And so that's been a lot of fun to look into and to do the research on. And I've had fun every once in a while posing a question maybe from something I saw in person or something I've read, and having them say, I’ll have to think about that. Fortunately, I had done quite a bit of in-person research. And then of course, the pandemic hit. And so everything's been on email since then, and I got slowed down in my writing. So it's all going to work out.
Do you have a writing routine or schedule?
I'd like to say I do. I think that throughout the course of life, sometimes your schedule just changes. And I have had to realize that – well, I used to be a night person, I am not any more.
Age. It changes your body.
It changes your body. And also, maybe we just get smarter and realize that we, we do not have to be up late to do something. I do realize that my clearest thinking and my, my most creative thinking happens in the morning. So for example, today, I had a lot of emails and things that had fallen through the cracks. And I really had to spend this morning catching up on that. So catching up on kind of the business side of things. I'm much better off if I get up and get to writing right away, and do the real creative things, particularly if I'm writing from scratch. Or if I'm doing significant creative changes, like where you've realized that the scene does what it needs to do, but not quite, you know, it needs a little bit of maybe the action is not quite right or the and you're really doing the writing, I need to do that in my most creative way. Now I can do editing, fine-tuning, later in the day. And I can certainly push that into the night. So I can push into the night the things where I'm, you know, reading for repeated words or doing that kind of editing. That's not the big deep What is my character thinking?
Do you outline?
Outlining is another fascinating question. I am a half and half person. If I were just to sit down and say I'm gonna write a book, it would go places, and then the problem is I would get too committed to some of those decisions without taking a step back. So I do a much better job if I, as I think about character or story, start to write these things down. Because as you know, you think about it, you think this is the best idea since creation, 50 seconds later, you will have no idea what that idea was. So you have to write it all down. And so once I've written everything down, like my character, my place, what I think the crime is, why the crime should be that, I put it out, and I used to do it on a wall and take note cards, or I have a big table now. And I'll say, this is something that has to happen early, this is something that has to happen late. And I'll kind of put them on a big outline like that. And the scratching you've heard, hopefully, that you can edit out, is my dog who refuses to leave the room. But every once in a while wants to leave the room. So in my process, I'll have these random ideas, it might be a scene that I have in mind, it might be an incident, it might be a certain character that I think is important, it might be a clue, it might be…I almost always have how I want it to start, and I almost always have the resolution. And who did it, these things may all change. And what I do is I take a big piece of white paper, and I line it out. So I just say, you know, my books are going to be approximately x number of words, which translates to let's call it 330 pages. And let's just put that number out there. And I'll say, Okay, if I think this is my opening scene, let's slap that card at the beginning. If I think I know where it's going, let's slap that near the end, because we'll have a bit of a denouement, kind of coda wrap-up. And then I'll have other whether it's a scene or an idea or whatever. And I'll think Well, that seems like it's pretty late. Like, that's something that's going to really be the wrap-up moment, that's going to be the How did she figure it out moment, and I'll put that two-thirds of the way in. And I'll start with all these. Now the interesting thing is, I'll take a picture of it. And I'll work…now when I think I have what would be like the first 10 or 15%, in other words, the first couple of scenes, I'll start writing. Because you're so eager to start, I could never wait. And I'm not someone – I think Elizabeth George is famous for detailing every single thing that's going to happen in that book and then writing it. I just, it's a different kind of brain process for me. And so I find that as I write, new ideas come, and I think you see things that might even be a turn of phrase that you write that you and you go, oh, that could be interpreted two different ways. Oh, interesting. What if it's interpreted the other way? And it takes us - is it a red herring, is it an opening of another plotline. So I'd like to leave that for myself. I don't know if you do this. But as you're writing, sometimes you think oh my gosh, this is gonna lead to x. And I'll stick that on a notecard. And I'll think, yeah, this has to happen the next chapter, or this has to happen, like, wait, I have to wrap this up down the book. And I have been my most successful when I've used that process. It's a little bit of an outline, but it's also always kind of leaving the space. And so I'll look back at that picture. I did this the other day preparing to teach a class on showing outline, part of it was showing outlines and things. And I could look back at an early photograph of my quote, outline. And I can say, Well, there are 15 cards up there, and 10 of them got tossed. Now, five of them were replaced with something very similar, like a more highly refined part of that idea. But some of them, just in the end, fell by the wayside. But that's okay. Because you never know which are going to be the ones that should fall by the wayside until you get going. So that's my kind of outline and not outlining process. I tried to do more outlining - actually, for the book I'm working on now. I think it was about not I think for me, it was a big mistake because I was able to go through and write it all, but it almost felt too complete. So that I didn't feel the same opening to say, no, that's not how that should be. It felt like well, it is how it should be because I know what's going to come next and next and next. So I think in my revision, I had to really kind of strip away that mentality and say, let's just pretend like you're not wedded to every single thing that happens, and then figure out what should go away. So I'm going forward, I'm always going to keep a little bit more of that flexibility. I think that the way my mind works, as I write, I'm generating the ideas that will be more useful later than if I just sat down and said, what would those ideas be?
Right. Do you have a creative outlet that plays into your writing or gives you a creative respite?
You know, interesting question after the, this very strange year. I probably have too many creative outlets in a way, which is the reason I was able to fill my year without actually being very productive writing, with all my other creative outlets. I've always enjoyed painting and so many other things like that. I think that one of the most important things is to have a creative outlet that you can dip into and get out of very quickly. I find that technically, I think I really don't like to garden. I'm not someone who says Oh, the joy of the soil, and I'm not an outdoorsy person. But it's a great thing to go out and you know, even sweat a little bit, you know, be outside, fresh air, doing something that suddenly I can say, Oh my gosh, this is how to fix that problem. Take off my gloves go inside and get to work. And I found that your mind roams very free, I think when you're in an outside situation. That's why a lot of people go on long walks, and baths work the same. You know, creative block to take a bath, the second you're comfortable in a hot bath, particularly if you use some sort of like expensive or exotic bath oil or something, that's exactly the moment you have to jump out and get to work. I mean, it's like it freezes like that, I can't, no, you have to, you have to do it now.
Right, because you'll forget it if you don't.
So I have found that it is, you know, you can obviously start doing things that just lead to more time spent away from the desk. And then you can also spend times, giving your mind a moment to rest. And so I think taking that break and doing household tasks, you're down the rabbit hole, because let's face it, even if you hate the household task, at least it feels productive, you know, you should be doing it and you will not get back to your writing. I think if I do something like needlepoint for 15 minutes, it's like don't even leave the office, just sit there and do this and let your mind roam. And you say, Okay, now I figured out my problem. For me, I go outside, you know, garden for a few minutes, pull a few weeds, probably because I'm not that into it. I'm like, oh, wait a minute, I have a good idea. And I can run back inside. Fresh air never hurt anybody.
I agree. And I do think that the physical action of – I crochet, or doing needlepoint or something physical, does help let your mind work the problem in the background so that you do get that idea coming to the forefront.
Yes. And I think we have to let our minds have a little bit of a break to follow some possibilities. Your mind works so fast when you're not having to speak or write the words. And I think you're just churning through different possibilities, different outcomes, different solutions. And then always having that notebook. So that if you can't, you know, you've got to write it down right then because, and I've gotten better about taking notes on my phone or even dictating on my phone because I realize I'll forget about it. And sometimes it is a really good idea. It might just be a line of dialogue. Might be the thing, the transition line. You know that that lets your main character move to the next point, like how am I going to introduce that or cut off the other avenue. And so for example, painting is a little bit different, you kind of got to cover up your paints and take care of it all. And so for me, that's not a very good kind of quick respite, it feels like a different kind of commitment.
Right. Well, I think this was really terrific. And I've enjoyed talking to you today. Where can readers find you?
Well, they can, of course, go to my website, and of course, Amazon and Barnes and Noble and all those places, and I'm pretty much everywhere under my name, Tracee de Hahn, which is such an unusual spelling that there's only one me. It's not like, you know, finding Jane Smith online. So T R A C E E d e H A H N will take you to my website. And then anywhere you buy books. And Swiss Vendetta is also out in audio and paperback. And hopefully I'll have news coming in the next months about a book set in Kentucky. And that'll be fine. And of course, I'll post that on my website and social media and places like that.
Thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Tracee, this was really interesting, and I look forward to reading your stories.
Thank you, Linda. Thanks for having me. And thank you everyone out there listening.
Thank you for joining me this week. To view the complete show notes and the links mentioned in today's episode, visit tartwords.com/tart230. Before you go, Follow or Subscribe for free to the podcast to receive new episodes when they're released. Follow now in the app you're using to listen to this podcast or sign up for email alerts through an easy signup form for Bakers, Readers, and/or Writers at tartwords.com/about. Thank you again for joining me, Linda Hengerer, for this episode of Tart Words.
Tracee de Hahn is the author of classic tales of intrigue and suspense published by Minotaur Books. Swiss Vendetta, was inspired by her years in Switzerland. A Well-Timed Murder probed the heart of the Swiss watch industry. She is National Membership Liaison for Sisters in Crime. Find her at www.TraceedeHahn.com