Everything Else in the Universe: An Interview with Tracy Holczer
First, congratulations on your powerful new middle grade novel, Everything Else in the Universe. As a fellow writer who has also recently released a middle grade novel concerned with the U. S. involvement in the war in Vietnam, I’m delighted to talk to you a bit about your own process in particular and about historical fiction in general.
Tell me a little bit about the book’s premise, and how you landed on this subject.
Everything Else in the Universe is first, and foremost, a story about family and healing. I had a disabled father, and grew up in the 70’s, so the Vietnam era seemed a natural fit. I wanted to explore the viewpoint of a child with a parent serving, the sacrifices made by children when their parents are sent to war. As the novel progressed alongside the runup to the election in 2016, it seemed important to lean more heavily on the division of feeling about Vietnam at that time in history and the political ramifications. Not just about protest, but of the very real conflicted feelings a child might have about loyalty, not just with regard to patriotism, but to a parent who has suffered a great loss while serving. To me, when stripped to that level, whether the war was just or unjust almost became irrelevant. It became a story about a girl trying to figure out her place in the world, but more importantly, her place in her family.
Did you set out to write a book about the effect of the war in Vietnam on the families of the American soldiers that served?
I set out, primarily, to write about one family. To shine a light on the sacrifice this country expects not just of its military personnel, but the children in those families. I watched films of parents returning from war and was struck by the pure relief of the children. Wild, uncontained, relief. And I just wanted to try to capture the whole picture. What came before and after that moment.
Could you share a bit about your research process for the book?
I am a bit of a scatterbrain. So, my research was all over the place. I went to San Jose, California, where the book is set, and went through their newspaper archives for the summer of 1971, the summer Lucy and Milo became friends. I read Farmer’s Almanacs and World Book Encyclopedias and Life Magazines. I went back to my own childhood photos and ordered a Sears catalogue from the summer of 1971. I interviewed Vietnam vets and heart surgeons. I also read letters from Vietnam vets to their families. It was very surreal doing the research as history seemed to be repeating itself.
What do you think a book like Everything Else in the Universe offers contemporary readers, especially middle-grade readers?
Sadly, I think our Vietnam stories are now showing middle-grade readers that history can, and will, repeat itself if we are not vigilant.
The writing process, especially for the novel, is a long, hard road, and the publication of a book marks a major achievement. As the book makes its way into the hands of readers, what about the book or the project brings you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
My sense of accomplishment comes from finishing. There were times, many more than I’d like to remember, where I was certain I wouldn’t. That this story was too much for me, and I’d bitten off more than I could chew. But every time that happened, I took a breath (or three), and went back to it. I look forward to talking about this difficult process with kids. The importance of holding a goal and seeing it through, no matter what.
Thanks so much, Tracy. Congratulations!
I'm delighted to be the first stop on Tracy's blog tour. Readers who want to learn more about Everything Else in the Universe can follow Tracy's blog tour here:
Mr. Schu Reads - June 17th
Kidlit Frenzy - June 18th
Teach Mentor Texts - June 20th
Caroline Starr Rose - June 22nd