Friday, February 5, 2016

Writer Spotlight!

Introducing Tracy Bilen! 

Happy Friday everyone! It’s time for another Writer Spotlight here on the Mitten. And today I'm excited to welcome YA author Tracy Bilen. Tracy is the author of the book, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND (Simon Pulse May 2012). When she’s not writing novels for young adults, Tracy teaches French and Spanish at Detroit County Day school in Beverly Hills (Michigan, not California:). So let’s give a big Mitten welcome to Tracy!  

Mitten: Tell us a little bit about you. Where you’re from and your history in our great big Mitten! 

Tracy: I was born near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but also lived in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania before moving to Michigan as a freshman in high school. We lived in Onsted, a town with one blinking red light, which is about an hour south of Ann Arbor. My first novel is set in a fictional version of this town. I went to Adrian College (in Adrian, Michigan) and Penn State. After working at a boarding school in Vermont, I moved back to the metro-Detroit area.

Mitten: When did you start writing for children or otherwise, and how did you know it was something you wanted to do?

Tracy: I started writing novels soon after leaving high school, so a young adult perspective was my mind-set at the time and today it still seems to be the right fit for me.

Mitten: How did you find out about SCBWI and how long have you been a member?

Tracy: I’ve been a member for about eight years. I found out about SCBWI just by cruising the internet looking for local writing events. At my first conference, I met a fantastic critique partner. After that I won the SCBWI-Michigan YA mentorship competition with the awesome Shutta Crum, which led to the sale of my debut novel.

Mitten: What genres are you most interested in and why? Picture books, middle grade, YA, chapter books, poetry, nonfiction?

Tracy: YA fiction all the way! Because the teen years are such an emotional part of our lives and I love the rich and varied voices you find in YA literature.

Mitten: Tell us about your publishing journey. 

Tracy: My debut novel, What She Left Behind, was published by Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster in 2012 and also sold to Germany and Taiwan. It’s a YA romantic thriller about a girl whose mom disappears…and her dad is the most-likely suspect.

Mitten: Many of us have a job other than writing for children. Tell us something about what you do outside of writing.

Tracy: I teach high school French and Spanish at Detroit Country Day School. I studied/taught for two years in France, and once took students to Quebec in 50 below zero weather. Okay, that might have been the wind-chill, but in any case, my boots were no match for the frigid temperatures!

Mitten: How does this occupation inform your writing?

Tracy: Teaching keeps me in touch with young adults, my target audience, and keeps me constantly involved in working with language. I run a World Language Week contest and the creativity of the students (in writing, art, and singing) awes and inspires me.

Mitten: Where do you get most of your writing ideas? Do you write them down, keep them in a computer file or just store them in your memory?

Tracy: I could walk around for days or even years and never think of a single idea! So I have to sit at the computer and tell myself to write something, anything! And I think it’s my subconscious that then takes over and does the work.

Mitten: We all have favorite writers that inspire us. Name two of yours and why you like them.

Lauren Oliver, because I love her mastery of both plot and prose in Before I fall, and Stephanie Oakes, because of the lyrical quality of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

Mitten: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer for children? Why?

Once you start querying agents, start working on your next project. I followed that advice after I finished a manuscript that I was querying. That one never sold…but the one that I wrote while I was waiting to hear back from agents? It ended up being my debut novel!

Thanks so much for stopping by Tracy! Wow, Quebec in 50-below-zero temps! You are officially my hero. Tracy's website is currently down for maintenance, but you can follow her at or on Facebook at


  1. It's always nice to hear success stories. Thanks for the inspiration, Tracy.

  2. Patti organizes the Writer Spotlights, so I never know who it's going to be. Surprise - fun to see my critique partner Tracy here!

  3. Tracy is a hardworking writer. Glad she's part of our tribe!

  4. Thanks for sharing this excellent interview--it's always fun to read about the journey to publication!

  5. Glad you took the advice to work on your next project while you're querying because I really enjoyed reading What She Left Behind.