Interviewed by Matthew Totsky
Photography by Jerry Zolynsky
Meet Troy resident Tracy Bilen. For the past 18 years, she’s taught French and Spanish at Detroit Country Day in Beverly Hills. She is also an accomplished author, having written two thrillers for young adults. Her first novel, What She Left Behind, published in 2012, tackled themes of domestic violence. Next up is Watch Your Back, which will be released later this year.
“It concerns a girl whose father is killed in a drive-by shooting,” Bilen explains. “With the help of a new friend, she begins to unravel the truth about the murder, which puts both of their lives in danger.”
The writing bug bit Bilen at an early age. “I started when I was very young and my teachers always encouraged me,” she says. “I continued writing throughout college and began my first novel around the same time I started my teaching career. I enjoy writing for young adults, and being a high school teacher gives me a special insight into their world.”
Industry changes: When I got serious about getting published, there was very little access to agents and editors because all communication was done by snail mail. With email, there’s a quicker turnaround time for responses. Social media is also very important because it enables you to learn more about to whom you are submitting and how long you will have to wait for a reply. It was so anonymous before, and I had no concept about how the whole industry worked. The advent of e-books is also exciting because it gives your work a longer shelf life.
Professionally speaking: I always knew I had stories to tell, but, at times, it felt impossible to navigate the publishing world. Like most authors, I’ve gotten frustrated with that part of it, so I’d put my writing aside for a while. But when I did that, I always felt like there was a part of me that was missing so I’d come back and keep working until I got it right.
Proudest career accomplishment: Of course, it was when my first book got published! I spent over a year writing it and won a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Michigan Mentorship with author Shutta Crum. I spent another year working with her on revisions and getting some great feedback. I started to submit my novel to agents and got more than 40 rejections before finally getting an offer from Kevan Lyon with the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in California. We then went through another round of revisions. After that, it took about six weeks to find a publisher. It was a whirlwind process, but it was worth it!
Career thoughts: I would like to be able to write faster and continue developing my craft. I’d also enjoy the challenge of working as an editor or something else related to publishing. And someday, I hope to write an adult thriller.
Passion for: Obviously, reading and writing, but I also enjoy working with — and speaking — other languages. I lived for two years in France during college and was fortunate to travel throughout Europe. I’ve studied the Czech language because of my family heritage, and my husband is a German teacher, so I’ve picked up a little bit of that along the way as well.
Life in Troy: We love living here. Our neighborhood backs up to the woods so it feels like we have a close connection to nature. We also like to ride our bikes through the local trails at the Metroparks and around town for shopping.
Favorite place to hang out: One of my favorite spots is the cafe at Barnes & Noble in Troy. I belong to a writing critique group, and we meet there every month. It’s nice to be surrounded by books, and I enjoy their hot chocolate and red velvet cupcakes. When we go out, Fritatta in Clawson is a fun place. We can ride our bikes there and enjoy breakfast outside. My family also spends a lot of time at the Stony Creek Metropark for biking, hiking, swimming and visiting the nature center.
My perfect day: In a perfect world, I would love to be able to write every morning and spend the afternoon with my husband and kids. We enjoy swimming in the local lakes and pools and doing art projects together.
What most people don’t know about me: I like country music and clogging. I got into it right after college and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve taken some clogging classes at dance studios and even went to a clogging convention in Windsor soon after my son was born in 2002. NS