Today we're talking with Trae Stratton, author of To Have and To Hold
FQ: Your book is extremely well-written about the average family. It seems likely that this MacLann unit is very close to your own. Did you take much of the narrative of your book from your own experiences? And, as a sub-question, did your Mom have that look? I ask, because mine still has. (Even the cat leaves the room when it appears. LOL)
STRATTON: Thank you. I really appreciate a compliment like that. It supports my theme that happy endings do exist in the real world if youíre willing to nurture them through good times and bad. I actually come from a broken home, so I have to say generally ďno.Ē However, I was and continue to be very fortunate to have family to count on when I need them, and thatís certainly a major element of the MacLann family dynamic. My mother did not have that imperious look. She kept discipline through rewards and punishment and then following through on them. Growing up like that you learn to think twice, and not to break the rules unless youíre willing to pay the price or absolutely positive you wonít get caught.
FQ: Having writing awards on a resume means something, such as your award in college. Do you always take real events for your writing? Is there a craving to write in a different genre one day?
STRATTON: The funny thing is, Iíve always been a sci-fi and fantasy guy. Those are my true story passions so I would love to write something in one of those genreís one day. Honestly though, looking at the current Game of Thrones type settings and the intricacies of those galaxies far, far away, I find the massive scope of world building thatís being published today extremely daunting.
FQ: You mention that you were a member of the NYPD. When looking from that angle of your job, did meetings with children or teens who perhaps did not have a ďMacLannĒ background effect you? Do you believe that rehabilitation can be done for kids who have grown up in certain drastic home situations? And how do you believe this country, or even neighborhoods, can stop young people from walking a criminal path?
STRATTON: Among the many hats that police officers everywhere have to wear is therapist and counselor because handling domestic incidents is a big part of the job. In my experience, itís hard for every police officer to see a kid wrestling with difficult situations at home or bleak futures born of poor life choices, thatís why so many of them volunteer their time off duty. I tend to hold the parents accountable. I think they need to stop blaming teachers, authority figures and society for their children going astray, and start working closer with them to help children make better choices in the first place. Kids at every economic level lose their way. Kids at every economic level rise up and achieve great success. What does that tell you? Discipline and character are learned at home. Economic advantages can be equaled or even surpassed by ambition and dedication. So be a role model and be interested because if youíre not, they will find someone who is. Most likely itís going to be someone youíd rather it not be. Why do most kids join gangs? Theyíre searching for a family dynamic in which they feel appreciated, needed, wanted, recognized and valued, or some combination of those essentials that they should be getting at home. Yes. I do believe in rehabilitation for kids. Young hearts and minds are very resilient. They thrive on support and just need to be shown the way, and how to aim high instead of low, because itís so hard to see how school subjects like English, history and math are the stepping stones to a life and career they want. Museums are great, but itís much better to go to a real company and see a computer being built, the inside of a precinct or firehouse, stand on the deck of a Coast Guard or naval vessel or see how a magazine is printed, to visit a university science lab or chat with local college coaches and athletes so they can see their sport being played at the next level. Call them, tell your story and most will find time to open their door to you. Whatever it is that your child is passionate about, show them the next level so they know itís not just a dream, itís real and itís attainable if they stay in school and out of trouble.
FQ: Writers, as you mentioned, need stories to tell. With this book you fill a void in a lot of lives. It sounds as if you were always a writer even though you worked another job to pay the bills, so to speak. Are you enjoying your work in the industry, and where are you thinking your next plot will come from? If there is a new book in the works, fans would love to hear about it.
STRATTON: I am. I love writing and developing characters and seeing where they take me. I enjoy the process and discovery of writing. As my daughter gets older, I look forward to having more time to work. But I absolutely donít want to rush it. Sheís only going to be little once and these days are precious. With the publishing of To Have and To Hold I was all set to get started on a spiritual thriller thatís been incubating for a few years now, but instead Iíve delved into some YA because I want my daughter to have something on the shelf dedicated to her when sheís old enough to read it. I donít have a title yet, but it involves magic, unicorns and the old west.
FQ: There are many readers who will relate and ask this: do you have a ďStormĒ of your own? It always seems as if the happiest families come with that family dog that supplies comfort and friendship. Do you believe that theory?
STRATTON: I did grow up with a dog. She was a Siberian Husky named Tonya and we all loved her. We always had animals in the house, be it a bird, a cat, a dog or even fish. Yes, I do believe that theory because pets add so much to the home environment, especially affection and company.
FQ: The secret identity of the bride was fun, like a mystery set within a family tale. How do you feel about being the 1% (truly) who decided to tell a tale such as this from the groomís POV?
STRATTON: It feels great. You always want to do something that sets your book apart from all the others on the shelf. The more you read, the more you crave something different, so my great hope is that people who enjoy family dramas and love stories will find my approach appealing and refreshing- and leave me a good review! As to the mystery, a few people have guessed the identity of the bride, but it continues to amaze me that I havenít heard from anyone who has actually solved it through the clues Iíve left scattered about the book. Along the way I was really worried that who was under the veil was getting too obvious!
FQ: I ask this of everyone: If you could have lunch with one writer, alive or dead (although the dead will certainly be alive for the meal), who would it be and why?
STRATTON: This is so hard to answer. If I can choose only one: Shakespeare. As I mentioned earlier, I really love the process, so I would love to talk to him about where ideas come from and how you nurture them along. The inspiration. Plot charting. The dialogue. The names. Those wonderful moments when you get a scene just right. I find all the tedious ďthere and back againĒ of writing interesting. Plus, so much of Shakespeare is quotable; it would be great learn what lines were born of inspiration, sired by necessity and ďborrowed.Ē
FQ: Because of the beauty and elegance of this tale, who would be the people you most admire?
STRATTON: You know, the media is so agenda driven that itís nearly impossible to actually have heroes these days isnít it? So Iíll tackle this three ways. Creatively Iím going to say George Lucas, because it was only through his perseverance and vision that Star Wars has become the juggernaut of mythology and pop culture that it is today. In sports, Hines Ward who accomplished so much on the football field despite the odds and everyone telling him he couldnít do it, and has since used his success to become an advocate for biracial children. Historically, George Washington. His ambition, bravery and ingenuity are completely overshadowed by his founding father legacy. Close second to Benjamin Franklin.
FQ: You gave a decade of your life to this novel. Was this a personal adventure for you? What made you stick with the MacLannís?
STRATTON: I donít know if I would call it an adventure. But it was definitely a journey. A journey Iím proud of but that Iím glad is done. Most of the time it seems like the MacLannís had a story to tell and they chose me to tell it. They waited patiently for me to get back to the keyboard during some long breaks, like during 9/11 for instance, but they really didnít tolerate me ďcheatingĒ on them with a different story for very long. So, as it is with many things in life, I needed to complete it before I could move on to the next thing. I suppose many people donít feel the same way, but I believe happy endings do exist in the real world if youíre brave enough to chase them and willing to nurture them through difficult times, so itís nice to have a story out there that captures that for anyone who might be looking for it. Now, I have to admit, that even though I have two or three projects waiting their turn, I can already hear the MacLanns calling to me from the reception, telling me thatís where I need to set the sequel.