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Tracey Lange on the Pressure of a Second Novel, the Destructive Power of Secrets, and Feeling Like the Black Sheep of Her Family

Friday, August 11, 2023

Book jacket biographies don’t tell us nearly enough about the authors we love. That’s why Zibby Mag launched the Author Snapshot, giving readers an inside look at the lives and work of our favorite writers.

This week we are featuring Tracey Lange, the New York Times bestselling author of We Are the Brennans, whose new novel The Connellys of County Down released August 1.

Your debut We Are the Brennans was such a success! How are you feeling about the release of your sophomore novel? Does the pressure or excitement feel any different the second time around?

I think I’m feeling both more excitement and more pressure this time around. The reaction to the Brennans was overwhelming—in a good way. So many readers reached out to let me know they connected with the characters and the story on a deep level. While I can’t wait for everyone to meet the Connellys, I also can’t help feeling nervous about whether readers will respond to my second book in kind.

What does a successful book launch mean to you? Have your goals or your definition of success changed between your first and second books?

To me, a successful book launch is knowing there are people who are looking forward to reading my novel. This time around, I better understand how important early readers and reviewers are, and I’ve been so excited by the initial level of interest—particularly by the book community on Instagram. For the most part, my goals haven’t changed. As with my first book, I hope to engage enough readers that my publisher wants the next book!

What was the inspiration behind The Connellys of County Down?

I know that the root of inspiration for this novel, along with my first one, is my own upbringing in a big, sometimes complicated family. However, pursuing a degree in psychology and working in the mental health field for twenty years certainly fueled that inspiration. I’ve worked with families from all walks of life and have always found their specific stories so intriguing. I love to tell stories that explore family relationships and include characters who generally have good intentions but make some really bad decisions. I think this is so relatable for most people.

What is it about secrets (and especially secrets within a family) that you find so compelling?

Exploring why people keep secrets is what I find so compelling. It’s often to protect oneself, one’s family members, or both, but secrets often end up causing damage, whether or not they are revealed. The most destructive secrets are those that come from shame, the idea that there’s something we have to hide from everyone, including the people closest to us—sometimes, especially the people closest to us.

What are some of the similarities between your two books? What are some ways that the families and stories are different?

The family histories and dynamics of these two families are so different, particularly their childhood circumstances. While the Brennans enjoyed an intact family with stability and financial security, the Connellys lost their parents at young ages and, to a large degree, raised themselves. They were forced to band together in order to survive common enemies: poverty, a criminal father, and child protective services. As a result, they’ve developed a deep but skewed sense of loyalty to each other.

Which character in The Connellys of County Down do you relate to the most?

I would have to say Tara. From the outside, she appears the most troubled (and troublesome) of the Connelly siblings. However, she really is just a reflection of the dysfunction in the family as a whole. I was fairly rebellious growing up and definitely a challenge to my parents; it became easy to think of myself as the black sheep for a long time before I realized we were all just coping with significant stressors in different ways. It took me a couple of drafts to realize how much I related to her in this regard.

What are you working on next?

My new novel, due next year, takes an intimate look at a failed marriage. It’s about the resilience of family and the power of community. It’s also a little bit about the magic of middle school hockey!