Settings are very important to author Tracee de Hahn, both the settings of her books and the surroundings in which she writes.
Her first mystery novel, “Swiss Vendetta,” is set in a chateau on Lake Geneva (French name: Lac Leman). The hardback edition came out in September. It can be downloaded and is already available in audio format. The large print edition comes out in August.
“It’s an amazing setting,” de Hahn said of Lac Leman, a place she has visited with her Swiss husband Henri. A painting in the couple’s home depicts the actual lakeside castle that provided the inspiration for her first novel’s setting.
In “Swiss Vendetta,” female inspector Agnes Lüthi is among the people who are trapped in a lakeside chateau by an ice storm. “You need a place that’s evocative,” de Hahn said.
Her second book, “A Well-Timed Murder,” is also part of the Agnes Lüthi series, and is already listed by Amazon. It will be out in February of 2018.
So de Hahn is busy. She has completed a 14-city promotional tour of book signings and meet-and-greets. Her publisher, Minotaur Books, arranged a tour that took her across the South, out to the Midwest and to New York City. When she is at home in Christiansburg, she is writing fulltime.
She and husband Henri, director of the school of architecture and design at Virginia Tech, chose a Victorian home in Christiansburg for their residence. In her office overlooking a large, tree-shaded yard, de Hahn writes each day. On warm, dry days, she might take her writing to her spacious front porch. These days she is working on a mystery that might be set in Kentucky, her home state.
“As a new author, you don’t have a name out there,” said de Hahn, explaining why she spent time away from her current projects to promote works she completed months ago. When a writer comes home from a promotional tour, “you have to be really committed to the project that’s currently going on.”
De Hahn said she was thrilled during book launching engagements when readers asked her questions that reflected familiarity with “Swiss Vendetta.”
“Oh, my gosh, they read it!” she recalls thinking to herself.
Local signings so far have included stops at Barnes and Noble stores in Roanoke and Christiansburg. Her book is available at local libraries.
De Hahn said she approaches her writing by first “rolling ideas around in my brain.” When she’s ready, she creates a rough outline, “so I know where I’m going,” she explained. She estimated she writes a minimum of 1,000 words a day—sometimes in longhand, but most often on her computer.
“It’s easier to edit bad ideas than it is to edit a blank page,” she said.
Ideas get jotted down in a notebook. “This helps me not forget plot points, lines of dialogue or simply ideas I want to mull,” she said. She keeps note cards and notebooks divided into chapters to help her check continuity quickly as she progresses through a story. A wall chart that reveals the entire book in ten-page segments helps her control the book’s pacing.
De Hahn appreciates the flexibility her at-home work site affords. “I can be working in the yard thinking about what I’m writing. If I get an idea, I can come inside.”
Another perk of being at home while she works is the fact that de Hahn can keep an eye on the couple’s two Jack Russell terriers, Alvaro (Spanish for architect) and Lika (the first dog in space).
“But I felt a little bit hurried last week,” she admitted, explaining that it had been her turn to write a week’s worth of online entries for a blog she and four other writers maintain. “When you write, you’re alone,” she said, “so it’s important to be part of a community of writers.”
De Hahn has joined the New River Writer’s Group, which meets monthly at Lucie Monroe’s in Christiansburg. Occasionally she attends weekend writing workshops. She has four on her calendar right now, including ones where she is a featured guest.
Understandably, she calls herself “immersed” in her craft.
De Hahn comes to writing by a circuitous path. Like many youngsters, she read the Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie mysteries. She studied architecture at the University of Kentucky, where she met her husband. She wrote privately in college, but did not seek publication.
“I like to say that my mother taught me to read and my father inspired me to write,” de Hahn said. His writings were mostly fact-based, whereas de Hahn has always preferred to write fiction. Her parents still live in western Kentucky.
“I think he’s real proud,” de Hahn said, predicting her father’s reaction to her success as an author.
De Hahn’s professional career included working for universities and non-profits, often involving her in fund raising. She was assistant vice president for alumni relations at California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo. She worked briefly at Virginia Tech before launching into writing fulltime. Unlike the solitary pursuit of writing, these jobs were “completely collaborative.”
“A Well-Timed Murder” is set in the small town of Basel, Switzerland, and the series de Hahn is currently creating, a mystery/adventure, she calls it, is set in Lexington, Kentucky.
“A year ago I was already asking myself what my second book series was going to be,” she said.