Levelidity: The state of being in a level position with respect to another sky diver. —The Whuffo’s Guide to Skydiving
Clancy Edwards has always been "the good girl." Her father has watched her like a hawk ever since her mother died in a skydiving accident when Clancy was young. Between her dad's rules and her boyfriend's protectiveness, she's longing for an escape this summer, and her job packing chutes at the family-owned drop zone isn't exactly exciting stuff.
Clancy must also deal with unresolved feelings of guilt over her mother's death. Part of her healing process means being honest and following her passions, wherever that may lead.
Then Clancy meets Denny, a new skydiving student and college freshman. Clancy lets Denny think they're the same age—and that she's old enough to make her own decisions. But the lies snowball, relationships are damaged, and suddenly Clancy isn't the person she wants to be. If only making choices were as simple as taking a leap out of a plane. Before Clancy can make things right, one last act of rebellion threatens her chance to do so—maybe forever.
Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous well-regarded books for young readers, as well as being a scholar and professor. Her fiction titles include Anna of Byzantium (Penguin Random House), The Stepsister's Tale (Harlequin Teen), and the middle-grade series The Sherlock Files (Henry Holt)
An Interview with Tracy Barrett
What inspired you to write a YA novel about skydiving?
I’ve always wanted to write a skydiving novel, but I wanted skydiving to be an important part of the story, not just something added on for thrills. For a long time I couldn’t come up with anything.
I also like to write retellings of fairy tales and Greek myths, and it occurred to me that a modern-day retelling of the myth of Icarus (the teenager who flew too close to the sun and died) could work as the basis for a novel. I started off playing with that idea, and without a clear idea of where the story would go. Pretty soon it veered off from the myth, and I let it veer! You can still see echoes of the myth here and there, though, especially in the names of the characters and the locations.
Have you ever been skydiving? What was your experience like?
I’ve made eighteen jumps, seventeen of them when I was in my 20s, and one while I was writing Freefall Summer. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t think I’ll ever jump again! I never stopped being scared, and I figured that if the fear didn’t start going down after seventeen jumps, it wasn’t worth it. But I met my husband at the drop zone when he offered to help me pack my parachute! I never had any accidents and never saw a serious one, just some sprained ankles and things like that. Skydiving is actually a very safe sport, and it gets safer all the time as equipment and training improve. The fear comes not from a rational place, but from that instinct that has been telling you DON’T FALL ever since you were a toddler.
I love your epigrams from The Whuffo’s Guide to Skydiving in the book. What made you decide to add those?
I knew that for the narrative to be authentic I’d have to use a lot of skydiving jargon, and I didn’t want the action to grind to a halt while I defined what a character was saying. I played with a few different ways to explain the terms I needed to use, but I’ve always disliked glossaries in novels (nonfiction is a different matter, of course), and Clancy struck me as the kind of nerd (takes one to know one!) who would keep a notebook like The Whuffo’s Guide to Skydiving. It was fun matching definitions and fun facts with the story action of each chapter.
Clancy and her dad have a really complicated relationship dynamic. How did this develop over the course of your writing process?
When I began to build that relationship, I was still basing the story on the myth of Icarus, where the father, Daedalus, both makes the wings for Icarus and cautions him about them. I really related to that, having raised teenagers myself. I know how much you want your young-adult child to be bold and independent, while simultaneously wanting them to be careful. It’s a hard balance, and Clancy’s father, while he goes overboard in his hovering, certainly has reason to be overprotective, as the reader finds out.
What inspired you to write a contemporary YA novel and move away from some of your previous topics related to myths and fairy tales?
I’ve written lots of kinds of books: nonfiction (mostly history and biography), historical fiction, a mystery series, an anthology of little-known Greek myths, fantasy, ghost stories, time travel, myth and fairy-tale retellings—you name it! I get bored easily and always want to try something new. I hadn’t written a contemporary YA novel, and of course skydiving has to be set in at least the twentieth century, so I went for it. Writing Freefall Summer was partially a challenge to myself to see if I could make an ancient, and strange, story relevant to today.
It was a challenge, but I’m happy with the result!
How long did it take you to write Freefall Summer?
I wrote the first draft in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month in 2012. NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in the month of November.
Needless to say, when you write that fast, what comes out is usually pretty bad, and that was true in this case. So I took some time revising the messy manuscript I had written. I had other projects going on at the time, so whenever I had a few weeks where I didn’t have to work on one of my other books, I’d work on Freefall Summer, which at that time was called The Icarus Complex . I signed the contract with Charlesbridge Teen in the spring of 2016, and then of course I had lots more edits to do, so you could say I was still writing it for quite a while after that. Its publication date is April, 2018, so Freefall Summer took me either 30 days or six years to write, depending on how you look at it!