When she was growing up, Tracy Deonn bonded with her mother over their shared enthusiasm for science fiction. “If I ever got in trouble at home and she grounded me, it would be, You can watch the news or you can watch ‘Star Trek,’” Deonn recalled in a phone interview. She opted for the Starship Enterprise every time.
Deonn wrote her first short story when she was 9. She said, “It was about a girl who wakes up one day and learns she can understand animals. My mother took it so seriously. She went out of her way to copyright it.”
In 2008, after her mother died, Deonn’s partner looked up the copyright on the website of the Library of Congress — and indeed, there it was. “It had always lived in my head as a story,” said the North Carolina native, who was 24 at the time. “I was like, Oh my God. She did it. She really did it.”
Deonn was still in the throes of loss when she had a vision of a 16-year-old “brown-skinned girl with curls that took up a lot of space, like a live oak tree.” She was dynamic and electric, strong and vulnerable — and she was also grieving. Deonn said she knew the girl could “go on a quest for this impossible answer that I wouldn’t be able to answer in real life. As a science fiction/fantasy lover, I thought, I could probably figure out a story to answer that question.” She explained, “The image stuck in my mind for almost a decade and I didn’t write anything about it.”
In fact, when it came to her own work, Deonn avoided fiction altogether. She had a series of word-adjacent jobs: She taught writing to college students and theater to elementary school students; crafted dialogue for video games; produced marketing and digital copy; storyboarded profiles of young people in education; and dipped her toe into documentary filmmaking. She said, “It was a time to expand my idea of what story is and I think that was very helpful.”
But no matter what Deonn was doing, she kept coming back to that teenager. Finally, while she was at a science fiction and fantasy convention in 2017, she started writing about Bree Matthews, the powerful protagonist of both her debut novel, “Legendborn,” and its best-selling sequel, “Bloodmarked.”
“This is a very intentional continuation of grief,” Deonn said of her new book. “I’ve found that it shows up in new places over time. I honestly think if I had written every day during that decade, it wouldn’t be about Bree’s journey. That was the part that needed to percolate.”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”