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Young-adult author scores hit with teens

January 30, 2013

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Troy resident and young-adult book author Tracy Bilen shares her journey to successful publication with teens at the Troy Public Library Jan. 27. Bilen, a Troy resident, talks about her book which tells the story of a 16-year-old girl who fears her father has harmed her mother.

Although Troy High School junior Nicolas Ronzi prefers to read sci-fi and horror books, rather than the suspense genre, he picked up a copy of young-adult author Tracy Bilen’s “What She Left Behind” at the Troy library and was halfway through it when Bilen visited the library Jan. 27.

Ronzi serves on the Troy Library Teen Advisory Board, and Bilen visited at the board’s request.

Bilen, who teaches French and Spanish at Detroit Country Day School and lives in Troy, talked about what inspired her, the writing process and her road to publication with Simon Pulse, the teen line of Simon & Schuster publisher.

“I love sharing my love of reading and writing,” she said.

“What She Left Behind” tells the story of Sara, 16, who plans to escape with her mother from her abusive father. The two agree to meet at a specific time and place, but her mother doesn’t show up, and her father tells her she’s on a business trip.

Troy Youth Services Librarian Olivia Olson said Bilen’s book has garnered good reviews from Voice of Youth Advocates magazine. VOYA is a library journal dedicated to the needs of young-adult librarians, according its website.

Bilen said her inspiration for the book was a girl, a gun and a suitcase. It took her a year and a half to write the story. She had help from a successful author who mentored her through the process, and she said joining a professional writers groups was invaluable.

“It was very organic,” she said of her writing technique. “I didn’t know what I would write ahead of time.”

She noted that her characters are not based on any of her students, but being a high school teacher gives her some insight into the teen “lingo” and mindset.

It took Bilen eight months to land a literary agent, who sold the book to the publishing house in two months. After that, it took another year and a half for the book to be published.

During the five years before success with “What She Left Behind,” Bilen wrote two books that were never published. 

“I finished them, they were just not very good,” Bilen explained.

She said she was told those books didn’t have a plot. “So I wrote a plot-driven book,” she said. “You’re growing every time you write something new. Writing for me is not necessarily always fun. But once you get into that flow, it becomes exciting.”

Bilen said that, for her, writing is something she just couldn’t stop doing.

Troy resident Adam Seidel, 17, who also serves on the Teen Advisory Board, asked Bilen what she thinks goes into a great story.

Bilen said the story has to be compelling from the first page. Seidel said he learned a lot about the publishing process from Bilen.  He said he serves on the board to give back to the community that has given so much to him. Seidel is homeschooled and attends Oakland Community College.

The board hosted a very popular Halloween event for teens at the library in the fall that attracted 80 attendees, and they hope to grow even stronger and host more events, Troy High sophomore and Teen Advisory Board President Arushi Mahajan said. “We hope to create an infrastructure for teens academically and socially,” she said.

“They (the board) basically started all the programs,” Olson said.

For information on the Troy Library Teen Advisory Board and upcoming teen programs and events at the library, visit or visit their Facebook page at www.face, or call Youth Services at (248) 524-3534. The library is located a 510 W. Big Beaver.

About the author

Staff Writer Terry Oparka covers Troy and the Troy School District for the Troy Times. Oparka has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2000 and attended Oakland University and Macomb Community College. Oparka has won an award from the Michigan Press Association and three awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Detroit Chapter.

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