SALT LAKE CITY — If there’s one thing Traci Hunter Abramson is not, it’s average. She’s not your average mom, your average high school swim coach or your average award-winning author.
The fact that she is all of those things would make it hard to be average at any of them. And no matter what she’s working on at the moment, she goes all out.
For starters, her writing process is not to sit at a desk in a quiet room and write stories from carefully detailed outlines. Instead, every morning, after Abramson’s younger children have left for the day, she grabs her Alphasmart Neo, a simple word processor, and heads to the gym.
“I put it on the treadmill and I spend an hour just walking on the treadmill and writing my first 600 to 1,000 words for the day,” Abramson said. “I know it’s not everyone else’s normal process. It probably isn’t even safe for a lot of people — I don’t walk that fast.”
Writing and walking
Abramson seems to always be on the move. Even when she’s not on the treadmill, she’s constantly turning interactions and experiences into new story ideas. She said one of her writing struggles is that she has too many ideas. Abramson, an Arizona-native who lived in Utah while she attended Brigham Young University, has published 25 books already, and she’s currently working on four different stories — although she said that’s not typical.
“Up until recently, I would work on one book at a time. Sometimes I would have two or three that I would have ideas on and I would start on the first 10, 15, 20 pages and figure out which one seemed the most interesting to me,” she said.
At the time of this interview, though, no one idea had won out yet, so she would keep writing the four. She said this is the first time she’s had to keep notes for herself to keep all the storylines straight.
“I’m entertaining myself,” she said. “I’m just really hoping that the right names are going into the right manuscript right now. It’s crazy.”
Many of Abramson’s books are suspense novels, so readers are drawn in to keep reading until they find the answers, and it sounds like it’s the same way for Abramson as she writes.
“I’m very much a discovery writer,” she said. “I don’t outline. I have a general concept and idea and then I just start writing. I have no idea what’s going to happen until the characters demand what’s going to happen.”
She pulls from a variety of sources for story ideas, including family experiences, current events and the years she spent in the CIA as a finance officer. She and her family live near Washington, D.C., and many of their neighbors are part of either the intelligence community or the military. She said because of her time in the CIA she can “kind of picture what’s behind the scenes that they’re not saying.”
Much of what she observes turns into starting points for stories. Her most recent book, “Proximity” (Covenant Communications, 262 pages), released in October, was inspired by experiences of her younger sister.
“You take a piece of real life and kind of twist it and add a ‘what if’ statement and see what could happen,” she said.
Kicking off her shoes
Abramson’s pedal-to-the-metal, all-out attitude shows in the quality of her work. She said she is constantly trying to get better, and her books consistently win at the Whitney Awards, an annual program that honors authors who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Books are nominated by readers and voted on by other Latter-day Saints in the publishing industry.
Abramson’s books have won Whitney Awards several times in the suspense/mystery category, and last year her book “Safe House” won Novel of the Year in adult fiction. The first time one of her books won in 2012, she wasn’t expecting it. She had been nominated several times and enjoyed going to the gala to support fellow authors.
“I would go in every time and be perfectly content to kick my shoes off under the table and watch one of my friends win,” she said.
And she meant what she said about kicking her shoes off literally — “I like shoes,” she said. “I just don’t like wearing them.” By the time she won her first Whitney Award she had become known for kicking her shoes off under the table, and this time was no different.
“My name is called and I am completely stunned, and I stand up, and I sit right back down because I realized I had no shoes on. So I quickly put my shoes on.
“Somebody across the room asked, ‘Did she just faint?’ And someone else said, ‘No, she’s putting her shoes on.’”
Throughout the continual writing and awards ceremonies, Abramson strives for balance. In fact, the treadmill writing came from a desire to stay healthy and keep exercising while still getting writing time in.
She coaches a high school swim team and asks her swimmers to keep their grades much higher than the minimum required to participate. She does her best to help the athletes be well-rounded — not just good swimmers but good people.
Her desire to build up and add balance to the lives of young people is part of what motivated her to start writing novels in the first place. She was working with the Young Women program in her LDS ward and found the girls ages 12 to 13 years old wanted to feel like adults and read adult fiction, but there wasn’t much clean content to choose from.
“I thought, ‘There’s got to be something better than that,’” she said. “And I went and started looking, and there really wasn’t.”
So she started writing family-friendly adult fiction to fill what she saw as “a huge gap in the market.” That seems to be Abramson’s way. She keeps busy, she follows through and she seeks balance, both in her own life and for others.
She’ll keep kicking off her shoes, coaching and writing novels — while walking on the treadmill at the gym, where she says she’s building a reputation.
“Half the people in there know me,” she said. “They just say, ‘What are you writing today? How are the books going?’"