Monday, July 6, 2020

Tracy Clark

Tracy Clark is a native Chicagoan who writes mysteries set in her hometown while working as an editor in the newspaper industry. She is a graduate of Mundelein College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she earned her MA.

Since reading her first Nancy Drew mystery, Clark has dreamed of crafting mysteries of her own, mysteries that feature strong, intelligent, independent female characters, and those who share their world. Cass Raines, ex-cop turned intrepid PI, is such a character.

Clark's latest novel is What You Don’t See.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I’ve been lucky so far in choosing titles that my publisher hasn’t wanted to change. A lot of thought went into each of them and each title hints very clearly at what readers will find inside the book, once they flip back the cover (fingers crossed) and dig in. Broken Places refers directly to the main character’s state of being at the start of that story. When we meet Cass Raines she is battered, broken, at a loss, but not defeated. The title’s from a Hemingway quote: “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.” That’s Cass, strong at the broken places. In Borrowed Time, book two in the series, the title is more about the case she’s investigating, and after readers have finished reading, why I selected it becomes clear. What You Don’t See, book three, well, that title does double duty pinging off, I think artfully, both the main and subplot. I think a book starts at the title and cover. Those are grabs one and two. The first page is grab three. If you make it past those points, you’ve got a good shot at holding your reader to take them along on your journey. At least that’s always my hope.

What's in a name?


How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not a bit surprised. My teenage self always had these twisted little crime stories rattling around in her teenage brain. The pull toward crime fiction, in fact, started way before then. Before I even put pencil to paper to scribble out a story, I worked them out in my head, ran them over and over, or acted them out with my Barbie dolls. Most kids’ Barbies attended tea parties, walked the red carpet or lounged around at the beach. Mine robbed banks, got kidnapped, chased killers, ran from the cops, held up in farm houses and shot their way out, taking it on the lam across three states. I never got that snazzy Barbie Corvette, though it made my Christmas list at least three years straight, so my Barbie peeled out in an old running shoe. Inelegant, but that’s where you really have to use imagination. Never got the Barbie Beach House either, so I built my own, only it had a firehouse pole, a panic room and an escape hatch that led out to the woods in back. Barbie was always the star in these little pre-writing test plays, either as protagonist or antagonist. Ken? Big dud. Way too skittish. A real liability in a shootout. He always took a bullet.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are more difficult. You have to really think about whether you’re starting in the right place to give your story the best start. I spend more time there. But once I have that solid kickoff, I can practically write the ending in my sleep. In fact, for this last book, What You Don’t See, by the time I hit the midway point of draft one, I had the ending, right down to the closing dialog exchange. That was a gift. The end doesn’t always come to me fully formed like that. When I’m working the story out in my head, I have an inkling of how I might end it, but often that shifts and changes as I get closer to the final scene. This time I just got lucky.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I think Cass Raines and I share a droll sense of humor, but that’s about it. She’s far too brave for me, too extroverted, too bold, too brash. I’m far quieter, shy. I’m Alistair Cooke in an arm chair. She’s Evel Knievel on a bike. I can go an entire day just thinking up stuff, not uttering a single word, if allowed to, and I’d be just fine with that. Cass could never do that. If she met me, she’d narrow her eyes, stare at me, and wonder what the heck my malfunction was. If I met her in the flesh, I’d give her a very wide berth. So, worlds apart, but oddly connected. But I will admit to some degree of Walter Mitty envy toward some of her exploits, but in the end, it’s a lot safer here in my writing chair.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Strong women doing nonconventional things well have always inspired me. Even as a kid, I looked to those women, black women especially, who rebuffed efforts to hold them back or pigeonhole them into a slot relegated to their sex. Smart women, brave women, rude women, loud women, unstoppable women, they inspire me. Their drive, their persistent forward momentum, their absolute refusal to sit in a box of someone else’s making, breathe life into Cass Raines. I think of them as I write, and I hope with every sentence, paragraph and page some of that moxie rubs off on her.
Visit Tracy Clark's website.

--Marshal Zeringue