Dianna: What will you speak about at the 2010 Write Stuff conference?
Tracy: Passion and sexual tension. It will be fun, I think – I was considering holding a contest to see who could count how many times I blush in 50 minutes. But in all seriousness, it makes for better character development if you can work those aspects of human behavior into your stories. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing in—your characters, if they are human, will feel desire. Depicting emotions isn’t always easy, so I think this workshop will be really useful for anyone who wants to include a little passion in his or her stories, but isn’t quite sure how to do so without crossing over into lurid territory.
The second session will cover creating time and place, and this is the most important of all the aspects of good storytelling. After all, your setting is the chassis that your story rides upon, and it affects every single aspect of your characters’ thoughts, dress, speech, actions, reactions, and so forth. One cannot underestimate the presence of setting; it is the main character of your novel, hidden in plain sight on every page. In this session we’ll be doing more than covering books that do it well; we’ll be dissecting actual passages to see exactly what works, what doesn’t, and why.
D: Why did you choose historical romance as your genre? You also write short fiction, as well?
T: I adore love stories. I also love learning about history, and get so excited when I read something that makes me think, “what if….”
I think stories about the human condition are the most interesting of all and find myself disconnected from books that don’t have enough “feeling” in them. I like romances because they end well, and it’s my opinion that real life offers enough opportunities for bad, sad, open-ended, wistful, or just downright depressing endings.
I read everything, but when it comes time to write, I am particularly drawn to the stories of peoples’ lives: how they got to where they are, what they want, who they love, and how they work through their troubles. No other genre gives a writer as much freedom to explore those dimensions better than romance, and I love how the romance genre has so many sub-genres. There really is no limit to what kind of stories one can write—under the umbrella of romance, there is a place for any story of any subject matter.
As for short fiction, I write short stories when I have an idea that’s not big enough for a book but too urgent to dismiss. I’m delighted to have a short story coming out in the Mad Poets Review in November 2009. It’s a dark, strange, metaphoric tale titled Never Mind What Sheep Say. I’m thrilled to see it alongside poetry, even though that’s not where I would have imagined it would end up.
D: Tell me how you approach historical research for your novels. Do you travel? Do Web-based research? Use reference books? How long does it take you?
T: Traveling to do research isn’t a luxury I can afford now, and certainly wasn’t possible when I was first starting out. Books are the best resource, in my opinion—the Internet is a great tool, but I make sure to find the same information in at least three places before accepting it as truth.
I pretty much read until I’m ready to start writing, which for me is decided when the characters in my head become defined and begin speaking to each other. That’s when the words go to paper, and from there I research as I go, basically looking up what I don’t know as I’m immersed in the story. I like to know enough to get the setting right before I start, the milieu, to understand the vernacular, the currency, the modes of dress and how they lived, and to offer verisimilitude.
The important thing for a beginning writer to keep in mind, however, is not to let what you don’t know prevent you from beginning, because it’s easy to get mired in research and to let it delay you from the work of actually writing your story. I know a would-be writer who has three filing cabinets full of well-documented research, but whose book has yet to be started.
Nora Roberts said it best: “I can fix a broken page, but I can’t fix a blank one.”
More from Tracy in next week's post!