Genre Hopping with Tracy Clark

I’m very happy to welcome Tracy Clark for this month’s genre hopping post. Tracy’s Chicago Mysteries series centers around Cassandra Raines, a former homicide cop turned uncompromising private investigator. Her novel What You Don’t See is up for an Anthony award at Bouchercon–congratulations Tracy! The 4th book in the series, Runner, will be released on June 29.

Name (s): Tracy Clark

Genre(s): PI novel/Suspense

What drew you to the genre you write? I was inspired to put my own spin on the PI archetype by all those talented female crime writers I used to read back when I dreamed of writing a book of my own but didn’t know how. I read a lot of series, then, I still do. I like diving into the lives of strong, capable characters and seeing what makes them tick. I enjoy following them from book to book to see how they change and evolve, or don’t. I particularly enjoy Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Paretsky’s VI Warshawski, but there were so many others–Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle, Eleanor Taylor Bland’s Marti MacAllister, Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, Margaret Maron’s Sigrid Herald, Paula L. Wood’s Charlotte Justice, Robert B. Parker’s Sunny Randall. Strong female characters getting the job done. Love it. I read across genres, too. I read cozies and suspense, thrillers. I read Dickens and Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, De Maurier, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker. Everything. Part of teaching yourself to write is immersing yourself in the language of fiction. You read whatever you can get in your hands, you listen to the rhythm of the sentences, you see what works on the page, what elicits a response in you as a reader. You can then take all of that, internalize it, flip it, work with it, and figure out a way to accomplish the same effectiveness in your own writing. Reading is part pleasure, part surrender, part education. I was particularly drawn to the fictional PI because he, or she, lives way out of the box. They’re like three-year-olds high on sugar who won’t go to bed, only the PI’s got bad guys chasing her and there are bullet holes in her car door.

What sets your book apart from what is out there? There’s nothing new under the sun, isn’t that the axiom? I’m not the first to write about PIs and, luckily, won’t be the last. My main character, Cass Raines, is your typical fictional PI, following the conventions set down for that type of character – up to a point. What sets her apart, besides the fact that she’s female and Black when Philip Marlowe was neither, is that she brings to the page a certain level of compassion and empathy that maybe the classic PI of decades past didn’t have? They were tough guys, Cass is not a tough guy, but she’s no creampuff either. My books dive deep into community and place. They highlight the city of Chicago and the people who live in it—rich, poor, Black, white. Cass approaches her job with a clear understanding of how the world works for the people she’s called upon to help.

Do you write a series or standalones? Why? The Cass Raines novels are part of a series. I wrote the books as a series because I enjoyed the main character so much that I wanted to continue writing about her. I intentionally wrote her flawed and multilayered because I wanted to give myself somewhere to go beyond a handful of books. Cass has secrets she hasn’t yet divulged. She will always surprise me, I think. I’m also currently writing my first standalone. Everything about this standalone is different from the series. It’s a little frightening, but exciting too. I think every writer appreciates the opportunity to stretch and grow and learn more.

What are you currently writing? HIDE, my first standalone, will release December 2022. New characters, new problems, new everything, except location. Still Chicago. I love Chicago.

What are you reading right now? I’ve just started CHILDREN OF CHICAGO by Cynthia Pelayo. It’s great. I wish I could just sit down and read it straight through, but time is not on my side here. LOL. I read in fits and starts whenever I get a free half-hour or so.

Do you have a favorite quote or life motto? Nothing that pithy and profound. What I do have is an internal motor that gets me to my writing desk every morning at 5:30 AM. Maybe I don’t have a motto, but I do have a spirit animal. It’s the mule, and a clear representation of my pigheaded drive to get the work done. That pigheadedness also kept me writing when all those rejection letters tried to slow me down back in the day. Those people had no idea who they were dealing with. LOL.

Favorite writing space? My writing desk. I write best there because it’s my spot, but I can write other places too. I wrote over five thousand words on an airplane once. I’ve never been able to repeat that, but it was an amazing feeling when it happened. I also write in physician’s waiting rooms, car dealerships, church (just kidding), but my desk is my number one spot. I cannot write in bed. I’ll just fall asleep.

Favorite deadline snack? Twizzlers. Write a little, chew a little. Chew a little more, fix a plot hole. Perfect snack for writing. They have to be strawberry, though, and not the pull-apart variety. Old-school Twizzlers. One-pound bag. Brain food!

What do you see when you look up from writing? Window blinds. Closed, of course, or else I’d spend my writing time looking into my neighbors’ back room wondering what they’re up to. Writers are nosey, also very observant, also not above making up stories about what might be going on at the neighbors’ place.

Thank you so much for being on the blog, Tracy! Congratulations on Runner, and on Hide! Readers, I loved Tracy’s list of PI novels that inspired her. Who would you add to the list? Leave a comment–Tracy is going to do a giveaway!


Tracy Clark, a native Chicagoan, is the author of the award-winning Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series, featuring ex-cop turned PI Cassandra Raines. An Anthony, Lefty and Shamus Award finalist, she is also the 2020 winner of the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award. Tracy serves on the boards of Mystery Writers of America Midwest, Sisters in Crime Chicagoland and Bouchercon national. Her fourth book, RUNNER, releases in June 2021.


Twitter: tracypc6161

Insta: tpclark2000



18 Thoughts

  1. Welcome to the blog, Tracy! I must get to your books, stat. I love your list of female fictional PIs and have read about half of them. Can’t think of any to add except maybe Jess Lourey’s Mira James, who doesn’t start out a PI but finds she likes amateur sleuthing so much she gets her license (or at least goes to something like PI school).

  2. Hi Tracy, you listed most of the women PI that I know. Here are a few more: Liz Talbot by Susan M. Boyer, Charlie Mack by Cheryl Head, and Regan Reilly by Carole Higgins Clark.

    Twizzlers rule!

  3. Hi Tracy! Between you and Dru Ann, you’ve got all the ones I can think of. I need to get these books higher in the TBR pile.

  4. One PI book I enjoyed was The Automatic Detective by A Lee Martinez. In this case the PI is a robot

  5. Thank you for introducing me to Tracy, a new to me author. I enjoyed getting to know a bit about her and can’t wait to explore her books more. I’m not following on Facebook and Twitter. Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Runner, and on Hide” which sounds amazing and a perfect way to introduce myself to this new author.

    Really just gotten into reading PI type stories, but I will say I’ve gotten hooked. Love the mystery and suspense in trying to solve the case myself as I read the book.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  6. You know I’m a big fan of yours, Tracy! I’m so thrilled you have a standalone coming out too! I’m also love the Roxane Weary PI books by Kristen Lepionka.

  7. Tracy, Cass is amazing. Love her! I’m going to give a shout out to Kerry Greenwood and her Miss Fisher Mysteries. Phryne Fisher is the best!

  8. Lots of great sounding books here! Thank you for sharing about them and Congratulations on your coming new release. Have a great rest of the week and stay safe.

  9. I’m not super familiar with the PI subgenre period. But I do love the Kinsey Millhone books. I’ve finished S, and I’m going to be very sad when I finish the series.

  10. I remember reading all the PI’s that have been listed so far…all good strong women characters. I will add: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspeare; Maggie Sullivan by M. Ruth Myers and does Jane Darrowfield by Barbara Ross count….? She is retired and seems to have taken on a second occupation solving crimes. I realized looking at my GoodReads account that most of the books I read now are strong women who have a main job and do investigations on the side. 😉

    1. Hi Tracy and welcome to the Wickeds! I had to laugh about your comment about the neighbors. We had 2 sets of neighbors from our building over on Monday and it turns out we have all been watching–and madly speculating–about the same set of neighbors behind us.

  11. Mma Ramotswe of The No, 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

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