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.