Our Time with Tracy:
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Tracy. We are very excited and can’t wait to learn more about you.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m a life-long Chicago resident, and I adore this city even though we’re about to get about a gazillion feet of snow dumped on us. I’m an only child, raised by a pair of adorable eccentrics who dealt in antiques and were the most generous people I ever knew. I have a BA in English from the University of Illinois, and spent some time at the School of the Art Institute. I’ve worked with computers since the mid-sixties so I know just enough about them to be really dangerous to my own systems.
I love cats and have come to love dogs in my later years. I feed the birds, squirrels and rabbits that hang around the house, and get annoyed when they won’t eat the Brussels sprouts or kale I’ve put out. (It’s good for them!) No kids, pretty much by choice. I’m very fortunate in my friends, and count my blessings all the time. I do suffer from depression, but it’s manageable. I have strings of colored lights up in my windows. I speak crappy French and can say rude things in a number of other languages, including “My face seats five” in sign language. I do math problems for fun. My heroes are my parents, the Dalai Lama, Leonardo da Vinci, Jean Cocteau and J. S. Bach. That was more than you wanted to know, wasn’t it?—-Not at all…the more we know the better we get to know you!
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
“Suffer the Little Children” is my first published novel, and from the first notes I made on the story to publication, it was about a year give or take. I was fortunate to have a good relationship with Torquere Press going into the work, so it was natural for me to send it to them for consideration, and I’m very happy they decided to publish it.
Do you write full time?
Pretty much, yes. I recognize that I’m the exception to the rule that writers mostly can’t afford to do this, but after my parents passed — I was their caregiver for about fifteen years — I came into enough money to buy a home and take my shot at being a professional writer. I’m still not supporting myself at it, and just recently took a part-time gig to make up some of the shortfall, but I am pretty much able to put in at least forty hours a week on my writing.
Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
I think it chose me. My mother used to tell me that when I was just a little girl, I’d say that books were my best friends, and I honestly believe that there are few voracious readers out there who don’t secretly want to try writing at least once in their lives. I began writing things like poetry and articles for the school newspaper in grade school. In my freshman year of HS, I produced a mind-bogglingly melodramatic and clichéd little vampire story which I read aloud to my English class. I still remember the last line: “Go. She is mine, now.” If I remember correctly, the class loved it and that was it, I was hooked.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Depends on what I’m working on. If I’m actively writing, then I’ll sit down and do my daily word count, which is something I learned the value of from NaNoWriMo. Other than that, I spend a lot of time on research, and on making notes. I’m also big on avoidance on certain days, and will do almost anything to ignore the fact that I need to write. I like to quote Peter de Vries who famously said: “I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.“–-I couldn’t agree with you more on the paperwork thing!
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I used to be a go-with-the-flow writer, and always told myself that I couldn’t rein in my muse, that my freedom of expression was too important. All of which was my way of avoiding the thing I hate which is making an outline. But again, I’ll invoke NaNoWriMo and say that when you’re working on a deadline and want to make a certain word count, you’d damn well better have some idea of how to get from point A to point Q or at about J you’re going to have an awful mess on your hands. It’s good discipline for me to plan. I still leave myself some wiggle room and I’ll often find myself going off in odd directions, but at least now I have some kind of structure on which to build a story.
I will add that I think it’s a little more important to do that kind of planning with a long work. Short stories can sometimes just happen, and that can be great; they have fantastic energy when that happens.
How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
I don’t consciously put anyone I know into my stories. I have used ideas based on things my friends have experienced, and in fact Suffer has a lot to do with how I assimilated the experiences of several friends. But I don’t think it’s fair to them to turn them into my puppets, and I sure don’t want to have to say “No, it’s not exactly what you’d do, but I needed your character to do it.” Or “Stop hitting me!”
Character development is pretty organic for me. I get a voice in my head — I can almost hear someone saying something — and that begins to shape how I see the character. Then I work on what makes this person tick; I learn as much as I can about him or her, including details which I’ll never put into the fic, but which tell me more about who this person is. If I don’t know what my character will do in a given situation, then I don’t know him/her well enough. All that said, of course I’m not consistent about it. I do try, though.
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
I have a couple of friends to whom I would cheerfully turn over a first draft, and ask them to tell me where I’d gone wrong. In fact, Suffer had two early readers, and the book is dedicated to them. They were an enormous help. Beyond that, nobody sees a work until I’ve rewritten it to my satisfaction and I get an okay from one of those readers.
If you weren’t sitting there right this very moment answering our book of questions, what else would you be doing?
Right now I’d be working on editing a novel I’m looking to self-publish, and sitting with a heating pad on my back. Darn thing’s gone out on me. Anyway, it’s a good excuse to keep from doing the laundry or schlepping the garbage out to the cans.
Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
By instinct I revise as I go along, but I’ve learned that it can be counter-productive in the extreme. If I give in to that instinct I usually end up with a beginning that’s really over-done, and has lost a lot of energy, a middle that’s good and an ending that’s rushed because I am sick to death of the story by then. I’ve had to discipline myself to write straight through as much as possible. It remains a conscious choice at this point. I hope it will become more second nature eventually.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
Not really, but then I have so many projects I’m working on, it’s hard to get bogged down completely. I can always find something to make notes on or do research on or even write.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
Humor is a difficult thing to analyze. I love wit, I love the absurd, and I actually do think that seeing some guy getting hit in the nuts because he’s done something idiotic is hilarious. My friends make me laugh, especially my housemate, Glinda and our friend, Jim who lives in a very strange land called Jimworld. XKCD and Wondermark make me laugh. Daniel Pinkwater makes me laugh, and in fact his short story, “Fishwhistle” made me laugh harder than anything I’ve ever read. Vids of dogs on skateboards, or of little kids bumping into things and falling down… well that just never gets old. I like to say that I have no sense of humor, but I pretty much do that to make other people laugh.
What are you working on now?
I finished the sequel to Suffer during NaNo last November and now it’s resting before it gets rewritten. I’m trying hard to finish a piece called “Five Things That Never Happened to Ebeneezer Scrooge” which is pretty much what it sounds like and which is the (proposed) self-publishing venture, and a contemporary retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Those are the biggies anyway.
What kind of books do you like to read?
In fiction I’m pretty much a genre girl. Speculative fic of all sorts is my candy. Historicals are big with me, and I also like mysteries and thrillers, though that’s a more recent interest. Strangely enough I’m not a big romance fan even though I grew up on the likes of Victoria Holt and Kathleen Woodiwiss. I like reading non-fiction, too. History, art books, science, religion/philosophy… oh hell, I’ll read anything including cereal boxes and the little tags they put on furniture and pillows. Because my back has kept me pretty immobile in the last week or so, I’ve knocked off a bio of Humphrey Bogart, a short novel by Erastes, and short stories by fellow Torquere Press authors, KIL Kenny and EM Lynley, China Mieville’s latest novel, Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book,” a strange little book for the Amazon Vine program, a non-fiction look at Victorian sexual rebels, and Joanne Harris’ “Chocolat.” I’m currently reading Kathe Koja’s “Under the Poppy” and Paul Feval’s “Vampire City.” So you can see I’m all over the place
What is your favorite TV show?
Favorite ever has to be Buffy, but favorite current… hmmm, I’m very fond of Eureka, Being Human (the UK version; I haven’t seen the American one yet) Sherlock. Actually no clear favorite, but a lot of good shows that I really enjoy. Glinda (and our pal, Taylor, via long distance encouragement) have me watching the new Battlestar Galactica and I’m loving it so far.
What is your favorite fast food restaurant? Just thought we’d throw that in for fun.
Against my better judgment, Mickey D’s, but that’s comfort food for me. It’s stuff my mom would buy for me when we went out, so I associate it with being with her and happy. When I’m trying to be virtuous, Potbelly.
Without getting up, can you tell us what’s under your bed? (yep, another sneaky question.)
I know this one! Apart from the huge and rather savage dust bunnies that I’m raising to help with my world domination scheme, I keep a zipped case of wrapping paper and ribbons. I’m a bit tight on space here, and it seemed like a good place to put it.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
I’d be working at being an artist or crafter. I love both pastimes, and if I’m sitting, watching a movie or TV, I like to have something in my hands to work on. Last winter I knitted or crocheted two big boxes of hats, blankets and other warm things for preemies, cancer patients and the homeless. It’s not that I’m all that noble, but I’m a process knitter. I like the work; when I’m finished, I really don’t know what to do with what I’ve made, so I tend to make things I can give to people who need them.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
Arts and crafts as I indicated, hanging with my friends, gardening — Glinda and I put in a patio last year with a raised vegetable bed, a nectarine tree and a grapevine, so we are raising a lot of our own produce — cooking, reading of course, watching films and TV, playing on the internet. I’m rarely bored and if I am it’s my own fault.
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Take the chance and send your work around, but do it intelligently. Know your markets. Learn to take criticism because you’re not perfect and never will be. Don’t argue with a bad review; at most, correct any factual errors and move on. They don’t kill. Trust me. And most important: Keep at it. If you think you’re a writer then write. There are no excuses not to except that you’re not really a writer after all. —Very well said…Thank you for your time~
Bio: Tracy Rowan has done office work, sold books, made and sold all manner of crafts, taught beading, edited tech manuals, been an artist and illustrator, and a street photographer, and for fifteen years she was a caregiver. But the thing she’s found most difficult and therefore most fulfilling is writing. She lives in a craftsman-style two flat on Chicago’s northwest side where she and her housemate spend a lot of time planning the garden, hanging with their friends and laughing a lot.