Tracy Cooper-Posey: George Lucas inspired me to write romance, which sounds bizarre, I know. I fell in love with Star Wars (the original movie), and wrote the sequel. I didn’t realize that what I was doing was called fanfic—they didn’t have a name for it then, and I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I was too embarrassed. But I had Han Solo and Leia falling in love long before George Lucas got around to it in the second movie. But nothing I wrote ever topped Han Solo’s damned near perfect “I know” in response to Leia’s confession of love in the second movie—or Harrison Fords desperate expression as they put him into the carbon freezer. That moment, and the lesson in romantic conflict, character, emotional intensity and the art of not saying everything has stayed with me and I’ve been striving to deliver the impact of that moment in my romance novels ever since.
Phoebe: Did you know what type of romance you wanted to write about or did you experiment with different genres before you chose the one that you felt was for you?
Tracy: Oh, lordy, I tried everything, and I’m still skipping around the genres. Thanks to the wonders of pen names, I can write different genres of romance for as long as I have the energy and time, and for as long as publishers will continue to pay me to do so. Because I read everything, and I mean everything (I read science fiction, straight science, straight fiction, suspense novels, historicals, histories, biographies, thrillers, and more) I really couldn’t settle on a romance sub-genre I could stick with. There are drawbacks to floundering around and trying everything—you never really build up a true readership in a single genre. I learned this the hard way, so these days I try to stay true to one or two genres. Romantic suspense, contemporary romance and historical romance are my big three under my own name, with romantic suspense being the central core.
Phoebe: What was the first fiction you ever wrote? And do you still have it with you?
Tracy: Ah, well, that would be the sequel to Star Wars. I wish I did have it! I continued to write stories after that Star Wars effort…the die was cast. And apart from those very early efforts, I have kept just about everything, especially as I bought a computer very early on—I bought my own personal PC in the early eighties, and I’ve never lost my files. The earliest work I wrote was science fiction romance…even then I was romance-oriented.
Phoebe: How much research do you have to do for your novels and does it take you a long time to gather that research?
Tracy: The amount of research will depend upon the genre I’m writing in, and the setting of the novel, and if I’ve written a book in that setting before. For instance, if I’m writing an historical novel set in 5th Century Britain: Most historical romances takes oodles of time to research because you have to get the history straight, and I’m one of those writers who doesn’t just paint a pretty backdrop for the hero and heroine to stand in front of. I have real events and characters moving around, political ramifications, suspense storylines that have an effect on the main characters. So you can’t fudge the research. But for 5th Century Britain, I’ve written at least two books in that time period already and I know it really well, so that’d cut down the time. Plus, if the book was, say, an erotic romance, then there would be far more story time devoted to the sexual subplot than the politics, and that would cut down on the amount of research time you’d have to spend on who was doing what back then. On the other hand, you’d have to spend some time finding out how they thought about sex in those days, and that can be very difficult research to conduct!
Also, 5th century Britain is technically Ancient Britain. In other words, The Dark Ages, when there is very little to no information available about the times, the people, or the way they lived. So that can either complicate or simplify your research, depending on your point of view. In my case, it complicates matters, as my editor has an advanced history degree, and doesn’t let me get away with anything! Simply settling for a contemporary setting just to get away from the research doesn’t work much either. As soon as you move away from your home territory, you have to make sure you’re being accurate, and that takes research. There’s some whopping inaccuracies in some very popular books out there right now that have quite ruined those books for me…to the point where I simply can’t read them, and that’s a pity. If the author had taken the time to look up the matter as they were writing they could have avoided disappointing the reader. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed these glaring flaws that could have been fixed with five minutes research on the Internet.
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your currently released novel, Dare to Return?
Tracy: I wanted to write a book about the town where I spent my teenage years. (Geraldton, Western Australia.) That’s where the book started. Most of my teenage years I spent windsurfing, snorkeling and scuba diving in and around Geraldton, just as the heroine does in the book—and the heroine’s run-in with the grey nurse shark is actually auto-biographical. So when I sat back and thought about what I’d done with my teenage years, it didn’t seem like a very useful way to have spent one’s time. Just like the heroine, I’d hid out at the beach because I wasn’t one of the popular kids at school (too busy reading and writing my stories and getting straight A’s)…and my mind starting turning over what a waste it had all been, and what would I have done to make it more useful, and that’s how the story starting to form. I fantasized about burning my school year book as a symbolic “up yours!” for those years of purgatory…and my imagination took it from there.
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your upcoming novel, Ningaloo Nights?
Tracy: Ellora’s Cave approached me about writing a story set in Australia that would make readers want to go there. They’re doing a series called “Going Down Under” and they invited all their Australian authors to contribute to the series. Ningaloo Nights was my contribution. Ellora’s Cave wanted settings and heroes that were evocative of Australia. Ningaloo Reef and the town of Ningaloo isn’t too far north of Geraldton, and my family and I toured around that country when I was a teenager, so I knew it well. Sitting here in Canada, with evergreens and mountains around me, makes me remember that flat dry land with a certain amount of sentimentality, so it was with pleasure I wrote Ningaloo Nights.
Phoebe: How do you come up with each of your characters for your novels? How do you choose their names out of so many names out there?
Tracy: How long is a piece of string? This is a complex question to answer and basically would take a book on character building to answer it completely! The two central characters in a romance…well, one of the two characters are usually in my mind to start with because of the story demands. In Ningaloo Nights for instance, I already knew that I wanted the heroine to be American, so that the primary readership, North Americans, would feel more comfortable reading the story. Then, as an author I’m always looking for the most amount of conflict possible, I asked myself who would be the most uncomfortable in a tiny little town like Ningaloo? Well, that’s easy: Someone from a big, big city like New York. And so Sherry Abandonato started to form. The second character in a romance must add to the romantic conflict, so I always ask the question: Who would be the worst person for Sherry to fall in love with? And that’s who Mason Hayward must be. Names…I love playing around with names. I always try to have a good reason for a character’s name, and Mason does in Ningaloo. Names have meanings, and even if I can’t work it into the story, I try to pick names with appropriate meanings or with a nice feeling when you say it. I use Behind the Name a lot to help me research names. They have a last name page, too, that I use for last names.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite character that you really enjoyed writing about in your currently released novel, Dare to Return? Did you have a character that you felt you could really relate to in your currently released novel, Dare to Return?
Tracy: I always like my characters when I’m writing them—especially the heroes. I tend to fall a little bit in love with them myself. I think that’s almost inevitable, if you’re a romance writer. If you can’t empathize and like your heroes, how are the readers going to like them? But I really liked Vivien. She had guts that I sometimes wish I had myself. She walked away from the hero and built her own life despite loving him. That takes backbone and a strength of character that not a lot of women can claim.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite character that you really enjoyed writing about in your upcoming novel, Ningaloo Nights? Did you have a character that you felt you could really relate to in your upcoming novel, Ningaloo Nights?
Tracy: I’m going to have to confess that Mason was my weakness in this one…all the way.
Phoebe: Do you have a process of how you start to write your novels?
Tracy: I’m a plotter, and have been since very early on in my career. I like the speed it gives me in writing novels. The first step is usually brainstorming story ideas. I used to do this on paper—great sheets of paper everywhere, but lately I’ve learned to do it on the screen, so no more dead tree wastage. Plotting evolves out of brainstorming. There’s no dividing line. Just gradually the ideas become more concrete and detailed and I start making firm decisions. Then the book’s plot coalesces out of that morass. I keep plotting, adding more and more detail, until I’ve reached a point where I feel I’m ready to write—usually at the point where I believe I have a scene by scene breakdown. I say “believe” because it never ends up being quite as detailed as I think it’s going to be. The final book never looks exactly like what I’ve plotted and often ends up looking quite a bit different, but that’s the joy of writing versus plotting.
Phoebe: Have you ever considered writing a series or are writing stand alone novels your preference? How would writing each be different for you?
Tracy: I am currently writing a series for Ellora’s Cave. Red Leopard and Black Heart are the first two books in a series called Guns ‘n Lovers, set in a fictional island nation called Vistaria, off the coast of Mexico. The third book, Blue Knight, is currently a work in progress. I have written series under other pen names, and don’t mind writing them at all. They give me a chance to develop really solid characters and storylines that you just can’t build in a single title. However, I also like a decent single-title book that is well written, well balanced and solid, like a decent meal. You don’t get many of them these days. Authors and publishers all seem to be going for the trilogies, which are great to read, but sometimes you like to have a damn good read in one sitting.
Phoebe: What process did you have to go through to get your first book published and did it take you long?
Tracy: Yes, I struggled to get published about as much as any author struggles, I believe. My saving grace was that I was struggling about the same time the e-book industry was coming into being and Ellora’s Cave was opening its doors. Otherwise I might have ended up taking a completely different path. I started trying for publication while I was still living in Australia, and aimed exclusively for publication with Harlequin Silhouette. I won the Romance Writers of Australia’s inaugural Emma Darcy Award (their equivalent of the Golden Heart) for Eyes of a Stranger, and Harlequin ended up looking at it twice (before and after the win), and rejecting it twice. Then I began sub-genre hopping, second-guessing what I “should” be writing. By then I was living in Canada, and the e-book industry was firing up, and Hard Shell Word Factory bought everything I’d ever written. I was suddenly published…in a format that no-one would buy, that bookstores wouldn’t stock, and that I had no idea how to promote, when readers had never heard of e-books. That was ten years ago. A few years later I heard of Ellora’s Cave, and co-wrote a manuscript with a friend of mine, that we sold to them. A rather tame regency romance, as it compares to what EC are selling these days. The money we made on that romance was staggering. Suddenly I was really published, in a way that made sense. Now, e-books and e-publishing is a legitimate business, and readers understand what an e-book is. Cerridwen Press, Ellora’s Cave’s non-erotic imprint, is now re-publishing all my books from ten years ago, and this time I have a chance to actually find readers that I didn’t find back then.
Phoebe: Do you ever get writers block? What do you do to get rid of it so you can get back to writing your novels?
Tracy: I rarely get blocked. Not truly blocked. When I start dithering over writing and procrastinating about getting on with the manuscript, I’ve found that it’s usually because I haven’t plotted in enough detail and I’m not entirely sure about what comes next. A few minutes or an hour or so of detailed plotting cures the problem and I can get on with writing with renewed confidence. I’ve never experienced a “block” such as other writers have described—the psychological blank wasteland where word simply have not flowed despite every trick they’ve tried to bring them to the page. I’m not sure what I’d do if that happened. Perhaps I’m too practical and anal about my work habits? I’ve never considered writing to be a matter of courting my muse. It’s a matter of putting my butt in the chair and cranking out pages.
Phoebe: What is your biggest reader pet peeve, if you have any? (stock characters, unresolved endings, predictability, everything wrapped up hurriedly in the end, etc.)
Tracy: I think I may have touched on this one already: Getting your facts wrong. It’s my biggest peeve right now only because lately I seem to have been getting my nose rubbed it all over the place. Some very prominent authors who really ought to know better have included the most awful whoppers in their stories. One author who shall remain nameless built an entire series around a basic premise that simply couldn’t happen in the real world and to this date, no-one has called her on it. It drives me bonkers. As for predictability, as a romantic suspense author used to plotting to stay ahead of wily readers, I’m used to being able to spot where the author is leading me, so I’m resigned to predictability. It’s a nice change when I pick up the occasional book that surprises me. Charlaine Harris manages it every now and again, for instance.
Phoebe: Which aspects of writing do you enjoy the most and why? And what is your biggest writing pet peeve? (overuse of exclamation points, adverbs, bad guys named Wayne, etc.), if you have any?
Tracy: I love almost all aspects of novel writing, but I think the biggest and most exciting part of it has to be the story-concept stage. The potential for what sort of story you might come up with next is essentially endless and you may well come up with the idea, the one that is going to send shivers down your back, the Gone With the Wind for this generation, or the one that is going to keep you up for the next month while you scribble it down. Many writers get struck with ideas as they move about their day. As a full time writer I don’t get that luxury because I’m writing or immerses in book business all day already. So I have to deliberately generate story ideas in specific sessions, and that’s when I get to have those idea moments.
Phoebe: What is the one writing tool can you not live without?
Tracy: My computer.
Phoebe: How do you handle your writing schedule and your personal life without going insane?
Tracy: I’m an anal geek, and Outlook rules my life. If it isn’t talking to me on my computer, it’s beeping at me on my Blackberry. I think it has more conversations with my husband via email than I do—letting him know what I’m doing next. But at 5pm, it tells me to get my butt upstairs so I can become a normal person and a wife, and on weekends, I turn into Mr. Intensity’s adoring side kick (my husband is a professional wrestler). So it all works out.
Phoebe: What do you do to relax after having spent a long while writing? Do you have any hobbies?
Tracy: Hobbies, no. But after writing all day I work out with weights at the gym (my husband weight trains with a vengeance and oversees my own workouts) and I run a couple of miles doing wind sprints on the treadmill every second day, and spend my evenings with him. We also attend romance writing and reader conventions at least once a year.
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Tracy: Plenty, but most of it has been said by others. Unfortunately, there is not sure path to success in this industry, and there’s no single path. We each get there in different ways. The one thing I learned and continue to be reminded of is that you never know what’s around the corner, so don’t give up. It could all change tomorrow.
Phoebe: Is there any writing tips, research tips, promotion and marketing tips that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Tracy: I have a ton of articles, advice and resources on my website, on the articles page. I would encourage anyone who’s interested to wander through that page and read the articles there.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite genre you like to read? Who is your favorite author(s)?
Tracy: I don’t have a favorite genre. I read all over the map. Honestly. Favorite authors: Classic Stephen King (The Stand and earlier), Stephen O’Donnell (Modesty Blaise books), Mary Stewart (Merlin series), Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising series), Desmond Bagley (anything with his name on it), Neville Shute (anything), Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse), Stephanie Myer (Twilight Series…yeah, I ‘fess up), Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Lora Leigh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne McCaffrey, Ken Follett, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Peter F. Hamilton, William Goldman, J.K. Rowling, T. H. White, J.R.R. Tolkein.
Phoebe: What are you reading now? And what do you plan to read after that?
Tracy: I’m currently reading Dark Lover by J.R. Ward. I have The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger up next.