Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tracy L. Ward - Guest Author

Please welcome a fellow member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Tracy L. Ward. She describes herself as introverted, driven, enthusiastic, organized, and modest. She describes her writing as dark, descriptive, evocative, unexpected, and intriguing.

In addition to her novel writing, which she discusses below, she penned a short story in the collection Fish or Cut Bait that included one of my shorts. Without further ado, here's Tracy.

What makes a great short story?

I think a great short story is one that employs subtly. I love when a writer is able to pull a theme through the entire story without the reader realizing it until the very end. Given the length of a short story it’s important to use every word with purpose. The shorter the length the more this applies. A great short story gets you to the end satisfied but still craving more.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

I write most prolifically at night between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. when my family is sound asleep and my house is quiet. Even the dogs have passed out after a long day. This is when I flourish. It’s just me and the light of my laptop. With all my surroundings dark I can better imagine my historical world, the sights, subtle sounds and smells. I do most of my research and plotting during the day but the dead of night is when my Victorian world comes to life. No caffeine required.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I try to read at least one to two fiction books a month while I am working on a new book (which is all the time). It really depends on the type of book and the style of writing. I can polish off a fun chick-lit or dreamy romance in a weekend. These stories are great escapism and a good, fun break from my darker mysteries. If I am reading a historical, mystery or otherwise, I like to take my time, analyze the prose and fall in love with the time period.

I read a lot of non-fiction, not just for my writing research but also for personal development. I am a sucker for biographies and have fallen deeply for a book about Shirley Temple and the Great Depression. Prior to that I was reading a book about Grey Owl, a Canadian conservationist who convinced everyone he was a Native American not an Englishman who grew up in Hastings, UK. It’s all fascinating stuff.

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

Jane Kirkpatrick is an interesting writer who uses fiction to flesh out biographical accounts from history. My favourite book by her is The Daughter’s Walk, a story about a young woman, Clara and her mother, Helga who, in 1896, accepted a wager to walk from Washington State to New York City within seven months. The promised $10,000 was to help save their struggling family farm. In her author notes, Kirkpatrick is upfront about what poetic license she takes to create a well-rounded story and I love the way it’s part biographical, part fictional.

Nick Cutter is a very creative horror writer and I really enjoyed his book The Troop. The book is about boy scout troop secluded on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island that is beset by a terrible affliction, a parasite that causes its victims to eat anything… and everyone. My husband recommended this book to me because he thought I would find it interesting. What I found most useful in my own writing was Cutter’s sense of timing to create ever increasing suspense as well as his fully fleshed out characters.

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear are two other favourites of mine, especially their People of the Longhouse series. I’ve been completing a lot of research on native tribes in Canada and found their books a great fictional retreat into that time period and culture. I love their understanding of the tribes and the customs. I also think they do a stellar job creating the world from that time period through vivid description and thought-provoking characters.

What motivates you to write?

When I first began writing as a teen I was most interested in the escape. I wasn’t finding the books I wanted to read so I made my own. I continued writing through college and after I started a family. It was always something I did even though a lot of what I wrote lacked real story structure or marketable qualities.

Now that I am on the fifth book in my series I am motivated by the characters themselves and the need to continue their story. I love receiving messages from readers who ask me what’s going to happen next. Knowing that others love Peter and Margaret as much as I do motivates me to keep going in that direction, wherever it leads me.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

The storyline for Sweet Asylum was conceived after I watched a documentary about mental illness in Victorian England and the feminine side of the equation that allowed men to deposit their wives, sisters or mothers at asylum gates with very little proof of lunacy. Mental illness was extremely misunderstood at this time in history and for many it was much easier to send away a post-partum mother, or Down Syndrome child or epileptic than to determine the cause of their affliction.

Given that my protagonist is a doctor of the era I felt it was only natural that he would encounter an asylum through one of his cases and of course it makes him question his own sanity after everything he and his sister, Margaret have gone through.

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

By all accounts Peter Ainsley shouldn’t be a doctor. The son of a rich earl, Ainsley grew up with all the best money could buy and could easily live the life a true gentleman, not a lowly labourer. But an easy, docile life never held any interest for Ainsley who craves a deeper purpose as well distinction from his domineering father.

Despite a diluted view of morality, at his heart Ainsley is a good man who wants to serve those who are less fortunate and hopes in turn it will give him a greater sense of accomplishment. Possessing a brilliant grasp of anatomy but terribly slow abilities as a surgeon, Ainsley’s skills naturally lend themselves to work in the morgue where he can determine true causes of death and bring justice to grieving families.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.

My college professor at Journalism School wrote this on the board that circled the entire room. “Read anything and everything you can get your hands on,” he said as he placed the period. This has been the absolute best advice I have ever received. Even at times in my youth when I wasn’t writing all that much I was reading. I was learning from the masters without even realizing it and I have no doubt it has made me a better writer overall. I believe the hardest thing for aspiring writers is determining their style. How do they prefer their prose? What types of language do they like to use? Sentence structure? Description? This is all decided from the viewpoint of a reader.

To get regular updates regarding Tracy L. Ward and her books follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TracyWard.Author/

Here’s a bit of a blurb for Sweet Asylum:

Unable to shake the oppressive atmosphere of the city after a life-changing case, Dr. Peter Ainsley retreats to his family’s country estate near Tunbridge Wells to find asylum and, perhaps, forgiveness. The discovery of a strange girl in the backwoods introduces him, and his sister, Margaret, to the peculiar Owen family with a questionable reputation in town.

Soon Margaret discovers her unexpected new friend, Ivy Owen, who talks to herself and is prone to angry outbursts, is with child and the question of the unborn baby’s paternity lingers. When a catastrophic barn fire leads to a man’s death Ainsley is forced out of his refuge and back into the work that once toyed with his sanity. Haunted by ghosts of his past and forced to relive moments that scar him still, Ainsley begins to piece together a disjointed puzzle of family strife, loose morals and questionable sanity. 


  1. I've had the pleasure of meeting Tracy at Bloody Words in Toronto in 2012 when we were both writing our first books, and again in 2014 when Tracy had gone on to publishing her series. Her energy and passion for writing is infectious. So happy to see her on your blog, Jim. Tracy, hope all is going well with you!

    1. So good to "run into you" again, Judy! The writing community is a small and supportive bunch. I'm working diligently on my fifth book, also in the Peter Ainsley Mystery series, titled SICKNESS OF THE HEART. Thanks for your support and well wishes! And many thanks to Jim for having me as a guest today.