Thursday, December 29, 2005

Last Blog of 2005

Christmas is over, done, gone, finished. December 26 is the end of the holiday season, as far as I'm concerned. I want the tree down, the decorations packed and stored. And I'm almost there. The last bits will go to the attic, where they'll have to wait another year before they can escape their boxes. My poor children - they probably wonder why they were cursed to have a mother who wants to wave a magic wand and have all the Christmas mess disappear.

It's probably because what I really want to disappear is all the chaos. I want my routine back. Like a baby, I need a schedule. Writing is a discipline, and the holidays are a month-long cherry bomb set off in my attempts to keep an orderly writing life. It's just once a year, I remind myself as I cook, bake, decorate, clean, entertain, clean again, cook some more, scrape up candle wax, vacuum pine needles, replace the wilting magnolia leaves, shop, wrap, shop yet again (heaven spare me from a grocery store the week before Christmas), and finally, put it all away. The good china, the silver, the crystal, the decorations, home again in their respective places. I can breathe once more. In my office. At my desk, enjoying the best gift of all - quiet. The complicated people in my imagination are starting to speak to me again....

Saturday, December 03, 2005


My dream, my desire, my ultimate goal is to be organized. Perfect cubby holes built in the exact spots where needed, shelves with labels, drawers with nothing stashed and forgotten: Nirvana. Everyone who knows me may now stop laughing.

The best I can do for today is a closet filled, top to bottom, with husband-built shelves, groaning under the weight of too many research books, and filing cabinets I periodically dare to open. "Dare" being the operative word here - because usually they crash over from the weight of the extended drawers. I swear I'm not a packrat, but you just never know when you're going to need the phone number for Military Records in D.C., or a copy of the original map of Ft. Larned, Kansas.

The one thing I can control is my writing's organization. I plot. Re-plot. Play with the plot some more. Move a pink character card into the space for Chapter Three and out of Chapter One. On a wall covered with thick rubber mats (the sort used by cashiers), are hundreds upon hundreds of thumbtacks, all holding storyboard cards. I love the ease of moving story elements around on 4 x 6 index cards. Nothing's permanent until the galleys, and then it's too late. Sometimes I play with the plotting so long, an entirely different story emerges than the one that originally popped into my head. And that's just fine. I need to know where a story's going to end before I start it. The final chapter may be the first one written, giving me a bulls eye to aim for when I start the first chapter.

Now if I could organize the rest of the house. . . .

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Holidays and Writers

With the last of the turkey in the soup pot, I'm feeling fighting the urge to relax and pretend the work is finished for this year. It's not, of course. Cards and wrapping gifts, getting them to the post office, decorating, baking - it's once a year and I love the whole hustle and bustle of the holidays. But it's rough on a writer. Silence and peace are my most precious gifts, the ones I hate to share. Take anything else - it's fine, you can have it. But time and quiet are the hot commodities in my house. I'm not one of those writers who can work with music in the background. I find I get lost in the melody and the words in my head slip into musical notes. Round about now, Christmas carols, repeating themselves in alarming renditions in the malls, play in my head and I have to fight them off. I need to hear the voices. The characters who talk away and tell me what they need to do get very annoyed when anything interferes with office hours.

So for all you writers out there, I wish for you the best gifts of the season - time and quiet. May your writing flow like the river, swift and sure as the currents, exciting as Class V rapids.

And for the NASCAR fans out there, may we all hold on until Daytona in February. It's hard, folks, but we can do it, right?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Writing, Libraries, and, sigh, the Last Race

I've been derelict in posting, but my excuse is solid - I've been writing. Yep, keeping the fanny in the chair and the fingers flying. Having fun. That's what a wonderful review from Publisher's Weekly will do for the creative juices - it's a real incentive. Reading praise for my next book, YES, THE RIVER KNOWS, sure helped me focus on what I'm writing now. It'll be in stores in hardback from Berkley Prime Crime on Dec. 5.

Last weekend I took time out to speak at the Valley Bookfest in Roanoke. I've always been a firm supporter of libraries, and with a mother who was a librarian, I can do nothing else but say "yes" when a library asks me to do anything. (Well, anything legal, that is.) The Roanoke City libraries are real go-getters. The day was filled with wonderful authors, intriguing panels, and lots of people who drove downtown to participate on a gorgeous fall day. I had the pleasure of hearing Nikki Giovanni (who teaches at Virginia Tech) speak, and sitting next to Nikki Turner was a treat. I've never read urban hip-hop, but I'm going to read The Glamorous Life next.

On a sad, very sad note, this coming Sunday is the final race for the Nextel Cup at Homestead-Miami. I'm going to be bereft without my NASCAR fix every week. The local short tracks closed up shop in October, so I can't even smell the fumes, hear the engines whine, or do any of the fun stuff there. Three whole months without stock car racing, and I'll be a wreck. At least I have the old races on Tivo - I'll have to rewatch them just to keep myself sane.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Oops again and Paperclip Racing

Tracy Dunham Well, that prior blog bit was supposed to go on my friend Jean Gordon's blog. (Jean writes wonderful romances, the sweet type, for Avalon Books, one of my publishers.) Shows you, I'm still figuring out this blog stuff.

I haven't posted about the races in Martinsville! I can't believe I've neglected to say how thrilled I was to sit right at the finish line as Jeff Gordon made his emotional charge across it to win yet another grandfather clock. His seventh, I believe, tying him with Rusty Wallace's wins. There's nothing like Martinsville for an exciting race for the fans. The track's a hair more than half a mile around, built like a paperclip, with a narrow pit road that's close enough for the fans to see every lug nut. I was covered with bits of tire and track junk - black clumps of rubber clung to my face and shirt. I even ate a famous Martinsville hot dog, which is colored a surreal pink. Now that's racing!

The thing I love second-most about Martinsville is its bucolic setting. Getting there is half the adventure. The police set up cones and direct traffic with perfect timing, but there's no getting around the fact you drive on narrow country roads to get to the parking area. All seventy-some-odd thousand of us. Hills aren't in short supply, either. You crest the ridge before turning into one of the grassy fields to park, and there, in the cradle of the valley below your tilting truck, looms this track, all modern and noisy as the dickens as cars take practice laps before the truck race. Even though the track has been there since before NASCAR was NASCAR, it looks as if it fell from outer space into a farmer's back yard.

Writers who can surprise me like that go in my "keeper" pile. Lulling me into thinking a story is a gentle adventure down a dirt road, surrounded by green hills and shadowed by nothing more than blue skies, those stories that give me a completely and utterly unexpected twist in the gut are rarer than Rusty Wallace's wins this year. Gasping aloud at a turn in a plot is almost as much fun as seeing Jeff Gordon take the checkered flag after a long and very bad string of races. Good writing is like good racing - wild yet controlled, fast yet paced, scary but safe.

Good racing and good writing to you all.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hi Jean!

My Not-Quite-Daily Blog

It's fun to see you beginning your life-as-a-blogger. Tell us how your right brain/left brain thing gets resolved: financial planning and novel writing!
Tracy Dunham

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pruning and transplanting

Tracy Dunham

The weather has once more lured me away from my desk. Yes, I admit it, I've been getting dirty and sweaty playing in the garden. Azaleas needing more sun, my poor drought-stricken Alberta spruces, the Acubas that craved a trim - I shoveled and planted, transplanted and tossed, snipped and trimmed, adding to the compost heap and a renewed yard regime for a whole day. What fun. The rosemary went to a new spot in the back, having taken over the herb garden, and I pulled a few more tomatoes off the vines. The basil, chive, mint, and oregano all are thriving in this Indian Summer weather that should, by all rights, have ended weeks ago. I planted over a hundred new tulip bulbs to add color to a boring corner. I can't wait for spring to see how my rearranging works out.

It's a bit like writing - everything needs a good pruning, a judicious trim, a little more color by the second draft. The third draft adds more shape, gets rid of the dead wood. The best part is, thinking about a work in progress and seeing its holes, its strong parts, what needs to go, what needs reworking, is always easier when I'm disgustingly filthy, dirt caking my knees and under my nails, playing in the garden.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On the Road

Tracy Dunham
A long car trip is, in some ways, my idea of heaven and hell mixed together. Seeing sunsets without city lights, mountain ranges misted with rain, barns falling into fields shoulder-high with weeds going to seed, I soak it all in and store it away for future use. In a book, of course. I read authors I normally wouldn't, stretched out on hotel beds I don't find comfortable, missing my family nest at home. I found a couple of writers I'm going to add to my "must read everything she writes" list. That, and new sights, are some compensation for leaving home.

The other "up side" is that I'm outside my comfort zone. The downside is, I'm outside my comfort zone. Physically and intellectually. Knowing I'll be going home gives me the freedom to pretend this is where I'm from, this is the vista I see every day from my bedroom window, when in fact, it isn't. This illusion mixes into the recipe for a book, adding to its spices and giving it a flavor I might have missed. I like that.

Going home is heaven. My own sheets. My own kitchen window with the cat pouncing on its sill, yelling at me to fill his bowl. For days, though, I carry pictures in my head of a black ribbon of road, twirling around mountains, valleys cut by rivers running faster than the Chrysler's speed limit.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bump Drafting

Tracy Dunham
Nah, the title doesn't mean a draft manuscript filled with rough patches. Actually, it's a term that's come into use in the past five years or so to describe what happens at Talladega Speedway during the races. Yesterday's Cup chase (you all know I'm a diehard NASCAR fan, right?) was filled with terrifying wrecks and some pretty upset drivers. Those who cartwheeled down the track (Michael Waltrip and Scott Riggs, I think it was) were more calm than Elliot Sadler (a good Virginia boy if ever there was one) after Jimmie Johnson stuck his nose under Elliot's bumper and tossed him out of the pack like a broken cookie. Waltrip and Riggs were probably just grateful to be alive. I was grateful for them, and for the safety of everyone else who got caught up in the melees and lost cars. Very expensive cars.

It's said fans love Talladega because of the spectacular wrecks. Me, I love nose-to-nose racing, the kind you see when Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are door-to-door and respectful enough to race cleanly. It's like reading a clean manuscript - I love it when art and craft mesh as they do when Rusty and Mark are on the track and having fun racing each other. No bumps needed. Some writers seem to prefer literary bumps, full-throttle-hit-the-reader-over-the-head-with-gory-stuff, as opposed to a solid, clean story. I just finished a book in which the opening chapter contains a gruesome murder. The murder, it turns out, isn't the mystery, and is, in fact, a mere "oh, by the way," solved quickly and too easily at the end of the book. I was as upset as Elliot Sadler after he was bumped out of the race yesterday. I wanted to be vested in solving the murder in the first chapter, kept hoping the clues were leading there, only to find out it was unnecessary to the mystery. Writers need to respect their readers, just as NASCAR drivers need to respect each other.

Most writers, and most drivers, do.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Tracy Dunham
Where in the name of heaven does it go? The older I get, the more organized I become, the less time comes my way. I swear - it's as if there's a conspiracy to shorten every day, and I'm the one losing minutes. I can't believe it's been a week - A WEEK - since I last posted. Excuses are rife - I've been writing, trying to shovel out the house (which means getting all the rugs up and out to be cleaned, sigh) before winter settles in, working on the garden to get it ready for fall bulbs, clearing out the vegetable patch, etc., etc., etc. I've come to the conclusion that it's a waste of energy to worry about what's not getting done - it'll get done eventually. My daily list can slip into tomorrow's, and the world won't end.

What matters is the writing. And that's going well, thank you very much. Time can be on the side of someone else, as long as the writing is working.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Looking Back

Tracy Dunham

I remember when I wrote my first book, feeling that rush and satisfaction when the last page was typed and neatly tucked into the end of all three hundred pages of my heart and soul poured out in black Courier. (Typed, I hope you noted!) I had fun writing the story, and to my amazement, a New York publisher bought it. Validation. Nice that it was nominated for an award and made it to the finals. Pretty cool, in fact. My first literary baby was off and running, and doing fairly well.

A couple of years ago, I pulled the book out and re-read it. Writing styles have changed, which is natural in twenty years, but more than that, I've grown as a writer. (Please tell me I have....) Despite some awkward bits, I still caught glimpses of the passion for the story that drove me to write it in the first place. A second reading convinced me to be more charitable and to count my blessings. The story wasn't trite and I'd avoided a host of cliches. Maybe I could ease up a bit on myself. I tried. But still, I wish I hadn't re-read that once beloved book.

I seldom go back and read a book once it's published, because I'd want to rip it apart and start all over. My title should be the Queen of Rewrites. Some books have been rewritten so often, I give them a final resting place in the pile of Books Never to See the Light of Day. There's a fine line between too much book-tinkering and killing the story's initial passion, and polishing a manuscript so it shines. And looking back at shoulda-coulda-oughta options is just plain bad for the writing soul. I've learned my lesson. No more looking back.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Runnin' with the Big Dogs

Tracy Dunham

I love that line, the one about "don't get off the porch if you can't run with the big dogs." This weekend's race at RIR, the deciding one in the lineup for the Cup chase, sure proved who could run with the BDs. Loved every minute of the action. Didn't love the squished seats (my excuses to the man who sat to my left, but he was taking up more than his share of our measly allotted 18 inches). My heart skipped badly when Truex rode the wall with all four tires during the Busch race. He and the 38 car did some paint-tradin', and Truex was hot under his fireproof suit, hopping out of his car and running across the track to shake his fist at Mike Wallace from the middle of the asphalt. Truex is the star, the points leader, and he didn't appreciate getting scared silly by an also-ran.

The racing stars get all the air time, all the interviews, all the fans. What about the guys who run at the back of the pack week after week? Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have been getting a good taste of this, and I'll bet it's not sweet. They hit the wall in Turn Two on Saturday night like any back-of-the packer with a car that was too loose or too tight. Yet they retain their gentlemanly demeanors (at least they try...). They'll work harder for the next race. The BOTP gang are the same. Philosophical. Happy to be in the game in the first place. Grateful for any sponsors who show up with cash to buy gas and tires.

My bet is the BOTP gang - with no hope of winning - is out there because they love to race, pure and simple. Putting the pedal to the metal is enough for now. It's that way with writers, too, I'm realizing. We can't all be on the NYT list, or watch with glee as the bids ante up for our next book. Most of us are out here writing for the sheer love of the stories - the joy that runs through us when a chapter turns out just right, or we finally get to the end of the book and it's not half bad, if we say so ourselves. We write because we have to. We write because the stories won't leave us alone, they natter away at us like transmissions with bad tempers, until we release them onto the page. It would be nice to run with the Big Dogs, but it's okay if we're sharing our romp once we get off the porch with however many people read our writing and like it. It's more than okay, it's glorious. There's no downside.

I just want to thank each and every one of you who've read a book, a story, a poem, anything that pleased you, and you took the time to tell the author that you liked it. That's winning the Cup in my book.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Race

Tracy Dunham

This coming weekend I'll be camping out at RIR in the parking lot, big Dodge truck filled with good food, a grill, chairs, and an ice chest of soft drinks. To say I'm looking forward to a whole weekend of Busch and Nextel racing is a severe understatement. Wearing my Mark Martin hat and listening to him talk to his crew chief on my headphones, I'll be biting my nails as my favorite driver burns up the 3/4 mile track, even if his place in the race for the cup is secure. It's a unique thing to NASCAR, I have a feeling - this ownership fans feel towards their favorite drivers. It's as if they're family.

I feel the same way about characters in books. When a character comes alive at the hands of a good writer, I could kiss the ground she walks on. (Or he, of course, since men can write well too. I'm an equal-opportunity reader.) That's what I want to do with my stories - create people who belong to the reader. Characters who walk off the page and into the reader's head and get stuck there are rare, just like a top ten driver on the NASCAR circuit. Nuances, quirks, all the foibles of the living, are just a bit of the recipe it takes to creating living, breathing characters. Like driver who saves a car that's too loose at 200 mph, racing three wide in a tight turn, the writer who can steady the book with a sure hand is a treasure. I hope I can get there. With the book, not the car. The car is way beyond my skills, LOL!

Friday, September 02, 2005


Tracy Dunham
I'm the queen of them. As in, "storie's" (possessive) rather than "stories" plural, which it should have been in the prior blog. I can read through a manuscript a hundred times, and I swear, mis-spellings and typos jump onto the page after I've turned it over. I've tried reading backwards from the bottom of the page, reading aloud, and staring at each word and spelling it. Nothing helps. I read what my mind wants to see, which is perfect grammar, spelling, and typing, LOL.

Now that I'm aware that I'm a terrible proofreader of my own work, I'm gleeful when I catch typos in other works. "Yes!" I cry, "someone else is as bad as I am at proofing!" It's nice to have company when you're not very good at something.

On another note, I recently finished reading Elizabeth Vaughan's WARPRIZE, and let me tell you, it's a wonderful story. If you love an Alpha hero and a heroine with guts, this is one to put in your keeper pile.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Writing Tight

Tracy Dunham

Writing tight - it's a subject I've been thinking about for a while. I love to wander down the emotional highway of my characters, but there comes that moment when all that lovely introspection has to bite the dust if it's sticking the story to the road like illegal glue on Reed Sorenson's tires. I like storie's to race along - pages flipping as fast as you can read them - and sometimes, the pretty character flowers I plant around the borders (don't you love all these mixed metaphors?) just don't work. What's the right balance between character and story? I'm still juggling, although I confess I'm pretty much a character-driven story gal. For example, I remember Dick Francis heroes like I do the weight and length of my children when they were born. The exact hours, minutes, and seconds of labor. Dick Francis writes heroes like no one else. I may remember the barest details about the plot, but Kit Fielding? He's in my head forever.

Right now, I'm pretty much in the character-rules corner. Still and all, the plot has to be there, and the characters had better be part of the plot, or all I'd have is pages filled with people with nowhere to go, no story to live.

Living stories. I like that idea. If I can write a story that lives, I'll be happy.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Tracy Dunham

Tracy Dunham
Hi, I'm finally here - and eternally grateful to Leigh Wyndfield for getting me going with this blogging gig. I feel as if I'm starting a new novel, and the right opening sentence hasn't come to me just yet. It hasn't stopped me from jumping into a book with both feet yet - I always figure it takes me forty pages to get warmed up anyway, and the pages will end up trashed when the book goes through rewrites.

I'm thinking of starting a different book than the sort I'm known for. An idea has been rattling around in my head as I get my daughter packed up to return to college for her sophomore year. It's wild - (the story, not the daughter) and I'm not sure if the story will work, but I'll try plotting it out just for fun. As much as I love my children, I look forward to the quiet and calm that descend with the first days of school in the fall.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Welcome to Tracy Dunham's Blog

This blog is dedicated to writers, the craft of writing and the people who love books.

Tracy's latest book is out in hardback in December.

Go to Tracy's website to learn more here!