Feb. 4, 2010–On Writing Romance–Tracy Sinclare

A summary of our February 2010 speaker, Tracy Sinclare. By Arlene Lidbergh-Jasper. Tracy Sinclare, best known locally as a weekend meteorologist with KTUU, began her presentation at Alaska Professional Communicators’ February luncheon with an ice-breaker. “It’s much easier to talk to a camera than to a room full of people,” she said. “At KTUU, it’s just me and the camera.” After we all laughed, she told us about yet another world not often exposed to the public: Her experiences with the local chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA), and what she has learned about the art of writing romance novels.

Tracy’s family moved to Anchorage in 1972 when her father was transferred to Elmendorf Air Force Base. Her love for writing began at home and then developed during junior high school. In Tracy’s family, all her siblings were readers except her; she preferred to listen to stories first. If she liked a story, then she would read the book.

However, in 7th grade she read Victoria Holt novels, bodice rippers with deep dark heroes. Next, she read contemporary romance—even in geometry class. By 11th grade, she was writing romances during trigonometry classes. During her last year in high school, when the seniors dressed up as what they would be in 20 years, she showed up as a romance writer wearing a long gown and floppy hat with pen and paper in hand.

For about 16 years, Tracy said, she had great story ideas and read her work to her best friends. In 1992, she joined the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and finished her first book but never submitted it.

In 2002, just before her 20th class reunion, she would publish Silver Dagger. Since then she has written 15 novels and eight short stories, each in the range of 50,000 to 80,000 words.

Tracy also pursued professional communication training by more traditional routes. She received her B.A. in English and Broadcasting from Gonzaga University in 1986, and her B.S. in Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi University in 2007. She has stories in her head all the time, Tracy says.

She doesn’t write linearly but jumps around. Characters reappear from book to book, including in the dragon-themed romance novels she writes as a series, which she says sell really well. One such series is up to five books and another is up to seven. She has no agent, and explained that in the romance genre, it is common for a writer to sell his or her first book without an agent. Romance novels are a $1.37 billion industry, she told us. It’s three times as popular as religion with eight billion.

In 2008 there were 7,311 romance novels published, with total readership calculated at 748 million. Romance books hold more than 50 percent of the mass market in paperback fiction. Women are the book buyers 90 percent of the time. This is one genre that is written for women by women.

When people mention to Tracy Sinclare, “I never have read any of your books,” her response is usually “you are not my target.” Her target audience: 31 to 59 year-old women, who “like to read about relationships and how much care you put into them. And, of course, we need a hero and heroine.” Tracy then mentioned an essay by Jennifer Crusie, “Let Us Now Praise Scribbling Women,” reprinted on Crusie’s blog, which gives its praise in particular to women who write romance. She paraphrased: The last line these women write is that the heroine lives happily ever after. As girls, they read Sleeping Beauty, who got everything she’d ever wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Then there was Snow White, who got everything she wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Or there was Cinderella, who should be given some credit for staying awake through her whole story, but who got everything she wanted because she had small feet.

Girls have been taught to be more passive to get the “crown in the castle.” But in romance novels, women are active participants—and there is a hunky man. Romance books, Crusie concludes, create an “emotionally just universe.”

And then there are the “TSTLs, Too Stupid to Live Heroines,” added Tracy. “My stories are character-based, and I like happy endings.” But there must be a believable pace even in the happy-ending storyline, she said.

In re-writing Silver Dagger, Tracy said, she realized that the heroine can’t take her clothes off too early in the book until the love is established.

Tracy writes under a pen name and is not public about her works in her home state–but shared her time with us to encourage other romance writers. She recited a list:

  • “You might be a writer if, before you get on a plane, you make sure you have several books to read and pen and paper in case your computer battery dies.
  • You might be a writer if you hold conversations with the voices in your head, but your friends aren’t recommending that you up your medication.
  • You might be a writer if, when relaxing at a spa, you open the locker and think, I could stuff a body in there.
  • OK, that makes you a writer—or a psychopath!”
  • And finally, “You might be a writer if you understand when I say, ‘My characters won’t do what I want!’”

Tracy highly recommends belonging to a writing group. “Like the group MENSA for people with high IQs,” she said, “joining a writing group does give you support. You want a writers’ group that understands you,” she said. “It’s important to work with people who are working in the same genre.” A number of writing groups in town meet once a month. The romance writers meet at Jitters in Eagle River and schedule a craft talk once a month with the other three weeks given to the members’ critiques. She only attends the craft talk, which helps motivate her to want to write.

Her self-evaluation: “I’m a good storyteller and an OK writer.” Visit the Alaska chapter of the RWA.

A short Q&A period followed. Did she use a dedicated writing computer, i.e., one not connected to the Internet and used only for writing? “No,” she said. She writes on a normal computer in evenings and on days off, an hour a day with four pages an hour on average.

Tracy was then asked about Nora Roberts, a favorite of one woman’s mother and many others in the room. “What separates Nora from the pack?” Tracy answered. “I’ve met her at national conferences, and she is so popular that it’s hard to weave through the crowds of people, just to hear her. She is successful, writing for a number of years, has a fan base, and started when there were bodice rippers. She got in on the ground floor. Nora Roberts writes in different genres: romance, paranormal—and her toughest character is a female cop with a dark past. The In Death series is written under her pen name of J.D. Robb.”