Friday, May 04, 2007


Artistic Sacrifice

By Tracy Horan

All writers know an artist must suffer for her work. Right now, I am driving to the bookstore to do some research for my first romance novel. Of course, on my list of favorite ways to spend an afternoon, lounging around Barnes and Noble is in the top one. Maybe suffering for my art is a teensy bit of an exaggeration.

The passage I am stuck on is the sex scene. My characters are ready to take things to the next level, but I'm struggling with how to get them there. I have found writing about sex to be more difficult than doing it. I need inspiration from some masters of the genre.

I walk into Barnes and Noble and head upstairs to the Romance/Erotic Fiction section. I usually hang out in the coffee shop with a stack of new hard covers on my lap, so this little side trip is a foray into uncharted waters for me. I pick up a pink paperback at random and flip to the middle of it. After scanning a few paragraphs I start to feel my cheeks burn. Holy buckets, this stuff is practically pornographic. I put that one back on the shelf and choose a more dignified looking hard cover. Wowza, this one contains more graphic sex than Penthouse Magazine. I feel a trickle of perspiration run down the back of my neck. It is awfully warm in here. I peruse a few more steamy sex-filled books until my nerves can't take it. I'm nervously glancing over my shoulder every few minutes to make sure no one is watching me. Why is it so frickin' hot in here?

I can't stand it. I put those naughty tomes back on the shelf and leave the store. I need to step out into the snowy parking lot to clear my head. I certainly found what I was looking for. And then some. I walk out to my car and throw my heavy coat into the back seat. Don't need that bad boy right now. I give myself a mental slap upside the head and mutter, "Grow up, would ya?" As a married woman with two children, I feel sure I can do this.

I go back in, and take the escalator upstairs. I stride straight to the dirty—er, romance section, and choose three likely looking candidates for my research project. My work will be conducted at home. Late tonight. In private. I almost make it to the check out counter before I chicken out. I duck behind the magazine rack and hyperventilate. What is wrong with me? Suddenly, I have an idea. I go over to the "Top Picks" table and grab a copy of Barbara Kingsolver's 'The Poisonwood Bible.' There, some serious literature to sit on top of my stack of smut. Much better.

At the check out counter I feel just like a fifteen-year-old teenaged boy trying to buy condoms at Walgreens. I can picture the scene; his purchases pile up on the counter while he stutters, "Yeah, I'll take this pack of gum, and uh, a toothbrush, um and this can of mandarin oranges, and oh what the heck, how 'bout these Trojan Ultra-thins while we're at it? That should do it."

I keep up a running commentary with the cashier about those fascinating pop-up greeting cards next to the cash register. I believe magicians call this technique 'misdirection.' I feel infinitely better once my purchases are tucked deep inside a nice shopping bag with handles. Now, I can relax and cruise the mall.

When the security alarm goes off as I exit the store, I realize the clerk must have forgotten to remove an anti-theft device from one of my books. My heart sinks as the burly, uniformed security guard walks toward me. Oh Gawd, please no, just shoot me. He says, "Ma'am, I am gonna have to ask you to step over here so I can look at your purchases. Please open your shopping bag."


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


WOW chats with Tracy Horan - Runner Up in the WOW! Winter Contest

WOW got a chance to chat with another of the top ten runners up. Pull up a chair and join us:-)

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten with our latest contest! What was your reaction to placing in the top ten?

Tracy: The minute I read the email telling
me I had placed in the top ten, I ran around the house yelling “Guess what? Guess what? I made the top ten in a contest!” I did a happy dance right there in the kitchen…a little shimmy with a pinch of the running man! I sang, “Oh yeah, stir the pot…I’m da bomb!” My kids were mortified and embarrassed at my shenanigans. (Which was an added bonus.)

WOW: Some writers don't enjoy the "structure" of contests with prompts and short word counts. Do you? And what inspired your contest entry, Whitewater Romance?

Tracy: I love contests because they are like school assignments. My mind starts formulating a plan the minute I read the requirements. The story prompt instructed us to come up with a tale about how we would celebrate paying off the car. The first thing that came to my mind was ‘take a vacation, of course,’ which, in turn, sparked the memory of the whitewater rafting trip from hell.

Sadly, my tale was more fact than fiction. You need to understand, I am not a girl who craves blood-curdling adventure. I am terrified of excessive speed and heights. I avoid roller coasters and drive my minivan like a granny. In retrospect, perhaps whitewater rafting was not a great vacation choice for a wuss like me! It makes for a funny story, though. Of course, they say … Comedy = Tragedy + Time. Sad, but true!

WOW: Do you find it easy to write flash fiction or do you prefer longer pieces?

Tracy: Flash fiction is my favorite type of writing. I tend to be long-winded, so flash is a challenge for me and a great tool to help me learn to cut back on excessive wordiness.
One of my college instructors is always saying, “Great story, but wayyyyyyyy too long.
Flash helps me learn to cut, cut, cut.

WOW: It's wonderful you are continuing to learn about the craft of writing. Are you enjoying your writing classes at the University of Wisconsin?

Tracy: Love it! The University of Wisconsin offers many writing classes online. It is a wonderful way to take college level courses from home. My main professor is Marshall Cook. He does a great job offering advice and criticism in constructive ways. I used to hate negative comments about my writing. I took every remark so personally! But Coach Cook showed me how an intense critique serves to improve your writing and make it better. Now I welcome all editing suggestions with an open mind.

WOW: Have you always wanted to write?

Tracy: I’ve played around with writing off and on my whole life. But, you know how it is…you get a job, get married, have kids. Pretty soon, the only thing you find yourself writing are grocery lists. Books have always been my real passion. I am a voracious reader and I devour books like Pac-Man eating those little dot thingies. I finally realized that writing a book of my own would be a dream come true.

WOW: Reading is another great way to learn what good writing is like. Who are your favorite authors?

Tracy: Lately, I have been reading Jodi Picoult—she is an amazing writer. I also love Jennifer Weiner—her humor is too delicious. Honestly, I read everything I can get my hands on. I like Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, Patterson, Grisham, Jeanette Walls, Kim Edwards. Oh, there are so many phenomenal authors out there, it is tough for me to pick a favorite!

WOW: If you could pass on one piece of advice to other writers, what would it be?

Tracy: The most valuable, gratifying thing for a writer is to share their work. What is the point of writing if no one reads your brilliant, gorgeous pieces of literary genius? Be honest, we are all a bunch of insecure creative types who need constant ego strokes. I found a website called Fanstory where I can post my work for other writers to read and review. It has been the single most wonderful, encouraging experience of my writing life. Face it, our friends and family want to be kind and loving. It takes a stranger to say, “Dude, you used ‘was’ eleven times in the last three paragraphs—fix it.”

WOW: Your contest bio mentions a work in progress. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Tracy: My main project is an anthology of humorous non-fiction essays I am in the process of writing. They tell the tale of when my family and I lived on a farm in rural Indiana. My two daughters were young, my husband traveled for work a great deal of the time, and I was absolutely the world’s most inept farm wife. I like to call it a tale of “Gilligan’s Island meets Green Acres.” The name of the book is “Never Tie a Horse to a Swing Set.” That pretty much sums it up.

WOW: What a great chat. Got any last thoughts?

Tracy: I would love to publish a book or two, and I would be thrilled if my books sold a few copies, but that is not the reason I write. Writing fulfills a need within my soul. It is a balm, a salve, and a great comfort. Writing is free therapy that fills up an empty place inside of me. Even if I never publish a single word, I will always introduce myself as Tracy Horan, the Writer.

Thanks Tracy. You're an inspiration to all writers. If you haven't had the chance to read Tracy's story, stop by the Winter 2007 Flash Fiction Contest Winners Page and check it out. I know you'll enjoy it.

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