Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series. The first book in the series, Murder Strikes a Pose, won the Maxwell Award for Fiction and was nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel.
A certified yoga therapist, Tracy is the owner of Whole Life Yoga, a Seattle yoga studio, as well as the creator and director of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any way possible.
Tracy and her husband Marc live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd, Tasha. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.
Karma’s a Killer is her third novel. For more information on Tracy and the Downward Dog Mysteries, visit her author website: http://TracyWeberAuthor.com/
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Karma’s a Killer. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: Karma’s a Killer is a light-hearted yoga and dog-related mystery. The story opens at a fundraiser for DogMa, a fictional Seattle animal rescue. While teaching a Doga (yoga for dogs) class, yoga teacher Kate Davidson meets an animal rights activist named Dharma who has a surprising connection to her past. Two days later, Dharma is arrested for murder. The case seems cut and dry, especially since Dharma’s ID was found at the scene and her skin is lodged underneath the victim’s fingernails. Dharma, however, claims she’s innocent, and Kate vows to ferret out the truth.
In this, the third of the Downward Dog Mysteries, readers learn the origins of Kate’s pogonophobia—the irrational fear of beards. They also discover why she has, at least up until now, been so terrified of commitment. Although most of the book is about Kate’s somewhat inept attempts at murder investigation, her German shepherd Bella and her best friend Rene get her into plenty of trouble along the way. But the most satisfying part of the book watching Kate rediscover herself.
Many things inspired me to write this book. I’ve had a fascination with animals my entire life, and wildlife rehabilitation plays a large role in the work, as does animal rescue. However the most intriguing prospect in writing this book was truly delving into what makes Kate such quirky character. I always knew that Kate had a back story and that she needed to reconcile experiences from her past. Karma’s a Killer gave me the perfect avenue to explore them.
Q: What do you think makes a good cozy mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: There are many important elements to good novels of any type. But with cozy mysteries, I think it boils down to relatable characters, engaging settings, and an intriguing mystery.
Recurring characters are especially critical, because they come back to visit the reader time after time, book after book. If your characters aren’t compelling, why would a reader waste their time hanging out with them?
Setting allows the reader to travel to places they might otherwise never visit. Well-developed settings immerse the reader in the “place” of the story using all five senses—perhaps even six. (See discussion on setting, below.)
Mystery is the backdrop of cozies—the guiding force of the story, if you will. Without an intriguing mystery, what’s the point?
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: My stories reveal themselves to me as I write, which means I never outline before I begin working on a book. Who has time to outline when you’ve got characters like Kate and Bella harassing you to hurry up and write them?
My process has remained relatively unchanged from book to book. I write the first draft by the seat of my pants, then sit down and get serious about plot, red herrings, and consistency in the second draft.
While I write the second draft, I outline what I’ve already written and identify plot holes and inconsistencies. I try to fix those in the third draft. After that, it’s only twenty-seven more drafts until the finished product!
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: Like my plots, my characters reveal themselves to me as I write. Some, such as Bella (the German shepherd in my series) are loosely based on animals and people from my real life. Most, like Kate (my yoga teacher/sleuth protagonist) take shape in my mind over time. I get to know them much like I’d get to know any other friend. Minor characters are tougher. Sometimes I write descriptions and back stories for them. Most of the time, I don’t. In many cases, I come up with minor ideas for these characters or picture them in my mind. Then I do Google Image searches. The images and websites that come up inform my understanding of those characters.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: I’ve gotten better at this the more I’ve written, I think. I try to make my killers more multidimensional now than I did in the past. After all, we are all the heroes of our own stories. From the killer’s perspective, they had a perfectly good reason for committing murder. I try to see the story through their eyes, as well as through the eyes of my protagonist.
What drives a good person to commit a heinous act? What about that act changes them forever? What stays the same? How do they go back to their normal life now that they’ve ended another’s? No one is purely good or purely evil. The gray area makes writing interesting.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: For me it’s about something I’ll call consistent variety. I get bored when I read scenes that have essentially the same sentence structure paragraph after paragraph. It feels annoyingly repetitive to me, like the ticking of an out-of-time clock. Then again, there has to be a consistent voice that sets a work and its writer apart from the six million other novels vying for readers’ attention. I work hard to vary sentence length, imagery, tone, and rhythm within my work.
Additionally, I try to avoid information dumps and back story. Nothing bogs down a fast-paced story quicker than overly long descriptions, info dumps about the author’s research, or too much unneeded information about a character’s history. Show us who the character is now. Let their actions speak for them!
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: As I stated above, I use all five senses when describing a setting: smell, sight, taste, sound, and touch. I also use a sixth sense that I can only describe as energy: Some places feel light; others heavy; still others, prickly. And the energy of a space changes based on the perspective and mood of the character inside it.
In Karma’s a Killer, my editor noticed that I described to the same setting quite differently in two separate scenes. At first she suggested that I change it, but when I pointed out the mood of the protagonist in each scene and how her experience of the setting would change based on that mood, she agreed that I should keep it as originally written.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: I write a mystery series, so most of my writing revolves around solving murder. But ultimately, my books are all about love, whether it be in the form of friendship, romance, family, or the unconditional love of an animal. The primary characters in my novels are often very flawed, but they all have one thing in common: the mistakes they make, the risks they take, the regrets they mourn, even the idiosyncrasies they struggle to overcome—all have their basis in love, with a little obsession thrown in for good measure.
My newest book, Karma’s a Killer, is also about reconciliation. How would you react if a woman who’d abandoned you thirty years ago showed up on your doorstep looking for help? What if you found out that much of who you are—good and bad—comes from her? What if you have villainized her your entire life? Would you still be willing to help? And if so, how would helping her change you?
Those were fun questions to explore in Karma’s a Killer.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: It’s an interesting question, and an author would answer it much differently than an editor, I suspect. The biggest risk in editing is destroying voice. An editor’s work is to make the narrative crisper, the sentence structure more varied, the plot more solid—all without losing the author’s unique voice. A good editor makes voice crackle. A bad one dulls it until it is unrecognizable.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: Imagination, perseverance, and probably most important, luck!
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: Writing is hard work, but I don’t think of it as homework—more like a time to play with my imaginary friends. If I thought of writing as homework, I’d probably never do it. It is much too challenging to stay motivated unless you love it.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: I’ve benefited greatly from workshops that I’ve taken with the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Sisters In Crime, and Mystery Writers of America. I have a bookcase filled with books on the craft of writing, but I haven’t read a single one of them.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: Writing is as much about perseverance as it is about talent. Don’t give up, and don’t procrastinate. Write every day. Write what you love. If you spend every day working on what you love most, even if you never get published, you’ll have had a good time. Isn’t that what’s most important?