Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welcome to Sarah A. Hoyt's guest blog!

Welcome Ms. Sarah A. Hoyt to Love Romances and More, thank you for joining us.

Did you always want to become a writer?

No. When I was very young, I wanted to become a first-communion girl. I used to watch them parade past the house in their dresses and veils and I thought that was a fine job. I didn’t understand it wasn’t a full-time gig. After that I wanted to be come an angel. It was all about the dresses, see? There was also a brief period of wanting to become a cat. I’m not sure I’ve given up on that yet. I think I only decided to be a writer at the ripe old age of six. I liked telling stories and I liked writing, so I figured it would be easy. And I’ll grant you compared to angel or cat, it probably is.

What is the most, and the least interesting fact about writing?

The most interesting would be all the books you have to read. All of a sudden, what was an absorbing hobby is justified. You can actually tell people “don’t bother me, I’m reading” and feel virtuous. The least interesting – you write every day. EVERY single day. Whether you feel like it or not. Sometimes I take time off when I’m ill, but I feel guilty about it. It’s not very glamorous. You sit at your desk, and you type.

How did you celebrate your first release? What was it like to see your book in a bookstore? Do you have a special ritual for celebrating a book release?

My first release unfortunately came a month after 9/11. We were still too shell-shocked to celebrate.

My something-I-wrote in on a shelf thing came with a short story, long before the books. My short story came out in a magazine called Absolute Magnitude and was in the kiosk downtown in our city. A friend called to tell me, and – this after years of trying to get published – my first impulse was to scream “Buy every copy. Don’t let anyone who knows me see it!” I have since gotten over that feeling. :)

How did your family react to fact that you write romance novels? Have your family read your book?

Well, I write EVERYTHING not just romance. Accordingly, my kids have favorites. My younger son likes the historical romantic fantasy series which we call The Magical British Empire. (Heart of Light, Soul of Fire, Heart and Soul.) My older son’s favorites are my shifter series set in a diner in Colorado (Draw One In The Dark; Gentleman Takes A Chance) and my Space Opera Darskship Thieves. My husband loves everything I ever wrote unconditionally. He’s a patient, generous man, utterly blind to my faults, which is why we have been married twenty five years. If he has favorites, they’re probably my historicals: Plain Jane (written as Laurien Gardner) and No Other Will Than His.

Most authors are also avid readers. Is this the case with you? If so, who are some of your favorites? Have any influenced your writing?

My kids think a book sprouts from my fingertips as part of my anatomy. I’m always reading and I read everything. So let’s take this by genre, shall we? In romance my favorites are Georgette Heyer and Madeleine Hunter. In mystery other than the perenial standbyes like Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, I love the Egyptian mysteries of Lynda Robinson. In science fiction I love Heinlein and Dave Weber. And in fantasy, Pratchett and Dave Freer. In addition to that I read a lot of non-fiction, a lot of it centered around Tudor/Elizabethan England, but often straying into other countries and times. Scientific non-fic comes in to, with books on the nature of time, or the newest discoveries in palaeontology. For some reason I like reading about dinosaurs when I’m under the weather. No, there is no logical explanation for this.

Do you feel each of your characters live with you as you write? Do their lives sometimes take over a part of your life? Can you name an example? Do you have living role models for your characters?

My characters are why I write. Yes, they are very much with me. Usually a story starts with a character who comes to me and says “write my story.” I usually give them a cooling off period in which I try to convince them they really want some OTHER writer and have got the wrong address. If they refuse to go away, I write them. Some have been so loud that I dropped everything to write them. You see I have to write, because otherwise they’d lock me up...

An example is hard. I have an unpublished novel with the Red Baron as the main character. I realized I’d been eating, drinking and talking altogether too much Manfred von Richthofen when my then ten year old informed the checker at the supermarket, “My mom is in love with the Red Baron.” And we’re not going to talk about Kit Marlowe. I’ve now written two novels (with another one in the works) as well as four short stories in which I torture the poor man. My husband advised me to stop lest Marlowe file a “dead person stalking” restraining order.

Other than historical personages I make into characters – and even those, though I try to bow to the facts, are very individual interpretation of these real people – no. Characters come to me. It’s absolutely useless to ask me “who did you base so and so on?” because my answer will likely be “himself.”

What do you consider to be the key elements of a great story?

A beginning, a middle and an end. Yeah, I know that sounds like a given, but you’d be amazed how many times they’re simply not present. The author will throw us into the middle, which is a perfectly valid thing to do, but then forget to give us the info we need about the beginning. Or the author has a great beginning and a punchy ending, but the middle is “lather, rinse, repeat” with no connection to the other two. And the ending... well, too many novels end with a whimper not a bang. There’s this insane build up and then an ending by author ex-machina as if the author lost interest and ran off to do something more interesting.

Of these sins, I confess to having to keep a really tight hand on the middle and make sure it connects both way and is vital to the end.

Could you tell us a little about how you develop your characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?

Sigh. I would love to tell you that, except I think it happens at a subconscious level. As I said, my most common experience of a character is someone babbling in my mind. They usually come to me complete, flaws and all.

My favorite character to write was Athena (in Darkship Thieves.) She has a wonderfully skewed view of reality and it’s so much like my own younger mind that it’s very easy to slip into her mind. It’s like letting my own inner bitch-goddess have her say.

Hardest... would be Porthos in the Musketeers Mysteries. (Under Sarah D’Almeida.) Because the Dumas character was dumb it was a challenge. I couldn’t make him dumb. Times have changed. We don’t like reading about dunces. Besides, I always found it odd the other three would put up with a dumb person. So instead I made him verbally challenged. He thinks in senses and images. Because this is the opposite of what I do, it was challenging but in the end – I think – very rewarding.

Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?

This is very hard to explain. I usually get the character first and I have to work very hard for the plot. However, I think plot is essential to showcase, explain and allow the character to grow. On the other hand, without a fascinating character, who cares about the plot? Things happen down the street from me all the time and I don’t care because I don’t know the people. So, the two are intertwined for me. Things happen because the character is who he is. And the character reacts to what happens and that generates plot. I try to give them equal weight. This said, plot is hard. I sometimes have to go back and insert foreshadowing events or linking scenes because I tend to flash on the big things, not what led to them.

Where do you get the inspirations for your books?

I don’t want to be flip. So I’ll simply say I don’t know. There is usually a precipitating incident or action of some sort. I’ll read a book and start thinking about what it means and a month or two later there will be a story. But sometimes that is much, much more buried. For instance, I had no idea why I came up with an alternate magic universe and a novel set in Africa until I was moving (two years after I wrote the proposal) and found a ton of books on Africa in the closet under the stairs. I’d read them for a period of two months – I get these “reading cravings” like other people get food cravings – and then forgotten about it. But the seed was there, and the book eventually came forth.

I’m sorry if I sound like a nit wit, but there isn’t often a direct line between reason to write book and book.

Do you find it difficult at times to write love scenes?

Very. In fact, almost always. In most books I avoid it by pulling the pink veil of decency over the whole thing. (This is what my husband calls it. I let the character go into another room and do his/her thing.) It’s not that I’m a prude, but if I don’t think the sex adds anything I don’t put it in. In Heart of Light when the editor called me and told me I HAD to have the sex in, I had a crying fit, in which I swore she’d have to write it herself. I still think sex was forced there – the characters simply were NOT ready. They might be fated to be married, but they barely knew one another. However, let’s say I’m learning. With Kathryn Howard in No Other Will Than His, I FOUGHT putting the sex in, but – for obvious reasons – there was no way around it. Hence, it has lots of sex.

My books are getting more and more sex since I turned forty five, in fact. Maybe I’m becoming a dirty old woman.

Do you have a problem with deadlines and have you ever suffered a writers block?

I have a problem – massive – with authority. Since deadlines are the closest to authority my job gets, I tend to resist them and my subconscious locks up tight as they approach. However, the only time I couldn’t write at all and deadlines were wooshing past me at speed was when – I found out – I was very ill and had an hormonal imbalance that, among other things, made me depressed.

Now, I’ll grant you that when a deadline approaches kids get in trouble in school or catch interesting illnesses, appliances break down and cats run away. But as a writer, I’ve learned to work through that.

Do you prefer stand-alone books or series (As a reader or a writer) ?

As a writer, I prefer stand alones. In the end of the book, I bring the character to his or her upright and locked position and then I’m done and don’t want to mess with these people again. (Though lately I’ve been getting ideas so massive there is no way they’ll fit into single books, but that’s different.) As a reader I like series. If I liked a character, I want to see how they’re doing, further on.

Because I know what I’m like as a reader, I force myself to think about series and write them. But in a perfect world I’d write ONLY stand alones.

The perfect solution is perhaps what I did in Heart of Light, Soul of Fire, Heart and Soul, where I pick a different couple of the initial group for each book. The others are still there, but they’re off-scene or not the focus.

If you could change places with one character from your book, who would it be and why?

You know, that never occurred to me. My characters have issues, but they’re not my issues. I don’t want to be them and there’s no wish fulfilment involved.

If you mean in the sense of “as a woman, which of your male characters do you find hotest” that I can answer. Tom, in Draw On In The Dark and Gentleman takes a chance, who is a were-dragon and a reformed, black-leather wearing bad-boy is tied with Kit from Darkship Thieves (think Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy with modifications that make him part feline and you’re NOT far off) as the hottest male characters I’ve ever written.

And I DON’T want to change places with Kathryn Howard in No Other Will Than His, even if she got to be queen. Henry VIII is not my cup of tea.

What is your favorite book from the books that you have written so far? Who are your favorite hero and heroine, and why?

Darkship Thieves. Hands down and without thinking. My heroine is Athena Hera Sinistra whom a reviewer called “A Princess of Earth” – which is close enough. She’s the very messed up but extremely capable daughter of one of Earth’s rulers, about five hundred years from now. The hero is Kit Klaavil, a self-contained man who tries his best to hide his sensitive and vulnerable nature. The two of them meeting is like fire and stone... The fire just has to burn hot enough to melt the stone, which is not nearly as impervious as he tries to seem. Perhaps because of their personality issues, the resulting relationship is very strong and compelling and draws me back to them, making them an exception to the “don’t like to write series” thing.

Would you like to give another genre a try?

Besides Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mystery and historical Romance? Well, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a straight-out romance. It might still happen. As with the sex thing, I find myself more and more drawn to romance as I get older.

Which book was the hardest to write and which the easiest?

Hardest was Heart and Soul. I had to tie all these elements together and make it a coherent plot. Very, very hard. I think I was at least semi-successful. Easiest... I’m writing a mystery series centered around furniture refinishing and the first book, Dipped, Stripped and Dead (under pen name Elise Hyatt) just poured out in one long string. Reads like that too. Yes, it does have a strong romantic element in the form of Officer Hotstuff. (No, that’s not his name, it’s what my writers’ group nicknamed him. They’re ALL bad people. They also nicknamed poor Kathryn Howard in No Other Will Than His “Kay Ho.” You see what type of people they are.)

If you could choose of your books for a movie, which one would it be and who would you as the cast?

Darkship Thieves. It would make a grand, rollicking adventure. You have to excuse me from whom I’d cast, though. You see, I have this impairment when it comes to actors. I get so taken up with the story I don’t recognize faces. For instance we were rewatching The Patriot the other night, and I did NOT recognize Heath Ledger. My family can drive me nuts discussing authors who, to me, are shadows who strut and fret their moment upon the film, and then are no more.

What do you feel is the most important aspect a new author should
remember when writing/creating their own stories? Any advice for
aspiring authors?

Yes. Write. Submit. Repeat. Read. Don’t assume that reading other people will dilute your unique voice. It will merely keep you from re-inventing the wheel. Listen to critique but don’t assume that readers have some magical insight into how you write. Evaluate what they say. Study the market. Go to conferences and meet editors. And through all this, keep writing.

Look, I used to call myself the Writer of NO Future. I usually had a hundred rejections by March. For ten years. But I kept trying. (Mostly because, you know, if I stopped writing they’d lock me up for talking to people who don’t exist.) And eventually things started selling. Then a lot of things started selling. You have to keep on it.

Have you ever been nervous over reader reaction when a new book come
out? How much does reader response mean to you over your books? What
do you hope readers get from your books after they read them?

Before a book ever leaves my hands to go to an editor, it does its round of a trusted stable (and a few of them unstable) of readers. That’s the reaction I agonize over. When I send those out, I often don’t know if what I just finished is a book or a cabbage. If those are good, then I don’t worry. Look, so far I have yet to have bad reactions from the reading public at large. There are always half a dozen people who hate, loathe and despise my writing. Usually the same people. And they buy the books so they can tell me how much they hate them. (Shrug. They BUY the books.) The other reactions are usually somewhere between positive and raving. So maybe I’m spoiled.

What I hope my readers get is ... thinking. I hope my books cause them to think about things they’ve always taken for granted. (All my life I’ve been told I think too much. This is my attempt at making the rest of the world like me. So, you see, it’s all an evil plot mwahahahahah.) BUT that’s what I HOPE for. What I try for is to give them a moment or two of amusement and some sense of joy.

What season is your favorite and why?

Fall. I like the colors, the crisp air and the feeling of renewal after the sultry days of summer. I love Thanksgiving, too. Also, my birthday is in fall, as is that of my younger son, so there are a lot of family celebrations.

What would we find on your bookcase if we looked? What is one of your favorite authors?

Which bookcase? I have books ALL over the house. In fact, we’re starting to fear for the structural integrity of the house. My office, where I am now, mostly has the research books, plus a handful of poetry books that I use for titles. (Guilty your honor!) The bathrooms tend to have essays or short stories, because this saves you from getting “captured” and staying in there for life... or three hours. The hallway outside my office has science fiction/fantasy and mystery. My bedside bookcase has romance. The downstairs bookcases have... everything. Double stacked. We had the worst trouble explaining to the schools our kids COULD NOT have a library card, because we would lose the books in the mess.

My favorite authors: Madeleine Hunter. I signed next to her at RWA and I liked her as a person. As for a books they are a delight to read.

What was the last book you read (e or print) and did you like it?

The last fiction book I’ve (re)read is Dave Freer’s Dragon’s Ring, which I highly recommend. It is a romance at the heart of an adventure Fantasy. Very, very good. And the male main character is... one of those irresistible rogues. Non Fiction, I was recently re-reading Black Swan and I’ve just started Booth’s Sister by Jane Singer. Of these, only Black Swan was a paper book. (I’m trying to cut down on clutter.)

What makes a good book to you?

Characters who make me think and dream long after the book is closed. A world that I’d like to visit.

How does reader feedback matter to you?

So far, all I’ve got is positive, with one or two exceptions. So, mostly, it makes me feel better about myself and encourages me to write more.

Are you ever nervous when a new book comes out?

I have a zen attitude about it. It’s out of my hands at that point. So I try not to drive myself insane.

If you could travel through time to visit a special time period or famous person, what or who would it be and why?

I have this theory that life gets better as time goes on, so if I could visit, it would be in the future. Famous person... I think all of my historical heroes would hate me on sight. However, I’d love to have tea with Heyer, help Heinlein build his backyard pond or... well, hang out with a dozen other writers. We’re that way. We cling together. Maybe because no one else is crazy enough to want to hang with us.

What character out of all your books is the closest to your

Athena Hera Sinistra, in Darkship Thieves. Excerpt here. If you read it, yeah, yeah, I’m fully conscious how terrible this is. Still, I have to confess she’s closest to me, even if I don’t always act on it.

What is your favorite movie of all time? The one where you can watch
it and still get affected at the same spots each and every time?

Sliding Doors. It’s a movie of “What might have been”. If you extend to series, then the A & E Pride and Prejudice

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 5 things would you have with you?

VERY large notebook. Pen. My kindle with as many books as I could cram on it, and a year long battery. My mp3 player.

What is your favorite way to relax after a hard day working and writing?

Drawing. Usually something relating to what I’m writing, but sometimes portraits of my kids or cats.

Do you listen to music while you are writing and if so what music is it?

Yes. But what I listen to depends on what I’m writing. And no, not in any way that makes sense. My tastes are as eclectic in music as in books, but even so, I will maintain it’s bizarre that my space opera required, of all things, Buddy Holly, and my craft mystery required ... Evita? With Madonna? No, I have no idea why. The only one that makes remote sense is Gregorian chants for the historical vampire. I think it’s mostly because the music captures the “pace” of the piece more than anything else.

Big congrats to your latest release, can you please tell us something about the book?

Yes. It’s a fictionalized, romanticized version of Kathryn Howard (Henry VIII’s fifth queen)’s life. It came about because I got in a big argument with my editor about whether she was an air-headed slut or not. I maintained not. So, a few years later I got a phone call saying “We’d like to do this, would you like to play?” I don’t recommend this as a method of getting your editor’s attention. I got lucky.

As a book, it was very hard to write. The latest historical belief is that she was all of maybe seventeen when she died, so I was essentially writing about a very young girl who might have been cunning and able, but who was caught up in a fate she conjured yet couldn’t control. I think it’s a very good book (no, I do not think this of all my books) and romantic in a bitter-sweet sort of way, because, of course, it couldn’t have a happy ending. Poor Kay Ho kept wanting to run away and become a pirate, but that was an ending I couldn’t change for her.

Are you working on anything right now, and can you tell us a teaser about these projects?

I’m currently finishing an as-yet-unsold historical vampire book. It starts this way:

His captors dragged and pulled him past the ruined marble doorway, the ropes on his wrists too tight, the ropes on his ankles loosened only enough to allow him to make small steps. They’d taken his sword. His hair was matted with blood. He didn’t know whose or even if it was his.

Three of them held him on either side, their supernatural strength making it impossible for him to move.

And yet, he still struggled. His fevered mind knew only that he must escape the hands like vise grips on his arms. He must defeat the bone-bruising grasp of fingers on his waist.

Next up is an equally yet-unsold space opera, which is about a hidden prince who happens to be an assassin and the secret-service agent who investigates him and who has to learn to trust herself as a woman.

Mind you, some of my books take fifteen years to sell, so there’s no guarantee if/when these will see the light of day.


Franny Armstrong-ParaNovelGirl said...

You have an excellent attitude towards writing. Zen is 'whatever will be, will be'.
I'd add chocolate to the list on the island. Writing and chocolate are a MUST. lol


Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Yes. Unfortunately I only had five items and I needed the music. :)

My cp told me "What about cats? You know you can't live without cats."

I said "They're not THINGS. They're going. Husband too. Kids, depends on the day."

Love Romances and More Reviews said...

Hi Sarah,

I found your comment about whether or not Kathryn was a slut or clueless interesting because as I read her story I saw her as a product of her time and a pawn of a powerful family. Your ending line where she says she dies the queen of England but ......... clarified for me how little control over her life. I wondered too was it truly Henry's will or that of her grandmother's because of the machinations her family engaged in. The contrast too between Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour who her family called that "whey-faced" woman caught my attention as well. Kathryn wasn't quite Anne reborn so to speak; but she came close to Jane's virtue.

I really think historical fiction is one of the most difficult genres to write because no matter how much you want to do so, you cannot change the ending. With fantasy, such as your alternative Britian series, you can change the ending for that happily ever after.

You have to wonder if Henry ever regretted his losses. Thank you for an interesting read that despite the historical aspects, gave me things to wonder at.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

That she was a pawn is certain, and I'm not sure if her grandmother's or the king's. The answer would be both. But let's be honest, Henry for all his issues -- which had come home bringing mates and litters of little issues -- Henry had a thing for SMART women. All his other wives were. I doubt that Kathryn was a dumb bunny. Uneducated, sure, but not dumb.

And yes, when I got to the end I realized it was all very sad. It's a true tragedy, in the Greek sense. But if I'd made Kathryn up, she'd have got better. I'd have let her run away with Culpepper in the nick of time, and become pirates off the coast of Ireland. It would have suited her to a T. Perhaps in some other universe (G)