So, Sphinx, what made you start writing?
It’s pronounced “sss – pinks” not “sffff – inks”.
Well, maybe you could explain, since we’re on the topic of nicknames . . .
We aren’t Ozz-waldo.
My name is Osvaldo, “oth- vall – doh.”
What made me start writing?
The series? Or in general? . . .
The series was something I came up on a trek through South Africa with to avoid stressing out about some family issues that were going on back home. And . . . no wait, that is why I started writing too. Family stress. It really can be a plus.
Writing is your “happy place”?
It’s my “stress reduction place.” It’s not real life in a real world. It’s a fantasy. But at least it keeps me from having a heart attack or a breakdown.
That’s what I liked about FAB’s philosophy. It’s why I decided to do the series for FAB. You guys get that books can be valuable as escapist entertainment. They can be therapeutic if you will. For the reader and the writer.
Murder as stress release?
Murder as plot point. Human relationships as stress release (and stress maker).
For me a book is about the world and the people in it. The plot devices are kind of secondary. I tried to make that clear from the outset, with the first book. This isn’t really so much a series about murders, as coming of age, of growing into the person you were always meant to be but didn’t know it.
The Sarsfields books are all about the hero’s [Ioan Lennox] realizations and revelations about himself, about his parents, about his friends, his coworkers, his lovers, and even his true place in the world. Each book takes on one of those themes through the medium of murder and by the end, readers see how the totality of those things changes the ultimate course of his life.
It’s why I don’t bother to write much graphic detail. These aren’t books about graphic murder, or . . .
The Banquet at Roma in book 5?
Ok, I admit that was a bit . . . colorful in the description. But it was confined to a gentleperson’s verbal description and it was necessary to show both the character’s emotional detachment from the ferocity of the acts and the difference between historical and cultural viewpoints on death.
There are definite aspects of [anti-heroine] Rachel Digby’s personality that today seem borderline psychopathic.
But when put in the context of her viewpoint, her historical / cultural reference points, knowing that, the reader moves her back into the “normal” category. And James [Rachel's husband] acts as fulcrum. He’s somewhere between Ioan’s very modern view of life and death, and Rachel’s very archaic one. It’s through James’ viewpoint that readers subconsciously begin to question what really is the “correct” way to see or act in the world.
I like doing that, opening people’s eyes to the things they take for granted.
No question there. Moving on . . . what writers inspired you to write?
Dumas. Absolutely. Loved his work. A must read for any aspiring fiction writer.
As a child I grew up reading classic children’s lit, Black Beauty, Lassie . . . It’s probably where I got my Georgian / regency bent. Scholastic Books also had a big role . . . Love of exotic, goofy humour. How to Eat Fried Worms, Phantom Tollbooth.
And too, my father was a great traditional story teller, and both my mother and grandfather were published authors. I think I just grew up believing anyone could write a book and probably should write at least one. I still very much believe that.
That everyone has one good book in them?
Absolutely! At least one. Maybe only one. But definitely one.
Do you recommend young authors read a lot of fiction to develop their style?
I think when you’re young, you should read anything you can. But as you mature, you’ll realize everything your read, shapes your style.
My folks sent to me to a parochial school, where I became a master of the KJV Bible, and I wasn’t allowed to read real fiction because that was “sinful.” In high school I had a friend introduced me to Harlequin Romance, Austen, and others, but we had to read it on lunch breaks, hidden away in the janitorial office (we both worked in janitorial part-time), out of sight of other students.
Then I knew this other friend, whose sister was in university and reading Tudor (English) History, so she had all these intensely factual history books lying about. BUt she read historical novels voraciously. So we would read her books and then debate about her novels’ historical accuracy. I remember that’s where I first saw PBS too, at her house. She had that series on the six Henry VIII’s wives and used to walk about chanting: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
A bit creepy?
Only when she said it some place like Baskin-Robbins.
That was in the rabbit ear days, when PBS was hard to get. I lived in a valley. It came in, but only one channel, and fuzzy, but I’d watch anyway. Ever watch Shakespeare in a blizzard? That’s what it was like.
Thank God for cable?
Man, yeah! And then I discovered BBC America. My life was complete.
(laughing) I’m not sure if that’s geeky or not?
I guess you could say I was a culture geek. Plays, opera, musical theatre, DIY, HGTV, I loved it all.
And did that make you want to read more? After you left high school?
It made me read more history and autobiography. But I actually had given up reading modern fiction by then because it was so . . . uninteresting compared to real life, to history, to older work.
That was in the era of Jackie Collins, when things in that vein were best sellers. It was all vulgar language, bad behavior, and trashy sex. I turned off completely. I couldn’t relate to those characters and I didn’t see why anyone in their right mind would want to.
But I’m a firm believer of the mind is what the eye reads just as the body is what the mouth consumes.
Popular Science, and The Journal of Developmental Psychology.
So that’s when I began reading history, autobiography, and ever more exotic foreign classics most of which had been translated in the Victorian era, or in the 1960s, but were generally composed in the 12th – 18th century.
So I guess there was always that ”out of synch with the times” way of looking at the world and using language floating around in your head?
Totally. Which is why, when it came to writing the Sarsfield series for FAB, I opted for a contemporary setting, but characters from slightly out of synch places such as Lampeter (Wales), Prince Edward Island (Canada), and rural Virginia, who were living slightly out of synch lives — as bush doctors, tall ship captains, or 200- year-old CEOs the victim of early scientific experimentation gone horribly wrong.
I could never do true fantasy writing. I’m not a fantasy writer. The genre has no appeal for me. For me a story has to be ground in 99% reality. I can appreciate when other author do fantasy and pull out all the stops. But, it’s not me.
Any advice for young writers?
As once was said by a pastor friend, “If you can do anything else in life, do it.” I think that’s the best advice you can give. If you aren’t passionate about it, don’t do it. If you lie awake thinking about it, might as well give in now.
Write what you want to write about. Don’t try to be someone else, or write in someone else’s style. It’s okay to admire someone one, to love their work. But be yourself, always. Love what you write about. Write it in your own way, in your own voice. Be authentic.
My final piece of advice would be don’t be a jerk. Your writing has to fit in around lawn mowing, oil changes, vacumming, diapers, taking your elderly friend to the market, baby sitting your cousin’s stepbrother, walking the dog . . . and probably going to work. You really can write a great book in 15 minutes increments, while doing laundry, if you have to.
Or, maybe just women can do that. Not sure. I probably shouldn’t have said that. I’ve never been a man. Can you edit that out?
Sure. Any other advice?
- Do have a Facebook, Twitter, blog and website if you can manage it. At least have a website where you present yourself as an author. About.me and LinkdIn could help too.
- Don’t be afraid to ask people you respect for opinions about your work. But accept that strangers will comment, and listen to what they say. You won’t know most people that read your book (hopefully).
- Always be polite and open minded toward copy editors, but don’t give in if you think you’re right. Copy editors are exist to help you, and can make a read difference to your work, but it’s your voice that matters, not theirs.
- Do send out query letters to publishers if you can’t find an agent to take you. Or if you don’t want an agent. A lot of writers are going free agent these days. Stay open to the simple twists of fate in life and the changes going on in the world.
- Don’t quit writing if your marriage goes bad. Or your car breaks down. Or you get a new job. Or you develop an incurable illness. Or. . . [insert excuse here]. But if writing is causing your marriage to go bad, or your paying job to suffer . . . .
- Always print out hardcopy proofs and have them proofread by at least 3 friends that were English majors before you send out your manuscript to a publisher that liked your query. Proofreaders are vital.
- Do remember that self-published authors are authors and do make money. Setting up your own publishing company isn’t that hard. Making it successful . . . that’s another story.
- Don’t accept bad cover art. Cover art is marketing. It’s best left to marketing people. Think of your reader when you see /design cover art. Make marketing explain every choice on the cover to you, from color to graphic, to font, to placement of blurb. If they can’t explain why every detail is the way it is, they’re not good at their job, in which case go with your gut reaction.
- Always stay true to who you are. That is: it’s ok to say no, or I need a break, or that’s morally comfortable for me. Editors, marketing people, fans, etc, will respect you for being honest.
- Finally, be respectful to readers. People are paying money they worked hard for to buy your book and spending hours of their life they’ll never get back reading your book. Appreciate that, even if they don’t. Make your words worth reading.
Um . . . so we’ve been on you about Commandment 1 for two years now . . .
Really? You want to go there, again? After I took a complete chance on FAB when I could have published anywhere, under my own name, and sold millions of copies by now?
After I’ve written 6 books for FAB and spent two years letting FAB work all its production kinks without a single complaint — including when you put Prince Edwards Island on the back of the last cover blurb!?
And you bring this up? While I’m still working through the final edit of book 6? I mean . . . Really? That’s what you want to say to me, you little . . . .
[author storms out, reisling in hand, slamming the door behind her]
And I think we’ll close there! Hope you’ve all learned something. If not, come back next week (Weds, July 27) when we kick off a month-long inspirational/practical series on writing, publishing, getting published, and so forth.