Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Writers' Wednesday: An Interview with Toni Sweeney

Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! Today I'm chatting with author Toni Sweeney...enjoy!
Thanks for being here today, Toni! Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in the State of Georgia, some time after the War Between the States but before the Vietnam War, lived in the Midwest for the rest of the Millennium, and decided to start a new century in South Orange County, California. I had wanted to be a professional student but ended up graduating in spite of everything, with a Bachelor's in art, English literature, drama, and music--which has sometimes come in very handy in my writing. I aspired to be a stage actor but didn't have the voice projection-capacity and ended up playing dead bodies or "crowds" or part of the dance ensemble. I studied dance for 13 years and actually did it professionally for a brief time, until an auto accident ended that career choice. Somewhere in all this mishmash, I married, had a son--and that was the happiest day of my life--and divorced. My son has supplied me with a grandson and a granddaughter whom I adore.

Sounds like some great adventures! So when did you first begin writing?

This is a round-about answer. I wrote my first novel when I was 9. My parents bought me a portable Smith-Corona for my birthday. I loved to read, and still have some of the books my parents bought me when I was an infant, cloth books which have been gummed until most of the pictures have dissolved. From ages 8-12, I was totally horse-crazy and wrote horse stories. Since I had no idea how to do it, I folded the paper into the size of a book page and typed on each side--front and back--then made a cover for the book, copying the ones I owned. I also wrote and drew comic books. During high school, being a writer got one laughed at, so I down-played it. After I graduated, I worked in the English Department at the college and the chairman was working on a novel, so I used his manuscript as a model on how to format everything. My cousin liked to read also and I asked her to read whatever I had written. Then, I got married and writing got packed away for a while.

Was there an event or moment in your life that triggered your desire to write?

I can't pinpoint one actual thing. I just read and thought, I wish I could do that, and decided to try. Usually, I didn't let anyone know what I was doing. I was very shy and my family had a habit of laughing at things I did and I didn't want something I really cared about laughed at. It took a lot of courage for me to finally ask my cousin to read what I'd written. Luckily, she was kind.

There was a time in my life, however, after my auto accident and my divorce, when finances got tight. There was barely enough money for food much less for buying books. During that time, I started writing again, just for myself, so I'd have something to read. I shared my manuscripts with co-workers who also liked to read and one of them me to send one to a publisher. I did. It was rejected, but I was hooked. Several of the books wrote during that time have now been published, 30 years later.

Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

My latest published book is Sinbad's Last Voyage, which came out in late 2007. It's another of the manuscripts I wrote back in the '70s. I would say that Sinbad is my favorite of all my heroes--he's tall, handsome, brave, tragic, and madly in love with the heroine (and loves kids). I've got lots of titles coming out soon: Three Moon Station, to be released by The Wild Rose Press in December. It's written under one of my pseudonyms, Icy Snow Blackstone, and is a futuristic romance. A witness to a murder hides out in a group of women being transported to another planet to work as Domestics. She thinks she's hired by a rancher to be his housekeeper. Then she discovers the paper she signed wasn't an Employment Agreement but a Marriage Contract and the rancher expects full marital benefits!
I also have a sequel to Sinbad's Last Voyage--Sinbad's Wife--which will be out this summer from Double Dragon Publications. That one is a space opera, but it has a lot of romance. With a title like that, it would have to have, wouldn't it? There are two black rosettes--"Love, Vampire Style" (September 24) and "Demon in Blue Jeans" (October 29) which will be coming out soon from The Wild Rose Press, also. I recently signed contracts with Lyrical Press for three novels--Earthman's Bride, one tentatively titled When the Condor Returned, and Jericho Road. These will also be Blackstone novels. I also recently learned that I finalled in the paranormal division of the Maryland Romance Writers "Reveal Your Inner Vixen" contest. Wow--didn't see that coming!

Congrats - what a wonderful, growing career. Now, how do you go about developing your characters?

Good Question--difficult to answer. Sometimes, they emerge full-grown--like Minerva came from Zeus' brain. Sometimes, I have the bare outline and after the character is on paper, it begins to grow. I've gone back and edited stories I wrote when I was younger in which the characters aged and I've put more depth into them because I'm now at the same age they are. When I wrote them, I was too young to understand how someone older would feel about certain things. A few characters started out in one form and after I began writing, changed altogether. Riven kan Ingan in Blood Seek(the Chronicles of Riven the Heretic, Book One) started out as a Boba Fett-type outer space bounty hunter. He ended up as a heretical knight in a sword-and-sorcery series. Aric in Blood Sin (the kan Ingan Archives) was originally a Spock-like character with emotions so tightly controlled, he was like an android. He evolved into a womanizing, hard-drinking, ne'er-do-well who ends up getting exiled for having an affair with his uncle's life--quite a departure from the way I first envisioned him!

What advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

Be patient; be persistent; don't take the rejections personally, unless they specifically say, "You are a terrible writer!" or words like that. Then, show them you aren't! I've only gotten one rejection which was intentionally nasty and I've always wanted to write that editor and inform him that the story he dissed so vilely was later bought by!

What do you find most difficult about writing?

Finding time to write. I have this weird habit of wanting to have a roof over my head--food isn't as important to me--so I have to do what's laughing called a "day job." That takes up a lot of time.

How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

I started writing seriously about 1976. I'd come home from work, make dinner, set my son at the table and disappear into my "office." From the other room, I'd get this plaintive, "Mom, when are you going to be finished?" until my son fell asleep. That was the way it went until he left for college. Afterward, it was just me and the poodles and they didn't complain, so I just kept on typing. Needless to say, I don't have much social life. Presently, I have cataracts and can't see to drive at night and don't go out much anyway, so it balances out.

Describe your writing space (or include a picture!)

I rent a room in a private home. It has a bed, a TV and a space for my computer desk and computer. I have an e-machine with a 16" LCD screen, a scanner, a digital camera for teleconferences, a wireless printer, and wireless keyboard and mouse. Everything in the world a writer could need--reference books, notes, scribbled pieces of manuscript, pens, pencils, a can of pop, a half-eaten jar of unsalted dry roasted peanuts, several folders with research information, and a headset--are piled onto that computer stand. My reference books and reading books are in 7 bookcases which my landlady lets me keep in her garage so I run out there with a flashlight if I need to check something.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Because of that auto accident so many years ago, I'm a very sedentary person. I like to read and watch TV, do a little gardening. When my granddaughter lived nearby, she and I used to go shopping together and we always cooked dinner together on Saturday nights (she's 6 so you can imagine she was a lot of help!) Before my accident, I was very active--horseback riding, swimming, hiking, laying tennis...and the aforementioned dancing.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book(s)?

That the characters can take over a story if you don't watch it. I learned that when I was writing the Sinbad series. One of the main characters ran away from home as a teenager, lived a dissolute light, contracted a terminal disease. I planned to have him as a dying adult, come home, make his peace with his parents, be told there was a cure for his illness, and live happily ever after, just like the Prodigal. So...I got him home, the parents took him back, told him he needn't have run away, they understood, etc, and then...he died. The minute I wrote that he walked through the door to his parents home, I knew there was no way he was going to survive. I sat down and cried, and yelled out, "But I don't want to kill him off!" Did it anyway. I realized that was the way it'd happen in real life. Shook me up just a little. Sometimes, you have to use a whip and chair on the characters to make them behave.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

When I was hospitalized after my auto accident, I couldn't walk, couldn't even sit up. I was so sedated I couldn't watch television, but I was able to read. If I hadn't loved books so, I don't know how I would've managed being bedridden for nearly a year. If I didn't write, I don't know how I could all!
Toni, thanks so much for giving us a peek into your writing world today. Readers, check out her website if you'd like to know more!


Emma Sanders said...

Wow, that's one of the most interesting biographical stories about beginning a writing career I've read. You were creative about your writing, by making your own "books". That's cool.

Sorry to hear about your auto accident, but it sounds like things worked out for you. After all, we might not have your wonderful stories if you had stayed in dance!

windycindy said...

Glad to hear she has made it through all of her trials thus far. I wish her all the best and much success!

Liz said...

Toni - What a struggle its been for you! The cover to Three Moon Station is awesome!!

Mary Ricksen said...

Those of us who know Toni are gifted with her spirit. Toni is a fighter who has had to take a lot of punches, but comes up boxing like Ali. She is a pleasure to know and her talent awes us all. As a matter of fact she makes us her fellow authors, jealous of her wonderful talent.
Hey Toni, you rock!

Debra St. John said...

Hi Toni. Wow, you really have a great writing retreat. I love your covers.

Anonymous said...

Yea Toni! You go girl! Toni is the bravest, most devoted virtual friend a pink fuzzy writer could want. The landies of the Pink Fuzzies adore her!

The Scarlet Pumpernickel

L M Gonzalez said...

Hi Toni,
Enjoyed your interview.

Your road to publication sounds as meandering as mine. Glad to see you finally reached your goal. :)

I, too, started writing in 1976. My first book was published in Dec, 2007 by The Wild Rose Press.

Looking forward to reading your stories.