A good book can be thrilling, from the moment you open the cover to the time you turn the last page. It can be heartbreaking, funny, amusing, and exciting. An author can scare you half to death or make you fall in love with someone not even real. And sometimes, an author can write a book so lovely, so wonderful, that once you finish it, you think, “wow. I just lost a best friend.”
Such was the case with author Sherry Thomas’s debut book, Private Arrangements. That story left me feeling bereft after reading the last page. I had felt like I honesty went through something with the characters she had so perfectly crafted. I felt like I bonded with them. I felt like I knew them. And I was sad once their story was over, not because it didn’t end happily (the ending was perfect), but just because it ended. Sherry’s book was a wonderful place that I didn’t want to leave. (And I didn’t, by the way. I picked up the book about twenty minutes after I finished and read it again.)
Over the years, she has written six more books. Two of them haven’t been released yet, but of the four that are currently on shelves, I own and have read each one – multiple times. And yes, I’ve had the same reaction to those stories as I did to Private Arrangements. There’s a very simple reason for that: Sherry is a wordsmith and master. Her books are as important, sweeping, and groundbreaking as Kathleen Woodiwiss’s were in the 70s.
So, in honor of Sherry’s newest book, Ravishing the Heiress, being released this Tuesday, I give you one of my very first interviews, and one of my favorites. From the dusty shelves of my archives, here is Sherry Thomas in her 2008 interview talking about her debut, Private Arrangements.
Hi Sherry. Thanks for stopping by and talking with me. Let’s begin! Private Arrangements, your current book available now, focuses on the story of Gigi andCam. When I finished reading it, I read it again. Now, a part of that had to do with your “voice”, the style in which you write. Was your voice something that had to be developed over time, or did you just always write with that kind of elagant, graceful, quick, lyrical style?
Thank you and excuse me for a second as I go look for my jaw, I think it hit the carpet and bounced off somewhere. 🙂
For most of my writing life, I barely thought about voice. I could recognize an extraordinary voice, like Judith Ivory’s or Isabel Allende’s, but that was about it. I assumed I didn’t have much of one and did not agonize about it—I figured I’d manage without.
One day, in the summer of 2005, with five manuscripts under my belt, I wrote the opening to a new manuscript. And suddenly it was there, a voice of my own. Later a writer pal would tell me about the million-word rule, as in writers often discover their voices only after they’ve written a million words. I did a little counting, yep, a million words.
Sherry, what are some of your other interest? And how do you think those other interests affect your writing?
Oh, dear, I do dread this question, for it will become obvious what a boring person I am after I answer it. 🙂 Or rather, what a boring life I lead.
There are things I do and enjoy doing—cooking, playing casual games—that don’t quite rise to the level of interest. And there are things I’m interested in—permaculture, for example—that I never get around to doing.
So what happens is that I sit and read about a lot of things, and wonder what and how I’d do in various situations. Then I go and write stories that seem to have no connection to my life at all.
But there is, of course, a connection. Because the things I think about end up being questions like “So what is love, exactly?” Or “Romantic love has potential be such a destablizing force. What is it about a relationship that will foster contentment and longevity?” Or “Which is worse, to gain love at the expense of integrity or to gain integrity at the expense of love?” (This latter very much a theme of Private Arrangements.)
You’re a mother of two and a wife. How do you balance out your priorities?
The kids are the absolute top priority, because I am responsible for them. One of the reasons I started writing was because I hoped to have a job that would give me more flexibility to look after them.
The beloved husband is a gem: He answers to shouts of “Mom!” when I’m on deadlines. It does help that he is very busy and often works in the evenings after kids go to bed, so then I can also work in the evenings without feeling guilty. And I do try to say yes to all his suggestions of stuff we could do together whenever I’m not on the most desperate of deadlines.
It’s a good thing I don’t have a whole lot of other hobbies competing for my time. And my priorities would be even better balanced if I could learn to write straight through the time that kids are in school, instead of doing all kinds of surfing and other more self-indulgent stuff online.
Whenever you are in the midst of writing a book and you just can’t finish, what do you think that’s indicative of: a bad scene? A bad story altogether? Just a bad day and you should come back to it tomorrow? Is there a way to even tell?
My problem is the reverse side of the coin: I can keep writing a crappy book to the end, but I really should have chucked it either in part or in entirety much sooner!
But still, the problem is, where did it go wrong? I think if you can read what you have already written, and that still excites you, then it means the fundamental story is sound—or I should say, the fundamental way you are telling the story is sound. This happened with me on Private Arrangements: I hit a long slump at about the 70% mark. But my excitement for the story was always there, because I really liked the parts that were already written.
With Delicious, I really had no idea what the heck I was doing. Had I been writing the story on my own, I’d have abandonned it by the 30,000 words mark to move onto a different story, but it was my first book written under contract and I had to give something. So I wrote and wrote and put “The End” on it and sent it out praying my editor wouldn’t hate it. (She did, btw. )
I would write the story from top to bottom three times (not revising, but throwing everything out and writing from scratch). The story was always that of a gentleman and his cook, but how it changed with each version. Basically my editor pushed me until I finally dug deep enough to find the heart of the story. So now I do not believe that you can have a bad story altogether, only a story that you haven’t yet found a right way to tell. Because if we pulled a story out of the morass th
at was Delicious, any story could be shaped up. (But you have to be willing to toss things out wholesale.)
And don’t worry about the bad days. Tomorrow is another day. 😉
Tell me a bit about Delicious.
A man who would one day be prime minister. A woman who spends her life in the kitchen. A Cinderella story as you’ve never read before. 🙂
In doing publicity for Private Arrangements, you were asked why you didn’t write the kind of books Amy Tan does. Now, as an Asian-American myself, I was a little surprised by that question. What went through your mind?
Full disclosure: nobody has ever asked me that question. That particular Q&A was a tongue-in-cheek self-interview.
That said, the reason I put that question in was because my mother always asked me why I didn’t write a story about the Cultural Revolution (a turbulent decade in China), which ended when I was one! So if anyone had asked me why I didn’t write about the Chinese American experience, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
It’s my personal preference to write stories that reflect themes that resonate with me, but have as little to do with the facts of my life as possible. Oviously I don’t feel I need to write about Asian culture. It doesn’t mean I won’t in the future, just that I don’t have to, only if I want to. And that is a freedom that should be accorded any writer, no matter their ethnicity.
Let’s talk for a minute about this: branding. As you know, in a bookstore, there is a small section for African American Fiction. As a woman of color, do you feel it’s necessary to have such labels? Do you feel it offensive or restrictive at all?
This is a huge and thorny topic that sometimes go hundreds of comments at romance blogs. I do believe it is restrictive—I would not want to be shelved in a section labeled by my race. On the other hand, bookstores and publishers want to make money; I have to assume that the current arrangement is the one that makes the most sense dollar-wise.
From what I’ve read, it sounds like the problem of moving AA romances out of the AA section and into general romance is how to retain current readers who are used to finding these romances in the AA section. If publishers and booksellers can find a way to retain current fans while finding new fans by the books being shelved in general romance, it would be a win-win situation for everyone.
I very much enjoyed Gigi. It’s the first time I ever liked the heroine of a novel almost better than the hero!! What do you attribute that to? (Besides my obvious intelligence!)
Just your obvious intelligence! And that she is very much a modern woman.
Also, for a female-oriented genre, romance has always been rather unforgiving toward women who step out of line. So it’s good for a book to occasionally come along and take a deeper look at a heroine who might be deemed a villainess in a different book.
Can you describe an average writing day for you?
My regular writing day goes from about 8am to 2:30 pm, when I pick up the kidlets from school. It involves questionable amount of actual writing, and a lot of interweb surfing and blog reading and casual games. Damn you, Big Fish Games!
When I’m on deadline, I put in what my husband calls “double fulltime” and will often be found writing in the master bathroom, a location that is the furthest away from the rest of the house. Believe it or not, that too at times involves questionable amount of actual writing, and a lot of interweb surfing and blog reading and casual games.
Finally, Sherry, advice for all the aspiring authors?
1) Keep writing. It took me eight years to sell. And I really needed all of that time to develop as a writer. If I’d quite at year seven, then I wouldn’t be here today, being asked for advice for aspiring authors. 🙂
2) Read the best books you can find and aspire to write as well. I will never write as perfect books as Laura Kinsale or Judith Ivory, but it is in the trying that I improve.