Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Getting to Know - Rowan Speedwell

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

 I’m a writer, an editor, a law librarian, a database manager, an archer, a medieval aristocrat and needlewoman (I taught Catherine of Aragon blackwork embroidery), a student of the universe (as they used to call it in the ‘70’s), a calligrapher, an artist of sorts, and anything else that strikes my fancy. And I have a rather broad fancy, so it gets struck a lot. But mostly what I am is a reader. I read more than anything else. I read on the train, in bed, in the shower (I love my Kindle—just pop it in a Ziploc bag and instant waterproofing!), in traffic, in the kitchen (I set a copy of The Life and Times of Shakespeare on fire once). I read ebooks, paperbacks, hardcovers, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, clothing labels—if it’s got words, I’ll read it. Fortunately, I read fast (last clocked at 1,000 words a minute, though that was when I was younger and had better eyes).  Everything I write, I write with the perspective of a reader, and I only write stuff I would like to read.

I’m the only girl in a family of six kids, and spoiled rotten. I tend to indolence. I love snarky humor, and puns, and wordplay, and LOLcats. I have a cat. The cat owns a house, in which I live, but he’s a lousy housekeeper.

What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have a certain time during the day when you’re more creative?

I don’t write nearly enough, so a “typical” writing day usually means daydreaming on the train into work, letting the plotted writing percolate through the morning’s tasks, then clocking out at 12:45 and letting the fingers fly for an hour. That’s on a good, productive day. I try and write or edit at least every day, and sometimes can get off 1500 words in that hour if I’m on a roll, but that’s maybe once a week if I’m lucky. I’m literally on the computer from 8:45 to 5 pm, straight through, and don’t even want to look at one when I get home.  But I do think about my WIP, constantly, sketching out scenes and dialogue mentally so that when I do write, I don’t have to do a lot of rewriting. It’s all there.

What’s your favorite genre to write in? 

M/M, obviously. :) But one of the nice things about M/M is that there are so many subgenres—fantasy, SF, detective, suspense, paranormal, historical…. I’m working my way through them. My first was a contemporary, my second an historical, I just finished a fantasy, and I’m back to contemporaries again. In the back of my head are an urban fantasy and a space opera. Which is my favorite? Hard to say, though I do find contemporaries the easiest so far.

Who has given you the most support in your writing career? 

My parents, for encouraging me to read—of course, they are also the ones who told me I should pursue it as a hobby and not a career, which I regret now that I’m older. My friends who beta and encourage me. But probably, hands down, my best friend, whom I’ve known since I was four. We started writing together when we were still kids, and have continued throughout our adult life—nothing publishable, just fun stuff based on characters we invented as kids, but it was an excellent way to learn the craft. Her critiquing has made a huge difference in the way I write; we would read aloud to each other, and it gave me a really solid idea of the importance of the way things sound, and the way someone who wasn’t me would react and interpret what I’d written.

Do you use critique partners or beta-readers? Why? 

Betas, but mostly in a “here, I’m done, tell me what you think” sort of way. I don’t let people read unfinished stuff anymore; I find their feedback can either change my outlook on the story or shut me down altogether. I have to finish first; then I can deal with the commentary. And I only let people I really trust beta for me—I’ve heard sad, sad horror stories of betas gone bad.

I tried a local critique group once, but that requires listening to other people or reading what they’ve written, and I have very little patience with bad writing. And there is a LOT out there.

Let’s talk about your latest or upcoming release.  How did you come up with the title and where can we find it?

 I found the title about 2/3rds of the way through the writing, which seems to be how it works for me. “Kindred Hearts” is from a line in a Lord Byron poem, which is quoted in the front of the book—appropriate, because the story takes place in Regency times. It’s not really a typical Regency, though; although there are a few scenes in ballrooms, the story is much more about the characters’ personal lives than society. Of course, when society impinges on the characters, it’s much more damaging.  It was a fascinating period of history, and I got frustrated reading stories where the setting was ostensibly the Regency, but no one ever mentioned politics, and most of the characters acted like they were contemporary people in fancy dress. People in that time were passionately interested in social issues and politics, and I wanted my characters to be that way as well. I tried to make them as real to the period as I possibly could, while not becoming stereotypes.

It was published by Dreamspinner Press in May, and is available there, at www.dreamspinnerpress.com, or at Amazon or All Romance, or heck, any one of a dozen online publishers. I get better royalties if it’s bought through Dreamspinner, though. (Hint, hint.)

Tell us something about your characters and why readers will connect with them?

Well, I can only HOPE readers will connect with them! But my primary goal in creating characters—and that and dialogue are my favorite parts of the writing process—is to make them first, believable, and second, sympathetic. Sometimes the two don’t want to cooperate. Tristan was a very difficult character to write. He is in some ways whiny and self-absorbed, and in some ways generous and loving. Brilliant intellectually, his brain is hobbled by his self-hatred and depression so that he acts stupidly. He is sophisticated and immature at the same time.  And I had to get that all across without falling back on modern psychological terms. He wasn’t depressed, he was melancholic. He wasn’t gay, or even homosexual—those terms didn’t exist them—he practiced sodomy. (Think of it as the whole world thinking the way right-wing homophobes do now: that sexual orientation was purely a matter of choice, and one that was illegal as well.)  Tristan has to deal with all of that, to face that what he wants—what he needs—could get him killed. Or at best, thrown out of society. He lives the way he thinks he ought to, and rejects his feelings, and that has a lot to do with the way he is.

Charles, on the other hand, has managed to maintain a solid sense of self-worth. He knows what he does is illegal; he also knows that it isn’t wrong. It’s the way he is. In Charles’s case, I had to be careful not to make him too perfect. He does carry around a load of guilt, but not because of what he’s done, but rather what he failed to do. He blames himself for a tragedy in his past, but unlike Tristan, doesn’t let it define him.

Charlotte, his twin sister, is probably the most polarizing character in the book (with Tristan’s father close behind). People either love her or hate her. The funny thing is that she’s probably one of the more historically accurate personalities. She is from a noble family, but has had no real privileges, no real rights. She is expected to behave a certain way, and does, even to the point of marrying a stranger because her father tells her to. But she deals with her physical constraints by engaging in a very active inner life: she reads, corresponds with friends, manages her own small sphere as best she can, and still behaves perfectly properly, the way an aristocratic wife should. She’s too intelligent for her role, but she’s also smart enough to realize that she doesn’t have any alternatives. So she thinks as she wishes, and behaves as she ought. She’s anachronistic only if you compare her to the other really anachronistic Regency “heroines” out there; if you compare her behavior to the average real Regency aristocratic wife, you’ll find she’s quite similar. Few women of any age outside our own would have had the resources and courage to step outside their milieu, and people forget that. We only hear about the exceptions, but there were far more like Lottie than there were Elizabeth I.

What was your first reaction when you got a glimpse of your cover art?

“Ooooh—pretty!!!” Then, being me, I began to obsess about the very minor inaccuracies that I couldn’t do a damn thing about. Common sense struck, and told me (once my vision returned) that the art department did  a brilliant job with the resources at hand, and I should just shut up about it. But I do love it, as art, and it gets a lot of compliments.

Are there certain scenes you have difficulty writing? What was the most difficult scene to write?

I think if I had to write the way some publishers demand, a sex scene every so many pages, I would have a lot of trouble with that. Sex scenes aren’t easy for me. Kindred Hearts doesn’t have a lot, because it was long enough without them, and they weren’t organic to the story.

I rewrote the scene where Charles first makes love to Tristan a dozen times to get it right, and even then I had to keep Charles from getting his, because the scene was so completely about Tris on both mine and Charles’s parts. The scenes immediately afterward, with Tristan’s illness, were also difficult, because Tristan was being an absolute bastard, and fought me the whole way.

Now for the fun stuff.  Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Over-the-top stuff like Laurell K. Hamilton’s books and the Twilight series. And yaoi manga.

My favorite guilty pleasure right now is www.cupoporn.wordpress.com. That’s Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton’s Coffee and Porn in the Morning blog.  Here’s the description: 
This blog is about men, and coffee, and porn, and sex, and wine, and music, and intelligence, and fun, and women, and really hot photos, and giveaways.
And it's about how all that stuff is absolutely normal and we will no longer apologize for any of it.

Really, really pretty pictures, most of which are Not Safe For Work.

Name one thing readers would be surprised to know about you.
I went to the same high school as the Unabomber.

If you didn’t have to worry about counting calories or fat, what’s the first food you’d reach for?

Big Macs. Followed by pizza and cheese popcorn. Chocolate is a distant fourth.

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation where would you go and who would you take with you?

This is a really hard question!!!

I think I would take a cruise around the world with multiple stops, and at each stop have a different friend accompany me, so that I’d get the most out of each visit. I love to explore different places; I’m the kind that has a whole itinerary built in when I travel. Different friends are interested in different things, and that would be nice to explore with. But I’d definitely build in some downtime, as I never get much of that.

What’s your favorite music? Do you dance? If so do others think you can dance? ~wink~

I like show tunes, everything from 30’s pop standards to soundtracks from movies like Shrek 2 (awesome soundtrack).  Right now I’m playing Into the West by Annie Lennox (from the Return of the King soundtrack) over and over and over again.  Also, oldies through the 80’s. I pretty much stopped listening to commercial radio then (I’m addicted to Morning Edition on NPR), so I’m not familiar with a lot of contemporary music. I do find that I like some more recent stuff like electronica; it makes decent background noise when I’m doing something else. But not writing. I can’t write with music on. No distractions.

I used to dance. I used to be quite good at jitterbugging; my dad taught me and we used to dance in the living room. Since I got fat, not so much. And when I do things like waltz, I tend to want to lead.

If someone hasn't read any of your work, what book would you recommend they start with and why?

It depends on what they like!  Finding Zach is probably the more accessible, since it’s a contemporary, but it can be very dark and violent in spots. But it’s also sweet and pretty in spots, too. Kindred Hearts is really rather epic. My short story in Dreamspinner’s anthology Myths and Magic, Night and Day, is my love song to 30’s pop standards and I really like the writing in it (free autographed bookmark to anyone who can find the two editing mistakes in it!!). But probably the easiest read of mine so far is my Christmas short story, Hopes and Fears. That would be a good starting point. 

Do you have other books you’re working on and when will we get to read them?

I have the fantasy out at the beta readers now and hope to get that submitted somewhere in the next week or so. The others are still very much works in progress, but the two contemporaries are 1/3 and 1/2 finished, respectively.

What are your goals for 2011?

Finish at least ONE of the two contemporaries I’m working on and get it accepted somewhere. Keep writing. Don’t panic. Especially don’t panic.

Thanks for spending a bit of time with me!  Best wishes for your continued success.  Where can readers find you on the Web?

I have a blog at www.rowanspeedwell.wordpress.com, and a Facebook page, of course. And I’m on Goodreads.
Thanks so much for having me!!  It’s been fun!!

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