Hi Sue, thank you for agreeing to guest at The Heart of Romance today.
Please will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
First, Sherry, thank you for having me. I love your blog and appreciate the opportunity to appear on it. Me? I’m very boring. I’m British although I’ve lived in Portugal for the past twenty years. I teach English for the Portuguese Civil Service which means I get to meet high level civil servants who go to EU meetings in Europe. Perhaps that’s why Portugal’s economy isn’t doing too well…
I also translate Portuguese to English (which is something I hate because I always think I could’ve written the original better!). It’s strange because after so many years abroad, I never lose my “Britishness” and people can spot me a mile off.
Why writing? Did you ever want to do anything else, and if so, how did you get into writing?
I’ve always loved the arts – painting and writing. But they don’t pay the bills, do they? So until now they’ve both been just hobbies. I did win my first prize for the best book at school when I was thirteen or fourteen, so that probably boosted it.
Who/what was your inspiration?
My muse was my brother who, unfortunately, is no longer with us. He could just feed me a line and I could visualize a complete painting or book. The book I won at school and a couple of painting prizes were thanks to him. He was far more creative than I am and I like to think his spirit is still with me because when I go back and read something I wrote, I often wonder where it came from.
Who is your favourite author, and if you had to colour them, what would it be?
I read so much, all the time. And there are so many: Mervyn Peake is definitely gray; J.R.R. Tolkien’s rainbow-colored; Harper Lee’s yellow; Salinger is green; Terry Pratchett is brown and gold; T.C. Boyle… I think I’d better stop, don’t you?
:-) Thank you for colouring your favourite author's I've found it fascinating.
If you also have a colour for your favourite authors please share it with us here?
I know you write sweet contemporary romance, and that they are m/m; do you ever have problems getting into the heads of your main characters?
Not at all. But they often just change through the book (so I have to keep going back to alter them). People have criticized me (in a nice way) that I put my characters through a lot and it’s true I do. Don’t ask me why.
Why did you choose this genre?
It chose me. One of the main characters is called Sam Barrowdale and, at first he was a girl! But the more I thought about that character, the more he had to become male, mainly because I didn’t think a girl could’ve done the things Sam did (OK, feminists, I’m ready to take you on here).
How long did it take you to write Perfect score, including editing and re-writes?
Ages, and you’ll see why: I never wanted Perfect Score to be erotic. I wanted a sweet hetero romance but then it changed. So I read up on the m/m genre. First, books classified NR17 and I knew immediately I couldn’t write such erotic details. But then I read the classics and found I adored them: “The Line of Beauty” by Alan Hollingworth”, books by Michael Cunningham such as “Specimen Days”, and of course “Maurice” by E.M. Forster. They gave me hope because I wanted to portray pure love (without the yukky bits as one reviewer pointed out). I just wanted two very unfortunate people to achieve the happiness they craved. And I think, after many re-writes, I managed it.
Please will you tell us about your road to publication?
Long and twisting. Half-way through the book, I started thinking about publishing but decided, “I’ll worry about it when the time comes”. When the novel was finished, I sent it to a London Literary Consultancy and paid an arm and a leg for an edit. They gave me a lot of hope – and made some very important changes. They even gave me a second edit for free, because they were testing out a new reader and this woman did the best job of any of them. What a wonderful chance. :-)
I had no idea how to approach agents and I now hide my head in shame at my initial submissions. When the first rejections came in (some so fast, I was sure they hadn’t read it), I found every book, every website I could about how to submit. I had thirty rejections before two US publishers accepted it on the same day (it’s a bit like buses, you wait for ages then two come along at once). ROFL. They were small publishers and publish e-books initially. But I was sick of rejections (although I’ve later discovered thirty rejections is nothing – some people go into the hundreds) and I chose the larger of the two. I’m very happy with my publisher; I love the cover they did, and my editor was the best I ever had.
It's a wonderful cover, full of energy.
Are you a plotter or panster?
Definitely a panster. I adore the USA and often say that being born American is like winning the lottery of life. My first inspiration came from a trip I had in Upstate New York in the Catskills when I stayed in spooky lodge, inspired by the Munster family. The small townships around were full of home-made gift shops and aged hippies that reminded me of Woodstock in 1969. In a roundabout way, that’s how it started – Alex was a successful rock star, playing at Woodstock and Sam (Samantha) was a fan. Then I went to Denver (and read too much of Kerouac’s “On the Road”) so I moved Alex to Denver (which is called Verdigris in the book). New York was too far for Sam – now called Samuel - to travel and, anyway, he’d never get on an airplane. So I moved him nearer to somewhere like Montana. He had to work so the most obvious was in agriculture. But even then, I had Alex’s evil Uncle Tim actually liking Sam. That soon changed and, after twenty-seven versions “Perfect Score” was finally settled. If that’s not a panster, I don’t know what is.
Do you like silence or background music while you write?
I like silence while I write, but I do all the household chores with my i-pod firmly in place.
If music, what music inspires you?
David Gray, Damien Rice, Snow Patrol, Cold Play, The Killers, Leonard Cohen. It’s eclectic but there’s romance in all of them somewhere and Damien Rice stimulates my dark side.
What do you do to relax?
I swim, and walk a lot on the beach which is nearby and where the rhythm of the waves provides much inspiration. I still paint. I love being with friends and just having a good laugh. I’m also religious so, if I’m anxious, I benefit from a good chat with the Virgin Mary.
I get the impression the natural world and environment is important to you? Will you tell us why?
I care deeply, you’re absolutely right. I’m like Sam, I get “twitchy” or “antsy” in big, busy cities. I’m trying at the moment to save the beautiful laurissilva forest in Madeira Island (see blog: http://lauracea.blogspot.com/ Sam’s original name was Sam Riverdale until I realized he had the same initials as me. I did wonder if I was writing about myself, and in some ways I was – I love horses and wish I had Sam’s gift with them. Like him, I’m interested in herbal cures and I know the names of so many plants that I bore the pants off my husband. I don’t have Sam’s problems, though, and I’m not dyslexic. Thank God.
Do you have a daily writing routine?
I know I should. But it depends on family commitments and inspiration. There are days I can write reams and days I can’t do a thing.
What is your favourite food?
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate (dark, that is).
Please will you tell us a little about your new book, Perfect Score?
This is the story of hard-won love between two very likeable but flawed men, Alex and Sam, who first meet on a windy street when they are both fourteen years old. The following years portray their struggle to survive almost overwhelming obstacles. Born at different ends of the economic spectrum it is essentially the story of rich versus the poor. The title comes from a song Alex wrote for Sam. As one reviewer has said: “This book isn’t just about the two characters’ desire to be together, but their struggles as individuals and how the love they have for each other develops throughout the story. It is a must-read because of the excellent way the author set out, not only to bring out the characters’ emotions, but also the reader’s”. Sorry about the plug – but she really got the essence of the book.
Feckless, exasperating Alex Finch is a rich, handsome and talented singer/songwriter who longs for two things: a career as a professional rock singer, and to have his love for Sam Barrowdale reciprocated. But drifter Sam's two aims are simply to earn enough money to pay his sister's medical bills and to hide from the world his reading/writing and speech disability. At this time the word "dyslexia" is generally unknown so to most people he's just a "retard". From the severe knocks life's dealt him, Sam's developed a tough outer coating and he has no time for a spoiled, selfish guitar player.
Despite his defects, Alex's love for Sam never wavers and when Sam unexpectedly disappears, Alex begins a somewhat bungling quest to find him, only to discover that Sam has a fearful enemy: Alex's powerful and influential yet sociopathic uncle.
As Alex spirals downwards towards alcoholism, many questions need answering. Just why did Alex's evil uncle adopt him at age eleven yet deny him any affection? And what's the mystery behind Alex's father's death?
Both seem to face unbeatable odds. Are they doomed to follow separate paths forever?
Chapter One: Sam
The wind blew straight off the frozen prairie and rattled the ill-fitting window panes in his hut. Sam opened one eye. Five am. Don't ask him how he knew. It wasn't the owl hoot, or the coyote yip, or the creek ice splitting, or even the cattle coughing that gave it away because these noises were constant throughout the night. He just knew it was time to get up.
He rolled out from under the warmth of an old moth-eaten wolf pelt and, without bothering to light his paraffin lamp, pulled on jeans and a stiff-with-wear plaid work-shirt. He laced up scruffy, ancient leather boots before finishing it all off with a green wool jacket.
I'll block those holes with creek mud, he thought as the wind whistled through the gaps in the raw-wood plank walls. He put his shoulder to the door. Oil for that too--maybe Josh Pike had some in the barn.
He'd hardly put his left foot outside when snow seeped through a hole in the boot sole. Standing on one leg, he broke the ice in his ceramic sink, splashed the small amount of water pooled there on his face and drank a handful.
Six hours of shoveling hay and muck, he thought as his boots rang on the iced-up alkali path leading to the main yard. A Canadian goose hooted a teasing honk. Laugh all you want, birdie, Sam stuffed his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders. At least I'm not up to my butt in freezing water. Just my left foot. His hair blown horizontal, he bent into the biting wind and squinted through stinging hail as three yellow cow dogs rushed up the path, their tails whirling, breath white and freezing on their whiskers.
"Can't find a darn cow dog when I want one," he'd heard Josh Pike complain the previous day.
"That's because they're always with the boy," Mrs. Pike responded. "Sam."
"But I feed 'em."
"Animals love Sam because he has such a kind face, and everyone knows amber eyes make the animals feel lucky."
"Never heard such a load of horse poop in all my life," Josh Pike muttered, his eyes skimming his land.
The Pike place had pretensions to be a ranch, but Sam didn't think it quite made it. Divided into three sections: a creek, steep terrain and some disordered pastures lying in a flood plain, the property bordered the much larger Raw Pines ranch next door. Josh Pike told Sam he'd worked the land for twenty years but, as far as Sam could see, with little to show for it except the old man's love for the place which was as rigid as the winter weather: driving stinging snowstorms that stank of rusty nails. And a wind that could blow a calf over.
Three hours later, the range in the distance just visible across the frozen prairie, Sam removed his jacket, hung it on a gate post and pondered his next task.
He took a closer look at the steer lying on its side, kicking its legs and bellowing as if Sam was about to knife it. Can't have been easy forcing your darned head through the rails in the fence, he thought. He rolled his sleeves up, picked up an axe and got to work on the fence rail with several powerful swings, taking care not to jolt the animal's head.
"Cain't you smell that good air?" Josh Pike had clambered onto a section of the fence, unaware or uncaring that he was tossed up a few inches every time the axe hit the rail. He raised his weathered face to the watery sun with all the pleasure and leisure of a sunbather on a distant beach. "Have to punch the bastard to get him in the chute." He nodded at the struggling steer, his words jarring with each blow of the axe. "Yet he done put his head through the fence happy as a flea. Takes some beatin' huh?"
Sam had no breath for words, but Pike continued undeterred. "Betcha we could show them folks you worked with in Silver Creek a thing or two, eh boy? On how to run a cattle ranch. Betcha learned more up here in this month than you did in the three years you were down there. Eh?" He leaned closer to Sam, his face alight as he waited for Sam's affirmative. "Eh?"
"Near...nearly," Sam gasped, referring to the fence.
With one final massive blow, the axe-head wobbled as it finally split the fence rail. Sam kicked at the steer's rump to encourage it up and watched it skitter back to the herd, still bellowing its woes.
"You reckon you could slaughter beef?"
"If...if I have to."
The old man nodded as if satisfied with the answer. "Make some people weep. So pretty."
Sam rubbed his hand over his face. Like so many conversations in his life, this one made no sense at all. Why was the old man leaping from subject to subject like a demented grasshopper? And what was pretty? The back end of the rapidly retreating steer or a slaughtered cow?
"The view," Josh Pike explained although Sam hadn't voiced his question. The old man nodded at the distant range where the peaks were shining pink like his bald pate. "And you know little guys like us can."
Sam raised his eyes to the gun-metal grey sky above them. Can what? Sam was the first to admit that even on a good day his own mind was at best in total disarray, but it wasn't in the chaos Josh Pike's evidently was.
"Cry. Cry at the view." Josh spoke as if explaining to a first grader. "Little guys get away with it. Betcha bawled when you left your family in Silver Creek. Eh?"
Bawled? Cry? Sam stared at the farm owner in disbelief. Sure he'd been sorry to leave-Silver Creek held all he loved. But cry? Sam couldn't remember the last time he'd cried. When did he last cry? He wracked his brains.
Where can we buy your book?
Do you have a blog and/or website?
My blog - http://lauracea.blogspot.com/
My website http://www.susanroebuck.com/
Do you have anything else you’d like to share, that I have not thought of. Please feel free to add it here. :-)
First, although I’m a Brit and the book is set in the US, be sure it has been edited to within an inch of its life to be properly American.
And, secondly, I’ll give a free copy of “Perfect Score” to anyone who can give the best (in my opinion) reason why the laurissilva forest should be saved. Comment here on Sherry’s blog.
Once again, thank you Sherry.