Boy, do I have a treat for LRP readers! I recently was able to interview Sabrina Jeffries after the RWA Conference. Amidst her busy schedule she was more than kind enough to sit down and respond in depth on the topics broached. Get a cup of tea or coffee sit back and kick up your heels as you read this author interview.
LRP: How did you find yourself writing romance? How did you become an author?
Sabrina: From age 9 on, believe it or not, I read romances, but I only wrote poetry and short stories until grad school. In college I decided I wanted to be a writer, but I thought the best route to that was to go to grad school in English, become a professor so I could have a paying job, and then try to publish stories and poetry. Somehow the academic work took over. Then while I was a visiting assistant professor of English at Tulane University, I sat down to develop a publishable academic work based on my dissertation about James Joyce and found it so boring that I started writing a novel instead. After a while, I realized I was writing a romance novel. It didn’t sell, but the next one did and I’ve been writing ever since. Ironically enough, when I was twelve I told myself that when I grew up, I would write down my romantic fantasies and sell them to people. I guess I knew my destiny deep inside. It just took me a little while to figure it out as an adult!
LRP: What is your favorite type of romance to read? Is it the same as what you write?
Sabrina: For the most part, I do prefer historical romance to any other kind of book, romance or otherwise, and yes, I like sex in the books a lot! I read other things, too, though. I’m not that fond of Westerns or medievals, and I do prefer British or foreign settings, but otherwise I’m not that picky. I also read a little nonfiction, the occasional mystery or science fiction novel, and a lot of suspense, though I don’t get nearly as much time to read as I’d like.
LRP: How do you decide character names?
Sabrina: I have a book (now OOP) called The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. I thumb through that until I find one that appeals to me that is also period-correct.
LRP: What are some challenges in writing romance? Any particular genre of romance more difficult to pull off?
Sabrina: Finding new and different ways to explore relationships is always challenging, too. As for difficult genres, I actually find historicals harder to write, because of having to remember all the period constraints. The other day I caught myself before I could write, “She blindsided him.” Since that started in reference to football in the 60’s, it’s definitely not Regency. J
LRP: What kind of research do you do, if any?
Sabrina: I still have to do research related to everyday life in the period, depending on what will be covered in my book. I research the main events of the year of my setting. I pore over maps of the area and try to find out information about the flora and fauna. I also regularly use a Regency thesaurus. For book-specific stuff, I tap my hundred or so research books and my library of clippings from various sources, as well as Google Books, which is a fabulous resource, because you can find books contemporary to the period. I do most of my research WHILE I’m writing the book. I wait until I need to know something to research it, since I never know when I’m going to need to know something.
LRP: Is there anything you wish you’ve seen in a romance novel — and are you writing it for us?
Sabrina: I can honestly say that I never feel a lack in any of the books I read. If I did, I’d write it. I’m just always pleased when I can be surprised by a book. But do I ever say, “Wow, I wish someone would write about Regency female doctors”? No, not really.
LRP: What advice do you have for others who are interested in writing?
Sabrina: Perseverance is the key. You must keep writing, keep putting your work out there, and keep learning before AND after you get published. Never think you’ve come too far to learn. Even after having written 29 novels, I’m still learning about writing.
LRP: Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you handle it? What do you find difficult, if anything, about writing? And what do you like the best?
Sabrina: I don’t really get writer’s block. I do, however, get stuck on a particular scene or plot or character. When that happens, I try to take some time to relax and just let my thoughts meander. I read another author’s book or watch a movie to get the gearshift unstuck, so to speak. I’m also quite fond of hot showers, long walks, and jigsaw puzzles as ways to lull my conscious mind into letting my subconscious come up with answers I need. And if I’m REALLY desperate, I call my critique partners and bounce ideas off of them until I find a solution.
What I find most difficult about writing is trying to make it interesting time after time. Also, it’s hard to follow your own vision without imposing it on the characters. They become their own people in the course of the novel (if you’re any good, that is), and you have to respect that without letting them take over the book. You have to strike a balance, and that isn’t easy.
LRP: Was it difficult to get published? How did you find your agent? What’s the strategy behind the use of plural author names?
Sabrina: Yes, but not as hard as it is these days. In one respect I got lucky—I happened to join an RWA chapter that had as a member an agent just starting out in her career. That was especially lucky since all the agents I’d queried weren’t interested. I’m still with Pam Ahearn of The Ahearn Agency after nearly 20 years.
But even after landing an agent, I had 10 rejections on the first book she represented (the second book I’d written) before Leisure bought it. Over the years, I’ve received a number of rejections for a number of my books. Pirate Lord was rejected by five publishers, and that was after I’d already had 11 books published as Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas! I sold the 12th book I wrote, and then my publisher at the time gave it back to me—it’s still unpublished, mostly because it needs work and I don’t have time for it.
About the pseudonym thing, I wrote as Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas because my respective publishers didn’t want my growing career at one publishing house to be affected adversely by my numbers at the other house, and since I was an unknown author at the time, they weren’t taking any chances, so they insisted on my having two different pseudonyms. Then when I decided to write a completely different kind of historical, my new publisher wanted me to take a new name to reflect the new style and voice. By that point, I was an experienced writer, and I realized that I’d be better off choosing something catchy rather than something close to my real name.
Incidentally, that would be my advice to any new genre author—if you have a catchy real name, use it. If you don’t, choose something interesting and unique as a pseudonym because your name is part of the marketing package. And unfortunately, marketing is everything in today’s publishing world. Taking a pseudonym the third time around was the best thing that ever happened to me—but I did lose most of my old readers because they couldn’t find me. Sometimes, however, booksellers are more eager to take a chance on a debut author than an established one with lackluster sales, so you have to weigh whether to take a pseudonym in terms of marketing.
LRP: Do you work on deadlines now? How long does it usually take you to write a book? Have you written a book that seemed to write itself or a book that you had to drag out kicking and screaming?
Sabrina: Yes, I still work on deadlines. The shortest time I’ve ever written a book in is 4 and a half months (Night Vision). The longest is about 9 months, but I always aim for 6. Right now, I’m writing the book that is seeming to write itself, but I think that it’s because I know Charlotte and Cousin Michael so well that they’re just writing the book for me. To Pleasure a Prince was also easier to write, as was Beware a Scot’s Revenge, but NONE of them are easy. The hardest one was probably Let Sleeping Rogues Lie. I had a lot of issues to deal with and juggling them all was difficult.
LRP: What about bedroom scenes? What makes a good one?
Sabrina: Good ones are those that are so inextricably entwined with the story and the characters that they compel the reader to read them. It’s the people and their concerns that make love scenes interesting. Plus, I tap into every fantasy I’ve ever had. Fortunately, I’ve always had an active fantasy life where sex is concerned, and I haven’t even come NEAR to touching on all my fantasies.
Although honestly, I could spend hours on this subject. I do a whole workshop on it.
LRP: How do you define love?
Sabrina: Geez, you don’t ask the easy questions, do you? I couldn’t begin to define love. I just know what it is when I feel it. Plus, there are so many different kinds, aren’t there?
LRP: What do you hope your readers will gain from your books?
Sabrina: Joy and a release from the everyday troubles of life. I write to entertain, and if I succeed at that, then I feel I’ve done my job.
LRP: What do you do to relax and get away from writing? Is there something that really gets you away from it all?
Sabrina: I enjoy making jewelry, gourmet cooking, and reading (of course), but I also like to watch movies and listen to CDs a lot. I’m addicted to spider solitaire, so I have to watch how much I play it. And nothing relaxes me more than a good jigsaw puzzle, believe it or not. My idea of heaven is being able to do nothing but puzzles for a couple of days.
LRP: Could you provide a picture of your workspace? We’d love to see how and where you write!
Sabrina: This one is where I do the actual writing (it also doubles as a guest bedroom). I don’t have a nice bright window like this anywhere else upstairs, and I prefer to look out a window while I write, so this was the only option:
BUT, my official office is what the former owners used as a bonus room (across the hall from this room). Since my dh has knee trouble, he doesn’t climb the stairs, so we can’t use that room as a bonus room, which is why I took it for my office. It’s FABULOUS. It’s just too dark for me to stand to write in. But I’m doing this at it right now. I do all my business stuff in it, plus some reading. I took 3 pics of IT.
The first pic is of the part of the room (there when we bought it) that has a “stage.” Apparently, the former owners had 3 teens who played in a band. My desk now sits on the stage in front of the built-in bookshelves.
Here’s the rest of the office, the part not on the “stage.” I know, most people would kill for an office this big. I love it. Just can’t write my books in it. *G*
LRP: Oh! How wonderful! Thanks for sharing your space with us. What are your hopes for the future?
Sabrina: I just hope to be able to keep writing books for years to come!
LRP: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? When can we expect your next book?
Sabrina: A reissue of my first Sabrina Jeffries book, The Pirate Lord, will be released August 26, 2008. Then, on October 28, 2008, comes Snowy Night with a Stranger, a Christmas-themed anthology with stories by Jane Feather, Julia London, and me. The heroine of my story is Elinor Bancroft from Let Sleeping Rogues Lie. Then, in July 2009, will come the fifth novel of the series, about Lucy Seton from Let Sleeping Rogues Lie. It will be followed by Charlotte and Cousin Michael’s romance in August 2009. No titles for these yet, but all will be revealed in that final book, so keep an eye out for both books in the summer of 2009!
LRP: Thanks so much for answering all these questions Sabrina! Good luck and many happy sales!
Got a burning question to ask Sabrina? Leave a comment!
Want to discuss this interview with others? Check out LRP’s shiny new forum!
See you here again on Monday! Have a great weekend!