Thursday, June 18, 2009

Authorsday - Linnea Sinclair

Today I talk with award-winning author Linnea Sinclair.

Winner of the prestigious national book award, the RITA®, science fiction romance author Linnea Sinclair has become a name synonymous for high-action, emotionally intense, character-driven novels. Reviewers note that Sinclair’s novels “have the wow-factor in spades,” earning her accolades from both the science fiction and romance communities. Sinclair’s current releases are GAMES OF COMMAND (PEARL Award winner and RITA finalist), THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES (PEARL Award Honorable Mention), SHADES OF DARK (PEARL Award winner), and HOPE’S FOLLY (Romantic Times Book Reviews Top Pick.)

A former news reporter and retired private detective, Sinclair resides in Naples, Florida (winters) and Columbus, Ohio (summers) along with her husband, Robert Bernadino, and their two thoroughly spoiled cats. Readers can find her perched on the third barstool from the left in her Intergalactic Bar and Grille at

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? – I don’t remember not wanting to be a writer. As an only child, I’ve long created stories and people in my imagination. I started reading when I was about four years old and some of my best memories involve lounging in the overstuffed burgundy velvet chair in my parents living room, my nose in a book. When stories didn’t go the way I wanted them to, or didn’t end the way I wanted them to, I rewrote them in my mind. When I was old enough to read the letters on the keys of my mother’s typewriter (yep, typewrite—old fashioned, manual kind with a return bar that went “ding!”), I began typing out my stories and ideas. I created a neighborhood newspaper when I was about nine or ten, interviewing my friends and their parents (used carbon paper between sheets of paper to make copies—yeah, carbon paper. A lot of you probably don’t even know what that is.) I had some excellent English teachers in grammar school and high school who encouraged me to write short stories, and that’s where I received my best grades. I was happiest when I could put what I saw in my imagination down on paper.

Do you plot or do you write by the seat of your pants? – I’m a pantser by nature. Now working to contracted deadlines with Bantam, I’ve become a plot-ser. I plot under duress. It’s painful but I do it. Generally I “leap frog” plot and that’s not my term, and unfortunately I don’t remember the writing site where I first read it, but it’s an accurate description of the way I write: plot three chapters, write them, then plot the next three. That keeps ideas fresh and permits serendipity. Like a lot of pantsers, I find that when I outline an entire book, I lose interest.

What was the name of the first novel you wrote? Did you try to publish it? - Le Petite Chat and no, I didn’t try to publish it. I was only four years old. I typed it on sheets of construction paper and then illustrated it with Crayons. I think it was about five pages. Then I punched a hole in the top and tied it with a ribbon. It was about a little girl and her cat living on a tropical island. I don’t think there was a lot of conflict but it had a happy ending.

What do you know now that you are published that you didn’t know pre-published that you wish you knew? – The amount of energy it takes to do book promotion and how it really saps you. It doesn’t matter if you’re small press published or NY published—I’ve been both. I really thought when I made the jump to Bantam, a major NY house, in 2004 that I’d not have to do the amount of promotion I’d been doing in the small presses. Wrong. Promotion today falls almost totally in the author’s lap, from MySpace to Facebook (I don’t Twitter) to Goodreads, to ads in magazines to blogging and guest blogging, to articles on Internet websites to my own website, to teaching on-line workshops to teaching in-person workshops at conferences, to book signings to book fairs, to my own fan group on Yahoo to the various industry chapter groups and reader groups… it all takes time away from writing. And it can numb the muse. The “business” part of my brain is not the same as the “fiction creation” part of my brain and I’m not someone who can do both simultaneously. Author Nancy Cohen once told me she spends six months writing and six months promoting, but when I have two or three books out a year, that’s just not possible. Very often when a book comes out, I’m already writing the next one and I have to stop for a few weeks and promote the book that just came out. I really need to clone myself.

What was the best writing advice someone gave you? – To read Dwight V Swain’s TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. The how-to tome was written in the 1960s and yep, does mention using carbon paper to make copies of your manuscript. That fact that it’s still around today and still a bible for a lot of successful authors shows how timeless and accurate Swain’s writing advice is. Essentially, Swain is about conflict and about understanding why a reader reads fiction. When you understand the needs of your reader, it’s easier to manipulate them and yes, that’s exactly what Swain teaches you to do: manipulate the emotions of the reader. I think we all know that reading fiction is a vicarious experience—we live the life of the character, we become the character. But understanding why this works and the ways you can hook the reader makes for a better writer and better story. This is what Swain teaches. Over the years, I’ve integrated other excellent writing advice from people like Donald Maass (“Make it worse, make it worse, make it worse…”), Blake “Save the Cat” Snyder, Jack Bickham (who was a protégé of Swain’s) and Jacqueline Litchtenberg (“Conflict is the essence of story.”) But Swain is my foundation.

What was the worst? Did you know it at the time? – I don’t think there is a worst. There are things that don’t work for me in terms of writing advice or techniques that work neato-peachy keen for someone else. I’ve also found that certain techniques may work in one book, and fall flat in the next. Each book brings its own set of characters, conflicts, plot issues, pacing issues that are unique because it’s that book. A wise writer throws nothing out.

Why did you pick the publisher that ultimately published your book? – I didn’t. Bantam picked me. It would be nice if a writer could go to a publishing house and demand, “Buy my book” but that’s not the way it works (well, it does in vanity publishing but not anywhere else). A writer submits his or her manuscripts to various editors in the hopes that one or more will like it enough to make an offer. In my case, my agent shopped my work around and Bantam made us a terrific offer. I’ve been with them through three book contracts now—eight books in all to date. They’re an excellent house to work with and I’m blessed with a wonderful editor who “gets” me, who understands my characters and my goals. Science Fiction Romance is a quirky subgenre of paranormal romance and since I write pretty much a 50/50 split of romance/science fiction, I need an editor who is conversant with the requirements of both genres. Anne Groell is that editor and she’s a joy to work with.

Describe your book. – My current release (March 2009 from Bantam Dell) is HOPE’S FOLLY, which is Book Three in the Dock Five Universe books. FOLLY is related to books one and two (GABRIEL’S GHOST and it’s direct sequel, SHADES OF DARK) but is more of a stand-alone because it’s Philip Guthrie’s story. GABRIEL’S and SHADES are Chaz’s and Sully’s story. FOLLY is high action/adventure space opera and romance. Yeah, I know, a lot going on. It was a hugely fun book to write; Philip really surprised me and has enchanted a lot of readers. Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine gave FOLLY its highest rating: 4-1/2 stars and named it a Top Pick. Here’s the back blurb:
From RITA Award-winning author Linnea Sinclair comes a high-stakes interstellar adventure infused with thrilling romance.
Admiral Philip Guthrie is in an unprecedented position: on the wrong end of the law, leading a rag-tag band of rebels against the oppressive Imperial forces. Or would be, if he can get his command ship—the derelict cruiser called Hope’s Folly—functioning. Not much can rattle Philip’s legendary cool—but the woman who helps him foil an assassination attempt on Kirro Station will. She’s the daughter of his best friend and first commander—a man who died while under Philip’s command, and whose death is on Philip’s conscience.
Rya Bennton has been in love with Philip Guthrie since she was a girl. But can her childhood fantasies survive an encounter with the hardened man, and newly-minted rebel leader, once she learns the truth about her father’s death? Or will her passion for revenge put not only their hearts but their lives at risk? It’s an impossible mission: A man who feels he can’t love. A woman who believes she’s unlovable. And an enemy who will stop at nothing to crush them both.

The follow-on to FOLLY (again, not a direct sequel but in the same universe) is Devin Guthrie’s story, REBELS AND LOVERS. It’s due out mid 2010 from Bantam Dell. Here’s the working blurb:
OUT OF OPTIONS…Devin Guthrie can’t forget Captain Makaiden Griggs even though it’s been two years since she was in his family’s employ. A Guthrie does not fall in love with a mere shuttle pilot. Going against his wealthy family’s wishes isn’t an option—not with the Empire in political upheaval, much of it caused by Devin’s renegade older brother, Admiral Philip Guthrie. The Guthries must solidify their standing—financially, politically and socially—or risk losing it all. But when the Guthrie heir—Devin’s nineteen-year old nephew— goes missing, Devin’s loyalty to his family’s values is put to the test. And suddenly the unthinkable becomes the only option available: Devin must break the rules and risk allying himself with the one woman he could never forget—and was forbidden to love.

What do you consider your strengths in terms of your writing? – Conflict and characterization. I spend a lot of time and energy on creating characters that will tug at readers’ heartstrings and then I throw them into a whirlwind of problems.

What do you consider your weaknesses? – Plotting. Sometimes I have no freakin’ clue what happens next and that can put me in a dead stop for days.


Kathye Quick said...

I have hit a wall with plotting this week too.

It's nice to know I'm not alone in the black hole of the Whatthehellhappensnext universe.

Karin Shah said...

HOPE'S FOLLY was great! Looking forward to REBELS AND LOVERS!

DeAnn said...

I loved Hopes Folly, too, Linnea and I am seriously jonesing for another of your fantastic space opera SFR books...I will be biting my nails until 2010!
Thanks for the great interview and blurb about Devins story!

Vorkosigrrl said...

Not an author here, but a reader. I haven't read a lot of SFR, but of the ones I've read, Linnea is the best! IMHO, she'll be remembered as the one who really carved out a niche for SFR, as Georgette Heyer did for the regency romance.

Katie Hines said...

I have plotting problems, too. I usually get past that doing some brainstorming with my husband.

Chris Redding said...

I have a deck of cards called The Writer's Tool or Toolbox. Each card has an idea on it. If I get stuck, I pull one out.

Linnea Sinclair said...

Kathye, I don't know of an author who doesn't have plot problems. ;-) Sometimes I think each book is simply an exercise in solving those!

Linnea Sinclair said...

DeAnn, Karin and Vork, thanks so much for stopping by!

Katie, I envy your ability to brainstorm with your husband. I know several authors who can do that. Alas, I'm not one. I just get the blank deer-in-the-headlights look from him when I try. No matter how many scotches I pour down his throat. ;-)

Chris, I don't have those particular cards. I do have Deal A Story which I think could be fun to START a story with, but when you're at midpoint (which is generally where things go ooops!) then it can be a bit more dicey. It also depends on the genre.

I'm a very organic writer (fueled by a lot of 'natural fertilizer' ::evil grin:: ) My conflicts grown out of my characters and their backstory. Pulling out a random conflict idea that isn't endemic or integral to those things wouldn't work for me. But I know they work for a lot of other writers.

David Gray said...

That first novel sounds absolutely precious, if brief. And there was a cat! Clearly a harbinger of things to come. =) HOPE'S FOLLY was a great read, and I'm looking forward to REBELS AND LOVERS. Gotta love those hot babe pilots. ;-)