Interview with Toni V. Sweeney

Jen: Readers, please help we welcome Toni Sweeney to Book Talk this week. Toni, will you please share a short bio with us?
Toni: Glad to! Here’s my “official” biography: Toni V. Sweeney was born in Georgia after the War between the States but before the Gulf War. Since graduating from college, she’s survived tornadoes in the South, snow-covered winters in the Midwestern United States, as well as earthquakes and forest fires in southern California. She began her writing career during an extended convalescence following an automobile accident.

Jen: Tell us about Blood Sin and where it’s available.
Toni: Blood Sin has a slightly unusual history. I had written a series called The Chronicles of Riven the Heretic–and so far two books in that series have been published–and then wrote a completely unrelated book called Blood Sin. It was set in the future and told the story of a man who’d been exiled from his home planet for a crime he didn’t commit, and the only reason he didn’t try to prove his innocence was because it would have revealed that he’d committed an even worse crime. About ten years after I wrote the book, I got to thinking about the background to the story and decided to write about what happened before Blood Sin takes place, about the crime he had committed, and the acts leading up to it. So the first book was actually written second. Later, I edited and amended it and called it Blood Sin because that fit the first novel better, then re-titled the second book Sinner’s Exile. (Is all this a little confusing?) Then, I decided to relate that series to The Chronicles by having my hero (Aric Brand) be a direct descendent of Riven, so he became Aric kan Ingan. Since Riven was considered the ancestor of the ruling family in the Emeraunt Galaxy, Aric became the Crown Prince of the current branch. The fact that he was a prince made his exile even worse because it meant the Throne had lost its heir. When Blood Sin was accepted for publication, the editor remarked that the writing style varied so that she thought sat first that two people had written it, so the fact that so many years elapsed between the original writing and the changes I made before submitting it apparently show a progression, perhaps maturity, in my writing style.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Toni: I discovered writing about the same time I discovered reading–at age 5. I remember the first two words I learned to write: “cat” and “rat”. (Is that apochryfal or what?) I would make my own comics, drawing pictures and writing narrative captions. When I was around 8, I was given a portable Underwood typewriter for my birthday and I started typing stories. I used to fold the paper in half so it would be the size of a book and type on both the front and backs of each page, then staple them together. Much, much later, I would take my typed manuscripts to work and let my co-workers read them and one of them challenged me to submit one for publication. It was BloodSeek, and even though it was rejected, the publisher asked if I had anything else they could see. They accepted the second submission.

Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?
Toni: Not a one. I’m the oddball family member.

Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Toni: Not really. I just sit down at the typewriter, access whatever story I’m working on, re-read what I’ve already written and make changes, then start in with new material. When I finish what I’ve thought about that day, I check my “Submission List,” to see if anything on another manuscript needs checking on–status, release date, etc.–and that’s it for the day. This usually lasts 4-5 hours in all.

Jen: How do you shut out disruptions?
Toni: I just tune them out. Generally, I have music appropriate to whatever I’m writing going on in the background but if there’s a television show I don’t want to miss, I’ll listen to that while I type. Sometimes my son calls me and I talk to him while I work.

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Toni: Blood Sin has a lot of references to The Chronicles, so I was constantly going back over those stories to make sure I had my facts straight. I kept the published books handy and also accessed the two unpublished ones also. Several times I actually used quotes from the other books and wanted to be certain I had them worded correctly. Since the lifestyle on the planet Arcanis is still a bit medieval in spite of being set in the future, I read books such as Marriage and Family Life in the Middle Ages. There’s one section where herbal medications play an important part so I read several books on herbs and what drugs could be distilled from them. I also read up on astronomy and the planets, but most of the framework of the novel is simply a part of the mythos of the Emeraunt Galaxy, which exists only in my mind.

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
Toni: The writing itself is the most challenging and at the same time the easiest part. When I wrote BloodSeek, I changed the title four times before settling on the final one. I rewrote the beginning five times, then finally decided on the original opening. Same way with Blood Sin
. The story opens and ends with the same chapter. I wanted to make it appear to be a circle–the opening chapter beginning a flashback that tells the entire story which makes the opening chapter also the ending one. Does that make sense?

Perhaps I should say the story itself is the easy part but the technical aspects of telling it–deciding where to start the story, how much story to tell, how explicit to be, etc.–are the most challenging. I once had a chapter that just didn’t seem to fit in my story and I couldn’t figure out why. After I wrote another book in the series, I discovered that the chapter fit very well into the second book. My mind just jumped ahead of my fingers.

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Toni: Having someone tell me how much he enjoyed the story. Recently, I had two people do just that–out of the blue, on the same day. Just raving about Three Moon Station, a futuristic romance I had written under a pseudonym. One reader said she let dinner burn because she couldn’t put it down. Apologies to her family for a ruined meal, but you can’t beat that for an ego-builder!

Jen: What did you do to celebrate the sale of your first book?
Toni: Called up everyone I knew and told them, alerted the media, made a photocopy of the Advance Check, then when it was released, rushed to the local bookstore and had my picture taken with a copy off the shelf. I had it framed with the copy of the check and it hung on the wall of my den for ages.

Jen: Where do you draw your inspiration?
Toni: Anywhere and everywhere! Something someone says; seeing the ending of a movie and thinking, “but what if they had done it this way…?”; a reference a character makes in one of my stories that begs to be followed up in another book. I have a rule: if I think about it and dismiss it and the idea comes back for three days in a row, I know I have to write it, or it’ll haunt me. Right now, I’m being terrorized by the Ghosts of Six Novels Unwritten.

Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you have received about your books?
Toni: It wasn’t about the book itself but about the cover. Murder in Old Blood is a story about vampires set in the future. Since the murder weapon (a hypodermic of silver nitrate) figures quite prominently in the story, I wanted the cover to show a hypo with bats fluttering around the point of the needle. The artist disagreed and wanted a “futuristic” cover so we ended up with a scene of several planets with a giant red hypodermic syringe hovering over them. As soon as I showed it, someone said: “I thought this story was about vampires. Why is that big red spaceship there?”

Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?
Toni: I like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series about the “only practicing wizard in Chicago,” and JD Robb’s “Eve Dallas,” the policewoman whose beat is New York in the year 2045. Love both Eve and her husband Roarke. For sheer, gritty supernatural sex and violence, nothing can beat the vampiric members of the “Brotherhood of the Black Dagger” as written by JR Ward. Wow! Wish I could write like she does! I also like Kelley Armstrong’s stories, and Noel Hynd’s novels.

Right now, I’m reading Turn Coat by Jim Butcher.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Toni: As little as possible. I’m surprising adept at that. I have a definite knack.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Toni: More of the same, probably. I’ve got five books scheduled for release this year so there’s going to be plenty of editing (and lots of hair-pulling, I’m sure). Perhaps I’ll get my lazy self into gear and finish some of those six unfinished novels and put those ghosts out of their misery. They’ve been haunting me overtime and are definitely overdue. I’m sure I’ll do a few more trailers. Who can say?

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Toni: I have a website at www.tonivsweeney.com. Did it myself and I’m really proud of that because if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a technogeek. Only problem is…any errors are mine, too. I also blog occasionally at http://pinkfuzzyslipperwriters.blogspot.com/, and have an account at Facebook.com and my trailers are on Youtube.com.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Toni: Yes. Why aren’t you out there buying my books? Seriously, I’d just like to thank the people who have bought my books and especially the ones who want to know when the next one will be available.