Toni Sweeney was born in Georgia after the War between the States but before the Gulf War. At the age of six, she was kidnapped by a band of ex-patriate Transylvanian vampires who offered to pay for her education if she would write about them in a favorable light. Her efforts to do so can be found in her horror novels. Since graduating from college, she has survived tornadoes in the South,
snow-covered winters in the Midwestern United States, as well as earthquakes and forest fires in southern California. She is a member of the South Coast Writer’s Association, the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers website, and has her own website, myspace, Facebook and YouTube pages. Presently, she has nine novels in publication, as well as several short stories featured in magazines, online, and on amazon.com’s Amazon Shorts.
DE: In THE ROSE AND THE DRAGON, I’m fascinated with the way you took a premise that’s reminiscent of the gothic genre of the governess coming into the eccentric house (from JANE EYRE onwards) and turned it into a science fiction romance. You took another premise with a traditional base in THE LAST VOYAGE OF SINBAD SINGH and similarly turned it inside out. What draws
you to these stories and inspires you to take them further than we’ve seen before?
TS: Some weird glitch in my brain, I guess. After all, it’s just a living computer, isn’t it? I think The Rose and the Dragon was vaguely inspired by the movie Adventures in Babysitting. When I originally planned Rose/Dragon, I was sticking close to the Jane Eyre version with Miranda falling in love with her employer and he with her. Then I thought, “Nope. Too cliche.” So I brought in Kit, the younger brother. Again, I wanted the story to be as little of a cliche as possible, so I made Kit his brother’s chief hitman but paradoxically a good father and loving husband–to his many wives, who always leave him when they learn he wants nothing but a family. Kit does have his problems, and he’s definitely someone who’d done wrong, by falling in love with his brother’s ex-wife and having her tempt him to murder Dominic. I wanted to make him even less of the typical hero, so I had him having been married several times and having 8 children, and then having him swear never to marry again when his last wife dies in childbirth. His attraction to Miranda versus his vow makes up a good part of the first novel.
I’ve always liked the movie The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with the Harryhausen animation and that inspired my Sinbad book. (Sin’s my favorite character I’ve created, by the way.) I didn’t want the story to be an Arabian Nights clone, however, so I thought–Hmm, who else would be sailing around, having hair-breadth adventures?–and I came up with a space opera–a smuggler, flying from planet to planet just ahead of the Space Coast Guard, laughing at them around his illegal cigar. Then I threw in the reason for the last voyage–Andi. If you’ve seen the trailer, it’s kind of a film noir/Casablanca thing–“Out of all the saloons in the galaxy, why did she have to come to the one where I was?” Sin’s done for as soon as they meet, but so is she, but complication: Andi has a husband (the reason she’s there) and Sin doesn’t poach on another man’s property–but he wants her. It’s his last voyage in more ways than one, and the fact that the sequel Sinbad’s Wife was released this weekend proves it.
DE: As a fellow fan of both reading and writing westerns, what
challenges/pitfalls do you think we have to face when writing them?
TS: In writing my two Westerns, I tried to be very careful of my history and chronology. In Walk the Shadow Trail, one of the characters mentions that he had an uncle who saw Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Europe. Since the character was German, I checked to see if the Show ever went to Germany. It didn’t, so
I had him see it in London. Historical accuracy is most important. Another thing is language. At the beginning of both Walk the Shadow Trail and Vengeance from
Eden, I have the characters speaking almost phoenetically, to contrast the way they speak (a German noble and a Nebraska cowboy; a Nebraskan and a a Texan), then let the dialogue slide into regular speech. It’s important not to use phrases that weren’t around at the time of the story. If it’s one thing I hate, it’s to have a story set in medieval Europe, and have a character say, “I’m going to sleep in tomorrow” or something else totally anachronistic. Or to use word “Okay” instead of “Yes,” “Very well,” All right.” Electricity, horseless carriages–anything like that should be researched to make certain it was available or in existence at the time of the story.
DE: You move between short fiction and novels. Do you have a preference? Does one draw you more strongly than the other, or do your characters
TS: I have difficulty writing short stories because I like to talk so much! SO they are a test for me. In writing some stories, however, I found that I either didn’t have enough of an idea or enough material for a complete novel, and they ended up as short stories. That was what happened with “Blood will Freeze.” I took that Armageddon old idea of a meteor striking Earth and made the survivors vampires and a few humans. So who’s going to be dominant? The vampires can withstand cold but need a food source; the humans fulfill that need but will freeze to death so they have to keep them alive. They establish kingdoms and care for their humans like cattle, nourishing, breeding, protecting them. Then one vampire decides to kill off the others and have all the humans for himself. Only problem is–in every 20th generation, there is born a human who can resist his masters. It wasn’t long enough for a novel but plenty for a short story, so that’s what it became. Only problem with my novels is that generally I think past “The End” and want to show what happened after the “Happily Ever After,” and I end up with one, two, or as many as five other novels about the same characters! The Chronicles of Riven the Heretic and The Adventures of Sinbad are proof of this.
DE: Do you tend to work from character first, or premise?
TS: Either one, and both. in Bloodseek, I started out with a character who was a bounty hunter, seeking revenge on men who had killed his family. That morphed into a knight avenging himself on the sorcerer who abducts his betrothed and wounds him so badly he nearly dies. Blood Sin started out as a Star Trek rip-off…the voyages of the Challenger (this was decades before real Challenger, by the way; my ship was named for A. Conan Doyle’s character in The Lost World). I wrote two very juvenile books, then forgot them. Later, I resurrected them, took the two main characters, made them descendants of the characters in Bloodseek, and wrote five novels about them. The main character underwent a tremendous metamorphosis: in the original, he was so Spock-like, he was nearly an android; in the final novels, he was a hard-drinking, womanizing nobleman who gets exiled for his troubles.
DE: What is the most fun, for you, about the writing process?
TS: I enjoy writing–no mistake about that, but what I really like is to finish a story, lay it aside, then a few weeks or months later, go back and read it, and think, “Hey, I’d forgotten about that bit! or “I really like that section there” or just plain,
“Damn! I’m good!” Recently, I submitted a manuscript to a publisher and she called me about it. Among other things, she said she liked the story but wondered if I had a co-writer or an editor. When I told her I didn’t, she said the writing style appeared to be from two people. I was laughing as I told her that I’d written the original story 20 years ago and then about five years ago went back and revised it. I didn’t realize my writing style had changed that much over the years! I got a contract for the book, by the way.