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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Sarah Madison here today talking about writing, characters, and her latest novel, Unspeakable Words. Welcome, Sarah!
~Our Sarah Madison Interview~
How much of yourself goes into a character?
Oh, that’s a good question. I’d have to say elements of myself go into nearly every main character. When I’m writing about feeling insecure or out of my element, that’s me. If my character is unafraid of physical danger but terrified of emotional loss, that’s me. If a character admires competence and loyalty, that’s me. Many times, a story evolves out of something I’m going through at the moment—like the notion of whether or not one person can make a difference. And many of my stories have the common theme of creating your family rather than relying on flesh and blood to see you through, or that life is more than mere survival.
No matter what themes we choose to write about, be it feeling unattractive, abandoned, underappreciated at work, personal loss, or whatever, naturally we pull from our own internal resources to describe how our characters feel. There is always an Objective Observer in me that notes events in my life with an impartial eye. I can be in the midst of some great trauma, and a part of me is categorizing my reactions and thinking, “I’m going to use this in a story someday…”
Do you feel there’s a tight line between Mary Sue or should I say Gary Stu and using your own experiences to create a character?
Do you mean a fine line, where on one side it’s acceptable to draw on personal experiences but it doesn’t take much to cross over into Mary/Gary Sue territory? Yes, I think that’s true. For example, I can write a character who is brilliant at his job but sucks at his personal relationships. I can borrow from my own experiences, especially if they are funny or embarrassing. But I am neither brilliant at my job nor horrible at personal relationships. The character is never a stand-in for me in the story. I’m taking an idea and building a character around it, taking advantages of life events and experiences that will help lend verisimilitude to the creation. I’d never want to create a character that not only serves as my avatar but is larger-than-life perfect and can do no wrong. Not only would the character wind up cartoonish and two-dimensional, but it would be hard to create new characters without having them all sound and act the same.
Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write? Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?
May I say both? ☺ Because I adore research. I can get lost for weeks or months reading and researching a particular topic, which is one of the reasons I don’t write as fast as I’d like. But I also love world building too. When I wrote Crying for the Moon, it was my first-ever vampire story. I started to plunge headfirst into my usual research mode (which is to read and watch everything I can get my hands on before jotting down a single word) but then I realized I didn’t need to do that. I could write my vampires any way I wanted—creating a world and mythology that made sense to me without relying on the existing bank of culture. The end result was a vampire story many considered refreshingly different and original. I had a lot of fun doing that.
But when I wrote The Boys of Summer, I did the total immersion thing. I haunted the history section of the bookstore and library. I watched documentaries and era-movies. I read books on the Battle of Britain. I was appalled by my lack of knowledge about such an important part of history that I couldn’t rest until I’d learned enough that I thought I could tell the story of those young pilots effectively.
I have an entire section of bookshelves devoted to forensics, true crime, and profiling, thanks to the Sixth Sense series. Last summer, I went to Writer’s Police Academy, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to write mysteries and crime drama.
Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?
I suspect it’s why I can’t settle down to one genre. I love them all! Historicals, mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, you name it, I read it. I actually read very little romance growing up, but I adored any story that had a romantic subplot.
Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it? You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed?
More times than I care to admit. Usually, the story needs time to mature so I can figure out where it needs to go. I’ve got one story on job burnout I may never finish however. Writing it is just too close to home.
Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?
It’s a must for me at this point in my life. That’s not to say I will never read a story that breaks my heart. Some of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read did just that. They stay with me today because of the powerful impact they made on me. But to be honest, these days, life is pretty crappy for a lot of people. I write because it takes me out of myself and out of a bad day. I hope those reading my stories can escape reality for a few hours and forget about being a caretaker, or chronic illness, or the fact their boss/wife/husband/parent/child is being a jerk. ☺
Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult?
Some, but I lived for mysteries and sci-fi. Probably why so many of my stories have a paranormal element to them.
Do you have a favorite among your own stories? And why?
The story dearest to my heart is probably The Boys of Summer. Partly because of how the research drew me in, but also because in many ways, it is a more gut-wrenching story than what I usually tell, and yet I still managed to give it a happy ending.
I am very partial to the Sixth Sense series as well, though. Probably because as a series, I’ve spent more time with these characters than any of the others. Also because I love how the characters have grown and how their relationship has evolved over time.
What’s next for you as an author?
The revised and expanded version of Unspeakable Words is available for pre-order now, and will be re-released on March 10th, 2017.
I’m currently working on the fourth and final installment in the series, tentatively titled Deal with the Devil. Current release date sometime in 2018. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the relaunch of the series, or coming to the party for the first time. I think you’ll enjoy it.
About Unspeakable Words
The Sixth Sense: Book One
Special Agent John Flynn is everything Jerry Parker is not: dangerously handsome, coolly charismatic, and respected by his peers. Special Agent Parker is dedicated and meticulous, but his abrasive personality has given him a reputation for being difficult. When new information on a cold case appears, Parker is assigned to work with Flynn, and the sparks fly as their investigative styles clash. Contact with a strange artifact changes everything when it bestows unusual and unpredictable powers on Flynn… and the two men must learn to trust each other before a killer strikes again.
First Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2010.
Jerry abandoned his conversation with Flynn to look for the owner of the voice from his past. His heart squeezed painfully to a halt at the sight of Derek standing on the sidewalk behind him, only to restart at double-time.
Jesus. Talk about running into your ex.
Derek wore a brown blazer over a tan turtleneck, with a brightly colored scarf carelessly thrown around his neck. Jerry had a momentary spurt of irritation for the affectation and then felt his heart sink. There was no way he could avoid speaking to Derek without looking churlish, and he didn’t want to give him that satisfaction.
“What are you doing down here?” Derek’s voice was inappropriately coy as he raised an eyebrow in Flynn’s direction and gave him the once-over. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
His sun-bleached hair was overly long and curling at the collar, and Jerry was secretly amused that it appeared to be getting thin on top. Derek had creases at the corners of his eyes as well. Too much time in the tanning booth, no doubt.
He must be having a cow over that.
It must be harder now for Derek to catch the attention of some sweet young ass, unless the young thing was desperate for a sugar daddy.
“Derek Collins,” Jerry said smoothly, “my partner, John Flynn. We’re here on business, Derek.”
This is the guy that I thought I loved once. Boy, was I an idiot.
“Partner?” Derek glanced swiftly at Jerry’s left hand and then gave a little laugh. “Oh, partner,” he repeated without explanation, shooting a sly smirk at Flynn.
Jerry felt Flynn go rigid with tension, like a dog with his hackles up.
Relax. Gayness isn’t catching.
Flynn shot him a wounded look, and Jerry felt ashamed when he realized Flynn wasn’t embarrassed by Derek’s innuendos, he was pissed off on Jerry’s behalf. That was just…. Wow. Warmth suddenly flooded him, and he was both embarrassed and comforted at the same time.
Inexplicably, Flynn’s face relaxed, and a lazy smile appeared. “Yes, partner.” He practically purred as he placed a hand on Jerry’s arm. “Come on, Jer. We don’t want to be late for that interview.”
He guided Jerry away with a decidedly possessive hand on the small of his back.
“What was that about?” Jerry hissed as they left Derek openmouthed behind them.
“That asshole,” Flynn growled. “I can’t believe he cheated on you with a twinkie.”
Jerry stumbled and then laughed. When he quickly glanced over his shoulder, he saw Derek staring at the two of them speculatively. He laughed even harder and clapped Flynn on the back.
“It’s ‘twink’ if you really want to be cool,” Jerry corrected him.
“Asshole.” Flynn repeated the epithet for good measure, sounding pissed off again. “I wanted to punch him, but then I realized what would jerk his chain.” He appeared insufferably pleased with himself.
“You’re an idiot,” Jerry said with amusement. “A nice one, but an idiot all the same.” It’ll be all over town by this evening that I have a hot boyfriend. He fixed a sharp look on Flynn to check his reaction, but Flynn merely whistled innocently. “Come on,” Jerry sighed, not knowing what to make of the gesture. “We’ve got work to do.”
About the Author
Sarah Madison is a writer with a little dog, a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. An amateur photographer and a former competitor in the horse sport known as eventing, when she’s not out hiking with the dogs or down at the stables, she’s at the laptop working on her next story. When she’s in the middle of a chapter, she relies on the smoke detector to tell her dinner is ready. She writes because it’s cheaper than therapy.
Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Rainbow Awards. The Boys of Summer won Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The Sixth Sense series was voted 2nd place in the 2014 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Mystery series, and 3rd place in the 2105 PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Paranormal/Urban Fantasy series. Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M romance in the 2016 PRG Awards.
If you want to make her day, e-mail her and tell you how much you like her stories.