Sydell is the author of several romance and YA books. We recently hosted Sydell’s Author Blitz and wanted to be sure visitors had a look at her author interview. Sydell has a lot of great information to share! Here’s what she had to say:
In your own words, please tell us about your books:
My stories reflect my love of the Pacific Northwest. Many of my settings include the oceans, beaches, mountains, high desert, and islands that characterize this part of the U.S. You’ll also see my love for camping, wildlife, and stargazing peeking through the lines of my prose. What’s more, I’ve always adored the circus, and after considerable research, Summer Magic was born. (I still remember riding on my dad’s shoulders when I was a little girl and pretending that I was a trapeze artist.)
Years ago, I started writing and publishing young adult (teen) romances. My first two YAs were part of the popular series “Sweet Dreams” by Bantam and “First Love” by Silhouette. Later, I published five additional YAs for a German market, Cora Verlag. The books were written entirely in German, so I had no way of determining how much editing had been done. Still, it was so much fun to see their eye-catching covers when the paperbacks arrived in my mailbox. (I purposefully haven’t included these early books in the list above, because I want to focus now on my current digital publications and how they transitioned into this brave new world.)
In time, I “graduated” to adult contemporary romances. My adult stories are just a step up from YA in terms of being “sweet, not spicy,” although a thread of emotional sexual tension often runs throughout the story until the conflicts are resolved. In comparison with my YAs, my adult heroines struggle with more sophisticated conflicts and my heroes are more mature and worldly. My first adult contemporary romances were published in hard cover by Avalon Books, which has recently closed its doors. The Avalon titles were later picked up by two digital publishers: Books We Love and Montlake Romance (Amazon). The two Montlake Romance books are also available in paperback.
Do you have a favorite character?
Actually, I’d be hard pressed to single out any of my characters as a favorite. There’s a little bit of myself in each of my heroines, of course, although I strive to create characters that blossom into their own personas with their own unique world views.
Where do your story ideas come from?
My story ideas come from a variety of sources: newspaper and magazine articles, events in my own and other folks’ lives, and sometimes even from within my dreams. For example, before I wrote The Fisherman’s Daughter, I’d read a news article about a local fisherman that had been discovered missing from his fishing boat. The boat’s stabilizers were down, his medications remained on the counter in the galley, and there was no evidence of foul play. At the time this piece was written, the fisherman’s whereabouts was still a mystery. This article immediately sparked the germ of an idea for my romantic intrigue novel, and from there the story, set in the San Juan Islands off Washington State, began to spring to life in my mind.
What do you think makes a good story?
A good story must start with a believable protagonist and a challenging conflict/problem/quest that he or she will have to grapple with. There must be complications and plot twists along the way to raise the bar and make the main character struggle even harder. Finally, a satisfying resolution whereby the protagonist proactively solves her problem is a must. In the end, the main character should grow and/or view life in a new way. In the case of a genre romance, that usually involves a “happily ever after” ending—and deep seated emotions. The more deeply the author can dig into his main character’s psyches to discover what makes her tick, the more the readers will connect with the protagonist and care about her.
Do you think most authors understand the importance of marketing their own work?
I can’t speak for all authors, but my colleagues most definitely understand this importance. On writer’s lists and in emails, we constantly discuss ways to gain reader recognition and keep our books selling. We also often “share” our promo posts on Facebook in order to gain a wider audience.
What are some of your methods for self-promotion?
I post to my Facebook page, Twitter, Google, and my personal blog site. I contact websites that offer promotional opportunities for authors via book reviews, interviews, excerpts, book covers, and so forth. Sometimes I take out ads. I’ve also used bookmarks and refrigerator magnets featuring a specific book and its cover to pass out at book signings and writer’s conferences. Additionally, I’ve given talks for school classrooms, adult education classes at church, community events, writer’s conferences, and local critique/writing groups.
What’s your writing schedule like?
My day usually begins in reviewing the on-line writer’s posts that went live during the night while I slept. I answer those that need my attention, as well as emails. I log onto Facebook for any pertinent writing news, especially those posted by my excellent publisher, Books We Love, on their FB pages and blog. I check out Amazon, too, to stay abreast of the day’s prices for my books and to see current book ratings. (The books are often free, 99 cents, $1.99 or $2.99, and the prices can change daily.)
The rest of my work day consists of either working on my own WIP or editing the manuscripts submitted by my students. (I teach for a popular long-distance learning writing program.) Often I do both within the same afternoon. My “office assistant” is my spoiled and much-loved tuxedo cat, Banjo, who sleeps on the cat window shelf above my desk or “helps” me when the printer is spitting out pages. In the best interest of smart ergonomics, however, I take frequent breaks from my office chair to move around to other areas in my home, or when the weather allows, walk into my yard. (In everyday language, that means to start a load of laundry, make a fresh pot of coffee, take a short walk to get the mail, and/or pull a few weeds.) Then it’s back to my office again. I usually quit working around 4 and reserve my evenings for reading.
What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I head up a Prayer Shawl group at my church, so a portion of my spare time is occupied by crocheting, either solo, or whenever the group can get together in my home. I enjoy going for walks (but not in the rain!), reading, baking, planting flowers in springtime, and Skyping with our son and sweet 4-year-old grandson who live on the opposite side of the country. I love amateur astronomy. I own a pair of giant binoculars, designed specifically for stargazing, and I’ve logged over 100 deep sky objects. Further, I love playing with our adorable two “rescued” kitties, which we adopted from a no-kill cat shelter last year. (Often you’ll see the pictures of them that I’ve posted on Facebook.) And getting back to the grandchildren–my husband and I also spend time with our three lovely granddaughters, ages 6, 4, and 2. Fortunately, they live only a 40 minute’s drive away, so we see them often. I’m not much of a TV watcher, however—except for the news. When all is said and done, I’d rather be reading! And oh, before I forget, I enjoy going out for lunch with girlfriends!
Who would you say has been a major influence in your life? (writing or otherwise)
I’d have to say that would be my late father. When I was growing up and involved in a variety of activities, he always encouraged and praised me, plus he often got involved. For example, when I was a member of The Campfire Girls (as it was designated back then), he participated in Camp Fire related committees. And during high school, when I played the violin in the community orchestra, he sat on the Board of Directors and served for several years. Two decades later when I started writing seriously, just a couple of years before he died, he was once again proud and supportive. In fact, he told me one day I’d become a famous author, just like the well-known predecessors in our direct line of the Lowell family. (James Russell Lowell and the poet, Amy Lowell, just to name a couple.) About a year later, I received a contract for my first YA novel, Merry Christmas, Marcie by Silhouette’s First Love teen line. I’ll always regret that Dad was no longer here to know about that, but thankfully, my mother was—and she was equally happy for me.
How do you deal with criticism?
In the past, I’ve participated in a handful of critique groups, plus I’ve received assessments from editors—both negative and positive. On the balance, I appreciated that editors took the time to jot down even a line or two. As writers, we know that when this happens, it means our work grabbed their attention and prompted their comments—and that’s a good thing. Editors are very busy people, after all! Also, now that many of my books have gone digital, I receive reviews on Amazon and Good Reads. Most of the feedback from fellow writers and editors has been constructive criticism. I spend time reflecting on their offerings–once I get over whatever initial reaction I might have had (i.e. this editor just doesn’t get it!)—and use their assessment to begin the all-important process of revision. (“Writing is rewriting.”) Criticism from readers, however, is often a mixed bag. Again, negative comments can be helpful if offered constructively, and I try to keep that in perspective. Often, though, the reader’s reviews come across as just plain snarky. I try not to let that get me down though. If I did, it would be very difficult to keep writing. And I realize that snarky reviews happen to even the most popular, best-selling authors.
What would readers be surprised to know about you?
Within the past 9 years, I’ve had four major joint replacement surgeries—and I’m not that old either! LOL
If you could spend the day with a famous author (past or present) who would it be?
Nicholas Sparks, without a doubt. I love his style of writing, even though it often involves a characteristic “Greek tragedy.” His ability to handle deep emotions and the romantic aspects of plot and characterization are phenomenal, in my opinion.
How would you spend the day together?
We’d spend time chatting and drinking coffee (no, I’m not a fan of sweet tea) while we sat on a covered porch filled with lush potted flowers—Southern style, of course. Maybe later we’d continue to chat over lunch at a charming eatery in his hometown, and then take some time to tour his favorite stomping grounds.
How can readers connect with you? (personal blog, social media, etc.)
Amazon Author Page
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
My best advice is to keep learning, reading, writing, and honing your craft. Never give up. If you receive a rejection, don’t let it get you down. That’s just the name of the game in the publishing industry. (I’ve had enough rejection slips—back before the days of email correspondence—to wallpaper my office!) If an editor offers a comment, take some time to consider it, and don’t be too hasty. Later, if you agree, then pull out your manuscript again and start rewriting. And most of all, keep submitting your work. I’ve sometimes sent out my short stories and articles up to a dozen times or more before they found a publishing home. The same was true for my book sales, at least in the beginning.
Finally, writing can sometimes be a lonely process, so don’t hesitate to network by attending writer’s conferences, professional critique groups (as opposed to mere coffee klatches), book signings, and other writing events. That’s one of the best ways to stay on top of this every-changing industry and develop your talents.