Writers on writing: Talking with Kate Sherwood

Please help me welcome Kate Sherwood, an author of many books I truly enjoyed. We are talking about what makes her tick, horses, men… and other good things in life!

When I started riding almost four years ago, I was terrified of going too fast, and of falling, and my legs felt like jello when I slid out of the saddle. I wasn’t allowed to quit, though, because I was riding with my daughters, and it would have been setting a bad example. My equestrian efforts made me yearn for a natural sense of balance and a perfect seat, which is when my “Wild Horses” short story was born. I was finished with my first draft, and was browsing Dreamspinner Press’s website for something fun to read as a reward, when I came across Kate Sherwood and her multitude of tales. Great guys, loveable yet flawed, and their horses – and their men, and the well-researched world portrayed by someone who actually inhabits it. I started reading… and reading… and reading. The complexity of Kate Sherwood’s characters and their interactions was a revelation, and I have been on a lookout for her new releases ever since. I am honored to have Kate Sherwood with me now. She graciously agreed to visit with me and answer some of my questions about her books, and also about the way she writes.

 

Kate, thank you for being here, and congratulations on your upcoming release of “The Fall!” How many titles will that make for you?

 

Hmmm – I think it’ll be number 13, if we’re just counting novels. But just as a nod to superstition, let’s count novellas too and call it number 17!

 

I have read a number of your books, but you are the first author I was able to read in present tense. The book was “Dark Horse” and there was something about your opening that kept me engaged, until I just simply got used to it. How is your mindset different from the more mainstream past tense? (And people, seriously. Check that book out –it’s worth both the time, the money, AND the trip outside your comfort zone!)

 

I honestly didn’t realize how verboten present tense was in romance until the book was written, edited, and published!

 

For me, the present tense makes things more immediate. Dan gets caught in his brain a lot, not necessarily doing any productive thinking, just a lot of worrying—I think the present tense makes it feel a bit more stream-of-consciousness (for better or for worse).

 

It’s funny, because I read all the criticisms of the book based on the tense, and went back and re-read chunks of it and said, these people are crazy! Present tense isn’t awkward! It’s not hard to read! But I bowed to pressure and put my next couple books in past tense. Then I went back to write the third Dark Horse book, and, damn! Present tense is awkward! It’s hard to read!

 

I think it all comes down to what you get used to. YA has a lot of present tense and readers don’t even seem to notice it, let alone object to it, because they’re used to it. They expect it. And when I was in the writing groove with Dark Horse  the first time around, I was used to it. But then I got used to something else, and… uh oh.

 

The Dark Horse world consists of eleven stories, and as engaging as it is, the author must diversify. Where did you branch off to next? What inspired you to pursue that direction?

My next book was another ménage with horses, so I didn’t really branch all that far. But I wanted to experiment with characters who were a bit less perfect than the Dark Horse boys. Based on reader response, I think I succeeded with that, maybe a bit too well! It seems like a lot of people didn’t like at least one of the three guys, and that makes it a bit hard to care about a romance working out…

 

 

Your books often address social issues. In the m/m “Beneath the Surface,” you have a lot to say about the power of money, the lure of what glitters, and the environment. What was the driving inspiration in this stand-alone?

 

The conflict in this story was actually based on a real-life quarry that was proposed in southern Ontario, where I live. (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/tag/melancthon-mega-quarry). I lived close enough to the proposed site that I was pretty much inundated with opinions on the issue, from both sides. And I found myself really torn. There was one solution that made sense to me, as someone who lived close to the project, but another that would make sense for someone from the city who needed gravel. So, from that tension… a novel!

 

I always enjoy meeting your strong female characters. For the record, they appear in both het and m/m books, and they represent a refreshing dose of reality. When writing het romance did you find yourself shying away from details that might be personally revealing, as compared to writing guys together?

 

Huh. No. I think… hmmm. I think insofar as I would worry about writing something revealing, it would be a worry about revealing an emotional truth, not a physical one. So my male characters are just as likely to reveal something private about me as my female characters are. I think.

 

M/M romance is a microcosm where both protagonists are equally capable of opening a jar of tomato sauce. Which book has led you to explore the “level playing field” idea between the characters the most, and do you find the concept to be based in reality, or is it just a myth?

 

That’s an interesting question! I think for me, maybe ironically, the books that explored this concept the most were the Against the Odds series, two books set in a dystopian future where one hero is a member of the wealthy ruling class and the other is essentially a sex slave. So there’s a huge imbalance of power between them, and they both acknowledge it, but at the same time Adam, the rich guy, is so obsessed with Remy that Remy has his own sort of power. And for their relationship to work, they have to find a way to equalize both kinds of power; Remy need to have more financial and social freedom, while Adam needs the emotional power of knowing that

Remy is crazy about him.

 

I think this is one of the most fascinating aspects of m/m romance. There’s still power issues, there’s still imbalances, but because the gender issues are… not removed, exactly, not neutralized, but… equalized, maybe?… the power issues play out differently.

 

I don’t think I’d have been comfortable writing Against the Odds with a woman in… damn. I just assumed the woman would be in Remy’s role, the powerless one whose only strength is her ability to attract a powerful man. Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t have been comfortable writing it that way.

 

Would I have wanted to write it the other way, with a woman in Adam’s role? I think it would have felt too deliberately didactic. Too overtly feminist. I mean, I’m a feminist, totally. But I try to write books that tell a story, not teach a lesson, and I feel like having a woman in Adam’s role would have made the whole book about “look, women can be powerful” instead of having it be about two individual people working out their individual relationship.

 

I’m not sure about the idea being based in reality vs. being a myth. I’m fascinated by Foucault and his ideas about how pretty much every relationship has a power-balance/imbalance (gross oversimplification of Foucault, obviously). But I would say that even if both characters are the same sex, there’s still going to be a lot of other factors that get in the way of a truly level playing field, and I think most of those factors apply in real life as well as in fiction.

 

Your latest works, “The Fall” and “Riding Tall,” are a two-book series that will narrate the story of a pampered model, who has to run a business and make his way in the countryside. How have you tilted the playing field to challenge both characters and push them outside of their comfort zones?

 

Mackenzie, the pampered city boy, is definitely outside of his comfort zone physically. He’s in the country and he’s expected to take care of himself for the first time in a long time. Joe, the rancher, is still at home and is working hard to keep everything the way it’s always been, so he can stay in his comfort zone. But his family is growing up and moving on, and change is coming whether he wants it or not. I think by putting both of them in times of change in their lives, they’re both challenged to grow. And of course, finding true love is the biggest change for both of them!

 

“The Fall” and “Riding Tall” are coming out close together. You never skimp on character development and plot, which makes for an old-fashioned read of substance. Did the story just grip you and didn’t let go? At which point did you decide this story needs two books?

 

I planned one book, in so far as I plan at all. But when I got near the end I started realizing that it would feel artificial to tie up all the loose ends. I’d given these guys some real challenges to overcome, and they made a good start at things, but they had a long way to go. So I had to make things wrap up artificially (yuck!), leave loose ends (blech!) or write another book (hmmmmm…)

 

You write about horses, and you ride. Every riding environment is different. How do you go about doing your research? Is field research where work and pleasure coincide?

 

I rode as a kid, hunter/jumper, and absorbed the lifestyle of a fairly upscale equestrian facility. And then as an adult I started riding again, and naturally went with English since it’s what I knew. And I fell in love with a bitch of a mare (Misery from The Fall? A close relative) who would regularly dump me off pretty much literally just because she could. Huge spooks in which she’d jump five feet to the side at the worst possible moment, and then she’d just stand there and stare at me on the ground like she was wondering why I’d decided to lie in the dirt and gasp for breath. I would have just found a different (less psycho!) horse to ride but she was the most naturally athletic, incredibly balanced, super-well-trained (technically) horse I’d ever ridden or have ever ridden since. If she hadn’t had screws loose, she would have been the most perfect horse ever. My coach suggested that I try riding her western. She said the horse seemed to prefer it, and lord knew I wasn’t sorry to have a deeper seat and a horn to grab onto!

 

Anyway, that was really the beginning of my education in horsemanship, rather than riding. Sometimes I’d ride English. Sometime I’d ride western. Sometimes I wouldn’t get on the horse at all and we’d spend the entire lesson on the ground, working out the herd mentality and horse body language and the way they communicate and the ways we can communicate with them. It was fascinating, and to come back to the original question, it was universal. There are definitely different details in every riding environment, and I try to get beta readers with hands-on experience in different areas when I feel like I’m stretching myself. (Like, eventing? No damn way I’m doing that! Too scary!) But overall, the basics of horsemanship that I find so fascinating? They’re universal, and they’re what I try to include in my books.

 

In terms of mixing work and pleasure? Both riding and writing are hobbies for me. I’m serious about both of them and I work hard to improve myself and do the best I can, but I have a day job that’s my work—riding and writing are both for pleasure.

 

 

 

Your excerpt to “The Fall” has a light tone that promises a lot more to come. Scott Mackenzie is really vexed that Joe Sutton didn’t even give him a second look. Poor Scott – being ignored is a terrible thing. Please tell me more about Scott – will he need an attitude adjustment?

 

Scott (who goes by “Mackenzie”) has pretty much every aspect of his life adjusted! The excerpt is probably a bit lighter in tone than the rest of the book, but it definitely sets up who Mackenzie is at the start of the story. He is light. Fluffy and insubstantial. But there’s a core of strength in him, and that’s what makes him an interesting character!

 

Joe Sutton is dealing with a harrowing family situation – and running a ranch takes an amazing commitment of both time and money. With each horse producing 70 pounds of manure per day, and his family tugging at Joe from all directions, how much sleep does Joe get per night, on average? Are weekends any better?

 

Joe is not getting a lot of sleep. Especially since he’s raising his four-year-old nephew and his seventeen-year-old sister! Luckily he has lots of support from the rest of his family, but Joe isn’t someone who really takes support well. He can accept (barely) that the rest of the family will help take care of the kids, but in terms of helping him in any way? No. That would be an admission of weakness, and he really can’t afford to do that!

 

Writers tend to split into Organized (those of you who outline), and Organic (those of us who grasp a kernel of a plot and just run with it, then delete what doesn’t belong). Are you Organized or Organic, and have you been able to incorporate skills from the “other side?”

For me, it depends a lot on sub-genre. A straight-up contemporary? I wing it. I know where the characters start, I know where I want them to end, and I’m looking forward to discovering how they get there. But the Against the Odds series had a sort of political intrigue aspect to it, and I had to sit down and plan that out. Who was the bad guy, and how was he going to get caught? What implications would it all have on the stability of the government? And The Shift, even though it was just a novella, had a secret society that needed to be dealt with, and I had to sit down and plan that out.

 

So I guess I’m a bit of a hybrid, depending on the demands of the story?

 

Some writers have only one project burning, others have several and they change horses as necessary. How about you?

 

I have one Work-in-Progress at the first draft stage at any time. I don’t hop around. Write it, put it away, write something else. Go back to the first thing, polish it, send it out. Write something else, then go back to the second thing, polish it, send it out.

 

And of course I deal with edits on accepted projects as they come up. So I might have several unpublished manuscripts on my computer at any time, but I’m only actively adding words to one of them at a time.

 

 

 

How much time are you able to dedicate to writing per average week? (Writing new words, not editing or reading about writing or thinking up new stories in the shower!)

 

I write about 1 000 words an hour, and I have to write at least 10 000 words per week. That’s my rule. So that’s ten hours of new words per week. Most weeks I do more, but I have to do that many, or I’m in trouble (from myself).

 

There’s definitely extra time in the shower, and driving places, and in the middle of meetings at work. But sitting in front of the computer typing new words? At least ten hours.

 

Add in promo, editing, writing blurbs, filling out cover request sheets, doing bookkeeping, etc…. and that’s probably at least another ten hours a week, for minimum twenty total.

 

On top of a fairly demanding full-time job, it’s a lot. But it’s amazing how much extra time I found when I gave up watching television!

 

I love your website! It tells me everything I need to know about your books and where to find them. Did you build it yourself, or did you outsource?

 

I did the content myself. But I’m a stupidly non-visual person. (ask anyone who’s ever tried to design a cover for me. I have no idea what looks good, or even what I like). Luckily A.J. Corza helped me out! (www.ajcorza.com) I had the cover spinner (can’t remember where I got the idea – probably stole it from some other author), but the rest of the design came from a better brain than mine!

 

Many of your books, including “The Fall,” are published with Dreamspinner Press. Others are published independently. What are some of the important lessons of going indie?

 

I enjoyed experimenting with indie publishing, but… it’s a lot of work. Right now, I have one m/m title (other than a million Dark Horse shorts) self-published, and it didn’t sell as well as my publisher-published books, up to the point where I dropped the price to $.99. Now, it’s getting more sales, generally, but I’m not making much money off it! Compared to the amount of work it was? I don’t know. I’ll probably self-publish something else in the future, but I don’t see myself going fully indie any time soon!

 

Your work is also published in foreign languages. How many? Are you nervous the translator won’t get your tone just right? Are you able to read the foreign language translations?

 

I have books in Spanish, Italian, German, and French (thank you, Dreamspinner). It’s a huge kick to see things in translation (and selling quite well!) but it is a bit nerve-wracking to know that my name and my boys are out there and I can’t really read any of the languages well enough to know if they’re doing okay.

 

But it’s not like I’m a poet. I focus on characters, not the precisely perfect word choice. People seem to be enjoying the translations (I have a screen cap of one of my books at number 36 overall on Amazon Italy, two books above the Italian translation of a Stephen King book!!!) and the reviews, as translated by Google, seem to reflect a good understanding of the story I was trying to tell, so… I’m happy.

 

For “The Fall,” which is your favorite male character? And, I know you don’t skimp on realistic women, either. Which is your favorite female character?

 

I love Joe Sutton. Strong, silent, and stubborn. That’s my boy!

 

And I love his younger sister, Ally. She’s not as spoiled or as idealistic as Tat from Dark Horse, and she’s got a bit more bite to her, but the relationship with Joe is pretty similar to Tat’s with Evan. They both love their brothers but consider it their solemn duty to point out any and all flaws… (as a baby sister myself, I can appreciate their dedication to the craft!)

 

 

 

Thank you for visiting on my blog. It came to my attention that you have two or three books out that I haven’t read yet – it’s time to update my TBR pile! And for the rest of you, my readers, I recommend you check out Kate Sherwood’s website at www.katesherwood.com. “You can preorder “The Fall” on the Dreamspinner Press website at http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4438&cPath=55_272.

My tweets will alert you to DSP sales, as usual. 

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One Response to Writers on writing: Talking with Kate Sherwood

  1. Pingback: Horse skills serves book author well in the publishing world | ALove4Horses.com

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