Sunday, November 4, 2012

Author Interview with S.J. Richard - Historical Romance

S.J. Richard
Historical Western Romance

      Welcome to The Fire and Water Saloon, the largest and most profitable saloon in the Town of Kanen. The room is dark with only weak light filtering through streaky windows that face a dusty street. The bar runs the length of the left side of the room. A large, slightly warped mirror hangs on the wall behind it, reflecting gaming tables on the other side of the room. A stage, dark and quiet now, commands the front of the room.  I prefer sitting at the table closest to the front door with my back to the wall so I can see everyone passing by outside and all those who enter. It’s empty in the Fire and Water so early in the day, but later tonight, half the town and a slew of miners will pack the place to listen to the bawdy singer on stage while trying not to lose their pay packets at the gaming tables. Pull up a chair so we can play cards and talk for a bit.  

Reader’s Haven: Hi S.J.! Thanks for inviting us here. (Deanna) *Wipes off two chairs with a bar towel before taking a seat. Points to the other chair for Louise to sit on* Tell us a bit about yourself.

S.J.: I was a reporter for New England newspapers and won some awards but found the grind of writing everyone else’s stories each day leached out my urge to write my own stories. So, I left the reporting world for a more structured (and better-paying) office job that gives me the freedom and space to hang out with my imaginary friends (aka the characters in my novels).
Reader’s Haven: (Louise) Glad we're not the only writers who like to hang out with imaginary friends! *shuffling, then dealing out the cards* What made you want to become a writer?

S.J.: I just always knew I was going to write. I remember being in second grade when a friend’s mother asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was doing math homework at that moment, but I looked up and without hesitation said, “Oh, I’m a writer.” It wasn’t that I would become a writer some day; I just knew, like the way I know my own handwriting, that I was a writer.  

Reader’s Haven: Please share a bit about your new release, The Peacemaker, without giving away any spoilers.

S.J.: The Peacemaker is about hypocrites and heroes, politics and religion. It is historical fiction set in the 1870s. Jack O’Malley, a civil war veteran plagued by vicious memories of the battles, was recently hired to be the Town Marshal following the suspicious death of the latest sheriff. O’Malley is not a religious man, unlike the devote and vocal citizens of Kanen. Add to the volatile mix a saucy red-head and salacious red-headed singer, some unruly miners, a newspaper hell-bent on stirring up trouble and a pious and beautiful woman who wants to reform O’Malley’s atheist ways and this quiet lawman is starting to wish he was back in the middle of a war. At least there, he knew who the enemy was and from which direction they would be firing. It has some weighty themes, a budding romance and plenty of humor salted through the story making it hard to put the book down once you start it.  

Reader’s Haven: (Deanna) Westerns are quite popular right now. We wish you luck with the sales. I think many of our readers will have questions for you. *pouring a shot of Jack Daniels for all of us* Do you write under a pen name?

S.J.:  I do. Thanks for the shot! *downing hers in two swallows* I use my initials. It is an homage to old-time reporters and satirists like H.L. Menken. I started using S.J. as my  byline when I began my journalism classes at college.  I was always a shy kid and using my initials helped me crawl out of that shell. I didn’t feel brave enough to use my legal name so I created the persona of S.J. to do what scared me: ask the difficult questions and write something for others to read. S.J. had no history, no hangs ups and nothing to lose, so that made her fearless. She could do all the things I wanted to try but didn’t dare. So, when the time came to publish my novel, it only seemed proper to do what worked and to honor the S.J. side of my personality with credit for The Peacemaker. She did the hard work all those years protecting the shy kid from New England who hid behind her name, so it only seemed fair that S.J. should appear on the book’s cover.

Reader’s Haven: What types of hero or heroine do you like best?

S.J.: *tossing a card on the table* I like the unlikely heroes, the ones who you judge too quickly or too harshly with an unflattering opinion. Those are the ones that can truly shine because they teach you about yourself. I find that people (and therefore characters) surprise me like that. The ones you least expect to step up and do the right thing, the ones you weren’t sure you could depend upon, can rise to the occasion and be there in those big and small moments. The Peacemaker has a few of those. It’s those fringe people, the ones nobody gave any credit to or thought were all that strong, who stand up and come through in  the tough times.

Reader’s Haven:  That is so true. It sounds like you have a handle on your characters. Tell us about a typical day in your life as a writer.

S.J.: There is no typical in my world. *rakes in the winnings of that hand* Unless you count chaos, then chaos, I suppose, is typical. Writing is a must for me. If I don’t get to write, I get edgy and feel anxious and out of place. Once I get my fingers on my keyboard, I slip into my own little world. Whatever town or room my characters are in becomes my universe. I can lose hours and hours, only noticing that time has passed when I find myself sitting in the dark with only the light from my computer screen illuminating the room. Those are the best days, the ones I don’t know passed because I spent them all with the characters carving out my novel.

Reader’s Haven: What a great way to put that! Do your books have a common theme or are they all different?

S.J.: Each one is different, but they do have some aspects that carry through them all. There is a theme of people not always being what they seem. Someone irritable and aloof may have a fantastic and heart-wrenching reason for being detached and difficult; likewise, the beloved and bubbly beauty in town might have a cold, dark, nasty side that devotees choose not to see. My main characters are usually not well-liked or popular in their settings. They certainly never crave attention. I feel there is great value and strength in being someone who can and does stand alone when needed. Friends are a wonderful gift, but we spent a lot of time in our lives on our own. Those who excel in those moments have something special inside them, a belief in themselves, that is remarkable so I like to show that when I can.
      *dealing the next hand* I also toy with questions and confrontations between faith and reason. I was one of those kids who was forced to go to church by my parents, but I would rather have been home looking at bugs and dirt under my microscope or looking at star charts to pick a star to find with my telescope that night. My goal isn’t to make anyone change anything they believe; it’s to show them another side of the story. If that strengths what they believe, great.  If it makes them refine what they believe, that’s good, too. It’s just such a fertile (and volatile) subject that you can start a lifelong discussion or an equally long blood feud with it. I don’t like the fights, but I do love getting people to think and talk about what they truly believe and why. It really tells you who someone is if he or she can answer that honestly.
     Still, regardless of themes or subjects, in the end, I figure I’ve done my job as a writer if a reader simply gets lost in the story and forgets, for just a moment, that they have to go to work in the morning, or that they have a dentist appointment tomorrow, or that it’s time to do the laundry. A few minutes pause from their lives to retreat for a little while into my world is the gift I try to give them.

Reader’s Haven: (Louise) How long does it take you to write and then edit a story? *tossing in two chips to up the anty*

S.J.:  *tossing in another chip* The initial writing takes very little time. When I get an idea, it takes over my thoughts and interrupts my sleep.  I have this compulsion to write and get every thought down on a page as quickly as I can. The editing is what takes such a long time. The Peacemaker only took a few months to write, but I spent a long time editing it, a few years in fact, until it felt like I had the story just the way it should be. 

Reader’s Haven: Do you have to be alone to write?

S.J.: Alone would be heaven, but I rarely get that. My dog, to whom I dedicated The Peacemaker, is a constant (and beloved) pest. He can’t stand when I settle in with my laptop so he fights for my attention.  Still, given the choice, I would prefer to be alone with my music to write and edit my work. For each story I write, I create a playlist on my iPod to keep me in the right frame of mind and on-track with the story.  Sometimes, the list is straight instrumental; Yo-Yo Ma’s “Butterfly’s Day Out” is a favorite “go to’ when I am stuck and looking for inspiration, but depending on what mood and my story needs, I could be listening to Irish folk music, or AC/DC or Pink as well. 

Reader’s Haven: (Deanna) *tossing in her losing cards, she pours another round* How do you go about naming characters?

S.J.: Fabulous question—and one I get asked often. It sounds odd, but they sort of name themselves. For a period piece (like The Peacemaker), I do research for what were common names for the time. Next, I look to whether the choices for names I have fit the character I have created. It’s a struggle sometimes, sort of what people feel about their own names I suppose.  Does your name become you or do you become your name? I’ve fallen in love with some names, but as I write, I just don’t feel it fits the character I tagged with it (and the characters let me know). When I get it right, everything feels smooth and meant to be. 

Reader’s Haven: Is it easier to write about the characters if you find pictures of them before you write or do you write then find character pictures?

S.J.: As I create them, I have a picture in my mind. It’s like I’ve met them, and sometimes I have, so I know precisely who they are and what they look like as I begin writing. I get such a kick out of hearing readers tell me who they picture could be the characters. For example, for the lead character in The Peacemaker I’ve heard a lot of actor’s names who readers picture as Jack O’Malley: They range from Clint Eastwood to Jensen Ackles. It’s amazing the interpretations a reader’s own mind will make
       Louise, I think you win this hand!

Reader’s Haven: How do you pick locations for your stories?

S.J.: I love small towns so I usually gravitate toward those and the myriad of places you can find within them. I’ve spent a lot of time in big cities in several countries, but there is something so entrancing about a small town to me. The family histories, the local politics, the way neighbors know (or think they know) everything about those who live around them fascinate me to no end. Part of that, of course is because I grew up in a small town so it’s a bit like going home to me. Plus, I  find them to be a source of infinite inspiration (the ugly and the beautiful parts). 

Reader’s Haven: What are you working on now and what should readers be looking forward to from you in the future?

S.J.: The Peacemaker is part one of a trilogy (informally called The Kanen Chronicles). The second book is titled The Widow-maker and is scheduled for publication in 2013. After The Widow-maker I will be taking a short break from the Kanen series to publish a novella loosely based on the entertaining, and at times hilarious, insanity that surrounds my family when we gather for a holiday. My hope is that my family finds the novella funny and still invites me to Thanksgiving Dinner. If not, I’ll have at least one day of uninterrupted writing each November for the next few years.

Reader’s Haven: Why did you choose the 1870s for the time period of your book?

SJ: I’m actually a very modern and techy person. I love gadgets and would be lost without my laptop and iPod, but my cell phone and I are not always friends. I was on vacation in Colorado and my phone was acting up. I was considering bouncing it on the pavement to cure what ailed it when the idea for The Peacemaker came to me. My frustration with that technology made me want to write about a time before cell phones, before any type of telephone, so that meant traveling back to the pre-1890s. The post-Civil War era always fascinated me so I wandered in that direction. The thought that there would be no phones and no instant way to verify information was intriguing as well because that plays into the flow of information in this town.  Jack O’Malley is a stranger and the people who live there have no easy, independent means to learn about his past.  I liied the idea that these characters would need to face each other and talk to learn about one another. There would be no texting, no leaving a message in voicemail, no split-second of Googling for information. They have to deal with each other, face-to-face, and talk to one another,  which is something we seem to do so rarely or poorly today. 

Reader’s Haven: SJ, it's been great chatting over cards and drinks with you. Readers, we're glad you stopped in. Pull up a chair and get your questions ready for SJ. Don't forget that you can earn more than one entry into her contest. SJ, where can readers find out more about you and your books? 

S.J.: Readers can find me on the following sites:

Goodreads   /   Amazon Author page   /   Twitter @s_jayrichard  

Purchase Links

Amazon paperback and Kindle editions    /    Barnes & Noble Nook edition 

Giveaway of an autographed copy of The Peacemaker
Enter through the Rafflecopter below and good luck!

The Peacemaker
     With war scars that no one could see and that would not heal, Jack O'Malley drifted into Kanen, Colorado in the summer of 1873. Hired to be the new Marshal, he is confronted with the suspicion and anxiety of a once peaceful, small town with a growing mining problem (or perhaps it is a mining town with a small growing problem). Whatever the case, O'Malley swiftly learns that the invisible foes that stalk him in his sleep are nothing compared to the passionately pious force that is the Ladies Church Society and the beautiful but feisty Amanda Morgan, a woman who finds O'Malley's lack of religion as disturbing as he finds her attractive. Their tangles over faith and propriety peak with the arrival of a sultry and scandalous songstress from O'Malley's past, a wave of criminal accusations from the town newspaper and a flood of questions from suspicious citizens about the mysterious stranger O'Malley is giving sanctuary in the town jail. With troubling questions being raised regarding O'Malley's personal history, the one thing even the most patient of townspeople are growing certain of is that the new marshal isn't likely to see the New Year in Kanen.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi SJ, thank you again for visiting with us. Love the premise of this western romance.
    Readers be sure to enter the contest for a chance to win a copy!