|Katherine Sutcliffe: Characters in Crisis|
For Katherine Sutcliffe, people always come first. Her characters' back-stories -- especially the history of her trademark dark heroes -- drive the situations in which they find themselves, and allows Sutcliffe to immerse them in crisis from the very first page. Driven by her characters' demons, Sutcliffe's stories race across the landscape of the imagination, galloping as hard and fast as the horses this Texas woman loves so well.
Sutcliffe boasts a fair amount of back-story herself. She worked for oil companies and wrote for soap operas. Like many of her characters, she uses her horses to keep herself grounded. But Sutcliffe, who won the 2000 Romance Writers of America Write Touch Readers Award for Best Historical Romance, long wanted to write a full-out romantic suspense novel. Sutcliffe's wish came true with Darkling I Listen, which will hit the stores this month, and Sutcliffe looks forward to her next foray into suspense.
Crescent Blues: How did you get from writing for Another World and As the World Turns to writing romance novels?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Actually I wrote romances long before I wrote for television. I was first published in 1986. I lucked into the television job when Bill Graham, who searched for writers for Procter and Gamble, happened to mention to his wife that they needed someone to refocus the stories more on romance...and his wife was a huge fan of mine, reading Miracle at the time. She basically said, "Here's your writer."
Katherine Sutcliffe: I wrote as consultant head writer for nearly two years -- 1995/1996, mostly for Another World.
Crescent Blues: Did you live in New York for the duration or telecommute?
Katherine Sutcliffe: When I first accepted the job it was with the understanding that I could stay in Dallas. As the long document writer -- the one who came up with the six month story lines -- there shouldn't have been a problem, since my stories would have been put into the hands of the breakdown writers.
Alas, I found myself flying up every two weeks if not more, and ultimately the networks wanted me to move to NYC so I could be available at the drop of a hat. I just couldn't do it at the time. I had three teenagers in school, 30 horses, etc. And from what I could see, writers for television can be employed one day and the next on the street. I couldn't risk such a move and suddenly discover I was out on my kiester. Besides, writing books was far more fulfilling...and much less stressful.
Crescent Blues: Did any of your experiences or any of the stories you heard while working with on these shows make their way into your newest book, Darkling I Listen?
Katherine Sutcliffe: No. I haven't written for television since 1997.
Crescent Blues: How closely does the stalking of Brandon Carlyle (the hero of Darkling I Listen) mirror the situation of the actors you've known?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Obsessive fans are the norm for anyone in any entertainment field. In fact, during my research I was shocked by the people who find themselves stalked -- really anyone, from men and women in the every day work force to housewives, to teenagers. I've made my girls read the material so they will recognize the signs should someone cross the line.
Crescent Blues: Were any of your friends or colleagues ever stalked?
Katherine Sutcliffe: No one I know has yet to be stalked, thank God, because once it begins it's almost impossible to end it.
Katherine Sutcliffe: I see it as a variation of my career. Many of my books have been suspense driven: Love's Illusion, A Heart Possessed, Shadow Play. But until recently there wasn't a sub-genre in which to put those books.
Crescent Blues: How long have you wanted to write contemporary romantic suspense?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Since I became published.
Crescent Blues: Can readers anticipate more romantic suspense tales in the near future?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I've just been offered a contract from Jove for another contemporary suspense!
Are you far enough along with that book to give our readers a hint of
what it will be about?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I plan to set it in East Texas again -- possibly Caddo Lake, a very creepy, prehistoric looking lake that straddles the Texas-Louisiana border. It's the only natural lake in Texas and looks like something out of Jurassic Park. At the very least, I plan to set it someplace in the South.
Crescent Blues: Any chance that characters from Darkling I Listen, Whitehorse or some of the other romances you've set in the contemporary Southwest will make guest appearances in the new book?
Katherine Sutcliffe: As yet, I'm sorry to say that I haven't yet firmed up the story line or characters. I would love to pluck someone out of Darkling to use...perhaps the psychic or the L.A. Detective, Ron Peterson, and replant him in Texas.
Katherine Sutcliffe: Nope. Sorry. Blondes just don't flip my switch.
Crescent Blues: What's your definition of a "dark hero?" What makes these dangerous guys so compelling to you as a writer?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Someone on the edge. The threat that they could go off at any moment keeps them fascinating to me.
Crescent Blues: How closely do reader reactions to your male characters approach your own? How did readers react to Jason Batson's "day job," for example?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Readers loved Jason Batson [the hero of Notorious]! I'm known for my bad boy hero and so those readers who want more edge to their men know they are going to get one from me.
Crescent Blues: Is it easier or harder to cast a dark hero in a historical?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Easier for me, definitely.
Katherine Sutcliffe: I try to develop the type of character who embodies everything the hero needs to heal the hurt in his soul.
Crescent Blues: What are the most important characteristics of a great heroine?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Spunk, compassion and patience.
Crescent Blues: How important is "back-story" in the creation of your characters? Which comes first for you: the plot or the people?
Katherine Sutcliffe: The people always come first. Their present situation is always driven by back-story. I feel that's the only way you can open the book in a riveting scene that will hook the reader. Characters come in at a crisis point.
Crescent Blues: How much do you feel your own background influences your choices in these areas? What are the greatest lessons your personal and professional backgrounds have taught you with respect to writing?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I had a difficult childhood and was forced to attempt to understand people and their behavior. If you write what you know and understand, you're going to better connect with the reader. If the reader can say "been there and done that," or know someone who has, then that reader is going to become involved with the characters and story.
Crescent Blues: How do you think reader expectations have changed since you began publishing?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I feel readers expect a better written book.
Crescent Blues: Have you found expectations different among readers of different kinds of romance?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I feel that readers of historicals expect the stories to remain within the boundaries of the genre. Romantic suspense readers expect those boundaries to be expanded with more mainstream threads.
Crescent Blues: Will you continue to write historicals?
Katherine Sutcliffe: At this time I have no plans to stop writing historicals.
Crescent Blues: What are some of your favorite techniques for researching historicals? Do those techniques translate well into romantic suspense?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Over the years I've managed to build a terrific reference library. I certainly feel that suspense is easily translated into historical romance, such as Love's Illusion (about a magician who is suspected of being Jack the Ripper) and in my Halloween novella "The Wolf Keeper," the hero is a werewolf.
Crescent Blues: I understand your British husband, Neil, provided a great deal of background for Notorious. How has his perspective on Britain influenced your depiction historic England?
Crescent Blues: How did you meet and decide to live in Texas?
Katherine Sutcliffe: We worked for the same oil field service company. I was born and raised in Texas, and that's where we decided to stay.
Crescent Blues: How has your love and work with horses (and all the other animals in your menagerie) influenced your books?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Animals have a grounding effect on me. The horses in particular force you to get back to the basics of manual labor and sweat. There's no 21st century easy way of mucking stalls or grooming a horse.
Crescent Blues: What do you feel are the greatest differences between the 19th century and the early 21st (on any level)?
Katherine Sutcliffe: People now are soft and spoiled and lazy.
Crescent Blues: How do you feel about the notion of political correctness in romance? How much do you feel this is a reader issue or a corporate notion?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I feel there is too much political correctness in romances today. I feel that is more of a corporate notion.
Crescent Blues: Your article on "The Editor From Hell," in All About Romance, is one of the most painfully funny tales of corporate survival I've read in a long time. Any tips on how new writers can survive "the editor from hell" and their non-editorial counterparts?
Crescent Blues: How have editors positively influenced your writing?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Christine Zika (Jove) and Jackie Cantor (NAL) encouraged me to do my own thing. They realize I'm strongest when allowed the freedom to write how and what I want to write.
Crescent Blues: What first told you that you would be a writer? How did you go about preparing for the job and doing it?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I simply sat down and started writing and wouldn't take no for an answer
Crescent Blues: What writers were your greatest inspirations when you started out? How has that list changed or grown over the years?
Katherine Sutcliffe: The Brontes first inspired me. Now I read Stephen King.
Crescent Blues: Do you tend to seek out writers with styles similar to your own or do you deliberately look in another direction?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I go in another direction. I don't want to be like anyone else.
Crescent Blues: Do you have any special rituals that help you through the writing day? How do you unwind?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I'm at the computer by 8 a.m. when I'm working, five days a week. I never unwind when I'm working.
Crescent Blues: How do you relax when you're not writing?
Katherine Sutcliffe: Read, of course. I'm now enjoying Stephen King's Dream Catcher. I play Pogo games on the Internet and go to Bingo with my daughter, Lauren.
Crescent Blues: Is the process any different when you're working on a short story or novella, as opposed to a novel?
Katherine Sutcliffe: No. When I'm in my zone, I'm in it, whether I'm writing a long book or an article or a long document for a television show.
Crescent Blues: What are your near- and long-term goals as a writer?
Katherine Sutcliffe: I'd like to write for television again some day.
Jean Marie Ward
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