|Sherrilyn Kenyon: Coloring Outside Traditional Romance Lines|
Seventeen years in the making, Sherrilyn Kenyon's hot Dark-Hunter series speaks to the next generation of fantasy romance. Kenyon's unique twist on the vampire myth owes as much to ancient Greek legends of seductive lamia and the destruction of Atlantis as it does to Bram Stoker's iconic novel. At the same time, the series' highly developed world building invites comparison to the cream of the current epic fantasy crop.
But Dark-Hunter fantasies occupy only one of Kenyon's many imaginative lives. As Kinley MacGregor, she applies her doctorate in history to more traditional historical romances. The key here is "more traditional." Whatever name she uses, this prolific writer and Web designer strives to color outside the lines.
Crescent Blues: Looking over your amazing Dark-Hunter Web site, I couldn't help but wonder, what (if any) connection there is between Talon, the hero of your next Dark-Hunter book, and Heath Ledger's portrayal of a Celtic chieftain in the Australian fantasy series, ROAR?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: ROAR! What a great show! But I have to say there is no real connection other than I added Talon's braids to his hair after seeing Heath's. Talon has been with me as a character since 1979. He started out as a fantasy hero I used to write stories about in high school.
Talon of the Morrigantes was the typical sword warrior who traveled with the clichéd Elvin thief. The two of them traveled through a world called Epheria (the stories were called the Epherian Adventures). His background, right down to his clan betrayal was the same one that Talon had. When I started writing the Dark-Hunters for a small press SF/F magazine, I incorporated him into the series and killed off Aria the Elf.
Crescent Blues: The Dark-Hunter back-story spans Greek myth and medieval legend. What provided the seed for the concept, and how long did it take to work out?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I grew up reading myths and horror. My mother is the world's BIGGEST horror fan. So vamps were like another extension of my family, and I'm innately curious. So pretty much from the cradle I knew the vampire legends, and as I got older, I researched a lot more. I used to write columns every Halloween for local papers on the origins of Halloween customs and creatures.
One thing that I have always found intriguing is that most vamp/were/etc. legends go back to ancient Greece. Of course most of our literature does too, so it only makes sense. And the historian in me believes one thing: EVERY ancient story has a degree of truth to it. Ergo Atlantis, Troy, etc., all happened. But what really happened then? You take the pieces and construct a story around it. In my case, I tied vampirism to Atlantis -- not original in and of itself, but I brought in the Atlantean and Greek pantheons and peoples vying for power, and used their war to fuel my own myth. Okay, so I had to make up my whole entire Atlantean pantheon and myths, but hey, that was fun!
I've spent so much of my life inundated with medieval and ancient stories. I have always been fascinated with the way the Greeks portrayed their gods and how the gods changed to fit whatever story they wanted to tell. I would never have been able to do what I've done with the Dark-Hunters had I not been well versed in Thucydides, Homer, Plato, Hesiod, Herodotus, Sophocles, Aristotle, Aeschylus, etc.
The basic idea of the series came in the mid 1980s when I was working for a small press SF/F magazine called Cutting Edge. My boss wanted a long running serial to boost sales and charged me with coming up with it. I'd been working with a lot of the original characters, Acheron, Talon, Kyrian, etc for years in other worlds and decided to bring them together into one series. I wanted a series of heroes that came from a wide historical background that would allow me to expand the series and grow it without feeling hemmed in. I also wanted to be able to add more characters and such so that neither I nor the reader would grow bored.
As for the time, I've been working on this series for 17 years now, and as always, it's a work in progress.
Crescent Blues: How did the individual Dark-Hunters evolve -- and how did you come up with so many of them? You could be writing books about the Dark-Hunters into the next century -- not that this would be a bad thing.
Sherrilyn Kenyon: It's the 17-year thing. Because they've lived so long with me, I hear their stories all the time in my head. My head runneth over with Dark-Hunter stories. Just like any other person in one of my books, they just come up to me, tap me on my shoulder and say, "Hey, I have a story for you."
Crescent Blues: The amount of world-building required for the series rivals that of many fantasy series. How do you keep track of it all -- maps, spreadsheets, databases?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Well since it started out as a pure SF series, I take pride in that. [Smiles.] There's so much more to the universe than what I've shown so far. We haven't even touched the tiniest tip of the iceberg yet. As for how I keep track -- it's ALL in my head. I'm the idiot savant of Dark-Hunter. It's something that amazes my critique partners. I can quote dialogue for books yet to be written. I know every facet and detail of all of them and their world -- Urian, Stryker, Talon, Renegade, Sundown, Acheron, Zoe. etc. I know what the hills of Kolasis look like, where the waters of the mythical pool flow from and to.
Crescent Blues: Do you feel this attention to the non-relationship details of a romance series represents a growing trend among paranormal romance writers?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I have no idea. I think we all write what we see and hear, and if that's what others are doing, that's what they're doing, but I don't think it's a conscious trend.
Crescent Blues: If you feel we are looking at a trend, are we looking at a new kind of convergence between the two genres (romance and fantasy)?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I think there has always been fantasy in romance and romance in fantasy. I don't see any difference now than what I read in both genres twenty years ago.
Crescent Blues: In your own career, there appears to be a great deal of convergence between technology and imagination. For example, you've built what amounts to a mini-web of wonderful Web sites all by yourself. How did you get involved in Web site development?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: With notepad and HTML in 1994. I was in Web development from the very beginning and have been working as a professional web developer since 1995. I've always been pulled in two directions, the past and the future. Of course, you can't go forward until you know where you've been. [Grins.]
Crescent Blues: The Sherrilyn Kenyon "side of the house" glows with the kind of energy usually seen in fan sites devoted to entertainment figures. What prompted you to seek out "models" for your characters?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: It came out of the sites I worked on for Hollywood. We were commissioned to build sites for upcoming movie releases. Each website had to be unique and feature tidbits about the characters and their world. I decided to incorporate that into my site.
Crescent Blues: How important have your Sherrilyn Kenyon and Kinley MacGregor Web sites been in promoting your series and developing your career?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Extremely. It allows me to reach out and draw the reader in more -- to make them feel closer to the series and the books and to have a vested interest in both.
Crescent Blues: You began your career in the 1990s with several well-regarded paranormal romances, then you switched names and genres. What prompted the shift?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I had always written both historicals and paranormals. When the paranormals were selling, no one wanted my historicals. Then I was "forced" to take a hiatus after Leisure passed on the Dark-Hunter series. For four years, I wrote every subgenre in romance and submitted it over and over again. It was a hard four years of never-ending rejjections and wondering why I didn't just give up, but I believed in my books and my writing and kept going even though there were days when I felt so low I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. The Kinley books were the first to find a home. Even so, I never gave up on the Dark-Hunter books.
Crescent Blues: How did you get back to writing mass-market paranormals?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I never really quit. I was writing them alongside the historicals. After I had built up my name as Kinley, I begged my agent to take a look at Fantasy Lover. She submitted it, and St. Martins bought it.
Crescent Blues: What role do you feel your e-published books played in this process?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Honestly, none whatsoever in my case. I was one of the first e-books published back in 1997. The weren't regarded very highly in those days.
Crescent Blues: Would you recommend the e-book route for aspiring novelists?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Yes, I would. I believe in e-books emphatically, which is why I was one of the first authors to publish them. I think they are a great way to get your name out there and to make some money. They're extremely viable and have produced some extremely talented writers such as Angelique Armae, J.C. Wilder and Rosemary Laurey.
Crescent Blues: Why do you think that Fantasy Lover was such a hard sell?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Hmmm…an ancient Greek general cursed by a Greek god into a scroll to spend eternity as the sex slave for one month to whatever woman summons him. I honestly can't imagine. [Grins.] Seriously, it was so different from anything else out there. I write light and funny when most paranormals, especially back in the mid- to late 1990s, were dark. Publishers didn't know what to do with it or me. I've never been the kind of person who colored inside the lines.
Crescent Blues: Obviously, readers didn't have any such difficulties, since Fantasy Lover won so many awards and nominations. What do you think is the secret of the book's appeal to romance readers?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I think the fact that it's different. I think readers respond to the balance of light and dark in a book and that they don't want just one or the other.
Crescent Blues: How did a full professor of history wind up writing fantasy? Or is that putting the cart before the horse -- did you pursue the history degree to help you write fantasy?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I published my first fantasy short story at 14. I've written fantasy all my life, but knew writing wouldn't feed me. What I quickly learned was teaching wouldn't feed me either. So I switched to computers, which paid a lot more than both combined. [Grins.] God bless technology.
Crescent Blues: As a writer, what proved to be the most important thing you learned while pursuing your degrees?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: That history has a lot of loopholes. It also gave me a wide background of information about how people think and behave both in the past and now.
Crescent Blues: How important is subject matter expertise or academic training in writing contemporary, historical and paranormal romances?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I don't think it is. I know a lot of writers who only have high school educations, yet they are phenomenal. Likewise there are well-respected historians out there who don't have degrees either. Imagination is the only true requirement for a writer. Lack of grammar and spelling didn't hurt Mark Twain any. [Grins.]
Crescent Blues: Could you tell our readers a little bit about your new Kinley MacGregor historical series, Brotherhood of the Sword?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: They are princes, knights, heretics, whores, beggars and thieves who were taken prisoner during the Crusades by their enemies. It was actually a common practice. They banded together to survive and escape and since they have returned home, they have taken oaths to help others come home, too. Their shared horrors are what bind them together and what keeps them up at night. Each has his/her own demon to fight.
Crescent Blues: How are the characters in this series related to the MacAllisters?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: They are friends and family to the MacAllisters.
Crescent Blues: Can readers expect to read more MacAllister adventures in the future?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Definitely! I have three more books already planned, not counting Taming the Scotsman that comes out in August.
Crescent Blues: In all your series, there seems to be a high percentage of red-haired heroines. Was this intentional or just an accident of the Scottish setting?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I think it's because of the red hair I have and the fact that growing up, I knew a lot of redheaded people. Ironically my two best friends in the world have red hair... To me redheads abound, and I forget they are rare to most people.
Crescent Blues: What is the source of your historical pen name, Kinley MacGregor?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: It was the maiden name of my great-grandmother. Since I act a lot like her, as a little girl my family nickname was "Little Kinley."
Crescent Blues: One of the reasons I held off in sending these questions was because I learned that you had only a month to write a book from start to submission. How did you do it?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I never sleep. Seriously.
Crescent Blues: What is the secret of juggling so many books and a family too?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: [Smiles.] I never sleep. Seriously.
Crescent Blues: Looking back over your career to date, how has your writing and subject matter changed over the years?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I've definitely honed my writing, and I like to think it improves with every book. The only real thing to change is how comfortable I feel with sex scenes. I was only 24 when I sold my first novel and back then, I was a novice in more ways than one. As I have aged, I've grown much more comfortable in my skin.
Crescent Blues: Is there anything you would've done differently?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Not had my four-year hiatus. [Grins.] But since that was out of my control, there's really nothing I would have done differently. I did everything I knew to do -- keep writing and keep plugging.
Crescent Blues: What's the one piece of advice you'd most like to impart to aspiring writers?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: I'd just like to say that I'm thrilled to see the publishers back on board with paranormal romances and that they are again supporting the genre. I hope that everyone out there will help it thrive and survive this time so that we will always have a wide variety of great authors to choose from.
To learn more about Sherrilyn Kenyon, check out her Web sites:
Brotherhood of the Sword (historical)
Paranormals and Fantasy Novels: http://HunterLegends.com
Jean Marie Ward