Toni V. Sweeney
Toni V. Sweeney was born after the War between the States but before the Gulf War. Her writing career began during an extended convalescence following an automobile accident. Since her recovery, she has survived hurricanes in the South, tornados and snow-covered winters in the Midwestern United States, and earthquakes and forest fires in California. She has been associated with the South Coast Writer's Association and the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers website.
Q. Hi, Toni. Welcome to TwoLips Reviews Interviews. From the time I read my first Toni V. Sweeney book, I've wondered what inspired you to start writing. How long have you been a writer? Did you have any other careers before devoting yourself to being a full-time writer?
Toni: Hello, and thanks for inviting me!
Officially, I’ve been a writer since 1989, but I’ve been scribbling some kind of story or other since I first learned how to make letters. When I was small, I used to draw my own comic books and when I was given a portable typewriter as a birthday gift when I was 9, I started really “writing.” In high school, I did book reviews and wrote a column for the school paper, but it was after college, when I was working as a secretary to the chairman of the English Department that I attempted writing novels. I found one of my boss’ incompleted manuscripts in a file and thought, I can do that good, so I did. That first story became—with many revisions—the novel Exile and has been accepted by Double Dragon Publishing as part of the kan Ingan Archives series, which will be released next year.
Before I became a full-time writer, I was a medical transcriptionist and all the time I put in typing reports has come in handy when I’m at the keyboard. Someone once commented on how fast I turn out novels. Being able to type 75 wpm and having a hyperactive imagination comes in handy!
Q. Where are you from? Please tell us a bit about your family.
Toni: I’m a born and bred Southerner (from Georgia) and like to set a lot of my stories in the South. This is especially true of those I write under my pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone. Icy Snow, by the way, was my great-great-great-great-grandmother, and from the minute I learned of her, I thought her name sounded like a romance writer’s, so I appropriated her name as my own. So far, none of her many descendants have complained.
As for my family, I have a son, who’s a teacher, and a granddaughter and grandson. They all live in Nebraska, also, and are the main reason I came back to the Midwest.
Q. My favorite of all your books is Adventures of Sinbad 1: Sinbad's Last Voyage. Which is your favorite and why?
Toni: I like Sinbad’s Last Voyage, also, but some of the others in that series, showing the trials Sin and Andi go through and how they face them—especially Sinbad’s War, which hasn’t been published yet—I like those, too. I guess it depends on which Sinbad you want to read about...the young, brash Federation-hating one, the man suddenly finding himself a legitimate businessman as he enters middle-age and has a family, or the patriarch having to watch his children leave home to fight in a war...
Second and third choice would be The Rose and the Dragon and Runaway Brother.
Q. It naturally follows that Sinbad from your Adventures of Sinbad series is my favorite of all your characters. Which of your characters is your favorite and why?
Toni: I’m with you there! I’ve always said if I could find someone like Sinbad, I’d be set. I know, he’s gruff and rude and unbelievably crude at times but there are reasons for that and the lucky woman who gets under his skin—Andrea Talltrees—finds beneath it all a man who’s faithful (and how!), loyal, passionate, lovable, and willing to do anything to protect his wife and family. Besides, he has a wicked sense of humor and he’s remarkably well-read for someone who’s never been inside a classroom. I’ve a soft spot for tall, handome redheads, and Sinbad’s all of that.
Other characters I like are Tavis McMuir, the faery wizard from Wizard’s Wife, and Nicolo Liguori, the title character from Runaway Brother.
Q. Where did you get the inspiration for your Adventures of Sinbad series? Do you have any other books upcoming in this popular series? Please share with us your current projects and upcoming releases.
Toni: The original inspiration for Sinbad was Ron Perlman’s portrayal of Vincent in the television series Beauty and the Beast. I took that little kernel—two people, so diversely different in looks, cultures, and life-styles, falling in love—and gave it my own spin. Sinbad doesn’t look as feline as Vincent, however, but he definitely has feral characteristics...pointed eyeteeth, fur tippets on his ears, claws he can spring if needed, almost seven feet tall, and—the main thing that sent Andi into spasms when she first discovered it—he can’t eat cooked food, everything, including meat, has to be raw. (Ugh.) Like Vincent, Sin and his people have been mistreated by the so-called “humans” of the galaxy and his falling in love with Andi is a fluke, something that shouldn’t have happened but it did, and that starts their story rolling.
At present, there are three more Sinbad stories in the wings, as part of the DDP contract: Sinbad’s War, Sinbad’s Homecoming, and The Paxist (a prequel to the series), and I think there’s one more, Sinbad Sails Again, and then I may have to retire the prolific Felidan. I just had another Icy Snow Blackstone novel released by Class Act Books, Runaway Brother, which is a contemporary love story set in—surprise!—the South about a Yankee millionaire and a Southern girl and a horse named Shazam. I also just discovered Smashwords, and have a novel with them, Bride of the Beast, which is another version of Beauty and the Beast but this one involves an Egyptian princess and a Hebrew prince and has still another twist I don’t think anyone’s thought of before. (I hope.) I did a tremendous amount of research to make the historical Biblical part of this story as authentic as possible.
What else? Let’s see... My next novel will be coming out in November for Class Act Books under my own name. Blood Bay is a suspense novel, kind of a cross between Cape Fear and a Southern love story, and it’s definitely different from any of the others either Icy Snow or I’ve written.
Q. Please tell us the story behind why you chose to use a penname for some of your books.
Toni: At one of the Southcoast Writers meeting, the guest speaker, who was relatively well-known, pointed out that if a writer chose to write in different genres, he should have a pseudonym so his readers wouldn’t get confused. I think that’s not giving the readers very much credit for intelligence. I mean, how confusing would it be to recognize, “Okay, Toni V. Sweeney writes science fiction but she writes romances also”? Nevertheless, I was still young and impressionable at that time, so when I decided to take one of the romances I’d written and attempt to get it published, I took Icy Snow’s name. Like I said earlier, I always thought it sounded like a romance writer’s name anyway, so...
Q. How many books do you have published? Which of them was the easiest/hardest to write? And why?
Toni: At last count, I have 28 books in print and 4 which are now out of print but they will soon be re-issued, so total published so far...32. The most difficult to write? The one I’m working on right now. I’ve jotted down chapters as I think of them and I’ve gotten the entire scope of the book written, and I’m having a problem drawing them together. The easiest novel to write was the very first one, which was a Young Adult SF, Space Dogs’ Best Friend. I wrote it in 2 weeks.
Q. Which of your female characters is the most like you? How important is it to you that your heroines are strong women?
Toni: Well, they’re all like me to some extent. Beautiful, intelligent, brave...and now, let me try to look immodest and totally unconceited! (laughs) Seriously, no one wants to read about a wimp, a woman who lets a man walk all over her. A person can show weakness at certain times but eventually she has to stand up for herself even to someone she loves and that’s what I try to have my female characters do. It’s like Sinbad says to Andi in Sinbad’s Last Voyage, “I never did like a woman I could bully.” Andi’s definitely strong. So is Miranda Wilson from The Rose and the Dragon. After all, how many nannies are hired to take care of triplets and then discover their father is an intergalactic godfather? Miranda takes that in stride, even when she becomes an alien abductee. And Rebeka Spearman in Earthman’s Bride...ordered to marry a man and then murder him and refusing to do so...for the very weak reason that she’s come to love him? Choosing between her people’s welfare and the man she loves will make her either a savior or a traitor, but Rebeka has the strength to make a choice.
Who’s most like me? I imagine you can guess. Andrea Talltrees. She loves her husband, her children, and she faces the most awful events in her life with them but she always pulls through. She does what she has to do, even if it’s some of the worse things imagineable...because she has to.
Q. Is it difficult when you have to hurt your characters or make them do something you don’t want them to do, yet you know it's intrinsic to the plot?
Toni: Oh, definitely yes! See description of Andi above. That poor woman has gone through some of the most harrowing experiences, all for her love of Sinbad sh’en Singh, and some readers would probably say he wasn’t worth it. But Andi thinks he is and Sin goes through his own tortures for her, too.
As for hurting my characters, I’ve actually killed off a couple of major characters, and that came as a shock to me as well as my readers. One I had played around with before making the decision, letting his death lead into the next book. I’d originally had one long story, then decided to divide the book into one leading up to his death and the other to what happened afterward. In the other novel, which is a Sinbad book, I had planned to have the character get sick and then miraculously recover but as I was writing that scene, it suddenly came to me, “This wouldn’t happen in real life. He’d actually die.” I even said it out loud, “He’s going to die,” and went on to write the deathscene and cried through the whole thing. Good thing no one was around. They’d have thought me a certifiable looney, crying over a fictional character’s death. I still get teary when I think about it, and if you ever read that one – Sinbad's Triumph – you’d better have a pack of hankies handy!
Q. Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
Toni: Sure, I read them, and it gripes me no end when a reviewer will say something like, “I don’t understand how (whatever it was) could’ve happened. There was no reason for it.” Especially when I’ve set up that particular event with two or three pages of explanation. That to me shows that whoever did the review didn’t really read the book very closely. And when someone starts off with, “I don’t like this type of story...” my reply is, “Then why are you reviewing someting you don’t like? That predisposes a bad review.” If I review genres I don’t particularly like, I always preface it with the statement that I’m giving a fair review anyway and I always do.
As for letting them influence my writing? I haven’t read one yet that made me want to change the way I write.
Q. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Toni: You know, I can’t really think of a criticism right now. One reviewer complained about some typos in the pdf he received but I checked the copy I sent him and there were no mistakes so I think the errors came in transmission. I know I’ve gotten some that when I downloaded them into my reader, every “f” and “s” in the manuscript were missing, so these things do happen!
The best compliment: If someone says, “I read your book and I really enjoyed it. Will there be a sequel?”
Q. Have you ever been surprised by a controversy among fans or reviewers - for example, you created a character without thinking too much about what people would think of him (or her), and found some readers loved him and some hated him?
Toni: Nope. Not yet, at least. Should I start worrying about that?
Q. Have you written a book you love that you haven't been able to get published?
Toni: Definitely. My Baby. And, superstitious person that I am, I’m not even going to mention its name, for fear of jinxing it because it’s twice been contracted and twice been pulled from the lists and set free. But one day, it’ll see print. I just haven’t found the right publisher yet, one that says it wants stories “outside the box” and doesn’t back down when such a story is presented to them.
Q. You aren’t afraid to give a HFN ending as opposed to HEA endings to some of your novels. Do you wonder if you will loose reader interest when you end them in such a way?
Toni: If they’re like me, I usually wonder when I read an HEA...so what happened then? What happened the day after the HEA? That’s where the sequel comes in. Just as a “what happened to bring all this about?” causes a prequel. Incidentally, I just finished the prequel to Sinbad’s Last Voyage (The Paxist), and it tells the story of Sinbad’s parents, for all those who’re curious.
Q. You tend to write multi-titled sagas that follow the same set of characters throughout their lifetimes. Why do you like writing these kinds of sagas vs. a series of books featuring different characters in each book? Are your sagas harder to get published than a multi-character series?
Toni: Becausee of my curiosity of where do they go from here? And How did they get to this point, anyway? Sometimes there are bits and pieces in a story left open, just begging to be explained and elaborated on. I’m certain everyone has read a book or seen a movie and as “The End” is flashed on the screen, they’re thinking, “What about James (or John or Sarah or Ann)? What happened to them? Where did they go from there?” Writing multigenerational sagas also reflects my own growth. In their first books, Sinbad and Riven kan Ingan are both young (as was I), in the others, they reach middle age and old age (as have I) and this is reflected in the way my writing and my own life has matured. Each first book in a series I’ve written started out as a single stand-alone novel, and then those pesky questions started coming at me, and the next novel started forming in my mind.
Q. Is there a genre or subject matter that you consider taboo? Have you ever thought to venturing into erotic romance with your writing?
Toni: Funny you should ask. (insert slightly embarrassed laugh here) The last novel in the kan Ingan Archives series is my version of an erotic novel entitled Space Stud. I say my version because it’s tongue-in-cheek (as well as tongue in some other places!) and has a slightly sarcastic tone. It’s the first person story of how a young man rises (oops, no pun intended there) from being a toss-boy to becoming one of the richest men in the galaxy.
Q. Would you ever collaborate with another author? If so, who would be your “dream” partner? And why?
Toni: I’ve never quite understood quite how two people can write a book. Does one write and the other view it and inserts his/her own technique/remarks. Do they alternate writing chapters? How? I have a feeling it might be a clash of egos (of which I have one) so I’d be hesitant to try.
Q. Which question are you most sick of answering in interviews? And why?
Toni: I’m tempted to say any question. I know when I was working, the interview question I always hated was, “Where do you see yourself ten years from now?” I was always tempted to say, “Alive, I hope.” Personally (and this will probably put me on many s**t-lists), I think those interviews which dwell on trivial details, such as “do you eat chocolate while you write” or “Do you prefer silk or leather underwear” instead of getting an in-depth discussion of what the writer is trying to accomplish or how and why he writes as he does, are just space-fillers. A little levity, even some downright silliness, is good, but not when it takes presidence over everything else.
Q. Where can your fans find you on the Internet?
Toni: I’m here, I’m there, I’m everywhere!
I’m also on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, and youtube: http://www.youtube.com/tvsweeney.
Q. Do you have any quirky habits that we'd find interesting?
Toni: Not really. I’m so dull now it isn’t even funny. When you get to be 70, anything you do is considered “quirky.”
Q. Is there a sex scene you have always wanted to use in a book but never have?
Toni: After writing a sex scene in which the participants are flying above a mountain range, (without benefit of a plane) and he nearly drops her as they climax, I think I’ve reached it.
Q. What’s your most guilty pleasure?
Toni: At my age, why feel guilty about anything?
Q. What three things could you never live without?
Toni: All the medicine I have to take to keep myself going, my computer, and other people because no matter what a person says, he always needs other people to interact with (that’s what being a writer’s all about, anyway).
Q. Who, in your mind, is the sexiest man alive? If you could spend time with him, doing whatever you wanted to do, what would that be?
Toni: Oh, no! I’m not going there. Keeping that li’l ol’ pipedream all to myself! You can just try to guess! But I’ll give a hint: His initials are SC and as he looked at the time he was in a movie titled Zardoz.
Now, let me say, thanks, Merrylee, for this interview. I always enjoy talking about myself and my books, and you’ve let me do that tremendously!
Please read my reviews for:
Adventures of Sinbad 1: Sinbad's Last Voyage by Toni V. Sweeney
Adventures of Sinbad 2: Sinbad's Wife by Toni V. Sweeney
Adventures of Sinbad 3: Sinbad's Pride by Toni V. Sweeney
Adventures of Sinbad 4: Sinbad's Triumph by Toni V. Sweeney