I’ve been a fan of writer Sarah Bradley for awhile. I recently read her hilarious saga of the co-worker from hell, Not While I’m Chewing, and decided we need to know more about her! I interviewed her via email. I also asked for proof that Elsie exists…read Not While I’m Chewing to see why I might doubt her existence!
Wow, where do I start? It was a dark and stormy night….oh wait, that might be too far back. Okay, I live in Wisconsin. I’m married to my college sweetheart, I have two teens who ignore me most of the time, especially when auto correct makes my texts virtually unreadable. I have four rescue cats that only acknowledge me when I’m sitting down at the computer to get some writing done. I’m a gigantic Rick Springfield fan. My days are pretty much filled with my job as an office drone, but I dream of the day I can write full time. (All writers dream of the day they can write full time. That’s also the day we never have to put on pants without zippers and we can wear all of our snarky T-shirts that talk about the wonderful life of writing.) My favorite foods are coffee, wine, and soup. Not always in that order. Usually wine comes first.
I “met” you because we’re Rick Springfield fans, and your novel “Dream In Color” has a very Rick-like love interest. Any chance you’ll be writing more of those stories?
Quite possibly, although probably not in the real near future. While all of my heroes are based in some way on a male celebrity I love, I haven’t been quite as true to life as I was with “Dream.” (It’s actually scary, if you read Rick’s autobiography, “Late, Late At Night,” just how true to life Jesse Alexander wound up being. But hey, my book came out first! LOL!)
I truly fell in love with the character Jesse Alexander. (Yes, I’m in love with Rick Springfield in real life and I just know I JUST KNOW he knows how devoted I am and will one day reward me by maybe moving in next door to me so I can borrow a cup of sugar from him now and then, you know, as an excuse to talk to him. Except that would be funny, because I don’t cook or bake that much, so my kitchen would just be filled with random cups of sugar. Is that creepy? That’s probably creepy.) I love the idea of writing another rock and roll romance because I am so in love with the idea of rock stars, especially older, more experienced rock stars. I love stories that involve people who have been through the bumps of real life, so it’s really unlikely I’ll ever come out with a Young Adult romance. There’s something very real about a romance between two people who have seen it all before. It’s real ,but it’s also magical. So more than likely I’ll come up with another tour bus romance down the road.
Do you consider Dream In Color to be fan fiction? [I’m obsessed with the idea of fan fiction lately!]
I don’t think of it as fan fiction, but hey, if you want to, go ahead! I firmly believe that writing, pretty much like any creative outlet, becomes a different thing to the person reading it. I was at a book signing recently when a women came up and told me how “Dream in Color” gave her the courage to get on stage with Bon Jovi. (I get a lot of feedback from Bon Jovi fans. They are a very vocal bunch who have apparently all read “Dream in Color.”) I think of “Dream” more as a love letter to the rock stars of the past who have come out of retirement to party with the fans. I was just at a Rick concert in the Wisconsin Dells recently and while he put on an awesome show, I really got the feeling we were all partying together and he just happened to be on stage.
The idea for “Dream in Color” popped up after standing in line waiting to meet my other idol, Randy Mantooth. (TV’s “Johnny Gage” from the show “Emergency.”) I stood in line for hours with all kinds of women who talked about their devotion to this TV star from the 70’s. (Randy was the picture of charm and grace.) After the meet and greet, I joined a couple online fan groups and really got a good look at the hard core devoted fan. In fact, the scene in the book where Ramona meets Jesse for the first time actually came from a post one of these women wrote about bumping into Randy Mantooth. I read that post and thought, “What would happen when someone meets their long time idol in a completely unguarded moment? And what’s the other side of that coin, the celebrity’s side?”
I often think of “Dream in Color” (Which is named after a Rick Springfield song, BTW) as more of a fairy tale than fan fiction. I get a lot of feedback from people who have read this and found parts of themselves in Ramona. She’s definitely an Everywoman. Where I get very specific about Jesse’s physical features, I’m rather vague about Ramona’s, and I think that works because every woman who reads this story can truly find themselves in the fairy tale.
You have several novels out that have very different subjects. Is that hard to do? [Feel free to elaborate on each novel!]
When I first set out to write a novel I was thirteen. I figured I had this one story in me and once it was written I’d be the next Margaret Mitchell and this novel would be my “Gone with the Wind.” (How naive I was back then LOL!) Well, thirty years after I started that novel I finished it, and it wound up being my second novel, “Lies in Chance.” The thing about “Lies,” which is a complete departure from “Dream in Color” is that it is the place I go to when I’m stuck on any other writing project. I kept those characters with me through my entire life, they know me and I know them better than any one else. So for a long time, when I tried to write a different story, I kept coming back to the rural Northern Wisconsin world of Shara and Bryan and all that small town intrigue. A couple years ago my husband said, “Would you just finish the thing and move on?”
So I did. I’m so proud of “Lies in Chance” because it’s probably the best reflection of what I love to do as a writer and what I love as a reader. It’s multi-layered, with tons of characters, lots of action, a couple horses, and yes, just enough romance to make you swoon. “Lies” was the first thing I self published because the agents and editors I pitched it to just couldn’t get past the fact that it’s a fairly complex story, they didn’t see a market for it. I wrote it more as an episodic night time soap opera (Think “Dallas”) than anything else because that’s the kind of stories I love.
“Lies in Chance” has not yet found its audience, but those who have read it have told me it’s one of their favorite books. I know it’s one of mine, and not just because I spent a lifetime growing up with those characters. For me, “Lies in Chance” is just one of those stories that has something for everyone which is what makes it work. I get the best feedback from male readers on this one.
After finishing “Lies” and after I sold “Dream in Color” to the Wild Rose Press (I have since completed my contract with them and I have rereleased “Dream” this past spring and a self published book.) I thought I was done. I mean, what other stories did I have to tell? And then…well then another idea for another story came around. I found myself really wanting to sit down and write a complete boy meets girl romance, and I had two really great characters in mind. Well, I had two really great names in mind. When I sent the first few chapters of the new book to my critique partner (Author Linda Schmalz, who is brilliant in her own way.) she hated it all. I said, “What can I keep?” She said, “The names of the two main characters.”
And that’s how “Fresh Ice” was born and reborn. I knew exactly what I wanted for my hero. The TV show “JAG” had just gone off the air and I wanted a David James Elliott character to star in my book. He would be over the top handsome, athletic, and very, very damaged. That’s how former hockey bad boy Quinn Murray was born.
My heroine was a bit more tricky because I was DETERMINED to not have my heroine be ME in this book. She was going to be someone much different from me. I had a great name, Isabella, ‘Izzy’ Marks. And I’d just been to a Rick Springfield concert in Nashville, so I KNEW she was going to be from Nashville because I’d fallen in love with that town and I was going to write something about NASHVILLE, DARN IT ALL!
So there I was, I had a setting, I had a hero, and I had a name for a heroine. But my heroine bored me to tears. Thank goodness for the Winter Olympics and Linda Schmalz’s dog Tally. Linda and I were walking Tally one night and I said, “I can’t make Izzy interesting so I don’t want to write her. Now if she’d be something cool like a figure skater or something…”
Linda said, “So make her a figure skater.”
Which is how “Fresh Ice” became the story of a former hockey player and a former figure skater both with dark, shocking pasts, who find each other in Nashville. Since its release this past December, “Fresh Ice” has found a good readership, I’m happy to say. It’s the story that’s least like me in real life, but it was really fun to spread my wings and take all the time I’ve spent watching hockey and watching figure skating, and put it to use. (Finally! I reason to watch figure skating!)
So now I laugh at the girl who thought she had one story in her. Stories are everywhere. I can’t stop book ideas from popping into my head. And many ideas are very, very different from what I’ve already written.
Have you considered writing a series? Why or why not?
The first one you’re acquainted with, is the Elsie W. books. I just released the first one, “Not While I’m Chewing” a few weeks back and the second one is slated for a September-ish release. (Ah, the life of a self published author…deadlines-smeadlines.) There will be a total of three Elsie books and probably one Noelle C. (Elsie’s replacement) book down the line. That will open things up to a complete humor series for me, all under my pseudonym Sarah Jayne Brewster. (Ironically, the stuff with the swearing and the drinking and the sex, that’s all published under my real name. But the funny stories about the woman I work with…that’s under a fake name.) I’ve always loved telling funny stories about myself (because it’s all about me) so putting these stories into book form just seems right.
Then, down the road a bit, I have an idea for a sort of lost children series. I have a heroine in mind, someone sort of edgy and out there who spends her time searching for diners with good soup and coffee and finding children who are lost. I haven’t decided yet if this is going to take an Inspirational turn, it could easily, but I’ve got ideas for at least three, maybe four books in that series.
Finally, and this is what I’m super jazzed about, I’m working on a novel that actually ties “Lies in Chance” with “Fresh Ice.” I’m calling the three books my “wicked women” series because the villains in all three are women. The finally book, which does NOT have a title, is going to use Collier James, a side character from “Fresh Ice” as the hero. I’m sending him to Rock Harbor, Wisconsin (A fictional town I used as a setting for “Lies in Chance”) and he’s going to get into all sorts of messes and romance there. That’s in the works and I’m hoping to have it out sometime early 2014. Can you say “BOX SET?” (OK, that might be a bit pretentious!)
How long have you been writing?
Since I was very young, but I really got going when I was thirteen. My parents moved me between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, and being a transfer student is not easy. I created the characters for “Lies in Chance” to be my friends. Since then I wrote on and off through college, marriage, having babies, raising babies, and I got super serious in 2000 when I got the idea for “Dream in Color.” Since then it’s been my pastime and my passion to write every spare minute I have.
Can you share your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am the worst kind of pantser, and my critique partners will say the same. My writing process with novels involves a lot of writing and tearing down. I’m one of those people who has to get to know her characters first. I have an image in my head of my characters, but it isn’t until I’ve been writing them for a while that they develop their own personality and voice. It’s true when writers tell you they hear voices. It’s our characters yelling at us for putting them in situations they don’t want to be in. The clearest example of that was Ramona in “Dream in Color.” I had a very definite plan for that woman, but she would not stop yelling in my brain until I gave her when she wanted. Boy, am I glad I did! “Dream” would have been a very different book otherwise!
I’m inspired by music. I tend to build a soundtrack for my projects before I write a word. That is so very true for this new novel I’m working on. I heard a song by James Durbin (American Idol alum) called “Everything Burns.” I had no intention of getting a story idea that morning, but I heard that song once and Collier’s story was born. Now I troll iTunes for songs involving the word “fire” because FIRE is going to be a very big plot point in this new book. “Lies in Chance” since it took me so long to finish the darn thing, has a soundtrack that’s about fifty songs long and the songs span time from the early 80’s to now. I can’t, however, listen to the Kansas tune “Hold On” without thinking about Shara and Bryan. That’s the core song. For “Dream in Color” it was all about the Rick Springfield album “Karma.” The sound of his voice on that album inspired Jesse Alexander, sort of a world weary older rocker. “Fresh Ice,” well, one of my very favorite bands right now is “New Minstrel Revue.” They are a band that tours at Renaissance Faires primarily, but they have a song on one of their albums called “Thank you For Asking.” That song gave me not only my hero, Quinn, but my secondary character Collier as well. It’s a powerful, sad, beautiful song. And for reasons I haven’t figured out yet, I listened to a TON of Toto while writing “Fresh Ice.” I just never know what’s going to hit me, so I keep my ears open all the time.
The process beyond that is just sit down and do it. There are days I just don’t want to write. But most days it’s like breathing for me. I have to do it. I have to put words on screen. I’m happiest when I’m writing scenes, even if those scenes never ever see the light of day. A bad day of writing is still better than the best day at my day job!
Come back tomorrow for the rest of the interview with Sarah J. Bradley!