With this week's guest, Sydney Jane Baily, I am back in historical country, in the elegant years following the American Civil War.
When an editor turns her hand to writing...
Welcome to my parlour, Sydney. George will pour for us. What is your preference for tea?
Usually, I like a strong Irish tea, like Barry’s Gold. I let it steep for about four minutes, add a teaspoon of honey, and a goodly splash of whole milk. (Unless it’s evening, then let’s have a Long Island Iced Tea!) (AS: I have come across this habit of putting honey in tea with a few of my American guests... I suppose it's no different from a lump of sugar!)
You write wonderful historical romances set in nineteenth century America (is it correct to call it Victorian when talking about stories set in the US?)? This is a period we think we know from westerns and other Hollywood movies but what is it about this period that sparks your passion?
It’s not normally called Victorian, no. It seems that this genre is now generally referred to as Americana. It’s a bit tricky to classify because my time period, 1870s and 1880s, is after the Civil War, so it’s not a Civil War romance, nor is it a Western though there are elements of Westerns in my stories. A cowboy may happen through or one of my heroes may enjoy riding horses. Still, if a reader wants a true Western, he or she would be looking in the wrong book. My characters spend as much time on trains and in hotels and, as they do on horses and in saloons.
This late nineteenth-century period is one of tremendous ingenuity and growth in America. Trains crisscross the country and meet in the middle, making travel easier and faster. Telephones are finding a place in businesses and homes. Gas lamps are giving way to electricity.
If we were transported back in time, we’d find these people to be very modern and extremely familiar. For me, as a storyteller, I like to set my characters in a time period when I know they will have a great life. The country has gone through a terrible war on home turf but it’s nearly 20 years in the past, and WWI is in the distant future. It is a safe yet exciting time with loads of opportunity. And I absolutely love the fashion. I spend way too much time researching the clothing; there are so many examples that still survive. Even as the silhouette and the bustle change over the decades, the women maintain a look that is elegant, stylish, and simply beautiful. The men have some good choices, too. I love a man in a duster (long coat), but I also think their dress suits, morning suits, and vests are equally attractive.
You have come from a background in publishing and editing. When did the bug to write your own stories hit and what made you decided to choose the indie publishing route?
I am a late bloomer as far as finally getting published is concerned. I wrote a novel at age 17 (about 100,000 words) and kept on writing ever since. However, I let myself get distracted by life, including college, grad school, publishing career on the other side of the desk, marriage, children, pets. You name it, I would put it first. And when I was a production editor for college textbooks, I simply could not look at a computer screen at night to write my fiction.
I didn’t seem to have the discipline to write regularly and follow through with finding an agent or a publisher. I wrote my first historical romance about fifteen years ago and sent it off by snail mail. I even had some interested parties, but it was a busy time in my life. Within a few years, I had two children under three. I kept putting writing on the back burner. I wrote a contemporary novel a few years back and started shopping it around. Again, I had interest. But in the back of my mine, my historical was my best work, and I knew it needed another chance. I decided to self-publish. I followed it with two more historicals featuring family members from the first book, and I have just completed a prequel to this series.
My big news, however, is that I recently signed with a publisher, EPW, which is re-publishing my first three books, as well as producing the recently completed prequel and as-yet unwritten fourth book. They were impressed enough with my reviews to offer me a contract. After the fourth book, I have an idea for an Edwardian historical romance with a tortured hero who simply won’t leave me alone. I can’t wait to write his story.
You are the power behind “Cat Whiskers Studio” which offers website and editing services to writers as well as being a small press in its own right. What led you to set this service up?
|Why Cat Whisker Studio?|
Because cat whiskers are really lucky—
even luckier if the cat is still attached.
As a freelance editor since 1994, I worked for many publishers, mostly handling non-fiction projects. Eventually, I began to dabble in website design. I created Cat Whisker Studio as an umbrella company for all my freelance work, both for websites and for publishing services. Up until recently, I used my own imprint, Cat Whisker Press, to publish my books, but as mentioned above, I’m going to try an outside publisher and see how it goes.
(To find out more about Sydney's Author services at Cat Whiskers Studio, click HERE)
I am assuming you are a cat person? Tell me about the cats in your life?
Oh, the cats in my life! I have been truly blessed. I have been loved by some splendid felines, and I have loved them wholeheartedly in return. My first cat, Sandy, we got when I was 13 years old. I had her through high school, college, grad school, about eight moves or more, and even getting married. She passed away 17 years later (though we don’t know her true age as she was a shelter kitty). She was a bold, fearless, orange tabby—a great hunter and an awesome companion. We had a special connection, and I am so grateful to have had her in my life.
|Leo taking it easy...|
My husband and I found Leo, a buff-colored Maine coon, under our lilac tree one winter; never a hunter, he was starving and had frostbite, and he was very happy to come in from the cold. I didn’t want to get as attached to him as I had to Sandy, so we got a kitten from the shelter to keep Leo company. Chloe was an all-black, part Siamese, super smart talkative girl. She wanted to live on my shoulder or on my lap, and I let her as much as possible. As it turned out, I got just as attached, and Chloe decided early on that I was her special person. Calm and dignified, Leo passed in 2012, and Chloe passed at age 19, two days before Christmas this past year (2013). I am reeling a bit as my animal family has been quite decimated.
|Perry and old Chloe|
We still have two cats, Sabby (16 lbs. of tuxedo cat) and Coco Puff (fluffy craziness), each adopted from a shelter, one for each of my children. They are unique and loveable, but I haven’t got the same connection. I suppose that lightning cannot strike too many times in the case of cat/human love.
I also have my very first dog ever, Perry, a rescue from Tennessee, part Beagle (in the face), part “you name it and someone says he is it”: Australian shepherd, Border collie, feathered-tail spaniel. Who knows? But a smart, herding, silky-furred, and active dog. He has added a different dimension of unconditional love. I’m thrilled to have him in my office every day and, of course, he makes me walk (or run) the way the cats never have.
(AS: Thanks for sharing the stories of your animals! I would not be without my feline companions)
You have a series of three (the Sanborn-Malloy series) what was the inspiration and the links in this series?
I already mentioned the first book in the series which I wrote years ago; I rewrote An Improper Situation and published it in October of 2012. That story of a female writer in the 1880s—isolated, secluded, and not traditionally marriage-minded, nor maternal—came to me with the idea of a man and two children suddenly showing up on Charlotte’s doorstep in a small-town in Colorado. I had to figure out who they are. Turns out they are from urban Boston, and they need her as much as she needs them. One of the hero’s sisters inspired my second book, An Irresistible Temptation. Sophie is a classical pianist with a broken heart who crosses the country to find her destiny and, of course, true love. Charlotte’s brother stars in the third book, An Inescapable Attraction, when he reconnects with a love from his past on a wild race-and-escape story with trains, riverboats, and horses, gamblers, gun fights, and sexy romance.
Thank you so much, Alison (and George) for allowing me to take tea with you. One last thing: I read all genres of historicals while I’m on my exercise bike, including medieval, highlander, and regencies. I would love to hear from readers of your blog about their favorite time periods.
AN IMPROPER SITUATION by Sydney Jane Baily
With her chestnut hair and striking green eyes, Charlotte should be the catch of Spring City, CO. But she wears her independence like an impenetrable suit of armor, cloaking her identity behind her male nom de plume. A 24-year-old confirmed spinster, she won’t risk heartbreak; that is, until a handsome stranger arrives.
Boston lawyer Reed Malloy has a solemn mission—deliver two orphaned children to their Colorado cousin. He's not prepared for Charlotte being utterly beguiling, or for her flat-out refusal to raise her kin. It will take some firsthand persuasion to complete his legal duty and resolve more tantalizing issues.
When Charlotte forsakes everything familiar and is welcomed into the high society of the Boston Brahmins, concealed malice, sinister forces and scorned women emerge. With passions ablaze, Reed and Charlotte find themselves in a very Improper Situation.
Available at: Amazon
For all 3 Sanborn- Malloy books visit Sydney's Amazon page
About Sydney Jane Baily
Join Sydney and I for a discussion on your favourite historical period and Sydney will giveaway a copy of an Improper Situation to a randomly drawn commenter.
AS: No prizes for me... but of course my favourite historical period is the English Civil War... but I do find American history interesting partly because of the parallels with Australian history (without the wars!). Having had ancestors who fought in both the American War of Independence and the American Civil War, I think I am about as American as the next person... :-)