Rowena Sudbury Interview

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Rowena. We are very excited and can’t wait to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I have always been a reader, starting in the fifth grade when I discovered the joys of novels, or as my students now call them “chapter books.” By the time I got to high school I discovered that I also liked writing. That started with blank journal books I filled up with teenage woes, and little stories that came to me. I also started writing poetry, and had a poem published in the high school’s poet’s anthology. In college I took several creative writing courses, both poetry and prose. I was told by my professors that I should write what I know about; little did they realize I actually was. After that I kept all my writing private until I finally gained the courage to share a short story with a friend. The rest, as they say, was history.

What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
My first book was The King’s Tale, a m/m story set in medieval times. It took me a year and a half to write, and then another year to edit. After that I sat on it for six months because I was too tentative to go and seek out a publisher. I spent about a week researching m/m publishers and finally settled on Dreamspinner Press. I sent them the manuscript in late January of 2009, by the middle of the following month I had a contract, and in July of 2009 the book was published.

How many books have you written thus far?
I’m hard at work currently on my third book, a sequel for The King’s Tale. My second novel, Promises and Lies will be published November 29.

When did you start writing m/m historical romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
While my second novel Promises and Lies is contemporary, historical romance is my favorite. Mainly this is because I grew up reading traditional historical romances and was always fascinated by the language and customs, particularly of the medieval period. I enjoy researching and totally immersing myself in the history.

The King’s Tale is part of Dreamspinner Press’s Timeless Dreams category. As such it is a story where certain parts of real history may be ignored. I have received criticism on this front because I’ve chosen to allow my couple to live openly, and they were allowed to handfast. During medieval times homosexuals were subjected to the Papal Inquisition, according to Crompton’s Homosexuality & Civilization this was worse than the Spanish Inquisition. This is something I intend to research in greater detail for my sequel. The reason I ignored it the first time was that my concept for the book was to write a classic historical romance, just like the ones I still love reading, only having two men as the main characters instead of a man and a woman. I do intend to address this issue in the sequel, but I still do not want the men living in fear of their lives.

Do you write full time?
Sadly I do not write full time. I teach elementary school by day, so the long blocks of time off are a real boon. Up until this year I had a “year round” schedule that gave me a solid two month vacation each winter and summer. Now that I am at a traditional calendar school I have to squeeze writing time into each weekend, but I am looking forward to a long summer break.

Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
I guess it was my vivid imagination.

When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Both. With The King’s Tale I let the story come to me as it wanted. The same thing happened with Promises and Lies. I always manage to amaze myself with plot crumbs that I didn’t plan but work out so brilliantly. The King’s Heart, my sequel for The King’s Tale, is meticulously planned on the other hand. I have ten pages worth of notes, each page a series of summarized paragraphs. I’m not sure which works better for me because when I let the story flow as I did with the first book I never really struggled with the writing. Using this outline though has been difficult because sometimes I’m not sure how to connect the dots.

What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
I do lots and lots of research, mostly during the writing of a book. As I said, researching medieval history is a joy and I didn’t mind spending hours and hours poring over history books, researching the Welsh language, and reading up on Celtic traditions. Researching for the contemporary on the other hand was tedious, but I did it anyway because I have a drive to make things as accurate as possible. The characters in Promises and Lies live in Georgia (I do not) and at one point in the book they want to adopt a child. I did the research about that, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as researching medieval medicine.

How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
I think of myself as a collector. This was the problem I had with my creative writing classes, the fact that I collect memories and use them later. My professors thought there was no way a California girl could know about hot summers in Iowa, for example. I wrote a short story one time about some brothers. In one part of the story they collected fireflies and put them in a jar with holes punched in the lid. Later the older brother took the little one into a closet where they could see the soft glow. That’s a memory of my sister and me as we did that when we visited my grandparents in Iowa one summer.

Some of my characters are very much like me, emotionally speaking. Strange as it seems, I just let my characters develop themselves. Some of them contradict themselves because real people contradict themselves. I don’t really draw the line anywhere aside from the fact that most readers, even the ones who know me personally, don’t really know where these inspirations come from.

Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
Because of the stop/start nature of my writing blocks I tend to go back and re-read things I’d written before and make minor modifications. I’ve trained myself to not spend a lot of time doing that though or I’d never get through the book! The real revising begins when the whole manuscript is completed.

Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
Not usually when it comes to ideas. The block comes when, as I said earlier, I can’t connect the dots. I overcome it by doing something mindless like vacuuming, or surfing the Internet. While I’m doing that the story continues in the back of my head, and then after a short break I can go back and continue.

When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel, or experience?
I hope they experience an escape from reality when they read my historical books.

Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?
I’m weird, I have to have the title decided before I write anything.

What are you working on now?
Ostensibly the sequel for The King’s Tale, but I have other ideas bubbling around in my head. I’d like to write a Christmas story even though I know it’s too late to submit it anywhere. It will likely end up being a freebie on my blog.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?
One of my writing professors said to write every day, even if you can’t think of anything. I try to write something every day, even if it’s just a recap in my journal of what happened that day. The way I implement this into my work is that I keep copious notes of ideas I have for stories, and sometimes I not only review these notes every day, but I add to them as often as I can.

What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive – both in your work and out of it?
I am always telling my students to “write like a reader and read like a writer.” To keep the spark alive I read.

What kind of books do you like to read?
Mostly historical novels. For example, I’m re-reading The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman right now.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Since writing currently is not my full time profession I earn my living by doing what I love, teaching. But what I’m really looking forward to is being retired, then I can be only a writer.

When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
I absolutely love my cover for The King’s Tale. When Mara McKennan at Dreamspinner asked me what I wanted for a cover I described my “dream cover” and she delivered it in spades! I love it because the story is about a king and a woodsman, and the cover depicts a castle surrounded by woods. It’s just perfect.

Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I love listening to music, going wine tasting along the central coast of California, hiking, and cooking.

Can you please tell us where we can find you and your books on the Internet?
I try to keep my base of operations at my LiveJournal (http://rowenasudbury.livejournal.com). In the profile there are links to all my other haunts on the web. My novel The King’s Tale is available many different places including Amazon, All Romance eBooks, and Rainbow eBooks. Dreamspinner Press offers a free short story called “The Magic of Lammas” that is set in the world of The King’s Tale. They also offer my Christmas story from last year, “Silent Night.” The two short stories I’ve written for the GLBT Bookshelf, “If” and “Touched” are currently not available, but hoping soon they will be available at the Bookshelf again.

Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one of more of your stories with us?
This is a portion of the first chapter, the initial meeting between King Christopher and the woodsman Dafydd. Christopher has just become king of Lysnowydh when his father passes away unexpectedly. Dafydd is well aware of the king as he feels as though the golden beauty of the king guided him to Cornwall from Wales.

The winter sky shared the sadness the kingdom felt at the passing of the king some months later. Perhaps he had known, that warm spring day, that his light would be extinguished before the year’s end, yet he had not shared the knowledge beyond his urging to his heir. His passing was swift, with little time for any to prepare.

And once the sad business of the funeral had passed, young Christopher found himself on a quest to find a suitable wife.

“I will not marry without love,” he declared before the councilors. He endured their arguments with a set chin, until he finally roared, “Enough.”

His grief was deep yet. They allowed him the week and then renewed their efforts with fierce determination. He must begin the task of searching for a wife, and he must do it soon.

He traveled far and wide, and was unable to swallow his pride and take a mate. He knew he would face their accusatory stares when he returned yet again empty-handed. He was stubborn.

The icy rain gave way first to sleet, and then snow. His tired horse plodded down the narrow lane, and while Christopher knew he was within an hour of home, his tired beast did not. He must find shelter for the night, begin the journey again on the morrow.

The cottage was small, nestled along the edge of the little used track. Snow stung at his eyes yet Christopher managed to spot it. He slid from the horse, and stumbled toward the door. His horse blew behind him as he raised his fist to rap on the rough-hewn planks.

The door opened, spilled light into the swirling world of snow.

“Please, I beg shelter from the storm,” he rasped. He looked up, not recognizing the massive man who stood before him. “I shall pay.”

Dafydd recognized the king at once and he stepped back. “Come; warm yourself by the fire. I will see to your horse.”

“My thanks,” Christopher shouted over the howl of the wind, and he moved gratefully toward the fire, warmed his hands.

The horse stabled, Dafydd returned and bolted the door behind him. He shed his woolen mantle, and gazed at the golden-haired young king where he crouched by the fire.

“I will pay you for your trouble,” Christopher murmured. “I have gold.”

“You will not,” Dafydd responded as he moved into the room toward the large table that dominated the center of the cottage. “I do not require payment in gold for sheltering a traveler from the storm.”

As the fire warmed him, Christopher shed his fur-lined cloak, rose, and sprawled in the one chair at the table. He watched as Dafydd stirred the fragrant stew in the pot hung above the fire.

“Then I shall pay you with what you desire,” he said. “Everyone desires something.”

Dafydd set the long-handled spoon aside and turned to pour two mugs of ale from a pitcher that sat on the windowsill. He handed one mug to Christopher and took the other for himself.

“I have all I require,” he said. “A warm cottage, a horse, work I enjoy.”

“Then I fear you misunderstood me,” Christopher said softly. “I did not promise to give you what you require, but what you desire. There is a difference between the two.”

With a grunt Dafydd set his mug on the hearth and swung the cast iron pot out from its spit over the fire. He ladled two bowls of the savory stew, and broke a round loaf in half. He handed the simple meal to the king.

“Then I will ask you for a story,” he said. He sat on the floor, his back against the hearthstone.

Christopher took the bowl and realized this simple man had shared full half of his meager meal, and had allowed him to take the only chair. Were he not so bone tired and hungry he would have returned the bowl and pressed on, stronger now for having sat a quarter of an hour in the warmth. Yet something held him, and he scooped some of the rich stew up with the bread, burned his tongue, and spoke with a full mouth.

“What kind of a story do you wish?”

Dafydd ate with his spoon and saved the crust of bread to soak up the rich gravy that pooled in the bottom of the crude bowl. “A story of beauty, of the finer things in life,” he said simply.

The meal consumed, Christopher picked up his mug and accepted another measure of nut-brown ale. “I am not sure I can oblige,” he said softly. “There was a time when I knew beauty, and softness in my life, but I fear now ’tis not so. Now I must needs accept that the world is a cold and hard place.”

“I am a simple man,” Dafydd said. “I know nothing of the world. I would accept any story you told, real or imagined. You did promise.”

Christopher smiled ruefully. “That I did. Yet I fear you would know the difference between a made-up story and the truth.”

“I would not know the difference,” Dafydd replied softly.

“Aye, you would.”

They sat in companionable silence until Dafydd refilled the mugs for the third time. Christopher took a long draught of ale, and ran his soft pink tongue over his lips to clear the foam. “My manners are sorely lacking. You have fed me a delicious meal, and yet I know not even your name.”

“My name is Dafydd, and I deliver the wood for your castle’s kitchens, your majesty.”

“Ah, so you have had the advantage of me all this while, knowing who I am whilst I am kept in the dark.” Warm, full of good food and ale, Christopher sprawled back in his chair; his eyes twinkled in the firelight.

“I am not a stranger to your bailey,” Dafydd said. “But you are dallying from your task. My story.”

“A promise is a promise.” Christopher rested the mug on the arm of the chair. “Once there was a young lord who was the apple of his mother’s eye. In fact, the only one she favored more was the lord’s father, the king of a small hamlet on the Cornish coast.”

Dafydd sipped his ale, comfortable on the furs that were scattered before the fire. He listened as Christopher told his story, realized it was his own history he recounted.

“The lord admired many things, yet what he admired most above all things was hard work, and thus he held those who toiled diligently above all others.” He paused to look down at the woodsman. “When the lord became king, he was expected to take a wife, provide the kingdom with an heir. The new king found this prospect distasteful.”

“Why was that?”Dafydd asked as he set his empty mug on the hearth.

Christopher’s voice dropped, and became sultry and warm. “Because, the king preferred to have a man to warm his bed.”

There was a silence between them, and yet it was not uncomfortable. Dafydd shifted his position on the floor, moved closer to the king. Christopher dropped a hand from the arm of the chair, stroked it across the top of Dafydd’s closely cropped hair.

“Does this story trouble you?” he asked softly.

“Nay,” Dafydd whispered.

“The king,” Christopher continued, “was sent on many a journey to find a suitable wife, yet each time he came up empty-handed, because he vowed he would not marry without love.” He tipped back his mug and finished his ale. “As such, he gained the disdain of his council, and was set upon by all within his kingdom. He was not allowed proper time to mourn. He soon discovered there was little softness in the world, and all became bitter and ugly in his life.”

“Mayhaps not all,” was Dafydd’s quiet response.

“Most,” Christopher said softly. “There was not even time for the king to seek for aught beside a mate.”

A log shifted in the fire and settled in a small shower of sparks. Dafydd moved closer to the hearth and shifted the embers with a long stick. He added another log, and turned to look back at the king.

“I would stay this night,” Christopher said softly, “if you would allow me to sleep on the floor before your warm fire.”

The wind howled outside the small cottage; icy drafts found their way inside around the windows and the door. Dafydd reached for another log and added it to the blaze.

“You must stay, your majesty. ’Tis far too cold to return to the warmth of your keep. Yet you must sleep in my bed.”

Christopher cocked his head to the side, and he leaned forward in the chair, his forearms rested upon his knees. “’Tis an offer you give me?”

Even in the wan light of the fire ’twas obvious that the woodsman blushed. He dipped his head to hide the confusion in his eyes. “An offer for the warmth of the bed. ’Tis I shall sleep on the hard floor.”

With no more than a rustle, Christopher slipped from the chair and knelt on the floor in front of Dafydd. “’Twas not my intent to make you uncomfortable, Dafydd.”

Dafydd raised his head, his eyes free of the confusion. “You do not, your majesty.”

“I have told you,” Christopher continued, “that I would prefer a man in my bed, not a woman. ’Tis not something most men talk about, and yet you have put me at ease, Dafydd. If it troubles you, you must needs let me know.”

“I have told you that it does not,” Dafydd said.

“Then you must tell me of yourself,” Christopher said gently. “And what you prefer.”

Dafydd dipped his head again. “I know not,” he whispered.

“Ah,” Christopher said. “’Tis well. Your honesty speaks volumes.”

“Please, your majesty,” Dafydd said as he raised his eyes and met the king’s steady gaze again. “You must sleep in my bed this night and allow me to take the floor.”

“Aye,” Christopher said, and he rose from his knees. “I am accustomed to sleeping on the hard ground, yet I will honor your request with a condition attached.”

“A condition?” Dafydd said as he stood.

Christopher turned and took up his cloak from where he had tossed it earlier on the bed. “You must needs wrap up in this cloak. ’Twill keep you warm.”

Dafydd hesitated and then reached out and took the cloak. “Aye,” he said simply.

They settled then; the king in the bed burrowed deep amongst the furs, and Dafydd on the hearth, snug in the king’s rich mantle.

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