The Romance Reader Interviews

  The Interviews
New Faces 224
Pamela Sherwood
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by Cathy Sova

Welcome to our New Faces column, where you can meet debut romance authors and discover their books. This time we are visiting with Pamela Sherwood, whose first book is WALTZ WITH A STRANGER from Sourcebooks Casablanca. Letís meet her.

Pamela, welcome to TRR! Tell us about yourself.

I am a native Southern Californian and third-generation Chinese-American, who grew up in a family of teachers. Education and learning for its own sake were always big priorities for us. For a time, I considered teaching as a career too, so with that in mind, I studied English literature and history, specializing in the Romantic and Victorian periods. That was my "practical" plan for the future, which began to diverge from its flight path--for several reasons--soon after I earned my doctorate.

Now, "impractically," I had always wanted to write. I was one of those kids who daydreamed during the boring subjects, long car trips, or the walk to and from school. I made up stories in my head that kept me entertained, and some of those stories I even committed to paper. I must have been in third or fourth grade when I decided tale-spinning was always going to be a part of my life somehow, whatever else I ended up doing. So all through junior high, high school, college, and graduate school, I wrote in my spare time--and occasionally finished things.

Are you coming to romance writing from another job? Do you still have a day job?

I taught college-level literature and composition courses, while pursuing my doctorate. Afterwards, I wrote articles for a series of reference books, before deciding to take the plunge and write fiction instead. The catalyst was one of those birthdays that end in a 5 or a 0--the birthdays that have you reevaluating your life and asking what comes next. I'd always dreamed of seeing a novel of my own in print, and I faced the fact that unless I got serious about finishing and submitting a manuscript, a dream was all it would ever be. And the timing sort of worked out, because my reference job was undergoing changes, transitioning from print to digital media, and there were lengthier periods between assignments. So I committed myself to having a finished manuscript before my next birthday, a deadline I made with a few days to spare.

What led you to write romance?

I am a lifelong reader, who cut her teeth on Beatrix Potter and Andrew Lang's fairy tale collections, so fantasy was actually the first genre I loved. I always thought I'd end up writing fantasy, especially since I felt I was already getting my fill of history in college and grad school. But I'd also always enjoyed love stories, so there was often a romantic element even in my fantasies. I developed a new appreciation for historical romances in graduate school, when I was paired with a roommate who had a large and growing collection of romance novels that she was always willing to share. I gradually began to drift in the direction of romance, while still keeping one foot in the fantasy genre. But the biggest change came some years later, when I put aside my latest stalled fantasy manuscript and began to write for a moderately sized historical fandom. I can't explain it, but it was as if a flood gate had been opened: suddenly, I was producing and finishing more stories than I ever had before, and getting a favorable response from fellow writers. And I no longer felt burned out on English history--instead, the milieu felt comfortable and familiar, and research became fun again. I still love fantasy and may revisit it someday, but for now, I feel as if I'm exactly where I should be, writing what I'm supposed to write.

Tell us about your road to publication.

Some of the fantasy stories I wrote in my graduate school days were submitted, with no luck, to genre magazines. After I finished, revised, and polished my first historical romance--a process that took almost a year--I started querying agents. Two months and no nibbles into the process, I received a very nice rejection on a partial that basically told me that I needed to get the action going much sooner because the characters weren't doing enough in the early chapters. I took the advice to heart and trimmed more than 80 pages from the manuscript--about 6 months of work right there--and went out again. This time I received partial and full requests, but nonetheless, it was almost a year before I received the call and signed with my agent. But the story doesn't end there. We went out on submission with the book and received praise for the writing and characterization but again, no offers and a whole lot of silence from about half the people we submitted to. Meanwhile, I'd started work on another novel, so ultimately we decided to put the first book aside for now and focus on the second, Waltz with a Stranger. It went out on submission in late September 2011 and sold within three weeks.

What kind of research was involved for your first book?

I read up on the transatlantic marriage market, which is a phenomenon that has always fascinated me. Several books were influential, including Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers, Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace's To Marry an English Lord, and Marian Fowler's In a Gilded Cage: From Heiress to Duchess. Books like those supplied the necessary historical and social background. But the emotional heart of the book came from an early Tennyson poem I encountered in graduate school: "The Sisters," about a man who inadvertently courts identical twins--with tragic results. And from the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast as well.

Tell us about your debut book.

A man who never expected to inherit. A woman who never expected to wed. A choice that pits their honor against their hearts.

Crippled after a riding accident, Aurelia Newbold shuns Society—unttil a dashing stranger draws her into a secret waltz and changes her life forever. After a year abroad, she returns home and discovers that the one man she’s been dreaming of is engaged to her beloved twin sister.

James Trelawney is not prepared for the vibrant woman who returns to London in the place of the wounded girl he took pity on—or his growing neeed for her. But forbidden love is not the only danger…a chilling secret reaches out from beyond the grave, threatening both Trelawney and the woman he loves.

Who are some of your influences as a writer?

There are many writers I admire, but I don't know how many of them I would cite as direct influences. But I suspect a lot of historical romance writers--especially Regency romance writers--owe a debt to Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I know I do! For myself, I would also include Dorothy Dunnett, Winston Graham, and Mary Stewart--the first two for their skill at writing full-bodied historical sagas filled with fascinating characters, and the third for her skill in weaving intrigue and romance together. Then there are authors I discovered in graduate school when my taste for romance was reestablishing itself, such as Mary Jo Putney, Carla Kelly, and Elizabeth Chadwick. And I can't forget the wonderful fantasy authors who also shaped my early taste and perhaps my style as well: Jane Yolen, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Diana Wynne Jones, and Barbara Leonie Picard.

What does your family think of having a published romance author in their midst?

They're pleased for me, and very supportive! I was given a huge stack of complimentary bookmarks from my publisher, which my mother and sister have been zealously distributing to our friends and extended family along with the news of my book's impending publication. So there's a vigorous word-of-mouth campaign going on right here in Southern California!

Tell us about plans for future books.

I just finished the second book, A Song at Twilight, which is set partly in the music world of late Victorian England. The heroine, Sophie, is a professional singer, a rising star on the concert and opera stage. The hero, Robin, is the man she has never been able to forget, in spite of the secrets that tore them apart four years before the story begins. I introduced both characters in Waltz with a Stranger, where they play supporting roles. A Song at Twilight is scheduled to be released in October 2013. I am optioned for a third book after that, but it's still being decided whose story will be told next. But I can promise that there's no shortage of ideas!

How can readers get in touch with you?

At my blog, Blue Stockings & Crossed Genres: http://www.pamelasherwood.com

On twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/pamela_sherwood
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pamela-Sherwood/277831572333361

Pamela, thanks for joining us, and best of luck with WALTZ WITH A STRANGER!

January 22, 2013

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