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An Interview with Bettie Sharpe

Guess who has a new novella out?  Bettie Sharpe, one of my favorite writers.  Bettie burst onto the scene in 2008, with Ember, a retelling of the Cinderella story. And what a retelling. The story was posted in ten weekly installments, and readers were counting the days until the next installment.

She publishes infrequently.  So a new release from her is always a cause for celebration.  I did a little interview with Bettie for my newsletter and thought I’d post it here also.

Cat’s Tale

Ember

Once upon a time there was a scheming, lying tart who cared for nothing but her own pleasures and her shoe collection.

Once the peerlessly beautiful Lady Catriona, consort to the king, Cat’s fortunes fall far when her aged husband dies. The king’s wizard turns her into a cat and tries to drown her in the mill pond. Fortunately Cat is a clever survivor and enlists the help of Julian, the miller’s youngest son, in her plan for revenge.

She originally sees Julian as a mere pawn for her plans to break her curse, but as they work together Cat comes to know and care for him. Even if the curse can be broken, can a good-hearted man love a woman who has been as vain and selfish as Cat?

A Few Answers from Bettie Sharpe

Bettie Sharpe Signature

Bettie Sharpe is a Los Angeles native with a fondness for hot weather, classic cars, and air so thick it sticks in your teeth. When she’s not busy attempting to metabolize smog into oxygen, she enjoys romance novels, action movies, comic books, video games, and every other entertainment product her teachers said would rot her brain. She loves to write almost as much as she loves to read. As a child, she dreamed of seeing her name in shiny gold cursive on the cover of a luridly titled paperback book.

Bettie and her husband share their house with two cats, numerous computers, and the possum in their palm tree.

Three out of the four stories I’ve read of yours (Ember, Cat’s Tale, and the retelling of The Little Mermaid in the upcoming Agony/Ecstasy Anthology) are reworked fairy tales. Holy-$%!# reworked fairy tales if I may add. What draws you to these classics?

Cat's Tale

I grew up reading the gory old versions of fairy tales, and was always kind of appalled at the Disney versions (even though I do adore some of the later Disney fairy tale movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog). The cool thing about fairy tales is that these stories were told again and again as folk tales before they were codified in print, and every author who has ever told these tales aloud or in writing has put their own spin on them. It’s what you’re supposed to do with them. Also, it’s really fun to twist and
reshape familiar elements into something new or different.

Are there any fairy tales you look at and say, nope, not interested? If so, why not?

Like a Thief in the Night

Beauty and the Beast. It’s one of my favorite fairy tales, but there are already so many great retellings–Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Robin McKinley (twice!), and all of the many, many romance novels that use variations on the theme. There are already more than a dozen versions
of the tale that I adore. I’m not really sure I could bring anything new to it.

If I’d been asked to answer this question a year ago, I might also have said that I didn’t care for fairy tales that ended tragically, but then I wrote “Each Step Sublime,” my retelling of The Little Mermaid that will be part Jane Litte’s Agony/Ecstasy Anthology, and I had a blast giving those characters an appropriate happy ending. So I guess my main criteria for retelling a story is
just whether I think I can do anything different with it.

You are known for your bad-ass heroines–and when I say bad-ass, I mean BAD-ASS. Yet you in person are a complete lady from top to bottom. Where do your uncompromising heroines come from?

Agony/Ecstasy

Writers tend to be introspective and thinky. Sometimes it’s fun to get out of your own mind and step into the thoughts of someone completely different from you–someone with different morals, different values, different capabilities. While some of my characters’ traits are exaggerated versions of aspects of my own personality (Cat’s obsession with clothes and shoes springs to mind), other traits are the complete opposite.

Also, with the fairy tale retellings, the plot is predetermined. I have to create characters who would logically act and react to plot developments in ways that drive the plot to its proper ending.

I find your heroines exhilarating to read. Why do you suppose I–and other readers like me–get such a kick out of badass girls being badass?

Ember

Probably for the same reason I get a kick out of writing them–they’re fun! My favorite quote on the subject of badassery is from Neal Stephenson’s book, Snow Crash:

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

Hiro used to feel that way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this is liberating. He no longer has to worry about trying to be the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken….Which is okay. Sometimes it’s all right just to be a little bad. To know your limitations. Make do with what you’ve got.

I like to read and write about badass heroines, but I don’t think I’d ever want to be one–it seems like a lot of effort. I follow the Hiro Protagonist Philosophy on Badassery– it’s good to be a little badass. In fact, it’s probably best. But seeing a true badass, or reading or writing about a really fun fictional badass, is always liberating.

Last, but not least, what are you working on now and when can we have the pleasuring of reading it?

I have plenty of projects, but the one I’ve been writing the most on is another fairy tale retelling based on a comparatively obscure story about a princess cursed with perfect ugliness. After the heroine of Cat’s Tale, who was beautiful and quite enamored of her own looks and the advantages they grant her, I thought it might be fun to write an ugly heroine. I can promise you now, she does not whine or wallow in self-pity.

I’m not sure when I’ll be finished, or even whether it will be another novella or –gasp!– a novel. It’s running a little long for a novella right now, and I’m nowhere near the end.

Be still my heart! Thank you, Bettie.

If you haven’t tried Bettie yet, you can read Ember free online at Bettie’s website or buy it for your e-reader for
only $0.99.  And then it’s only three bucks for Cat’s Tale!  What are you waiting for?

My sister the secret rock star.

Necessary preface: this is a true story…and it just happened to me.

So, about eight weeks ago, my younger sister, Shelley, comes to me and says, “Hey, I wrote a book.”

(You may recognize Shelley’s name if you read The Duke of Shadows.  The book is dedicated to her for good reason.  She found the manuscript under a bed, where I’d abandoned it after numerous literary agents declined to represent it.  Having read and liked the book, Shelley convinced me to try again. She is the reason that I’m now a published author.)

I’d always known Shelley was a talented writer and an avid reader, but I had no idea that she’d been writing fiction, much less novel-length fiction. So here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “You’ve been writing?  Hey, that’s awesome!  I always said you should give it a go.”

My sister: “In fact, I’ve been writing for some time.  This is my…oh, seventh manuscript?”

Me: “What?!?”

My sister: “Yeah, I enjoy it.”

Me: “Um.  Okay, that’s awesome.  A bit…secretive, but purely awesome all the same.  So, what kind of book is it?”

My sister: “YA, set in the near future.”

Me (thinking myself witty): “Hmm, let me guess: it’s about a girl who meets and falls in love with a mysterious and slightly sadistic stranger in her chem/bio/gym class.”

My sister: “Wrong all around.  For one thing, the protagonist is a teenage guy.”

Me: “A guy?  Huh.”  (I think to myself: Bummer.  I prefer female protagonists.)  “Well, can I read it?”

My sister: “Sure!  Emailing it now.”

24 hours later…

Me (purely astonished): “Shel, this book is…amazing.  I mean… I’m kind of speechless.  It’s that good.  Totally intense, but also amazingly funny in parts.  I literally couldn’t put it down until I was finished reading it. It’s just…awesome.”

My sister: “Thanks!  Good to hear!”

Me: “What I’m saying is that this book could be published. You should be querying agents RIGHT NOW.  I could give you some tips—”

My sister:  “Oh, I already have an agent.”

Me:  “…What? You already have an agent?”

My sister: “Yep.  I queried a while back and [big fancy NY agent] liked it a lot.  He’s planning on submitting in January.”

Me: “Um.  Um.  YOU NEVER BREATHED A WORD OF THIS.  YOU DO REALIZE THAT?”

My sister (no doubt blinking innocently):  “Well, I didn’t know if anything would come of it.  Still might go nowhere, you know?  Maybe just forget you read it.”

Me: “NOT LIKELY.”

My sister: “Seriously, you never know.  Maybe nobody will want it.”

Six weeks pass

Me (unable to play it cool any longer): “Shel, any news from your agent?”

My sister: “Oh, yeah, nice news!”

Me (dying of excitement): “What kind of news?”

My sister:  “It just sold in a pre-empt for [a sum that my brain translates to a gazillion trillion dollars].”

Me (collecting jaw off floor): “…This means you’re buying me dinner from now on, right?  ’Cause I’m a starving student, you know.  You owe me dinners.  You owe me LOTS of dinners.”

My sister:  “Dude, WTF?  No way.  You’re the big sister!  You buy the dinners!”

Me: “You’re the super-secretive 007 writer whose book just got bought AS A PRE-EMPT about ten seconds after I found out that you’d started writing!”

My sister: “Okay, fine.  I’ll send you a Cliff bar in the mail.”

Here’s the text of the Publisher’s Weekly announcement that just appeared:

S.J. Kincaid’s INSIGNIA, in which a teenage video gamer becomes a government weapon in a futuristic world at war, to Molly O’Neill at Katherine Tegen Books, in a pre-empt, in a significant deal, in a three-book deal, by David Dunton at Harvey Klinger.

If you’re curious to learn more, go check out her blog (http://sjkincaid.blogspot.com/)!  Me, I’ll be over here on the fainting couch, recovering from the vapors. :)

New Jersey, New Jersey

So I went to New Jersey for the Put Your Heart in a Book conference.

I did my packing over several days and remembered a lot of things that I might otherwise have forgotten, had I packed in a hurry.  As usual, however, I forgot my hairbrush.  But not to worry, you can’t tell the difference–which was why I demoted hairbrushes from friends to nodding acquaintances in the first place.  :-)

Another thing I forgot was a pretty basket to display all the promo goodies I’d taken to NJ.  I took a look around the hotel room and pressed into service the lovely black box used to hold paper coffee cups, coffee pouches, teabags, sugar packets and such.  It was perfect.  I might never bother taking a basket with me again.  :-)

But you are here to read about Meredith.  So allow me to report that yes, she is alive and well–and looking awfully cute in a cowhide-print dress and red boots.  Chic with a touch of bohemian quirk.  (My conference attire, on the other hand, swing from twee to tarty and back, with very little in between.)

She is very close to finishing her next book–due out in July 2011.  The book is going to have a marriage of convenience theme and a heroine who knows her way around salty language, both of which I love.  Alas, I did not get a chance to read the manuscript, but I did get to fondle  the lucky Alpha Smart that will birth the next Meredith Duran masterpiece.

Meredith gave her very first romance writing workshop at the conference, on using backstory to shape what a character fears, and then having those deep-seated fears drive the story forward.  It was brilliant and profoundly insightful.

I give an occasional workshop on evoking emotions which advises entering a character via their deepest, darkest pain.

Fear and pain, two sides of the same coin, wouldn’t you say?  Little wonder Meredith and I see eye-to-eye on so many things.

(But as exceptional as Meredith’s workshop was, I’m afraid I am going to have to hand the best-in-show award to the one given by the one and only Anne Stuart.  I am never going to write a hero dark enough to rival Anne’s renowned antiheroes, but I went to her How to Write the Dark Romance workshop just to be nearer her barbed halo.

Anne Stuart

Okay, I went because I was curious as to just how fun and fearless she could be.  I left a squealing fangirl of her sheer awesomeness.  On my gravestone I want the epitaph: “There is only ever one Anne Stuart, but Sherry Thomas made herself into a pretty good fascimile.”

I only regret I didn’t invite myself up to her room to see the pig.)

And wouldn’t you know, Meredith promised that after she’s done with the current manuscript, she’s going to blog on a regular basis.  I can’t wait.  Meredith has one of the most immense and satisfying minds around.

Which was why I was saddened that she left the conference right after the book signing on Saturday.  But if her going home sooner is going to produce the next Meredith Duran oeuvre sooner, then I must do my part for romance and let her go.  :-)

Let’s see, what else?  If you have the chance, definitely attend the NJRWA conference.  It is run with wonderful vigor and efficiency.  Robyn Carr gave a great speech on her 30-years-in-the-making overnight success.  (We got to sit at conference chair Miriam Allenson’s table; she was on the opposite end of the table from us, but it was a thrill getting a special seating asignment!)  Virginia Kantra showed me the Roman woman strut–definitely ask her to tell you the story should you be lucky enough to run into her.  And the one and only Anne Stuart sat down next to me toward the end of the book signing and said, “I hear you write pretty racy books.”

Folks, at that  moment I’d have admitted to writing anything, least of all racy books!

And at the booksellers’ luncheon I met Stacey Agdern, who works at the bookstore at Grand Central Station.  I really can’t think of a cooler place on earth!  Here’s me, Stacey (r), and Kate Garrabrant (l), who is more familiarly known as Katiebabs around the romance blogosphere.

And this, just because it’s the next picture in my camera, the tableau Senior Kidlet arranged before the house.  The Great Pumpkin Pickaxe Massacre.  Pretty good way to salvage a destroyed jack-o-lantern, I say.  :-)

Kristan Higgins in Da House

When I’m not reading Kristan’s books, I obsessively pore over her blog. I have New England envy, especially in summer, which lasts from March to November in Austin, Texas and grows hotter every year. So I lose myself in Kristan’s chronicle of her life in Connecticut, in her tales of late snow, cool summers, and fall foliage. Her family makes their own maple syrup. How cool is that?

And when I can treat myself to a new Kristan Higgins book, what strikes me the most is always the community that she builds: family, neighbors, friends, townspeople, a cohesive and caring whole. Her stories are affirming, without being treacly; funny, but still full of substance; and they always put a big smile on my face.

Not Quite Enough about Kristan Higgins


Kristan Higgins Photo

Kristan Higgins lives in Connecticut with her heroic firefighter husband, two lovely children, their devoted dog, and a regal and somewhat elderly cat named Cinnamon. They spend as much time as possible at their family home on Cape Cod, swimming in the Atlantic, shivering on the beach, swatting horseflies and watching fish evade Kristan’s lure at Higgins Pond. It’s as close to heaven as it gets.

more »

Shana Abé Interview


Shana Abé is one of those authors who doesn’t publicize herself much, which is a bit of a shame, cuz she is such a lovely, fun person. On the occasion of her new hardcover release,
The Treasure Keeper, I hunted her down and forced her to do an interview with me.

Okay, I didn’t have to tie her down, then shove a mike in her face. (Is it just me or does it sound terribly dirty? *g*) But you get my gist. The Treasure Keeper hits the stores today.

Go get your copy.

You wrote six straight historical romance and one book of mermaid novellas (2 historical, one contemporary) before you burst on to the scene anew in 2005 with your Drákon series, beginning with The Smoke Thief, featuring an ancient race of dragons who have learned to shapeshift and pass as humans. I know, from a podcast you did with Sandy Coleman of All About Romance, that it had been a long-held desire for you to write romances with fantasy/paranormal elements. Did you also always want to do something with dragons? Or was it a case of “Hmm, vampires, no. Hmm, werewolves, no. Hmm, dragons, well, well, well?”

more »

How Did This Escape My Attention?


How did I miss this? Bettie Sharpe’s LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT has been out in print, as part of an anthology, since the very end of 2008.

I wrote a combined review for EMBER and LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT January last at Dear Author. It’s not very often that I exhort readers to support a certain author, but I think a special case should be made for Bettie. Cuz she is just too awesome a talent. And for selfish reasons, I want her to get a lot of money from her writing so that she needs to do nothing but write. For my enjoyment. :-)

I haven’t seen the book in the stores yet–not that I was particularly looking for it–but you can get it from Amazon here.

My Favorite-est Game Ever is Free

But only until December 27.

Ah, Wonderland.

I totally luuurve this casual game series. It is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen until you realize how challenging the harder levels are.

How much do I love it? With my club membership, I can buy any game I want from a game portal for $6.95, but for these games I go to the original publisher, Midnight Synergy, and pay $20 because I want the company to prosper.

Now they are giving away the game that started it all. If you want one, go here and scroll down. Happy Holidays!

Lisa Kleypas, Richard Burton, Nora Roberts, Sherry Thomas, and Julia Quinn in Bangalore

I realize that, with the exceptionally generous quote Lisa Kleypas gave me, every word I say about her could be construed as deliberate bum-kissing. And I’m perfectly at peace with that. I’ve met Lisa Kleypas, bum-kissing her is no task at all, figuratively or literally.

But it was also a fact that when I picked up my ARC of Blue-Eyed Devil to take with me on my trip of India, I didn’t remember that she’d given me a quote. Not out of ingratitude, that’s just how my brain functions/malfunctions from time to time–I can be relied upon to forget just about anything for some period of time.

No, the reason I picked up BED was because I’d been reading books with various supernatural/paranormal aspects, and I wanted a straight comtemporary. I packed it in my backpack and took it with me on the plane journey. But oh boy, Emirates Airline has the most awesome in-seat consoles and entertainment system. I did not stop watching movies and TV shows long enough to read anything other than the menus.

So it was in my first few jetlagged days in Bangalore that I read BED. I’d started reading it at the end of 2007, right after I finished reading Sugar Daddy. But then, because BED featured a battered woman as the heroine, and I have this huge problem reading about injustice, I stopped after a while when the heroine, after escaping her evil husband, finds herself with a cruel female boss.

But in Bangalore the second half of the book went zooming by. It was hot. It was intense. It was satisfying. And it was such a treat. Every time I read a contemporary of Lisa’s, I feel I get this privileged glimpse into her beautiful soul–she writes with such compassion and wisdom and understanding of human nature.

Bangalore has a reputation as a good place to be for readers. We came across three very good used book stores. At the first one, which was sort of a hole in the wall that was packed floor to ceiling, we bought comics (Tintin, Asterix, Tinkle Digest) for Senior Kidlet. We also bought a copy of Arabian Nights that was still in its plastic wrap. Senior Kidlet enjoys folklores and such, so we thought Arabian Nights would be perfect.

Soon, however, he complained that he couldn’t read the thing. So I opened it to take a look at what was the problem. And this was what I came across:

…when the woman said to the Barber’s second brother, “Doff thy clothes,” he rose, well-nigh lost in ecstasy; and, stripping off his raiment, showed himself mother-naked. Whereupon the lady stripped also and said to my brother, “If thou want anything, run after me till thou catch me.” Then she set out at a run and he ran after her while she rushed into room after room and rushed out of room after room, my brother scampering after her in a rage of desire like a veritable madman, with yard standing terribly tall.

It seemed we’d inadvertently bought some old, High-Victorian translation, possibly Richard Burton’s. I read certain pages aloud to my husband, “yard standing terribly tall” and all, and laughed my head off.

While we were still at the bookshop, I took a picture of the romance section.

I thought it was not bad at all. But then a few days later, my sister-in-law, my husband, and I took our four collective children to bowling. Once they were settled in a lane, I left to check out a used-magazine shop we’d seen on the way. But right outside the bowling place was another used book store, this one much bigger and with several walls of romances (alas, I wasn’t carrying my camera). I bought Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, which I’d heard good things about—they had a good few stacks of Georgette Heyer books.

I did remember the used magazine shop. I was hoping to come across some old copies of Lucky—an interesting guilty pleasure, as far as guilty pleasures went, since I hardly ever shop–but what I did come across was more fun. A rack of Mills and Boon for 99 rupees (approx $2.50) each! I happily picked up a new one by Lucy Gordon, The Italian’s Cinderella Bride.

During the time we were in Bangalore, my sister-in-law took us and the kids to various places where the kids could have fun. But one day we decided to take a break from the fun. The kids stayed home to play with each other and my wonderful sis-in-law made a beauty appointment for me with a lady who worked out of her own home in the same apartment complex.

My beautician, Poonam, turned out to be a huge fan of Nora Roberts’ straight contemporary romances. She showed me her stash of NR romances and lamented that she had more NR books than did her lending library. So I was able to boast to her of having stood next to Nora Roberts in an elevator in Dallas, and not just any elevator, it was a darn long ride to come down from the top of the Reunion Tower. I remembered Nora started to say “Hail Mary, Mother of God.” J

Since I told her that I wrote too, Poonam very naturally asked me if she could find my books in Bangalore. And I wasn’t too sure. A fan in India had written me and she’d purchased her copy from Walden Books in Hyderabad. There were no Walden Books in Bangalore, so the good husband took it upon himself to call Landmark Bookstore, a big chain, and reported that while Private Arrangements was not physically available in the Bangalore location yet, copies of it had been received at their central warehouse in Gurgaon, outside Delhi. So…woot! I’m in available in Bangalore

And why Julia Quinn? Well, she was in Bangalore too, as evidenced by this mysterious comment. Now I’ll have to track her down at Nationals so that I’ll know exactly what she was doing there. :-)

And of course this is way too late (because Bettie Sharpe kept me up all night and then busy all day–hehe) but the Smart Bitches are doing a giveaway of 5 Delicious ARCs. It ends early morning on July 15th. But even if you can’t make it by the deadline, you should still go over to check out the comments of what special delicacy would make people become very, very, very friendly with whomever brings that particular dish. I plan to. :-)