Hi, I would like to introduce my first interviewee, Toni V. Sweeney. Author of The Serpent's Tooth.
Hi Toni, Welcome. Please tell us about yourself.
Toni: I’m a Southerner but I’ve lived on both coasts and in the Great Plains, specifically in the Buffalo Commons portion of Nebraska. I like to joke that I’ve survived hurricanes in the South, tornadoes and blizzards in the Midwest, and mudslides, earthquakes, and forest fires in California. I graduated from a well-known private college in Georgia with a Bachelors in Fine Art and also have a diploma in Graphic Art. I have a son and two grandchildren, ages 16 and 8.
Janice: My goodness you have seen a lot of natural disasters, and I'm impressed with your education, WTG.
And when did you start writing?
Toni: ’Way back when I was in grade school, the third grade, I think, I used to write “novels” and illustrate them. I had these huge sheets of paper a med-tech friend of my mother’s gave me. They were about 18” x 24” and were used to separate the plates used in x-rays. They were tossed as each plate was used so she thought I could draw on them. I made storyboards on each sheet just like in graphic novels. In high school, I was on the school newspaper and in college, I contributed to the college literary magazine The Plucked Dulcimer, so—a long answer to a short question—I started writing shortly after I learned how to put pen to paper.
Janice: That's alright. I loved hearing about your storyboards and being on the school paper. The college magazine must have been interesting, too.
Who was the biggest influence on your writing?
Toni: Three people: My seventh-grade teacher, Lucille Comer, who encouraged her students to write and would make time in the teaching week to have us read our stories; my college professors, Wilson C. Snipes and May F. McMillan. I kept up a correspondence with them after graduation and dedicated Bloodseek, the first book in my series The Chronicles of Riven the Heretic to them. Unfortunately, Dr. Snipes didn’t live to see that, although “Dr. Mac” did. I really enjoyed their classes. Dr. Mc Millan is also a “Nessie” fan, as I am, and she spends part of each year in Scotland at Loch Ness.
Janice: How wonderful to have such inspirational teachers. Nessie is awesome. I wouldn't mind going to Loch Ness myself someday.
How do you go about your writing? Do your prefer pencils to pens or is it all straight computer work?
Toni: I used to write everything out in longhand on lined tablets,--with a ballpoint or inkgel pen--then transcribe it by typewriter. Then I’d print it out and put it in a notebook. I sure killed a lot of trees in those days. But my writing preferences have right along with ways to write: manual typewriter to electric to electronic to computer. After I got my first computer, I stopped transcribing and went straight to keyboarding. Now I keep everything in a “Safe Storage” unit.
Janice: Keeping your writing safe is the smart thing to do. I've lost some of my original manuscripts when the computer messed up and it was a hard lesson to learn.
What influences you in your writing? Music, movies, reading, or straight research?
Toni: Anything can be an influence. A memorable scene such as birds flying overhead with the sun shining through their wings, something someone says, a pun, the fact that I didn’t like the ending to a movie I’ve seen and write my own, the lyrics of a song to make a story…even a dream. Serpent’s Tooth came directly from a fragment of a dream I had. It could even be an occupation. I used to be disposal coordinator for an asbestos removal company and had to arrange waste disposal with state, local, county, and Federal agencies. That led to the idea of the Toxic Zone, a gigantic waste dump covering most of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, and Wyoming, which became the site of a Federation prison in the Sinbad series.
Janice: Wow, so interesting. I'm impressed you took your experience with your job and turned into a book.
When do you write morning or evening? Or are you like me, a late into the wee hours of the morning person?
Toni: When I was working, I would write from the time I got home from work to about 11 PM. Now that I’m “retired” (that’s a euphemism for being unemployed), I start writing around 11 AM and do that until about 5 PM. Then I do mundane things such as cook dinner and wash dishes.
Janice: Who's in charge you or your muse?
Toni: I like to think it’s a 50/50 proposition but I think secretly the Muse is in charge. For example, I was doing just fine on my new book. Then, I wanted to change direction. Apparently the Muse didn’t for the next day, I struggled through two chapters, then deleted them because they were so awful I couldn’t stand them. Pure drivel! I went to bed really discouraged, thinking maybe I should just set the book while for a few months. Apparently, the Muse had decided I needed a little lesson and took a coffee-break --or whatever it is muses do when they aren’t being helpful--and quickly took pity on me because the next morning, the chapters were there in my head and I could hardly type fast enough.
Janice: Lucky you, your muse took pity on you, lol.
Okay, here is a hard question; use only one word to describe your writing style? Or at least what you want your readers to take away from your writing.
Toni: Me use only one word? Can’t be done! Well, I guess…imaginative…entertaining… Wait, that’s two words. Either of the above.
Janice: Imaginative. I like that.
What influenced your recent book, the one you are promoting here today?
Toni: That dream I was talking about. I don’t remember a thing about it, except that it involved an actor, Arthur Franz, from the 50s. He starred in a lot of TV SF dramas. I woke up with the name “Hildebrandt” in my head. Two day later, I saw an old black-and-white SF movie and Franz was in it, and there was another actor playing an admiral named Hildebrandt. BOINGGG! Shook me a little. I took that as a sign that these two events meant something, and a few days later, the story Serpent’s Tooth (under the working title The Inheritor) started forming. I began telling the story of a rock star’s climb to fame and his eventual fall. What I ended up with was a modern-day re-telling of Faust, set in Hollywood and the wilderness of the Great Plains.
Janice: That's great, seeing the movie the next day. It would shaken me up a bit too. *shudder*
Okay, now that Toni has whetted your appetite here's a tid-bit of the Serpents tooth.
At first, it seemed like the screenplay of a romance. A famous rock star disappears…twenty-five years later, a former fan discovers he’s still alive. They fall in love and marry and he takes her to the ranch where he’s hidden for a quarter of a century but there the love story degenerates into a tale of horror. Hildebrand was famous; Travis Brandt wants anonymity and Melissa Powers’ love. What they get is something else. It’s a story of a youngster from Nebraska who became the idol of millions but wanted more; of a young man who bartered his soul in return for fame.
Hildebrand wanted it all and got it but now Travis, Melissa, and their child must pay for his sins.
(Melissa Powers, vacationing above a cruise ship, finds she has a stalker. Confronting him, she discovers Travis Brandt to be rock star Hildebrand, who has been missing for a quarter of a century. They are attracted to each other and, with some reservations, Melissa invites Travis back to her stateroom for a nightcap. She waits, he doesn’t show, she decides to go to bed. Then, there’s a knock at the door…)
Travis was leaning against the doorframe, the gray jacket thrown over one shoulder, one pocket bulging alarmingly. In his right hand, he held two tulip-shaped champagne flutes.
She had seen that pose before. One of his movies. Chico, the young gigolo in Crossfire.
“You forgot to give me your cabin number.” Only mildly accusing, not inconvenienced at all. “I had to bribe a steward.”
“Sorry.“ Secretly, she wasn’t. He actually searched for me?
He leaned forward and kissed her on the neck, just below her ear, inhaling softly.
“I shouldn’t have bothered the steward. I should've just followed the scent of your perfume. What’s it called?”
“Nuit de Paris. It was my mother’s.”
“I like it. It’s subtle. Doesn’t knock you off your feet like some of that stuff women wear,”
She stepped back to let him enter the cabin. He draped the jacket over the back of a chair and set the glasses on the table.
“Do you like champagne?”
“Not really." As usual, she told the truth. "I think it tastes flat, and sour. Does that mean I have a peasant’s palate?”
“Not a bit! I don’t like it, either--that’s why I decided to stick with that good old American favorite-- ” He fished into the jacket pocket and produced a red and white can, “--Coca-Cola!” presenting it for her inspection as if it were a bottle of fine wine. “Does Madame approve?”
He's doing it again!
It was a parody of the beginning of the seduction scene from Dark Lover.
She took the can from him, read the label, said, “I’ve never tried Vanilla Coke,” and handed it back to him.
“You’ll like it.” He popped the top without a bit of spray, expertly poured both flutes exactly half full, and handed one to her. “It’s deep and dark with an aftertaste of mellow sweetness.”
"Like you?" Melissa took a sip and lowered her glass.
That made him laugh. “There’s nothing sweet about me, kiddo!” He raised his own glass, then looked over at her. “Like your peignoir.”
“Oh! I-I was j-just finishing my bath, and--” Oh, Lord, he probably thinks I put this on especially for him! “Y-you see, I thought you weren’t--”
“You thought I was going to stand you up?” He fixed her with a pitying hazel stare. “Miss Powers! O ye of little faith!”
She didn’t answer, just stood there shaking her head.
“You look very exotic with that turban on. Like a maharani.”
Melissa put one hand to her head. She’d forgotten about the towel. Guiltily, she pulled it off, folding it. Concentrating on the blue rectangle, she was very aware of how her tousled hair must look.
He took a step toward her, one hand reaching out to touch a lock resting on her shoulder.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. It looks just like I thought it would.” He released the curl and touched his glass to hers. It made a high-pitched, tinkling sound. “To a very beautiful lady, the first real Southern belle I’ve ever met.”
“Thank you, Mr. Brandt.“
“Travis. If we’re going to stand here, with me in my shirtsleeves and you wearing nothing but that sexy robe--
You aren’t wearing anything else, are you?”
Melissa’s hand went to the neck of the peignoir while the other brushed down the front making certain it was closed.
“--We’d better be on a first-name basis.”
She could see the amusement in his eyes again, making lights dance there. She ran a hand down the front of her robe, making certain it was closed.
“Don’t worry, I haven’t seen anything. Yet.”
Serpent’s Tooth is an interesting mix of romance and horror. The slow and steady build-up to the terrifying conclusion of the book is a daring experiment and quite typical of Toni V. Sweeney. She’s an author who doesn’t seem afraid of anything… This is an author who is learning and developing at a speedy rate. Try Serpent’s Tooth. It’s unique and, I think, worth reading: it will surely make romance enthusiasts uncomfortable, and it will show horror fans that slice and dice just doesn’t stand up to understated and/or realistic horror.
--Clayton Bye, Horror critic for The Deepening.