This interview was originally posted on the Brook Syers blog, and is no longer available there so I wanted to re-post it here.
Hello and welcome to The Brook Syers Blog! Are you ready for some really tough questions? Just kidding, I’ll go easy on you.
I have no problem with tough questions. It’s the answers that get me.
Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
Hmmm. Born in Canada. I made up my mind at the age of nine or ten that I would be a writer, and at about 11 that I would learn to speak 11 languages during my life. The first I’ve achieved. Over the years I’ve made a few stabs at the latter, but never got to fluency level with any of the fascinating human tongues I studied. As compensation for this, perhaps, I turned to Cat. Since no one else speaks the language fluently either (Cats make sure of that!) I could masquerade as an expert, and I wrote a book about it.
What made you want to become a writer?
I can’t remember that first burst of enlightenment, or what exactly sparked it, but certainly I was writing my first short story by the age of ten. My childhood was infused with stories—stories that my mother read to me at bedtime, and then stories that my sisters and brother and I told each other, and then books that I read. I suppose it grew naturally from that love of story. And then, somehow, as a teenager, I began to imagine that I’d like to be an actor instead.
So there was a curious little hiccup in my life, and instead of studying English Lit or Journalism at university, I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and studied drama. There are worse training grounds for a writer. Friends from those days tell me that even then, I was always making up complicated backstories for any character I played. I don’t remember that.
Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
I’ve a great talent for creating chaos out of order. I don’t know how it happens, but no matter how many times I clear my study, for example, I always end up without two square inches of desk to put a post-it pad on.
What gives you inspiration for your book(s)?
Ah, everything. Life, people, thoughts, ideas, colours, feelings, storms. Inspiration is everywhere.
Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
In my experience characterization is the art of taking a button and sewing a vest onto it. The button can come from anywhere: a situation, a photograph, a meeting, a chance remark, some path not taken in a movie I’ve seen, a newspaper story, a real person. Then that is spun through the what-if process into something larger, denser, individual. And then—well, I think every character is grounded in some part of me, however small—it’s awfully hard to write from somewhere you’ve never been at all. So there’s some yearning, or regret, or memory of loving, some feeling or thought, something I’ve touched, and that, often magnified, goes into the character mix too.
I sometime use a photograph–of someone in the news or an actor with the right face–to help me formulate the character. While I was writing CAPTIVE OF DESIRE I kept a picture of the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukofsky in front of me throughout. My favourite face for this purpose is the wonderful Canadian actor Nick Mancuso. He’s got a great hero’s face—strong but vulnerable, tough but open. When I’m trying to hear my hero’s words or thoughts, his face always speaks to me.
Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
I’ve got two books coming up very soon—POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL’S SHEIKH, coming in eBook original, is a brand new story in the Sons of the Desert mini-series, (That’s the mini-series that spawned the modern Sheikh genre back in 1998, by the way.) Fans will know that each ruling monarch in my desert world has a dozen Cup Companions working as his cabinet, and each of them has his own story. Adal al Haseb is a poor student in exile when he meets careless rich girl Viola Percy, but that doesn’t stop them falling wildly and passionately in love. Then intrigue and betrayal tear them apart.
Seven years on, the tables are turned—Prince Adal is now a Cup Companion, rich and influential in Bagestan, and Viola has lost everything. And one day she is forced to come to him to beg—for her brother’s life. Viola promises herself that that’s all she’s begging for. She’s determined not to beg Adal to love her again—but Adal is determined that she will. Who wins?
And there’s also the eBook issue of CAPTIVE OF DESIRE coming up. Maybe my most intense love story ever–about a Soviet dissident and a Western journalist–was first published in 1981. It was very popular then, and I’m hoping that a new generation of readers will find they can relate to the story of a love tested by the world.
What do you love most about the writing process?
I love it when the characters take over and tell me what is going to happen, what they will and won’t do. That happened first in the writing of my very first novel, and it scared me to death: I had no idea what was happening, what I should do. Fortunately I gave in, and I know now that if I hadn’t done so, I’d never have been published. Now I look forward to the moment when I can stop writing and let the characters do the work.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?
It’s a difficult question, of course, because it’s like asking a mother which of her children she loves best. I love all my characters in different ways, and naturally I always love the one I’m with best. So Adal al Haseb has been my favourite all through the writing of POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL’S SHEIKH. But I think that when I’m not working with a character, in my moments of contemplation, it would have to be Mischa Busnetsky, my Soviet dissident from CAPTIVE OF DESIRE. I was really in love with Mischa. It was only my second novel, and he took total care of me. He always knew exactly what he wanted.
What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
It was a huge surprise to discover that among feminists, writing about love was considered anti-feminist. In a movement that was supposed to authenticate women, writing and reading romance novels—without any attention being paid to the actual content of the books, and I do mean zero–was a universal signal for feminist contempt. I had a friend back then who sometimes wrote articles for a small feminist magazine, and she wanted to do an interview piece with me. The editors approved—as long as I wore a hair shirt and confessed that what I was doing was unworthy of a true feminist. As long as I apologized to them for how I earned my and my family’s living. My friend was astonished when I reacted to this suggestion with outrage.
I never understood the attitude that said it was fine to be contemptuous of other women so long as they held unpopular opinions or liked things you didn’t. I mean, as feminists we were fighting against institutionalized male contempt for women’s choices, but in those days if you read anything other than MS magazine…what was that about? Though of course we are talking about a time when Germaine Greer actually apologized to her fellow feminists for her ‘betrayal’ because she had fallen in love with a man again. I wonder if that bottomless stupidity embarrasses her now.
The writer Carole Thurston wrote a book called The Romance Revolution, in which she examined romance writing. She discovered that romance was ‘the handmaid of the feminist movement’ and proved it from numerous novels in the genre. Carole told me she used to read out an excerpt from my novel THE MALE CHAUVINIST at lectures, and then reveal the cover. She never failed to get a universal gasp of astonishment. It shocked feminists rigid.
Nobody had ever read a romance novel, it seemed, but everyone was convinced that the heroine in every one was a brain-dead, submissive, masochistic idiot whom the hero used to wipe his feet on. So women who enjoyed reading such books were by extension brain-dead, submissive, masochistic idiots whom feminists did not need to respect. All the while demanding respect for ‘women’s choices, women’s lives’ from the rest of society.
The fan letters I get prove to me that women from all walks of life, all levels of education, all personal situations, enjoy my books, and always have. And each and every one of them has a right to respect as a woman and as a human being. Even women who DON’T read romance have that right. Don’t they?
Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
I have been a full-time writer since CAPTIVE OF DESIRE was commissioned, and I feel immensely lucky about that! But I have sometimes worked at various jobs in order to get background for a book I am writing. For example, I worked in a carpet shop in London for awhile and wrote THE MAN NEXT DOOR out of that. I worked briefly in a circus before writing ROUGHNECK. And in the nineties I went back to university and in addition to getting my degree, I wrote A GENTLEMAN AND A SCHOLAR out of the experience. I’ve taught English as a foreign language in the Middle East with a book in mind, but so far I haven’t written that particular one. Though of course that experience has fuelled the Sons of the Desert series in many ways.
Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years? Do you have any other books in the works?
I’ve got too many books jostling for attention at the moment. It’s very difficult because if I am working on one book and another tries to surface, and I suppress that in order to finish the one I’m with, it’s quite easy to lose all momentum. I have two very different books (non-romance) on the back burner while I finish off POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL’S SHEIKH, as well as a big book romantic thriller. But as for a five-year plan…maybe that’s what’s missing! I’ll try visualizing that and see where it gets me. Thank you for the pointer.
And now, just some little random questions!
Favorite TV show? Jeopardy. I know, I know. But I hardly ever watch TV these days. Mostly because my Greek isn’t good enough.
Favorite movie? Too many to name—Casablanca, The In-Laws, Galaxy Quest, for starters.
Favorite city? Vancouver, possibly. I adore Istanbul, too, I’d love to go there to write a book in the Pera Palace Hotel! And Wikwemigong on Manitoulin Island. And Isfahan. And Jerusalem. And New York.
Favorite food? Greek, Middle Eastern, and Afghan. Oh, and Canadian butter tarts!
Favorite book? PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and a hundred others. Can’t really begin on this one.
To conclude, is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
Hello, and thank you, and I hope you will always enjoy what I write for you.
It was a pleasure hosting you on my blog today. I wish you all the best in your career!
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