Author Interview: Sharon Sant
This week I had the pleasure of talking to talented author Sharon Sant about her work. Below is the full interview, as well as some info on her books.
You have described yourself as a ‘hybrid author’, what exactly does that entail?
I recently read one or two articles about a new breed of author referred to as ‘hybrid’, who make their living by a mix of traditional and self-publishing. This way of working gives a writer (particularly a more established one) the freedom to create extra earning potential, and also the freedom to publish what they want to write, rather than what their publishing house or agent is asking them for. It seems that many agents now accept this arrangement with their clients as part of the changing landscape of publishing. Some of my books are published by me, and one, Runners, is published by Immanion Press. So I figured at the time of reading about it that I was one of these so-called hybrids. I’ve since revaluated this idea though (it sounded a bit grand to apply to me) and decided that I’m just me, getting published any way I can. I have no qualms submitting to traditional outlets again, likewise, I know I will write some books destined for the KDP market straight away. I don’t want to be labelled as this or that, I just want to write and get what I produce to readers and I’ll be happy.
You mentioned differing publishing routes there; do you think Runners would have found an audience had it been self-published? How do you decide which kind of publishing your titles are most suitable for?
I have no idea, to be honest. I’m still in shock at the reception the Sky Song books are getting! I had made the decision last year to try Runners as a self-published book shortly before I was offered the contract from Immanion Press for it, and I often wonder how different things would have been if that had been my first self-published offering. At the moment, I’m a little bit addicted to publishing on KDP and I have a back-catalogue of manuscripts that are going on there. I love the satisfaction of seeing my titles on my reports page and the control over what I publish and when I publish it. I’ve never been one to chase a high profile career, and I really would rather just spend my time writing, so I probably haven’t devoted as much energy as I should have done over the past few years to getting traditional deals. Maybe that will change, though, as, naturally, every achieved ambition gives birth to a new challenge. I know some philosopher said that more eloquently than me, but if you can remember who it is, I’d be most impressed! But in the beginning, it was just about getting books out there for people to read, and I’m happy that I’m doing that, so now I just want more and more people to read them – I think that is where a traditional deal might end up being the answer.
Whilst told mostly from Elijah’s perspective, Runners features an ensemble cast. Was the group dynamic difficult to create and was it hard to make sure each individual received enough exposure?
It’s funny, because I don’t think I ever really thought about any of that in a conscious way. Once each character was created, they just ‘were’ and they just ‘did’, almost of their own volition. I find it natural to think about the personality traits of each one and instinctively know how they will act in any given scene, and how that action will affect the rest of the group, and how the rest of the individuals in that group will react. For example, I just know in a situation where Elijah and Xavier lock horns (and they always will because they just mix that way), Jimmy will try to calm it by making a joke of it, Rosa will always side with Xavier if she thinks he’s right but won’t be afraid to tell him when he isn’t, Sky will want to side with Elijah but won’t want to upset any of the others and will try to see every side of the argument… and so on. I had a definite sense of the back-story of each character, and they’re all just as compelling as Elijah’s – they’re touched upon briefly in Runners but I have plans to elaborate on those over the next year or so. Sky, Rosa, Jimmy and Sadie will get their own prequel stories that tell us what happened to them before Runners and how they came to be living on the streets. Rowan, Xavier and Francois will come back too and we’ll have a chance to find out more about them, but in the sequel to Runners that is planned for 2014.
Why do you think dystopian fiction is so popular at the moment?
I don’t honestly think that dystopian fiction has ever been out of favour, but as it is naturally confined to within certain genres; like the fantasy genre, it has depended upon the readership of those at any given time. Fantasy and sci-fi have both seen a surge in popularity in recent times; therefore, this surge brings dystopia with it. The difference, I think, is that now dystopia is considered as a genre in its own right and not as a sub-category of a parent one. We’ve also had a wealth of ‘speculative fiction’ which links in to dystopian, all through the twentieth century from quite literary writers like Margaret Atwood. I think it’s too obvious to point at The Hunger Games as the culprit for the most recent literary trend – rather than being the catalyst, I think that particular series just captured a zeitgeist. Just from my own perspective, I was writing Runners way back in 2007 and I had never heard of The Hunger Games. Back then, we were all swooning over sparkly vampires, but the idea for Runners had come to me from somewhere and, clearly, from all the recent dystopian releases that must have started life at around the same time, something was just in the ether.
Your Sky Song trilogy has been very well received and has developed a strong internet following. When you released it did you intend it to market it through the online bookish community?
I had no idea what I was doing when I released Sky Song (I still don’t). It was as much as I could do to format it and create a cover to upload to Amazon. But you’d be crazy these days to ignore the power of the internet to connect with readers. Over the years, I’ve come across many an indie author dragging a suitcase of self-published paperbacks around to book fairs and standing there for 8 hours to sell a handful of copies. It’s soul-destroying enough at times, but at least the internet gives us the chance to build meaningful, lasting relationships with readers and bloggers, rather than a transient meeting where it’s likely you’ll never receive any feedback on your book. I never had a strategy though (anyone who knows me knows I’m rubbish at strategy), I just made friends online and hoped that people would read my book and like it, and for the most part that seems to be happening. And I still don’t have a strategy seven months on!
Sky Song includes a love triangle, but still manages to feel fresh. Did you approach this aspect of the story with any of the well-known YA love triangles in mind, either as a reference point or as something to steer clear from?
I never really considered it to be a love triangle so I hardly gave that any conscious thought. Ellen loves Jacob and Luca in different ways; they both offer something equally as important to her life, and the boys don’t really have a rivalry in the same way as you see in, say, the Twilight saga or The Hunger Games. They all love and respect each other and their friendship weathers the storm. I feel that Ellen knows, ultimately, she could be happy with either of them and she just needs to figure out which way the dice will fall; the boys themselves know this too. Ironically, despite the fact that Luca is the joker of the trio and Jacob is supposed to be the super-intelligent one, Luca ends up being the one with the maturity to step back from that situation and give Ellen the space she needs to decide.
A certain famous author has just been rumbled as having released books under a pseudonym. Why do you write some of your stories under the guise of Summer Hopkiss?
I always wanted to keep my categories separate and so it seemed like a good idea to write my children’s books under a pen name. The trouble is, I’m so bad at keeping the secret that almost everyone knows it’s me anyway, a bit like ‘Mr Galbraith’! I’ll soon be branching out into adult romantic comedy, and it’s likely that a new pen name will be invented for that too. Aside from anything else, it feels very liberating actually to release books under a different name. As people now know my YA books, I feel like there’s an expectation from me that doesn’t arise in the same way when I write something different under a pen name. That, and the fact that I might ostracise half of the people at my day job if they read themselves in the new book!
You have released books that fit into a number of different genres. Is there still one you would love to write in? Or perhaps one you never would?
I’ve always admired people who write crime and mystery. I’m just not clever enough to work out a plot with enough twists and turns to keep a reader guessing until the final page. I don’t see myself attempting it any time soon either.
What books did you read in your formative years? How much did they affect the person you became?
I remember, when I was very young, a teenage aunt bringing me a stack of Enid Blyton books when she was clearing out her bedroom. Most of them were Famous Five and Secret Seven and I just devoured them. I think that’s where I get my love of adventure tales from and probably my own thirst for adventure in life. For many years I went around convinced that every innocuous event was a secret plot that I could uncover! When I got to high school I read dozens of classics, again, smuggling tales and adventure were top of the list. At college, the love of classics continued, but then I also got a weird obsession with boys’ adventure tales from the twentieth century. I used to scour second hand bookshops looking for books about the flying ace, Biggles. Don’t ask me why, but I couldn’t get enough of them! Most of them were pretty terrible too, but there would always be that gem that would make it all worthwhile. I’d still argue to anyone who was stupid enough to stand still and listen that Biggles is actually a complex and well-crafted character in the early books (set during the first world war where pilots had a shockingly short life expectancy, he was a chain-smoking teenage wreck); it’s only later on that he becomes such a parody of himself. Monty Python didn’t help his image either! I’m not sure how this influenced the person I became – maybe I just developed a weird penchant for flying leathers!
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Sadly, I can’t. I can, however, remember the very first thing I wrote that got praised and the feeling it gave me. I was in year four or five, and the teacher asked us to write a poem in the style of the Coco-Pops ad of the time, which was sort of an Edward Lear type rhyme. I wrote one called ET and Me and the teacher read it out and then told me to take it round to the other classes and show teachers in there! Then he stuck it on the wall of the class and I was so proud!
What is an author’s role in their local community?
That’s a tough question. I suppose it depends on how much the local community wants the author to play a role! This year I’ve just started to get involved in local stuff in my author guise, mostly with schools as I write YA. But I think school is a good place to start whatever your genre. I think you have more power than you realise as an author – not in a melodramatic Spiderman way, but you can inspire people, especially young people making their first steps in life and deciding what they want. When I talk to young people, I want them to realise that I started out just like them, that there’s nothing special or privileged about my background. Stoke-on-Trent is quite a working class area and many of the kids at the schools I visit are from working class backgrounds; my dad’s family (my mum is from Dorset) were about as working class as you get and my dad grew up on a council estate. And I do truly believe that people can be masters of their own destiny if they choose it and I try to impart that ideal too. If I’m asked to do anything locally – talks or appearances, etc – then I try to say yes if possible. I’m not sure that’s really answered your question, but for my part, the short answer is to get involved as much as possible.