Southern Scribe
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Featured Romance Author

 
 
   
    Exploring the Dark Side of Love
     An Interview with Author Katherine Sutcliffe

      By Joyce Dixon

 

 

 

How does one describe a Katherine Sutcliffe novel?  Intense psychological exploration.  A sexual adventure.  Rich in classical literary allusions.  Confirmation that love will win in even the darkest moments. 

USA Today bestselling author Katherine Sutcliffe is the author of 21 novels.  She has worked as Consultant Head Writer for the daytime dramas “As The World Turns” and “Another World.”  Sutcliffe is nominated for two Romantic Times Magazine Awards:  Career Achievement Award for Best Historical Story Teller of the Year and Best Historical Adventure (for Notorious).

Katherine Sutcliffe will be touring Kroger stores in September.  She will autograph copies of Fever and Darkling I Listen, which will be part of a special Christmas display in their 72 stores.

Katherine Sutcliffe and her husband Neil have four children and make their home in Texas.  She is living proof that if you practice your craft and stay focused on the goal, your dreams will come true.  

 

As a native East Texan, how much of Ticky Creek is a trip down memory lane? 

Darkling I Listen might as well be autobiographical. Having grown up in East Texas, Longview, Marshall, and Gilmer (home of the world famous Yamboree!) I called on my memories of small town life and culture to give Darkling that essence of reality: been there, done that, and seen that. But more importantly, I reached into my own past, and present, to develop the characters and plot. Alyson, the heroine, is from Longview, a writer for a tabloid who is hungry to move into a venue that would reward her with more respect and freedom--aka historical romance writer moves into suspense/thriller where she will have the opportunity to allow her strengths--the dark, gritty edge that isn't fully appreciated in romance--to flourish.  (Note here that I love historical romance and don't intend to leave it!! I fully intend to continue to do both because romance and happily ever after bring myself and others pleasure and gratification that reality obviously doesn't. However, as a writer, the suspense offers me an alternative to get the dark side out of my system, and will ultimately reward me with the opportunity to realize my grandest dream--to move into television or feature films--which has already happened with Darkling. It has recently been optioned for a feature movie. But I digress...)

The book (characters and plot) symbolizes the entertainment profession. Too often artists must sell their souls to succeed.  (Brandon's mother sacrificing her son's soul for fame and fortune.) An industry that reveres them one day, may hate them the     next. The artist must face the reality that they are no more than a commodity. If their books, body, or acting ability no longer make money for "the industry" they're toast. The stalker issue symbolizes that point--that which once embraced the artist     ultimately turns on the artist. We see it every day--movie stars, athletes, writers, government officials made into gods by adoring fans, reviewers, etc are eventually "crucified" if they, as any normal human being, stumble. Which is the symbolic portrayal of Brandon who played Jesus Christ in The Resurrection.

As one who has experienced the highs and lows in this business, I can testify that success can not be taken seriously. You're only as successful as your last or current work. Which is why artists are a paranoid lot. If we stumble, there are thousands waiting in line to fill our shoes. We might be autographing our bestsellers one year, and flipping hamburgers at the Dime A Cup Cafe the next.

How would you explain the female attraction for dangerous men, especially tortured bad boys?

I believe it's the idea of taming the untamable. As I recently explained to someone who asked why I'm drawn to bad boy characters. I read to experience that which takes me into an exciting, different place. It's the escapism. What is more exciting and emotionally fulfilling? Teaching a kitten to use the litter box, or master a savage lion so he eventually purrs at your touch and eats out of your hand.

I use to breed Arabian horses. While I enjoyed riding my sweet gelding, spending hours grooming him, at the end of the day it wasn't those memories that occupied my thoughts and caused me to smile in satisfaction. It was the memory of my standing outside my stallion's stall, watching him snort and pace and stomp, his nostrils flaring and his eyes flashing as he drank in the scent of the mares. It was that rush of adrenaline I experienced as I stepped into that stall with him, crooned to him, stroked him until he lowered his head and nuzzled me--all while his body continued to quiver with pent up power and his explosive need to tromp me into the ground to get to that mare! But he didn't because, regardless of his rampant sexual need, he trusted me, respected and loved me.

Darkling is exhausting emotionally during the childhood molestation memories of several characters.  How did you prepare to write these scenes?

I don't think there really is a way to prepare for such a scene. I wept for Brandon. I loathed his mother. I have a couple of friends who were sexually abused as children, so I understood the helplessness of the child--that craving of love and acceptance    from the abuser (in Brandon's case, not the producer who abused him--but his mother was as guilty, if not more of the abuse because she allowed it to happen.) It scars the psyche and self esteem of the abused for the remainder of their lives. It was the same for Mitsy. That was the thread that continued to bond her to Brandon. While Brandon used that emotion and anger to propel him to a form of success, Mitsy allowed it to totally destroy her.

You seemed to be having fun in Darkling I Listen with the sizzling scenes between Brandon and Alyson.  Did Brandon’s Hollywood hunk past give you freedom to explore his knowledge of erotica?

I did have fun with those sizzling scenes! (wink) After spending 15 years and 20 books exhausting myself with euphemisms for sex and body parts, the freedom I had to let go and explore the erotica was as liberating as writing the dark and gritty underbelly of reality. Yes, Brandon's past allowed me to go for the gusto. He symbolized sexuality--that which people keep locked away in secret--the ultimate dark fantasy.

Because of the slavery issue, few historical romances seem to be set in the deep South any more.  How hard was it to get Fever published?  What inspired this story?

My first draft for Fever was written back in the early 80's.  Because the genre readers were more into English and Western settings, I couldn't get a publisher to look at it. But everything goes in cycles, and at long last we're again finding an upswing in Southern books. But enter a new problem. It's called "Politically correct." A few reviewers have slammed me for portraying the reality of the times--warning readers that they may be "jarred" by said realities. Or that the depiction of slavery is "clichéd."   Excuse me? These historical "revisionists" would have me alter the truth to satisfy their own discomfitures over the realities of the era. Should we also go back to the history books and delete the facts--because many of the scenes and characters in Fever were plotted from the hard core truth I found in my research books.

These reviewers have obviously missed the focus of the slavery issue in Fever. While there was abuse, there were also planters who took great care of their slaves--treated them like family, and friends, brought them into the bosom of their homes and made certain they were kept as comfortable as possible. They were intricate to the success of the plantations.  I was made aware of that back in the early 80's when I was touring the River Road from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. I happened upon a plantation which, unlike the other beautifully restored homes, was still in disrepair. One of the last surviving members of the family lived on the estate in a trailer. He charged for tours, and what little money he made, he put into the reconstruction of the home. When he learned I was a writer, he invited me to sit with him on the old gallery, right along with his drooling hounds, and he enlightened me to a side of plantation life that I had not read in my past forays into Southern fiction. Most stories (at least in the romance genre) depicted the prosperous life of the Southern planter. Women lounged in their taffetas and silks sipping mint juleps--planning their next soiree. But the hard core reality was, most planters tottered on the fragile thread of disaster and failure--totally controlled by the whims of Mother Nature and the cooperation of their slaves. And if Mother Nature wasn't enough to destroy them, there was also the very real threat of disease--yellow fever.

As a "reality" writer, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to depict a family fighting to survive such obstacles.

The parent/child relationships were especially complex in Fever -- Juliette’s love/hate memories of her mother; Chantz wanting to be acknowledged by his father; and Tylor having all his father’s wealth but not his love.  What do you hope for your readers to take from these stories?

There are two sides to every story (pardon the cliché). In Juliette's case, she was more or less brain washed into believing her mother was horrid. What she came to discover, however, is that Maureen Jarod Broussard, while succumbing to a particular weakness--which was men, she had a heart of gold for the less fortunate. The moral here was to never take anything at face value--including rumor and speculation. Too often people form opinions of others without taking the time to get to know what is at the heart of their character. We all have demons that occasionally drive us--we misstep often because we're human. That doesn't necessarily make us wretched people.

In the case of Chantz needing his father's acknowledgment. Too often we think we need acknowledgment of others to give us self-worth. It is the opinion of ourselves that matters most. Neil Diamond once had a song called "I AM I SAID." A story of a man who achieved success but something was still missing--belief and respect for himself. Chantz's challenge was to realize that his father's acknowledgement would not elevate his place in the world. Only his belief in himself would do that.

Tylor was, I felt, the most complicated character in Fever. He was pitiful. While his father wouldn't acknowledge Chantz, he still respected him mightily. Tylor was forced to walk in Chantz's shadow all his life. He couldn't compete. His father's money meant nothing to him. He yearned for his respect, which, without him realizing bonded him even more closely with Chantz. Once again, we have the issue of our life's pitfalls to either make us or break us. It's the old If life serves us lemons, make lemonade. Chantz used that drought of love to propel him to succeed, while Tylor allowed it to destroy him.

Obviously that is a reoccurring theme in my books. Having come from a less than nurturing childhood myself, I learned young that I had to believe in myself--that I couldn't count on others to make me feel significant. That was totally up to me. We all have to make choices in life. We chose the right path, or we chose the wrong path, and we have no one else to blame for the consequences but ourselves.

Compare writing for daytime dramas to writing novels.

There simply is no comparison. LOL!!! Writing for daytime television was the most grueling, frustrating work I've ever done.  Pleasing an editor is one thing. Pleasing producers, executive producers, directors, network executives is enough to make a     freelance writer jump off the Empire State building. For television I was at work by 3 a.m. and working until 10 p.m. seven days a week. It was sitting for 10 hours at round table meetings with the executives--each who had their own ideas of what they felt the viewers needed to be fed on a daily basis. Lord, how I missed the solitary existence of my little office where I could allow my imagination to mold my characters and plots into what I wanted and not have to sweat over Nielson Ratings. Mind you, I would probably do it again. It's like childbirth. You soon forget the pain and remember the magic of it all. I met some wonderful people. Made some pretty decent money. Learned a lot. Consultant Head Writer for two award winning daytime dramas doesn't look too bad on my resume. Call me a glutton for punishment...then again, if I wasn't I wouldn't be in publishing at all.

You seem driven to write.  How would you describe your passion for the written word, and what it has given to you?

My passion to write is consuming. Obsessive. It is the heartbeat of my existence. I devoured the written word as a child, and to be allowed the opportunity to see my own words published is a dream come true. I thank God every day that He blessed me with the ability to write and that I'm fortunate to be one of the very few who actually gets to realize the ultimate fantasy.

Your training as a writer came mainly as a reader and by working your craft since your youth.  Who inspired you?  What advice would you give to new writers?

Every written word inspired me. I don't care if it was a classic or words written on a cereal box. My style of writing has been inspired by varied authors--from the Bronte's to Stephen King--depending on what type of story I'm writing at the time.

My advise to new writers? Never--ever--take NO for an answer.

What are you writing now?

I'm working on another historical romance for Pocket Books, and plotting my next contemporary suspense/thriller for Jove Books.  Also working on the screenplay for Darkling.


Katherine Sutcliffe Official Web Site
http://www.authorsontheweb.com/katherinesutcliffe/index.html

Contact Katherine Sutcliffe at KatherineSutcliffe@home.com      


       Fever, Sonnet Books, 2001

           Doubleday Book Club Selection
           Rhapsody Book Club Featured Alternate Selection

               Southern Scribe Review

 

 Darkling I Listen, Jove, 2001    

 

 

 

 


© 2001 Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved