Monday’s Friend: Sonya Clark

Today I am pleased to welcome friend and fellow Lyrical Press author Sonya Clark to the blog. Sonya’s third book with Lyrical Press, RED HOUSE, has just been released. It’s the second book featuring the wonderful Roxie Mathis, and I took the opportunity to chat to Sonya about the book and writing in general.

SJT:  When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

SC:   I always told stories. Every child does while playing with their Barbies or GI Joes, it’s just part of the play. But I took it beyond that and recognized fairly early on it was something I could do, something I enjoyed more than the actual play itself. At thirteen I read Ray Bradbury’s DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS, his valentine to noir with an unnamed protagonist who was a writer. Something clicked and I knew, I could do that. I could be writer. Well, actually I already was writing, little stories and even (ack) poems. But that was the first time I took the idea seriously.

 SJT:  Who would you cite as your influences?

SC:  Ray Bradbury, obviously. I read a lot of his work at just the right age. Anne Rice and Stephen King too. Back then once you made your way through all the Judy Blume and Madeleine L’Engle you could get your hands on, it was pretty much time to start going through the adult section of the library. The Young Adult genre that is currently thriving is a great thing, a nice bridge that I would have enjoyed having access to when I was a pre-teen and teenager. I still would have read the adult stuff, though.

Once I was an adult myself I read a lot of mystery novels, a lot of thrillers. Then I found urban fantasy and never looked back. There is one category of non-fiction that has been a big influence: books about music. Biographies, histories, criticism – I have dozens of books about music and those stories and music itself has been a huge influence.

 SJT:  RED HOUSE is your third published novel with Lyrical Press.  What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out?

SC:  RED HOUSE is my third published novel but my seventh work of novella or novel length. It took until number eight for me to learn how to outline. There are a lot of different ways to outline and I tried probably all of them at one time or another, but it took a long time to develop a method that works for me. I wish I’d been able to do that sooner.

SJT:  Tell us about RED HOUSE.

 SC:  RED HOUSE is about home. Roxie has lost hers in a flood. Let me go back – MOJO QUEEN is set in Nashville. In May of 2010 there was a catastrophic flood in Middle and West Tennessee, with Nashville being particularly hard hit. When I set out to write a second Mojo book I knew I didn’t want to ignore what happened. I wanted to know two things: how did my characters deal with the natural  disaster, and how did the ghosts Roxie deals with in her capacity as a paranormal investigator and hoodoo practitioner weather the massive storm on the spirit plane? I decided it made sense that if mortals were dealing with chaos, displacement, and upheaval, so would ghosts and spirits.

So this book is about Roxie dealing with the aftermath of losing her home. The flood waters took it and there’s no magic spell or rite that will change that. But when a woman hires her to clear a bed and breakfast called Maple Hill of a malevolent spirit that seems to have taken up residence since the flood, Roxie is determined to save somebody’s home, since she couldn’t save her own.

There’s also Roxie’s complicated relationship with a shady but sexy sorcerer, as well as the friendship that serves as a bedrock for her – her vampire ancestor Daniel.

 SJT:  This is the second book featuring Hoodoo Queen Roxie Mathis.  How did the character of Roxie come about?

 SC:  In the very first version of what eventually became MOJO QUEEN, Roxie was a guy named Larry. He still wore glasses and used them as a sort of shield to help him filter out the colors of the aura that his magical abilities allowed him to see. At some point early on I changed the character’s gender and name, then I changed a bunch more stuff. The biggest change was moving Roxie away from a more traditional magical practice. I gave her my love of blues, which led to her practicing hoodoo folk magic. That’s given her, and the series itself, a bit different flavor from a lot of urban fantasy.

 SJT:  Music is a big part of your life, and you talk about your musical influences on your blog.  How does music inform your writing?

 SC:  If I didn’t love the blues it never would have occurred to me to use hoodoo in these books. It’s not an unheard of form of folk magic but it’s not terribly common either, and a lot of people confuse it with Voodoo. Voodoo is its own religion. Hoodoo is folk magic. Most of the old practitioners of it you’ll read about were Christian and used the Psalms and other Bible verses in their spells and rites, along with roots and herbs and candles and other items. Roxie is not at all religious because I didn’t want to get into all that. The connection between blues and hoodoo is a strong one and goes back decades. Artists like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and scores of others frequently made hoodoo references in their lyrics. I chose it because it felt like a natural fit with the musical influences of that first book (that set the tone for the series), it helped emphasize the Southern setting, and it wasn’t something found in a lot of other urban fantasy books.

 SJT:  When it comes to your writing projects, would you describe yourself as a meticulous planner, or a ‘seat-of-the-pantser’

 SC:  Neither. I used to pants everything but RED HOUSE broke me of that. This was a very hard book to write and when I finished I swore I’d find a better way to do things. For the next book I wrote I experimented with different types of outlining, finally developing a system that works for me. I would not describe it as remotely meticulous, ha. More like a road map with plenty of room for excursions and course changes. I create a basic document that covers the beginning, middle, and end. Along with that I create a list of story questions – why does this happen, what about this, that needs to happen so how do I work it in? A truly meticulous planner would probably object to calling this an outline but it works for me. It helps me figure out a lot of the whys before getting into the  meat of the manuscript – why is this happening, why is this character behaving this way, what is really going on underneath the paranormal plot? Figuring out the book’s theme before I’ve got half the book written is tremendously helpful.

Another thing I do is start a playlist right away. What does this story sound like is one of my questions. I know a lot of writers use character charts and I have tried that but it’s not all that helpful to me. Sure, I need to keep everybody’s eye color consistent so charts are handy for that sort of thing, but filling out goal, motivation, and conflict charts have not been helpful to me. Figuring out what the character listens to, what music really resonates with them, is the best way for me to get to know them. There’s a difference between a character whose theme song, if you will, is Nine Inch Nails or something similar, and a guy who plays Eric Clapton’s Old Love over and over late at night when he can’t stop thinking about that one woman that got away.

 SJT:  What advice would you pass on to beginning writers?

 SC:  I think Stephen King said it best: read a lot and write a lot. If you can’t or won’t do both of those things, you might want to think about what it is you’re looking for by wanting to write. Other than that, learn as much as you can about craft, especially point of view. Figure out which works best for you, pantsing or outlining. And most of all, finish the book. Don’t get so bogged down in making it perfect the first time and never finish – that’s what revision is for.

 SJT:  Any other projects in the works?

 SC:  Later this year I have a futuristic/dystopian paranormal romance coming out from Carina Press. Right now I’m writing the next Mojo book. I have some other things I’d like to work on, it’s just getting the time to do it. I have a six month old baby and she takes a lot of my attention. That made learning to outline even more important! 🙂

Red House

Blurb for RED HOUSE:

There’s high water everywhere and she’s about to drown on dry land.

Roxie Mathis lost her home and her livelihood to a devastating flood. She’s lucky to be staying with her vampire ancestor Daniel but she wants to put the pieces of her life back together. Trouble is, Roxie’s lost her mojo. The trauma of almost drowning and losing her home left a deep mark on her.

Blake Harvill left a mark on her too and she’s been missing him in the four months since he left town. Now he’s back with plans to stay. Roxie wants him like she’s never wanted anyone else but can she trust the sexy sorcerer with her guarded heart?

Hired to evict ghosts from the bed and breakfast called Maple Hill, her confidence takes another hit when she encounters a violent spirit she’s crossed paths with in the past. When the spirit traps innocent people in the house Roxie’s going to have to tap reservoirs of magic she’s never touched before. Like physics, everything in magic has an equal and opposite reaction, and Roxie can only hope her desperate spellwork won’t kill her–or conjure up something even more dangerous.

Excerpt:

I didn’t have to wonder long if he’d use the shotgun. The blast echoed in the hallway, followed by him pounding on the door.

“Okay, okay.” With my boot I cleared the salt out of the way as I quickly rolled down my sleeve, wrapping the door knob in cloth to protect my hand from burning as I twisted it.

Daniel burst in the room and I slammed the door behind him. “Are you hurt?” A letter opener stuck out of his left shoulder at an odd angle. Blood on his face was the only evidence of cuts that had already healed. More blood stained his shirt.

“One of them chased me, the same one that ran me out yesterday. What did you see?”

He shook his head as if he didn’t want to tell me. “I don’t think everything here wants to be here.”

That tracked with the emotions I was picking up. There was as much fear as anger in the house. “Yeah, that’s what I’m getting. I can feel it. How can you tell?”

He yanked out the letter opener, letting it fall to the floor with a clang. “Ever seen one ghost hurt another ghost?”

Sickening dread leached through my veins. “No, but I’ve heard stories about ones that can.” Sweat slicked my skin as my nerves jangled. We had to get out, fast.

The spirits pressing through the wallpaper became more agitated, shaking pictures off the walls and tearing the paper. Their moans filled the room with a terrible racket. A chill shook me as the temperature dropped. Everything not nailed down began to move, rattling like a violent earthquake. Suddenly the spirits disappeared, leaving a taste of fear in their wake.

The door boomed open, a ghost I recognized filling the frame, one bad enough to make me wish for the soldier. He wore hand-sewn clothes from another time, washed out in that gray murky way of incorporeal beings. Except for the splashes of scarlet on his shirt and coat, his sallow face. The bloodstains shone like liquid rubies and leached out of his form to blend with the haze that covered the entire house. Malevolent energy flowed from him in a noxious wave.

The ghost’s form took on a more solid appearance, his familiar flat black eyes freight-training terror through my blood. My heart slammed out of control as I began to hyperventilate. I may have whispered no, or maybe it was a prayer that passed my lips. The ghost stretched his thin lips into a smile and I screamed.

Daniel erupted in flames.

Learn more at lyricalpress.com/red-house and www.sonyaclark.net.

Bio:

Sonya Clark writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance with a heavy dose of magic, strongly influenced by her love of music. She lives in Tennessee with her family.

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3 comments so far

  1. Mae Clair on

    Wonderful interview, ladies. Sonya, I love how strongly your passion for the blues resonates with the story line. I never understsood that hoodoo was a type of folk magic. So intriguing to learn. I have been eying RED HOUSE up for a while and defnitely need to add it to my TBR list. It sounds like a winner!

    • Sonya Clark on

      Hi Mae! Voodoo and hoodoo are often conflated so I think most don’t realize quite what either one is. It’s been fascinating for me to learn more as I’ve done research for the books. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Jessi Gage on

    This looks intriguing. Good luck writing more in the series, Sonya!


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