Interview with Author Mitzi Szereto:
Hi Mitzi. Thank you for doing this interview. I would like to welcome you to the Romance at Heart Interview and Author Grilling session. *bg* We are interested to find out as much about you as we possibly can, so lets get started...
- Please tell us about your latest book.
My current release is ďIn Sleeping Beautyís Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales.Ē Itís a solo short story collection featuring my eroticized and rather quirky versions of classic (as well as obscure) fairy tales collected from around the world. Itís all good fun and quite naughty, with lots of bizarre twists from the original story lines, though Iíve kept the tales recognizable and written in a fairy tale style, since I felt it was important to maintain that original flavor and mood. Each story is prefaced with a brief introduction chronicling how the tales came into our contemporary literature, also detailing the original erotic content, which had been excised in order to make the tales fit for the consumption of children. Did you know that Cinderella originated from ancient China? Well, neither did I. It was quite an education finding out about our so-called ďchildhoodĒ stories Ė which, in their original forms, were definitely not something to read to the kiddies! Having said that, the blood-and-guts violence in many of these tales didnít seem to be a problem. I think that says a lot for our society in general. Many of these stories, such as ďLittle Red Riding Hood,Ē were ďmoralityĒ tales intended for young girls, so Iíve made sure to turn the tables as much as possible. Letís just say that Red is the one in charge, and grandma isnít exactly a passive bystander either!
- What can we expect from you in the future?
Well, Iím very excited about my next novel, ďPride and Prejudice: Hidden LustsĒ, due for release in spring 2011 from Cleis Press. Up till now it has remained a top-secret project (not even the CIA or MI-6 knew about it), but Iím letting the proverbial cat out of the bag, since spring is practically around the corner. How this book actually came about is a bit unusual. You see, I was visited by the spirit of Jane Austen when I went to visit her house in Hampshire, here in England, and over a cup of tea she told me of her frustrations when she originally wrote ďPride and Prejudice,Ē in that she wasnít allowed to tell her readers what really went on with her characters because it wouldnít, as she said, have been at all politic. She suggested that I take a crack at it, since she thought Iíd be the perfect writer for interpreting her story as she might have done. (Sheís a huge fan of ďIn Sleeping Beautyís Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales!Ē) Iíve allowed her to read the finished manuscript and she seems to really like what Iíve done with the novel and her characters. In fact, she said it was positively shocking! If ghosts could blush, then Iím certain she did.
Aside from Janeís encouragement, it was the perfect project for me anyway. Iíve always loved ďPride and PrejudiceĒ, and even more so, the BBC Television adaptation starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. I have to confess that I found his interpretation of the character quiteÖ shall we sayÖ inspirational. When I think of Mr. Darcy, I will always see Colin Firth in my mindís eye, and no matter how many actors come along to play the role, he was THE Mr. Darcy. In fact, that entire cast was brilliant, and, in my humble opinion, unmatched either before or since its filming.
- How do we find out about you and your books?
Itís incredibly easy to find out about me and what I get up to Ė Iím all over the internet, and on all the major social networking sites. I actually have more than one Facebook profile (due to their friend limitations and the continuous malfunctioning of the site), plus several fan pages, which probably explains why some people call me ďThe Queen of FacebookĒ (itís even in Wikipedia.) Iím on Twitter, of course, and MySpace. My website lists my books with a brief description of what theyíre about, and has handy Amazon carousel links for the USA, UK, and Canada stores; plus thereís information about my upcoming events, and anything else of relevance (or irrelevance).
- Do you allow readers to contact you? If so, how do they reach you?
As I said, Iím not difficult to find. Just enter my name in any search engine and a zillion hits come up, as well as various email addresses, so Iím not exactly hiding out from readers! I have a major presence on various social networking sites, as I mentioned, particularly Facebook, so people can message me via these avenues. I canít always reply to everyone, or reply in as much detail as Iíd wish to, but I try to reply if I feel the message necessitates one, even if only to thank someone who has told me how much they enjoyed such and such book of mine or my blog posts or the Mitzi TV videos. Iím certainly not unapproachable! Iím always pleased when people take time out to send me a message Ė itís nice to know that your work is appreciated and enjoyed.
- Please tell us about yourself (family, hobbies, education, etc.)
My published titles include IN SLEEPING BEAUTY'S BED: EROTIC FAIRY TALES; GETTING EVEN: REVENGE STORIES (crime); DYING FOR IT: TALES OF SEX & DEATH (multi-genre); WICKED: SEXY TALES OF LEGENDARY LOVERS; THE NEW BLACK LACE BOOK OF WOMEN'S SEXUAL FANTASIES (non-fiction/survey); EROTIC FAIRY TALES: A ROMP THROUGH THE CLASSICS; the EROTIC TRAVEL TALES anthology series (erotica/romance); THE WORLDíS BEST SEX WRITING 2005 (non-fiction/criticism); and the M. S. VALENTINE erotic novels.
I also have a number of titles published exclusively with Amazon Kindle. My work has been translated into several languages. I am the pioneer of the erotic writing workshop in the UK and Europe, teaching them from the Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands. I've also lectured in creative writing at a number of British universities. I've been featured in publications ranging from the Sunday Telegraph, Independent, Times, Observer, Toronto Star, The London Paper, Company Magazine, Dare Magazine, Family Circle, Writing Magazine, Scarlet Magazine, and Forum, to Bravo UK Television, Telecinco TV 5 (Madrid), Newstalk Ireland, FM4 ORF (Vienna), and BBC Radio.
My work as an anthology editor has earned her the American Society of Authors and Writersí Meritorious Achievement Award. My anthology EROTIC TRAVEL TALES 2 is the first anthology of erotica to feature a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Originally from the United States, I live in Greater London, England.
- Does your family bother you when you are writing - are there constant interruptions?
The only constant interruptions I have are from checking emails and networking sites, which, although a self-imposed interruption, is also a necessary evil in my work. Important things crop up all the time, such as interview requests or requests from journalists for quotes, or something to do with my books, and I need to be on top of them. I live with my famous little bear Teddy Tedaloo, and thatís how I like it. Heís pretty well-behaved (unless heís had one too many pints), so he lets me get on with what I need to do. When you write, it just isnít feasible having people underfoot Ė or even in the same house! Well, at least for me, anyway. I need my space and my peace. I do really like and need my solitude, so I guess being a writer is the perfect profession for me. I donít even like to talk on the phone that often; I have to be really in the mood. I spend so much time communicating via email and social networks that I donít feel some overwhelming need to seek out contact Ė itís always there! Interestingly, I donít have a fancy mobile phone to go online with when Iím not at my computer and, although my mobile apparently has internet access, Iím not even sure how to use it. So despite my enslavement to the internet, I appear to be able to tolerate brief periods away from it. Very brief.
- What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?
Relaxing and recharging Ė I never really seem to relax. Iím always working, and even if Iím out at what is technically something social, Iím working, thinking, networking. Iím always busy inside my head and creating content; even a walk down my local High Street ends up being content, say, for my blog. A random photograph becomes content (did I mention that Iím on Flickr, too?) Even if I go on holiday, it ends up in my blog. If I sound like a workaholic, perhaps I am. If you want to push me for a more definitive answer, then Iíd have to say that going to the gym for a workout and using the steam room is about as close as I get to ďrechargingĒ, though I tend to be thinking of all the things I need to do when Iím there. Working out isnít fun. Itís just more work! Ideally, what I find relaxing and recharging is driving in the countryside or along the coast or in the mountains, but since I donít have a car here in England, this is a pleasure I rarely have. I love to drive, and drive fast, especially along winding roads. When I lived in California, particularly northern California, I loved driving along the Pacific. I also really enjoy riding on the back of a motorbike, and took a couple of jaunts into the English countryside late last year. (That too, ended up a blog post.)
- Where do your ideas come from? What motivates you?
My ideas just happen randomly and in a flash. It could be a place Iím at or something on television or a random conversation; itís never anything concrete, more like little snippets that get filed away inside my brain for later use. As for what motivates me, I guess maybe an aversion to joining the ďnormalĒ world is what keeps me motivated. Iíve always been a bit of a non-conformist, even as a child. I never followed what other people did or cared about what they thought; I didnít like being confined by other peopleís rules or controlled by them. I definitely dance to my own drummer, and Iím not about to change now!
- Do you feel humour is important in women's fiction and why? What are your thoughts on love scenes in romance novels, do you find them difficult to write?
Humor is fine, if used properly and effectively Ė and if itís relevant to what youíre trying to achieve as a writer. I mean, letís face it Ė if youíve been born a woman, youíd damned well better have a sense of humor about it! As for love scenes, well, I donít see how you can have a romance novel without a love scene. Of course, there are varying degrees of just how much detail you want to include, though the marketplace and the expectations of the reader are pushing the limits on this aspect of the genre. The late Dame Barbara Cartland would surely blush if she saw some of the stuff in romance novels these days!
Since Iím well-known for erotic fiction, writing love scenes, particularly those of a more explicit nature, isnít a major problem for me. In fact, Iím known for having pioneered the erotic writing workshop here in the UK and Europe, therefore itís my job to help other writers overcome their difficulties in this area so that they can write more freely and more skillfully. Nothing is worse than trite and hackneyed sex scenes, and you see this even from some of the most renowned literary figures writing today. Unfortunately, something seems to happen to a lot of writers when they have to write a racy scene; they either write something horribly corny and cliched, or else full-on porn. I try to teach that you can write explicitly without descending into the gutter.
- Who are some of your other favorite authors and genres to read?
I tend to read all over the literary spectrum, often consuming books in a certain genre in one go. For example, I recently went on a crime novel spree, and before that it was horror. I just get in a certain mood, be it for novels by writers from the Indian subcontinent or African-American writers or Middle Eastern writers or thrillers or whatever Ė I just get a craving for a specific thing and need to read it. Some of my favorite authors are Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy, Ruth Rendell Ė Iím sure Iíve left many people out. I like reading all kinds of fiction, though Iím not big on fantasy or westerns or military or chick lit or anything too heavy-duty historical.
- Who, if anyone, has influenced your writing? Are you a member of any author groups - RWA, critique groups, etc.?
Iím not sure if anyone has specifically influenced my writing, though I am a big believer that, to be a good writer, you must be a good reader. I read books avidly starting from an early age, so Iíve probably had many literary influences, though I suspect they were subtle rather than overt. I confess that Iím not a member of any author groups, or at least none that Iím aware of. I tend to be very much a loner when it comes to my writing, so a critique kind of thing wouldnít be likely to appeal to me either. Iím not one for sharing my work-in-progress with others and vice versa. The only people who really see it are agents and publishers/editors, and then critics and the people who buy the book. On a rare occasion I might seek out the opinion of a trusted friend/colleague; however, I realise that as writers, our time is precious and we never have enough of it even for our own work, let alone for that of others, so thereís only so much you can ask of someone when it comes to soliciting feedback.
- What do you think of critique groups in general? Do you think critique groups are a necessity to becoming a good writer?
As I mentioned earlier, Iím not one for critique groups. Itís really the luck of the draw as to who youíre going to end up with in your group, and not everyone is all lovey-dovey and wants to help you become the next Mary Shelly. People have agendas Ė and those agendas might include tearing you down. Iím not trying to paint a terribly negative impression here (well, not that negative), but this is a competitive world, and thereís always going to be jealousy and pettiness, even among ďbeginningĒ writers.
If youíre lucky enough to find a group that is filled with truly like-minded people who want to support each otherís work and help each other develop as writers, well, consider yourself blessed. Iím sure they exist. But you might have to kiss a few frogs along the way to get there. I donít believe it is at all necessary to join such a group, but if youíre someone whoís seeking substantive feedback from others, there are also various sources online where you can post your work for free and get criticism and feedback from readers. So thatís another option to consider. In fact, I recently met an author who had posted some of her work-in-progress on one of these sites, and she was receiving consistent and useful feedback from a particular individual Ė only to later be approached by this very same individual, who revealed herself to be a literary agent. The author has now signed with this agent, so I guess you never know!
- Are there any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?
My best advice is to really believe in yourself and your work, and donít take no for an answer. Donít allow the naysayers to knock you down (and these naysayers might even be those closest to you), because believe me, they will try. Thereís a snobbish attitude in the book world that if you havenít been published or canít get an agent, youíre a no-talent who should just slink off to go flip burgers at some greasy spoon. Well, there are writers out there of questionable talent who have books published and who have agents, soÖ. Like Hollywood, itís sometimes a matter of luck or who you know, rather than any genuine talent or ability.
Having said that, this is probably true of most professions Ė itís just that itís more obvious in the literary and entertainment worlds. So if you have the calling to be a writer and if you know youíre good at it, you just have to keep banging away on those closed doors until one of them opens. But donít expect it to be easy, and donít expect that youíll conquer the world even after you get a book published. Itís an unreliable and transient business, and we live in increasingly unreliable and transient times. Publishers shut down imprints all the time, thus decreasing opportunities for writers. The one good thing for writers (both published and unpublished) is that the publishing industry is changing, thanks largely in part to the internet and new technologies. Writers can now take control of their product by publishing it themselves, such as via e-book and print-on-demand platforms.
This is not the old ďvanity publishingĒ model, but rather a cutting out of the middle man and taking your work directly to the reader/buyer. Musical artists have been doing it for years, and some quite successfully. It requires a lot of self-promotion, but then, as most clued-in writers already know, you usually have to do this anyway, since publishers (especially the biggies) tend to put all their promotional efforts and budgets behind only a handful of books and authors Ė usually those heavy-hitters who donít even need that extra push to the top. That expression ďrobbing Peter to pay PaulĒ didnít come out of nowhere. In fact, it probably came from the book business!
Thank you very much for taking the time with us and answering our questions. I really appreciate this interruption to your busy schedule. Good Luck, and we will be looking forward to the next delightful creation from your talented imagination!
Yours in good reading,
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