Welcome, today we are talking with International Bestselling Author Syrie James. I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy writing schedule to answer a few questions. First, let’s delve into who you are. Some of the questions may be untraditional but you’d be surprised at what readers connect to, and sometimes the simplest ‘I can relate to that’ grabs their interest where nothing else can.
Syrie: pronounced like the App, but spelled better. I love it! Can you share a little something about Syrie James that’s not mentioned in your bio on your website?
Research is my passion, and historical fiction is my happy place. I visit the locations where my stories occur, conduct extensive interviews if possible, and read everything I can on the subject. I soak up details about the setting, language, and lifestyles of the people who lived back then. My goal with every historical fiction novel is to immerse readers in that period and give them an experience like time-traveling, while hopefully bringing to life a compelling, entertaining, and page-turning tale.
What got you interested in writing?
I like to say that I was born with a pen in my hand! Seriously, I think my interest in writing started when I was 7 years old, when my family lived in France and my father, wanting to make sure I stayed fluent in the English language, gave me a box of classic children’s novels he bought in a London bookstore. I still have every one of those books. My favorite was and still is The Secret Garden. I read it so many times I practically knew it by heart. I dreamt that someday I would write a novel like that, a story that would feel so real and touch people’s hearts.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer as far back as I can remember. In 2nd grade, I volunteered to adapt part of Winnie the Pooh into a play to perform at a school recital (I played Rabbit.) It never occurred to me at the time that such an undertaking wasn’t a typical activity for a 7-year-old. I kept writing and producing plays (and even a full-blown musical) all the way through high school and college, and have kept it up ever since, most recently with a short play that was produced off Broadway. I also worked for years as a screenwriter and sold twenty scripts to TV and film—that was fun! My primary love, though, has always been writing books. I wrote my first novel at age ten when my grandparents gave me their old typewriter. I never finished it because I got halfway through and couldn’t figure out what should happen next. That’s when I learned the importance of an outline.
My life changed when I wrote The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, the story of the romance that inspired Austen to return to writing and the sale of her first book. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen sold at auction to Harper Collins in a bidding war between three publishing houses. When that novel hit the USA Today and Canada’s Globe and Mail bestseller lists, right up there with Stephen King, John Grisham, Khaled Hosseini, and Ken Follett, I was floating on air. It was thrilling to learn that people loved the book, and I knew I had found my calling.
What have you found most challenging about it?
The most challenging thing about writing fiction is getting the story structure and characters right. I spend a lot of time in the story phase, beating out all the plot elements. I have become a disciple of the Blake Snyder Save the Cat story structure system, which I follow to the letter when I make my outline. I also spend a lot of time working on character studies to try to make my main characters sympathetic, flawed, and interesting—to identify their back story and goal, the risks they’re willing to take to achieve that goal, the obstacles in their way, and what they learn en route to earning the ending they achieve.
What does writing do for you? Is it fun, cathartic, do you get emotional?
All of the above! It is such a pleasure spending time with my characters and bringing them to life. Even though my outline tells me what a scene is supposed to be about, it doesn’t mean it will play out that way. Sometimes, my characters say and do the most surprising things, and take the story in a direction I never anticipated.
Writing can also be cathartic. There’s a scene in my novel Jane Austen’s First Love where Jane’s mother tells her that writing is and will only ever be just a hobby; it’s based word for word on what my own mother used to tell me. My contemporary romance novels Floating on Air and Two Week Deal are inspired by my own whirlwind romance with my husband, and those magical days of first love. My novel Nocturne has a scene that’s so emotional it brought me to tears when I wrote it and it still makes me cry every time I re-read it.
Describe what your writing routine looks like. Are you disciplined with a strict schedule or do you have to be in the mood?
When I’m working on a book, it becomes my focus and obsession. I’m always in the mood! I start the day by exercising and eating a wholesome breakfast, and then escape to my office and … write. All day. Until dinner time. I might have a snack in between or take a walk. I have a height-adjustable desk and I pop up and down between sitting and standing. I try to knock off by 6 PM and re-enter the real world, to give myself “me” time and socialize with family and friends. But the book never leaves my mind. I think about it all the time. I often get up in the night to scribble notes, so I won’t forget some inspiration that came to me in the dark.
When I’m in the polish draft phase, things ramp up. To keep all the story threads alive and make sure I spot any redundancies or errors, I work long hours going through the whole book in as consolidated a time frame as possible. When I reach the end of that draft, I feel like tossing confetti in the air. I know there is still work to do, but at least it’s getting close.
Did you go into writing thinking that it would be a hobby or a job?
I always saw writing as my profession. I can’t imagine my life without writing!
As a historical regency expert you recently attended an event for PBS’s Sanditon. Please tell readers what that’s all about.
I was invited to a fabulous lawn party hosted by PBS to celebrate season 2 of SANDITON, held at a country club in the Los Angeles area with stunning ocean views. You can read all about it, see photos from the event, and find out how my friend and I fared in the costume contest here.
Now that our readers know who Syrie James is would you like to tell us a little bit about your books?
I have thirteen published novels that include historical fiction, romance, and young adult fiction that have been published in more than twenty languages. I adore Jane Austen and All Things English and 19th Century, as well as the Victorian era, which led to my Dare to Defy series and the Amazon bestsellers Runaway Heiress and Duke Darcy’s Castle.
Two other reader favorites are The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, which won the Audiobook Audie Award and was named a Women’s National Book Association Great Group Read, and my romantic thriller Dracula, My Love, a charismatic take on the world’s most famous vampire which the Chicago Tribune deemed “an intriguing alternate theory as to the events that occurred in Stoker’s classic horror tale while at the same time delivering a spooky yet thoroughly romantic love story.”
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Never give up. Read, read, read. Write a book in your favorite genre. Study your craft. No one is born knowing how to write a novel. Take classes and workshops, attend writing conferences, find like-minded people, and read and critique each other’s work; you will learn so much. It’s a journey. Be prepared to rewrite many, many times before you get it right. Be patient with yourself. Persevere.
Don’t listen to people who say, “only write what you know.” That’s what research is all about. As writers we have a huge imagination. If there’s something you don’t know, learn all you can about it, interview people who’ve lived it, visit the place where it happened, and walk the path of the real or imaginary people who inhabit your story… and then let your imagination take flight.
Finally: don’t place too much importance on achieving a specific level of success or keeping up with what others have achieved. Everyone’s path is different, and your life is unique to you. Only write if you love it and focus on the joy of the journey, not the outcome. And always put yourself and your family first. When you look back on your life it’s the moments you lived that will matter, not the time you spent at a computer writing.
Let’s move on now and give readers some insight into your personal life.
What are your pet peeves?
Drivers who honk at me in traffic. People who treat others condescendingly. People who refuse to share their chocolate with me (kidding!)
Who is your hero?
Give us one thing on your bucket list.
To have one of my novels made into a movie or TV series.
What would readers find surprising about you?
I was a gymnast in high school and college. I enjoy acting and have played Jane Austen and her characters many times on stage. I design and make authentic period costumes and have danced the night away at many a Regency ball. And I love Gothic romance and murder mysteries!
If you could go to heaven, who would you visit?
My husband. My parents. Jane Austen. William Shakespeare. Harriet Tubman. Abraham Lincoln. Charlotte Brontë.
I love to hear from my readers! Please visit me at my website. To stay on top of news about my next books, consider signing up for my newsletter—I only send occasional blasts and I try to make them entertaining! I also blog every now and then on fun topics and share reviews of books I’ve enjoyed. Check out my blog here. If you sign up to follow my blog, you’ll get a note in your inbox when I post something. I look forward to hearing from you!
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