Interview with Teresa Hill a.k.a Sally Tyler Hayes

Isolde: Teresa can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your life?

Teresa Hill: I'd be happy to. I'm turning 37 in May, with a husband of 17 years and two children -- an 11-year-old son, John, and an 8-year-old daughter, Laura Jane. I'm originally from central Kentucky, but my husband and I have lived in South Carolina for the past 15 years. We lived on an island just off the coast for 7 years, and I worked as a newspaper reporter there. I started writing books after my son was born, when I wanted a job that would let me stay home with him. Soon after my daughter was born, as my first book was coming out, we moved to Greenville, South Carolina, and I've been a full-time mother and writer ever since. Greenville is in the northwest corner of the state, about two hours northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. It's on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (I can see the beginnings of them from my front porch.) And it's a regular, old Southern town and reminds us a lot of Kentucky, which is why we feel at home here.

Isolde: Then I first heard about your spy romances I was excited and tried to get them but wasn't very lucky. But with the help of some really nice people I could read them and all I can say is I love them! I would like to know why do you write spy romances?

Teresa Hill: A few years ago, I was at a writer's conference, and everybody was talking about the TV show La Femme Nikita. Soon the writers I chat with online were talking about it, and I got hooked. Dangerous women. Dangerous men. Something forbidden and dangerous about them falling in love. I mentioned it, off-handedly, to my editor one day. I don't think I said much more than "spies," and that's all it took. She loved it. Then I started thinking about what could happen that could touch the lives of six different characters. (I wanted to write a trilogy.) I even toyed with the idea of having all the books start on the same night, with the same incident, just seen from different characters' points-of-view, which didn't quite work out. The first two books, Dangerous To Love and Spies, Lies & Lovers, start on the night Dan is injured and Alex gets away. The third, Cinderella and the Spy, starts a few months later, but the heroine's predicament is caused by what happened that night. And the fourth book, Her Secret Guardian, isn't tied to that night at all. It's just about a character, Sean Patrick Douglass, who showed up in the previous books and insisted having a story of his own.

Isolde: I have to say I really liked the cover of "Dangerous to Love" but didn't liked the cover of "Spies, Lies and Lovers" very much because I found the man on the cover ugly. (Spies, Lies and Lovers will be published in Germany at the end of April with the German title: "Der Spion der mich liebte".) So I thought the hero of "Spies, Lies and Lovers" had to look that way and that did disturb me very much while reading the book. What do you think about your covers? Do you like them?

    

Teresa Hill: I adored the cover of Dangerous to Love. I opened that envelope with the cover flats (it's one flat, heavy sheet that will eventually be wrapped around the book to make the cover) and my first thought was -- that's Dan! They got him exactly right! He looks dangerous and sexy, and it's like he's saying, "You want a kiss? I'll give you a kiss." And you know it's going to be a great kiss, just from his expression. I was so happy.

I almost cried when I saw the cover of Spies, Lies & Lovers. I have no idea where those people came from, but they're not my characters. Alex is 30 and cute, kind of boyish. He does not have a receding hairline or a funny nose. And Geri has short, dark hair. <sigh> Covers are just one of those things. You never know what you're going to get until it shows up in the mail. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they get it right. I get to tell the art department what I would like to see on the cover. I even send pictures of people and places. I get to describe scenes I'd like to see. But they have a choice of either listening to me or ignoring everything I say. Most of the time, they do a good job.

Fortunately, they got it right with Josh in Cinderella and the Spy. I think he looks gorgeous and sophisticated and very sexy -- just what I wanted for him. Now I'm waiting to see what they do with Sean. I should see
that cover in a couple of weeks. Everyone keep your fingers crossed.

Isolde: Why do you write about spies and not secret agents? What is the difference for you?

Teresa Hill: I just hadn't read anything about spies in a while and wanted to do something different. I'm not sure how the two would actually be different, but I know what comes to mind when I say the word "spies." There's a bit of a romantic connotation -- dangerous, surprise, adventure, glamor. I wanted more of a romantic version of a dangerous man, rather than the gritty version we see with secret agents. I wanted characters I could have fun with and readers could, too.

Isolde: When I read "Dangerous to Love" I thought the character Joshua (also a spy) is simply to good to be true. Why did he get his own story?

Teresa Hill: I loved Josh from the first moment he strolled onto the page, and I just had to write about him. I wanted to know all about him, and the only way to find out was to write about him.

Isolde: Then you create your heroes, do you have living persons in mind as for example a famous actor or so?

Teresa Hill: Hmm. Sometimes I use photographs of people. Sometimes they're actors, sometimes not. An expression will catch my eye, or a certain look that's a combination of surroundings and clothes and the way someone carries himself. I'll find a photograph, and I'll know -- he's my new character. Sometimes I don't know anything else -- not even what the story will be about or what his name  is, but I know he's the one.

Right now I'm staring at Hugh Grant, someone I've never found particularly attractive before. But they caught him in a close-up, just his face, and he has a barely-there smile and really interesting-looking eyes. He seems serious and kind and...interesting. And I have him next to a woman from a department store advertisement I clipped from my newspaper. She's blonde and looks very open, very friendly, very innocent. I know they belong together, and I'm hoping they're the couple in my next single title, which I hope to start writing any day now.

Isolde: In a few months Sean's  story will be published. Can you already tell us a little bit about the book?

Teresa Hill: I will embarrass myself if I tell you how much I adore this book. (Isn't it awful when writers fall in love with their own work and talk about it all over the place? <G>) Sorry, I love him, too, and I think the whole book has such a cool premise.  I don't want to give too much of it away, but I would like to tell you how I got the idea.

My editor wanted Sean's book ever since he showed up in Dangerous to Love, and I wanted to give it to her. But he was so annoying. He wouldn't even tell me what he did. I knew it was dangerous, and he wasn't with the spy agency, but he was very powerful and very mysterious. I should also add that I can always tell when secondary characters are going to become important. Normally, I don't pay any attention to little details like what name I choose to give them. But sometimes I just know I have to think long and hard and find the absolute perfect name. I knew he had to have the right one, because he was in my future. I've also gotten careful about giving too much background on those kinds of characters until I'm sure I have the right one. Otherwise, I'll lock myself into something in an early book that I don't want to use later when I get around to telling that character's story.

So, I'd been really vague about Sean on purpose, through three books. All we knew was his name, and that he loved his sister and was very protective of her. That he had some dangerous, powerful job and could do pretty much anything he wanted.

I was finishing Cinderella and the Spy, and my editor said one more time, "I'd really love to see Sean's story." I whined one more time to my editor, "He won't tell me anything about himself! He won't even tell me what he does for a living. I can't write about a man who won't even tell me what he does."

And that turned out to be the key. I spent a couple of weeks working on my web site (which is now at www.sallytylerhayes.net) and had a terrible time getting it uploaded. And I guess my little brain was working on Sean the whole time, because one night, near midnight, the web page finally uploaded for me, and it wasn't fifteen minutes later, I knew what I had to do with Sean. It all came to me, right then.

His refusal to even tell me what he did and how crazy it made me, was the key. Because the heroine feels exactly the same way. She doesn't know exactly what he does, either, and it's driving her crazy. Grace doesn't even know his name, isn't even sure if he's real. She's a doctor with an international relief organization, and she's been in all sorts of hot-spots over the years. Every time her team has gotten a little too close to real danger, he's been there to warn her it's time to pack up and go. He always comes to her in the dark, and he stays in the shadows, not even letting her get a good look at his face. But he's always been right about the danger and about how to get her people out of trouble, so she listens to him.

Her co-workers are kidding her about having a guardian angel, and the next time she sees him, she manages to get him to stay long enough to give her one kiss. The time after that, she's in the kind of trouble he can't fix without getting very close to her and staying there, so she's finally going to find out who her mysterious savior is.

Isolde: Away from spy romances you also write other stories. Can you tell us something about these other books?

Teresa Hill: Well, I like suspense and I often use elements of suspense in my writing. But I love emotional stories, too. Tear-jerkers. I love a book that can grab me so hard and pull me in so deeply, I'm crying over the characters. I've done some of both for Silhouette.

Isolde: What did you do then your first book was published? Did you celebrate?

Teresa Hill: Mostly, I tried not to scream. <G> I was standing at my desk at the newspaper on a Friday morning when the editor called, and it was all I could do not to yell. I did start shaking. Somehow I managed to start taking notes (pure instinct, from being a reporter) so I could remember most of what she said later. My newspaper editor couldn't believe it. She kept saying, "They're going to pay you? You don't have to pay them?" LOL! She thought it was some kind of self-publishing scam! I don't think she'd ever read a romance. I kept saying, "It's a division of Harlequin. They're a huge company. They publish books all over the world."

Isolde: Can you tell us what your typical working day looks like?

Teresa Hill: First, I have to drag my children out of bed and get them off to school. We have to be out the door at 7:45 a.m., which is not a pretty sight. My daughter and I are not morning people. We don't move as quickly as we should in the morning. I get back to the house at 8:15 a.m. If I'm being good, I either take a walk or work out with weights. After that, I have breakfast and read the paper, turn on the computer around 9:30 a.m. I do e-mail quickly and try to work from 10-12:30 p.m. Eat lunch in front of the TV (have to hear at least some other people's voices by then) and then work some more until 3 p.m., when I pick up the kids. It gets a little crazier then, but I often work for another hour or so in the late afternoon and sometime again for an hour or two before I go to bed. I get more done if I break up my writing into a series of little sessions throughout the day. And I tend to work 7 days a week.

Isolde: What are your favorite books and authors?

Teresa Hill: Oh, that's so hard. I love Silhouette Intimate Moments. It's always been my favorite category line. Some of my favorite authors are Linda Howard, Deborah Smith, Nora Roberts, Emilie Richards, Anne Stuart, Jenny Crusie, Barbara Parker and Kathleen Eagle.

Isolde: What are your plans for the future?

Teresa Hill: Well, starting in 2001, I'm going to be writing for Silhouette Special Edition. I have a book coming out about the tooth fairy -- a little boy who's trying to collect a hundred teeth to get one, grand wish from the tooth fairy, and a lady dentist who dresses up like her when she goes to talk to kids at school about taking proper care of their teeth. (Sorry, no title or pub date yet.)

I'm also thrilled to say I'll be writing single title contemporaries for Signet under my real name, Teresa Hill. The first book, a Christmas story, will be out in October, and it's called TWELVE DAYS. (As in Twelve Days of Christmas.)  It's a tear-jerker, a story about a married couple in trouble. The husband's decided to move out, but his apartment won't be available until after Christmas. He's going to wait until after the holidays to tell his wife, but she finds out without him knowing about it, and they have the TWELVE DAYS leading up to Christmas for her to change his mind and convince him to stay.

The next book for Signet will be out in early 2001 and called UNBREAK MY HEART. It's a modern-day gothic, a heroine with a secret, scary past going back to the house she grew up in, a spooky old place where she finds herself haunted by the past and maybe by something very real in the present. She's scared, but she doesn't have any place else to turn to for answers about her past. Just this house and this little town. Her memories are slowly starting to come back to her, and there's a man next door -- a gorgeous man -- who may be trying to help her and may be keeping secrets from her. And she's falling for him.

Isolde: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Teresa Hill: Thanks for asking. I love talking about books and hearing from readers. You
can reach me at sally@sallytylerhayes.net

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Dieses Interview entstand im April 2000 zwischen Isolde W. und Teresa Hill für:



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