Interview with Katherine Sutcliffe

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Katherine Sutcliffe is a brillant author of very dark love stories, she often crashes through the boundaries of romance and her books are heavily discussed by readers. Her German publisher is Bastei Lübbe and she has been published in Germany for many years now. She has countless fans in Germany - and I am the biggest! *g*

She loves to hear from readers and answers every e-mail personally and immediately.

Her website: http://www.romancejournal.com/Sutcliffe/default.htm

E-mail: rose2@flash.net

Angela: Katherine, could you give the readers a little background about you? Your likes and dislikes, where you live etc.?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I‘m a native East Texan! Born an only child and was therefore dependent on my very vivid imagination and books to keep me company. I now live just outside of Dallas, Texas. I‘m married to an English husband (Geologist for an Oil Company) and have two children: Bryan (21 and a senior at Texas A&M University, on his way to graduating Magna Cum Laude and intends to go to Law School) and Rachel (16, a 5 ft 8 inch beauty who is captain of two major soccer leagues in Dallas and wants to be a chef.) Both are my pride and joys and the best accomplishments of my life. I also raise and show Arabian horses, have four pet pygmy goats and a Basset Hound named Rufus.

Angela: Why and how did you start to write?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I began writing before I could even read. I can recall sitting with crayon and paper and telling sto-ries with stick figures. I wrote my first book at age 13 and wrote on it for 5 years. The heroine was my best friend and the hero was her favorite rock star. When I finally threw it away (reached 18 and was more interested in boys than writing...at THAT time) the manuscript was over 3,000 hand writ-ten pages long!! So, you can see that I was born and destined to be a long-winded writer! In 1982, I quit my job as a Head-Hunter for a computer personnel company. I decided at that time that I should at least put my ideas on paper—maybe they would stop haunting me every minute of the day and night. Alas, that was that. As soon as I sat down to a typewriter I realized that I was destined to be a story teller. Three years later I sold my first book, Desire and Surrender, to Avon Books. That was 17 books ago.

Angela: How do you combine your writing career with your private life, your family? How does your typical working day look like? How many books do you write a year? How do you research your books?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Writing is absolutely the best career, in my opinion, for raising a family. I‘ve always been home with them and therefore allowed to take any time I needed to participate in their wonderful lives.
Barring no interruptions, I work 8 hours a day, five to 7 days a week.  I could write 2 books a year, but since my publisher only wants to publish one book a year, that pretty much allows me to write one book and play a few months with the kids and horses.

As far as research: I‘ve built up quite a library over the last years.  However, if possible, I like to go to the places that I‘m writing about and acquaint myself with the area, people, history, etc.

Angela: I saw that all your historical books are mainly situated in the 18th and 19th century. Why have you chosen these centuries as favourites? You have also written „Hope And Glory“ which is situated in medevial England (not yet published in Germany). Will you write more about other centuries?

Katherine Sutcliffe: These time periods are what interest me most, especially the 19th century. I‘ve always imagined that I was born in the wrong century. The 19th century, especially the Victorian era, has a very strong pull on me. Perhaps I lived a former life during that period. Who knows. I did write the medevial simply because I needed a breather and to be able to grow a little as a writer. It was fun, mostly because I used supernatural elements in it, and as most of my readers know, I love to dabble in „darkness.“ But I have no intention of writing in that time period again.

Angela: You picked up the mystery of „Jack the Ripper“ for your short story „Forever Yours“ and the novel „Love‘s Illusion“. Why did you write about „Jack the Ripper“ and let a mad vampire be the murderer? Which story came first and did you always plan to write two stories about this subject?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I had no intention of writing two books on the subject. Love‘s Illusion came first. Jack the Ripper had been a fascination for me and when NAL/Penguin approached me about writing a romantic gothic, I jumped at the chance. The entire Ripper episode and the investigation fascinated me - the fact that the killer was never caught is a dream come true for a writer. I simply could not mentally put the story away. When Avon asked me to do a Halloween novella, as I was working up the pro-posal for Forever Yours the lights went on and I thought - great!  Here‘s a way to briefly revisit the Ripper investigation (because in Love‘s Illusion I stopped the story before the last gruesome Ripper murders actually took place), and give a quirky little conclusion to why the Ripper might have sim-ply vanished into the dawn, so to speak, never to be seen or heard from again.

Angela: The ending of „Love‘s Illusion“ is kind of an open end. I loved this book very much and I had to think a long time about the end after reading it. The reader doesn‘t really know if Mercy finally found Dominick. What were the reader‘s reactions? Have some of your fans been disappointed or did they like it?

Katherine Sutcliffe: First, Mercy definitely was with Dominick in the end. The question I most preferred to leave hang-ing was; What, exactly, was Dominick? Was he just an incredibly brilliant hockus pockus man or was he actually something supernatural? The whole cruxt of the book was about reincarnation: how the past lovers who were killed were brought back exactly 100 years later to find one another again, and this time get to live happily ever after. Therefore, in actuality, both Mercy and Dominick had somewhat supernatural backgrounds and ties to one another.  I felt Dom was definitely grounded more in the supernatural. He came back for her, and in the end reached out for her to join him and she did.

I intentionally left the book somewhat open for people to make their own minds up about Dominick and Mercy. It was simply that kind of book which allowed me to invite speculation. I got a couple of letters from readers who asked me what they were suppose to think and I told them they could think whatever they wanted about the conclusion. Should they want Mercy and Dom to live happily ever after in Paris and have a dozen babies, then by all means, do so. But if the reader happens to be open minded and a little off the wall then maybe they believed that Dom and Mercy walked off into another dimension of happily ever after, finally together as destiny had always intended.

Angela: Mercy in "Love's Illusion" had a miscarriage when she met Dominick and he helped her which is a quite unusual start for a love story.

Katherine Sutcliffe: First: Love's Illusion was not written as a romance. It was a romantic gothic: not a gothic romance. Big difference. I screamed and stomped my author feet because the publisher insisted on putting a romance cover on that book. It was never intended to be a romance, which is why it was the kind of book that it was, and why I took liberties with the characters, darkness, and violence. .

Angela: Also the fact that the heroine wasn't a virgin and carried a child from another man. Could you tell us more about your intentions here?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Again: as a mainstream gothic-type book, I simply wrote the story true to the time period and cir-cumstances of a desperate young woman looking for a way out of her poverty. By her losing the child, and Dominick helping her through it and supporting her, he proved to her that he was trust-worthy, strong, kind, and forgiving of her past. (traits she definitely needed to believe in if she was going to hold on to her faith in his goodness during the ordeal of his being blamed for the Ripper murders!) He did not cast stones at her because of her mistake, but understood her desperation. In a world where people react nastily because someone or something does not live up to their own self-important ideals, Dominick showed he was far better than they by his compassion.

Angela: Was someone embarrassed because I heard of one reader that threw this book away after some pages because she was too shocked. Others said they loved this beginning and the dark-ness in this book.

Katherine Sutcliffe: It's unfortunate that someone threw the book away because it did not meet her criteria as a romance. Had she possibly gone into it with a clearer idea that the book was a mainstream gothic with romantic elements then she might have actually enjoyed the story. Her loss, I guess. The people who real-ized the book was not a romance per say are the ones who could appreciate it most.

Actually, I've been told that in this country the book has developed a fairly large cult-type following--people who appreciated it, not because of the romance--which it wasn't--but because of its threads to the supernatural. One of these days perhaps a publisher will wise up enough to put a proper cover on it so it will eventually reach its intended audience.

Angela: Your books are all very, very dark and the heros and heroines are tortured persons (which I like very much because they are not perfect as in other books from other authors, they have many weaknesses). The reader reads one of your books in some hours but you write it for months. Is the writing of such dark stories sometimes depressing for you?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Not depressing at all! I once had an editor ask me (after I wrote Love‘s Illusion) if I had had a tor-tured childhood. Ha!! I answered, actually I did, but we won‘t go into that here. Maybe my darkness stems from the insight I gained of the warped human psyche or something. Maybe I‘m simply trying to exorcise my own demons. My characters must do a lot of soul searching to understand their mo-tives for behaving as they do, and once they come to grips with what is troubling them and therefore making them act maybe not so respectably, they get over their angst and put it behind them. Once they „see the light“ they go through a healing thing, and I end up with a much clearer realization of what makes me tick. I guess the whole process of writing is a sort of catharsis for me.

Angela: Will you write more about the Bastitas or the Warwicks? Or is this chapter closed for you?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I would absolutely love to write more about the Bastitas and Warwick families if the publishers will let me.

Angela: You have also written some paranormal short stories. Will you write more paranormal books in the future? Maybe more about the vampires from the short story „Forever Yours“?

Katherine Sutcliffe: It is my greatest desire to write more of these types of books. I actually wrote another Halloween novella that came out in 98 called The Wolf Keeper about a werewolf. I LOVED it! But if you get a chance to read it be prepared for the ending. If you thought Love‘s Illusion was a bit unsettling, this one will knock you for a loop. I would love to take this story, which was about a man and his son in Scotland (1700) who were dealing with a centuries old werewolf curse and expand it to the 21st century. I‘m actually working up a proposal for it in my spare time.

I fully intend at some point to try to write some actual horror stuff.  As much as I love the dark, tor-tured characters and twisted plots, it‘s a little tough to sell it in genre romance. Obviously.

Angela: In November „Whitehorse“ has been published in the USA, a contemporary romantic sus-pense story. Why did you decide to write a contemporary romance and will you write more? Do you know if this book will be also published in Germany?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Writing historicals if VERY limiting, and after nearly 20 years of doing it, I must confess that I‘m getting a little claustrophobic about it. I wrote a Christmas novella a few years ago that was a con-temporary and I felt as if I had been allowed to shed the manacles of contrivance that can weigh an author down with historicals. It really whetted my appetite to expand my talents and story telling capabilities. Whitehorse was an incredible experience and allowed me to stretch my wings and grow as a writer. I‘ve recently signed with Berkley to write a „bigger“ romantic suspense that has more mainstream elements and will allow me to expand my capabilities. I‘m euphoric about it! I can‘t recall when I‘ve had so much fun writing. I hope to do many, many more contemps in the future.

As of now, I haven‘t a clue if my German publisher intends to pick up Hope and Glory or Whitehorse. Certainly, if you would like to see these titles, please let the publisher know.

Angela: It‘s always a challenge to read one of your books because you often crash through the romance boundaries. Is this style „planned“ and what did readers or publishers say? Have they ever tried to „restrict“ you?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Writing within a genre ALWAYS restricts a writer. And yes, I usually rebel in some form or fash-ion. I don‘t plan it. It just naturally happens. The pubs have always appreciated my rebelliousness, I can‘t say that readers do, and I can‘t really blame them. They usually read romances for a certain kind of story and characters, and here comes Sutcliffe upsetting the apple cart. My publisher (Berkley) is now working to promote and package me in a way that will set me apart from „genre“ so the reader who wants a more intense, more mainstream-like read can find me. I finally got a de-cent editor who realizes that slapping flowers on the front of a book that deals with some controver-sial and dark matters just isn‘t going to cut it when trying to find the right readership for the book/author.

Angela: When I read „Shadow Play“ for the first time I was impressed how the reader went nearly mad with your characters. Have you ever been at the Amazonas? Where did you get that ex-perience from how your characters must have felt, alone and vulnerable in the jungle?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I did a great deal of research for that book, which is out of print now. Hopefully some day I‘ll get the opportunity to resell it. It‘s certainly one of my most prized works. But, generally, it was simply my imagination that took those characters to hell and back.

Angela: In your book „Devotion“ you wrote about a definitely tortured hero because after an accident he needed constand care. I knew from some romance readers that they had problems in read-ing a book where the hero was a „beast“. This book has a kind of an open end, too, because the reader knows that the hero will find the heroine but he doesn‘t „see“ it, he also doesn‘t see if the hero‘s grandmother will allow their wedding etc. Will you write another sequel to these books? Why did you write a book about the second brother and let him had a terrible accident? Did you want to change the evil character he had before this accident by that trick? How were the responses from readers concerning this book like?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Devotion definitely stirred up a hornet‘s nest! But then that‘s what I seem to do best, and enjoy it the most! Reality check here: I‘ve always rocked the boundaries (as discussed earlier), why should this book be any different?

Trey Hawthorne in Miracle was a jerk and the kind of bad boy that needed his comeuppance big time for him to get redeemed. Like too often in real life, nasty people must often hit rock bottom before they can „see the light“ and the error of their ways. He was arrogant, and therefore had to be humbled. He had everything: looks, power, money, yet he abused it.  It all had to be taken away from him for him to appreciate it, and therefore, in the end, realize that power and money meant nothing compared to the sweetness of honest love.

Definitely, this was a book that divided readers. Half loved the ending and felt it was definitely ap-propriate for the type of book Devotion was. The other half wanted me tarred and feathered. I, per-sonally, got no complaints about the hero being a beast, but if there were readers who were both-ered by an imperfect hero then I should remind them of the movie, Beauty and the Beast. It‘s all symbolic, isn‘t it? It‘s the taking of the bad and ugly and allowing love to transform it into some-thing beautiful that is the issue here. And as far as the ending: I still stand firmly in my belief that the readers of these books are bright, intelligent women who shouldn‘t always have to have the ob-vious spelled out for them in neon lights. I would think that after reading ten gazillion books where the couple kiss and walk off hand in hand into the sunset they are going to know that this pair will be together, happily, until the end of time. Personally, I simply could not see Trey Hawthorne prostrate himself in front of a woman for love; it was enough for the poor guy to walk away from his title and wealth, leaving him virtually penniless - all for a woman. Enough said.

However, I am entertaining the idea of writing a sequel, just for those readers who obviously need happily ever after spelled out in neon. One must be aware, however, that if another book is in order, that means that the hero and heroine obviously didn‘t find happily ever after at the end of Devotion, and that aspect bothers ME because it throws my entire mindset of this couple‘s joining totally out of focus. In my mind it‘s a difficult concept to grasp that Trey didn‘t find Maria and marry her.

Angela: You wrote one book, "Dream Fever" about New Zealand and the book "Once A Hero" about Australia. You seemed to have written them in a different style, not as dark as your other books and more like the "typical" historical romance. Have you done this by purpose or do I simply misinterpret them?

Katherine Sutcliffe: No, I didn't on purpose write them as more typical historical romances. They just happened that way, I guess. Like I don't intentially set out to write tormented characters and dark, twisted plots. They just develop that way. Cuz I guess I'm just a dark, twisted individual who enjoys the macabre rather than a lot of airy-fairy sweetness and light. Not that I don't occasionally enjoy reading humor or something that isn't going to stimulate my brain to think. I just don't like a constant diet of it. My brain turns to mush and then I end up throwing books in the trash. Ha!!

Angela: Was I the only reader that got nuts about Bronte in "Once A Hero" because she was so stubborn?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Angela, I have to admit, darlin', that you are the only one so far to complain about Bronte's stubbornness in Once A Hero, although if you had a problem with her, I'm sure others did, too.

It happens. I can't say that I've ever read a romance heroine that I liked or didn't want to slap around a little (including my own). But I don't read these books for the heroines. I read them for the heros. To me the heroines could have five heads and ten legs and I wouldn't notice as long as the hero is tall, dark, handsome, and has a chip on his shoulder as big as Texas. I love those dark bad boys! And the darker and badder the better for me. Honey, don't give me a nice guy.

One of my all-time favorite books is "Dream Fever" because I sometimes had to sniffle while reading... Even if the hero belongs to English aristocracy you "gave" him with Summer a plain heroine with a heart of gold. I think this is also something new because most heroines in historical romances often discover that they are rich or belong to aristocracy. Why did you write about sheep breeding and where did you heard from those "cockatoos"?

Frankly, I get tired of the rich aristocrat thing myself, but, alas, most readers don't normally want to read about poor, unlucky people. Me, I would love to crawl down in the gutter and write about real folks and real problems. But, like you've pointed out, people who read these books want fantasy. Their idea of happily ever after isn't of a heroine slaving over a hot cook stove for the rest of her life.

I learned about the cockatoos during my research of New Zealand.

Angela: In "Miracle" you gave very detailed information about Arabian horses. Are that experiences you made with your own horses?

Katherine Stucliffe: Yes!! I breed and show Arabian horses and half Arabian pintos. I have a very deep love of the Arabian horse.

Angela: While reading "Once A Hero" I noted that you give many details about rabbits there, too. Well, I have a rabbit at home, too that only tolerates me and thinks my apartment belongs to him and not to me. Do you also have some experience with rabbits and do you have some tips for owners of stubborn rabbits? ;-)

Katherine Sutcliffe: Yes again!! For a few years I raised rabbits. All sorts of rabbits; didn't matter what. At one time I had 50 rabbits outside and a couple in the house. I would go outside on a summer morning just around dawn and they would all come out of my garage where they lived. (I filled my garage with many bales of hay so they could make their little warrens) and they would come out to join me: every size, color imaginable, all hopping around me and on me, eating carrots and apples. I even had a house rabbit that every morning I had to prepare her a cup of hot tea with sugar and cream and also give her a slice of toast. (If I didn't she would eat and drink mine! her name was Dusty) We sat together on my sofa enjoying toast and tea and watched morning news shows! I also had a rabbit (Baby) who loved pizza. Once she got so mad because I would not give her a piece of pizza that she jumped right up smack into the middle of my plate of pizza and proceeded to eat, mozarella cheese stringing from her mouth back to the plate!! And another that craved popcicles. (Sugar) Then there was another one (Chia) that enjoyed riding on my shoulder when I went to pick up my daughter from school.

Eventually all the outside rabbits dispersed. You can imagine how the neighbors appreciated that.:-) And by the way, there is no cure for a stubborn rabbit!

Angela: The name "Jezebel" was a kind of an "insider joke" for Americans that Germans couldn't understand in the German translation. Could you explain to your German readers what "Jezebel" means in this context?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Simply: Jezebel is a woman who flirts with a lot of men

Angela: Do you have a favorite heroine or hero among your books? How much of yourself is in the heroines?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Of my works, my favorite heros have been Kid Davis, (Renegade Love), the Hawthorne brothers (Miracle/Devotion), Johnny Whitehorse (Whitehorse), Jason Batson (Notorious—November, 2000), and especially Brandon Carlisle (untitled contemporary suspense, 2001).

The only historical heroine of mine that I have particularly liked was Miracle. I really like Alyson James Farrington, who is the contemporary heroine in the book I‘m writing now. I‘m reaching in-side myself to flesh her out. A lot of her past is my own - her insecurities, her self esteem issues, etc.

Angela: Do you like your book covers and do you have influence on the layout? Your covers are mainly stepback covers with neutral front covers. Is that a personal decision or „publishers-policy“?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I‘ve had a few covers that pleased me. Mostly, pubs don‘t listen much to what an author wants. Again, my new editor is trying for a new look for Sutcliffe that will better relate to the reader the kind of story the book is. I did scream for the step-back covers to hide the occasionally too raunchy clinches. The last few books, however, have not even had an inside painting - just the outside cover with a flower slapped on it.  Covers are so important, and, unfortunately, I feel as if I‘ve come out on the short end of the stick along that line.

Angela: I have heard that you also write for an American television show?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I no longer write for television. Just too grueling and I didn‘t want to move to New York. For a year and a half I was consultant head writer for the daytime dramas As The World Turns and Another World, on which I actually played myself once! I wouldn‘t mind writing for tv again, but I would think twice about soap operas. You get no down time at all. Of course, if it paid enough, maybe. My kids are older so it wouldn‘t be like I would be so upsetting the family if we had to move to NYC.

Angela: What books from other authors do you read?

Katherine Sutcliffe: Stephen King is my favorite. I enjoy Nelson DeMille, Tami Hoag, Nora Roberts, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Angela: Do you know in which countries your books have been published? Do you often hear from foreign fans? How do you stay in contact with your fans?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I‘ve been published in so many countries I can‘t even keep track of them. I rarely hear from my foreign fans, although since I‘ve gotten on the internet I hear more frequently from them. If I re-ceive a letter from a fan I always write back. If someone has written me and did not get a response either I did not receive their letter or they did not receive mine.

Angela: Could you tell us more about your future plans?

Katherine Sutcliffe: I hope to continue to write as long as readers will read me. I hope to grow as a contemporary author and possibly try my hand at horror. I have several titles out this year: Renegade Love is a reissue in May, 2000.  Notorious, a new historical: setting England/India will be released in November, 2000. My Christmas novella: contemporary, Home For Christmas, will be reissued in November.
My contemporary romantic suspense will be published sometime in 2001, untitled as yet. And I have two more historicals to be written.

I just want to thank all the dedicated German readers who have continued to support me through these last many years. I hope I‘ll continue to write the kind of books that entertain you all for years to come.

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Dieses Interview entstand im März 2000 zwischen Angela W. und Katherine Sutcliffe für:



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