Toni V. Sweeney has lived 30 years in the South, a score in the Middle West, and a decade on the Pacific Coast and now she’s trying for her second 30 on the Great Plains. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and a diploma in Graphic Art and also produces book videos. Since the publication of her first novel in 1989, Toni divides her time between writing SF/Fantasy under her own name and romances under her pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone. Her novels have garnered awards from The National Writers Association, Preditors & Editors, The Maryland Writers Association, and The Paranormal Romance Guild. In March, 2013, she became publicity manager for Class Act Books. She is also on the review staff of the New York Journal of Books and the Paranormal Romance Guild. Recently she was named a professional reader by netgalley.com.Beverley: Do you think using weather can be part of a setting?
Toni: Most assuredly. Using weather to reflect a character’s mood, or to foretell an event or underscore it has always been a good facet of an author’s craft. As an example, my excerpt today (below) is set in the middle of a Nebraska winter, which can be about as brutal as can be. It depicts a man riding from his ranch to Lincoln 25 miles away, to fetch a doctor, and I think the cold, bleak snow depicts the desperation of his ride.
Beverley: Do you think adding weather to a scene can add emphasis to the scene?
Toni: Certainly. In Jericho Road, I used this idea during the funeral of one of the main characters who is killed:
It should have been raining, the heavens in tears, the skies black, mourning Wade. Not just because he was her brother but because a good man had been lost. Instead, the sun beat down brightly, scorching everything, wilting them in their funeral clothes and making the flowers dry and brittle, until Lindsey felt that if anyone touched her, she, like the dying flowers, would shatter and fall.
Beverley: Do you know any authors who use weather in their books?
Toni: Thinking back, I remember Emily Bronte used weather in her novels, especially in Wuthering Heights. I think she even has the narrator comment on the title as having something to do with the weather: “Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff's dwelling. 'Wuthering' being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.”
Herman Melville has Moby Dick begin by Ishmael stating that when it becomes winter and it feels the same way in his soul, he signs on to go sailing: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” uses quite plainly the time of year as the setting: “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.”
Beverley: Have you ever used weather as a setting in any of your books? If yes, tell us how.
Toni: I’ve used weather in almost all my novels as a portrayer of the character’s mental and emotional stability at that particular moment.
My novel Barbarian Blood Royal starts off with one of the main characters standing on a cliff in winter:
Val One Eye stood upon the high precipice under which the wolves’ fortress was carved out of the mountain. The spring wind, sharp with the lingering bite of frost, blew about him but he didn’t feel its chill. The long-sleeved woolen shirt woven by one of his women kept the cold from touching him, as did the leather tunic he wore over it.
Beverley: Which genre or genres do you write or prefer to write?
Toni I’ve always been of an imaginative turn of mind, so most definitely fantasy in one form or another
Beverley: What prompted you to write in the genre/s you do?
Toni: That imaginative turn of mind. I love the fantastical, whether it’s scifi, a la Star Trek or space opera per Star Wars, or Horror via some vampiric tale, or simply what most people consider fantasy, a tale of wizards and magic.
Beverley: What genres do you enjoy reading?
Toni: I’m pretty omni-generic (is that a word?) I like mysteries and thrillers, soft core SF, fantasy, horror, historicals, all with a touch of romance.
Beverley: I’d love to hear what you think of the present genres, how they’ve been affected by self-publishing and where you think they might be headed.
Toni: I’ve no problem with any of the genres but I’ve some very definite opinions on self-publishing and there’s so strong I think I should err on the side of caution and not mention them. I will say that, in spite of what all those vanity presses state, not every one can write a novel. Self-publishing is going to prevent some very good writers from ever becoming known.
Beverley: How long have you been writing?
Toni: Though I started composing stories and writing them down when I was seven, my first written piece was published in 1963, while I was in college. I guess that qualified me as having been an author since the age of 20.
Beverley: Who influenced you the most in deciding to become a writer?
Toni: My seventh grade teacher, Lucille Comer encouraged everyone in our class to write stories that we’d then read aloud. I wrote enthusiastically because that was the first time my stories weren’t ridiculed and the other students didn’t tease me about writing them as my family did.
Beverley: What obstacles did you have to overcome to begin creating your work?
Toni: Showing my writing to anyone. As I said, I was so teased by my family who ridiculed what I wrote that I was embarrassed to show anyone I’d written to anyone because I expected them to be sarcastic about it.
Beverley: What gets your creative juices flowing?
Toni: Anything. I can see a painting or hear a descriptive phrase, and I’m off and running on a creative tangent.
Beverley: What will stop your creative muse the quickest?
Toni: An emotional jolt. I was in the middle of writing a novel when I received a phone call that a friend had committed suicide. The caller didn’t mince words but simply blurted out that she was dead. It took me a very long time to get back to finishing the story because all the time I worked on it, I remembered that interrupting phone call.
Beverley: What do you have for breakfast?
Toni: A cup of decaf coffee. Occasionally, it’ll be accompanied with a plain doughnut or perhaps a thickly-buttered piece of toast.
Beverley: What do you wear when you are writing?
Toni: I usually dress “writer casual”…a caftan and sandals.
Beverley: Where do you do most of your writing?
Toni: I have my desk set up next to a large picture window where I get plenty of sunlight and can look out and enjoy the scenery occasionally. The window sill is also filled with plants so when I want to take a break, I potter around watering and tending my “garden.”
My computer desk is also near my bookcases so I have reference books and anything else I need at hand.
Beverley: Do you have a favorite cartoon character? Why?
Toni: I love Shrek’s friend Puss in Boots. I have the DVD and have watched it numerous times. I also have Puss in Boots and the Three Diablos but the Shrek movies he’s featured in are my favorite.
Beverley: If you had an unexpected free day what would you do with it?
Toni: I’d probably go to a movie or read a book which sounds like a busman’s holiday, doesn’t it?
Beverley: What are you working on now?
Toni: I’m currently toying with a Southern gothic novel which doesn’t even have a title yet. The folder heading simply says “Book”. I say “toying” because I no idea where it’s going to go and am just putting words on paper kind of aimlessly at present. It’ll probably come out under my pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone, since it’s set in the South.
Blurb for The Man from Tippeeary (Book 3 of The McCoys series): Paraig McCoy is the Bad Boy of the McCoy family.Up to now, his father’s money has gotten him out of scrapes …until the day Paraig commits one offence too many and finds himself a remittance man, paid by his father to leave home and never return.
Still in shock, the young exile finds himself on a boat to America where he comes to rest in the Nebraska Great Plains. Knowing nothing about cows doesn’t stop Padraig from hiring on as a ranch hand, however, and on a trail drive to Sedalia, Fate steps in and changes his life forever.
It takes a few years, but, thanks to a cattle stampede, an influenza epidemic, and a determined young woman arriving on a Wells Fargo stage, the ne’er-do-well from Tipperary is about to become the man he should be.
As civil war looms and nobles turn against each other, Riven will risk everything he holds dear when he makes a choice between following a madman or being declared traitor to the land he loves.
Excerpt from The Man from Tippeeary (Book 3 of The McCoys series):Padraig pulled his hat from his head, looking up at the sun. It was still early morning and the snow was bright and near-blinding. He should be wearing his eye protectors, but he’d forgotten them.
Taking a deep breath, he said quietly, “Lord…I know my da think’s I’m a bad one, but I swear I’m tryin’ t’ be good. Maybe th’ people in Four Corners, an’ me’ own men, an’ Jacob’s li’l girl…maybe they’ll get well without me’ help, but then again, maybe they won’t. I’ve got t’ try…I’ve got t’ get t’ Lancaster an’ convince that doctor t come back with me. Even if he says Cookie’s doing exactly what he’d do, I’ve got t’ get his expert opinion. Will you please make this damned animal cooperate? I don’t think I can walk that distance…not in this snow…” Putting his hat back, he wiped his eyes, and said, “Amen,” and kicked the pinto in the ribs.
To his surprise, the horse started up, picking its way at a smart trot through the snow.
Padraig laughed, looked up again and said, “Much obliged,” and turned the animal’s head in the direction of Lancaster.
Publisher’s website: http://www.classactbooks.com/cat-romance/cat-western/the-man-from-tipperary-683-detail
You can find Toni at:
Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002BLQBB8
Don’t forget to check back next week for another author interview.