Bookpleasures.com is pleased to welcome as our guest today, Sierra Cartwright.
Sierra was born in Manchester, England, and raised in the US. She is the acclaimed author of more than twenty enthralling erotic romance books and has won numerous awards. She has earned a coveted spot on the USA Today bestseller list and has been profiled and interviewed by USA Today, Marie Claire, Daily Mail, and Fox TV, among many other media outlets.
Sierra is also a multiple CAPA nominated author, and she topped the Amazon bestseller charts with all six titles of her Mastered series—the first instalment of the series, With This Collar, stayed at #1 for over three weeks.
Joining publisher Totally Bound marked a new chapter in Sierra's career that had seen her reputation rise, and becoming one of the world's most acclaimed authors of breathtaking BDSM romance.
Her 2012 version of Jane Eyre, issued as part of Totally Bound's Clandestine Classics imprint, generated international interest, and saw Sierra featured on such shows as Jimmy Kimmel and Anderson Cooper Live.
Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and numerous other online sites also wrote features about the provocative book. Her latest offering, Claim, is the second title in the hotly anticipated series called Bonds.
Norm: Good day, Sierra and thanks for participating in our interview.
Sierra: Thanks for having me, Norm. It’s incredible to be here amongst such fabulous writers and a spontaneous interviewer. I appreciate your questions. They show a love of the art and craft, and insightfulness.
Norm: Why have you been drawn to writing erotic romance books? As a follow up, are there aesthetic advantages and disadvantages peculiar to this genre? Does it have a form?
Sierra: I wrote nine books for Harlequin/Silhouette. Two of them were romantic suspense novels, and the rest were for their spicy “Desire” imprint. I was always known for being a “risqué” writer. Very often, I had manuscripts returned to me with whole sections crossed through in red ink.
I’ve never shied away from writing about sex. Rather, I love writing about it. For me, sex is a very important part of an intimate relationship, and I’ve always considered it to be part of the plot in a romance novel. I want my characters to grow and change as they are shaped by their sexual encounters. I want each joining to increase their emotional vulnerability. For the hero or heroine, the other person challenges them, makes them take a risk and forces them to experience the full-range of human emotions.
After a divorce that left me shaken, I ended up taking a hiatus from writing. I was a single mom, and I needed a full-time job. My career and family absorbed my time.
When I returned to writing, I was looking for new challenges. At that time, we were beginning to see the explosion of the erotic romance market. Finally, finally, I had found an outlet for the stories I wanted to tell.
I was able to abandon euphemisms (no more throbbing manhoods in my books!) and use real terms. I was able to make the sex more real, grittier and more physically and emotionally fraught. My hero forces my heroine to lay herself bare for him. She demands the same from him, but more in emotional terms.
For me, BDSM allows me to explore the outer edges. There is a language unique to the participants and readers. There’s formality, elegance, beauty, along with an element of danger. The image of a woman (or man!) tied into bondage, can be breathtakingly evocative, not just because of the physical trappings such as rope, but also from the expression of trust and vulnerability. If we can’t be honest during sex, where can we be honest?
Norm: What was the first story you ever wrote, and what happened to it?
Sierra: I’ve been writing since I was nine. My mother, bless her, was my first proof reader. She corrected “babby” to “baby.” And my first story was about going to “haven,” which she corrected to “heaven.” I was fortunate during my early years. Not only was my mother fabulously supportive, but so was my school librarian. She set up one of the shelves in the library just for my books. And she published them for me, meaning she stapled the pages inside two sheets of construction paper. (The first book was pink.) And then she glued a checkout pocket on the inside. Nowadays, schools are much more sophisticated in encouraging kids to write and publish. But Mrs. Hadley was a pioneer.
I’m sure she got sick of me, but she never let it show. In fact, after I talked the principal into allowing me to publish a school paper (I’d checked a book out of the same library, learned everything I needed to know about publishing, then set about doing it), she typed up each edition of the Woodglen News.
Next up, I wrote a dreadful piece of Star Trek fanfic. Again, I was fortunate with my teachers. In science, we had to complete three projects per semester. The teacher allowed me to turn in a book to serve as all three projects. I completed (or, as I spelled it, “compleated”) the handwritten novel at 1:00 a.m. on the final day of my winter break.
When I got serious about writing, I began writing historical romances. The first one I wrote, A Queen’s Ransom was “published” years later in audio format, after I cut out 350 pages.
I wish I could say it was sunshine and lollipops after that. Despite tremendous enthusiasm, my talent was raw. I had to write ten books, over the course of ten years, before I finally sold to Harlequin. Back then I seemingly had more tenacity than talent. Still, I have no regrets. I continued to grow and evolve, going to workshops, reading the masters, participating in critique groups, doing market research.
As for the Star Trek fanfic? It’s in a plastic storage box.
Norm: Are you a plot or character writer and what helps you focus when you write?
Sierra: Great question! I recall when I was a budding journalist in the fifth grade I set out to interview the music teacher. I scheduled an appointment and went in with a notepad. I had my ten carefully thought-out questions. And after it was over, I was devastated. I had ten words to show for all my effort.
Mr. Snell kindly pointed out that if I had any hope of being a serious columnist, I might want to ask questions that required more than a yes or no response. Being a skilled interviewer is about asking provocative questions, and so I certainly appreciate this one.
I generally start with an idea. It could come from a television show, a movie, a newspaper article, or even an interesting discussion. Often, the idea comes from my real life as I sort through my own challenges. For example, the idea for With This Collar came from a friend’s wedding. There was a group of us friends who were fairly close. She met this guy and bam, a couple of months later; she invited us to the wedding. None of us had even met him.
The wedding was magical, though, at this vacation home in Winter Park, Colorado. It was a candlelight ceremony at dusk in January. As my friend descended the stairs, a gentle snow began to fall. It was idyllic.
All of us felt a bit out of our element. And before the wedding we were speculating on what kind of person the groom was since the whole thing was very mysterious.
Then I began to wonder, what if my heroine went to a wedding, at the same place, under very similar circumstances? What if the groom was a bit kinky? What if the bride had a secret, submissive side? How would my heroine, who was definitely out of her element, react?
What if she starts to wonder about some of the wording in the marriage vows? And then how would she interact from there?
So typically, I start from “what if?” Then I build the character from there. I want to pit the character that has the internal conflict with someone who is going to make the problem worse and then make them confront their deepest fear. In the case of the book I mentioned, our hero is an alpha to her feminist side. And then I played with the idea of how she reconciles the two.
As for focus, I know many authors use music or some other background noise. I prefer silence. As I write, I have random ideas, snippets of dialogue, events that could occur. So I will type those, highlight them in yellow, then go back and fill in the detail. Oh, yes, and I make up words. Seriously. Generally my proof reader is able to figure it out from the surrounding thoughts. But sometimes I have to revise the entire sentence because no one knows what I meant. Even me.
The deeper I am in the zone, this is more likely to happen. Once, I was at a hotel on deadline. I went down for dinner, and I took my computer. I ordered a margarita with socks. I meant salt, and on the rocks. But my brain made a mash-up of the words and they tumbled out of my mouth.
Norm: Which of your fictional characters would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
Sierra: I’d love to sit down with Julien Bonds. He’s extremely eccentric. Brilliant. Driven. Never satisfied. Impatient. And he loves to meddle in the lives of his friends.
He is a compilation of people I know and people I’d like to get to know. Insider secret, he is my humble and not-at-all accurate tribute to the genius that was Steve Jobs.
Have you read the Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson? Absolutely fascinating read. Isaacson is a gifted biographer. And his book about Jobs paints him as a man with many complexities. Julien tends to be a bit compulsive, but he doesn’t have that edge that drove Jobs.
And because Julien has an amazing office in Silicon Valley, I’d like to meet him there to share a bottle of wine. Maybe a nice Merlot as we sit on his white leather couches while he tells me about his vision for the future.
Technology fascinates me. I love being alive at this point in history. Not all that long ago, we had rotary dial phones, transistor radios, and Polaroid cameras. Now we can take pictures on our phones while we’re listening to satellite music.
I only wish technology could move a little quicker. There’s still more that I want it to do. I’m ready for an integrated house, for an app that can truly help me manage my life. I think as we evolve things will be more seamless. So I love imagining that I can sit down with Julien and tell him how to make my life better.
Norm: What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer and as a follow up, how do you handle bad reviews?
Sierra: Biggest mistake? Not focusing on one genre, on following my muse rather than corralling that bitch and making her work for me. I wrote historicals, then contemporaries, then romantic suspense, then thrillers, then erotic romance.
I’m a businesswoman, by necessity rather than choice, and now I recognize how important it is to look at the whole as a business. Yes, I want to write stories that I want to tell, but I also want them to find readers.
And bad reviews? Other than a glass of wine? I actually try to learn from them. Sure there are some that rock me back on my heels, like the one woman who wrote into a British paper after With This Collar was featured. She said I wrote “rubbish” and that I’d set the women’s movement back (I think it was) fifty years.
That one rankles. The woman had never read my work. And isn’t the women’s movement about allowing women to choose what they want? And if I have a heroine who chooses BDSM as part of her sexuality, isn’t that her right?
Otherwise, I also noted that some readers were keen to have a longer book. So I’ve started to write longer books. Claim, for example, is a good eight or ten thousand words longer than Crave, the first book in the Bonds series.
I do have to realize that I will not be everyone’s favorite flavor. And I have to not worry about the opinions of people I don’t connect with. But for the people who buy my books, I do look for common threads.
On the other hand, I look for the threads that people do like and respond to, for example, my heroes who have a strong commitment to the women they love.
There are themes we resonate with, and I want to give readers more of what they do want. Readers, men and women alike, tell me they respect my male leads for their honor and integrity. And that’s something you’ll always find in my books.
Norm: What would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read Claim and could you tell our audience a little about the book?
Sierra: Oh, Kennedy Aldrich… He makes my socks go up and down. Our heroine, Mackenzie Farrell has had a divorce she never expected. (Ripped from the headlines of my own life!) So that made her not want to ever fall in love again.
She is a bit of a commitment-phobe. (See? I warned you that I make up words.) Up until Mackenzie, Kennedy had been dodging the marital noose. But when he sees her at a BDSM club, he realizes she isn’t the prim and proper woman he’d always thought. And she’s available.
As they spend time together, he begins to care for her. The fact she doesn’t seem interested in him confounds him.
But Mackenzie doesn’t want to get into another relationship. Being deeply hurt once is enough for her. And Kennedy is a business mogul from a respected family.
Even if she were to become serious about a man ever again, it certainly wouldn’t be to someone like him.
The more determined she is to resist, the more he wants to claim her, and not just sexually. She’s the first woman he’s considered trading in bachelorhood for, and it frustrates him when she rejects him.
I love stories between two strong characters who are not afraid to go after what they want.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the book and what kind of research did you conduct before writing the book?
Sierra: My BDSM books are deeply personal to me. Writers are told to “write what you know.” And I try to do that. The internal challenges my characters face are often the things that vex me or my friends. My heroines, and heroes for that matter, deal with the same emotional issues that we all do.
This one, though, has a double meaning. After being single for many years, I met a man who is as determined, as honorable, and as single-minded as Kennedy. He was determined that we should get married. I think my new husband might have influenced Kennedy’s character a bit.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write Claim and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Sierra: Claim took me a lot longer to write than most of my books, and not just because of the added length. Did I mention my own single-minded hero? We had a whirlwind wedding this summer.
And because we had both moved to Galveston, it meant we had to get both sides of the family gathered from across the country. I had a house sale, dress shopping, long-distance planning sessions with my family, a dawn wedding on the beach, a reception in a historic airplane museum, a honeymoon, and a deadline. Remember how I need silence to focus? So this book will go down in my memory as both a challenge and as an amazing experience.
Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Sierra: There’s never been a better time to be a writer. I mentioned how much I love technology. There are more ways than ever to get your books published, dozens of ways to connect with readers that didn’t exist even ten years ago. This is the moment. Now. Seize it. Don’t think. Soar.
Keep learning, keep growing. Challenge yourself. Learn. Never think that you know it all. Reread Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Study the hero’s journey. Watch the first released Star Wars movie to understand the hero’s journey. Examine the masters. Keep a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing nearby. (I have two.)
Tell the story YOU need to tell. Seize the white hot heat of your creative genius and breathe it in. This is your moment.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Sierra: I’m a social media maven. I want to connect. Find me at MY WEBSITE, on Amazon, on Totally Bound, on iBooks, socialize with me on Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, e-mail, and Tumblr.
Actually, it appears as if it’s rather difficult to avoid me, doesn’t it?
Norm: What is next for Sierra Cartwright?
Sierra: You can expect that I will continue to write stories that resonate with readers and that the characters’ emotional struggles will be ones that we can all identify with. (And some of them will continue to be inspired by the events in my own life.)
I’ll be writing longer stories that push the boundaries. I’ll keep populating my books with larger-than-life characters who will help keep things interesting. There will be tight relationships; even more realistic issues, secondary plots and characters, and the sex will be even hotter. Bring your own ice cubes.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Sierra: So, c’mon, tell us the truth, you’re among friends. Are your sex scenes written from personal experience?
Oh, wait. On second thought, I’m glad you didn’t ask.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Sierra: Thank you for your time and congeniality. Happy holidays to you and yours.