Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sophie Perinot talks about her new book, and how she finds time to write.

I’m excited about the new aspect of my blog. Guest Bloggers. I have several writing friends I’ve made at AQC willing to post, and some friends I’ve made on twitter. All writers, all with demands on their time. They will share their insights to writing and managing their time.

My first interview is Sophie Perinot who is about to publish her first book The Sister Queens. She has all the details on her blog

I met Sophie Perinot aka “Lit_Gal” over at Agent Query Connect (AQC) in some of the forums and in the Wednesday night chat room. She strikes me a very savvy and astute individual. Her posts in the forums are always informative and polite! I read many genres of books and I enjoy historical fiction. I write high fantasy and love medieval times. I admire historical fiction writers, because of the amount of research they need to do for the backdrop of their stories. Not an easy task. Research, writing, and blending it all together.

Overall writing takes a lot of time. So I asked if she would help me with a blog post on how she manages her time, successful writer that she is. She agreed to do a question and answer. Here is her interview.

Welcome to The Write Time Sophie.

First let me say I am delighted to be here on “The Write Time.” This is my first foray into blog interviews and I am glad to have a fellow AQConnect member on the other side of the virtual microphone. Now back to business.

What led you to writing historical fiction?

Historical Fiction was pretty much pre-destined to be my niche. I’ve been a life-long student of history (my undergrad degree is in history) and I come from a family of complete history nerds (my sister is a professor of history, my husband was a history major, my oldest child who has just started college is studying Art History. . .I could go on). As someone who studied French in abroad, and who is a hopeless devotee of Alexandre Dumas, père, French history was a logical starting point. So the manuscript that hooked my wonderful agent was set entirely in France, and the manuscript that sold to NAL and will hit shelves in March 2012 takes place about fifty-percent in France.

What time period, and location are your favorite?

I don’t have a favorite time period, except very broadly—13th century to 17th century—but I write books set in Western Europe. The novel I am working on now will again be set in France (16th century), but I have a project set in Italy planned as well.

How much time do you spend on research?

Lots :) But writers of historical fiction do have to be careful not to be sucked into research to the point where books don’t get finished. We are not writing academic history and the publishing schedule (the time span between publication dates for individual books) seems to be getting tighter in our genre. If you spend ten years researching each book it is hard for me to imagine making a go of it in publishing at this time.

I remember back at my very first Historical Novel Society Conference in 2005, the keynote speaker was Jack Whyte. During his address he said something that really stuck with me (and I am paraphrasing here because it’s been years) – “if your main character needs to do battle using a sword, by all means find out what type he would have used but you don’t need to learn how to forge one from scratch.”

What gives you story ideas?

One of the great things about writing historical fiction is that history is full of the fascinating, the bizarre, and the profound. It is a treasure trove of ideas.

Very often as I am researching I will come upon a fact or an event that makes me think, “wow, you couldn’t make stuff like this up.” So, I keep an eye open for ideas for future projects while I work on current ones. For example, the idea for my novel, The Sister Queens, came from a footnote in a history of Notre Dame de Paris that I was reading for a 16th century project -- a footnote about Marguerite of Provence, whose kneeling image is carved over that great church’s Portal Rouge, and about her sisters. I had never heard of these remarkable sisters from Provence and wondered how such extraordinary women could have largely slipped through the fingers of history. I started a folder with their names on it and began ruminating on ideas for a book about them.

Beyond the historical events included in my novels, the themes often come from my own life. I think the most important questions that we ask ourselves as human beings haven’t changed substantially in a thousand years. For example, One of the secondary themes in my current book is what does it mean to be a great man? Is professional competence the most important measure of “success?” Sometimes it can be more interesting and less “threatening” to examine “big issues” when they are removed from our everyday context and allowed to play out in the more remote setting of history.

When do you write?

Unlike many folks who are trying to do all their writing after hours, I have the luxury of daytime writing. All of my children are in school full time, so I can usually manage some time in my “writing lair” during the heart of the day. I don’t tend to write on weekends when my kids are home unless I have a deadline (I never miss deadlines – it’s a matter of personal pride for me). When I do have a deadline then weekends and even vacations or holidays are just “extra work days.”

When I am gripped by my muse I can (and do write any time and any where). I sometimes dictate portions of my work into a hand-held voice recorder. That gives me a lot of flexibility and allows me to “steal moments’ for writing. As a result, I’ve written sections of a book in the car and in the frozen food section of the grocery. I’ve also been known to get up in the middle of the night and creep off somewhere to dictate in the dark, lol.

How much time a day do you spend on your writing?

I consider “writing” to be all aspects of the process of getting a book to market – researching, writing, editing, and even some social networking or blogging (which falls under marketing). When you roll all that together I would say I try to spend at least 5 hours a day on my writing on weekdays during the school year. In the summer writing is more difficult.

How do you balance your writing with other aspects of your life?

When I first started writing it came second to pretty much everything else in my life. I was treating it like a hobby. I quickly realized, however, that if I wanted writing to be a job I had to start treating it like a job. So, I started to be stricter with myself (setting daily and weekly word goals) and with my family (telling my kids, “I am going to write for two hours, do not come to my office unless you are bleeding”).

Once I signed with my agent I became even more focused. I figured this was it – my shot. I didn’t want to fritter it away. So, while my agent was shopping one manuscript (ultimately unsuccessfully), I absolutely plowed through my next, completing it in substantially less time than my first. That extra push was worth it because that manuscript became The Sister Queens.

Despite being very focused, there are certain events I won’t miss for work. Where I draw that line today (as a writer) is different than it was when I was a lawyer, and that’s one of the reasons I stopped practicing law—to have more time for my family. The main thing I would remind other writers is that each person gets to decide on where the line is drawn in her/his life. I never compare my work habits or writing output with those of my writer friends. Their lives/circumstances are different than mine so of course they will arrange their writing schedules differently.

What do you feel is the key to your success?

Success – hm. On a major level whether or not I will be successful as a writer is still very much an open question. Yes, I have a wonderful agent and a super publisher behind me, but publishing is in flux, and the market is inundated with material. In this atmosphere many author’s first books become their last. When my book comes out in March 2012 I will have a very short time to “make an impression” on readers and book bloggers. I hope that I can do that, and I believe I’ve written a sister-story that will resonate with modern readers even as it paints a vivid picture of the high middle ages. But let’s face it, there are no sure things in this business.

The key to getting as far as I have, however, is something I feel competent to discuss. There are several important things I did that any other aspiring writer can do: 1) Learn everything you can about the BUSINESS end of writing. Don’t just spend your time on the artistic side. Invest in yourself as a professional—read about the industry; join on-line communities; attend conferences. 2) Be persistent but apply your effort wisely. Sometimes it IS time to set aside a particular project and move on to another. This is not the same as giving up, it is using your limited time in the manner most likely to yield the result you want, a publishable novel. 3) Write. Don’t talk about writing, or think about writing—do it. There is no substitute for practice. Writing is the only way to get better at writing.

Tell us about your new book and when it is out

My debut novel, The Sister Queens, is set in 13th century France and England. It tells the captivating story of medieval sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, who both became queens — their lifelong friendship, their rivalry, and their reigns. While I certainly hope that fans of historical fiction will enjoy the book, I had a broader audience in mind when I wrote it. I am half of a pair of extraordinarily close sisters, and I wanted to write a novel centered on the dynamics of the sister relationship, exploring how our siblings mold us into the people we become. So, if you are a sister, if you have a sister, my book is for you.

The book comes out on March 6, 2012. For more information on the novel (including a back-cover blurb) or where it can be pre-ordered please visit

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I will refer readers back to the second paragraph of my “key to success” answer. I really do feel if you do those three things you are well on your way. I will also say, however, DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP when rejections come in. Writers tend to assume it’s them—their query isn’t catchy enough, their manuscript isn’t good enough—but the truth is this is a tough business and it is highly competitive. It is important to write because you love to write, not because you think it is going to replace your day job. I write because I just can’t stop.


J. Lea Lopez said...

Wow, what a GREAT interview, Dean! And thank you, Sophie, for sharing with us. I admit focusing on my writing like it's a job has been a struggle for me, because I currently have two part-time "real" jobs. So when they're over and done for the day or week, the last thing I want to do is more work lol. But I do want my writing to be my job eventually, so I'm trying to work on being more dedicated.

And I agree with Dean -- you've always been a great voice of reason and a standard for dedication and professionalism at AQC! Can't wait for March to come around so I cam read your book!

Joyce Alton / @joycealton said...

Fantastic. I'm so looking forward to the release of your book.

I tell my kids the same thing when I get set to work in my office. Nice to know I'm not the only one. I don't feel so cold-hearted now. =)

Riley Redgate said...

This interview is 100% pure awesomeness! "I am going to write for two hours, do not come to my office unless you are bleeding" is PRICELESS. Also, the image of you sneaking off somewhere to dictate in the dark is ... weirdly scary. XD

As always, Ms. Perinot, so much wisdom and great advice! And Dean, I'm loving this series already =]

S. L. Duncan said...

Nice interview!

Sophie Perinot said...

Riley -- you want weird? I once wrote a scene in the frozen food section of my local store. It was a pretty intense scene with lots of dialogue so I was hunched over my cart, doing voices behind my hand. Next thing I know clerks are walking by eying me -- I bet they thought I was some sort of industrial spy recording their prices for frozen peas for a competitor. LOL.

KellieM said...

Very good interview Dean and Sophie. It was great to hear that I'm not the only one who says things like "don't bother me unless you're bleeding."

Sophie Perinot said...

Kellie -- I bet cavemoms said it first