Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Introducing Toni Sweeney

My mother didn't believe in babysitters. Because of that, whenever she and my father went to a movie or a dance or out to dinner--anywhere!--I went with them. Before I was six, they rarely got to see an entire movie, however. Because I was afraid of the dark, as soon as the lights went down in the theatre, I'd begin to cry and they'd have to leave. I don't know how many shows they missed because of me. Nevertheless, we went to the movies at least three times a week until I learned to like sitting in the dark watching actors entertain me with make-believe on a 30-foot screen. (This was in the days when movies were changed twice during the week and shown continually from noon to midnight and you could buy a ticket and stay all day, gobbling popcorn and Junior Mints.)

As a result of all that entertainment--and the advent of television into my life--I'll be the first to admit that these two forms of media have largely influenced how I format my novels. Look through any of them and you'll see it plainly...the little "trap" at the beginning of the story (to lure the reader in), the "jump" directly into the main theme itself, sections where it's quite obvious commercials or Station Identifications are supposed to be inserted, flashbacks...I even try to make my dialogue as close to the way people really speak as possible. Some of it could very easily be transferred to a script. (It already has; three of my novels have been made into audio books, and hearing them read aloud, this fact was brought home to me very quickly.)

I've also tried my best to suit my dialogue to the era of the novel. As I've said before (and I'm sure my writer friends are getting tired of hearing it) if there's one thing I can't stand is hearing/reading a glaring anachronism in a story...a knight informing someone he's "going to sleep in tomorrow" because he just slew a dragon; a conquistador telling his men to "listen up, guys!"; someone in colonial American saying "Okay!" The gritting of my teeth against each other can be heard from coast-to-coast.

As one of the Writing Sins, anachronisms are high on my list, so I try my best to be as accurate as possible. If I want to use a specific word or item in a story and it's a fairly modern one, I research to see if it was around during the time in question; if it isn't, I try to find a equivalent which was. I've researched cigarettes, architecture, underwear, matches, hand pistols, chewing gum, condoms...you name it, and you'd be surprised at the information I've found, and the items we have today which have been around for a lot longer than you'd think! The meanings of words have changed over the years, too, and I've had to decide when using some of them whether to use a more modern synonym instead so there won't be any misunderstanding of what my "people" are really saying.

A good example I like to use for this is having a story set in England in the Thirties, and having one of my characters say to the other: "Don't get gay with me. I need a fag. You got one?" O-ka-a-ay. That bit of dialogue doesn't mean what it looks like. In reality, all the character said was "Don't be such a smart-mouth. I need a cigarette. Do you have one?"

See what I mean? Sometimes you have to substitute on the side of propriety and public acceptance so there'll be no misunderstandings.

The information I've researched for stories set in the past can also--with a little adjustment and perhaps enhancement or exaggeration--be used in science fiction or futuristic novels, too. So if you come across a bit of esoterica, store it away. Who knows? It may be just the tidbit you need for that next book you're writing.

Presently, I have three books being released by Lyrical Press: Jericho Road, Earthman's Bride, and When the Condor Returns. The former is a contemporary romance set in Vietnam Era Georgia, the other two are futuristic romances placed in another galaxy. Jericho Road was released this month (there's a trailer to tempt you here); the others are set for May and June. They abound with plenty of research.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Wonderful, blog, Toni!

Like your trailer, too.

I agree with you about anachronisms - for me, nothing pulls me out of a story faster.

Look forward to reading your books.

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Toni, I love reading vernacular of the times in books set in the past/in other cultures. I've caught several anachronisms while reading, also, and it's like the penny in "Somewhere in Time" (the Christopher Reeves movie), throwing you out of where you are.

Do you ever get so into your research you slip and use the phrases in speaking? ;-)

jean hart stewart said...

Loved your blog. Since all my Druid stories take place in a different yer from 18981-1930 I'm very sensitive about language suiting the period. Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than a real goof.

Hywela Lyn said...

Great post Lindsey - and I see we share a love of futuristics. I do agree, having a writer use language not appropriate to the era or setting sets my teeth on edge too. Unfortunately this seems to be getting more and more popular with TV series. While haing purely authentic speech would probably get a bit tedious for some viewers, 'modern speak' sounds just plain silly!

Toni V.S. said...

I've often used words and language I've learned in my research, and it often leaves my son staring at me with his mouth open. "What did you just say, Mom?"

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, modern speak does sound just plain silly. It's my thought that for time, during the nineties, especially, language and speaking became a lost art, and is just now attempting to become an art again in writing and in speaking.
That's not to say novels written during that period aren't artistic. It's to say language was so pared down in some cases it was absolutely stupid and boring... at least, to me.

Toni, I applaud your research. Fascinating bloggie!!! Congrats on your release and your coming releases.

Celia Yeary said...

Excellent blog, Toni. I, too, must research words for a particular era. I used "okay" in 1880 Old West stories, and learned very quickly not to. But in realty, there was a form of the word "okay" a couple of centuries ago. But it doesn't sound right. I remember the way we watched movies as you do. Yes, one ran continuously, and we went whenever we wanted, in the middle, and just started watching. When something looked familiar, we'd say, "this is where we came in." Celia Yeary

Mary Marvella said...

Good interview, Toni. I keep learning new stuff about you.

Gerrie Ferris said...

Excellent post. Historicals can be tricky because of language as you've pointed out. I enjoyed and learned a lot on the subject.

Mary Ricksen said...

Gotta keep it as real as possible for me to believe it too!