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Monday, October 18, 2010

Kensington Author Emma Lang's Interview of Writing with the Stars Contest Finalist Madeline Smyth

Hey y’all! Emma Lang here. Today I’m going to post an interview with my mentee, Madeline Smyth, a finalist in the Writing with the Stars Contest.

Madeline, what was it that first drew you to the craft of writing romance?

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. As a child, I’d fall asleep by working on a story, replaying it each night to the point where I’d left off the night before and taking it a little further. Then, one day, when I was about 12 years old, Sister Karen (yes, a nun) handed me a copy of Jane Eyre. I read it to the other girls at our private girl’s academy (a place of intellectual expression and sexual repression) as we sat on the lawn dressed in our black blazers, white shirts, long skirts, and black tights.

After that, in secrecy, I devoured hot and steamy romance novels with an insatiable hunger. I lost my innocence to Brandon Birmingham (The Flame and the Flower), battled the mighty Wulfgar (The Wolf and the Dove) with spirited words, and waited for Cole Latimer (Ashes in the Wind) to realize I was a woman beneath my boy’s garb. Of all my imaginary lovers, though, Ruark Beauchamp (Shanna) made me tremble and quiver the most as a girl…and still makes me tremble and quiver the most as a woman. Oh my, he just defies time.

So, what drew me to the craft of romance writing?

My favorite authors gave me a heroine I could be, a hero I would never meet, and an exotic place I wanted to go. Now, more than anything, I want to give readers this experience. For them, I’ve written Aliya Arabesque. Aliya is a woman who speaks for many women, bemoaning her less than perfect figure, wanting a man she fears is unobtainable, trying to find her way in a complicated modern world. And Sheikh Farūq is a man who’ll make most women tremble and quiver now and forevermore.

Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?

When it comes to writing, and most other things, I argue only with myself…and I always win.

What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?

The demands of real life are the only thing that can distract me from writing. I have a fabulous husband, three young children, law practice, and old home. Wait, I have more—a mother-in-law who doesn’t know who my husband or I am, a bachelor brother-in-law who thinks I’m married to him as well as his brother, and a reclusive neighbor who lets only me into his house. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel more fulfilled from giving than receiving, and when the well of my heart is full, I give the best of myself to readers.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Write, write, write. During my younger days, I let other things come between writing and me, mostly my legal career. Recently, when I was telling a colleague about my writing, he said, “Being great at something kept you from being greater at something else.”

If you were a book, what would your blurb be?

Whisper in My Ear

A Secret Identity

Madeline is a woman who is not what she appears to be. By day, she wears armor and swings her battleaxe for Lady Justice, but by night, she shimmers in silk and invites Lord Muse into her dreams. When a challenge calls her to the battlefield, to vanquish her enemies and capture the hand of her beloved lord, she must decide whether to swing her mighty battleaxe or wield her most seductive words.

A Silver Tongue

Lord Muse is a man who can tempt a lady to reveal her secrets. During the day, he hovers in the shadows just beyond Madeline’s reach, advancing and retreating, teasing and tempting, but at night, he lies with her in the pale moonlight, seducing her with his silver tongue. To entice his lady to cast away her warrior’s armor, and reveal the secrets of her vulnerable soul to the world, he must whisper a word in her ear…a word that only she knows.

An Inevitable Surrender

Their desires are undeniable, but their flirtation is dangerous, for Madeline has long belonged to another, and Lord Muse now wants her all to himself. Lord Muse’s seduction threatens Lady Justice, while Madeline’s resistance encourages Lord Muse. When Lady Justice raises her sword to claim her warrior, will Madeline let it fall upon Lord Muse…or will she risk her heart and whisper a single word in her beloved’s ear?

What would be your “voice’s” tagline?

Rich and sensual.

Who’s your favorite author?

That depends on my mood.

Let’s talk about your Aliya Arabesque. What’s the story behind the story?

I was devastated on 9/11, like other Americans. I had a personal connection to New York, NY (my home city), Boston, MA (the city where I’d gone to law school), and Washington, D.C. (a city where I’d practiced law). On that day, I had family and friends who worked in Manhattan, I had former colleagues who often flew out of Logan and Dulles, and I had friends who worked for the government in Washington, D.C. More, before that day, I had lived among (and even worked for) Arab Muslims during my life.

In the aftermath of 9/11, perhaps a year or two later, I picked up a romance novel in a bookstore one day. The hero was an Arab Muslim sheikh. Yet, there wasn’t one mention of Allāh, Islam, or the Qur’an in the book. Worse, the sheikh engaged in behavior that was haraam (forbidden) under Shari’a law, though his behavior would’ve been acceptable for a Western man. I shook my head in dismay, wondering how we could know so little about this ancient culture, and how we could be so foolish to think God had made the world in our image.

As I returned the book to the shelf, I realized that I’d only ever read two types of Western/Middle Eastern romance stories—ones with Arab Muslim sheikhs running around spouting Western ideas, and ones with Western women being enslaved in Middle Eastern harems. In that moment, Sheikh Farūq was born. I knew him as if I’d known him all my life. He was a holy man imbued with the ways of his ancient culture, devoted to Allāh and the peace of Islam, and responsible for the welfare of his tribe and the harmony of his harem.

The creation of Aliya Arabesque wasn’t as simple, though. I had to honor the people who had perished on 9/11 and those who had fled through the ashes of death, but I had to respect those Arab Muslims who are true believers in the peace of Islam. To do this, I would need to lift away a veil of lies and half-truths to reveal the beauty of two vastly different cultures. Aliya Roberts, the daughter of an American man and Arab woman lost on 9/11, became the embodiment of the conflict between these worlds…and her love for Sheikh Farūq the resolution of that conflict.

What has being a finalist in the Brava Writing with the Stars contest been like?

This experience has been exciting, but if I’m honest, a bit daunting as well. I now think that writing a book is easy, but promoting an author (especially an unpublished one) is a whole other thing.

What’s on the horizon for more books?

I’m working on Roubia Rayya, the story of Aliya’s sister, and then I’ll turn to Amira America, their mother’s story. Both will offer a fresh and different perspective of the conflict between the West and Middle East, between Judeo-Christian and Islamic beliefs, and between men and women. In addition to Roubia Rayya, I’m also working on The Loving of Lord Loxley, a multi-contest finalist for which I’ve received requests for a full manuscript.

A little bit more about you…

1. What is your favorite word?

I have three favorite words—love, betrayal, and sacrifice, my author brand.

2. What is your least favorite word?

My least favorite word is “it.”

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

I’m always on fire.

4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Other people’s negative energy dims my fire.

5. What sound or noise do you love?

I love the voice of Andrea Bocelli.

6. What sound or noise do you hate?

I hate the screams of my children.

7. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

If I could be anything that I wanted to be, I’d be a surgeon. I’d like to save lives and heal hearts. A year ago, my eight year-old son was tragically injured in an accident. He underwent emergency surgery and then two more surgeries during the following six weeks. Dr. Steven A., a brilliant surgeon, gave my son back to me.

Never will my son be quite the same again…and neither will I. I traveled through a dark place beyond grief—a place where only mothers with broken hearts pass—but I emerged from the darkness because of Dr. Steven A. He does with his hands in the real world what I can only do with my words in an imaginary world.

8. What profession would you not like to do?

I wouldn’t want to be a trash collector, though I think they know more about people than just about anyone. If you want to discover what people are buying or throwing away, ask your trash collectors. They are a fountain of information.

Lightning Round:

- dark or milk chocolate?

I love milk chocolate, but looking at my waist and thighs, I’d have to say milk chocolate doesn’t love me.

- smooth or chunky peanut butter?

Oh, is there a peanut butter other than chunky?

- heels or flats?

I wear flats most of the time to chase after children, run around town, and meet with friends, but if I want to draw DH’s eye, I wear black heels (and sheer black stockings, of course).

- coffee or tea?

I drink coffee in the morning, but opt for tea in the afternoon.

- summer or winter?

I’ll say summer because I may live in Buffalo, NY, but I’m not insane.

- mountains or beach?

I’m drawn to sand, ocean, and sun, probably because I’m from Long Island, NY.

- mustard or mayonnaise?

I’m always in the mood for a mouthful of hot and spicy mustard, but I sometimes crave a lick of smooth and creamy mayo.

- flowers or candy?

Why one or the other? I’ll take both, of course.

- pockets or purse?

I use pockets, purse, and satchel, which is perhaps why I can never find anything quickly.

- Pepsi or Coke?

Neither (not even if stranded on a desert island).

To read more of the opening scene, or see a slideshow of the exotic world, of Aliya Arabesque, check out Madeline’s blog at http://www.madelinesmyth.blogspot.com

Thank you to Madeline for sharing about herself, her writing and her fabulous book! I hope y’all will go vote for Madeline!

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