Sarah A. Hoyt has been a force in speculative fiction since the 1980s. Her strong characters, rich world building, and no-holds-bar style of interacting with fans makes her a dynamic presence on the literary scene.
RLM: You have a pretty unique background: born and raised in Portugal, a deep knowledge of languages, a member of MENSA. How has all this influenced your writing?
SAH: Mostly it made it really hard to break in. There is a different sense of story that goes with different cultures and I had to re-adapt my internal sense to what Americans consider a satisfying story. For instance in Portugal a satisfactory HEA [Happily Ever After] for a Romance is he dies and she mourns him all her life. It’s a more tragic view of life.
The Mensa thing… Ah. As Mensa qualifying (I have dropped out of active membership sometime back) and mother of “profoundly gifted” (they use the same scale as the other end of the IQ scale, and it’s gifted, highly gifted, profoundly gifted, etc) boys, I found that mostly IQ is not a good measure of your abilities in any field, let alone your ability to succeed in life. Few Mensans are rich, and the people in my younger son’s IQ range mostly end up by their mid thirties living in a cluttered room, alone, refusing to bathe. That sort of thing.
Fortunately I’m Mensa qualifying but not terrifyingly smart, so mostly I just need to watch out for “so smart I cut myself.” That is, when building plots, I need to be sure I’m not making them insanely complex just because I’m bored and thereby detracting from the effect of the book. I tend to kitchen-sink novels. Given enough time I throw in everything but the kitchen sink, which is why I write fast – to stop that.
RLM: Your bibliography encompasses many different genres and subgenres (historical fantasy, mystery, urban fantasy, science fiction etc). In which genre, if any, do you feel most “at home”? Why that one?
SAH: Very difficult question to answer. It depends on my mood. I write, and read, according to my mood at the time, and that might be mystery or fantasy or science fiction. I’d be tempted to say Science fiction is my first love and therefore I know how to hit the right notes in it, but mystery is so close there’s little difference. And fantasy is just a different head space from SF. Fantasy, as I write it, tends to be very logical and thought out.
RLM: On average, how much research do you conduct for your books?
SAH: This is a bad time to answer this. We’re packing up our home of 12 years to move, and I’m getting rid of a lot of paper books, but not research. The number of books I bought per book I wrote… I think we can say I PROBABLY clear some money from the advance in the end, but I wouldn’t bet I did for the early ones.
RLM: Do you ever write yourself into a corner? If so, how do you work around that?
SAH: Often. Sometimes I have to go back and clear stuff. Sometimes I realize the climax is far more complex than I thought. And sometimes I take a shower and think about it again. (No, I don’t know WHY showers help, they just do). If things are really bad, I get my husband and go out to eat and talk plot at him until something clicks. Which is why we ended up in a restaurant and I didn’t see the waitress behind me as I said, “Now, I need to figure out how to hide the body so it won’t be found for two weeks.” We explained, but that waitress was skittish the rest of the evening.
RLM: Yikes! That makes me think of the times writers have said they get funny looks in coffee shops because they are staring at/eavesdropping on people.
RLM: You’re incredibly prolific as a writer. How do you balance writing with other aspects of your life?
SAH: I feel somewhat sheepish answering this, as the last two years I’ve been unable to finish anything. Turns out to have been mostly physiological and we’re resolving it, but made me sympathize with slow writers. However, normally I write the same hours my husband is at work. Since he’s in the tech industry that’s a lot of hours. When the kids were little, I had their playroom as half of my office, so I could keep an eye out. Later, they had study desks in my office. Now they’re adults, one with a degree in bio-chem, the other finishing up triple engineering degrees, so mostly they have to beware of me, as I shamelessly use them as resources. As in “Honey, I need a virus that…” They can at least usually point me at the right books to read.
RLM: Along with putting out your own work, you’ve also served as editor for an anthology. How does the role of editor versus author feel?
SAH: I hate editing. I hate it so much I sold the second anthology my husband edited, but asked him to take the job instead (and the publisher agreed). It’s dealing with people and egos as well as stories. Makes life very difficult.
RLM: You describe your fascination with Shakespeare as “morbid.” What do you mean by that?
SAH: Shakespeare is okay. Now my fascination with Marlowe IS morbid. (Winks.) Actually my problem with reading/studying Shakespeare is that it’s obsessive more than morbid. I became fascinated by Shakespeare at 8 and it still goes on. I DO try to keep Tudor England at least somewhat out of my OTHER books, but it tends to drip in. For instance, in my space opera, modified doublets are in fashion.
RLM: Tell me about your favorite character? How about your least favorite?
SAH: Mine or other people’s? Other people’s I like Athos [Three Musketeers]. I can’t think of a least favorite, because I stop reading what I don’t like. Maybe the chick in Fifty Shades (read two pages.) Mine? Favorite as in, lots of fun to write? Tom in the shifters’ series, starting with Draw One In the Dark. He’s a dragon shifter but also a perfectly nice young man with an insane family, who is trying to keep the diner he co-owns with his fiancé running, despite things like shifter attacks, supernatural events and massive blizzards. Quite possibly the funniest thing is his relationship with his father who lives in fear that Tom will eat someone, so often phone calls start with, “Tom, did you eat someone.” There’s also Tom’s philosophical musings, “Family. Can’t live with them. It’s bad manners to eat them.”
Least favorite, I assume you mean a villain? The villain in Witchfinder is a thoroughly nasty piece of goods, and though I killed him, I have this impression he’ll show up again. Given he’s into evil magic, rape (of both genders!) eating humans (he’s a dragon shifter) and financial exploitation of entire worlds… this is not a good thing!
RLM: You’ve been in the Science Fiction/Fantasy writing game for a long time now. How have you seen the landscape change?
SAH: The biggest changes are Amazon and the ability to go indie. Both of them broke the control of traditional publishers over the market. Don’t get me wrong, I love my publisher (Baen Books) but I like to know if I write something they don’t take, or if for some reason I don’t sell enough to stay with them, I can go indie and still make a living. My first indie book, Witchfinder made me as much as my traditional books. This is amazing freedom. It makes me far less neurotic about my relationship with my publisher and allows me to experiment with writing things the traditional market might not want (like, say, Witchfinder which is what happens when multi-world adventure fantasy collides with a Regency romance at speed). Since I write what I’m driven to write, this freedom is a very good thing and makes for a much happier writer – or it will now that I’ve had surgery which should fix the health problems of the last couple of years.
RLM: What’s next for you?
SAH: I’m finishing the fourth in my space opera series, and I have the sequel to Witchfinder ready to go but for some editing. After that, There is the fifth in the space opera series and this dragon trilogy (think Pern meets Starship Troopers with dragon shifters) trying to beat a path out of my skull.