Some writers ease into publishing books. Sherrilyn Kenyon pummeled the industry with her paranormal novels, confident in their appeal to readers, until her Dark-Hunter novels were finally published and instantly hit bestseller lists.
Kenyon’s connection with her readers is intense. For years she had her own fan convention, K-Con, and she’s a regular highlight at fantasy and pop culture conventions, such as San Diego’s Comic-Con International and Atlanta’s Dragon Con.
Deadmen Walking, which hit shelves on May 9, is Kenyon’s first historical fantasy novel and the beginning of a new series. Cursed pirates and their paranormal allies and enemies roam the seas of the Caribbean, and conflict abounds.
Kenyon spoke to us over the phone from her home in Nashville, and the irrepressible energy that infuses her books shone through in our conversation as well.
Amazon Book Review: You’re well known for your romance novels with strong fantasy or paranormal elements, but Deadmen Walking is aimed directly at fantasy readers. Why the shift?
Sherrilyn Kenyon: There’s really no shift. Marketing labels are marketing labels; that’s determined by the publisher more than anything else. I was joking with a friend just yesterday that one of my prized possessions is that I have an early rejection from Marion Zimmer Bradley from her fantasy magazine back in the 1980s, for a Dark-Hunter short story. She was like, Just because you have magic and a demon just doesn’t make it fantasy. This belongs to horror. So I turned around and submitted the Dark-Hunter short story to a couple horror magazines, and they were like, Look, just because you have a demon and a magic doesn’t make it horror. You need to submit this to fantasy. Why are you bothering us? Same with the publishers when I was submitting the books. I have thousands of rejections saying “This is not horror,” “This is not science fiction,” “This is not fantasy,” “This is not romance”…why are you bothering us? That is one of the reasons why it took so long to sell Dark-Hunter. It took 11 years of trying to sell the book. But in terms of the content…the content never changed. The world-building is what the series is known for.
Deadmen Walking is set in Florida and the Caribbean in the early 1700s. Did you have to do a lot of research for this?
Yes, but I knew a lot of it going into it. It’s a time period I’ve always been interested in. The mythology is something I grew up with. But I always double check [the facts], even things I’m sure of.
I got the impression that there’s a theme in Deadmen Walking about the destructiveness and blindness that can be caused by anger and bitterness.
Oh, absolutely. Let it go, people. Don’t hang on to the baggage. Don’t let your past ruin your future.
Is this something that you talk about frequently in your books?
Yes. We’re all adults. Our childhood is what we spend our adulthoods trying to get over. Life is hard on everybody. Pain takes no mercy on nobody. Crap happens to us all.
For you, what’s the most difficult thing about writing and publishing?
The fact that I don’t fit into a box. My father was a drill sergeant, so I have oppositional defiant disorder as a result. I follow rules only when I absolutely have to. I don’t like doing anything to formula. I don’t want to be designed. Marketing labels make it hard.
That must be a source of strength, too.
Yeah, it is. But when the readers ask, “What do you write?” … Well, I write everything.
What do you love about writing?
The characters, the creation. I get to work in my pajamas. I get to work at night. It’s awesome.
When you’re writing your characters, how do they come to you?
I had an interview [question] a while back which was like, “If you could have dinner with your characters…” Well, I always have dinner with my characters. I’ve been schizophrenic since birth with my characters. They’ve always been with me and inside my head. I mean, literally, before I could write words, I was drawing pictures of them and telling stories—my own little show-and-tell.
As you’ve progressed through your writing career, is there anything that you’ve changed about how you write?
No. I wrote my first novel when I was seven or eight years old. I started writing when I was too stupid to know better. I didn’t even know there were rules.
Writing does seem like one of those professions where you really have to figure out how you do it yourself. You can try a lot of methods, but doing it the way other people do it is not necessarily the right way to do it.
And every book is different. There have been books where I’ve had to sit down and work out the plot—like some of the suspense novels had to be done that way. Sometimes you have to sit down with some of the world-building and say, “Wait a minute, I have to think through this political structure a little better.” Sometimes I know the ending when I go into it. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think I know the ending and then I get to a point where I think, “No, that’s the ending. I was totally wrong. That character’s not even going to come into the book. The fans are going to be so mad at me because I told them that the book will have him and it will not. Oops.” I have no control. It’s like having children.
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