Today, Sheila makes her spotlight debut. She did an awesome job!
Her virtual guest is the well respected and talented author, Valentina Heart
For my first Author Spotlight I had the honor of interviewing Valentina Heart from Croatia. She has five books out at this time. I love her prose. It is so lyrical and elegant, very beautiful. So now on with her interview:
SG: I read that you were born in Croatia and currently live there. What was it like to grow up in Croatia? How did you discover writing? How did you choose to write m/m romances? What is the attitude in Croatia towards gays and lesbians? Does your family support your decision to write m/m romance?
VH: This country is not perfect, far from it, but I really love living here. I like the mentality, diversity, nature and the overall approachable feel to it. I've never lived anywhere else, but through books and television I got the impression that in the scary world things are on a much wider scale. Bigger cities, more crime, larger distances... Croatia is a small country and it made growing up here pretty great :)
I guess I've been writing since I was a kid. Silly interpretations of movies I've seen, then school assignments connected to books, but it only got somewhat serious in my teens, when I had a blog and wrote short horror stories. No happy endings in those :)
First I discovered m/m books, and then one day, after reading a few unsatisfying stories, I decided to try and write something of my own. It was first published on GoodReads but later on I tried making an actual book out of it. I'm still trying to edit that one enough to publish it :)
Uh, attitude in Croatia toward GLBT individuals is very conflicted. While it is somewhat accepted and there are gay prides organized every year, not a lot of people will come out openly about their sexuality. There is still a lot of judgment and the general attitude would be – don't push it in my face and I won't care. Not very encouraging as you can't always say what someone will consider pushing in his/her face.
Sure, my family supports my writing. I'm certain they wished for my topic to be something else in the beginning, but they are used to it by now. Maybe they would think differently if I actually wrote in Croatian, but with the language barrier and the general disinterest in books, they don't really care. Just happy about each book.
SG: Your prose flows so elegantly across the page. It’s very lyrical. Do you write in Croatian then translate your stories to English or do you write in English?
VH: God, no. Croatian has too many words which English doesn't, and too many grammatical rules that clash with English. Besides, if I were to translate the exact sentences it would sound completely wrong in English. It took me a while to handle the transfer and I think you can see that in my first books. These days I use English more than I do Croatian, both in writing and certainly in reading. Sometimes I even have to pause to think how a certain thing/expression is called in Croatian :)
SG: Each of your stories are done in a different sub-genre? How do you decide which sub-genre you will set your books? How difficult is it to write in the different sub-genres? Is there one you prefer to the others?
VH: Yes, so far each of my books has been very different from the previous ones. I do hope it stays that way. As for sub-genre – there's just so many of them, so eventually there will be repeats :)
I don't think there is a real decision behind the setting. Mostly I write in a direction the book carries me. For example – Sebastian's Wolves was originally a contemporary. Funny how things change :)
The easiest books to write are fantasy/paranormal ones. I can change the rules, set my imagination loose and make the characters as crazy as I want them. The most difficult for me is contemporary, because it's hard to write something if you haven't experienced it first hand, plus there is the culture difference which is significant. But I do love contemporary. LOL
SG: In Sebastian’s Wolves the subgenre is wolf shifters. I love the ferocity of Sebastian’s and Eshan’s first mating followed by the tenderness and caring shown to the submissive by the dominant of the mating. How much research did you have to do on wolves to portray them realistically in this story? I loved the cover. Everything on your cover is shades of black, white, and gray but then there is a golden brown eye which stands out because it‘s the only color in the monochromatic scheme. How much say do you have on your covers? When will the sequel to Sebastian’s Wolves be available?
VH: Unfortunately, most of my research came from other books. I do read a lot, and shifter books already have a set of rules to them. Differences are usually small and often not even noticeable. I did do some research on wolves, specifically their behavior and physical characteristics, and I watched a lot of videos on how they move and interact. It was important for the descriptions because I couldn't really make up those.
I loved the cover too, and the whole concept behind that one was very different when compared to my other covers. Basically, Justin James said, I think you'll like this one, as soon as the book got accepted. He did the cover for my first book, Eyes of an Innocent, and followed the same idea – black and white cover with eyes in a color important for the story. But when it comes to covers in general, my input depends on the publisher. Mostly I express my wishes and when the cover is done, I check if everything is okay and ask them to correct details which don't match the story or just aren't good enough.
I'm not sure about the Sebastian's Wolves sequel. I did start it and I have six chapters so far, but the book is on hold. Right now I'm working on too many other stories and that one requires a certain mood. It's very funny, the beginning at least. Besides, I'm finishing another shifter story, completely different from Sebastian’s Wolves and I would like to be done with it first. The shifter details were mixing in my head which just wasn't good.
SG: I loved Eyes of an Innocent. Your words painted a beautiful portrayal of Reji’s loss of his virginity then the fear he felt. Shen’s philosophy of love is wonderfully stated. How much of yourself comes through your books? This story is a sci-fi fantasy. How difficult was it to switch to sci-fi fantasy? I know you are working on a sequel. Can you tell us anything about it?
VH: Thank you :) To answer your question – it depends on the book. I think the two that have the most of me in them are Looking for Adventure and Sebastian's Wolves. In different ways, of course. The other three were based on an emotion or an idea from something I'd seen or read. I wrote them pretty quickly.
Eyes of an Innocent was my first published book. Before that I only wrote one other book which is a contemporary and is not published. So when it comes to a transfer, it wasn't really difficult. I watched a lot of anime when I wrote it and I was completely immersed into that world. I actually partially wrote two other stories set in the same place, but never finished them. Maybe when Teacher Plus Two comes out, who knows. That is also the name of the sequel. It will come out in September/October of 2011. It is double in word count when compared to Eyes of an Innocent and it's not about the same characters. These three have more of the alien in them and some rules set in the first book have exceptions. It is very different from Eyes, certainly not as sweet.
SG: Looking for Adventure is a contemporary. I have to admit I was afraid to pick this one up since Jonathan was dying. I figured the ending would be just too sad to deal with. How much research did you have to do into inoperable brain tumors? I loved Looking for Adventure though. I liked how a man so absorbed by work finally decides to open up his life to fun and adventure. Nino was beautiful. I liked the climax of the story when Nino finally is told by Jonathan that Jonathan is supposed to be dead. I wasn’t happy with Jonathan right then but I liked the anguish Jonathan went through, not about the illness but about his treatment of Nino. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone but how difficult was Looking for Adventure to write? Did you know how it would end or did the story take on a life of its own and go differently from what you originally planned?
VH: Just to ease your mind – I don't think I have it in me anymore to kill one of my characters. So you shouldn't worry :)
For this one I did quite a bit of research, but I focused on people who were miraculously cured, the most. Brain tumors are very unpredictable, but I did try to follow the most basic symptoms and tried to figure out what I could put in the story and what just wouldn't work.
Looking for Adventure, was one of those stories that flowed. Usually I just write as the inspiration strikes me, without a set plot. Basically I drive blind. But for Adventure I knew exactly what I wanted from the start. The places in the book are real. Some of the events have happened to me or people close to me; but what was most important, the overall feeling of the island and the way time just flies by while you're free of constrictions, I wrote from personal experience. Everyone should feel that way, even if it's only for two weeks every summer. So, yes, I did know how it would end :)
SG: I just finished Resisting the Temptation. I liked the older-younger man combination. Resisting the Temptation is an interracial story. It also dealt with abuse. What research did you have to do for the abuse and how prevalent is abuse within gay relationships? How did you decide to make your characters of Mikey and Kyle different races? I liked both men. I loved Kyle’s handling of the abuser but in his way he was also guilty of abuse by denying what he felt for Mikey. Did you decide how Mikey and Kyle interacted or did they write themselves?
VH: For this one I focused on abuse against men. It's very different because men are less likely to report such a thing and dealing with something like that on your own is another level of hell. Like with everything else, I tried to focus more on people than simple facts, but those helped too.
The character is Kyle. LOL Different races came from a movie and both Kyle and Mikey were actually based on two hot guys I saw on screen. They were adorable :) As for their interaction, that was based on improvisation mostly. Some things I had set in my head, but others were likely to change based on an expression, a sentence or even my mood that day. Those two led the story on their own.
SG: I have not yet read your newest book is Memories. I know it’s about a transgendered man. Can you tell us about the story line? How did you decide to write a transgendered character? What challenges did that give you?
VH: The story is about an established couple who spend a day together. It is a lot like any one of us would do with a that special one. You remember things from the past, both happy and sad, talk about trivial things, participate in some activities together and, of course, spice it all up with some hot sex. I think the story is sweet, because I really wanted to show how some things can last, despite obstacles and the level of unconventionality, some things are perfect just the way they are.
I think I did the most research for this one. I spent hours upon hours on different forums, reading about experiences and little things I wouldn't have even thought of. But just like with my other books, it was mostly about the feeling. It's anything but easy, knowing that everything about your body is wrong. It was certainly a challenge to write without getting into things I had no idea about. Like I said – a lot of research :)
Honestly, I don't remember how I decided to write Memories. I think I talked about something similar with my boyfriend and the idea just came.
I wish I had the courage to write a story about cross-dressing. I love reading them.
SG: What else are you working on now?
VH: Right now, I'm working on a few things. I'm editing a contemporary, the first book I wrote (very nervous about that one). I'm writing that shifter/vampire story I've mentioned before. I'm also writing a sequel to King's Conquest – mpreg (male pregnancy) story due to come out in the beginning of 2012. And there is also another contemporary, but I'm not sure where that one is going yet. All other projects are currently on hold, and there are a few of them :)
SG: How can we reach you on the internet?
VH: Well, your best bet would be Goodread or Facebook, but you can also visit my web site – http://www.heart-valentina.com or write to me on my email.
Now for some fun since our inquiring minds want to know:
Chocolate and ice-cream
Not sure about this one, maybe red and black
Favorite vacation spot?
Okay, that depends:) In winter that would be Therme Olimia in Slovenia – love going there, and in the summer, any of the islands in the Adriatic sea, preferably Hvar or Brač.
Used to have a lot of those, but these days I mostly read and sometimes paint. I love watching movies if that counts?
Metal and rock n' roll
For anyone who reads a lot that is an impossible question. How do you pick just one book? Even if I were to go by one for each genre it would be impossible.
Not sure what to write here, I like juices, I guess
Another impossible answer :) But here are some I could watch countless times – The Fifth Element, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Postman, Dirty Dancing, Bed of Roses, Die Hard, Demolition Man.... Even now, I can't chose just one ;)
Thank you, Valentina Heart. It is wonderful to learn and chat with this talented writer. I cannot wait to read Memories and her sequel to Eyes of an Innocent. Here’s to a long and prolific writing career. Looks like there are some good books coming in the future for us to enjoy.