Cate: Please welcome Toni V. Sweeney to the Susquehanna Writers blog! Toni, will you please share a short bio with us?
Toni: Thanks, Cate. Let me say I’m glad to be with you today. Let’s see, what to say? I’m a Southerner, born in Georgia but I’ve lived in the South, the Midwest, and on the West Coast, so I’ve been in a variety of geographical locations as well as witnessed several of Nature’s most powerful forces—tornadoes, blizzards, forest fires, and earthquakes.
Cate: Tell us about your latest release and where it's available.
Toni: My newest novel is Serpent’s Tooth, my own version of Faust. Technically, it’s a horror novel but I like to mix up the ol’ genres so it’s also a love story.
Cate: I love mashing genres! Please tantalize us with a story blurb or excerpt.
Toni: The excerpt’s a bit long but it sets up the rest of the story nicely. Here’s the premise: Melissa Powers is on a Caribbean cruise when she notices another passenger is following her. Everywhere she goes, he’s nearby. That night, at dinner, they finally meet:
The waiter was bringing the dessert tray.
Melissa turned her attention to the desserts. Fresh raspberries with cream, cheesecake, strawberry tart. Which to choose? Which delectable confection to treat her sweet tooth?
“The Grand Marnier,” said a voice behind her.
She looked around.
There he was, not two feet away, drink and cigarette in hand, so close she could have reached out and touched the sleeve of the pearl-gray Western-cut dinner jacket, and she hadn‘t even heard his approach. Those cowboy boots could certainly move quietly!
“I beg your pardon?” It came out icy and aloof, totally insulted Southern womanhood, each word dripping with frost.
“The cheesecake,” he repeated, apparently not affected by her temperature-lowering manner. “It’s made with Grand Marnier. That‘s a cognac-based orange liqueur. It’s not as over-powering as the usual kind.”
“All right. I’ll take that.”
The waiter bowed and whisked the cart away.
Her stalker, however, was still standing there, and other than ignoring him completely--and Melissa was too well-mannered to do that--she was going to have to talk to him.
“Please, would you like to sit down?” She said it graciously, gesturing toward the other chair.
“As a matter of fact, I would.” He settled across from her, putting down his drink. His accent was definitely mid-Western. “By the way,” he held out his hand, “I’m Travis Brandt.”
“Melissa Powers.” She leaned forward and placed her own in it.
His hand was large but not awkward, fingers long and tanned. A working hand. She felt calluses on the palm. He pressed her fingers lightly, then released them.
Is he really a cowboy? Did that roughness come from holding reins, roping steers?
“This is going to sound silly, but-- Do I know you, Mr. Brandt? Have we met before?”
“Hey--that's supposed to be my line.” He shook his head in mock wonder. “My, how times have changed. No, Miss Powers, I don’t think we’ve ever met, until now. Although I wish we had.”
“You look very familiar,” she persisted.
“Oh, that—” He made a vague gesture with the hand holding the cigarette, then stubbed it out in the ashtray. “You’ve probably seen someone like me on TV. On some Late Night Movie. I‘m always being mistaken for one long-faded matinee idol or another.”
“Oh, sure!” She dismissed his statement with a humoring shake of her head, mentally admitting he certainly did have movie star looks, in a dark and mature way. “Next question, Mr. Brandt--why have you been following me?”
“I was pretty obvious, wasn’t I?” He ducked his head as if he were a little ashamed.
“I’m afraid you were.” She realized she was beginning to like him.
“Well, I was walking along the deck when I saw this pretty--no, this beautiful woman--and I decided I wanted to meet her, but I just couldn’t get up enough nerve to walk up to her and introduce myself.”
“You must not have wanted to meet me very badly. You didn’t stick around for the mixer.”
“I never was one for party games--or any other kind, for that matter.
Well, that's blunt enough!
“So you decided to follow me?” She couldn’t believe he was that shy. Of course, just because he was so good-looking didn’t mean he was a lady-killer.
The waiter brought her dessert, a beautiful wedge of cheesecake with three perfect sections of tangerine adorning the top, and Melissa began to eat, agreeing that his assessment had been correct. The cheesecake wasn’t as rich as she found most to be.
“It’s the Grand Marnier. Gives it a more mellow taste,” he explained, “but you have to watch it. It also has more calories.”
By now, he had lit another cigarette and raised it to his mouth, tilting his head back slightly. Melissa frowned. That gesture. It's so familiar.
He blew the smoke into the air.
As it swirled about his head, that disturbing sense of familiarity returned. I've seen him before. I'm certain. A younger face, hair much, much longer and less tamed. There was a memory of burning, haunted eyes, and fog whirling about him like white wings.
“Oh, my God!” She dropped her fork. It clattered against the dessert plate and bounced onto the tablecloth, the morsel of cheesecake dropping onto the floor. At a nearby table, a couple looked toward the sound. “You’re Hildebrand!”
The most famous actor of the 80’s, raising the horror movie to a fine art, before turning the most financially successful acting career in the history of Hollywood into an equally profitable one as a rock star, and then, in 1988... disappearing... Completely. Totally. Without a trace.
He looked uncomfortable. No, more than that-- My God, he‘s terrified!
It should have been ridiculous. She‘d never seen such an expression on a grown man‘s face before. His skin had lost its tan, becoming alarmingly pale.
“Yes.” His voice was low, as if he were admitting something shameful. “I was.”
For just a moment, his gaze shifted toward the floor.
She retrieved the fork, digging into the cheesecake again. Taking a bite, she chewed, swallowed, and forced herself to say carelessly, as if she met supposedly long-dead movie stars every day, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to scream and faint or anything.”
“Thank God for that, anyway.” He looked a little calmer, now. At least his color was back to normal.
“Although--” she went on, eating another piece of cake. “Since I was one of your biggest fans--if not the biggest--it‘s going to be difficult. My God, this is like running into Elvis in the supermarket or something!”
“Not so loud. Please.”
“But it is! I mean, Hildrebrand was declared dead in 1995 and now--“
“He is dead,” he interrupted. “He died on July 15, 1986.”
He said it with an odd determination, as if stating it so flatly would make it true and refute the fact that he was sitting across from her, very much alive.
What had happened on July 15, 1986? Melissa's memory supplied nothing.
“Unfortunately, it took him another two years and one month to accept the fact.”
“Well, I, for one, really missed him…you… I’ve seen every one of your movies.”
“All eight of them?” He sounded amused. “On television, you mean.”
“Of course not. Three of them have never been released to TV. I mean in person--at the theater, and I can name them all, and the year each was made.“
“Please don’t.” He’d never understood his fans, found their so-called adoration, idiotic and completely boring, and--paradoxically--a little frightening, and Melissa would have been dismayed if she could have heard Travis' thoughts. Please, God, don’t let Melissa be like that. Don’t let Hildebrand spoil her for me, too.
Cate: Intriguing! Love that cover too. What inspired you to write about the theme?
Toni: Surprisingly enough…a dream! I had a dream one night and remembered nothing about it except one name. Hildebrand. The next day, I was watching an old movie on TV and one of the characters was named Hildebrand. I have a rule that if some idea stays with me for three days, I’m supposed to write about it and with the coincidence of that name in two days, I decided that was some kind of sign that I was supposed to use that name in a story.
Cate: How do you develop your plots and characters?
Toni: Anything can trigger it. As I said, a name… or a place. A movie or a TV show whose ending I didn’t like. I might decide to write something similar with a different ending or take something a character suggested which wasn’t followed up in the story and expound on it. A quotation…lots of things. Once the story starts, the characters and plot just seem to develop from it. Sometimes they just grab the story and run away with it, dragging me along behind!
Cate: Do you feel as if the characters live with you as you write? Obviously, they haunt your dreams!
Toni: (laughs) I have quite a few characters whom I really like and I could take the novels already written about them and just keep adding to them. I have two characters I’ve watched travel from young adulthood to being grandparents and written 5 books about. I grew up with them and they and I matured together. If I wrote about them now, their characters would be different from what they were originally because they and I are now older. Needless to say, they are my two favorite characters.
Cate: What's next for you?
Toni: Well, I have two pseudonyms, so I doubt I’ll be idle whether it’s writing for myself or for them. Currently, I’m alternately writing novels for myself and Icy Snow Blackstone, who is my romantic author-alter-ego (try saying that fast!) Mine, of course, is a fantasy and Icy Snow’s is a futuristic novel (and also one I said I wouldn’t write), a sequel to Three Moon Station. So far, I have one-third of the books written, The plot came to me one night as I was trying to sleep and thinking, “What am I going to write about next?” And—BONG!!!—it hit me, Three Moon needs a sequel. A fan had already written and asked if there would be one and I had said “No.” Now, my brain was making me out to be a liar. I started on it the next morning. For myself, I just finished Blood Bay, which was a novel I started around 1993 and then lost after I had done one chapter. Recently, an acquaintance whom I hadn’t heard from since that same year, found it in his computer and sent it to me. I finished it, updating it from 17 years ago, and entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It’s a departure from my usual writing in that it’s a suspense/romantic thriller set in the Golden Isles off Georgia’s coast.
Cate: Cool! Any other published works?
Author: How much time do we have? I’ve got published works and then some! (Laughs at her own wit.) Between Icy Snow, myself, and my other pseudonym, I have 17 books currently out there. My first efforts were in various genres until I “found my voice.” Now, I write sci-fi/fantasy adventures, Icy Snow writes romance of all types, and my other persona writes horror/vampire stories.
Cate: Seventeen - congrats! Describe your writing in three words.
Toni: You’re asking a writer to use just three words? Let’s see…intriguing…sexy…outside-the-box (Can that last one count as one word?)
Cate: Absolutely! What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Most rewarding?
Toni: Most challenging: getting the story told exactly the way I want it to be. Most rewarding: getting the story told exactly the way I want it to be.
Cate: What’s the most interesting comment you have received about your books?
Toni: A reviewer of my vampire novel Murder in Old Blood said it was the best of its type she had read since Interview with the Vampire. That really floored me because I didn’t expect such praise.
Cate: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?
Toni: I like Nora Roberts, writing as JD Robb. I like the interaction she has between Eve Dallas and Eve’s Husband Rourke in the “in Death” series; Jim Butcher, his Harry Dresden is a character that grows through the stories, his life changing and not staying static from one story to the next; Bram Stoker, he did write novels other than Dracula; Tony Richards, whom I like to count as a friend. At the moment, I’m reading Christietown by Susan Kandel. She writes books about an author who write bios about mystery writers. This particular one centers around Agatha Christie, hence the name. The first book of hers that I read was I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason.
Cate: Where can you be found on the web?
Toni: My website is : http://www.tonivsweeney.com.
I’m also on Facebook and My Space and have trailers for most of my books on YouTube.
Cate: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Toni: Yes—why aren’t you out there buying my books? Just kidding. If there are any questions your readers would like to ask, however, I’ll be glad to try to answer.
Cate: Thanks again for being our guest, Toni! Best of luck with Serpent's Tooth.