I want to welcome Toni V. Sweeney. First I’d love you to introduce yourself.
Thanks, Barbara. Let’s see…what to say? I had my first novel published in 1989. It was re-released again this year by Class Act Books. So far, I’ve had around 40 novels published. I’ve lived 30 years in the South, 10 in California, and around 30 in the Midwest and am now trying for my third set of 30 there.
Tell us about your latest release.
Variation on the Theme of Man is a science fiction romance concerning the relationship between Gabriel Marsh and Aleksander Karanov, two Federation agents. I like to take clichéd plot and give them a twist. Marsh and Lexei are immediate antagonists to each other. Marsh is an Angelus, a race considered the most moral in the galaxy. Lexei is a Variant, a mutant who can change sex at will, a deadly assassin and a fantastic womanizer when in male form. They tolerate each other because they have to but…here’s the kicker…then Marsh falls in love with Deirdre, Lexei’s female phase. Now the trouble begins because he has to reconcile himself to the fact that their love is impossible since Deirdre doesn’t really exist.
Contrary to the blurb, it isn’t an m/m romance.
Now I have a few questions for you – I have found readers do like to know fun things about us writers.
1.) Who is your favorite villain? It can be from a book (even one of yours), movie or TV show. And why?
That’s a good question and one I had to think about. In Linda Nightingale’s vampire series Obsession, there’s a specific vampire, Lucian St Albans. He’s an ancient Roman who’s appointed Enforcer for Les Elus, the vampire council headquartered in London. Lucian keeps everything on an even keel, dispatching vampires who break their laws, etc. He’s cold, aloof, has a dark sense of humor, is calculating and Machiavellian in the extreme, and lives up to his nickname The Dark Prince…until he’s laid low by falling in love. Although he isn’t the main character in that series, he’s a prominent one and his evolution through the books is interesting to watch. He’s kind of the Man You Love to Hate.
2.) Who is your favorite character out of your own books? Why?
Oh that’s easy. Sinbad sh’en Singh from the Adventures of Sinbad series. Why? Sin’s handsome, sexy, got a wicked sense of humor, and he’d madly in love with Andrea Talltress, his Terran wife. He’s a faithful husband and a loving father. He’s a former smuggler who became a law-abiding citizen for the woman he loves and now he’s a billionaire thanks to her. He’s been known to travel light-years to get to his wife and you can’t help but love any man who’d do that.
3.) What genre do you write? What made you pick that one?
Generally I write SF/fantasy with a heavy dose of romance. I don’t know whether I picked that genre or it picked me. It just seemed to fit the stories I’m most interested in.
4.)What are you working on now?
Currently I’m putting the final touches on a paranormal romance called The Irish Lady’s Spanish Lover which will be released under my pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone. It’s set (surprise!) in Ireland and concerns an ill-fated Elizabethan romance, a dearg-dul (an Irish vampire) and an American girl who proves a catalyst for reawakening the past.
5.) What got you to start writing?
I’ve had a vivid imagination from the very beginning, probably aided and abetted by the fact that my mother took me to the movies several times a week as soon as I was able to walk. No matter what the movie, I was there with her…Gone with the Wind, King Kong, Singing in the Rain…I was exposed to a great many film genres both good and bad at a very young age and they’ve all stuck with me…and then television came along…
6.) Where do you get your ideas?
Anywhere! It can be something someone says, the fact that I didn’t like the ending of a movie and decide to rewrite it, a suggestion from someone…even a dream. My novel Serpent’s Tooth, my version of the Faust legend, was inspired by a fragment of a dream I had.
7.) What would people who read your work be surprised to find out about you?
That I’m a 71-year-old grandmother? That I have a 32-year-old lover? Really, what I think might be surprising might not be to anyone who meets me.
8.) Do you have any special talents?
I used to be a dancer. Unfortunately that went when I was in an automobile accident. I was also a fairly good horsewoman. That also went after the accident. I can play the piano, have two degrees in art, used to raise poodles as well as tropical fish. I’m also a pretty good gardener, specializing in rescuing abandoned plants and reviving them.
9.) What was the one piece of advice you received when you were an aspiring author that has stuck with you? Why?
Truthfully, I didn’t get any advice because I didn’t tell anyone I was going to be a writer until I was well into it. My family has a tendency to ridicule people when they do something different and I was determined I wasn’t going to have them laugh at what I was attempting. Some good advice I give, by the way, is: Be persistent. If you want to write. Do it and don’t let people talk you out of it…but be sure and learn grammar and how to spell.
11.) What song would you say describes your life?
I Did it My Way… Doing What Comes Naturally… I Ain’t Gonna Take it Sitting Down… I Will Survive… It depends on which phase of my life you’re talking about.
12.) If you could come back as any animal – what would it be?
A poodle. They’re intelligent, cute, and they get babied, plus they get free haircuts and get to wear cute outfits.
Does anyone remember Quark? It was a one season SF satire created by Buck Henry in 1977. Starring Richard Benjamin and Tim Tommerson, it chronicled the adventures of Adam Quark, captain of a garbage scow which was part of the United Galactic Sanitation patrol (and secretly a galactic agent). One of his crew members was Gene/Jean (played by Tommerson), a Transmute with characteristics of both sexes. Gene could change to Jean at the flick of an eyelash, leading to some hilarious situations.
When I started writing “Variation,” I decided to take a leaf from Captain Quark’s log. My “second” hero was also going to be a mutation, but I was going to go about it in a more serious way. He was going to be a shapeshifter of a different color…he can change sex at will. However, it isn’t, in spite of its subject matter, a M/M or ménage novel. Instead, it’s the story of what happens when a very strict, prudish man is partnered with someone whose life is diametrically opposed to his own.
Gabriel Marsh is an Angelus, native of a planet where everyone is so upright and moral they squeak when they walk. They’re called the “Angels of the Galaxy” because they judge everyone by their own high—and totally hypocritical—standards, and like most hypocrites, they have no idea they’re doing this. Marsh is also a Federation assassin, and needless to say, this is also wholly in opposition to his upbringing and has earned him another nickname, the “Dark Angel.” Marsh doesn’t consider himself much to look at…he’s 6’9”, with amber eyes and a granite-chiseled face matching his libido. His mother considers him handsome and is continually harping on why he hasn’t married and given her grandchildren. A hit man with a mother! Right.
Needless to say, Marsh doesn’t consider himself much of a hit with the ladies and usually pays for whatever affection he gets, and considers it the best way for those things to happen.
And then, he’s assigned a new partner…
…and what a partner he is! Called to a notorious dive by his handler, Marsh is told he’s to see the “new boy” but won’t be introduced to him at that specific time. Gabriel Marsh is in for a shock. Aleksandr Karanov…
…an angel—delicate, blond, a Pocket Apollo, looking even smaller and more fragile in comparison to the two blue-spined Advarians between whom he stood… Exquisite. That was it. Delicately but perfectly formed, like one of those antique Cybis figurines he’d seen in that museum when he’d been stationed on Antilla.
The fact that he’s kissing everyone in sight—both men and women—and then whirling onto the dance floor in a curl-bouncing butt-shaking jazz waltz doesn’t raise Marsh’s opinion much higher than zero.
And this fragile butterfly who stands barely 5’3” is going to his new partner?
Aleksandr Karanov’s a Terran—and that’s a mark against him sight unseen, because Earthmen are notorious womanizers. They’ll lay anything female and remotely humanoid. He’s an orphan, having lost his parents in a Russian nuclear meltdown when he was four. That left him a Federation ward as well as activating the so-called V-gene, enabling him to change sex at will. Now, Lexei’s a Fed assassin, as deadly as he is pretty. As Marsh thinks:
If he’d been about a foot taller, Karanov would have been someone to be afraid of. As it was, he was more likely to be cooed over by women, scorned by men, and not taken seriously by anyone.
Marsh makes the mistake of following this line of thinking and finds himself on the floor, the imprint of Lexei’s fist in his belly while he rapidly re-assesses their relationship.
So here they are, a prudish giant with hypocritical morals and a diminutive womanizer who’ll shag anything in a skirt, then drop her before she can finish her orgasm, while he loads his rifle to make a hit. The oddest odd couple in the galaxy, and destined for a tumultuous relationship—and probably an explosive, and terminal, parting.
But wait!—there’s more.
Now, Marsh meets Deirdre, Lexei’s Other, his Secondary Persona, the female self into which the little Terran transmutes…and the Angel falls…hard and fast. The man with the morals as unyielding as his granite exterior falls in love…with a woman who doesn’t exist…a woman who’s in fact his very male partner…
What’s a poor assassin to do? If you’re Gabriel Marsh, you stay awake re-thinking your life, and asking the question: What do you do when the woman of your dreams is also the man of your waking days? Marsh doesn’t really like the answer he gets, but he can’t change it...or can he?
The music led him up two flights of non-escalating stairs to a door in the center of the hallway, a door which, when he tapped the inter-com pad, slowly swung open. Inside, the music was blasting at near eardrum-puncturing pitch. How can anyone be inside with that noise and survive? He touched the pad again but there was no sound other than that cacophony. Suspecting a trick, he stepped to one side, carefully pulled the Winchester TR-27 out of its shoulder holster and pushed the door completely open.
Cautiously, Marsh looked in. What he saw was unexpected but totally enjoyable.
A pair of softly rounded buttocks and slender white legs. A young woman, back to the door, doing some type of calisthenics. Bemidjian aerobics, if her gyrations were any indication. She appeared to be wearing nothing more than a towel and Marsh wondered how long it would be before her movements caused the tucked velourcloth rectangle to dislodge and end up on the carpet. He felt a flick of latent lust, wondering if he had enough time to wait and see. There was a headset over her ears and the way she was pausing slightly between each movement told him she was listening to a physical fitness lecture, and that, combined with the loudness of the music, was the reason she hadn’t heard his knock.
Karanov’s girlfriend, he supposed. Okay, so I’m wrong about the kid. Maybe.
Damp curls bobbing, she was in the middle of a deep stretch making the breasts under the towel rise dangerously, when she saw Marsh standing there, gun in hand. Immediately, she squealed and fell against the counter. Scrambling behind it, she stood with arms crossed over her breasts, which were still pretty well covered as far as he could tell.
For just a minute, they stared at each other.
She recovered fast. Jerking the headset away from her ears, she tossed it on the counter, then touched a button on the control panel set into it. As the music died away, she said, without a quaver, “You must be Marsh, Lexei’s new partner. Come in, shut the door, and put away the hardware. We’re friendly here.”
For a moment, Marsh didn’t understand her. It wasn’t just the Terro-Russe accent; she was speaking Inglaterre, a form of Terran-English the Federation had declared the official language of the galaxy. It was something he himself seldom used. Marsh’s usual locales spoke a diversity of languages and Inglaterre wasn’t one of them. As he silently obeyed, being careful to duck so he wouldn’t strike his forehead on the doorframe, his opinion of Karanov dropped again. Not only was the little twig questionable, but he was obviously very loose-lipped to his girlfriend. He slid his tall body onto one of the stools at the counter, noting ruefully it was definitely not constructed for someone with a normal height of six-foot-nine. He felt as if he were sitting with his knees under his chin. If either Karanov or the girl were in his place, neither’s feet would touch the floor.
Variation was released by Class Act Books on August 15, 2014, www.classactbooks.com.
About the Author:
Toni V. Sweeney has lived 30 years in the South, a score in the Middle West, and a decade on the Pacific Coast and now she’s trying for her second 30 on the Great Plains. Since the publication of her first novel in 1989, Toni divides her time between writing SF/Fantasy under her own name and romances often set in the South under her pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone. In March, 2013, she became publicity manager for Class Act Books (US) and also Double Dragon Publishing (Canada). She is also on the review staff of the New York Journal of Books.
You can find out more about Toni at: