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International Author Series: Sandra Schwab, Germany

Sandra Schwab first came to my attention with her provocative first book, The Lily Brand. It was a dark, unconventional romance that shocked many romances readers. Castle of the Wolf is her second novel, published several years later. Ms. Schwab is a native of Germany. You would never know, from the elegance of her writing, that english is her second language. Sandra Schwab is a great example of how universal the world of romance can be. Castle of the Wolf is due out early May.

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Do you have modify the language in the books to exclude colloquialisms from your native tongue or perhaps change the language entirely?

Modify the language? Only slightly. *lol* Given that I'm a German author writing for the US market, I necessarily have to write in a second language. This can be a bit of a challenge at times and sometimes makes for rather interesting mistakes as well, for example, in the first version of Castle of the Wolf I used the word “mandragora–? instead of “mandrake–?, which probably caused some puzzlement on the side of my editor and agent. Still, my style has much improved since I switched languages, and I believe I now write better than I ever did in German.

Where do you prefer the books you read to be set?

I love books set in Britain: when I was eleven I first visited the country and fell in love with it. This might have something to do with the fact that one of my all-time favourite authors is Rosemary Sutcliff, who is famous for her YA historical novels set in Britain. That said, I nevertheless enjoy stories which take place in other countries –" or in different worlds altogether.

How does living outside the U.S. affect your ability to research your books?

Not at all, since the romances I've written so far are all set either in Britain or in Germany. Furthermore, thanks to the internet, research has become extremely easy: you can find a host of information online and, what I like even more, you can order books online. I'm an enthusiastic customer at abebooks, a worldwide network of UBSs, where you can find such gems as 19th-century guidebooks for travellers on the (European) continent or a 1871 edition of Beeton's Book of Garden Management (very useful if you want to find out what sort of veggies your 19th-century characters might have for dinner).

Because of the expense of travel, you can’t do many book signings or in person appearances at American bookstores or meet in person with American readers. The cost of mailings is also more expensive. Do you find these to be disadvantages? If so, what can you do to ameliorate that disadvantage?

Yes, definitely disadvantages. I love doing readings and signings and getting to know readers, therefore I always try to attend RWA National and take part in the big autographing session at the beginning of the conference. I do most of my promotion online: I visit as well as participate on several readers' message boards and blogs (this might not be direct promo, but it certainly helps to get one's name out), I do webbanners, and send ARCs to online review sites and bloggers. In addition, I started to podcast last year to make up for the fact that most of my readers won't be able to come to a reading or signing of mine. As a thank-you gift to my readers for their support during my first year of published authordom, I wrote a novella for the podcast last year, and you can download each episode for free.

Despite all the disadvantages, I have found that living outside the USA can also be an advantage –" at least in some respects: I've got a relatively large readership in Germany and, postage-wise, it doesn't really matter whether I send promo material to the USA or, say, to Australia.

As a writer who lives outside the US, do you attempt to make the characters to suit a more US based audience?

I've always been more influenced by British and American authors than by German ones, and one reason for switching languages (apart from having been rejected by all major German publishers) was that I felt my stories were more suited to the American than to the German market. So, no, I’ve never felt the need to change my characters in order to make them more suitable for an US audience.

Are there cultural differences that need to be addressed in a book?

The novels I've sold so far were all historicals, which are set in different cultural contexts than our own anyway. Writing those books in many ways resembled exploring foreign worlds, especially because I enjoy presenting myself and my readers with a different view of familiar settings such as Regency England: in The Lily Brand my heroine feels alienated when she first comes to England, thus a magnificent ball becomes a strange jumble of foreign sights and smells; and in Bewitched, the manuscript of which I have just handed in, I move the action from the familiar London into the more unusual Fen District (where, for some reason known only to my Muse, my characters spend an awful lot of time running around a garden).

What promotional efforts have you found to be most successful in reaching the US audience, other than writing an appealing book?

A good website is a must for authors, and I hope I've managed to make mine interesting and appealing for my readers. When it comes to catching the interest of new readers, I've found print as well as online reviews very useful.

If there is one thing that you could change about the publishing industry, what would it be?

Frankly, I don't know enough of the American publishing industry as a whole to comment on it. In general, I'm rather happy with my small corner of it, though. One of the things I value most about the American romance market is the support network of authors. I didn't encounter anything similiar when I was still trying to find a German publisher, and thus I greatly appreciate the help and support I have received from more experienced authors.

What is your biggest challenge as a writer living outside of the US? What have you done to overcome it?

Living on the other side of the world, I often struggle with a feeling of disconnection. Things (and New York) are simply so far away that my writing life sometimes seems to be nothing but a weird, fantastical dream. It helps to re-read the e-mails I've got from readers, or to look at pictures from RWA conferences, or, if all else fails, to phone my friend in Berlin, who is very immersed in the romance market as well, and whine. :-)

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

6 Comments

  1. Eliza
    Apr 23, 2007 @ 08:42:25

    What a great interview! Thanks for sharing your perspective on writing, Sandra!

  2. Sandra Schwab
    Apr 23, 2007 @ 10:29:19

    I’m glad you like the interview, Eliza! Thanks! :)

  3. KayWebbHarrison
    Apr 23, 2007 @ 11:12:35

    Based on the description of the story in Romantic Times, I put Castle of the Wolf on my To Buy list. The setting as well as the story appealed to me.
    Kay

  4. Karen W.
    Apr 23, 2007 @ 12:54:58

    Welcome, Sandra! I think it’s *amazing* you write so beautifully in another language. I can’t even do that well in my first! :-) I’m looking forward to CASTLE OF THE WOLF.

  5. Sandra Schwab
    Apr 23, 2007 @ 14:10:01

    Kay & Karen, I hope you’ll both enjoy the journey into the Black Forest!

    And thanks, Karen! I have to say I didn’t have much choice in the matter: it was either switching languages or not getting published at all. But hey, it was the best decision I ever made! When you’re writing in English, you’ve got the whole world open to you — which is absolutely thrilling! And I’m so, so grateful that Chris Keeslar took the risk to take on a newbie writer who lives on the other side of the globe and whose first language isn’t even English. :)

  6. jameswillisisthebest
    Sep 08, 2007 @ 15:08:44

    This is my first post
    just saying HI

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