Sonya Ray has been a lot of fun to work with. When we first started talking on Twitter back in 2012, she mentioned she had a story she was working on. It took quite a few back-and-forths before she let me know that not only was it a series, she’d completed the first volume (Sweet Tea), and there were seven volumes (!!) in all. It took another few back-and-forths before she’d even let me have a read, but I really wanted to see how she’d set up the first part of what I’d call a fairly ambitious project, and finally she let me take a look.
It wasn’t difficult to see how one of her favorite novels, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, had influenced her storytelling. The dynamic between Cain, Lizzie, and Rob has echoes of Rhett, Scarlett, and Ashley. Of course I can’t say I remember Mitchell mentioning any vampires, but we won’t dwell on that. For now, let’s see what Sonya has to say.
JCM: Hello Sonya! Thanks for coming on Horri-Fi today.
SR: Hi John! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to interview me 🙂
JCM: My pleasure. So, this story has had a long gestation period. When did you start writing this series, and why?
SR: I started working on Sweet Tea in December 2009. I had stopped writing for a bit because life became busy. My daughter told me I needed to start writing again. She said that she wanted me to write a story about a girl and her friends on a ranch. I thought about it and a week later I was writing and Sweet Tea came to life. I wrote until the story was finished and that took seven books. It kinda took on a life of its own. I finished the series in 2010 reading each line to my kids as I wrote something new (so yes, they know how this story ends!) Then in 2012 I had neck surgery and my niece took the time to show me Twitter and that is when I met you!
JCM: Ah, so we can credit your daughter for helping push you to write the story. How did your children respond to the series? Scared, excited, happy to hear more? Was your daughter expecting the paranormal component?
SR: Of course they were younger at the time but this was a special event for us. Anytime I would write something new, I would ask if they wanted me to read to them and they would pile on my bed and I would read. Sometimes they would come in to me and ask if I had written anything new. I especially liked that.
Sweet Tea was not originally paranormal. But the deeper I got into the story, I could see a different way I wanted to go. When I told my daughter that I was going to give the story a paranormal flair, I think she was a little surprised (at mom doing such a thing!)
I think they are both a little Sweet Tea’d out! Although my daughter has not heard the new version—she is grown and very busy with her own life. My son has had to endure me over the last year with revisions, edits, blurbs, covers, etc…But I did save them a copy. They may want one some day.
JCM: I’d be very surprised if they didn’t! Have you written other things in the past, besides The Three Crowns series?
SR: I have written lots of poems, songs, and I did write a novel many years ago called The Song. But I never did do anything with that project and eventually threw it away because it was not really the kind of writing I wanted to do. It was too life-like. I don’t want to write anything life-like. Although Touched is probably my only book out of ten that is not paranormal. I’m still debating about that story, but one book at a time and time seems very hard to find these days!
JCM: Writers of paranormal romances have a few options available to them, but you chose vampires. What do you feel is specific to vampires that made you want to include them in your story?
SR: There is so much you can do with vampires. You can make them beautiful, sexy, horrifying, monstrous, and the gifts you can incorporate are endless making very colorful characters. Right now my characters are sexy and beautiful – but as we go deeper into the paranormal world, the true colors of people will be revealed. Life is not always a tall glass of sweet tea.
JCM: So can we expect to see different kinds of vampires? And are we going to see any other creatures showing up?
SR: Oh yes! With each book we go deeper and deeper into the paranormal world. As for other kinds of vampires—they even have a name. But you will have to wait for them. You will actually get a glimpse of them in Broken Boundaries (Volume III).
JCM: In my interview with the character Lizzie a while back, I asked her a question that I’d also like to ask you. Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind is quite a character. What do you admire most about her, and what do you think is the biggest mistake she makes?
SR: Scarlett has a strong spirit and she doesn’t allow anyone to take advantage of her. On the flip side of that – she was fickle about men. But she grows up and realizes where her heart truly belongs and who in fact holds her heart. She just needed to grow up a bit.
JCM: And yet at the end of Gone with the Wind, Scarlett has been abandoned by Rhett. Throughout the novel we see her manipulating men (Ashley, Charles, and Frank) in order to get what she wants. In what way do you think she grows up?
SR: I keep forgetting that you have not read the second book, Scarlett! Yes, I will agree with you. She acts horrible and needs a good ass whippin’ due to her vile behavior just to attain a man she believes she is in love with. But as I said, by the second book, she does grow up and realizes some things and has regrets.
JCM: There are some similarities between the way in which Lizzie approaches relationships, though her reasons for getting into relationships are very different from Scarlett O’Hara’s. What is it about Lizzie’s heart that allows her to give it to two different men?
SR: Her blood – simple as that. When she was marked from birth at the Gathering of Alphas, her body absorbed both Cain and Rob’s blood simultaneously; thus, creating The Three Crowns.
JCM: It seems that you’re talking about “The Plan” here, and letting us know something about the origins of The Three Crowns. Will we hear more about this plan in North, the next book in the series?
SR: I am very glad you asked about the dreaded Plan. If you have read the interviews with Cain and Rob, you know that they are not big fans of the plan either. They despise it and would like to do things their own way. But we all know there is always an order to all things and they realize to fulfill the positions the plan speaks of, it is going to take time.
Each book lays out “The Plan” very clearly. Brett Lancaster tells the story of The Three Crowns every harvest. He tells of the Ancients and the prophecy of those who will unite to be The Three Crowns. He talks about what they must go through to become united and what they will be up against. Each individual crown will have obstacles to overcome and to endure before a unity is even possible.
In Sweet Tea, Brett was very specific regarding The Three Crowns and what was to come. Lizzie has heard of “The Plan” all her life. But this year it came to life for her.
JCM: You chose Benton, Missouri as the location for Sweet Tea. Why Benton?
SR: What better place for a bunch of vampires to be living inconspicuously than in the heart of Missouri! Plus, I grew up in Benton. There are great aspects of this part of the world that add to the story. I enjoy the four seasons, especially fall, when the leaves start changing and all the different colors occupy the trees. Our weather is very temperamental. We literally go from air conditioning to the heater, one week we have tornadoes, and the next, snow. This all adds to complicating difficult situations in the story line – ha – life in Missouri!
JCM: Yes, the weather plays a significant role in events, and so does the Mississippi River!
SR: Absolutely! You don’t mess with the Mississippi! Besides having monsters that are as big as you in its darkest depths, it has proven time and time again that she does not like humans to grace her waters. The repercussions of believing you can swim in the Mississippi are usually fatal. She might let you once, twice or even a third time to fool you in believing that you have the special power to overcome her. But you can bet she will turn on you when you least expect it and pull you down deep. Rob knew this and on that dreaded night coming home from Commerce, all the friends knew this fact as well. What a perfect plan.
JCM: A frightening plan as well! Let’s talk about your craft for a bit. What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in terms of self-publishing?
SR: I have learned many lessons, and I’m still learning, but the main thing I have learned is you must have a good editor. One that you can connect with and one that will push you to go a little deeper and pull from a place that you normally wouldn’t visit. I am happy to have such a good editor. You have gone beyond editor duties and helped me so much in my writing, promoting, and during this difficult time with mom, you helped so much in making sure that Sweet Tea was published as scheduled. Yes, I have a great editor who is a great person. This author would highly recommend this editor!
JCM: Flattery… will get you somewhere. And it’s much appreciated. But when you say, “pull from a place you normally wouldn’t visit” what places are we talking about?
SR: Well, I believe we all have had life experiences. Some good. Some bad. The good experiences are talked about and shared with others. But the bad are usually buried—with a whole lot of emotions, feelings, and unspoken words. I’m not talking about regret or bitterness. I’m talking about raw feelings that are personal that are only yours. That is not an easy place to tap into, but it is a very productive place to write from.
Ernest Hemingway said it best – “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
JCM: What are you working on now in terms of improving your craft?
SR: Between a full-time job, a fifteen-year-old son, mom being sick, and people ready to go North – there is not much time left for other things. But every chance I get, I read articles and author blogs and of course when I have questions – then I call my editor and get his take on the subject 🙂
JCM: For folks who have already read Sweet Tea and are wondering what’s next in North, are there any moments you want to share from the second book?
SR: Sure! Here is an excerpt from North:
All the pinned up emotions were coming out like a flood. I needed this release. I didn’t need to take any more demons north than I had to. Seems these days I had plenty. After several minutes of sobbing, I came back to my senses and found myself staring ahead wondering how things became so jumbled. When did things change so drastically? Nothing had been sane for awhile in my life. It all seemed to start with that crazy nightmare with the headless bodies, the stranger that looked into my soul and introduced himself as Fear, and…
Knock, knock, knock!
I jumped out of my skin and turned quickly towards my window only to find a toothless man in a grungy cowboy hat standing at my door.
“Hey girl. Are you all right in there?”
I was so startled that by the time I realized I was staring at him (with a death grip on the steering wheel), he felt it necessary to knock on my window again.
“Are you okay, girl? Do I need to call someone for you?”
Still holding on firmly to the steering wheel, I found my voice and spoke. “Yes, sir. I…I just pulled over to make a call.”
He strained to look into my truck. This aggravated me and made me nervous at the same time. I gave him an annoying look; trying to appear brave, “I’m fine—really.”
He seemed a bit offended. “No need in getting snippy, young lady. I was just checking on ya.”
I was hoping this meant he was going to walk away now, but he didn’t. I became very alert to his actions. He put his hands in his pockets and started rambling on about a young lady driving alone these days. I glanced up in my rear-view mirror to make sure there was no one with him. He appeared to be alone. He was making me very nervous. I had to get rid of him.
“Well, thank you for stopping. I guess I will be on my way now,” I said as politely as I could.
He smiled his toothless grin, “Okay then. You be careful,” he said waiving a hand at me.
I nodded and he grinned at me as he walked a few steps back then turned to walk away. I exhaled and took a moment to gather myself. I looked down at the center console where my Glock was strapped. Daddy insisted I bring it on the long drive. Now I was kinda glad I had it. I took another deep breath and was about to pull on to 55 when something caught my eye in the trees along the interstate. For a split second, I could have swore I saw a black mist or a shadow weaving in and out of the trees. I strained my eyes to make sure I was actually seeing something.