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Author Interview With Sunny
Today RT’s Web Editor Morgan Doremus chats with paranormal erotic romance author Sunny about her popular Mona Lisa and Lucinda series, how she transitioned into her career as an erotica author and what fans can expect next!
Morgan: I would love to start out by discussing your most well known books, the Mona Lisa series which features the Monères race. While these characters are technically aliens since they originated on the moon, your stories are generally labeled 'paranormal' rather than 'science fiction' — why do you think this is?
Sunny: That was one of the difficulties my editor, Cindy Hwang, had: how to categorize Mona Lisa Awakening. In fact, like yourself, she thought it was more of a sci-fi/fantasy book when she first began to read it and passed the manuscript over to Ginjer Buchanan, who acquires for their ACE imprint at Penguin Putnam. Ms. Buchanan read until she hit the first hot love scene then passed it back to Cindy Hwang, who specializes in romance.
There’s a lot of crossover in my story: a little bit of science fiction, a lot of fantasy, and even more erotic romance. My editor finally said they decided the correct category for my book was a dark fantasy novel. Me—I always thought I was just writing a romance.
Morgan: You have two main heroines that you write about – Mona Lisa, a Monère Queen, and Lucinda, a warrior princess. What do your heroines have in common and what are their differences?
Sunny: Mona Lisa was more like me: a good girl, nice and sweet, somewhat of a misfit. She finds love—more than one—accidentally, and discovers that she is half-human and half-Monère, part of a supernatural race of beings whose home planet, the moon, was destroyed four billions years ago. She also learns that the reason she had never been attracted to a man before was because they were the wrong species of men—human instead of Monère. With Gryphon and Amber, the first Monère men she encounters, attraction is not a mere spark but a consuming blaze, an almost out-of-control conflagration.
Lucinda (in my novels Lucinda, Darkly and Lucinda, Dangerously) is her opposite: not plain and flat-chested but a luscious pocket Venus. Not kind but cruel. Not a living Monère Queen but a demon dead princess. And yet, both are alone, and when they find love, both will do anything—risk anything—to hold onto it.
Morgan: In your newest book, Mona Lisa Eclipsing, Mona Lisa is vulnerable because she loses her memory. What part of this is the most difficult for her?
Sunny: Actually, the most difficult part turns out to be meeting her lovers, her people, again. First impressions really do matter, as well as the circumstances you meet them in. Timing is everything, they say, and in Mona Lisa’s case, it really is. It’s the reason why she resisted loving Halcyon, the demon prince and High Lord of Hell, for so long in the first and second novel: because she met and fell in love with Gryphon and Amber first. Here, without her memory, she is a different person from what she was before. False belief can shape and mold a person’s reactions and feelings a great deal, and leave them vulnerable to manipulation.
Morgan: Throughout your series Mona Lisa has had many lovers. Is there ever going to be a time when she settles down or is she destined to perpetually be looking for love?
Sunny: Is she destined to perpetually be looking for love? I think it’s more accurate to restate that as a question of if she will ever close herself off to love. She isn’t looking for love anymore, per se: she has it in abundance, not just the beautiful injured Gryphon and the giant and tragic Amber, but the lonely demon ruler of Hell, Halycon, and the breathtakingly handsome golden Adonis, Dontaine. Each new lover she takes reluctantly. There’s even a potential spark of intimate feeling for Beldar, the poisoned and dying warrior belonging to her mother that she saves, in my novella “Mona Lisa Three”, which is being re-released as an eSpecial single on March 25th (It was previously published in the New York Times bestselling anthology, Over the Moon).
No, finding love is not Mona Lisa’s problem; it’s how to manage her complicated love life afterward. She still has a problem with low self-esteem, a feeling that she doesn’t deserve these beautiful, gorgeous men. She starts to work on that issue in Mona Lisa Eclipsing after her memory returns.
Morgan: Mona Lisa Eclipsing is a turning point in your series because in this book the Monère reveal themselves to the world. Can you tell us some of the long-term implications of this revelation for your characters?
Sunny: This is the most fun part of the book for me. A lot of readers have emailed me asking if there’s a way to save these poor Monère rogues. In their society, Queens rule, and Monère warriors serve until they become too powerful and too much of a threat to their Queens, at which time they are killed by her order or they run away and become outcast rogues.
The poor Monère men have to dance a delicate tightrope with their Queens. They gain power and possible gifts by having sex with a Queen. If they gain enough power to sustain their own longevity without being dependent upon a Queen (who have the unique ability to share the moon’s vital energy with their people each full moon), they can become elevated to Warriors Lords and rule their own territory—that is, if they can survive long enough and are acknowledged by their Queen at High Court, which many Queens are loath to do. Why help your competitor?
I finally found a way for Mona Lisa to save these poor men. The rogues who are willing to risk their necks alongside hers with a public outing will be given the opportunity to become part of a Queen’s court once more—hers. The implications for this are something I’m eager to explore in the next book.
Morgan: Is there anything you can tell readers about the next book in the series?
Sunny: Well, it will be titled Mona Lisa F—. That’s all I know, LOL. All my books in the Monère series are alphabetical: Mona Lisa Awakening, ML Blossoming, ML Craving, ML Darkening, and now Mona Lisa Eclipsing. I’m inclining toward Mona Lisa Falling for the next title, at the moment, but would welcome any other suggestions readers might have; the last word just has to start with the letter “F.”
Morgan: I have to ask about your writing name, Sunny. How did you decide for this as your pseudonym? Why not use the more traditional first and last name when publishing?
Sunny: Dr. Sunny Chen was a frumpy, bespectacled woman wearing a white coat and stethoscope, my family practice physician persona; a shy, nice Chinese-American who did all the traditional things her family expected of her, like get good grades and become a doctor.
Sunny is the new author me—daring, bold, fearless, with a sensual imagination and creativity that took everyone, including me, by surprise. Writing hot paranormal romance was not something Chinese immigrant parents encourage their children to do. Reading the stuff got me in enough trouble, as it was, growing up.
Morgan: Your first career is medicine — how does a doctor start writing erotica?
Sunny: I blame it all on my husband, Da Chen, who was the only one in my circle of family and friends who believed I had writing talent, glimpsed via our East Coast/West Coast courtship correspondence, and encouraged me to write a novel. I tried my hand at it, a story about an illegal Chinese immigrant whose boat runs aground on the rocky New York shore, inspired by the Golden Venture, which was big news at that time, but I didn’t know how to write a story. I wrote the first chapter, polished and re-polished it, then it was like: now what? Had no clue where to go from there, and no imagination or understanding of how an illegal immigrant from China would think or feel.
Da finally tried turning his own hand to writing, which was painful at the beginning, with his legal training as a lawyer messing up his writing with a lot of formal, bombastic writing. “Simplify it, write from the heart,” I told him, and he listened to me. It was amazing to watch him develop and help him edit his work. He went from absolutely horrible fiction writing to occasional glimpses of some true talent here and there. But it wasn’t until I encouraged him to write about his childhood growing up China, which he told me fascinating stories of, that his writing really took off. He wrote his memoir in one year, during the evenings and weekends, with me working hard editing and polishing it up for him, since English was his second language—he came to America at the age of 23.
His first several queries for agent representation, however, were met with rejection, and the manuscript sat under our daughter’s crib collecting dust for four years until Da joined a local writing group. It took him half a year to finally work up the courage to share his own writing with the group. When he did, he was met with great enthusiasm and praise. One of the members of the writing group was the regional sales manager for Henry Holt and told Da that his writing was publishable. This jolted us into querying for agent representation once again and this time we met with success. Four months after signing with Elaine Koster, Da’s memoir, Colors of the Mountain, was sold in an auction to Random House for $400,000. It was featured in Newsweek and became a New York Times bestseller.
This, of course, inspired me to try my own hand at writing again. This time I tried to write about my own childhood growing up in the Bronx. I joined the same writing group and shared my writing with them, but instead of encouragement, they criticized me—totally ripped me apart. More than the writing deserved, I believe, looking back. It was 99% harsh criticism and 1% mild praise, with the general message being that my childhood difficulty growing up as a latchkey child was nothing compared to what Da suffered in China during the Cultural Revolution, and that I shouldn’t even bother trying to write it. It was the first time I ever tried sharing something I had written and it completely shut me down. I didn’t pick up a pen for the next six years. Helping my husband edit all of his books, however, taught me a great deal and slowly built my confidence again. I was working with the best editors in the world, without their knowing, and found my instincts paralleling theirs about what was good writing and what was not.
The turning point for me was motivation and instruction. I became a full-time mother and devoted myself to developing my husband’s and my children’s talents. I found a talent agent for my children and they appeared in small roles on TV and commercials that included Sesame Street and a Fuji camera ad. I was feeling quite happy and fulfilled until one day my 6-year-old son listed everyone’s achievements. He had no difficulty until he came to me. After a pause, he finally said, “Mom drives really well.”
It made me realize that I was nothing but a glorified chauffeur in his young eyes. It didn’t matter how crucial a role I played in their success; if I didn’t develop my own talents, I would lose my children’s respect. That jolted me enough to finally begin aggressively actively pursuing my own talents, and sparked a willingness to spend money on myself, which I had never done before—all our money went to the kids and their many lessons, auditions, and beauty pageants. Nothing like fear of being nothing in your children’s eyes to overcome the fear of trying and failing.
The instruction part came when my husband made me attend a 4-day screenwriting seminar by Robert McGee, titled “The Art of the Story.” Da thought even though I couldn’t write a full-length novel, I should be able to write a shorter teleplay or screenplay. But instead of coming out all pumped about writing a screenplay, I emerged with the dazzling, eye-opening revelation of: Now I know how to write a story! I’d never had any practical nuts-and-bolts instruction like that before, and I was, after all, a professional student most of my life—23 years of education plus 3 years of residency training.
I took several months to build a world and flesh out my characters and then I started to write. I finished Mona Lisa Awakening in four months. I set out trying to write a romance, which is my favorite genre to read. That it turned into erotic romance was accidental. I just hit the love scenes and they took on an amazing life of their own. Nothing I intended, believe me.
Incidentally, once I knew I could write a book, the next story I wrote was the novella, "Chinatown", which ended up being published in the anthology, The Hard Stuff, one of the books launching Kensington’s Aphrodisiac line. "Chinatown" was what I first tried and failed to write twelve years before, a story about an illegal Chinese immigrant, this time with a twist that made it work for me: an undercover agent posing as an illegal immigrant to bust up a human trafficking ring. It won me my first award.
I want to invite readers to visit www.sunnyauthor.com to learn more about: