Sullivan Clarke didn’t start her literary career with the goal of being a writer of erotic romance novels. “I started like a lot of writers,” she says. “I freelanced for my local paper and later went on to become a respectable journalist.”
But with newspapers hitting on hard times and budget cutbacks forcing layoffs, she saw the writing on the wall and started branching out. “I was still working on a daily newspaper when I started writing erotica under a pen name,” she admits. “I felt a little guilty about it at first. Now I realize it was the best decision I ever made.”
The author of The Master of Wyndham Hall, and The Captain’s Duty talks with Blushing Books about her craft, the authors who inspired her and what she plans for the future.
Blushing Books: So first, of course, the obvious question. How did you become a writer?
Sullivan Clarke: Where every writer starts, by being a reader. I loved to read; even as a child I was a voracious reader. I wanted to write like the authors I loved, so I did a lot of creative writing in school. I got a lot of feedback from teachers, especially when I did a parody of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Blushing Books: Did you start out as a writer of romance novels, or as a reader?
Sullivan Clarke: Again, as a reader. I read tons of classics for school, so for fun I’d read romance novels. I was pretty hooked on romance novels, especially in my twenties and thirties. The steamier they were, the more I liked them.
Blushing Books: Did you have a favorite author?
Sullivan Clarke: That’s an easy question. My favorite Beatrice Small. I loved them because they wrote historically correct books that were lavish in detail. And back when I was reading them, they were delightfully politically incorrect. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a pretty progressive person – but I must confess a love for those old bodice-ripping stories that end with the hero taming the heroine, to the extent she can be tamed. (laughs). Of course, there were times when I was embarrassed at my reading choices.
Blushing Books: Embarrassed?
Sullivan Clarke: Yeah, because in school we were told that romance novels were fluff and beneath our intellectual dignity. So I was a little self-conscious about my favorite genre.
Blushing Books: So how did you overcome that, because you obviously did if you’re writing it now.
Sullivan Clarke: Well one day I was at work – I was in college and had a job as a ward secretary in a hospital at that time – and I let slip about a book I was reading. And the head nurse looked up from where she was filling out a chart and said, “You’ve read that book? I love that book!” We got into a discussion and I discovered that we liked a lot of the same authors. I was kind of surprised. She was a highly educated and very smart woman but she wasn’t the least bit self-conscious about enjoying stories where women were sometimes taken in hand by a strong male character. And even though I shouldn’t have felt the need for any validation for my reading choices, that conversation gave it to me because that’s when I realized there were a lot of smart, aggressive women out there who preferred erotic romance.
Blushing Books: So what made you decide to try your hand at the genre?
Sullivan Clarke: It was a way to branch out. As I said, I eventually got work as a reporter on a daily paper and I liked being a journalist. But it didn’t really feed my creative urges enough. On a newspaper you’re told what to write. On a personal level, I wanted to write stories I created. On a professional level I considered it a challenge to see if I could do it, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
Blushing Books: Your two most popular books are Master of Wyndham Hall and Captain’s Duty. Why do you think readers like them?
Sullivan Clarke: I think it’s because the characters are interesting. The women are feisty and the men are strong. And the villains are deplorable, just as villains should be. There’s a workable dynamic between the male and female characters – kind of a push and pull – that builds up the sexual tension. And I try for satisfying resolutions because the romantic in me does so love a happy ending.
Blushing Books: Do you see your work evolving?
Sullivan Clarke: Oh, it already has. I’ve gone edgier with books like Abby’s Revenge. I kind of went out of my comfort zone by penning a darker book where the villains are downright sexy and scary at the same time. But Abby’s Revenge is one of my favorite books.
Blushing Books: Have you ever second-guessed one of your books or worried how it would be received?
Sullivan Clarke: Yes, actually I did. Ephraim’s Household, like all of my books, deals with a male-dominant, female submissive dynamic. But it also centers around a polygamous household. I was a little concerned that it might offend the religious sensibilities of some people who thought I was picking on a particular religion. But it never really did and now you see shows like Sister Wives and Big Love and realize that people really are curious about such set-ups. So that way I was just ahead of the curve.
Blushing Books: So what are you working on now?
Sullivan Clarke: More of the same. Like most writers, I find my work evolving. I just want to please the readers. If there’s one goal I’m working towards it’s to keep doing that.