An Interview With Linnea Sinclair

Conducted by

Midge Baker

Below is an interview I had with Linnea in mid-November 2007, via e-mail. To learn more about her work, visit the links within the interview after you've read it.

Linnea SinclairAuthor BioDown Home Zombie Blues

Winner of the prestigious national book award, the RITA, and published by both the Dell and Spectra imprints of Bantam Random House, science fiction romance author Linnea Sinclair has become a name synonymous for high-action, emotionally intense, character-driven novels. Reviewers note that Sinclair’s novels “have the wow-factor in spades,” earning her accolades from both the science fiction and romance communities. Her books have claimed spots in the Locus Top Ten and made the USA Today Extended Bestseller list. Romantic Times Book Reviews magazine consistently gives Sinclair’s books 4-1/2 stars (their highest rating). Starlog magazine calls Sinclair “one of the reigning queens of science fiction romance.”

Sinclair was also nominated for SFWA’s respected John W. Campbell award.A former news reporter and retired private detective, Sinclair’s lively workshops have made her a writing conference favorite nationwide—her 2007 schedule included workshops in Houston, Denver, Tampa, St Louis, Cleveland and Dallas. She was recently featured on Daytime, an NBC syndicated talk show.

Sinclair’s book list includes FINDERS KEEPERS, GABRIEL’S GHOST, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS and GAMES OF COMMAND. Scheduled releases for 2007-2008 are THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES -- which was recently favorably reviewed by Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly, and named a Top Pick, 4-1/2 Star book by Romantic Times Book Reviews--and SHADES OF DARK.

Sinclair resides in Naples, Florida with her husband, Robert Bernadino, and their two thoroughly spoiled cats. Readers can find her perched on the third barstool from the left in her Intergalactic Bar and Grille at


Hello, Linnea. I really appreciate this opportunity to interview you. For our readers, what genres do you write?

Hi, Midge. A pleasure to meet you here on Sime~Gen. I’m surprised we haven’t bumped into each other before. I tend to haunt this place. My genre of choice is science fiction romance, also known as SFR. Now, keep in mind that’s an author’s or industry designation. Readers may call my books futuristics, romantic science fiction, romance or science fantasy. I rather like the label of space opera romance myself, but I haven’t seen that many people using it.

How old were you when you started writing? When you made your first sale? 

I’ve been writing stories since I could wrap my chubby little fingers around a Crayon, quite honestly. It may come from being an only child—a lot of my playmates were imaginary ones in my head. By the time I could form letters on paper, or reach my mother’s trusty typewriter, I began putting the adventures of those imaginary playmates on paper.

My first non-professional sale was back in my fan-fic days. I’m going to guess in the early to mid 1980s? The novella was called TALES OF THE  BLUE TIGER, it was very much space opera, and at the moment I can’t think of the ‘zine it appeared in. I did see a copy of the ‘zine for sale on eBay a year or so ago and was outbid. I’ve lost my copies a long time back and it would have been nice to  have another.

My first professional small press sale was in 1999 to LTDBooks, a Canadian small press and e-publisher. That was the fantasy novel, WINTERTIDE.

My first New York sale was in 2004 to Bantam. That was a lovely three-book contract for FINDERS KEEPERS (RITA Award finalist), GABRIEL’S GHOST (RITA Award winner) and AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS.

Ah, you asked how old I was when I made these sales? Hmm, age is a state of mind. And I lost my mind a long time ago.  

Did you take any writing classes when you were just starting out? 

One of my undergrad degrees is in journalism, so yes, to some extent, I was trained to wrestle with words. I’ve written news copy, feature articles, advertising copy, you name it. During and after graduate school, I worked in radio, newspapers and for an ad agency. I’m something of an education-junkie and have also taken adult classes in creative writing (just because working tends to rot the creative side of the brain). The first creative writing course I took was where WINTERTIDE and my (yet to be finished) Dr. Jynx San’Janeiro books were born. The second was responsible for the birth of Chaz and Sully in GABRIEL’S GHOST.

 I haven't met an author yet, who wasn't also an avid reader. What genres do you enjoy? 

I think voracious is a better word. I love science fiction, fantasy, Regency romance, romantic suspense, police procedurals and New Age non-fiction.

 How much time of your day is devoted to writing? Do you write every day? 

Right now, being deep in deadline hell, I do. I was writing daily for a very long time. But life this year—2007—has been interesting, I guess is the best way to put it. It’s very much gotten me off my game, with car accidents, the death of my father, illnesses, and far too many conferences and conventions (Note to Self: learn to say “no.”). Basically, I start writing around 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. (before that it’s Answer Emails and do the Business of Being An Author stuff) and finish writing for the day around midnight.  

Is there anyone you credit with helping you get into writing?

 I received a lot of encouragement early on from my middle school and high school teachers. But being a fiction author wasn’t something I perceived as a career. For one thing, I knew nothing about it. This was pre-Internet days (ah, am I giving away my age here?) and reliable information on what authors actually did, how they did it and what they made was scarce. The image I had of Author-As-A-Career was an artsy-fartsy one, where The Author was holed up in a shabby tenement, sitting on a barrel, typing away on a rickety typewriter under the glow of a solitary bare bulb hanging overhead. Real People who wanted to buy a car and eat regularly didn’t become authors. So I chose journalism as a major in college (along with criminology, but we’ll get to that later) so I could get a job and support myself once I graduated college. (And I did.)

But the desire to write fiction never went away, no matter how much I tried to beat it down with Sensible and Responsible Thoughts.

Probably the person who convinced me or who was initially most influential on my giving fiction writing a shot was author Nancy Gramm a/k/a Kate Maguire. She’s a former Harlequin romance author who, bless her, took me on and critiqued my early books, including FINDERS KEEPERS and GABRIEL’S GHOST (you’ll see a mention of a Kate Maguire in GABRIEL’S. I put her in the book.) Having a real, published NY author tell me my books were good was what spurred me to give it a try.

 It's readily apparent that your former careers as a news reporter and a private investigator have influenced your writing. What other life experiences or passions have you incorporated into creating your stories? 

Well, my cat, Daiquiri, is Tank the furzel in GAMES OF COMMAND. He’s also the front and back cover cat. The cover artist, Stephen Youll (also owned by a cat) used Daq’s photos to create the cover images. When you’ve been owned by a fur-person, you understand just how important they are in your life. At one point my husband and I have seven fur-persons and four feathered-persons in our household. So that’s rather reflected in my books but most notably in GAMES OF COMMAND.

Also in GAMES OF COMMAND is a aircraft crash scene. That was directly taken from my experiences crashing in a small plane (an American Grumman underwing single engine). I was co-pilot not pilot, by the way. It had been a number of years, though, so it was great that I could run the scene past jumbo-jet pilot, Susan Grant, a marvelous SFR author in her own right.

A number of my characters take lime with their gin. I have no idea where that came from. 

Can you tell me about your writing methods? For example: do you write from the beginning of the story to the end, write scenes in random order, or have a development cycle of some sort? 

I’m very linear. I start at page one and keep going. I used to be a poster-child for pantser methodology (ie: non-plotting) but writing to deadlines has altered that. Now I leap-frog plot. Essentially, write a chunk (three scenes, two chapters, whatever) then plot the next chunk. Write that, plot. I do write a synopsis before each book because my agent requires that. But my editor is wise-enough to know my book may, when finished, not resemble the synopsis all that much. Or it might.

My books  unfold much like a movie in my head. I’m not unique in that—a lot of authors I know “see” their stories the same way. In that sense, yes, I may glimpse a scene farther along that I am at that point. But for the most part, it’s linear. 

What tools do you use when you research a story? 

It depends on the story. THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES is a combo science fiction romance-police procedural (think: Men In Black meets CSI: Miami) so I spent a lot of time in police forums and, when I snagged them, pestering several real life law enforcement officers with questions. GAMES OF COMMAND—being a world solely of my own devising—I used any number of the usual SF writer reference books, such as Bova and Lewis’s SPACE TRAVEL or Cavelos’ THE SCIENCE OF STAR WARS, plus NASA’s site and more. So I use reference books, I use experts, I use the Internet. Several of my critique partners are published authors, so they have input.

I work hardest on world building logic and consistency. I write space opera. If you want a scholarly discourse on brown dwarf stars and why they radiate in the infrared, don’t read my books. You won’t find that. I  keep my science to what is known and accepted by science fiction writers (ie: hyperspace is real in my worlds) of character-driven novels. I will, to write my book, know why brown dwarf stars radiate in the infrared, but I’m not going to give it a lot of paragraph space in the book. 

Do you have any favorite writing resources you'd like to suggest to aspiring authors?  

Dwight Swain’s TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. I think it is hands down the best book out there if you want to get published, no matter what genre you write. It’s plain, common-sense writing methodology. It works.

The other is to take the various craft of writing classes offered by sites like Sime~Gen and by RWA chapters on the internet. Even if you don’t write romance. These are classes taught (for the most part) by recognized, published authors. You’ll get real time advice and very useful information. The ability to get feedback on your writing is invaluable. Some places to find classes are:

 to name a few.

 What do you consider your strongest writing skill? Your weakest? 

My strongest writing skills are characterization, dialogue and conflict. The last I owe greatly to the influence of Jacqueline Lichtenberg (see, I do use those writing sites I tell you about). My weakest skills are organization (my desk is an unholy mess) and plotting (I hate it). The fact that several recent reviews of my books from highly respectable venues laud my plotting makes me (and my crit partners) laugh. They know I’m a basket-case when it comes to plotting. So I really, really, really have to work at it. I guess it paid off.  

What do you think is the most important thing for writers who want to continue to improve? 

Talk the craft of writing with other authors, keep taking classes. Read books that get you excited and analyze how the author did that to you. 

I've read elsewhere that you don't edit your stories, but rather you "tweak" them. Can you explain what you mean by that?

 Oh, heavens, I definitely edit my stories. But I was trained as a journalist so I tend to edit as I write. For the most part—barring the ubiquitous finger farts—I produce pretty clean copy. My first drafts aren’t all that different from my published books. Yes, of course there may be huge chunks that get changed because of some plot point my editor would rather see on page 145 not on page 45. But I don’t get in to a lot of rewrites.

My tweaking happens after the first draft is finished and I go back over and add in more description or plump up a emotional reaction a character has. It’s a fine tuning of sorts. Sometimes I get a paragraph completely right first time. Other times I know I'm 85% there but if I waste any more time at that point searching for the perfect adjective, the quintessential phrase I’ll lose momentum. So I note it and go back and tweak it later.  

Let's talk about about THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES, your latest release, just out from Bantam Books. Where did you get the idea for the story? Was it character-first or an idea-first story? How long did it take you to develop the story? Was it fully developed before you started writing, or did it 'come to you' as you wrote it? 

I’m a character-driven writer so all my stories come to me first as characters, second as plot as it relates to the characters. Having said that, it’s often difficult to separate characters from plot as it’s the characters’ conflicts that call to me when I “meet” the characters in my mind’s eye. And conflict—quoting Jacqueline Lichtenberg here—generates plot.

I’m not exactly sure where the idea for ZOMBIE BLUES came from, other than I’d written all my novels to date “out there” (as I call it) and I wanted to try something different. One reason was that at the various reader/writer conferences I’d been to, I’d heard a few readers state that they didn’t like SFR set on other planets or in outer space. Well, then, they’d never read me, I thought. Bummer. How do I compensate for that? Aha! Write something set in Florida, USA, Earth, Sol System. So in a way THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES was deliberately written to court paranormal romance readers who had an allergy to outer-space.

For a number of years I’d had this movie scene in my mind (not a real movie, mind you, but how I perceive scenes in a novel) where someone from another star system with technology advanced from ours arrives here in the middle of a crime and hooks up with the law enforcement personnel on scene, albeit a bit undercover (for obvious reasons). When I decided to court the allergic paranormal set, that was a “movie still” that said, Oh, pick me! Pick me!  So I did, setting it in an area of Florida I knew well (St. Petersburg/Tampa, where I had my private investigative agency for ten years).

The story line was pretty much fully developed once I started writing it, in that I knew it involved a Florida cop, an outer-space babe would could kick ass, and that it would end with an HEA (romance industry terminology for a Happily Ever After). All the rest was up for grabs.

I started writing ZOMBIE in June of 2003,  originally as a novella for an anthology that never took off. I began to seriously work on it in 2005 when my agent wanted a second three-book proposal to submit to Bantam. 

Though I haven't had the chance to read THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES yet - after all, it just came out a few days ago - I have read the reviews. They classify it as SF romance. Do you agree? Or would you call it a Paranormal Mystery? 

 I’d call it a science fiction romance-police procedural but that’s me and you’re never going to find that shelf in a bookstore. It’s not a mystery per se because it doesn’t fit the requirements of the mystery genre (it’s not a whodunit). Science Fiction Romance Police Action Adventure? Men in Black meets CSI: Miami is probably the best. 

I've read many of your posts on the Alien Romances blog you co-write with Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Margaret L. Carter, and others. Jacqueline defines a genre she calls "Intimate Adventure." Would you place any of your stories in that category?  

Absolutely. I love the term Intimate Adventure. My books are all high action with a very strong romance plot. The emotional adventure of the main characters is of equal importance to the life-and-death action. And the emotional adventure is not just kissy-romance, either. There’s a lot of friendship/platonic emotional issues as well as self-acceptance.  

I know you mentor writers sometimes. Can you tell us why that's important to you? 

I mentor because I was mentored. Karma. It’s simply good karma. Plus, I want more good books out there, especially in SFR. I don’t for a minute believe I’m in competition with other writers. It’s not that I’m better or they’re  better. It’s that readers can read books faster than any of us can write them. The more good reads are out there, the more readers will read. Very simple. Feed the addiction. 

Do you have any advice for the aspiring writers in our audience?  

::Points to the answer about writing resources::

Swain. Online classes. Go to valid writing conferences and take the workshops, meet with published authors, editors and agents. Write, write, write and never think you can’t do it better. You can always improve your writing. Read extensively in the genre in which you want to write. KNOW what genre you want to write. I’m boggled by the number of writers I meet who have no idea what genre their story is. Know your genre, know the requirements of your genre (ie: do you need an HEA?).

When I started writing fiction (seriously) in the late 1970s, the resources available today didn’t exist. You couldn’t join a writing class online or join your favorite author’s Yahoo group or read his or her blog. I have many aspiring writers on my personal fan group on Yahoo and we talk craft of writing a lot.

A few years ago I had a beginning author write me a fan letter. There was something about it that caught my eye and when I answered it, I offered to read her first three chapters (and no, I can’t do that for everyone and I can  never do that when I’m on deadline, like now. But if I’m not on deadline, I may). Anyway, her first three chapters knocked my socks off. She’s now published with a small press, Echelon, and will make NY soon. Trust me on that. Her books are superb. She’s author Stacey Klemstein and one of my dearest friends now, as well as a crit partner. Something like that just couldn’t have happened as easily in, say, 1978.

So use the resources which are now plentiful for writers.  

If you had it to do all over again, would you do anything differently? 

I would have started younger. I would have believed in my talent more. I don’t write any differently today than I did in 1979. I just didn’t believe in myself then. 

A lot of writer wannabes - myself included - spent a lot of time writing fanfic. And so did you. What genres did you write in? What fanzines? Are any of those stories still available? 

I wrote Trek-based fanfic. I say Trek-BASED because we wrote in the Trek universe but not Roddenberry’s characters, though they might be alluded to in the backstory. It was a round-robin kind of writing where we photocopied our “logs” and snail-mailed them to the other members of our “crew.” Each log/adventure built on the previous ones. It was a blast.

I have no idea where those logs or stories are now. Yes, some made it to fanzines but again, long gone. I even missed out on the one on eBay (though that wasn’t Trek but original space opera).

If you go to the Intergalactic Bar & Grille on my site, you’ll find several short stories, some of which were my fanfic from back then, like To Dance With Death.

 Many people frown on fan fiction. As a professional writer, do you feel you benefitted from your fanfic experience?

 Oh, good heavens, yes. It taught me characterization and dialogue and most important, to write to create an emotional reaction in other people. I loved when members of my “crew” responded favorably to  my “logs.” It was a thrill.

 You design the book covers for your own books as well as for others. How did you get into that? 

My book covers at Bantam are by wonderful artists Dave Seeley and Stephen Youll. I do create some of the illustrations on my website. But my book covers are done by professional cover artists who work with Bantam and other NY publishers.

 SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to GABRIEL'S GHOST (and yes, this was at one time titled CHADSIDAH'S CHOICE...) is due out in the summer of 2008. Can you tell us about it?

GABRIEL’S GHOST was written to be a two-book series but Bantam bought the second book only recently. Sully’s and Chaz’s story was just too vast for one book, honestly. They’re both fascinating and complex characters with a lot of conflicts yet ahead of them. Here’s the official back cover blurb (unless it changes before release, which is always possible): 

For two fugitive lovers, space has no haven,no mercy, no light—only...


Before her court-martial, Captain ChasidahChazBergren was the pride of the Sixth Fleet. Now she’s a fugitive from the “justice” of a corrupt Empire. Along with her lover, the former monk, mercenary, and telepath Gabriel Ross Sullivan, Chaz hoped to leave the past light-years behind—until the news of her brother Thad’s arrest and upcoming execution for treason. It’s a ploy by Sully’s cousin Hayden Burke to force them out of hiding and it works. 

With a killer targeting human females and a renegade gen lab breeding jukor war machines, Chaz and Sully already had their hands full of treachery, betrayal—not to mention each other. Throw in Chaz’s Imperial ex-husband, Admiral Philip Guthrie, and a Kyi-Ragkiril mentor out to seduce Sully and not just loyalties but lives are at stake. For when Sully makes a fateful choice changing their relationship forever, Chaz must also choose—between what duty demands and what her heart tells her she must do. 

SHADES is a gripping, deep novel in the same first person point of view as GABRIEL’S and promises to be just as intense. Ren returns (he’s a fan favorite), as do Dorsie, Marsh and Verno, along with Chaz’s ex-husband, Admiral Philip Guthrie. It’s a fun book to write because many of the characters aren’t clearly “good guys” or “bad guys”. There are a lot of shades of gray, shades of dark. And as with all my books, an HEA—even though I’m sure there will be points in the book readers may doubt that. I should have teasers and snippets on my Yahoo Group as early as next Spring, so stay tuned!