INTERVIEW about SUNSHINE SKYWAY, a novel by Jeannie van Rompaey
The questions on this interview were compiled by Brian Feinblum, whose blog has 3 million subscribers.
1. What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into this book?
My initial inspiration was the bridge over Tampa Bay that I drove over when on holiday in Florida. To access it, there’s a steep ramp that seems to end in the sky. I had the sensation that my car would fall off the edge and plunge into the bay. It was an illusion that caught my imagination and stayed with me.
The original skyway was known for its history of disasters. In 1980. a freighter rammed the southern span of the bridge, causing it to collapse into the bay taking cars, buses and a truck with it. Thirty-five people died. There were further accidents between ships and smaller craft, and the skyway became notorious as a favourite jumping off place for suicides. Images of these catastrophes haunted me and I knew that I wanted to write a novel featuring Sunshine Skyway. Whether it would involve a specific tragic event or would act as a metaphor for my story I wasn’t sure.
The implicit irony of something dark happening in sunny Florida, where tourists go for relaxing holidays, appealed to me. From there it was an easy step for the holiday to become a honeymoon that goes wrong. Take a vulnerable heroine prone to making impulsive decisions and the bridge becomes a symbol of escape from her present situation. This proves an illusion as she moves from one misguided relationship to another that is far more dangerous. Escape becomes entrapment and pain as she falls into the ruthless hands of her captors. A chilling scenario.
2. What is it about and who is it for?
It’s about how easy it can be when, desperate to change your life, to be influenced by others and make disastrous decisions. It’s about naivety and maturity, love, sex, danger. It’s about manipulation, people using others for their own selfish ends. Power. Money. Sex. Love. Privilege.
My troubled protagonist, nineteen-year-old ROZ, grieving for the loss of her father, makes a series of emotional mistakes. Her honeymoon in Florida starts badly and, encouraged by JOLENE, a charismatic stranger she meets on the beach, comes to believe her marriage to Graham, some fourteen years older than her, is a mistake. She goes with Jolene and her equally magnetic partner, THEO, over Sunshine Skyway to their Folly near the Everglades. Once there, she is drawn into their dark, hedonistic world.
I started writing this novel long before the Ghislaine Maxwell trial, so my story was not written with it in mind; but it is such a topical subject in the aftermath of the MeToo exposure that I realise that it might interest readers who have followed the Epstein/Maxwell saga. My character, JOLENE, procures young women for a man, as Ghislaine did. Roz is her latest acquisition. There is a hint that some of their previous victims were underage. Although the main thrust of the plot is not about paedophilia, it does throw light on the ruthlessness of the couple. Reading about Jolene’s manipulation and grooming of Roz may give readers insights into what makes Maxwell tick. What makes a woman exploit other women? It’s nothing new in life or literature. Myra Hindley helped Brady find his victims and in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, rivals and ex-lovers, use seduction as a weapon to dupe their quarry into submission.
I think my target readers are mainly women. The story is told is told mainly from Roz’s perspective. I do give Graham a few chapters from his viewpoint, which helps the plot and the reader to understand him. I don’t go into the minds of Jolene or Theo, but Jolene weaves stories to tell Roz and readers have to decide how much of them to believe, just as Roz does.
3. What takeaways might the reader will be left with after reading it?
Hopefully the reader will be more aware of the dangers of making impulsive decisions. We live in a world where so called “influencers” are admired. The novel shows how important it is to keep your own integrity.
4. How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?
The title SUNSHINE SKYWAY was to me a given, as going over the Skyway started off the whole creative process.
As far as the cover was concerned, I looked up images of Sunshine Skyway on line and chose one that showed the steep ramp to advantage. It was important to me the skyway should feature on the cover.
I looked at lots of covers of novels and found one that particularly appealed to me. I asked the author who designed it. She kindly told me the designer’s name and I contacted him. I told him that the images I particularly wanted on the cover were the bridge and the face of my protagonist, a troubled young woman of Spanish origin. We also discussed the tone and genre of the novel. He sent me several possibilities and, with a few changes, we agreed on the final result. Our negotiation was all done by email. We seemed to be on the same page, so this method worked well and I was pleased with the result.
5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?
Write every day.
Read a lot, not just the classics. Keep up to date with modern writers and trends. Study the books you read from the viewpoint of a writer. What is the structure? Who tells the story? What is the conflict that drives the plot? How do the characters develop or change?
Read newspapers. Make notes on news stories that interest you.
Collect ideas from your own experiences and jot them down in a notebook.
Be aware that you have to market your books as well as write them, if you want to sell your books.
6. What trends in the book world do you see — and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
The trend for Diversity will continue. Writers of colour and different sexual proclivities, lead to changes of perspective that enrich readers’ understanding of our ever-changing world.
I think there will be an influx of novels about the pandemic, lockdowns and the new normal in the immediate future.
Audio books will become more popular. You can listen to books while doing other things – household chores, gardening, painting, driving.
Podcasts may become more popular than blogs. It’s trendy to have a podcast, but does anyone listen to them all the way through?
Social Media. TikTok is becoming popular as a channel for adding names to a mailing list and for selling backlist books as well as new ones.
E-books will continue to be popular, but traditional books will still be valued. Bookshops and local sellers of books will continue to flourish.
7. What challenges did you overcome to write this book?
Writing about a woman, years younger than myself, was a challenge I relished. It gave me a chance to be nineteen again! I had to get into her head, as she is the principle narrator, and what she was thinking was important to her development from naivety to maturity. It isn’t until after returning over the skyway to some sort of normality that she begins to understand that her relationship with her father was an obsession that affected her life. A better relationship with her mother in the future is hinted at.
Another challenge was the invention of the ruthless couple, especially Jolene. The rationalisations she gives Roz for her behaviour may or may not be true.
The most difficult parts for me to write were the action bits towards the end of the novel when Roz is trying to escape. I’m not a fan of action movies but I did watch some to help me.
8. How would you describe your writing style?
I like to consider myself a literary writer, although I think my books are easy to read.
In the case of this novel, I think it sits fairly easily in the genre of psychological thriller, but I like to think the issues it deals with go deeper than most thrillers.
I write in different genres, normally general fiction focussed on relationships, but my style is fairly consistent: character led stories, interested in what makes people act as they do.
9. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?
It’s a gripping story that has relevance to contemporary life. It gives insights into human nature. A book you will find hard to put down.
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