SOPHIE PERINOT is an award-winning, multipublished author of female-centered historical fiction, who holds both a bachelor’s in history and a law degree. Crazy for history from a young age, Sophie enjoys setting her stories against a fully-realized past while simultaneously exploring issues and feelings so essentially human that they transcend any particular era. An active member of the Historical Novel Society, Sophie has attended all of the all of the group’s North American Conferences and served as a panelist multiple times. She lives in Metropolitan Washington DC with a small menagerie of pets and her long-suffering husband.
List of Books:
What is the first book that made you cry?
Are You My Mother? the picture book by P.D. Eastman. My grandfather, Edward, bought me a little collection of books and gave me one to take home every time I came to visit. Before I took them home he read each new book to me.
I can still remember being terrified for the wandering baby bird in Are You My Mother. The idea of losing one’s mother . . . And when bird-baby ran into the SNORT I held my breath, terrified that he would be hurt. But the Snort—huge, and frightening—turns our expectations on their heads when it returns the baby to the nest. That’s what I call suspense in fiction.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends on the day—and I suspect that is true for 99.9% of writers. But even when my characters are exhausting they are still there with me. For me personally the worst moment of the process is when I finish my draft of a manuscript and move on to editing. I know, I know, you’re thinking “what?” because that is when a lot of writers break out the champagne. But for me the last original words of a book are often accompanied by a searing period of grief, because I will never again hear the voices of my characters in the same way that I do when weaving an initial story line. It can literally feel like someone I love has died.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Too much confidence and not enough confidence.
Overconfidence leads to believing a manuscript is “done” and ready for submission when it is decidedly not (this has to be THE most common aspiring writer trap—I certainly fell into it myself), and can close beginning writers down to criticism. Defensiveness in the face of criticism is most definitely not your friend as a writer—not in the beginning, not ever. Over confidence can also lead aspiring writers to think the rules of the industry (including query rules) don’t apply to them. For example, I’ve seen so many overconfident aspiring writers think that craft is enough: that they are so good they don’t have to learn about the business/ market—big mistake. I could go on, but you get my point. Be open to learning, and don’t let your confidence become hubris.
Lack of confidence is equally a pitfall. It prevents manuscripts from being finished (and if you don’t finish how can you polish, pitch and sell), and can provide an annoying excuse for self-denigration and constant demands (which your critique partners, friends and family find tiring—trust me on this) for reassurance from others. This business takes internal strength and confidence in your ability to put words on paper.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes, I write under a penname. And I have a bit of advice on that—the choice of a name is a BUSINESS decision.
The amount of new writers I see dreamily stringing together names based on tributes to others or what they wish they’d been named or some other romanticized criteria . . . . (Sophie sputters to a stop).
Think practically. Does the name fit the genre you are writing? How does it position you in a search? If you love a name but it already gets 300k hits in a search engine then it is not your best choice. You want to OWN those first pages of search results. Google my name (go ahead I’ll wait). Whether you put it in quotes or don’t, I dominate the first pages of results.
Yes other people may well come up when readers search for you, but you don’t want to be lost in a forest of “Adam Smiths.” And while we are on the subject of other people . . . when creating your pseudonym think about who the other people with that name are. You do not want people searching for you to find criminals, porn stars, Russian oligarchs. So no matter how much you love the name you’ve tentatively picked, if the first page of search results is crowded with articles about some pedophile priest with that name—DUMP IT.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I actually gave an interview that addresses this, an interview with fellow Query Connection moderator the marvelous Mindy McGinnis. It also addresses the very personal issue of what literary success looks like to me.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
My first novel—the one that hooked my agent—failed to sell. This seems to surprise people but it shouldn’t. Only about 50% of first represented novels actually sell. Would I revisit that novel someday? Sure but I suspect it needs a lot of work ;) My second unpublished novel is a different story all together. It is, without question, the best book I’ve ever written—a true novel of my soul. So for anyone who thinks all that matters is craft and commitment. Nope. My feeling: it was in the wrong place at the wrong time when we took it to submission. But I still hope it will find a readership at some point in the future.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Some years ago I had the privilege of hearing the fantastic (and very successful) historical novelist Bernard Cornwell speak at a Conference. He insisted that this is a business and there is no such thing as writer's block, any more than there is "dentist's block." He asked us to imagine showing up for a dental appointment to be told by the nurse the dentist wasn't feeling up to filling teeth that day. That helped me immensely. During work hours—albeit truncated by other occupations—I sit in my chair and I write. No excuses.