Sylvia Day explains how Dr. Pimple Popper helped inspire her latest novel
For fans of Sylvia Day, who rose to fame with her best-selling erotic Crossfire series, it’s been a long couple of years.
The author hasn’t released a new title since 2016’s One with You, the conclusion to the five-book Crossfire series and the epic love story between Gideon Cross and Eva Tramell.
Day tells EW the multi-year break was not intentional, but a lot of personal challenges took precedence these last few years. “We had a lot of personal things happen in my family over the course of that three years,” she says. “Both of my children went through surgery and my mom was diagnosed with lymphoma. It took my focus and I needed to put that to my family, so I did.”
But now, Day is back with Butterfly in Frost, a new novella that introduces readers to two new characters, Dr. Teagan Ransom and artist Garret Frost. As with all of Day’s books, they exist in the same world as her Crossfire series, and readers will quickly note ties to Gideon and Eva — but it’s new territory as well, allowing Day to explore some of her favorite themes, namely romance and redemption.
Day says the book is certainly not immune to the travails of her personal life. “Everything that happens in a writer’s personal life affects the writing to a certain extent,” she explains. “That’s definitely the case with me. In the case of this novella, I had three or four different starts before I got to the one. Many of them had a tendency to be extremely dark…Books aren’t supposed to be depressing like that, especially in the beginning. So, it was trying to find a way to use the emotional outlet of writing but in a way that was still accessible to readers and still entertaining and fun for readers to read.”
EW exclusively debuts the cover for Day’s new title, out August 27 from Montlake Romance, below. And, we also talked to Day about the unlikely reality TV series that inspired a key plot point, why she fell in love with this cover instantly, and more — after the cover image below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me more about Butterfly in Frost and what inspired these characters?
SYLVIA DAY: That’s a little tough. I really can’t share a lot about it when I talk about it until after somebody’s finished it. As with the Crossfire series, it’s designed to be read twice. For readers to have a particular experience with the novel on the first go, and then to have a secondary experience with it when they read it again. But all of my books feature survivors. Every writer has a particular topic that is important to them that flavors everything that they write. And for me, I like to write about people who are surviving.
In this case, Teagan and Garret are both surviving the death of a dream. They had planned and expected their life to go in a particular way, and it doesn’t happen, so what do you do at that point? When something you’ve dreamed of and held so close to your heart for so long is no longer viable for you? You have to reinvent the way you look at life and reinvent yourself, and that’s really what their story is about. And, of course, finding each other and being able to help each other through that process.
Do you feel it’s a departure from the Crossfire series or will it still excite those readers? Within the first few pages, we know the heroine has ties to Gideon and Eva.
In general, I write a particular type of hero and I write a particular type of heroine. So, it should be evident to them when they pick it up and read it, “Oh this is a Sylvia Day reading experience.” Those things [that] flavor a writer’s work, it’s just a natural part of my author voice and something my readers can connect to no matter what it is I’m writing. It’s very different from the Crossfire series in a lot of ways. And yet, those things that transfer from one book to another will definitely be there and readers will be able to see that. Even though it’s not a Crossfire novel, and these are new characters they haven’t met before, I expect that they’ll go, “Oh, yep, I’ve stepped right back into a Sylvia Day world.”
Your heroine was once a reality TV star – was there a particular show that inspired you to delve into that world?
Dr. Pimple Popper. She had to be someone who was well-known in order for Eva Cross to continue working with her on such a huge project for a new product launch like that…Using an unknown would not work for Eva and the way she runs her business, so that was the driving force behind it. The other was that I’m a big fan of the Dr. Pimple Popper show even though it’s really disgusting. You see that doctor’s compassion and her desire to help her patients, and I just find that really admirable.
With your military background, I’m sure you have fodder to write a thriller, but was there ever any question in your mind that romance would be the genre you chose to write in?
Never. Never. When I was 12 years old, I had an assignment in one of my English classes where we had to write an essay on what we wanted to be when we grew up. My essay was on how I wanted to be a romance novelist. That was age 12. So it was always what I was going to be doing.
What was your teacher’s reaction to that?
He kept me after class. (laughs) I was like, “Oh no, I’m in trouble now.” Because he was a very stern teacher, and I’m like, “I’m going to get a huge lecture after this.” But no, he kept me after class, and he said, “I wanted to discuss your essay. I don’t know about the romance thing and I can’t say you can make a living writing, because most writers are struggling. That said, I give more writing assignments to this class than any other class just because I enjoy reading your work so much. So I hope you continue to pursue writing whether it’s romance or something else, and I hope that you succeed because I think you’re a very good writer.”
That was a lot better ending to that story than I was expecting.
Right?! Much better than detention, let me call your mom, and so on. Agree. It could’ve gone much worse.
Your mom gave you your first romance novel though, right? So she wouldn’t care?
No. absolutely not. My mom is a huge romance reader. That’s how I got into reading romance. She handed me a romance novel and she said, I” want you to read this book and then I want you to marry a man like that.”
Your books have always dealt with survivors of trauma and assault – but now #MeToo has taken off since your last book has come out. Do you feel that’s impacted your work and romance, or do you think they were already doing the work there?
Absolutely, I think it’s changing a lot of things. A lot of women were not even aware that some of the difficulties they were facing had anything to do with their gender. Or the way we’ve been perceived in business, in personal life, in sexuality and everything else. For a lot of women, it was kind of a wake-up call to say, “Oh wait a minute, I’ve been dealing with that my whole life. I just figured that’s what you had to deal with as a woman. I had no idea that this is wrong, and we should be stopping this. We should be changing it.” Hopefully, we’ll see more of that in the books that we read.
There are a lot of authors who are lawyers and doctors and rocket scientists and environmental scientists, extremely smart, wonderful women who have been writing extremely smart, wonderful women. But there were some things that were being written that were really not empowering for women, and maybe not something we’d want our young girls to read. For example, the book that my mom gave me. I ended up finding that book on eBay years later. This book featured “forced seduction,” where the heroine is saying “no” and the hero is absolutely certain if he can turn her on enough, he can get her to say “yes.” That’s happening less and less frequently. But of course, that depends on how plugged in the author is to what’s going on in the world, what they’re paying attention to, what their own personal values are, whether they can relate to what’s happening in the #MeToo movement. But it’s going to change things in our entire world and the way we perceive writing about women and their relationships with men.
What was the name of that book?
It was Desert Hostage, so I can’t say they didn’t tell me what was going to happen in the title.
You were president of RWA. The organization is facing some steep challenges right now. What are your thoughts on that and where they go from here?
I was president for a year and prior to that, I was on the board for a couple of years. During that time, the RITA contest was something that was on our plate. The organization had hired a consultant to come in and tell us how we could revamp the contest to be not just fair, but also at the end of the day, whoever won, we were absolutely certain that was the best book that was published that year. Some of those suggestions were implemented; most of them weren’t for varying reasons as to whether the change he suggested was applicable for our organization or not. We’ve always been aware that the RITA contest is a challenge, and I hope they find a solution for it. I imagine it’s probably exhausting for them at this point in time, but they’re fighting the good fight. It should be a contest that celebrates the best in the genre and some books are not being selected for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book and that’s an issue.
You’ve been with several different publishers over the years – what was it about Amazon and Montlake that appealed to you here? I think a lot of people are still getting used to the idea of them having an imprint.
The reason why I’ve written for a lot of different publishers is because I’ve always made it well-known that I am a working writer. If you want to work with me, you’ve just got to pick up the phone and give me a call and we’ll see what we can do. Some writers stick with the same publisher their whole life. That’s great if it makes them happy to do that. For me, that always makes me feel like it’s the old Hollywood studio system and you’re locked in somewhere…In the case of Amazon, they took me up on it. They picked up the phone one day last year, and they called my agent and said, “We really love Sylvia. We love her work, and we would love to be able to work on something with her.”
This cover is very similar to many of yours in its focus on one prominent object and color scheme – is that an aesthetic you love? How much input do you have?
Working with Amazon, they provide a cover art requisition form and that’s where the author can specify what it is that they want and don’t want. In the case of this book, I gave my usual mandate which is, “Please don’t put models on the cover”. A cover should be eye-catching. It should hint at something that’s going on in the story, but it should also allow the reader to have their own imagination about what’s happening. I like to be as vague as possible, be as beautiful as possible, and in this case, Amazon followed what I suggested in the cover form and presented that to me along with a few other designs. I immediately gravitated toward this one, and I thought it was just absolutely stunning and beautiful. I look at this and it makes me happy. Hopefully, when readers pick it up they’ll feel the same way. With my cover blurbs and my cover images, I feel like too much information is not always the best route to go. I try to give you something beautiful and something that evokes a certain emotional response when you see it, and that ties into the story in some way.
In terms of the ones you had to choose from, what about this one made it the automatic yes?
The colors and the sparkly lights in the background. It just reminds me of being outside in the twilight of summer with some of those string lights hanging and that sense of joy and comfort — that’s the mental picture it puts in my head. That’s why I loved it. There were other options that were darker – darker backgrounds, darker imagery, darker fonts, and for me, dark was not the way I wanted to go with those cover. I wanted something that spoke of hope and this is what that cover says to me. Hopeful.