Heino, in the first of a series of interviews on “The Writing Life.” Susan will be sharing her knowledge of the writing and publishing world over the next several weeks. Susan is a member of our critique group and our first published author. We are so proud of her! Susan, thanks for being here today.
Thanks, Michele. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me ramble here.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from?
I’m from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. None of that gives me any right to write about early 19th century England, but I do anyway. In college I studied Fine Art, Education, English Lit, and then finally graduated with a very practical degree in Theatre. That did give me the right to be an actress, director and playwright, but that didn’t pay my bills very well. Aside from the theatre, I’ve done youth work, catering, retail, legal research, pet-sitting, switchboard operating, real estate sales, statistical documentation, and been an administrative assistant. Oh, and I’ve shoveled giraffe poo. Personally, I prefer writing about early 19th century England.
I live in rural Ohio with my minister husband and two school-age children. And lots of pets. When the kids were little I decided to get serious about writing romance. After six years and several hundred diaper changes, the kids went to school and I managed to sell my sixth completed manuscript, MISTRESS BY MISTAKE, a steamy Regency Historical romance. In 2008 this manuscript won the prestigious RWA Golden Heart Award and in December of 2009 it was published by Berkley Sensation.
Tell us your latest news?
I’m very excited that my next book will be on the shelves August 3rd. It’s titled DAMSEL IN DISGUISE and features Lord Rastmoor, one of the characters from MISTRESS BY MISTAKE. It’s Rastmoor’s turn to get a happy-sexy-ever-after with a fun, feisty actress who just can’t seem to quit changing her name or her costume. I love their story.
Also, Berkley has contracted for two more books with me and I’m just putting the finishing touches on my next story. This one features Sophie Darshaw, who was mentioned frequently in the first book but we never actually got to meet her. Now I finally get to dive into her story so we can find out just what’s been going on with this missing miss. She’s not living at the brothel anymore and her hero is a drool-worthy earl who’s hiding a pretty big, er, secret.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
No, I really don’t. I’ve loved stories all my life and started trying to write them long before I could even read. I knew my alphabet, so I’d sit at the kitchen table and have my mother spell things for me as she worked around the house. It must have driven her nuts back then, but I’m so glad she did it. I was hooked for life.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Reading stories that took me away from my dull, Midwestern existence and made me imagine myself living the life of an important, adventurous and sophisticated heroine. Yes, I was all about escapism and big dreams. I was in high school when I wrote what I would call my first “book”. It was—surprise surprise—a historical romance. It was awful, and thank heavens I don’t recall where I put it, but it was a full 40,000 words long and had all the makings of a real, honest to goodness plotline. I still remember the basis for the story, so maybe someday it will reappear in some new and (please God) improved version.
How does your family feel about your writing?
My kids think it’s cool because maybe this means I’ll be famous someday. (Dream on, sweeties!) My husband is very supportive even though he can’t understand why anyone would want to waste their day reading fiction, let alone writing it. My parents are proud, of course, but they were proud of me even when I was just a kindergartner making Mommy spell out words at the kitchen table. I have two brutally honest sisters, though, and they’ve both actually read my work and claim they like it. Now that’s something to be proud of!
What books have influenced your life most?
Is it too cheesy to say The Bible? But it’s true. I used to love to read the Old Testament as a child. Seriously, it was amazing, with all those stories of blood-thirsty kings stealing someone else’s concubine, secret babies, orphaned virgins, miraculous happenings, love and vengeance—it was like a Harlequin Presents on steroids. And my mother approved of it! I loved the whole concept of right conquering evil and the hope that no matter how awful things seem, there might eventually be a happy ending on down the way. That’s what I love about romance novels—there’s always a happy ending.
What is your favorite book?
You mean, like, out of ALL of them in the whole world? LOL. Okay, I can answer this. My very most favoritest book ever is “Emma” by Jane Austen. Love it love it love it!
What book are you reading now?
“A Midwife Crisis” by Lisa Cooke. She’s a new author and a really great friend. I truly love her stuff—makes me all warm and fuzzy and I laugh. A lot.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I love Jane Austen (duh). I love how she makes the mundane so darned interesting! Her characters are really fun, too. She’s so good at revealing types without resorting to stereo-types. And that whole humor thing is a big seller for me. Yes, I think I want to write like that, with a little P.G. Wodehouse thrown in for some extra fun.
Now, as for contemporary (meaning, not dead yet) romance writers: I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Kristan Higgins, and Julia Quinn. And about 500 others. I love complicated plotlines, quirky characters, unpredictable twists, romance you can feel in your gut, and heroes that make you sigh even when you don’t want to.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Gosh, I’ve had so many people helping me along my journey! I’ve found that romance writers are amazingly caring and eager to reach out to each other. My good friend Donna MacMeans sold her first book two years before I sold mine. She’s been such a support to me, sharing what she’s learned and even helping me polish some chapters of the manuscript that eventually sold. She writes Victorian-set romance and you should totally check her out!
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Easy: Romance Writers of America (RWA). Positively. I would not be published today if not for that group. It’s the largest professional writers’ organization in the world and is just as helpful for published authors as it is for those still aspiring. There are local chapters in most major cities and I am connected to the Columbus chapter, Central Ohio Fiction Writers. Through this organization I’ve learned about craft, I’ve made friends, met editors and agents, but most importantly I learned about the business of writing for publication. I learned how the industry works and I learned what publishers want.
I cannot say enough good about this group, although you might notice by the title that it is for Romance Writers. Not everyone writes romance. Fortunately, there are similar organizations for other genres, so if you write YA or mystery or sci-fi or whatever, you can probably find a group to help you out, too. However, there are all these sub-genres within romance, too, so if you’ve got an inkling of romance in what you write, I would highly advise you to consider joining RWA. (And no, I’m not a paid spokesperson for them.)
What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author?
Zookeeper. Anyone who knows me could have answered that. (Heck, anyone who’s driven by my house could have answered that!) I love animals. I did work at a zoo one summer, in fact. But once all the habitats were clean and everyone was fed, I sat under a tree and wrote stories.
What are your current projects?
TEMPTRESS IN TRAINING is another Regency Historical that will be out sometime in 2011. Following that will be another Regency that I’ve briefly outlined and I’m already getting eager to write it. It’s got such a fun premise and I’ll get to research Egyptian archaeology for it. Also, I’ve been working with my agent on a new project that would be geared for a middle-grades audience. She loves the proposal I sent her, so we’ll see where that goes. It would be great to actually have a book out there my kids could read. (Mommy’s grown-up books are off-limits for a few years yet.)
Do you have anything you want to say to your readers?
I’d like to say that I really hope they enjoy my books. That’s what they’re for—just for fun. And then I’d like to ask, “What book do you want to read that nobody seems to be writing?”
Well, that does it for today's questions. However, if there is something you want to ask Susan, she will be answering your questions throughout the day. Post your question in the comments section.
Also, check back in two weeks for Part tTo of "The Writing Life," when we will talk to Susan about her advice on writing. Click here for Part Two.