Bloggers Note: This interview originally appeared about a year ago. The Mount Diablo CWC is pleased to have Susanne come back to give a full three hour workshop on the topic of the Twelve Fatal Flaws of Fiction on March 12th. Sign-in begins at 8:30 am at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Luncheon after the workshop at 12:00. Workshop from 9:00 to 12:00. $40 members, $50 guests. Reservation Required. Reservation deadline: noon, Wednesday, March 9th Contact Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations.
- Including your nonfiction, you’ve written 18 books. Do you sleep? But seriously, how long did it take you to write your first book, and how long did it take for your last?
I don’t sleep all that much! I suppose I’m a bit neurotic. I am mindful of how short life is and how many things I still want to do with my creativity and imagination. In the time I have left on this Earth, I want to use every minute in a deliberate way. That also means living a balanced life—exercise, rest, recreation. I’ve tried to streamline my activities to waste the least amount of time. Which ties in with your question about my writing. Like most new authors, my first novel took a bit of time, probably a year, to write. But I really didn’t know what I was doing (and that book will never be published). It was a really good exercise in discipline and experimentation, but after spending years not only writing fiction but studying writing craft books and taking workshops, I learned novel structure and trained myself to write quickly and efficiently. I am now writing my sixteenth novel and it’s hard to say how long it’s talking since I only write a couple of days a week, but best guess is I write about 800-1,000 words an hour and although I started this novel in September, I plan a pub date of Dec 1.
- Can you give us some highlights from your book: Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel?
There are a lot of writing craft books published that teach novel writing, but I’ve never seen one that teaches writers how to truly get to the heart of what they are writing, which is a lot about the writer herself. At the core of a great novel is a passion the writer has for the premise and themes and characters. In my book, I teach ways that writers can get to the heart of their story and create a novel that is infused with rich characters that are driven by their core need and the things they long for and believe in. This book explores ways writers can infuse meaning into all the components in a novel, including the setting and all the secondary characters.
- What authors have most influenced your writing?
For my fantasy, mostly Patricia A. McKillip, who, I feel, is the consummate fairy tale writer. She is unmatched. Also, Elizabeth George has greatly influenced my contemporary fiction. She is the queen of deep POV and characters. I have a lot of favorite authors, mostly contemporary.
- You’ve grown quite a following on Twitter (https://twitter.com/livewritethrive). What is your secret to success?
I don’t know if it’s success or not. My blog is the hub of my work and presence online. I use social media to direct people to the free content I provide via my blog, which is extensive advice and writing instruction for both fiction and nonfiction writers (www.livewritethrive.com). I promote my posts and encourage discussion on writing-related topics, and I guest blog on top writing blogs. I love helping writers, and my editing clients are all over the world.
- How important do you think endorsements are?
I am sure a great endorsement by a super famous writer would help book sales. Experts say having a lot of great reviews on Amazon or other sites does help sales, and I imagine having some wonderful endorsements by professionals in one’s field can only help. That doesn’t negate the need, though, to write a terrific book. Better to have the terrific book and no endorsements than a lot of endorsements and a lousy book.
- In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes new writers make?
They don’t take the time to really learn the craft, whether novel writing or memoir writing or nonfiction. It’s good to “just write” and get in the habit of putting thoughts down. But many writers think if they just keep writing, eventually they’ll turn out a masterpiece. Kind of like the evolutionary claim that if you put a hundred monkeys behind typewriters, eventually they would accidently write the Bible, or something like that. Learning the craft of writing should be a very deliberate study, just like learning to become a doctor. New writers should subscribe to writing blogs, attend workshops, study books, and then apply what they learn. And the best way to learn to write is to tear apart the books of great writers and see how they construct them.
The other big mistake new writers make is they don’t get professional help in assessing their writing. Hiring an editor and/or writing coach can save them years of flailing about without knowing what they are doing wrong or need to work on. They often rush to publish without getting this help, and the result is problematic, because once they put out awful books, their reputation will be difficult to repair.
- If you were to describe yourself as a character in a fairy tale, what or who would it be?
I have no clue. I am in all my fairy tales in one form or another. I’d probably like to be a unicorn or some magical creature.
- What is your greatest writing weakness?
I don’t know. The hardest part about writing novels for me is getting the climax right. Not so much a weakness but the biggest challenge. Sometimes I feel I nail it and it’s perfect. But in some of my novels I really struggled, and I feel I could have done better.
- What inspired you to write fantasy/fairy tales?
I’ve read fantasy all my life and was greatly influenced by Ray Bradbury’s stories growing up. I always wanted to write in that genre. However, after writing some psychological mysteries, I came across G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and he has a chapter in that book all about fairy tales. That is when I got excited about writing fairy tales specifically, because they have such incredible power through use of metaphor and archetype to reach readers’ hearts.
10. Are you a fan of the Game of Thrones series?
I’ve read the first three books in the series. Martin is a master at scene structure, and I encourage any writer who wants to really see what great scenes are to study his books. I could teach my entire scene-writing workshop using his scenes as examples.