An Interview with Susanne (C.S.) Lakin

October 25, 2014

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 ragig@aol.com  or cwcrobin.gigoux@yahoo.com or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations.

  1. 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.

  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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about C.S. Lakin. To learn more visit her website/twitter (www.cslakin.com/ https://twitter.com/cslakin). You can find her books at http://www.cslakin.com/store.php.


Magyk: A Review

July 26, 2010

It’s summer time.  My synapses are firing in heat-induced slow motion.  Edit that chapter or compose a coherent sentence, I think not.  But it is a perfect day to flop on the couch with a cool drink in one hand and a good book in the other.  Ah, yes, time for summer reading.

My kids have an ongoing competition to see who can read the most.  My son currently holds the lead at nine novels, but my daughter isn’t far behind.  I’m the laggard in the group at a mere four since mid-June.  And our favorite summer reading fare?  The MG/YA novel.

I’ve just finished Angie Sage’s Magyk, the first book in her Septimus Heap series.  My kids adore this series and have read each book numerous times as the dog-eared pages attest.  They own all five books published so far.  I expect that there will be seven in total.  Despite their enthusiastic recommendations (They loved the humor!), I was hesitant.

Septimus Heap was born the seventh son of a seventh son, destined to be a wizard with great magical powers.  But the newborn boy is declared dead and spirited away shortly after birth.  In his place, the Heaps are given a foundling baby girl to raise her as their own.  When the girl’s life is threatened by assassins, the Heaps must protect her and in the process discover what really happened to their infant son.

Author Angie Sage tells the tale via an omniscient narrator.  With no single point of view, this makes it difficult to latch on to the plight of the characters or to identity the main protagonist.  I found the start slow and the constant head-hopping distracting.  (At one point, we were even inside the head of Maxie, the Heap’s family dog.  My kids found this hilarious.)  I was about to give up, but my crew persuaded me to stick with it. 

For me, the story picked up with the arrival of the Hunter.  Now the stakes were clear: I had a villain to oppose and a protagonist to cheer for.  From this point on, the plot unrolled at a speedy clip right up until the satisfying ending.  Along the way, I enjoyed the humor and Sage’s engaging cast of characters.

Collectively, we give Magyk five out of six thumbs up.  (Maxie the wolfhound gives it seven gobs of dog drool.  If you haven’t already guessed, seven is an important number in this series.)


Summer Reading

July 9, 2009

One of the pleasures of vacation is curling up with a good read.  This summer’s reading fare?  The MG/YA novel.  Both of my teens are into fantasy, so all three of us enjoyed reading and passing around the books we had chosen.

I chose Susan Cooper’s Over Sea Under Stone, the first novel in her Dark is Rising series.  This one is classic fantasy in the vein of C.S. Lewis.  Although slow to start, the plot picked up with the discovery of an old map.  From then on, it was a real page-turner as the Drew children raced one step ahead of their enemies in a classic Arthurian-inspired quest.

For my second selection, I traded with my son for Sea of Monsters, Book Two of Rick Riordan’s Olympian series. My daughter gave me a hard time for starting with the second book, but I argued that I should be able to pick up any series on book two and still be able to follow the plot.  Riordan didn’t disappoint. His book was written in a modern style – first person narrative, lots of voice, and humor (which my son loved). Of course, there was the requisite quest and a cadre of kid heroes, but with a clever twist on classical mythology.  This was especially interesting to me as I’m currently working on my own twisted version of the Cyclops myth.

Not only was this fun reading, but also educational from a writer’s standpoint. The authors wrote in two very different styles.  I noted how both told satisfying stories while planting the seeds of an overall arc for their respective series.  And I gathered ideas as I prepared to revise my own middle-grade fantasy, gaining insight into what works in my novel and what still needs attention.

I’m ready to delve into another book, but my daughter hasn’t finished with her selection yet.

What are you reading this summer?  How does it inform your writing?