One word I really hate: Networking. It gives me chills in that nails-on-a-chalkboard kind of way. When you’re trying to make it as a writer, people will tell you to “network.” For years, I resisted this, and then I realized that I didn’t have to “network”; I could just talk with fellow writers, like group therapy. I like this much better.
I met Suzanne Redfearn through Anita Hughes. I am really fortunate that there is a community of wonderful writers in my own backyard. Suzanne and I have similar writing styles and similar writing processes (like her, I’m a “pantser”–I write by the seat of my pants, without an outline). Suzanne has published two books–Hush Little Baby in 2013 and No Ordinary Life this year.
I asked Suzanne a few questions and here’s what she had to say:
I know you used to work in architecture. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or was it an ambition that just hit you?
It was actually a bucket-list endeavor. Architecture had hit a slump, and I had this crazy idea for a story, so I sat down and started to write with the only goal being to finish. Seven months later I had a novel. It was terrible, really awful. I didn’t know how to structure sentences. My grammar was atrocious. It was littered with “he was,” “she was,” “it was” sentences and full of worn-out clichés. But the miracle was that, despite all that, hidden in all that terrible writing was this amazing stories with these incredible characters who had been in my head and were now on the page and taking me on this remarkable journey. I was hooked. I set about learning the craft, and five novels later, finally hit on the right story that made it through the gauntlet of obstacles to getting published.
How have your family and friends adjusted to Suzanne the Writer? (I ask this because I think writers are a unique species, with special needs. At least, that’s what my husband says.)
It’s been great fun. Everyone is so proud, especially my kids. I think they get a real kick walking into a bookstore or Target and seeing my book on the shelf (it’s super cool for me too). I do agree with you that writers are a unique bunch, and I think that has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of this career change, meeting all the great writers that I have and developing this new wonderful circle of friends.
I read your author’s note at the end of Hush Little Baby, where you explained that your husband is nothing like the abusive husband in the novel. What inspired that note?
I love author notes. I always feel a little let down when I finish a really great novel, like I am saying goodbye to a good friend, so to have that little extra insight at the end sort of softens the blow. It gives the reader time to reflect on the story and how it was created. Plus, my husband really is a terrific guy, so I really did not want anyone thinking my story about domestic violence was in any way inspired by him or by my life.
There are some writers who are very transparent with their readers and others who shy away from discussing their personal lives and the inspiration for their writing. I’m thinking of M.L. Stedman and “The Light Between Oceans.” Lots of people have asked her how the story related to her life and she does not discuss it. What are your thoughts? What do you think the relationship between writers and readers should be? Or what do you want it to be?
I think it’s personal. I love talking to readers about my stories. I find it fascinating. Sometimes they see things from such a different perspective and it can create a really dynamic discourse. I think that’s why book clubs are so popular. It is really fun to discover how different minds interpret stories. My stories usually have very little to do with my mostly boring, ho hum life, so transparency isn’t really an issue. Sometimes I think that’s why I love writing so much, it can be such an extraordinary adventure, and I never have to change out of my pajamas.
No Ordinary Life is about the mother of a child who finds Hollywood stardom, and the pros and cons of that from a parent’s perspective. What inspired the book? In general, where do you get your ideas?
As an author with a major publisher, you quickly get branded. And my brand, after Hush Little Baby, became mothers protecting their children. I made the mistake of writing a book outside those parameters and it was rejected. The day I was told no, I was in a grocery store waiting to check out, and in the magazine rack beside me was a tabloid with the headline, “Zac Efron Enters Rehab Again.” My daughter had been a huge fan of High School Musical, so I felt like I had watched Zac Efron grow up. My heart went out to him and his family, especially seeing that his struggle was being publicized for the whole world to see. And the idea came to me. Child Star, the effect fame has on a person and the people around them. The title was later changed to No Ordinary Life.
Some writers outline their stories, some don’t. What camp are you in and why?
I am a born pantser (I write by the seat of my pants). My stories always start as a sort of vague idea, like the one above for No Ordinary Life, then I just start to write. I write any idea that comes to me, and I don’t edit myself, pure stream of consciousness. Chronology doesn’t matter. I know I will figure out how to pull it together later. On the story I just finished, I ended up writing the beginning last. It’s a great way to write. I am constantly surprised by the twists and turns that develop along the way.
What is your typical writing routine? Do you have a set schedule you stick to?
When I am in the thick of it, the creative “vomiting it out” phase, I write every day and obsessively, afraid of losing the mojo and energy of the moment. Then, after it is all out, I settle into a more steady routine of editing for one to two hours, taking a break, editing again for a couple of hours, then calling it a day.
I know you have a new novel in the works. How would you describe the stages of writing a book? Do you prefer to get it all out and then edit, or edit as you go? When do you know it’s ready for your agent or publisher?
It never feels perfect, but I’ve come to realize that’s okay. The story is going to go through so many edits along the way that as long as the plot is compelling and the characters are well developed, I know the writing will be smoothed out and the niggles resolved before it goes to print. I don’t edit when I am “vomiting.” I find it is too detrimental to the ego and to that magical jolt that happens at the start of a project. The writing is always really bad in the first draft because I am just trying to get out of the way and let the story tell itself, so there’s a real danger that, if I read it before I’ve captured it, I will get so discouraged that my enthusiasm will be completely deflated and the story will disappear, the mantra, I suck, I suck, I suck, resounding in my head and making it impossible to continue.
And, now, a few questions I like to ask every writer:
What would be your advice to a new writer looking to get published?
Write. Write, write, write, and then write some more. The more mud you throw on the wall, the more chance you have of writing the right story, the one that will make it through the very difficult gauntlet of agents, editors, and marketing departments to make it to the shelf of Barnes and Noble.
What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?
I think I wish I would have known how personal the book would be to the readers and how much they would care about the characters. It would not have made a huge impact on the story, but there are certain things I would have altered so readers understood the characters a little more and their motives. Some of the feedback I received after made me realize how misinterpreted some of the actions were simply because I didn’t take the time to explain the reason a character did what they did.
What’s the best part of being a writer? The worst?
Best part is the readers. It is amazing to have a story that was inside your head, go out into the world and impact total strangers who then write to you and tell you how much they enjoyed it or related to it or were changed by it. Awesome. Worst part? There is no worst part. I sit around in my pajamas and tell stories all day.