- Guest Author -
Susan Wingate writes thrillers, fantasies, and women’s fiction–clean novels and short stories with mythical lands, and fantasies with mystery and thriller elements.
Welcome, Susan ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My writing journey has been a little all over the place. My dad was a writer and radio personality before he became a partner with a pizza chain in Phoenix, Arizona where I was born. That was around 1968 when he went in to the pizza business. We got a lot of free pizza back then. I loved that. But my writing, or shall I say, my desire to start writing didn’t take hold until I was seventeen and went on tour with a small acting troupe called the Robin Hood Players out of Scottsdale. I wrote a lot of poetry back then, songs too.
Then, life got in the way. When I returned from the tour, I started dating the man who I would end up with for the next twenty-four years of my life. He didn’t like the acting life and encouraged me to stop. After that, I was a receptionist, waitress, bartender, aerobics instructor, and finally, a bookkeeper. It was around the time I started working in an office that I decided to return to school and get a degree in accounting. From around the age of twenty-two, I worked as a bookkeeper and accountant until shortly after my dad died in 1996. Dad dying took the wind out of my sails and everything changed. I couldn’t stand living in Phoenix any longer and bolted. I landed on a cooler island in the Pacific Northwest off the coast of Washington State. That’s where I live today. I write full-time and live with my husband, Bob, a man who encourages my creativity.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
It was on my journey to my new life on the island that a story began forming—a mystery which later became my first novel entitle OF THE LAW. But it wasn’t a quick writing of that first novel. In fact, it took me eight years to finish. I wrote in stops and starts. Then, one day I decided to go to a writer’s conference with a girlfriend who was also interested in writing. It was at the conference where I met Michael Collins, an international bestselling author. He was conducting a workshop and asked for submissions that he could discuss with each of the workshop participants. During our one-on-one discussion, he told me he would mentor me if I was at all interested. Wow! If I was interested! Of course I was interested. His mentorship lasted two years during which he helped me complete my first novel. That was 2008.
After that, as they say, the rest is history. Since then, I’ve written twelve books—fiction and nonfiction. I’ve just finished my thirteenth novel—an apocalyptic thriller. I will be sending that off to the editor in a couple of weeks. But I’ve been writing two other novels and a memoir concurrently.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
When I was first starting out, first writing novels, it was like I needed a paint-by-numbers kit to keep my head straight on what I was thinking about, such as what was my purpose of writing the story (as the author), who would care, but also I needed to know exactly how the characters were going to act, what trouble they would get into and, eventually, out of.
Nowadays, I write mainly from conceptualizing. Sometimes I will chart out a story arc but mostly, my writing is from the hip. I understand what the inherent problems are, what the external challenges will be, how my character will succeed (and sometimes fail), and what my readers will learn from the story.
What used to be an overly-exaggerated outline that could go on for twenty pages, has become more of a 5-step, one-page discussion of the story’s progress. It’s much more freeing although I must say that the writing of each novel has slowed down because of the abundance of pre-decided information written in the outline. The outline was like a very thin novel with little transitional qualities and more statements of what happens here, there and to whom.
I can talk for hours on this subject—formatting and structure. So, I think I’d best stop there.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The story. Living in the story, developing it in my mind. I love being alone with my characters and understanding their goals, their hearts, their dreams, their troubles. I want to help them get out of trouble but before I do, I let them know that bad things will happen and it’s going to get really bad for them. But they forget, because they’re busy with whatever is happening at the moment and then, Boom! Something horrific occurs and it surprises everyone. Even me.
I love creating the story, the characters, the trouble, the moral of the story, the outcome. I love pitting my characters against their worst nightmares and then seeing what they do, how they act. Maybe I’m thinking a little of what I would do in a similar situation. Would I be heroic? Or would I quail under my trouble? We never know, do we?
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Interruptions. Only thirteen months ago, I wrote alone in my house on the couch with the only interruptions from an occasional dog wanting out or a cat nudging my arm. But, last June 2015, my mother had to come live with us. She has Alzheimer’s, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and schizophrenia. She was doing well on her own and needed help. My work schedule has changed dramatically. I have always gotten up early—between five and six in the morning—but, before, I’d always had the luxury of lolly-gagging into work rather than, now, jumping right into work and writing.
But I must because my mom needs her first treatment by 8:30 a.m. and every half-hour to hour after that. My writing feels like a series of epileptic fits. Where, before, I could write all day long and into the night if I wanted.
We do what we must to write. So, I rise early, jump in to the story, and pop in and out throughout the entire day. Everything changes. Nothing will stop me from writing, even if for only fifteen minutes.
6. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
I think my greatest achievement is that I write every day, no matter what. There’s a certain victory to making oneself sit down and create, whether in writing or another art. You don’t always feel like writing. Sometimes you feel like painting your toenails or cleaning the toilet but you must fight those urges. Those urges are simply distractions because something is happening in your subconscious that is telling your brain, this is wrong with the story, or the character acted in a way that is out of character or you have a timeline wonked up. So, the achievement comes when you sit your butt down and fix it, figure it out, when you stop whining and scrubbing the john.
I mean, I can give you a list of literary achievements, of awards, of bestsellers statuses but that’s all on my website. That’s the boring stuff.
For me, the exciting stuff is that I’m writing. What a blessing, an honour, that people are reading my work! It’s a huge responsibility.
7. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m currently writing three things:
1) A superhero-esque tale of a woman whose daughter has just died,
2) A fantasy about a girl with a unique gift of sight, and
3) A memoir about my mother called The Dementia Chronicles, of which I’m blogging about as well.
8. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Absolutely everything. A word spoken or read, the Bible, the woods out in our field, my pets, the deer who take up residence around our property, people who speed in their cars, Church, the parishioners… I mean, you name it, it has the potential to spark the idea of a story.
9. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I write across genres but it seems that all of my writing holds some element of mystery, fantasy, faith. I write thrillers that can be classified as women’s fiction and fantasy that can be classified as thrillers. I think I’ve found my comfort level in writing mash-ups like this.
For instance, THE DEER EFFECT has been classified as psychological suspense, fantasy, thriller, Christian fantasy, religious fiction, and inspirational fiction.
My apocalyptic thriller will definitely be faith-based and probably Christian fiction but the core of the storytelling is the thriller. It will most likely be categorized as young adult and possibly, fantasy.
I think I might feel corralled if I were to only write strictly romance, mystery, or the western. I know I would stray into other genres.
10. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Keep reading books in the genre you hope to write in. Keep writing and try to every single day. Keep learning—reading how-to books and going to writing conferences. Just don’t stop. If writing is your dream, don’t stop writing.
11. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Nah. If I have a pause in a story, I just write something else—poetry, another fiction piece, memoir. Because these pauses are simply our subconscious trying to figure something out. When you get more creative, the subconscious can speak to your conscious brain and tell you what to do.
No. I can even say that I hate the term writer’s block. It’s a cop out to allow yourself to stop writing. It’s weak.
12. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I love to write in the mornings. My relaxed brain can easily put together things in story that my afternoon brain will say, I wish you allowed me to have writer’s block. LOL. Mornings are my most creative times. Mornings are when the light is breaking into gradient fractals, atoms are splitting as the sun cranes its face over the horizon, birds sing, the deer show up for grain, coffee permeates the air and the dogs are still sleepy. Mornings are quiet and enormous spaces where words fly out of me. Mornings rock.
13. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
On the couch! I even named my newsletter about my favourite writing spot, it’s called (wait for it…) Writing from the Couch with Susan Wingate. Isn’t that a hoot? I write here, as I am right now, feet up, fingers tapping.
14. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Probably, the Apostle Paul. He wrote in the utmost worst conditions and he continued to write in order to tell his story until they killed him.
And, Kurt Vonnegut. I was actually finishing the reading of his book, A Man Without a Country, the night he died. It sort of struck me.
15. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
Every compliment is the greatest. When a reader is touched by one of my stories, the reason is always extremely personal to that reader. You never know why you touch someone or for what reason so you must assume that particular reader’s reason has been borne out of experience. If you give that some thought, what a powerful emotion the reader must feel and, wow, by one of my stories. Every compliment is the greatest.
16. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
LOL. This is easy. It was for my award-winner Bobby’s Diner. The reviewer wrote on an Amazon post, “Diner dive.” I still chuckle. I mean, does it hurt? Not that much. It amuses me more.
17. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Of course! You’d have to live in a vacuum not to be influenced by everything that goes on around you and in your life.
18. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
God, my family, my pets, nature, the Earth, the moon and the stars.
19. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
I used to not but now I do. I have for a while. The difference between a professionally-edited manuscript and one that is not, is like night and day. Plus, you learn so much when you apply the edits of a pro. I love having my worked edited but I also want to say that some editors are specific genre editors. For instance, some editors excel editing thrillers and others, mainstream fiction. So, you really need to shop your editor for your specific genre.
20. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
It’s morning. I’m sitting with Robert, my dog and coffee is cooking on the counter. My feet are up and I’m remembering the dream I just left in bed. I get my coffee, kick up my feet, hand-write to my journal. Then, I pop open my computer and cram out a couple of poems. After that, I write—nonstop—for hours. Then, Bob comes home and we take the dogs for a walk. Then we go for a power walk alone. We guzzle a quart of water in the car, come home and play cribbage until dinner time. We make dinner together—something easy but with gourmet flare—buttered onions with agave nectar sautéing in the pan, a filet of salmon and drop in fresh mandarin orange, drizzle with more butter and spritz with Veuve Cliquot champagne, the rosé. Grill some corn on the cob with black pepper and more butter and throw together a fresh salad with butter lettuce, strawberries, and yellow heirloom tomatoes. Dash some white balsamic vinegar over it and, Voila! Dinner. More cribbage and talk about the day, hugs, kisses and off to bed.
21. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Bob. He’s my heart.
22. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Please stop making people suffer from your choices.
23. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
To keep on keepin’ on! To write, to live, to love.
24. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
Book trailers are a hoot. I think they’re more for the author though. It’s fun to watch them. Not sure if they produce many more sales than if you don’t have one. Trailers work well for movies. For books? I’m not so sure.
25. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I see myself in all of my characters—good and bad. We’re all a yin and yang of personalities. We work hard (or at least I hope we do) to suppress the bad traits. But we are everyman—everyman is in us.
26. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
No. I think the publishing industry is one of the longest surviving industries around and they are because they know what they’re doing. They are a well-oiled machine that understands its market and works hard to create a supply for the demand.
Publishing is big business. It should be treated as such.
27. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
You know, when things get tough, the thought sometimes crosses my mind but then, what else would I do—go into banking? I’m nothing but a writer and so I let the worries and woes wash over and off and then start all over again.
28. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
This is a hard one! All the manuscripts are so different. Hmm… Okay.
I guess I would have to say the one I’m writing now—the one about the girl with a special gift of sight. Although, I must say, I had a great time writing TROUBLED IN PARADISE and also THE DEER EFFECT.
Troubled in Paradise was my first go at tween-YA fiction. It’s a real voice-y little story. My husband, Bob was happy when I finished that one because for months I was in “the skin” of Susie Speider, acting like a fifteen year old, having trouble in high school.
The Deer Effect was a triumph for me across genres. It blends fantasy, mystery, psychological thriller, and inspiration all in one story. I had no idea if people would accept it but after the literary world gave it four awards in 2015, people began to read it and from their responses, I think they’ve enjoyed that tale.
29. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
To me, success as a writer means you love what you are doing—that you are writing. Selling as a writer means you are making money doing what you love. No more. No less.
30. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
That a little piece of me is in every story. That through my books, I hope they can learn to forgive people for being human. That readers will turn their hearts from hate and, instead, react first in love.
That I’ve put my heart and soul into every character, every sentence, and every word.
31. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
I’ve written a screenplay. I would love to see any of my books made into a movie, possibly The Deer Effect mostly. But a colleague of mine is a movie scout and wants to look at my latest completed novel, the apocalyptic thriller. So, we’ll see!
32. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
I think there must be a bunch of thought by the designer who makes book covers. They have to understand the tropes of each genre and expectations of the readers of those genres. It’s way beyond my expertise but I am always in awe of book covers and designers of book covers.
33. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
Oh, I’m not telling you that! The concealment of one’s’ dream is crucial to having the dream come true.
But, really, just to live a happy and fulfilling life with lots of books to read and lots of paper and white space to write upon.
34. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOU’RE BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
It’s hideous, extra, difficult work that must be done these days.
35. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
Some are and some are traditionally-published. In this regard, I’m what they call a hybrid author.
36. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Focused. Intelligent. Empathetic. Observant. Caring.
37. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Politicians. Hands down.
38. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
“Help. Thanks. Wow.” by Anne Lamott. Awesome book.
39. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
Besides, The End?
She lived well and far too long.
40. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
That my dog, Robert—my dog child—outlive me. A piece of my heart will shatter when he goes. I featured his little white dog butt in The Deer Effect. I love him. He’s my baby. God. Did I just write all of that? What a sap, right?
41. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you so much for featuring me! You’re the bomb! What a wonderful opportunity to share with your readers. I appreciate it, Clancy.
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Susan. I'm with you on your answer to question 37. Many thanks for asking me to be a guest on your blog.