Connie: What a pleasure to welcome you to OUAR, Susan. I hope we can keep the readers interested in all kinds of info about you and your writing. Your FAQ page is pretty thorough…I hope I can keep you interested with some entertaining and maybe thought-provoking questions.
Would you start us off by pretending there are readers out there who have never heard of Susan Crandall and tell us a bit about yourself and your books?
Susan: Thank you for having me here at OUAR, Connie.
I’m an Indiana native and, with the exception of seven years in Chicago, have lived in the same small-ish town my entire life. In my first career, I was a dental hygienist. My first six novels are women’s fiction with an undercurrent of mystery or suspense. Novels seven through nine are all romantic suspense … similar to my first six in that they are character-driven and multi-dimensional, but with a much heavier suspense element and faster pacing. Back Roads, my first novel, was released in 2003 and won Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA for Best First Book. Several of my subsequent novels have been honored with awards also. Pitch Black recently was awarded the 2009 Maggie, the 2009 Aspen Gold, as well as the 2009 Beacon. My books have been translated into several foreign languages.
I’m currently at work on two projects, one a women’s fiction and the other a psychological thriller.
Connie: Congratulations. You’ve built quite a career for yourself with writing and entertaining many readers. When you began writing with your sister you tried your hand at different stories and settings and plots, all of which sound very interesting and loaded with the proverbial "what if" question. You ultimately made the decision to pick a genre and perfect your craft. What was behind the decision to write contemporary women’s fiction with elements of mystery and suspense and subsequently romantic suspense/psychological thriller?
Susan: You know how life is, full of experiments. If we didn’t experiment, we’d never figure anything out! So those first books were experiments, an education in self-discovery as well as in the craft of novel construction. I read widely and consequently was interested in trying my hand at various genres. I finally decided to concentrate on one genre and focus on writing a marketable book. I really enjoyed women’s fiction, so that was where I stayed. While I’d love to write several genres, publishing and my snail’s pace writing speed prohibit it—at the moment.
Connie: At the moment…so who knows what we’ll see from you in 5-10 years, hmm?
Susan, you say your critique partners don’t let you cheat, they help you to keep your characters personalities consistent as well as the plot. In what ways can you find yourself off-track? What type of fixes do you have to do, should you decide they would benefit the story?
Susan: Sometimes I’m just veering too near the shoulder, while other times I find myself in the ditch. My critique partners make certain that no action goes without proper motivation (both character and plot). And they never accept the "because I need/want it to happen this way" answer. We meet weekly, so they usually catch me before I’ve sped off into the cornfield. Many times while I know what I meant to convey, I have missed delivering it on the page – either because of word choice, depth of explanation or scene presentation. I try not to over explain when I’m writing, let the reader draw logical conclusions, and yet sometimes I seem to give entirely the wrong impression. The fixes are usually fairly minor – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t painful!
Connie: Of course they’d be painful. Even if you do find yourself off the shoulder or in a ditch, you’ve still invested a lot in each word, each scene.
An outline doesn’t work for you. You begin with your character development along with a basic idea for the plot, conflict, and ending. Experience and trial and error and learning your craft has rewarded you with nine published novels. But let’s talk about the early days when the crafting and trial and error were familiar companions, did you ever write a character or plot into the corner causing you to have to do major revisions, major brainstorming?
Susan: Gosh, not only did I do it back in the day, I did that with my eighth novel, Seeing Red! I was about half way through, knew I was missing something, but it took a brainstorming session with my good friend and fellow author, Karen White to identify the problem … and the fix. And there is always, always, always brainstorming along the way, not just at the beginning of the process. I’m never averse to revisions, in fact I like the honing in, sharpening of the story. Sometimes the deadline just has to pry the manuscript out of my hands and I have to finally say I’m done tweaking.
Connie: I can definitely relate to the never-ending honing and tweaking. And I do mean never-ending!
To me, when you say character development, that means you’re creating the characters, their backgrounds, their hopes and dreams, their fears…you know everything there is to know before writing the book. When all is said and done and the writing is under way, did Abby or Jason (Sleep No More) throw surprises at you that you’d not anticipated regarding a childhood memory, a fear, a secret? Have any of your characters thrown surprises at you?
Susan: My characters always throw surprises of some degree during the process. Although I know much about their background, their personalities, etc. before I begin, it’s the walking them through a particular circumstance that completely fleshes them out. Abby and Jason, however, behaved pretty much as I’d anticipated. The problem I sometimes have is with a female character who is … well, we’ll call her the anti-Susan. This happened with Maddie in Pitch Black. I’m a softie, a nurturer, a person who smoothes out wrinkles, a fixer. Maddie was an investigative journalist, not afraid to hurt people’s feelings for the right reasons, much more pragmatic and direct than myself. Several times when writing that book, I had to stop myself halfway through a scene and say, "No, no. This is how I would react, not how Maddie would." And then I’d delete a page or two and get myself back on the right track.
Connie: You enjoy research. With writing contemporary fiction you can and do take the hands on approach by talking with and interviewing people such as those in law enforcement. Aside from making sure the technical aspects and procedures are accurate has there ever been any bit of information passed on to you that you’ve been excited about and you made it a part of the story on some level?
Susan: In every interview or research "adventure" there is something that clicks in a way I hadn’t thought of during my prior planning. That’s the beauty of it! I love it when those moments happen. It not only makes the story lines richer, it sometimes aids my plotting and opens new doors for conflict and plot /character development.
Connie: Once you’ve created the perfect first sentence you’re on a writing roll! No problem now, huh? Ha! What about interruptions, Susan? How do you handle them to retain your in-the-moment thought process?
Susan: Okay, here’s a true confession. When I’m on a writing roll and it’s going great … I have to fight the urge to get up and walk away. Seriously. I think there must be something wrong with me! My children are grown, my husband works long hours, so I can manage plenty of "uninterrupted" time. Back when my time was more limited, I was much more judicious with its use. But now when those words are flowing and my mind is filled with what will come next, my instinct is to stop. I’m pretty sure it’s because I know when I come back, I won’t be sitting here biting my fingernails for thirty minutes waiting for things to get rolling again. Crazy … but that’s me. Also, I never stop writing at the end of a scene or a chapter. I get at least one line in the next, even though it may fall victim to the delete button, it’s a place to start when I come back. Hate, hate, hate that blank page.
Connie: Or having to stare at the blinking cursor? : - )
You didn’t originally write Back Roads with the thought that it would turn into the Glens Crossing series. When it did later develop did you have to do some backtracking to refresh your memory, did you create cross-reference charts and so forth for continuity and the sake of the feel of the setting and characters? Did your critique partners help with that?
Susan: Oh, you give me way too much credit for organization! I had a few notes to keep the details straight, but the spin-off characters for the next three novels weren’t actually on the page characters in Back Roads; their father was. And honestly, it took me a full year to write Back Roads. I knew those people and that town as if I’d walked the streets myself.
Connie: After a year of being with the people of Glens Crossing it stands to reason that you’d know them extremely well.
Action, suspense, conflict, and romance all wrapped into one juicy, intriguing story. Do you consciously strive to create a balanced ratio of the above or do you let the story find its own balance?
Susan: For the most part, I let the story find its own balance. Some books have a stronger romance element than others. It depends upon the characters and their situations. Of course, you do have to make certain all elements are given their full story arc and that you answer all of the "story questions." That need generally keeps all aspects active and moving throughout the story.
Connie: I would assume you’d have to find a separate balance for descriptions. I assume you want the settings and scenes to trigger the theme song from Jaws when it comes to action and drama and danger and perhaps a different theme song with the romance scenes. Do you consciously do anything in particular to make sure your words, your description triggers these feelings in a reader?
Susan: The scenes in my books, especially the ones in which I need high emotion, normally play out like a movie in my head. My first step is to just let my mind "go there." Then I write what I see in my mind. After that there are several passes to tighten, work on word choice, expand where needed, until I feel I have the right balance of description, drama and action.
Connie: I’ve really enjoyed learning about the inner workings of your mind as a writer, but if you don’t mind, Susan, I’d like to switch the focus of the remaining part of the interview to let the reader get to know you a bit better.
Cooking and baking. When you’re not on a deadline are either of these something you enjoy or would you rather leave them to someone else?
Susan: I do enjoy cooking, baking – and eating. It’s more fun to cook for a crowd than just for my husband and myself.
Connie: What about housework and dust bunnies? Do you have a cleaning routine or do you really try to just ignore the bunnies should they make an appearance?
Susan: Um, dust bunnies? What dust bunnies…?
Truthfully, I’m as unorganized about housework as I am about my plot outlining. I take the "see no evil" approach when the bunnies appear. My husband finally agreed to hire a cleaning crew every other week. We’re both much happier now. The yard work, however, is a different story. I adore working outdoors; provides a lot of time for thinking. Here in Indiana, it’s only a seven month a year job, so I get a long vacation.
Connie: For some people gardening is very therapeutic in many ways. With you it helps you figure out who the next victim will be and why... : - )
The music and movies listed under your favorite things seem to be all contemporary. Is that your preference or can the mood strike you to watch old, classic movies or listen to the crooners and big bands of the 30’s and 40’s?
Susan: I love old movies. There are classics that I can watch until I have every movement and every line memorized and still enjoy them. As a teenager, I used to stay up and watch the Late Show (back in the day of the big three broadcasting) in order to see the oldies. Old music … I have my favorites, big band and classic rock. I’m not a fan of crooners (the exception being Bing Crosby’s Christmas music).
Connie: Ah, I absolutely love Dean Martin.
Ok, you say you’d love to be a casting director or location scout. Let’s pick casting director for this for-fun question. You’re chosen to pick the cast for the big screen adaption of, let’s say, Outlander, a favorite of yours. Who would be the actors you’d choose?
Susan: Oh what a treat! Do I get to meet my leading man??? See now, Jamie might be a bit of a problem because everyone that comes to mind is too old … like Gerard Butler, let’s say. Heath Ledger would have been great. Maybe Alex O’Loughlin. Or maybe the actor who plays Jamie needs to be a new face … it’d be great to find a new talent and launch him in this role! Oh, I have just the guy for Black Jack Randall – Jason Isaacs. Claire, perhaps Sophia Myles. I really need to have them all read for me and convince me they’re worthy of the great characters.
Connie: To make the project a success, you would of course have to have them all read for you. Maybe the men twice, what do you think?
Susan, I’m going to delve a bit deeper into a few of your favorites, if you don’t mind, pull out a few small details…Nachos – loaded with toppings or just with cheese?
Susan: Loaded, no jalapenos though. I’m a sissy when it comes to hot stuff.
Connie: Pickles – sweet or dill; brand?
Susan: Dill. I love those giant ones that come in the individual plastic packages in the refrigerator case. So sour they’ll cross your eyes. My dad used to buy them for me and I’d eat a whole one for a snack.
Connie: Tapioca pudding – warm or cold; homemade or instant?
Susan: Homemade, definitely. Hot or cold … depends on how patient I am.
Connie: Salads – dressing and toppings of choice?
Susan: French or a vinaigrette dressing. Toppings: olives, black and green; cucumbers; green pepper; red pepper; garbanzo beans; almonds; avocado; craisins; tomato; feta cheese; and sometimes dill pickles.
Connie: That is some list of toppings!
What are four words your husband would use to describe you?
Susan: Funny. Independent. Creative. Stubborn. Nah, he’s way more romantic than that, but I’m not going to go there.
Connie: Okay, then; can’t think of a better spot to say thank you, Susan. I really appreciate you taking the time to visit and let the OUAR readers get to know you.
Before say goodbye, is there anything I forgot to ask that you want the readers to know?
Susan: I’d like to invite them to visit my website for some video interviews and extras about each book that you won’t find between the covers. www.susancrandall.net
Thank you so much, Connie. You conduct a great interview! I really enjoyed answering your questions.
Connie: Thank you, Susan! I really enjoyed getting to know you. Please come back to OUAR whenever you like.