Friday, July 15, 2016

Interview: Susan Squires

Are you a plotter and know what’s going to happen or are you a pantser that lets your characters lead you by the balls?

I used to be a pantster—for my first six books. But then I switched publishing houses, and my new editor at St. Martin’s Press at McMillan wanted a LITTLE more control than just having faith I’d come through with something great—even though she loved the first books I wrote that way, and gave me a three book contract based on them. So she structured my contracts so that I got 50% of the advance on signing, 10% on her approval of a synopsis, and 40% when I turned the book in. Yikes! I had to plan in order to write that synopsis. I was panicked. But I did it, and I wrote 11 books for her that way. Now, even when I don’t have to write a synopsis, I do anyway. The advantage of being a pantster is that you are sometimes delightfully surprised where the book is going. The disadvantage is that sometimes you are tearing your hair out in the middle because you’re stuck and you may end up having to backtrack and dump completed chapters. Writing a synopsis (which is more than just a plot—it’s what the characters are feeling and why they do things, too) keeps you on track. You just tear your hair out earlier, when you’re writing it! And the books often do deviate from the synopsis. It just serves as a guidepost, and I find I like that.

What’s something that you are really good at that most people don’t know about? 

Well, most people know that I knit because it’s all over my Facebook Author page, including projects that I have knit. Maybe people don’t know that there is a reason for all those horse pictures. They aren’t just animal pictures. I rode horses for most of my life and completed in three-day eventing all over the west coast. That sport includes dressage, jumping and cross-country competitions on successive days. Cross country was especially fun—but I look at people doing it today, and I wonder if I was crazy! Probably not—just young. After too many ER visits, I gave up jumping, but still did dressage until fairly recently. These days, I’ve channeled that desire for competitive partnership with animals into my dogs. I compete with my Belgian Sheepdog, Blitz (or Rolin’ Ridges’ Evening Embers, if you want to be precise) in Obedience Trials. He’s one smart boy. I just try to keep up!

Do you think being a writer is a gift or is it a curse? Why?

I think writing is a gift. It can transport you to other realms, allow you to explore different historical times, live through situations you’d never be able to otherwise, and understand yourself and others better. It’s an addicting experience. Now, writing isn’t always fun. When you’re writing under contract, it can feel like pressure. If you’re stuck and tearing your hair out, that isn’t fun. But on balance, it’s something I love doing. I love it so much that I worked very hard to get good at it. I took classes at UCLA. I worked with critique groups. After I was published, I worked with agents and editors at the New York publishers who bought my books. All of the work was done with one purpose in mind: I didn’t want praise, I wanted to know how to be the best writer I could be. It was worth it. (I’m still working on that, by the way! I think you never stop.)

Parents like to say they don’t have a favorite child, but we all know that’s not true. I could say the same for writers. So who’s your favorite child... erm, I mean character?

Oh, dear. After twenty-four books, you have favorites (plural!) but not just one. Jody, the AI who finally got a body in Body Electric is one of my favorites. I loved the Duc d’Avignon in Time for Eternity, a heroic vampire in the French Revolution. I loved Ian, the tortured hero of The Companion, and I love my Vikings, Karn in Dangeld (the first book I ever published) and Galen in A Twist in Time. Yes, I love my female characters, too, especially the most complicated ones. But I’m always in love with my heroes.

Do you usually root for the heroes or the villians?

Okay, I usually root for the heroes. But I define heroes pretty broadly. They can be damaged. They can have done bad things. They can make choices they’re not proud of. I just want them to have 1) intelligence 2) self-awareness and 3) a core of honor, no matter how buried it might be.

Who are your favorite authors? What about up and coming authors? Anyone caught your fancy? 

I am a broad reader. I love the classics. I like Julia Quinn and Gena Showalter in modern romance. I love James Lee Burke mysteries and Robert Crais suspense. I’m really enjoying Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series that I’m working my way through now, and as far as up-and-comers, I like Emma Cline’s The Girls.

So, say you just got arrested. What’s the most likely reason the cops are carting you off to jail?

Hmmmm. I’m one of those straight arrow people who follows the rules even when nobody else is following that rule so people think you don’t have to. I can see myself getting arrested for trespassing for protesting a cause I believe in, though. I have blocked some streets in my time with candlelight vigils.

Back to your characters for a minute, who would you like to have a beer with? Who do you wish you hadn’t created?

I’d love to have a beer with the Tremaine family. I’ve written six books about them(My Magic Series, beginning with Do You Believe in Magic? ) and the family has become a character in itself. I love writing the family scenes—the jokes and bickering, the love and caring underneath them, the support as well as the difficult behavior. They have become real friends at this point. I’ll miss them when I finish that series!

Tell me one thing that’s on your bucket list.

I’m a traveller in my heart. We’re going to Spain this year, because it was next on our list. We’ve been to Hong Kong, China, upcountry Thailand, Portugal, all parts of England and Scotland, Italy…we’ve been around. But there are other places on the list. Romania, France, Scandinavia, a cruise down the Danube… the list goes on. So my bucket list is a bunch of travel!

What’s your favorite Disney movie? Seriously, this one is super important. Your life depends on your answer here.

Beauty and the Beast—hands down. Belle is smart and action-oriented and it’s the best romance they’ve ever done. I’m glad they are now making it into a live action movie with Emma Watson staring as Belle. I can hardly wait!

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