Next month I’ll be interviewing poet Mary Mackey and that opportunity got me thinking about all the other talented people I know. I decided I should do interviews more often, and called up Susan Schreyer, author of the Thea Campbell Mystery series, suckered her into meeting me for coffee, and plopped some questions down.
You’re on your fourth book in the Thea Campbell series. How do you keep your interest in the characters fresh?
I think that’s something the characters do. Really! They’re not quite done having adventures yet, and they haven’t entirely worked out the conflicts between them. When they stop sneaking into my mind and telling me about the fun they’re having, then it will be time to move on.
Outlining the novel works for you over ‘organic’ writing. Why do you think this is?
I yearn to be an organized person. My mind needs the discipline of external lists and guidelines in order to move forward. Without them, I’m like a ping-pong ball — bouncing around from one uncompleted project to another, wandering from point to point and going off on tangents that have nothing to do with anything. If I can set up the structure I need to guide me through a story, I won’t spend a lot of time after the fact going back and cutting chunks out, or wasting time. That said, I don’t spend the time planning and outlining that a lot of people do, but I find if I can plan the major plot points, spend time getting to know the new characters who will appear — especially all the antagonists (not just the major “bad guy”) — the story writes itself without me staring off into space and wondering what it was I was trying to do. Planning — for me — is quite a time-saver. When I get stuck, it’s generally because I neglected to plan. Do the characters still take control of the story? Absolutely. That’s one of the things I love about writing. Even when outlining, the story and characters are often full of surprises.
What is it about writing that keeps you coming back to story-telling?
The story-world is very alluring, full of what-ifs and possibilities. You fall in love with characters and want to find out what will happen to them. It’s also a way to share my view of our crazy world and the amazing people I meet. Stories and characters are around us every day in overwhelming quantities — and not just as news items. They’re in the grocery store, at the office, in the next phone call … and we’re related to them, too J
People talk about the ‘writer’s path’. What do you think that refers to and where do you think you are on that path?
You know, I’m not really sure of the answer to this — what it is as a general concept, anyway. My path is one I have carved out for myself and I think each of us have to, whether we bring our stories to a “paying public” or keep them for ourselves. My path includes improving my skills — or “craft” as we like to call it — and sharing my story with readers.
Marketing novels falls on the author these days, unlike in the past when some help could be expected from publishers, book stores, etc. Do you find this eating into your time for creating, and how do you balance and/or prioritize what you are going to spend your time on?
Ach, marketing! This side of being a published author is the total antithesis of most writers’ personalities — makes us squirm, sweat and generally avoid doing it. Yes, it totally eats into my creative time. I keep thinking that if I were better at it, I could be much more efficient at it. The unfortunate aspect of marketing and promotion is that what works for one person (read “sells books”) doesn’t work for everyone. It’s ephemeral, which makes it hard to learn, time-consuming to execute, and frustrating. There are two things I’ve nailed down as totally necessary to successful book marketing; persistence and contacts. My solution is to spend only a specific amount of time each day on it. It’d be great to be able to pay someone to take the job over, but by the time I could afford to do that, I wouldn’t need it. Therefore, if I want people to read my books, I not only have to keep writing, but I have to find time to tell them the books are available to be read.
You have chosen to not use a pseudonym. What were your reasons for that? Do you worry about an invasion of privacy?
I don’t have a good reason to use a pseudonym. I considered it for a while before Death By A Dark Horse came out, but didn’t (obviously). In this age of internet connectivity, I think all of us have to be concerned and take precautions against privacy invasion, and I don’t believe just changing your name is going to be enough to protect against that. A more thoughtful vigilance is necessary. On the other hand, I understand it’s very “freeing” to be able to step into another persona. I might try it sometime … but J you’ll never know!
Ah, but I know where you live! Thanks for the interview Susan. I’m looking forward to the next Thea installment.