Please take a moment to visit this blog and read this post from the heart, written by a woman I have a lot of respect for.
Author Susan Schreyer has just released a new book in her Thea Campbell mystery series set in Snohomish, Washington. Having watched the process of this book come into being and been witness to some long, frustrating days, I thought it would be appropriate to ask her a few questions.
After writing six books in this series and making it look easy, you struggled with this newest one. Why do you think ‘Best Laid Plans’ was harder for you to write than the others?
There is always a little lag between books … well, often, anyway. But I’ll be blunt here: the culprit in this instance was depression. There were a number of life-issues that contributed to this, among which was three deaths in my immediate family and an election (2016) that gave me a good deal of anxiety over the future. Once I recognized the depression and addressed it, the writing didn’t come flowing back. It took time and effort to find my groove again.
Did your writing process change with this book, and can you tell me a little about that process?
Yes, but my process always changes. I find that I refine it with each book – build on what works and discard what didn’t. With Best Laid Plans, because it’s a complicated plot and took so long, I had to reread often, depend more heavily on my spreadsheets, and rewrite the story arc.
What do you think helped get your creativity flowing again with this book?
Intention. Or commonly known (among writers) as “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”. Seriously, I gave myself goals – easy ones, at first – then I gave myself permission to become lost in the story world and ignore the real world. I think that last part is important. If I can’t remove myself from what is happening around me, I’ll sit and stare at the screen and fret. It’s probably why I need quiet – I’m easily distracted! Also, my writing will echo any lack of involvement I have in the story. I don’t want to bore my readers!
Tell me about the new character, Amethyst, who apparently has demanded her own book.
Amethyst started out as a plot device – a character to help move the story along, provide color (punny, yes!) and humor. As the story progressed, I realized she was a character with depth and issues that not only intrigued me but were capable of creating a connection with a reader. Who could pass up an opportunity to explore a character like that?
What is your most unusual writing quirk?
I sometimes have conversations with my characters – out loud. If I find myself stuck or unhappy with the way a character’s role in the story is going, I’ll “interview” them. I’ll play both parts to the best of my ability and often find out some surprising information. It sounds very odd, but the improvisation taps into creativity in a physically different way than sitting at the keyboard and typing, as has been demonstrated in studies of how the brain functions.
What has influenced you most as a writer?
That’s a difficult one to answer since there are so many influences in one’s life. I’d have to say, though, that without exposure to other wonderful writers I doubt I would have been lured as far down this path as I have gone.
What little thing would readers be surprised to know about you?
(I had to ask my husband for this) The first and only time I ever entered my roses in a rose show I won the championship. Big ribbon, small money.
I know this is almost an impossible question for people like us that read all the time, but can you pick just one all-time favorite book that you have read and tell us why it’s your favorite?
After much thought, I’m going to go way back to the book that got me hooked on mysteries, adventure and dreaming about writing. That would be The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I consumed his books. Thank you, Mr. Farley!
I know this can be a cliché question, but what advice would you give a beginning writer, at this moment in time?
Write. Then once you have written, start the process of learning how to do it better – and know that not all advice you get will be a) good, or b) helpful. Some of it will be, though. That which is worth hanging on to will be the advice that follows you around and gets you eager to do more.
And my favorite question to end interviews with: what one question do you wish I’d asked, that I didn’t? (You can answer it, too!)
What is your favorite part about writing? That has to be learning. Not only research about areas outside of my experience, but how to write better. If there wasn’t the opportunity to learn and improve, it would quickly become boring.
Thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you!
Why do Boxers always look worried? Even when happy they still seem to be concerned.
We were talking about our old Boxer, Luke, a couple nights ago. His full name was Skywalker von Stowe because he came into our lives as a very fat puppy with a heart condition, when our small son was so heavily into Star Wars that he would only answer to ‘Luke’.
Luke (the dog, not the kid) wasn’t expected to live long. We were told he could drop dead at any moment because of his heart. But really, he had an incredible heart.
The medication he spent his long life on caused blurred vision, which might have contributed to his worried look. After all, when my glasses are off, I squint and probably look worried, too. Sometimes those heart pills would get stuck up in those floppy Boxer lips and he’d foam at the mouth like he had rabies. Poor thing.
He loved the kid, unconditionally, and played with him tirelessly. The two Lukes would chase each other around and around the dishwasher until the whole world tilted in dizziness. Luke would trot slowly, careful to not get too far ahead of the gleeful little kid chasing him. When Arthur, thinking he was being clever, would change direction, Luke would patiently turn around, pause, and wait for Arthur to catch up before trotting off again. Over and over and over, as long as that little child wanted to run.
Arthur also played with matchbox cars in the long hallway. He would send the cars flying and Luke would run after them. Luke would then pounce on them with both front paws and send the cars skittering back to Arthur. A matchbox game of fetch.
Speaking of cars, Luke loved them and he wasn’t picky. If a car door was open, he would be found inside. It also didn’t matter if the car moved. He was just as happy to simply sit and watch the world out the windshield in all its blurry wonder.
So he was a happy, gentle soul. But he always looked worried. I’d never been around Boxers before, so this then worried me. Was he in pain? Was it his heart? Was he actually unhappy?
My husband grew up with Boxers. I saw old photos of him as a baby with Boxer puppies. I saw photos of Boxers owned by friends.
Eventually I came to realize, they all look worried. I guess it’s just a Boxer trait. Along with their incredible sweetness and devotion to their kids.