The Best Laid Plans

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.

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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.

Susan Schreyer author picture

Susan and Eddy, both showing their beautiful smiles for the camera

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!

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Some of Susan’s roses. She may not enter them in competitions often, but I can tell you she has many, many beautiful roses of all varieties.

 

 

 

Masked Judgement

I’ve seen some disturbing things lately about wearing masks.

On one hand, people not wearing them are immediately labeled as Republicans, right-wing whack-jobs, people who think the COVID-19 virus is ‘no worse than the flu’, or standing up for their ‘constitutional rights’.

On the other hand, people who are wearing them are immediately labeled as Democrats, left-wing crazy liberals, paranoid over-reactors, and sheep.

In other words, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

So let me tell you a mask story.

A few years ago I was lying on a table. A warm, soft, pliable mesh was placed over my face and neck, and pressed tightly into place. It was held there until it hardened. Imagine how that felt. If you can’t take two fingers and press them against your throat until you gag.

That was the first step in radiation treatments. Every morning I was on that table, the mask pressed over my face, and then bolted down. Because I was receiving very precise radiation, no movement was allowed. Even if you thought you were holding still enough, you weren’t.

Every day.

Eventually my throat swelled. Eventually I struggled to swallow water. And then eventually it was over.

At the time, I knew it was difficult, but during treatments themselves, I just daydreamed. I’m a pro at sliding off into my imaginary world. The staff gave me roses and a certificate afterwards for being the first person they’d had who was able to go through it without sedatives.

I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad. I truly believed that. It was hard, yes, but just something to get through one step at a time.

Now people are wearing masks. Stores require them. A co-worker brought me a package last week. I took one look at them, burst into tears, and had to leave the office because I couldn’t breathe. My throat closed up. I couldn’t swallow. I stood in the fresh air, telling myself over and over ‘you can breathe’.

My husband, being the brilliant man that he is, suggested I practice at home, putting the mask on as long as I could stand it and building up to being able to wear one. I tried that this morning. For maybe a second.

The flip side of this is that my husband has an auto-immune disease. So he wears masks out in public to protect himself. He has no problem wearing them and needs to.

In other words, when you see someone wearing a mask, or when you see someone not wearing a mask, there are more stories involved than simple judgements. More hardships involved than politics.

Please be kind, no matter where you fall in the spectrum of this virus specter.

Luke the Boxer

Why do Boxers always look worried? Even when happy they still seem to be concerned.

Luke

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’.

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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.

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He hated camping, even with his bed and blanket and a fire

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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