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!