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.




Interview with Author Lisa Souza

My last post was an interview with Mark Souza. This one is with his wife, Lisa, author of Beauty and the Bridesmaid. I’ve been lucky enough to read both Mark and Lisa’s books in early stages of development. This book made me laugh outright, which is no surprise because Lisa does, too. The thing is, the book hooked me because I’d laugh and then realize, ‘wait, this isn’t funny anymore, this is tragic’. What a roller coaster of emotion.

You have multiple writers in your home. What are the pros and cons of that?

PRO: Other writers understand the frustrations that come with the process: empty pages, dry spells, and of course the familiar ‘this is not nearly good enough’ feeling.

CON: Getting someone’s attention in a household full of head-phone-wearing laptop-gazers is useless. Don’t bother trying.

PRO: When stuck for a specific word, one can employ local talent to compete in a ‘find-the-word-I-need’ effort. Saves oodles of time digging through a thesaurus.

CON: It’s daunting living in the shadow of talented people. Therapy may be required.

PRO: Who better able to celebrate the joy associated with, say, a book sale or a good review, than another writer or two or three?


Multiple writers? Nope. Lisa taking a photo of Mark. With fans?

Is there a book out there that you wish you’d written? If so, what was it about that writing that pulled at you?

What an AWESOME question! We could start with the non-fiction stuff (Stephen King On Writing, Thomas Sterner The Practicing Mind) and work our way through the classics (The Handmaid’s Tale). But I can’t neglect fiction (A Wrinkle in Time) or every single thing penned by Martha Beck. And Dean Koontz writes such heroic characters – they make me feel lazy and un-evolved by comparison. Great writers create clever, layered word experiences. In The Husband Koontz tossed in a plot twist that caught me off guard despite a life-time of avid reading. What a gift.

Are there certain types of scenes that are harder for you to write than others and if so, why do you think that is?

I suffer from plot envy. Working out a clever plot requires so much mental gymnastics. It would be handy if I could conjure twisty, believable stories by ingesting copious amounts of cheese, but not so. I have far fewer problems writing angsty characters dripping with emotional baggage. They do say “write what you know.”

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Wonder if these guys will show up in a book.

You also write screenplays. How does that writing process compare to writing fiction?

I thought writing screenplays would be far easier than novel writing – so many fewer pages needed! So much more white space! Instead it turns out screenplays are tricky word unicorns, unique creatures with distinct requirements. The format requires a tight, clean writing style, free of fluff and full of visual intensity. No long-winded descriptions in a screenplay. It’s a controlled environment, unlike a novel where you are free to flesh out details. Screenplays exercise a different set of writing muscles.

For example, you write with a particular actor in mind. Since you hope to capture their attention, you target your language and perhaps even the genre to attract that person. Awareness of budget plays a part, too. Is there a way you get rid of seven residual characters and still advance the story? Great! You just saved the studio thousands of dollars. Whatever the medium, though, it comes back to the empty page and the need to tell a compelling story.

It took a lot of encouragement and prodding to get you to finish your book. What were the biggest stumbling blocks, and how did you overcome them?

My older brother is a very successful writer. He’s also hugely dedicated to the craft. He has always worked harder and with more focus than anyone I know to make the written word his life’s focus. He told me when we were about five and three years old respectively that he would be a writer when he grew up. Well done, brother.

My husband is a successful writer. And a successful engineer. In short order he put together a very successful anthology of short stories and an award-winning novel. You, go!

And on a rational level, I’m overwhelmed with joy for them both, and hugely grateful to those who put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), creating fresh and new and vibrant for me to enjoy. Thanks, y’all!  But being sandwiched between talented people leaves me swimming in awe. And also self-doubt. And fear, let’s not forget terrible fear of not being good enough because what if I do not deserve to share the stage with those dedicated, talented writers??

But at some point a couple of things caught my attention. One: every human being has a unique and intriguing perspective, so sharing mine contributes to the rich literary bucket. Two: I’m going to die. I know. It surprised the heck out of me, too. When I truly accepted the finite nature of consciousness, I felt compelled to get something completed before some force – like a fast moving car – writes “The End” for me.


Love this photo. Wish you could hear her wonderful laugh.

And my favorite question – what do you wish someone would ask you about writing, and how would you answer it?

Would you like fries with that? (This is called ‘stalling’).

Gosh writing is hard. Writing QUESTIONS is hard.

“Does writing come easily to you, Lisa Souza?”

No, Lisa Stowe. No it does not. Writing is wonderful and complex and hard, like… like… like a very, very hard thing.

Beauty and the Bridesmade e-book

All the books by both Mark and Lisa are good, but this one is my favorite. It’s not what you expect.

An Interview With Mark Souza

A writer wanders into a writer’s group…and sticks around for years, becoming a friend in the process.


You have family who are also writers. Can you tell me the pros and cons of having multiple writers in the same home?

With three writers, heads down over laptops, it can be a long stretch between words. Then there are the times you want them as beta readers, or they want you. It’s time they don’t get to write, and half the time you wonder if what you’ve written is even worth reading.

What has been the hardest for you along your writing path? The easiest?

Easiest is when the story flows through you too fast to keep up, and you see it all playing out in your head and it’s brilliant – then you look up and 10,000 new words are on the page. The worst, there are so many; when you’re blocked and words won’t come. When you reach a point in your story where there is no bridge to the rest of it. And when you’re stuck in the DMV of edit/rewrite over and over again until you never want to see your story again.

In this day and age of millions of books available, what steps do you take to help become visible?

I write the best story I can, and good cover art and blurbs. Good writing and good stories will be found. The world is hungry for them. But readers may not even look inside if the cover isn’t appealing, and the blurb compelling. I’ve tried advertising and blog tours, they don’t work. You’re much better off putting the work into your story – the next one, that is.

What draws you to the genres you write in?

Money and passion. I started out a mystery writer – mysteries are a passion of mine as a reader. I became a horror and sci-fi writer because there were far more open short story calls for those genres and I wanted to be published, and I wanted to be paid. My first novel, Robyn’s Egg was going to be a short story. Sci-Fi pays the best. The call was for stories of up to 15,000 words, and paid five cents a word. At five cents a word, you get pretty Dickensian (who was also paid by the word). I got to my 15,000 words, let my wife read it, and she said there’s a lot more story there. So I kept writing, and it turned into a work of passion and a 162,000 word novel. I had some things to say. My second novel, Zombie-saurus Rex was a work of passion from the start. It’s about a gawky zombie kid just trying to get by and maybe be accepted, though he is clearly different. It’s sort of autobiographical.


Where do you think your love of words and stories came from?

I’ve always been a storyteller, though initially my talent was oral storytelling. I’ve always known that the order you weave your tale, and the which words you choose makes a big difference. It’s all in the delivery. I would hear people tell their own stories, and internally wag my head while smiling on the outside, thinking, “that could have been a great story if you only knew how to tell it.” It seemed like a natural step to move from oral storytelling to writing – though it was much harder than I thought it would be. Practice, practice, practice. Get your one million words down on paper and you’ll probably be a decent writer. And don’t let anyone who doesn’t love you see those first ten stories.

What is the earliest thing you remember writing?

When I was 25, I wrote a Hemingway-esque story of a couple in the 1920’s whose marriage falls apart after the birth of a mentally handicapped child. There was no joy in the story, but it was visceral and real. I wrote it out longhand on a canary yellow pad and don’t know what ever happened to it.

When did you have that ‘aha’ moment that made you realize you were a writer?

When my first story was published and I got paid. It wasn’t a lot of money – dinner and a movie maybe, but it meant something.



Storytelling in one form or another has been around forever, from cave drawings to oral traditions, to e-readers. Why do you think stories create such a deeply important part of being human?

It’s a chance to travel somewhere exotic, meet a hero, or someone charming, and face down a villain. It’s a chance to escape your life and live a bigger one. It confirms your beliefs and challenges them. It makes you stay up all night because you just have to know. It’s because the world inside your head is so much bigger and more colorful than the real world.

Now that you have a few books out, do you see an underlying theme that comes through in them? Or a theme that draws you to write? I have a tendency to get on my soapbox in the novels I write. The one thing I’ll say is writing is so much easier (and better) if you are passionate about your story.

There is so much advice out there for writers. In your writing path, what have you found most beneficial and what advice have you found least helpful? On the helpful side, “write in active voice with creative, audacious verbs,” and “show, don’t tell.” The least helpful, “write what you know.” Write what you want. Write what you have a passion for. If you don’t know it, research and learn something along the way. And don’t be afraid to create your own world.

In all the interviews you’ve done as a writer, what is the one thing you would like to have been asked and haven’t yet, and how would you answer that question?

“May I fill your trunk with gold bars?” And my response, “yes, you may.” These questions were awesome – thanks Lisa.