Our book club had the opportunity and privilege to meet and have a lively discussion of "Desert Heat" with Dannie Marsden...a great story with strong...
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Wow! Such a good story.I enjoyed it so much.I think what got me the most was that I don`t think most people would give a second thought to what kind...
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I am waiting for the next book to come out! The story was a page turner and I also enjoyed the portrayal of a variety of lesbians and how we interact...
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I know Dannie and was excited to hear she had written a book. When I first started to read Desert Heat, I did so with a critical eye because it was...
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NANCY: When did you first know you wanted to write?
SUSAN: Probably a few months before I actually started writing. That was in about 1999.
NANCY: What do you mean by months?
SUSAN: I started watching Xena: Warrior Princess, and there were people who were writing fan fiction about it. I wasn't very interested in the story, as a story. I’m not a fan of fantasy or action movies. I was much more interested in the characters. So I when I saw people writing stories about those characters in modern day, that appealed to me. I thought, you know I can probably do this. So almost as soon as I decided that I probably could do it, I started trying to do it.
SUSAN: Yeah. I'd never had the instinct before.
NANCY: Okay, I was going to ask you what inspired you the most to start writing.
SUSAN: Missy Good.
NANCY: Really? That's kinda cool.
SUSAN: Yeah, two words, Missy. Good.
NANCY: Well that's pretty easy.
SUSAN: I loved the fact that she was writing about the current day. And I loved the fact that she was focusing on character development, rather than having them just kick butt and take names. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. She focused on what appealed to me, and that made me want to follow her style.
NANCY: That is very much a complement to Missy too.
SUSAN: Yeah, it should be. It is.
NANCY: How much did she pay you to say that?
SUSAN: (laughing) I'm not sure she even knows that I write. We’ve met several times but she knows zillions of people from the Xenaverse.
NANCY: Where do your ideas come from? So many other authors when you pick up a book, in three chapters you know who wrote it. You're not one of those. Other than your San Francisco series, your books are so totally different. And I like that, I like that when I pick up one of your books, I really don't know for sure that it's yours, unless I look at the front cover and see your name. So where do all your different ideas come from?
SUSAN: I like to use writing as a way to explore different lives. Each of us has just one, and no matter how good our life is, there are other ways of living that interest me. So I'll think, what would it be like to be a surgeon who does gynecological surgery, that must be kinda weird. Just thinking about different ways to live, different places to live, different ages to be, different social classes. Everything. The book I'm just now finishing is about a woman who is as poor as a person in American can be. I wanted to think about what that would be like, to be absolutely off the grid in almost every way. To me writing is just a way to fantasize about different lives and make a small living doing it. (laughing)
NANCY: When you're writing do you have any big or little quirks?
SUSAN: (laughing) Everything about me is a quirk. (Still laughing) There's nothing normal about me.
NANCY: I’ll give you an example of what I mean, when I write, I use a pencil and it has to be a Ticonderoga. Any quirks like that?
SUSAN: A little bit, I use a program called Scrivener. It's a Mac only program I think. It gives you a blank canvas and you can do a setting where the background is just a blank screen. Your words come out big and white. I like to see them pop up as I'm writing. There’s something about them being revealed, it’s like a magic eight ball to me when those words come out up on the black screen. So Scrivener’s a must. I prefer being near a window. I like to be able to look outside while writing. Other than that, once I get in the groove, I don't notice anything else. That’s about as quirky as I get.
NANCY: See, that's not as bad as you thought, you’re pretty tame.
SUSAN: That's not so bad.
NANCY: Do you like music or background noise when you write or do you have to have complete silence?
SUSAN: I don't have to have silence at all, but I don't like music because I will sing along and distract myself.
NANCY: Thank you! I was beginning to think I was only one that did that.
SUSAN: It also affects my mood. Music very much affects my mood. If I'm trying to write a fast-paced scene and a slow song comes on,,,I’ll sit there and just slow down thinking about the song
NANCY: And in a country song you break out in tears.
SUSAN: Yeah, yeah, it's nothing but a distraction for me.
NANCY: Are you often a character in your book?
SUSAN: No. Me as me, never. I know me. I'm much more interested in learning about other people even though I'm making them up. To me, writing is learning about other people.
NANCY: Do you base any of your characters on people you know?
SUSAN: Nope, never have, nobody. I’ll find, as I'm writing, that my characters will have characteristics of people that I know well, but I don't start out that way.
NANCY: Okay let's say we're were in a bar talking, and I know you find that very far-fetched, but we're in a bar chatting and you see someone walk by. If there is something about that person that catches your eye, do you catalog that in the back of your mind and maybe use that in a future novel?
SUSAN: No. I'm much more prone to use things I've heard about people in terms of their jobs or their family situation or something like it. No I don't start with the physical, I start with the profession, places they live, socioeconomics. And sometimes it takes me a while to come up with the image of the person. It can take me quite a while actually. I probably spend, oh, anywhere from one to three months thinking about a book before I start writing. Minimum.
NANCY: Really? And this is just thinking about the book nothing else?
SUSAN: Correct. Not writing anything at all. By the time I'm ready to write, I want to know a lot about both of my main characters. A whole lot. Right before I start to actually write the book I will write down what I know so far, and that's always five or six pages of where they are from, who their family is, what they do, what they like, what they dislike, and how the people start to interact. That’s about as far as I go before I actually start to write. I know how my main characters are going to meet, and what is going to, in some way, make them interested or actively dis-interested in one another. So the physical comes later.
NANCY: Naming your characters, is that easy or hard for you?
SUSAN: I spend a lot of time on that. A whole lot of time on that. It always puzzles me when people say just change your character name. What? I couldn't think of doing that. Once I decide on the name, and I've written a few pages with it, that has become that person, and I would no more change their name then I would change my own.
NANCY: Is easy to pick out the names?
SUSAN: No. It has to fit. The book I just finished takes place in West Virginia. I knew my character was in her mid-thirties, so I went to the West Virginia Social Security record for 30 years ago and looked at the most common names and played around with them. None of them worked for me, so I just kept going through the white page directories and things like that until a name clicked. It actually had nothing to with West Virginia, oddly enough. It just clicked for this character. So it could be easy or could take quite a while.
NANCY: A lot of authors seem to use male or masculine names for the female leads.
SUSAN: Some people thinks that shows strength, maybe it does, I don't know. Or maybe just the author does. I guess that's what matters. It's a little soap opera-like to me, to have people with names like Stone and Rock or Chip, stuff like that. (Laughing)
NANCY: What's wrong with using a more feminine name? I've noticed a lot of the newer authors doing the same thing.
SUSAN: I guess it’s just what works for you. In the book I'm writing now, the two characters are named Chiara and Nicola so um, I'm going pretty feminine.
NANCY: You are going very feminine, but Chiara is a very pretty name, and so is Nicola.
SUSAN: Nicola Bagnolesi, and Chiara Bellini. They’re in Italy, in case it wasn't clear.
NANCY: Yeah I kind of got that from the names.
SUSAN: It's different and I really liked it. Clearly I have used male names for some of my characters, but this just seemed to fit them.
NANCY: What do you do when a story stops flowing?
SUSAN: Stop writing and do something else. I’m not one of those people who will sit at a desk and force myself to write. If I feel like writing it's because there is nothing else I would rather do. If I don't feel like writing, I just don't feel like writing. So I wait until it's ready to flow, then I sit down and go with it.
NANCY: Okay, now wait a minute, at that little coffee chat that we just had, you said you spend 8 to 10 hours a day writing.
SUSAN: I will do other things. I always have a book in some form of editing, I will always have a book that needs researching. If I can't write, I will research, if I can’t research I will edit, if I can do neither of those?
NANCY: You will have a beer?
SUSAN: I will have a beer. And I will probably read a book about writing. I read less fiction than I probably should because most of the free time that I have I try to read about writing so I can learn to be a better writer.
NANCY: That's cool. Give me an idea of what kind of books you read.
SUSAN: You mean like regular fiction or what?
NANCY: No, like the self-help books you were just mentioning.
SUSAN: I'll read books on? You can always learn more about plot, you can always learn more about how to develop characters, you can always learn more about pacing and style and point of view. These are fairly technical things that you have to do right. So I'll just get on Amazon, or go to my local bookstore...we still have one.
NANCY: Lucky you.
SUSAN: I live in New York City so there are still a lot of them. (Laughing) I will look through the shelves and see if there’s something I haven't read before.
NANCY: When I send you this interview back, I'll add a reminder note for you to give me a list of the books you’re talking about. As a potential new writer, there's so much out there that I have no clue on. I know everyone mentions the Chicago Manual of Style as their Bible, have you ever looked at that frickin' book?
SUSAN: No, that book is not readable. I'll give you and everyone else a couple of book names right now. I would read anything by Patricia O'Connor. ‘Words Fail Me’ and ‘Woe is I’ are both excellent. I would read anything by Constance Hale, particularly ‘Sin and Syntax’. Both are really good on style, and that's what nobody can have too much of. And they're very user-friendly.
NANCY: You know, you are living up to my expectations of these interviews. So far every interview I've done, a book has been mentioned that I end up purchasing. Looks like I'll be purchasing at least two after this interview.
NANCY: I hear sometimes, that when writing a book, a character will take over the story. Does that happen to you, or do you have total control over all your characters, and events that are happening or going to happen in the book you're writing?
SUSAN: Well, it sort of…I'm not really sure how to answer that. I have a rough outline for where the story is going to go, and as I said, I know a lot about the character before I even start to write. So once I start putting them in situations things happen that I didn't predict would happened but I don't consider that they've taken over. If I don't like something that happens I’ll change things, but that doesn't generally happen. I know who the person is, I know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and when a situation occurs that is just what they say or do. She'll say something, her partner will respond, and you’ve got a full dialogue. I might not have plotted it out beforehand so maybe they took over…I don't know, but I guess I'm happy to let them.
NANCY: How much research goes into your books? I don't know if you heard me talking to your wife, Carolyn, but I told her that I had your book Arbor Vitae. I know that in your Yahoo group, we've had slight disagreements over which is a better book, Arbor Vitae or All That Matters. The wrong people chose All That Matters, the rest of us picked Arbor Vitae. Both are very, very good books, and I think one of the reasons they're so good, is the detail. I know the phrase ‘show don't tell,’ and I'm one of those that really hate to read five pages about a blade of grass. To me, most of the time it's very boring. But when I read Arbor Vitae, even though you have a lot of descriptions…how do I say this…I didn't skim over the descriptions when I was reading the book, because I could actually visualize the landscaping as you were describing it. I could see the waterfall as it was being built.
SUSAN: I don't always accomplish this, but I try to make what they're doing reflect on their personality or on the way they relate to one another. The gardening stuff in that book was critical to the attraction Abby had to Clancy in the beginning. If you didn't see what attracted her and how much care Clancy took with things that were really important to Abby, you would miss a lot. So for that I thought you needed it.
NANCY: And it was very well done. I read stories where there's paragraphs and paragraphs of just of ugh.
SUSAN: Well it's a trap, and it's easy to fall into it. You do a lot of research, you know all the stuff and it's instinct to say, ‘oh let me put all of that on paper’.
NANCY: You put a lot down, there's a lot of info there, and you write it in such a way that it was interesting. Even the fourth time around I didn't have the urge to skim over the words.
SUSAN: You still care about the damn fountain! (Laughing)
NANCY: I do, I do. I can visualize the entire landscaping that Clancy did.
SUSAN: The landscape was very important to her so I had to do it.
NANCY: It's very hard for most writers to grasp when to stop.
SUSAN: It's hard to back off, it's hard to say I know all this, but I don't have to tell it all. It's okay to have some secrets (laughing).
NANCY: And to tell it in a way that keeps the reader interested. And by the way, you done good.
SUSAN: Well thank you.
NANCY: You read all your reviews?
NANCY: Why not?
NANCY: Really? Never?
SUSAN: I can see why people do read them, but for me, given my personality it would be a negative. If someone said I liked everything but this, I would focus on the ‘but this’. I would drive myself crazy. And if someone said this is the best ever there's nothing that this person can do to improve…I don't need that either. I want people to say you can improve and here's what you can do. And I get that from my editors. A good review wouldn't motivate me, and a bad review would hurt my feelings. (Laughing) My feelings are easily hurt and I know that about myself, so I don't open myself up to it. And again, like you said, those first two standalone books of mine, a good half of my readership likes one, and a good half my readership likes the other. Does that mean one of the groups is right, that one is better than the other? No. It's better for them, it’s better for that reader. I can't know that the reader knows what I'm trying to do with the book. So if I wrote a book that was really kind of a downer, because that's what it was meant to be, and a reader said I hated this book because it was a downer. That’s not material. What's material is that I was trying to write this downer book and I did, the fact you don't like it doesn't mean it's a bad book, it means it's a bad book for you.
NANCY: I know you don’t read your reviews, but your latest book How To Wrangle A Woman, got mixed reviews. I really don't let a review swing me one way or the other. Unless I read a really bad review, and this is terrible to say, but if a review is that bad, chances are I’ll buy the book just to see how bad it really is. With your book, I've never read one of your books I didn't like, so I was reading the mixed reviews and they really piqued my curiosity. So I said I had to have this book so I got it, and I don't understand what they didn't like about it. Yeah it was long, but hello you’re Susan, all your books are long. The only possible thing that I see negative with your book was the fact that it took three quarters of the book for the two main characters to jump in bed together. But you know what, unless I get really lucky, that's what happens to me too. But seriously, in the book, it would not have fit to have the characters jump into bed any sooner.
SUSAN: I think that it would be easier for me if I said I want all of my books to have a pretty good, hot sex scene within the first 75 pages. That's easier, and it’s what a lot of people want. But that's not who those characters were. If I'm going to write about characters in this situation they have to tell me when they're at a point to be ready to have sex.
NANCY: And they couldn't have, to stay in character they just couldn't have.
SUSAN: You’re right, they couldn't have. So I can pander to my readers and give them what I think they want, or I can be true to my characters. And I have to be true to my characters.
NANCY: After reading the book, I think you kept true to your characters. I believe in one of the reviews it did state that it took too long for the characters to get together, and if that happened any differently, you would've missed out on so much of what happened between the two characters. If these are two real people, and when I read a book they become real to me, I just can't see it happening any other way than the way you wrote it.
SUSAN: It would've ruined the possibility of their relationship. The problem with reviews, and this is true across the board, when people are motivated to write a review, it is for one of two reasons. They felt like they wasted their money or they felt like this is a really good investment. The vast majority of people don’t bother to write a review. You get people who were irked in some way, or people who were exceptionally pleased in other ways. Even reading the reviews on Amazon, you as a reader have to think, would that bother me? If I read a review for a book and people consistently said, ‘This was disjointed, this didn't make sense, I couldn't relate,’ that would sway me away. But if somebody said they didn't have sex soon enough... Please! Why do I care? If you're telling me a good story it really doesn't matter.
Most people want formulaic romance. They want the first sex scene 75 pages in, they want the second sex scene 200 pages in. They want there to be an arc they can predict, they want there to be a second arc they can predict, and they want the ending to be bang! Right there. Nothing wrong with that, if that's what you like, those are the books you should read. But those are not ever gonna be my books. It's just not what I’m interested in, it’s too formulaic for me. I want each book to be unique. But again there's nothing wrong with the other way. It's like watching a situation comedy on TV. You want that to be done in a certain way, and if it's not, it irritates you. I get that, but I'm not advertising that I do that.
NANCY: If there are no outlets to sell your books, would you continue to write?
SUSAN: Yes, I would write for my girlfriend, yes absolutely.
NANCY: Really? You wouldn't be writing for yourself?
SUSAN: Yeah, I have to write for myself. But even if nobody else reads it she's a very avid fan. It's part of our daily routine. At the end of the night she lies on the bed, we have a 300 square foot apartment, that's our only furniture (laughing), and I read her what I wrote that day. Every day.
NANCY: That's cool, it’s actually very romantic too.
SUSAN: It is kinda romantic.
NANCY: I'm a sappy romantic and I think it's very sweet, I'm totally impressed.
SUSAN: She really does like it. She critiques it, she claps and she says that was really good, and I like when this happened or that happened. And it helps me have motivation for the next day because I got good feedback.
NANCY: Is there any kind of book you would never write?
SUSAN: Yeah, a thousand different kinda books. I would never write paranormal because I know nothing about it, I would never write science fiction because I know nothing about it, and I'm not interested in either of those. I'm not that interested in true crime, I'm vaguely interesting in mystery, but just vaguely. I'm a romance person, that's what I love.
NANCY: You know the most common answer I get to this question is erotica.
SUSAN: Oh, I'd write erotica in a New York minute. Why not? I’d happily write erotica but I like more character development. So I prefer to write a romance but if someone wanted me to write a story in an anthology, not a problem.
NANCY: Would you write a short erotica story for another publisher?
NANCY: I'll remember that. I'm trying to talk the Affinity authors into writing an anthology, an erotic one.
SUSAN: Luckily, being independent I can write with anyone else. I’ve done two short story collections through my own company with other authors. I've done a couple for Alyson and one for Cleis Press.
NANCY: Yes I know, I have them both. Do you plan your books out in detail or do you just write?
SUSAN: I plan them out in some detail. I have an outline that is fairly detailed. As I said, I write on this program called Scrivener, so I write down the titles of the scenes. Like in the current book I'm writing I have like about 45 scenes. So I'll just have it say ‘cataclysmic failure in the vineyard,” so those five words will end up being 5000 words.
NANCY: Do you edit as you write or do you just let it flow?
SUSAN: I used to go over things more, I'm doing that less now. I'm trying to get through the story and then go back after waiting a couple weeks and do a really deep first edit. I said to Carolyn the other night that I wasn't as connected to my characters as I want to be at this point in the story, so when I go back for my first edits I'm really going to have to make more sparks between them. But I'm not gonna do that now because I don't know them. If you wait until you're finished with your rough draft, you know them so well you can see where they are a little weak. If you do it while you're going it's like trying to fix errors on your paint job before you finish the whole wall.
NANCY: What do you find most challenging in writing?
SUSAN: The actual writing process is something I understand pretty well now. It’s challenging, but it’s a consistent challenge. The thing I have the most difficulty with is doing any promotion for myself. That doesn't come naturally to me. It also doesn't interest me very much, which makes it harder. But if I don't do some, no one will know that I have any books out which is counterproductive!
NANCY: I read a couple books lately that have a heterosexual sex scene in them. Now anyone who has read any of my interviews, they know that I despise the fade to black sex scene, but when it comes to heterosexual couple in a lesbian novel, I would prefer the fade to black. Could you see yourself writing a heterosexual love scene in one of your books?
SUSAN: I might, sure. I have no plans to do one, but I don't want to say I'd never do it. If it was really critical to the story and there were something I was gonna learn about my main characters by doing that I would definitely do it. I can't guess what that would be, but you never know. When I write a sex scene I want to have a point to it. If you're writing it only to show people bumping fun parts, with no context, you're doing your readers a disservice. I think you have to show character growth, trust, love, passion, something other than ‘it is now time for sex scene’. That's cheating.
NANCY: Do you find it easy to write your love or sex scenes?
NANCY: I like that, she's honest about it. What do you find easier to write, a love scene or a sex scene?
SUSAN: Oh, what's easier? Sex. If you're writing where they're just hot for each other and they’ve gotta do it right then, that's pretty easy. But when you're trying to bring in their emotions and their vulnerabilities and all of the things that really happen during sex it’s more complex.
NANCY: A lot of people say they can't write just a sex scene because every sex scene they write has to have emotions and love involved.
SUSAN: I don’t require that. I’ve written scenes where the people don’t even like each other much, much less love one another. It all depends on where the characters are emotionally.
NANCY: If you want to have hot monkey sex with a stranger, you’re gonna have hot monkey sex with a stranger. There are no emotions involved in that.
SUSAN: Or you can have hot monkey sex with someone you love. There are times you just want to fuck.
NANCY: Exactly! I just don't see where there has to be emotion in every sex scene.
SUSAN: You have to take into consideration who the writer is. Everyone has their own personal way of looking at sex. Maybe that person always has the birds singing in the background, with the sun setting at the right angle. Whatever works for you.
CAROLYN: Or to them, a romance story should be all romance.
SUSAN: There are a lot of people who don't want anything rough at all in their books. And you know, if that's what turns you on, go for it. But I think if you have even a mildly long-term relationship with somebody there are going to be times where you just want to fuck.
NANCY: I agree, sometimes it's just you, me, there, now!
CAROLYN: Yeah, let's fall in love later.
NANCY: Have you taken any formal writing class?
NANCY: You mentioned that you were with a traditional publisher?
SUSAN: Vaguely traditional.
NANCY: Obviously it was not a good experience.
SUSAN: It was fine, really. Fortitude Press. This was 1999. They were taking fan fiction from the Xenaverse, and trying to convert it into books. I didn't have a terrible experience, but my publisher got bored with it quickly and didn’t want to do it anymore. I met a lot of Xena fans, and met a dear friend via Fortitude. I have a lot of readers that are fans from the very beginning. I'm not complaining.
NANCY: Why did you choose the indie route?
SUSAN: I became indie because I know what I need and what I want. I'm not a newbie who needed a lot of guidance in this area. I have very strong opinions about what stories I wanted to tell, I have strong opinions about what the cover should look like, I have strong opinions about my storyline. It was hard to have those opinions and live peacefully with a publisher. I have no interest in living less than peacefully. So it was really the only option for me. I did submit a book to a couple of publishers who were favorably disposed towards it, but they wanted me to change the plot to conform to their style. I can definitely understand that, but I wasn’t willing to do it. Someone could take my book and make it ‘better’, but it wouldn’t be mine.
NANCY: So obviously you have no regrets going indie.
SUSAN: No, not at all. If I were to get an offer from the biggest lesbian publisher I wouldn't accept it. I want to be able to tell my stories my way. I want to hire my own editor and I want to have final say as to what gets in the book. I'm too opinionated to work well with others.
NANCY: You must be Irish.
NANCY: Most people don't realize you’re an indie publisher. Maybe that's because you and your books have been around for such a long time.
SUSAN: I was lucky in that I had the ability to do a regular print run. Using a good printer and having a good editor and a good proofreader allows me to put out very polished-looking books.
NANCY: How did it feel to hold your first published book.
SUSAN: It felt really good. The only downside was I had started to write a series and I had finished three books. The publisher wanted me to write one book. So I had to cut about 600 pages from my three books to get that done. I was never comfortable doing that.
NANCY: The San Francisco series correct?
SUSAN: Yes, I Found My Heart in San Francisco, which was published by Fortitude Press in about 2000 I guess. It was very condensed, and it wasn't the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the longer story. But I wanted to be published so I sold a little chink of my soul to do that. So even though I was glad to have a published book, it wasn't really the book I wanted to have my hand.
NANCY: So when you became your own publisher?
SUSAN: I republished the individual books.
NANCY: So did you get your soul back?
SUSAN: Yes, and I got all the rights back to my books.
NANCY: Your personal preference. E-book or paperback?
SUSAN: When I read, I generally prefer a hardcopy book. It depends on the genre, for me. If it’s a book on writing, I definitely want a hard copy because I want to go back and forth and back and forth and I find that a little difficult on an e-book. But I have an iPad, and I have a Kindle, and they're both chock-full of stuff. So I go both ways. I'm bi-readership.
NANCY: I'm putting that in the interview she swings both ways. Susan X is a swinger.
NANCY: Are you single or in a relationship?
SUSAN: I am happily married.
NANCY: And how long have you been happily married?
SUSAN: I had been married for about seven weeks. (Laughing) And still happy. We were married on April 15 in Central Park in New York City.
NANCY: Okay, but how long have you been together?
SUSAN: We've been together 35 years.
NANCY: No shit!
SUSAN: No shit. Hard to believe isn't it?
NANCY: It is, but it's also very cool.
SUSAN: Yeah it is very cool.
NANCY: This question is just because I'm nosy, after being together 35 years why did you decide to get married? Just because you can?
SUSAN: Because it’s legal now. It's 100% legal in New York City. It's not just a civil union they created to keep us quiet. It’s exactly the same as all other taxpaying adults who want their relationship publicly recognized.
NANCY: And they're not going try to take your rights away in three weeks?
SUSAN: No. There's not even a movement to do that. It was about 60-65% in favor in New York for gay marriages.
NANCY: That is like so cool. I know from your website that you had a partner but I had no clue that you have been partners since Hector was a pup.
SUSAN: Since God was a boy. Since the Carter administration, as we like to say.
NANCY: Do you have any pets?
SUSAN: Sadly, we do not. In our long life together we have had five. But we currently have none. We've had both dogs and cats. Never had fish.
NANCY: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
SUSAN: Night. I'm getting a little bit better with the morning, but I can't write then, so why get up?
NANCY: Use a Mac or PC?
SUSAN: Mac. All Mac all the time.
NANCY: Do you use your real name or a pen name?
SUSAN: Real name.
NANCY: Real name? Wow.
SUSAN: That's my name, don't wear it out.
NANCY: Then I guess I don't have to ask how you came up your pen name do I?
SUSAN: My mommy and daddy. Actually, I changed my name to the Irish spelling. It had become Anglicized or shortened at some point, so I went back to the more traditional spelling.
NANCY: I think you're one of the few lesbian authors that use her real name. Most use a middle name, or their initials, but to use her real name not many do that.
SUSAN: I am proud of my name and I am proud of what I do.
NANCY: How do you pronounce your name?
SUSAN: Ma? ? her.
NANCY: What do you do for relaxation?
SUSAN: I'm pretty relaxed.
NANCY: You really are fairly laid-back aren't you?
SUSAN: Writing really relaxes me, or revs me up depending on what I'm writing. If I'm in a good mood for writing, there's nothing I enjoy more. I don't need relaxation from that. And since that is my job, I don't really need much else. We like to go kayaking. We do a little bird watching. We like sailing, so pretty much everything we do is near water.
NANCY: I was going to ask you about your hobbies but you pretty much answered that with what you do for relaxation.
SUSAN: That's what I do for relaxation. I used to watch a lot of TV, but I've given up pretty much all of it. It's too passive for me. I like to do things that are a little more active, because I'm so focused when I write when I do something else I don’t want to sit there and let something come at me. I want to do something.
NANCY: What's your favorite meal?
SUSAN: Oh God. I like a billion things. Mashed potatoes with caramelized onions and arugula and a really rare rib steak is pretty darned good.
NANCY: How rare, almost blue?
SUSAN: Black and blue is my fave. I'm very carnivorous. And I like to have a nice red wine to go with it. Now I'm getting hungry. But I also love linguine with white clam sauce.
NANCY: Are you an accomplished cook?
SUSAN: I'm not bad.
CAROLYN: You're a very good cook.
SUSAN: Sadly, I only like to cook special things. I'm not the person you want to make meatloaf twice a week. But if you want someone to make lasagna from scratch, including making the noodles, I'm your girl. I like doing the hard stuff.
CAROLYN: She makes a fabulous lasagna with Bolognese sauce. She makes the noodles by hand. It is fab.
NANCY: So when am I invited over for supper?
CAROLYN: We’ll have to figure out the next time the moon is right and she decides to make it.
SUSAN: And I have to be in a place that has a kitchen, since I don't have that in New York.
NANCY: No worries, I have a kitchen.
NANCY: I already know the answer to this question, but, for a getaway, would you choose the water, or the woods?
SUSAN: Water all the time. I'm not averse to the woods, but I would choose water.
NANCY: If you can have anything you wanted, what would it be?
SUSAN: A vacation home in Italy.
NANCY: If one of your books were to become a movie which one would you want it to be?
SUSAN: You can have any of them. Really. I'm not all that picky (laughing). You want to know which one I think would make a good movie?
NANCY: Yes, and I think you know which book I would pick to become a movie.
SUSAN: I do. I think the book I just finished would be a good movie. About the extremely poor woman in Appalachia who wins the lottery.
NANCY: well, it's not out yet, so what is the name of the book?
SUSAN: The name of it is, Almost Heaven. It will be coming out in October. I think it would be a good movie because the characters are so dissimilar to one another. I think movies do best if there is something big to differentiate them. Like yin and yang. This one is quite yin and yangy.
NANCY: Do you want to tell us a little bit about the book so you can reach your readers?
SUSAN: Sure. As I said the character who wins the lottery has never had a job. No one in her family currently has a job. She’s the second generation of her extended family to not work. It's not because they're lazy, it's because there are literally no jobs in the area they live in. They are so tied to one another and to the land they are unwilling to leave. They would rather be hungry than have to leave. It’s a very insular community, without much interaction with the world. She wins a HUGE lottery. The book is mostly about how she and her local banker deal with getting her acclimated to having this money, and the many many downsides to having that kind of wealth. It's no day at the beach for her. That's why it's Almost Heaven.
NANCY: Is the banker her girlfriend to be?
SUSAN: The banker is her girlfriend to be. Absolutely. They have very different goals in life and very different ways of looking at the world, but they find they have a lot more in common than one would think.
NANCY: Like I asked you before, where do you get your ideas? This is totally unlike anything you've done so far.
SUSAN: I want to entertain myself when I write, and one of the ways I entertain myself is learning about other things. The book I'm working on right now is about a woman who lives in Chicago. She's third-generation Italian-American. She has a great-uncle who dies, leaving a winery to someone in the family, but they have to physically be there to run it. So having no information and no interest at all in wine, she moves to Italy to run a winery. Luckily, she has a really hot winemaker to teach her. I don't know a hell of a lot about wine, other than the fact that I like to drink it, and I like Siena and Italy, so writing this is like a virtual vacation.
NANCY: So obviously you would have to do a lot of research on this. I'm pretty sure they don't squish them with their bare feet
SUSAN: Yeah, I'm pretty sure the whole process is something I'm gonna have to learn about. And yeah that interests me. This book it probably gonna be out in February. I've already got about 200 pages written on it. It’s titled ‘The Crush’.
NANCY: How easy is it for you to title a book?
SUSAN: Hard-ish for me, it doesn't come easily. I made the mistake with my first couple of books by making the titles way too long. That was kind of silly. So I try not to do that now. I try to have two words, if I can get away with two. You want something kind of pithy, and you don't want to make it hard for people to find your titles. But having said that, I don't think titles are critical. I think you can title book just about anything. People remember the setting, they remember where it was, and what the characters did for a living. Oh, that's the one about the gardener or the doctor. The titles all kinda merge together after a while.
CAROLYN: When Susan writes her series books, each one has to start with the following letter. Sometimes she writes the whole book and then it's like, okay it’s gotta be a "T" What have you got?
SUSAN: I get out the dictionary and page through it slowly until I find something to do with what was in the book. Sometimes it's a bitch.
NANCY: Who are your three favorite authors, mainstream and lesbian?
SUSAN: I don't read much lesbian fiction these days I must admit, so it would almost be silly for me to say who my favorites are. My list hasn't been updated. Clearly I was very fond of Missy Good, I'm sure I would still be fond of her, but I honestly haven't read her latest book. I really liked The Speed of the Beat of my Heart by Michal Salat and Joann Muscolo. Clearly, I like Georgia Beers, we published one of her books for her. I have lots of friends who write in the lesbian fiction world, and are all fantastic. That's who I like, all of my friends.
NANCY: Okay, now what about mainstream writers?
SUSAN: Michael Chabon. I really like Richard Ford. I really like Jonathan Franzen. I like Ayelet Waldman. I like Susan Orlean. I like David Leavitt. I don't read fantasy. I don't read mysteries and I don't read science fiction so that knocks off so many books. I like to read things that are very different from what I write. I want to read somebody who writes in a different style, who writes different character driven kinds of things. I like Michael Chabon, because his plots are so compelling while still having great character development. His books are just so realistic, even though they are always a little tweaked.
SUSAN: Two reasons. One, I don't want to read things that might give me ideas that I would unconsciously steal. I'm sort of a sponge, so if I was reading something, and I would think ‘Oh,I love the way she did this’, it would be in the back of my head. And that's not a good idea. Plus, I don't have that much free time for reading, and what I do have I want something different. If I read lesbian fiction a lot, that would be like being a baseball player in the pros, and also playing in a league on my days off. That's too much baseball. So it would be too much lesbian fiction for me.
Carolyn: But reading lesbian fiction motivated you to write it.
CAROLYN: When we lived in California and Susan wrote her first six Jamie and Ryan books, which she just wrote for herself and me.
SUSAN: Foreplay,Nancy. (laughing).
CAROLYN: It was definitely foreplay. She wrote them because she read a lot of books that she loved. A lot of Xena fiction and she was like, ‘oh, cool I'm gonna try this’. So it was her inspiration to get started.
SUSAN: Absolutely, but it's too much now.
CAROLYN: It is too much, there's so much out there right now. You don't want to subconsciously have something stuck in your head that you use as a plot and someone says Susan Meagher stole my idea.
SUSAN: I don't think that would actually happen. But turns of phrase, a little something different that sticks in my mind might stick too firmly! Those things can really can get in your head, and I don't want to risk it.
NANCY: Now with your Jamie and Ryan’s series you write, it will be 26 novels correct?
SUSAN: With luck, yes.
NANCY: What made you decide to do that?
SUSAN: When I read lesbian fiction, which I read a lot of before I started writing, I always wanted more. So when I decided to write a story, I thought I'm gonna write a story that no one will justifiably be able to say ‘I don't know enough about them’. So it was my desire to write something big and long. It was also my desire to write about a committed couple who were committed throughout and how they navigate life once the honeymoon is over. It's hard to write a regular book like that because a relationship is a journey and I wanted to be able to show that journey along the whole length.
NANCY: Okay, you're up to what book?
SUSAN: I'm up to S. But published up till L, ‘Lifeline’.
NANCY: You're up to S, you have several others left to write, is it getting more difficult or still pretty easy?
SUSAN: No it's not difficult, I only have seven left. I have them all plotted out in my head. I have rough outlines written down for all of them. I know what needs to happen, what I want to happen, and how I want it to end. I know the characters well enough that it is more like visiting friends. Honestly, it's not hard at all.
NANCY: I really want to know what the Z novel is going to be called.
SUSAN: It is going to be named ‘Zeitgeist’.
NANCY: Called what?
SUSAN: Zeitgeist. Look it up. (Laughs)
NANCY: You gotta spell it for me first.
SUSAN: (she did spell it for me) I believe that means in the spirit of the time.
NANCY: How do you choose what to write next? I mean, you got this great idea in your head for new story, but then it's like, oh I need to put out a Jamie and Ryan book first. So how do you decide what to write when?
SUSAN: There has to be a little discipline there, I generally try to write a standalone novel and then write a series book, then a standalone and then another series book. But if I have two standalone novels that really want to get going, then I will go ahead and do that. I don't force myself to write a Jamie and Ryan if it’s not working for me. Writing because of a schedule is cheating the readers. I’ve gotta be in the right mood. It's got a be flowing or it seems forced.
NANCY: Okay, all your Jamie and Ryan stories are on your website, correct?
SUSAN: There on my Yahoo group site. And at the Academy of Bards.
SUSAN: Because I promised. When I started writing this series, I said I would do everything in my power to finish the series and I would make sure there were available to the people who didn't have the money to buy them. I don't want to go back on my word. Mom told me that was wrong.
NANCY: But you made that promise a hundred and 12 years ago.
SUSAN: I made that promise 12 years ago, yeah. I don't think time and distance gives you an out.
NANCY: I don't either. But I think is really cool that you're still keeping your promise. Especially After 12 years.
SUSAN: I would prefer not to give them way. I work hard to write them, and I do this for my living. I know I lose sales giving them away, but there are a lot of people who just plain can't afford to buy them. And those are the people who need them the most, the people that don't have the extra eight bucks to spend on an e-book often live in small towns or more rural areas and they don't know other lesbians. So you know, it's like a lifeline for a lot of people.
NANCY: I still think it's very cool, I can't think of anyone else that does that.
SUSAN: No, pretty much nobody else does that. Publishers wouldn’t let you. They’re in the business of selling books, not giving them away. (Laughs)
CAROLYN: Well, the couple of publishers that you talked to were like, you’d have to take them down. I think having the freebies still available, lets the newbies who have never read Susan get a feel for what she's like. And then they can Google her name, and then they can find her site, which is Brisk Press.
Susan doesn't do this but I do. I track buying patterns. Every once in a while I'll see somebody buy book A and then the next order I see from them is for books B through L. Or somebody else would've already purchased the series, and then I'll see they went back and bought all the standalones. So I think it's a good intro to get people interested in Susan. They know the online versions aren't formatted and aren't really proofed, and the printed ones are all cleaned up.
SUSAN: Also, because I'm independent, I don't have to try to squeeze the last nickel out of everybody. I want to make a living out of doing this, but it's not going to kill me to lose a few hundred sales for each book. You need to do what you can do to get enjoyment out of life; you can't get bogged down chasing the buck.
NANCY: Wow, that was a great interview if I do say so myself.
SUSAN and Carolyn are really, really neat people. Susan, for some reason that was nothing like I was expecting. For some unknown reason, I was expecting someone more audacious…maybe it was the picture of her with a cigar she had posted on Facebook, I don't know. But she was very soft-spoken, with a quick wit and a great sense of humor. I record all my interviews and with this one, there was so much laughing going on, (being in a bar at GCLS had nothing to do with the laughter!) I had to replay several parts, several times just to try and figure out what the hell we were saying.
Her wife Carolyn was able to join us about halfway through the interview, to add to my enjoyment. Together 35 years is almost unbelievable! And totally unbelievable if you see them interact…an old married couple they are not! To this romantic soul, it made my heart smile to see them together, partners in every way. They work together and play together, but still act like two new lovers.
I am totally looking forward to Almost Heaven, being released in October, and the other book she mentioned about the winery. I imagine it will be the only trip to Italy for me, but with the descriptives in Susan’s writings, I have faith that she will make it an enjoyable trip.
Not only was Susan's interview one of the most enjoyable ones, it was also the most expensive one. I have ordered two of Michael Chabon’s books to read, Patricia O'Connor's Woe Is I, and as soon as October rolls around, I will be purchasing Almost Heaven.
NANCY: P. S. When we were talking about Arbor Vitae and All That Matters, Susan said that both groups were right about which book they like more. I have to disagree Arbor Vitae is clearly the better book. LOL. Obviously, Arbor Vitae is my favorite book written by Susan, if you haven't read yet, definitely check it out. I have read the online version, the e-book, and I just purchased the paperback, and I love it every time I read it, and every time I still want to smack the daughter. I guess that's one of the things that makes Susan such a great writer, after reading the book several times, and probably knowing it better than Susan does, knowing how it's going to end, it can still evoke that kind of emotion in me.