Susan will be awarding a notebook perfect for journaling to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.
Don't forget, leave a comment for a chance to win.
1.What or who inspired you to start writing?
I started writing when I started reading! Reading was so enthralling (and still is!) that the next natural step was to come up with stories of my own that I wanted to write down. That process started very young – I was filling small notebooks (3x5) with handwritten stories by time I was seven or eight, and when I was ten I remember writing a story about an English family (I read a lot of books about English children and thought they were so interesting!) In my story, the children were separated from their parents by a great storm, and they ended up chaining their beds together and floating off into the clouds. Even then, as you can see, reality was a big factor in my writing! (J)
And to this day, the best gift anyone can give me is a lined blank book with a beautiful cover! No matter what, I always find a use for them – which is why I’m giving away a notebook with STEALING FIRE’s cover on it – hope someone else will enjoy it as much as I would!
2.How did you come up with ideas for your books?
It’s not something I consciously set out to do. I never TRY to come up with story ideas. They just occur to me, because the way my mind works, everything is a story. What happens usually is that I ask myself a question: “What if… ?”
What if a woman from the year 2000 had the chance to save JFK from assassination in 1963?
What if a girl from a small town found out that someone she loved had been killed by a white supremacist group?
If the idea is interesting enough, I keep thinking. I follow the thread of logic (there’s more logic to writing than most people realize— once you have step A, ask yourself what logically would step B look like?) If it gets exciting, and I can’t stop thinking about the potential project, then I usually have a story I feel compelled to write. (And the above two examples, btw, are from projects I’ve written – FORWARD TO CAMELOT is the JFK assassination story; PERCEPTION is the story about the white supremacist group.)
STEALING FIRE is the exception – the novel evolved because I was living through a very similar relationship at the time I started writing. I was young and in a lot of pain because of much that I didn’t understand about the relationship, and as always with me, when I lived through something important I wanted to WRITE IT DOWN (it’s been the driving urge of my entire life). So I didn’t ‘what if’ this story – it was happening to me, and while I changed certain aspects (I never worked in a hotel, as Amanda does, and the guy in question was a writer, but not a lyricist/librettist as Beau is), the emotional component is very true to life.
3.As far as your writing goes, what are your future plans?
Life is pretty exciting at the moment, because STEALING FIRE is one of THREE books of mine that are coming out this year! REALIZING YOU (co-authored with Ron Doades) is a self-help NOVEL (I sort of invented a genre). That’s coming out shortly, and FORWARD TO CAMELOT (co-authored with Kevin Finn) is being re-published by Drake Valley Press (who did STEALING FIRE) in late October. CAMELOT is really special, because it deals with the JFK assassination (a time-travel story, lots of history and adventure), and we originally published it 10 years ago. So this is a ‘50th anniversary edition’ (since the JFK assassination happened 50 years ago this fall) and will contain an essay about our experience with the book after it was published. I think readers will enjoy some of the ‘inside stuff’ we’re sharing there!
For 2014, my plan is to finish and publish the sequel to CAMELOT. I may also try to publish a second book, but at the moment I’m not sure which one of the various projects I have will be it. I’m sure it’ll be fun deciding!
4.If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?
I’m embarrassed to say that it took me quite awhile to figure out what the common denominator in all my books was. I always wrote in different genres – mystery, love stories, history, etc. – and I wrote young-adult and adult books. (I also wrote a lot of previous fiction and non-fiction for young-adults, including a history of Alcatraz, but those were books I was commissioned to write.) With my own work, I finally realized that the common thread was that each heroine in each book represented me, at some point in my life. Amanda in STEALING FIRE is the very young me; Cady in FORWARD TO CAMELOT is a highly glamorized version of me; Lindy in THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL (another unfinished novel I’m working on) is an older, more mature version.
If I had to pick one to be, without a doubt, it would be Cady. Cady is smart, resourceful, creative, courageous, beautiful and good, and people meeting her are inevitably impressed. She’s what I’d love to be and I’m afraid I’m really not – but it’s nice to dream, right?
My own favorite author is Dick Francis, the mystery writer, who was once asked whether all his heroes, who are quite similar in personality, were really him. He answered, “Yes – only smarter, stronger and more courageous than I am.”
I’ll go with that.
5.Do you belong to a critique group? If so how does this help or hinder your writing?
I’m not fond of critique groups. There are so many negatives, and in my opinion, so few positives, that it’s not worth it to join one.
In a nutshell: A) it’s hard to find writers at the same exact skill level you’re at, and frankly, getting criticism from writers who are not yet at your level is often useless; B) it’s hard to find writers who write in the same genre AND ARE AT THE SAME SKILL LEVEL, and understanding the genre you write in is critical to giving worthwhile feedback; C) as a member of a critique group, you are obligated to read everyone else’s work and give feedback, which can be ENORMOUSLY time-consuming – you can end up using up your own precious writing time reading and critiquing others; D) it’s quite easy to mistake critiquing others for being a writer yourself. Reading and writing a critique is not WRITING. As writers, we are so creative at finding ways to procrastinate doing our own work that I personally do not need another one!
I do have readers I trust, to whom I will hand over my work for their comments, and now I also have editors I work with who have been a godsend in pointing out errors, inconsistencies, etc. But since they’re being paid and are NOT trying to write their own novels at the same time, I don’t have to feel guilty about taking up their time.
Maybe I’m a little jaundiced here, but I did attend one critique group in Oak Park, Illinois, where I lived long ago. We spent TWO HOURS going over one guy’s letter of transmittal to an agent – not even manuscript pages, but a letter of transmittal! In two hours I can write eight pages of manuscript. It was a crazy waste of time, and I thought, very self-indulgent. I never went back.
Part of being professional (and I assume many of the people here are or want to be) is budgeting your time effectively. Protecting your writing time is paramount, and only you know how many hours a week you need to finish a certain number of pages (whatever you decide is the output you want to achieve), so you must set aside those hours first and foremost. The older I get, the longer it takes me – so I need more writing hours than I did years ago to accomplish the same amount. That means fewer hours for any outside activities.
6.What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)
Most of the best advice comes from books on writing, by various writers. I learned a lot about dramatic structure from Syd Field’s books on screenwriting, and I still like re-reading William Goldman’s books on Hollywood (ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE and WHICH LIE DID I TELL?) Stephen King really DID write the best book about the craft, ON WRITING. I recommend it to everybody.
The worst advice I ever received was along the lines of, “Write letters of query to editors and wait for a reply.” This is standard advice for writers, and I think it’s ridiculous. I didn’t do that – I picked up the phone and called editors personally. It must have worked, because I did nine books for one house starting with that phone call!
7.Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I used to do full outlines, character sketches, the works. I found that I would often get stuck on the outlines more than if I’d just started writing. Now I write down the ideas that first occur to me – so they don’t get away – and whatever other details I think I’ll need. A lot of it is sitting quietly with a notebook and pen (I don’t feel comfortable doing initial notes on a computer) and being quiet to let the ideas come to me. Then, when I have an idea, I let logic take over and present me with additional ideas. (A girl is moving from Maine to New York. What mode of travel would she choose—a bus because it’s inexpensive, a train, because it’s easier, or a plane, because it’s quickest? Asking yourself questions like that helps develop the story so fast—they also help you develop characters who take action that makes sense.)
Once I have even the barest set of notes – a page or two, even – I start to write the manuscript, and not always at the beginning. I start wherever I feel confident that I have something to say, and sometimes write chapters completely apart from one another, just so I can keep piling up pages. That’s what I did with STEALING FIRE – which I didn’t even know was a novel for the longest time. It was just a set of manuscript pages I actually started (gulp) on the TYPEWRITER in 1983. I got my first computer in 1988, and that was also interesting, because at the time Microsoft Word would only allow you to have so many pages in a single file (much different than today’s Word). So I had to separate each chapter from every other chapter in separate Word files, and had no idea how much manuscript I really had – called it my ‘baby novel’ for the longest time. When I finally put the whole thing together, years later, I had 275 pages of manuscript – way too much to throw away, at that point!
8.Do you have any hobbies and does the knowledge you've gained from these carry over into your characters or the plot of your books?
That’s actually how I got my first book assignment! A small book- producing house was looking for a writer to write the last in a series of six books for girls, about three girls training to ride horses in the Olympics. I’d been riding English saddle for about 3 years at the time, and knew the vocabulary and the realities of riding. I wrote a sample chapter for them and they hired me. As a writer, I’ve found that nothing you learn or do is ever wasted!
Later, I wrote two books for a girls’ fiction series called SWEET DREAMS. They were short romances for young girls – at the end of the book the girl would get her first kiss. I wrote one book, RACING HEARTS, about jockey school—yes, a school where you can actually train to be a jockey. There were two of them in the country at the time, one in Pennsylvania, one in California; I attended the one in California, and proposed a novel to my editor about a similar (fictional) jockey school. She liked it, and I wrote it – about a girl who joins a jockey school for the summer, learns to muck out stalls, groom, feed, tack and medicate horses and also to be an exercise rider, and falls in love with one of the other students there.
The second book, HEAD OVER HEELS (same series), was about a girl who wins a whitewater rafting trip. Well, I’ve been rafting rivers since 1982 (most in California), and recently did a trip with my two sons in North Carolina. So I knew enough about it to make it authentic for readers, and they seemed to like it very much.
9.Do you have an all-time favorite book?
I have many! Dick Francis is my all-time favorite writer; I love all his work and constantly re-read it. I love a lot of classics—most are highly readable and wonderful fun (the first book I put on my Kindle was LITTLE WOMEN). Also love PRIDE & PREJUDICE, OF HUMAN BONDAGE, TOM SAWYER, and loads of others. Crazy about Daphne du Maurier, and REBECCA and FRENCHMAN’S CREEK are among my all-time favorites. Also have a soft spot for old maltshop books, by authors like Rosamund du Jardin, Mary Stolz and Marjorie Holmes, and tons of series books: Donna Parker, Connie Blair, Ginnie Gordon, the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters. I even still have my entire Nancy Drew collection and I dare you to take it from me!
10. Who is your favorite actor and actress?
Currently, I’m pretty crazy about Hugh Jackman (does this need an explanation?) and Kate Winslet. I love movies by Nancy Meyer, and the THE HOLIDAY, starring Winslet, is one of my favorites. And my novel, STEALING FIRE, is about Broadway, a love going back to my childhood, and Jackman’s work in musicals fascinates me. He was outstanding in OKLAHOMA! and I hope he’ll do a lot more in the not-too-distant future!
“How do you recognize your soulmate?
In glittery 1980’s Los Angeles, Beau Kellogg is a brilliant Broadway lyricist now writing advertising jingles and yearning for one more hit to compensate for his miserable marriage and disappointing life.
Amanda Harary, a young singer out of synch with her contemporaries, works at a small New York hotel, while she dreams of singing on Broadway.
When they meet late at night over the hotel switchboard, what begins will bring them each unexpected success, untold joy, and piercing heartache ... until they learn that some connections, however improbable, are meant to last forever.
STEALING FIRE is, at its heart, a story for romantics everywhere, who believe in the transformative power of love.”
STEALING FIRE was a Quarter-Finalist (Top 5%) in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.
Six-year-old Amanda wandered over to the table and picked up the album cover. The name of the show, The Life and Times, was printed in bold letters across the top, with a pencil sketch of a black top hat and neatly folded white gloves in the middle. A splashy yellow sun, its rays streaming diagonally, filled the rest of the cover. She forgot about it, though, as the record began to play.
She loved it instantly.
“Again, Mommy, again!” she said excitedly when the first song ended.
Her mother shook her head. “Listen to the rest first.”
Amanda sat down on her favorite soft footstool near the big brown rocker and listened. She loved it all.
There was one song especially that she liked. It was about blowing bubbles. She didn’t understand the verse, but she sang along with the chorus:
“… Bubbles bursting, bursting bubbles …
Breaking dreams with every blow.
I’ll remember each dream burst
Till the final bubbles go.”
She didn’t really understand the song, but it seemed sad to her.
As with most show scores, Amanda asked to hear the record again and again. A few months later her older sister Josie, tossing a ball carelessly around the room, smashed the record.
Amanda cried and asked her mother to please buy it again, please. Her mother explained regretfully that the show had been a `flop’ years before. There were no copies around, and Josie hadn’t meant to smash it; it was an accident. “Stop crying now, Amanda,” she said sharply.
She listened to her mother and stopped crying. But she never forgot the song about bursting bubbles.
Susan Sloate is the author of 20 published books, including FORWARD TO CAMELOT (with Kevin Finn), an alternative history of the JFK assassination, STEALING FIRE, an autobiographical love story, and REALIZING YOU (with Ron Doades), for which she invented a new genre – the self-help novel. FORWARD TO CAMELOT was a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in 3 literary competitions and was optioned for film production by a Hollywood company. STEALING FIRE was a quarter-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Susan has also written young-adult fiction and non-fiction, including RAY CHARLES: FIND ANOTHER WAY!, which won a silver medal in the 2007 Children’s Moonbeam Book Awards, AMELIA EARHART: CHALLENGING THE SKIES, a perennial Amazon bestseller, and MYSTERIES UNWRAPPED: THE SECRETS OF ALCATRAZ, which led to her appearance on a special for The History Channel in 2009, as well as books for five girls’ fiction series. As a screenwriter, she has written an informational film for McGraw-Hill Films and optioned two scripts to Hollywood production companies. As a sportswriter, she’s covered the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets. She’s also managed two recent political campaigns, founded the East Cooper Authors Festival (which put 18 professional authors in 17 area schools in one day) and serves on the Culture, Arts and Pride Commission of the Town of Mount Pleasant.