Good morning to everyone! This is my third in a series of interviews that I have done with Indie Authors. If you haven’t had the chance to read the other two, you can check them out now. The first was with Benjamin Wallace and the second was with Kim Scott.
Today’s interview is with Suspense writer, Susan May. I recently read her short story “Back Again” and enjoyed it very much. I invited her to the tower to talk about it full-length version of the story and some of her other works. Please enjoy!
Hello Susan and welcome to the Fifth Tower!
Chris, thank you so much for having me here. I’m really thrilled that you’ve invited me to meet your readers and, also, for your very kind words about Back Again.
Your current project, Back Again, is both a short story and a full length novel. Why is it both?
I wrote the short story for a time travel anthology which didn’t happen in the end. So I finished Back Again and sent it off to my copy editor, Peg, at http://www.ebookeditingpro.com. She told me she loved the story, and made some suggestions about continuing past the conclusion. I had a few queries about the edits and the owner of the business, Christie, who is an ex-Penguin USA and St Martin’s Press structural editor, read through it for me. She also loved it. Then two days later, Christie sent me an email urging me to turn the story into a book and that, if I did, she had some contacts in publishing she’d like to send it to as a novel.
When I’d finished the short story, I always did think there was more story there. So, even though I had another project I was about to start, I thought that I may as well give this a swing. However, I wasn’t positive I could turn the story into a book because it had felt reasonably complete, except for a few niggles. I gave myself four weeks to see what I had at the end of that time because I didn’t want to waste too much time on it. It seemed tricky to pull off anyway, because I had to write around the short story and it wouldn’t be a linear write. As well short stories are pretty easy—you don’t have to explain everything; you can just allude. In a book, I would have to explain a lot of things that I hadn’t worried about and think of a different ending that went past my short story ending.
What thrilled me was that because I gave myself a deadline, I actually wrote the whole book in four weeks—84,000 words (350 pages). This book has taught me how to write and edit fast. I wrote some tips on this after writing the 12,000-word short story draft in a week. The total write time from start to sending off to my editor, including two thorough edits, was two-and-a-half months, and I think it’s the cleanest manuscript I’ve sent for editing yet.
Tell us a little bit about the story concept.
Dawn watches her son, via her rear vision mirror, killed in a vehicle accident. Then, after enduring ten days of unimaginable hell, she finds herself back again to the morning of the accident day. She thinks that she has just been given the greatest gift of being able to change the future, until she discovers that there are limitations to her return.
Do you really think it would be that difficult to alter your own timeline?
When I sat down to write this time slip story, I knew I didn’t want a setup like every other Groundhog Day type story, where the character goes back and repeats different versions of the day, with their only challenge being creating a temporal loop or something similar. So I gave Dawn a handicap that I’d never read or seen in a film or book before. Of course, readers will need to read the book to discover what that actually is.
And, Chris, I think it would be very difficult to alter my own timeline because I don’t have a time travel machine. If I did, I certainly would have Dawn’s same determination to never give up trying to save my children.
In reading the reviews for Back Again, someone held back one star because they were unhappy with the ending. Do these types of reviews bother you?
I always said I would never read my reviews, but I can’t help it—I do. If a reader is kind enough to take the time to write a review, then I feel I should read it. No, that doesn’t bother me that a reader writes something negative about my stories, because it’s so subjective. I’m a film and book critic, and the other film critics and I are always discussing our difference of opinion on films and making fun of each other’s tastes. Yet we’re all just as experienced. I know going in that some readers won’t like my work or an ending or a character, but I’m always grateful that they take the chance on reading my stories.
I wouldn’t change a story because of a review. I don’t even have a critique group. I have my husband, who is a great first reader and really nails most of the problem areas before my editors get the work. Then I have my editors. Once a story is done and published, it’s pretty much over for me. I’m usually well into the next story project. I don’t want to go back. It isn’t arrogance that I don’t listen to others. I just have a different type of team and mode of working.
You grew up reading Poe, Hitchcock, and Tales from the Crypt comics. Were you the creepy child in class everyone avoided?
I was a very weird looking—skinny with frizzy hair—as a kid and not hugely popular. I know I thought a lot differently to other kids. My first presentation in class in Grade Eight was on how they did the special effects in The Exorcist (which I’d snuck in and seen at 13—you were meant to be 18). A few kids told me that I was creepy after that. I worked out at age 11 that if you’re not good looking, you need to develop a sense of humor and a good personality. So that’s what I did, and I ended up hanging with most of the popular girls. So I became popular by association. I still use that tactic today. That’s why I initiated the creation of From The Indie Side. Having my story in a book with other amazing writer like Hugh Howey, Peter Cawdron, Kate Danley, and all the other greats in there, might make me look pretty cool by association.
Looking at your list of published works, it would appear that you could be considered a female version of Stephen King. Do you have problems with being labeled in regards to genre?
I have no problems with that. That’s how I label myself. When Stephen King first started out, I bet he was compared to writers like H.P. Lovecraft or Ray Bradbury. He would have been thrilled, as well. Then eventually you hope that your work stands for your name, and other writer’s work is then compared to yours. I’ve been reading Stephen King since I was a teenager and he does inspire me, so its no accident that my storylines feel like Stephen King set ups.
Who is your artist for your covers? Why did you choose them?
Would you believe my husband—who isn’t a cover artist or has any lean towards art? I wanted to commission a cover artist with my first book Behind The Fire, but he said, “No give me a go. How hard can it be?” He uses a ten-year-old graphic design package and we found a website with thousands of free fonts. When you’re starting out, I don’t think you should spend too much money on anything. It’s going to take you a long time to recoup that. Of course, I use him because he’s cheap—well free! However, if he didn’t do such a good job, I would have to find some other solution. I’m very lucky that my husband is my greatest supporter.
When you come up with an idea for a story, how do you write it? (start in the middle, end, or just the beginning?)
I start with just an idea or a scene. Like in Back Again, I was sitting in my car waiting to pick up my son from a music lesson (just like my character Dawn) and he went around the back of my angle-parked car to put his guitar in the trunk. I thought: this is dangerous. It would only take a driver a momentary lapse to hit him. Then my mind went to what would I do? I would wish that it never happened. I would wish that I could go back and tell him not to stand at the back of the car. Immediately, I realized that was a good story set up.
I write from the beginning until the end and I’m a pantser. I have no idea what is going to happen. I’ve been writing for so long, I’ve learned to trust my characters implicitly. They always have the story in-hand, while most of the time I’m freaking out, thinking, where is this all going. But if I’m surprised by where the story goes, then the reader will be, too. So I like that kind of process.
When you’re not writing or chasing your family around, what do you do for fun?
My family keeps me busy. I’ve two boys, 12 and 14, and they have heaps going on. I’m a film and book critic, too. If I’m not with my family, keeping house, or writing or reading, I’m in a darkened cinema several times a week. Last year I saw 130 odd films on screen. It’s the perfect job for a cinephile.
Where do you see the publishing industry ten years from now?
Who can tell? It’s so volatile. I’m watching with interest and amusement. I actually know a great many people in publishing. I work with Big Five publicists behind the scenes with reviews and author interviews, and one of my best friends works for Harper Collins. She and I spend hours, over coffee, discussing the state of the industry and its future. It’s fun to talk about, but there is a lot of spin out there.
I think the publishers are responding to the new climate, despite what some vocal groups will have you believe, and that will evolve to embrace hybrid authors. How can you look to the future when we don’t even know what technology is coming? Ten years ago, nobody could predict what the iPod would do to the world. So I can only say what I see me doing in the future for sure. And that is, I’ll be telling stories with words through whatever means is available.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
When you are first starting out you don’t realize the long, emotional road that lies ahead. The writing will be horrible and you will feel like a failure more times than you will feel great. But you must keep going. Don’t get caught up in the politics of publishing. Do what feels right for you. Trust your instincts. Most of all— You. Must. Write. Social media, studying the industry, strategizing how to get reviews, talking about writing, IS NOT WRITING. Writing well with confidence comes organically, helped along if you do some courses or study up on it. However, even authors who study writing need to write a lot to become good, to learn about the instinct you need for words and timing. Don’t stop before you become good enough. Pay your dues. Do your time. (I’m still doing this.) Most of all, write for love and because you are curious about that character or that set up and want to explore it. Stay true to you, and I don’t see how you can fail. In the end, whether you sell a million books or one, you will have enjoyed yourself and learned something.
Once Back Again is available, what will be next for you?
Even as I finished the pre-editor edits of Back Again recently, I was already working on the next story in my head. I need to write another book immediately to be sure that I can write at the cracking pace I did with Back Again. The insecure writer in me wants to be sure it wasn’t a fluke.
Now I’ve learned how to write a novel fast (by stealing time and staying focused) I will put out at least three books a year in the future. I actually have a 40,000-word novella following on from Hugh Howey’s world of Dust called Particles edited back in March. However, I’ve decided that I want it to be its own work and not set in the Wool world, so I have to rework that for release some time later this year.
Due to the success of From The Indie Side, I have a few authors asking me when I’m putting together another anthology. So that will happen in the next year or so. Now I’ve created one anthology I have the blueprint for more. They are great fun and you meet and make friends with some really great talented people.
I’ve also got a bunch of short stories I’ve written over the past four years that I’m working on with my editor. These are for a science-fiction collection. I released the Behind Dark Doors Collection in April and I have another collection ready to go Behind More Dark Doors in the horror/dark thriller genre—I just haven’t had time to put it up.
And that’s what I mean about making it about the writing. I’ve written plenty of stories I haven’t even published because, as much as I’d love to be earning a great living from this, at the moment, getting the stories down is what matters.
Thank you for your time!
Thank you, Chris, for having me on your blog and I wish you all the best in your career. It’s a fantastic thing to help promote other authors. I’m all about that, and I do the same. You can’t expect people to review your work or help you when you don’t pay it forward. So it seems to me you are certainly on the right writing path. There’s another piece of advice for new writers (and some old ones), don’t do this alone. Reach out to others, be part of the community. Writing is no longer a solitary pursuit. Take advantage of that community connection, not just for your work, but for your soul.
For more information about Susan and her books, check out these links…
Susan May’s books:
Amazon USA: Amazon USA
Amazon UK: Amazon UK
Amazon Australia: Amazon Australia
Find Susan where good social media people hang out:
Twitter: Susan May
Facebook: Like Susan May
Google+: Join my circle
Linked In: Linked In Profile
Good Reads: Friend on Good Reads
About SUSAN MAY
Susan May was four when she decided to be a writer. But for forty-six years, she suffered from life-gets-in-the-way-osis. Cured in 2010, she has since penned several novels and multiple short stories—many published award winners in Australia, USA and UK. She pens book and film reviews and author interviews for Suspense Magazine in the USA, as well as, other popular Australian and International sites.
Although she works directly with the big five publishers in Australia and overseas with her reviewing work, Susan launched herself into the exciting new world of independent publishing mid-2013. She believes that self-publishing offers savvy writer’s an opportunity to control their writing and careers, allowing them to quickly deliver their stories into reader’s hands. Susan has very quickly made a name for herself in the speculative fiction genre, collaborating with some of the biggest names in the indie world today
That brings this post to a conclusion. If you have any questions or comments for myself or Susan, feel free to post them here. Our next interview will be Thursdays, August 28th with Elyse Salpeter.