Author Interview with Susanna Daniel

Susanna Daniel pic
Susanna Daniel

Hi Everyone,

Today I’m publishing an author interview that I originally posted in 2014. I really enjoyed Susanna Daniel’s books so I’m sharing this author interview first and I’ll post my reviews of her two books later today.

I hope you find this interesting. She currently teaches creative writing in Madison, Wisconsin. You can learn more about Susanna here.


I recently had the chance to interview Susanna Daniel, author of Stiltsville and Sea Creatures.  Susanna graciously took the time to answer my questions, which appear below.

BCM:  First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.  I really enjoyed reading Stiltsville and Sea Creatures and it’s so fun to get a one-on-one with an author!  Did you write much when you were growing up?  When did you decide to become a writer?

SD:  As a kid I was told so often, by so many people, that I should write, that I almost considered it inevitable. It wasn’t until I was a few years out of college, working as an editor and rising in those ranks, that I realized that if I didn’t make it happen for myself, it would always be on the back burner. I had other aspirations, of course — a stable home life, a family — and it dawned on me, belatedly, that it was likely some goals would crowd out others. I decided to leave New York, and the editorial work, for Iowa City to get my MFA — this gave me time to write among a community of writers, many of whom were much more serious about the whole enterprise, and much more experienced, than I was. This was very good for me. I had to catch up.

BCM:  Were you a reader as a child and in high school?  What did you major in at Columbia?

SD:  I read constantly, but not always material I would necessarily recommend for young minds. My mother was also a big reader, and she and my father were constantly putting age-inappropriate books into my hands: John Irving at age eleven, Pat Conroy a year later. I was an English and Anthro major at Columbia; I wasn’t a particularly good student, and my lowest grades were in my Physics for Poets class and my Logic and Rhetoric class. (Logic and Rhetoric is, of course, writing!)

 BCM:  What kinds of experiences and jobs have helped you as a writer?

SD:  I’ve had a lot of jobs but all of them have been generally in the publishing vein. I think this was a mistake — I should have been more adventurous in my choices, let my writing yoke out a little. But by far the experience that has had the broadest, deepest impact on my writing is my membership in families — as a daughter, sister, mother, wife — and the close attention I pay to domestic dynamics. Here’s where being a boy crazy teenager actually paid off, indirectly.

BCM:  I read about the ten-year period in which you worked, with productive lapses due to regular life obligations, to finish writing Stiltsville.  You spoke of the state of being in what you called “active non-accomplishment.”  And you described a series of events in your life that helped you jump-start your writing.  Do you think that’s typical of a first novel?

SD:  My teacher Chris Offutt once said that a person puts a whole life into a first novel — it’s difficult to assimilate that much information at any age, and I wasn’t a particularly young first-time novelist. But really it’s a question of focus. I borrowed the focus that eventually helped me finish Stiltsville from all corners — successful friends and their tough love, fear of unhappiness, support from my husband. And Stiltsville gave me the focus I needed to finish Sea Creatures, in a much quicker time frame.

BCM:  How was your experience in writing Sea Creatures different?  I imagine that some things were easier.  Were there similarities in the process?  Did you encounter different road blocks?

SD:  It was easier because I understood much more about the process and had more confidence — it was harder, too, because I knew much more about the process. Sea Creatures is a much smaller book in some ways, but also more shapely — it’s more mature, but it’s also a book I’m particularly proud of because I think it represents my growth as a storyteller and also as a person who prioritizes her writing.

BCM:  Is it difficult to balance the marketing aspect of being a writer with the actual process of writing?

SD:  Yes. A lot of people can do this gracefully, but that part of the job makes me want to crawl under my desk, which too often I do, figuratively speaking. I could do more but it exacts a real toll on me.

BCM:  The internet and social media have a big presence in the book publishing and book reading market.  Everyone out there seems to be reading, reviewing and sharing information about books.  When you are in a writing phase, do you tune into this mass of information, or do you feel a need to separate yourself from it?

SD:  I do like to hear writers talk about writing, and I seek that out when I’m not writing, as a way to plug in to the creative process. But the online buzz is often about publishing, not writing, and I do not ever, at any stage, seek that. It feels to me like a very costly fee that I and others have to pay for what we want to do. I like talking to people about my own work, or about theirs — I enjoy visiting reading groups and doing appearances very much — but I do not like the constant onslaught of buzz about the publishing industry. It’s disheartening.

I also teach writing, and with them I share reviews, craft talks, even twitter feeds from inspiring authors — but do I share pieces about the industry wars or about who sold what for how much? No.

BCM:  In an article about reading, you expressed your concern that there’s an expectation for everyone to read the same books, the hugely popular series and best-sellers.  Your idea is to find interesting reads in the lesser-known stacks, and use word-of-mouth to recommend these books.  What do you think is the best way for a book club to break out of that pattern?

SD:  It seems like the best book clubs are — and forgive me for being prescriptive — large in number. We all exist in several echo chambers, and small book clubs become another form. They read books because they “want to know what the buzz is about.” This becomes a question of volume — if you’re reading a few books a week, sure, read for whatever reason you want. But if you’re reading a book a month, the buzz isn’t a good enough reason. More people in a group means a greater variety of voices. The other thing I’ve noticed works nicely for reading groups is to meet one time per year to choose that year’s books. Then it’s not about what book is getting buzz when the group meets — it’s about what books have really lodged themselves in people’s minds when they come together to plan. These groups don’t read hardcovers, I’ve noticed, and though I love a hardcover (to read and to sell!) I think this also contributes to keeping the buzz factor down, because a book has to be out for a while before the club will get to it.

BCM:  I do think a lot of book clubs try to mix things up by adding non-fiction to their reading lists.  Do you like reading non-fiction?  If so, what do you enjoy most?

SD:  I adore nonfiction. I write some creative nonfiction, but generally I don’t identify as a nonfiction writer, so when I’m reading it, I’m not also taking mental notes (unless it’s also a book about writing, in which I’m taking all kinds of notes). This is an immense relief. I’ve read anything ever written about William Maxwell, as well as his volumes of letters. I will pick up anything by Joanna Scott or Robin Romm or Anthony Doerr.

BCM:  I read that your favorite books are Age of Grief, by Jane Smiley, Selected Stories, by Andre Dubus and Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, and that these books have influenced your writing.  Have any other authors influenced you?

SD:  All authors influence me. Some writers only influence me on the page, and some I track to learn more than what’s on the page — how to be a writer in the world, not how to build a career but how to manage inside the one I have.

BCM:  What popular fiction do you enjoy?

SD:  I’ve been reading Lauren Grodstein’s books lately, and I’m enjoying them very much. She writes with a lot of confidence.

BCM:  Stiltsville and Sea Creatures are both set in Miami, Florida and your descriptions reflect having lived in this area.  Now that you are living in the midwest, will you draw from these experiences in the future?

SD:  I have one more South Florida book to finish, then I can think about moving my fiction to the midwest. I’m reluctant to let go of that part of me that hasn’t ever moved out of Florida.

BCM:  In Stiltsville, you use Margo’s insomnia as a way for Dennis to get closer to his daughter, by sitting up with her and talking with her.  Despite the lost hours, there’s a good feeling about this time spent.  In Sea Creatures both Georgia and Graham suffer from different forms of sleep disorders, but there’s a much more frightening element to these late-night hours.   How did you develop the sleep disorder idea for Sea Creatures?

SD:  I heard a monologue by a comic named Mike Birbiglia, which was years later made into a movie by This American Life — in it, he discussed his own parasomnia, and I laughed along, but I also thought: My word, what it would be like to be married to this guy?

BCM:  In both Stiltsville and Sea Creatures, you give the reader a real sense of the dangers that come with living in a stilt house, including falling from the railings or other perches, and swimming or waterskiing in the open water and, of course, hurricanes.  What was it like spending time in the stilt house community?  Did neighbors look out for each other?

SD:  My parents could answer that better than I, but I don’t remember a lot of vigilance. They made sure we could swim, then let us go. I know a few parents who are easygoing in that way now, but not many.

BCM:  Tell me about your writing group, the Madison Writers’ Studio, how you started it and how it works.

SD:  My partner Michelle Wildgen and I teach eight-week workshops in our homes a few times a year, and we both teach a yearlong novel writing workshop that meets monthly. We started it because we love to teach and wanted to bring writers together. It’s not expressly a writing group, because the sessions are run like MFA-level workshops, but there’s a supportive aspect to the classes that I think we all find nurturing. We also host readings at the close of each class, which gives the writers a sense of how it is to share work broadly and aloud, and gives them a chance to hear what other people are working on. People are very serious about their own writing, even if they aren’t yet publishing — the studio gives them a place to take it seriously among other people who feel the same way.

BCM:  I enjoyed reading an article about how you spend your typical day, and how, for certain times of this day, you make writing well your first priority.  How do you manage the challenges of raising young children and the frustrations that pop up when your schedule changes?  Are you able to reorganize your day to write at night, for example?

SD:  I am not able to write at night. I wonder often how much more productive I would be if I could. I do not Do It All — I’m not that person. Instead, I delegate, hire, lower my expectations, often fail. I have a novel group that helps bring me back to the work when I wander for too long — that’s been essential for me these last few years. We’ve also started what I hope will be a long tradition of taking weekends away to write, to goose productivity. It’s still true that a day is only really good if I write well that day. How to write with young kids is a problem each person solves in her own way. The schedule and balance is under constant revision.

BCM:  Thanks so much, Susanna, for this interview.  I’m looking forward to your next book!

SD:  Thank you, Barbara!

Here is a brief bio of Susanna, as it appears on her website.  Be sure to check out her writers’ workshop too!

Author Susanna Daniel’s debut novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham prize for best debut work published in 2010, and her second novel, Sea Creatures, was named an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick of the Best Books of August, 2013.

Susanna was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where she spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house in Biscayne Bay.

Susanna is a co-founder, with author Michelle Wildgen, of the Madison Writers’ Studio. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was a Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Her writing has been published in Newsweek, Slate, One Story, Epoch, and elsewhere.

Susanna lives with her husband and two young sons in Madison, Wisconsin, where during the long winter she dreams of the sun and the sea, and of jumping off the stilt house porch at high tide.

2018 recap – a year of change

Fred H. Rohn

This year was a time of great excitement for me, as I helped my father, Fred Rohn, publish his second book, Encounters – Relationships in Conflict. My father was ninety-two when the book was finished, and working on it together was a special time for me. He had been writing short fiction about relationships for most of his adult life and wanted to compile these stories into a collection.

2018 has also been a time of sadness, as my father passed away in June, just weeks after his book was published. During the last few months of his life, we had long discussions about where Encounters fit into the book world and how to promote it. We were both very excited about launching it and acting as our own book publicists.

   

These plans are now my own and, during this transition, I have begun to think about how I will honor my father and what place Encounters and his memoir, A Fortunate Life will have in the indie author market.

Thank you to those who have read and reviewed his books, and shared your enthusiasm on your blogs and on social media. Your comments mean a great deal to me.

My father was also very excited about this video interview, which was published by the Madison Eagle in January 2018. You can view it here or on YouTube below.

 

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Author Interview – Jill Weatherholt

Please welcome my author friend, Jill Weatherholt, to Book Club Mom today. Jill is a talented writer and an active promoter of bloggers and writers on her blog and across many social media platforms. By day, she works for the City of Charlotte. At night, and on the weekend, she writes contemporary stories about love, faith and forgiveness for Harlequin Love Inspired.

BCM: Hello Jill and welcome! I think everyone has a story or two in their heads. Some people have written stories their entire lives, even as children. When did you begin your writing career?

JW: It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time as I’ve always enjoyed writing and journaling. For me, writing has always been a way to relax and destress. In 2010, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month contest. I frantically wrote 50k words during the month of November. That ugly and very rough start to a first draft became my first published novel, Second Chance Romance in March, 2017.

BCM: How did you become a writer for the Harlequin Love Inspired series?

JW: In March of 2015, I made a last minute decision to enter Harelquin’s Blurb to Book contest. As I advanced through the stages, I frantically rewrote that 2010 NANOWRIMO project and in August of 2015, I was offered a contract. It was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.

BCM: I was struck with how Second Chance Romance, in addition to inspirational romance, fits into several categories. I think that’s because your characters face modern and often complex problems, just like real people and characters in other genres. I believe your specific genre is popular because of this and because readers simply like to read a book with a feel-good finish. What’s your favorite genre to read? Do your reading tastes cross into other types of books?

JW: When I was in college, I read a lot of Stephen King and true crime stories. As I got older, I guess I turned into a big chicken because I couldn’t read stories like that and fall asleep at night. These days I enjoy reading romance and women’s fiction. I do enjoy a happy ending, but some tears along the way are okay, too.

BCM: I very much enjoyed reading “Memories of the Lighthouse Keeper” and congratulations on being the Dream Quest One First Writing Prize Winner for this moving story! Many writers begin their careers by writing short fiction. Some stay in that genre while others move to writing longer fiction. Do you like both? Any short stories in the works?

JW: Aw…thanks so much, Barbara. “Memories of the Lighthouse Keeper” is a special story to me. It was written shortly after my mother was diagnosed with dementia. I enjoy the challenge of writing short stories. I’ve been writing and submitting short stories to Woman’s World Magazine for several years. After numerous rejections, I sold my first story to them in December, 2017. It was a story inspired by my mother and father and their dating years. I recently sold a second story, also inspired by my mother and using her maiden name. I’ve told her she’s my little lucky charm.

BCM: I see a lot of hummingbirds on your website and on social media. They are such beautiful birds and very fun to watch! Do you have a special interest in them?

JW: Many years ago, I saw my first hummingbird while on a golfing vacation in Arizona. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by these amazing creatures. As someone who has a difficult time relaxing, watching these guys whiz around our backyard gives me peace.

BCM: How would you describe your approach to writing your books? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?

JW: I’m very much a creature of habit. I like my routine and can become quite cranky when it’s disrupted. That said, when it comes to writing, I’m a total panster. Once I come up with characters and their internal and external conflicts, I let them tell their story.

BCM: How do you come up with ideas for the Harlequin Love Inspired books you write?

JW: Often my stories are inspired by something I’ve read in the newspaper or a magazine.

BCM: Tell me about your experiences with submitting short fiction to magazines.

JW: My first published short story was a result of a writing contest offered by Southern Writer’s Magazine. Shortly after, I started submitting to Woman’s World Magazine. I probably submitted 20 or more stories to them before getting published.

BCM: Do you enter a lot of writing contests?

JW: I don’t really enter contests much these days. I did enter Second Chance Romance for the 2018 Golden Quill award and was a finalist. As someone who got their first publishing deal through a contest, I highly recommend them to writers, especially contests that offer feedback.

BCM: What is your approach to marketing and publicity? Do you take on a lot of it yourself in tandem with your publisher?

JW: I am the worst at self-promotion and don’t like to be the center of attention. As I tell my father, I don’t like to toot my own horn. Thankfully, my faithful friends, like yourself, in the blogging community and on Twitter have helped to spread the word about my books.

BCM: I’m not sure if I met you on Twitter, WordPress or Facebook. What’s your favorite social media? Do you think any one of them is better for book publicity?

JW: I think we probably connected through WordPress. Blogging is definitely my favorite form of social media. I’ve met so many wonderful people who’ve become great friends. Facebook is my least favorite. When I need to clear my head, Twitter is my go to place. I do think Twitter is the best platform for book publicity. My sales numbers really spiked when I became more active on that site.

BCM: What’s your working style? Are you a morning person or late-night writer? Do you write on your computer or long-hand? Comfy chair or straight back at a desk?

JW: Since I work full-time during the week, I’m definitely a weekend warrior writer. When on deadline, I might write after my work day, but typically the bulk of my writing is accomplished over the weekend. I do write blog posts during the week. I’m kind of a nomad with my writing spots. During the spring and summer, I like to be out on the patio with the hummingbirds. During winter months, I switch between my two offices and the kitchen or dining room table. I love to write short stories in longhand, so I usually settle into a comfy chair.


And now some fun stuff because everyone wants to know!

Coffee or tea?  Both! I drink strong black coffee in the morning and on the weekend, while writing, I drink tea…also straight up.

Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?  Definitely dark!

Muffin or bagel?  I don’t really eat bread, but if I had to pick, I’d choose a bagel.

Steak or shrimp?  I love a good steak. Throw in a lobster tail and I’m set!

City or country?  I’m definitely more of a country girl than city.  I don’t like crowds or traffic.

Cat or dog?  I don’t have either now, but I’d say dog.

Hat or visor?  While playing golf, usually a visor. When at the beach, I’ll wear a hat.


BCM: Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview, Jill. I’m looking forward to reading your new book, A Father for Bella. What’s next for you?

JW: I’m working on more books for my Whispering Slopes series, but I do have plans to venture into writing women’s fiction.  Thanks so much for hosting me today, Barbara. I’m so happy we’ve become friends.


Jill’s latest story, “A Pair of Lovebirds” is in the August 27 issue of Woman’s World Magazine. It’s a heartwarming story of a chance meeting and a promise of something more!

Be sure to visit Jill’s website at jillweatherholt.com. You can also find her on the following social media platforms:

WordPress: jillweatherholt.wordpress.com
Facebook: @jillweatherholtauthor
Twitter: @JillWeatherholt
Pinterest: @JillWeatherholt

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

When your book club Skypes with an author – it’s a win-win!

Lawrence H. Levy via Skype with Book Club Mom

 

We had a special day today at the library where I work. Our Whodunits book club Skyped with Lawrence H. Levy to discuss the first book in his Mary Handley Mystery series, Second Street Station.

Mary Handley’s character is based on the real Mary Handley, Brooklyn’s first female detective, who was hired in 1888 to crack a well-publicized murder case (which she did, by the way). She’s a strong, modern, independent thinker who knows jujitsu and isn’t afraid to use it.

Levy was a great guest. He entertained our group with interesting back stories, answered our questions and filled us in on what’s in store for Mary Handley in book four. Many thanks to him for taking time from his busy day to talk with our Whodunits group!

Check out Levy’s books below, as well as my 2015 interview with the author.

         

Second Street Station
Brooklyn on Fire
Last Stop in Brooklyn
2015 Interview with Lawrence H. Levy

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!