Thank you for accepting to be a guest on my blog. You and I can talk for hours about the same passion that brought us together in the first place—writing—but I’d be selfish keeping you just to myself. Can’t thank you enough for taking time out of your busy schedule and sitting down with me for a cup of . . . wisdom, writing and romance.
Last week I posted a review of your novel titled THE COMPANION which I absolutely loved for its raw emotions, heroes with more than just good looks and a storyline that kept me awake late in the night. This novel redeemed for me the entire vampire species, it truly did and I thank you for it. Along with the review I promised my fans an interview with you so, here I keep my promise. Shall we?
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.
I had always wanted to write. When I was 12 I started a novel written from the point of view of my dog and got 36 painfully typed pages done. When I was 16 I was sure I would be a writer. But I had other interests too. I was a theater major in college and did some acting, got a Masters Degree in English lit. And then life got in the way. Neither writing or theater seemed like a practical way to make a living. (I was right about that!) Nobody was getting work teaching. I went to work in the business world, had some luck, got to be an executive in a Fortune 500 company, but I always felt something was missing. In one of my many mid-life crises, I decided to write a book. That was difficult for me. I’d studied great literature. I knew I probably wouldn’t turn out to be the next Jane Austen. But I read a novel with an exciting premise on the back blurb. The actual book didn’t seem to deliver. I remember finishing and saying to myself, “I may not be Jane Austen, but I can do better than THAT.” So I wrote a book. It was awful. I had to decide whether I was going to put the effort in to get better at this thing. So I took classes, and got a critique group. I sold the second book I wrote, DANEGELD, about Vikings and Saxons in Dark Age Britain. It got some attention. I was on my way…
When did you write THE COMPANION and what was the inspiration for it?
I had written five books and wanted to return to an idea I’d had some time earlier. During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, many people blamed the people who had the disease, as if it was a punishment for being bad. I didn’t believe that. I had just watched (again) the old movie of Dracula with Frank Langella, and I thought to myself, “What if vampires can’t help what they are? What if they just have a disease, and everyone just thinks they’re evil because of it?” So my vampires have a parasite in their blood that gives them eternal life, and strength, and the ability to influence weaker minds, but it also extracts a terrible toll. The world of the Companion was born. And, of course, some things we all believe about vampires are myths in my stories. I wrote some of my vampires as Italian—so of course their aversion to garlic was a myth. So was the stuff about crosses. Just superstitions! I also wanted my world to be a little kinky but with real people who experienced real emotions. I wanted readers to experience what it would really be like to be a vampire, or to be in love with one.
Why did you pick the Regency Era for your novel?
See above—all those references to Jane Austen? I loved the Regency period. I had read every Georgette Heyer book I could get my hands on. I thought they were pretty perfect, except they didn’t have enough sex (or any!) I had done an earlier vampire story called SACRAMENT that first laid out the world of the Companion and I wanted to revisit and expand that world. I had already accumulated a lot of research materials on the Regency, and I’d been to England several times. So I combined my two interests, and did Regency vampires.
I know there are 6 novels in the series called COMPANION (can’t wait to read them all!). The second novel titled THE HUNGER follows Beatrix Lisse, who you introduce to your readers during THE COMPANION. Why out of all your secondary characters you chose her to become the main heroine in the second novel?
Cami, you are so perceptive! I had a special love for Beatrix. She was based on a character I loved from my first vampire novel. That novel was far, far too long, and in order to publish it I had to cut it in half. (It was still published and more than 120,000 words.) So my beloved character hit the cutting room floor. But when you are a writer, those characters can live again… and I brought her back as Beatrix Lisse.
Is it true that each novel in the series follows a character you introduce in the previous novel?
No. Some books follow characters you’ve never met. Sometimes characters from previous books show up. Sometimes a villain reappears. Each can be read as a standalone book. In some cases, all they share is the world construct.
A series of 6 books must be hard to write. You need to remember when and where each story begins/ends, keep track of all heroes, etc. Can you tell us which book was the easiest to write and which the hardest? Were you stuck at any given time and if yes how did you overcome it?
Because the Companion series doesn’t follow a single, overarching story arc, they were much easier to write than a series where each book follows the same character group and occurs immediately following the previous book. I had more freedom that way.
Of course the first book in a series is often the easiest. It seems to just flow out, because the idea is shiny and new and you just want to live the story. But in ONE WITH THE DARKNESS, I had an experience that was very hard, and that turned into something very easy. It’s the sixth book in the series. I had submitted an idea my editor didn’t like. I was crushed. She started trying to suggest what I should write. I not only didn’t like her ideas, I got angry (though she probably never knew that. I was nice—she was my boss after all.) I told her I’d go away and think about it. I was in Philadelphia for the day job at the time, trying to get home on a Friday night. The plane broke. I had to stay over night. And while I was having a very lonely dinner at the Ramada Inn coffee shop, I had the idea that would become ONE WITH THE DARKNESS. I thought to myself that I really needed to come up with a character I cared about. Immediately I thought about ONE WITH THE SHADOWS, my last Companion book. The hero’s mother, the Italian Contessa who was also a vampire, stole almost every scene she was in. She had a great tragedy in her past. During the Roman Empire, she had let the love of her life, a barbarian slave, age and die rather than make him a vampire. She lives with horrible regret. Why not, I thought, allow her to go back in time and try to change that? The idea of Leonardo DaVinci’s time machine was born. (I liked it so much I wrote three more books using that device called the DaVinci Time Travel series. The first one even has a vampire heroine.) Who, after all, was better to invent a time machine than Leonardo? Of course, it’s not as easy to change history as one would think. J I won’t say more than that. But I got to research Caligula’s Rome, and barbarian slaves, and…. And I love that book. Once I got going, it was easy to write.
Ah, I love the Starz’s series called DaVinci’s Demons! So amazing you were able to incorporate his history into your novels. As much as I’d love to continue talking about the COMPANION series, I’m also interested in what you’re working on now, what genre and when should we expect its publishing?
I’m currently working on the MAGIC series. There are seven books planned. It’s about a big modern family, the Tremaines, who have inherited Merlin’s DNA. When each sibling finds their destined mate, another with the Merlin gene, they are instantly attracted, and their gene is activated. They get a magic power. You’d think that would be just great, right? But the bad boy brother is an outsider who doesn’t want to believe it will happen to him. The oldest sister is sure of her destiny, until the man who raises her power is an alcoholic still in love with his dead wife. And I won’t even talk about the middle sister, poor thing. Then, of course, there are those who got their magic from Morgan Le Fay. They don’t have quite the same goals as our heroes. The family is as much a character in these stories as any individual. I’ve fallen in love with all of them as I’ve been writing it. My writer friends say it reads as much like a contemporary romance as a paranormal. One friend says it’s a paranormal romance for readers who don’t like paranormal romances (that would be her.) This is a series that should be read in order. It’s also the complicated kind of series. Everything is intertwined, and all the characters appear in all the books. I plotted out six books before I ever started writing. The first book (about that bad boy brother) is DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?, followed by HE’S A MAGIC MAN and WAITING FOR MAGIC. NIGHT MAGIC, the 4th in the series, is out starting September 8th. There’s also a novella that tells the Tremaine parents’ story, YOUR MAGIC TOUCH, available only in digital formats (but at least it’s only $.99!) I’m currently working on THE MAGIC’S IN THE MUSIC, which will be out next year. By the way, I planned only six books in the series, but a new character just showed up, and he won’t be denied. So the series is seven.
A lot of my readers are aspiring writers. What is the one piece of advice you have for them?
Hmmm. One piece of advice? That’s really hard. How about two pieces? The first is to learn the craft. My first book was not good. But writing is something you can learn. I put in the work, and two of my books were named Best Books of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly, and I have Reviewer’s Choice awards, Rita nominations and other contest wins now that were a direct result of doing the work to get better. People may read you once based on a blurb or a cover, but they keep coming back if the books are good.
The second piece of advice is a direct corollary of the first. Stick with it. Most people who want to write don’t finish a book. Most people who finish a book don’t really polish the whole thing. Most people who get a finished product don’t keep at it until they sell to the buyer who can really get them the distribution they need. So decide on what you want for your book? Supermarket shelves everywhere? Or do you just want to see your title available on Amazon? Know what you want for that book. Then pursue that goal and don’t stop.
I couldn’t agree more, Susan. Being so experienced, my next question is: what is your take on traditional publishing versus self-publishing?
This is a publishing world where everything is possible. Isn’t that an improvement for writers? We’re in the driver’s seat. We can self-publish, publish with an e press, a small press, or go for an agent and a New York house. I published 17 books with New York houses, and got all the benefit of that. I am self-publishing my new series and it’s given me both a wonderful freedom and more control over the end product, though it also has brought more responsibility. Bad cover? I approved that, and I can’t blame my publisher. I will say, that while we can all point to instances of lightning striking for self-published authors, most authors build their audience over multiple books. It makes it easier to sell self-published books if you already have an audience built with a publishing house. That said, NY publishing is harder to get into these days, and traditional publishers are pretty clueless about how to promote digital sales. If you need proof, just look at the price of digital copies for traditionally published books. Digital copies of THE COMPANION are only 50 cents cheaper than a paperback copy was. I can hardly wait to get my rights back! So in the end, the awful truth is that the choice is yours. And that’s both frightening and empowering. The only obligation you have is to yourself and your readers to write the best book you can.
Susan, thank you so much for your time. I had a tremendous time interviewing you. Good luck with your upcoming release (love the cover, by the way!) and can’t wait to see you again. For those interested where to find Susan please visit:
And now to the much promised giveaway: I decided to offer one e-copy of Susan’s upcoming novel titled NIGHT MAGIC to one lucky winner. What do you have to do for it?
Add NIGHT MAGIC to your to-be-read list on Goodreads and leave a comment with the link you did so. I’ll have the giveaway running until September 24th with the winner announcement on September 25th.
Good luck everyone!