Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TBG Author Interview: Susan Dennard

I’m a 28-year-old reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. I used to be a marine biologist, but now I write novels. And not novels about fish either, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues (I really like swoon-worthy rogues).

I live in Germany with my French husband and Irish setter, and you can learn more about my crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on twitter, facebook, or Goodreads.

My debut, Something Strange and Deadly, will be available from HarperCollins on July 24th, and you will never believe how happy this makes me!

1) How did you come up with the idea for SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY? Did it just come to you, or was it more of a gradual progression?
It was a combination of both. The initial spark came from a dream about a girl whose brother was missing. In the dream, the girl had to join forces with an outcast group to rescue him. I took that basic premise and spent a few weeks deciding on WHEN to set the story and WHERE. I wound up with 1876 because I wanted something that would add conflict to the story (all those restrictions for women! Socially and fashionably speaking!) and I picked Philadelphia because the Centennial Exhibition was happening. The Exhibition was the first American World’s Fair, and--again--I thought there was so much potential there for conflict. Not to mention, it was just a really cool setting!

2) How do you stay motivated to write? Even though you are a soon-to-be-published author, have you ever wanted to give up? And if so, how did you pull yourself back from the "edge"?
Staying motivated can be...well, hard. When you hear about the "slush pile" and the staggering number of people who have written books that never make it, it's easy to take the path of least resistance and say, "Forget this! I'm gonna find a job with instant payback." Even now that I’m published, there are far too many days in the year that I’m just not sure I can cut it. Plus, it gets much harder to balance writing with everything else--promotion, blogging, LIFE. I can’t tell you how often I look back longingly on those pre-agent days. There was just so much more freedom in my writing!

BUT, I had made this my dream, and I was determined--no matter how long it took--to achieve it. Back when I first set out to do this in 2009, my goal was publication. I wanted to write a book that reach readers, and I was going to work as hard as humanly possible to make that happen. I took workshops, read books on writing, found critique partners, connected with other writers, and worked every single day to improve my craft.

Of course, there were many bumps in the road--and still are. But every time something discouraging would happen--maybe negative feedback or the release of a book similar to mine--I would tell myself: "It's not a race. It might take a long time and a lot of work, but one day, your name will be in book stores. You've just got to keep working and never give up." So, I follow that advice still. No matter what, I have to keep creating--if not for readers then for myself. :)

3) Tell us about your writing habits: where you write, when you write, how much you write, etc. What is your writing process like?
Usually, I wake up at 6:30, have breakfast with my hubby, get showered/dressed, and then at around 7:30, I sit at my desk. I spend 30 minutes checking emails, and then I start working.

I take a 15-20 minute break for lunch, and I like to read while I’m eating. Usually, I take my dogs for a 20-30 minute walk after chowing down.

Then I get back to work until about 3 PM. If I haven’t reached my minimum goal (or I’m just “in the zone), I force myself to keep going. If I did reach my goal, I shift gears and start writing blogs, answering comments, checking emails, etc. I spend a solid 2-3 hours doing all that “administrative” stuff. A typical writing goal for me would be--if I’m in the throes of first-drafting--to write 3000 words. If I’m revising, then my goal would be to revise at least 2 scenes.

After all that, I usually go back to writing/revising until my husband get homes (7-8 PM). Then we have dinner, spend some time together, and read in bed.

All in all, my days are pretty dull! I rarely, rarely leave the house (not that I mind), and I sit on my butt entirely too much.

4) What did your friends and family think when you told them you were writing SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY?
“Go Sooz!” Honestly, almost everyone close to me was incredibly supportive. In particular, my husband was amazing. He believed in me when I didn’t. And even still, when I’m crunched with a deadline, he takes over everything--cooking, cleaning, handing me tissues while I sob hysterically. ;) I’ve been incredibly blessed when it comes to the support of my family and friends. Even my in-laws have gone out of their way. My husband’s grandfather literally went around to every bookstore in his area (he lives in Germany) to try to get my book stocked!

5) Can you tell us about your journey to publication for SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY?
A WHIRLWIND! When I started querying, I was actually on vacation and barely had access to the internet. I figured I wouldn’t hear from anyone for a while, so I sent out my queries and then went off to the south of France for a week…only to get my first offer of representation while I was there! I can’t explain to you how stressful that vacation was.

A few weeks after I signed with the amazingly fantastic and astonishingly wonderful Nancy Coffey Literary, I became an official HarperTeen gal!! :)

Honestly, I feel like my luck with SS&D all boils down to two things: how much I revised the book before I even began querying (I totally over-revised! But maybe my perfectionism paid off…er right?) and timing. The premise for Something Strange and Deadly was exactly what my editor was looking for at that exact moment, so it was all very “stars aligning”.

Thanks again so much for the interview, Susan!  I'm currently reading SS&D right now and loving it! :)


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