|Her Amazon page tells us that as a child, Suzanne was prone to prevaricate to save herself from embarrassment. This story-telling talent led her to writing her first book, The Story of Grace. Her parents divorced when she was barely out of nursery school. Three stepfathers later, she came of age in a small country town while working in the hay fields and driving a tractor. She still loves the smell of freshly cut alfalfa and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She lives with her husband in Salem, Oregon.|
Will: Suzanne, when did you first realize you were a writer, and what drew you into the field?
Suzanne: I still don’t consider myself a writer. I see myself more as a storyteller. When I think of writers, I imagine someone that readers are drawn to. Someone who creates excitement for each upcoming book. I think of readers who quote their favorite writers. I’m not there—not by a long shot. But I love to weave a story of overcoming pain or tragedy. I like to bring to life events in my characters’ lives that inspire readers.
I had never written anything until I retired, six years ago. I decided I had a story of my own to tell. I started there and found that I enjoyed bringing to life memories. I enjoyed embellishing my story with color. Then, I decided I could live multiple lives through the characters I created in my fiction.
Will: Can you tell us a bit about your process? Do you have a dedicated place and time for writing? Do you work from an outline?
Suzanne: I am constantly thinking about my story and future stories I might tell. I walk with my characters throughout the week and attempt to capture their feelings and mentally outline what they are doing in the book. I take notes on my thoughts and fine-tune at a later time. Occasionally, another potential book will pop into my consciousness and that’s very distracting.
However, when it’s time to write, I have a dedicated place and time. I review what I’ve written up to the current point in the book. I look at my notes. Then I have a conversation with my characters and allow them to drive the plot forward. Along the way, they may be angry, hurt, confused, or sometimes lost and need my help to resolve their issues.
I do the necessary research as I am writing. I search for accurate settings and props. Generally, it’s like watching a play while sitting at my keyboard. I type what I’m seeing.
Will: In your debut literary novel, The Story of Grace, you’ve created a female protagonist we can love and hate at the same time. What was your inspiration for her?
Suzanne: Grace was a very complicated character and I borrowed from strong women in my past. Originally, I had sympathy for Grace because she was alone in her final years. She had been so lovely, strong, and independent. Now she felt sorry for herself, and that was not an attractive quality. I took parts of myself, my mother, and other women I’ve known who made many bad choices in their lives and paid the price for it. They hurt people along the way. But, as I wrote the book, I realized I cared for Grace and, in the end, it was necessary for someone else to love her and respect her, no matter what mistakes she had made.
Will: Is it accurate to describe the arc of that story as “a tragedy with a promise of redemption?”
Suzanne: Yes, that would be accurate. Grace could never correct the damage she had done not only to herself but to others. She may have felt bad for what she’d done, but given the opportunity, she would no doubt have made the same decisions. When her grandniece became her companion and friend, she found someone who didn’t judge her for her mistakes. Grace despised being judged by others. She criticized herself, she didn’t need criticism from others. She needed unconditional love. Because in the end, love does conquer all.
Will: Your second novel, Legacy, is an epic western about several generations of a family tending the Lazy M Ranch in southern Oregon. On its Amazon page you say, “If you like Yellowstone, Bonanza, or The Big Valley, you’ll love Legacy.” Tell us about it.
Suzanne: I chose these three television sagas because they have a central theme of family ranches and overcoming difficulties.
The Big Valley had a strong matriarch (Barbara Stanwyck) and was loosely based on an actual ranch in California. The ranch was built around the shared family goals. The family was fighting to keep their ranch. They fought to keep the railroad from crossing their land.
Bonanza did not have a strong female character, but again, the ranch was a family ranch, and in each episode, they faced moral dilemmas. They stuck together and fought for what was right for their ranch.
Finally, I added Yellowstone because it’s a current television hit. Again, it involves a family ranch and the obstacles that face the family as they strive to keep their land. It has a strong female character in Beth Dutton. She’s far more obnoxious and crass than my characters in Legacy, but her desire to protect the family ranch at all costs is admirable.
I think that people tend to romanticize the lives of ranchers. In Legacy, I wanted my readers to see that it’s more than just riding horses and wrangling steers. It’s hard work that takes the cooperation and dedication of everyone in the family. Hardship happens, and often no one understands but family.
Will: Can you share with us some of what you’ve learned as an indie writer? What works and what doesn’t work? Do you have any advice for new authors aspiring to publish independently?
Suzanne: I’ve published only two books, and I don’t think that I’m in a position to be giving any advice. However, I feel very strongly that you need to surround yourself with other good writers—writers who will offer support and criticism. I participate in two writing groups and without their support, I would flounder and certainly lose focus.
The best thing that I could say is to keep writing. Keep your inspiration fresh. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Work hard and stay focused on the goal. Do your research. Your readers will know if you screw up and put a cell phone in the hand of a character before cell phones were invented. Make it authentic. That means, giving your characters true emotions. Your readers like conflict, anger, love, and loss. They are reading your book because they want to feel something. I think readers want something out of your book that they are curious about or that is missing in their life.
There are several options for self-publishing. I chose KDP because it has good support to market your book, and the customer service is very responsive.
Will: Would you be willing to give us a peek at your current project? Do you have another novel in the works?
Suzanne: Of course. I’m working on a follow-up to The Story of Grace. It’s called The Forgotten Daughter. In this story, we get to peek inside the life of the daughter Grace gave away (in my first book). Although Grace found redemption in the end, she didn’t find it from her daughter. The damage was too great for Agness to get over. Now Agness has a daughter of her own and a granddaughter. She blames herself for her daughter’s troubles and wallows in her own regret of things she should have done differently. Her granddaughter, Beth, is coming to live with her. Agness is discovering that she is more like her mother, Grace, than she wants to admit.
Will: Suzanne, thank you so much for sharing some of your writer’s journey with us. I wish you every success with your new project.