I met Susan Crandall, years ago at an RWA national conference. She and I (and Megan Crane and Kristen Harmel and Karen Rose, among many others!) had the same editor at Grand Central Publishing, and Susan was up for a Rita award and I was dazzled by her. She’s an incredible writer and lovely and warm and several years ago Susan decided she wanted to try a different path in writing, and stepped back to just write the book of her heart.
Well, the book of her heart is amazing. I was so happy to see Susan at the Decatur Book Festival at the end of August and I listened to her speak on a panel and then waited in a long line to get a signed copy of her new hardcover release, Whistling Past The Graveyard. (I actually picked up two signed copies, one for me, and one for one of you!)
I asked Susan to join us here on my JaneBlog, and she was kind enough to answer my questions. So help me welcome the lovely, extremely talented Susan Crandall!
Susan, what’s your typical day like when you’re between writing projects?
I’m pretty much always involved in a writing project on some level: researching, writing, pondering, copy edits, proofreading, promoting. Many times multiples of these all at once. I’m not a speedy writer. I like to “wallow” in my work, so there’s always something happening.
Was there anyone or anything that helped inspire you to be a writer?
My younger sister began writing first. She, knowing I was an avid reader, asked me to help her edit her first manuscript. From there, we co-wrote five novels—which I consider my “education” in novel construction. She moved on to other things, but I was totally hooked on the process. My first solo novel, BACK ROADS, was my first published work. She’s been very supportive of my writing career, and her fiery, impetuous, personality helped me create Starla Claudelle in WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD. So I’d say she’s had a big hand in things all around.
Do you have a writing schedule or any writing rituals to help you achieve your daily writing quota?
I hate to admit this, but I will because it may help some writer out there struggling to follow the “rules of successful writers.” I do not have a daily writing quota, ever. After experimenting with many other writer’s tried and true processes, I’ve come to accept my creative process is uniquely my own. I do best when I write every day, no matter how little I actually accomplish on a given day. It keeps my head in the game. The first third of every novel is painfully slow in coming. I could sit at the computer all day and not reach a quota—I’d also be totally frustrated. A lot of my best storytelling breakthroughs come when I am not writing, but doing other things. I write when I feel like it, which is much easier now that my children are grown and out of the house. I don’t beat myself up about it, because all that does is dam up my creativity.
Tell us about your new release in 2 – 3 sentences. What do you personally love about this story?
Whistling Past the Graveyard is a coming of age story set in 1963 segregated Mississippi. Feisty nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother to find her momma in Nashville, where she’d gone when Starla was three to become a famous singer. Starla is aided by a black woman suffering loss and abuse, who has a newborn white infant in her care. The trio embark on a sometimes dangerous, sometimes humorous journey that will lead Starla to the maternal love she’s been long been denied.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel set in 1923, featuring three people from very different backgrounds set adrift by life-altering circumstances and bound together by mutual need; a teenager on the run from the law, a WWI veteran pilot, and a newly penniless debutant with a wild streak. Conflicting goals and blind obsessions threaten not only the success of their barnstorming act, but their lives as they cross America in a rickety airplane, encountering farmers and tycoons, tent revivalists and rum runners.
What do you love most about being a writer? What do you hate?
I love what I call the layering process. I do not draft. What I write one day, revisit those words the next and the next, adding layer after layer, until I have a finished chapter. I inch forward a little each day, add to it tomorrow. By the time I leave a chapter behind, it’s pretty much in its final version.
Frankly, I detest the blank page. When I sit there with a cursor blinking and any avenue is open to the story. I like it better when I’ve made the basic decisions of direction (plot, point of view, characterization, pacing) and then get to make it the most engaging it can be. That said, I never stop writing at the end of a perfect chapter. I always force myself to get that first paragraph of the next chapter down. It makes it so I really look forward to sitting down the next day.
Name five items sitting on your desk right now.
Ha! Is there a desk under there?
Stacks of research notes for my work in progress (messy, unorganized stacks). A fan letter awaiting response. A book on barnstorming. The remote control for the awning on the balcony off my office. A cocoa butter stick for my lips.
Name 3 books you hope to read soon.
The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly. Dr. Sleep, by Stephen King. The Funeral Dress, by Susan Gregg Gilmore.
Title and author of the latest book you read?
Mrs. Poe, by Lynne Cullen, it was an advance reading copy and I really enjoyed it.
What’s your astrological sign?
Virgo … and I’m the poster child for the sign.
Are you superstitious?
Mildly. You won’t find me walking under a ladder and I always say “bread and butter” when I walk on the opposite side of an obstacle from someone I’m walking with (can’t risk getting in a fight before the day is over).
If you could meet one person who has died, who would it be? What would you want to discuss with him/her?
Mark Twain. I would just sit and listen to anything he had to say. I find his mind fascinating…plus I think we’d share the same sarcastic sense of humor.
Five favorite things to do on a weekend?
Work in the yard. Read. Go to the movies. Have the family over for swimming and food (Colts game and food in the winter). Share wine with friends.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? Is there such a thing?
What does success mean to you?
In my writing world, it means I’ve created characters and a story that readers care about, that stick with them after they’ve finished that final page. Anything else in this crazy publishing industry is out of my hands, so I focus on the part I do have some control over. A note from a happy, satisfied reader is success.
Rock or country music?
Both, probably leaning more toward rock.
Sweet or savory?
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Vanilla …yes, it counts as a flavor!
Susan, thanks so much for joining us today, and readers I do hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out her books. I absolutely loved Susan’s latest release, and I’ve got that signed copy of Whistling Past The Graveyard to giveaway to one lucky reader here, along with a Starbucks gift card and fun reader goodies!
For a chance to win, tell me in the comment section below if you’ve ever read any of Susan’s book, and let me know what you’re reading now, and you’ll be entered. Winner will be announced Friday morning. Good luck and I do hope you’ll have a terrific week!