Here on the blog we occasionally like to feature other people. Even I get bored with me at times.
Ha! I almost said that with a straight face!
But we learn from any author who visits, and today we’ll be visiting with Susan Mills Wilson. Pull up a chair.
Susan is a native of North Carolina and lives in a small town just outside Charlotte, so she can enjoy having the best of both worlds. She writes a blog on a wide range of topics, is the leader of the Charlotte Writers Club Mystery Critique Group, and serves on the board of the Charlotte Writers Club. Susan has published five romantic suspense novels: Good Gone Bad, Her Lying Eyes, Hunt for Redemption, Cruz Control, andMeltdown.
On her blog is says, “She writes because she cannot imagine not writing.” I like that.
DAN: Do you remember the first story you read and if it had an impact on you?
SUSAN WILSON: The first book I remember reading was Alice in Wonderland. For my fifth birthday,
I received the children’s version with beautiful illustrations. It became my most treasured property.
But over the years the book that has stuck with me most is Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson. I first read it as a teenager, and over the years, I have read it several times.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript for Twisted Fate?
I started doing research about two months before I started writing Twisted Fate. Most of my research focused on tornadoes since I had never experienced one. Once I began writing, it took me a year to write the first draft with the help of my writers’ critique group.
What’s a good writing secret?
I created a formula for writing each scene. I call it “hook, drag, hang.” It sounds crazy, but it works for me. I start off with a hook, keep the reader intrigued, and at the end of the scene, I use a cliff hanger, a problem to be solved, or a question to be answered.
My other secret is making sure I include tension in every scene. Of course in suspense writing, there’s always the typical fistfight, heated argument, or gunfire, but tension can also be in the form of an internal conflict, sexual tension between a guy and girl, or something even going on in the background like a driver doing something crazy in traffic or a diner at a nearby table, making a scene by throwing a glass of wine in the face of her date.
When you need help, are stuck, need to know what character should say, who are your go-to people?
I interview my characters to get unstuck. I pretend I am a reporter and I ask my point of view character questions such as, “What did you do when that happened?” “What did you see?” “What were you thinking or feeling?”
What is the strangest place you’ve gotten a great story?
Once I was at a concert in a park and an idea popped into my head. When I noticed a church tower directly across the street, I turned to my husband and said, “That would be a great place for a sniper to fire into the crowd at the park.” He said, “You’re weird.” True, but a story was born, and I published Meltdownthe next year about a sniper shooting into a park on the Fourth of July.
Which project took you farthest out of your comfort zone?
Besides people being gunned down by a sniper shooter, a scene for Cruz Controlwas gut-wrenching to write. It is where a man brutally beats his wife, and it seemed so real to me, I tossed and turned in bed all night. Although I have never been physically abused, I felt as though I had experienced what my character went through.
Wine or coffee when you write?
In the morning, I insist on drinking black coffee to get me going. I do my best writing at that time of day. However, I usually do the love scenes at night after I’ve had one or two glasses of wine.
One other tidbit, when I write fight scenes, car chases, or shootings, I listen to rock music, but when I write romance, I prefer slower, love songs. Michael Buble, Ed Sheeran, and Andrea Bocelli come to mind.
What’s your writing area?
As a fan of Jimmy Buffet music and a true Parrothead, I have transformed my writing area/office into what I consider to be Margaritaville. It helps to have a coastal Margaritaville Restaurant just a few hours away where I’m a sucker for a wall plaque or mug from the gift shop.
Answer this: “What I want a writer to get from my writing is…”
I like to write fast-paced suspense books which can be read in a short amount of time. Although I write to entertain, there is always a moral lesson in there somewhere. People don’t know their own strength or abilities until pushed to their limits. This is true of my characters.
“A twist that will make the mystery more difficult to solve.
And then….Dan Alatorre threw the fly in the ointment that I had been waiting for.
I do find Tyree, an ex cop turned private eye, especially likable. He is inquisitive and his cop instincts come in handy at every turn. He has become my favorite character. He’s a bit like Rockford with a little Magnum PI thrown in.
We do have plenty of twists and turns and a bright red herring that I kept stumbling over.
All in all, a great mystery, with plenty of chills and
There were a LOT of swear words. Like, the F word appeared 50 (okay, 70) times! And a lot of other swear words appeared almost as much. I had a collage-age character who cussed a lot, and his friends cussed when they got excited.
I wrote it that way because I cussed a lot at that age. A friend read it recently and said it would probably sell better without all the swear words. I shrugged off her advice – for a while – but it was in the back of my head, taunting me.
Then I watched some movies.
Star Wars has very little cussing.
Harry Potter has very little cussing.
Jurassic Park has very little cussing.
Most of my favorite movies have very little cussing (although Goodfellas makes up for what Jurassic Park doesn’t have in the cussing department, as does Scarface). But as always, the great storytellers of our time were trying to teach me something. I just had to listen to the lesson.
I was at an event with kids recently, from college age through grade school, and they all wanted to read the cool time travel adventure, and time after time I told them no because it has lots of bad words.
Then I thought,
if Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas and JK Rowling can tell stories that the whole world enjoys without cuss words in them, then so can I.
And I did. My next book, Double Blind, a murder mystery, has none. You won’t notice it’s missing, either.
The stuff I redid in The Navigators made it better. The cussing was something I did a lot of at that age, but it was extraneous in the book – and for me at that age.
A good story doesn’t need a crutch like cussing. And it will appeal to a wider audience, too. So there’s that. I’m all about the sales, gang.
So, I need a few volunteers to read The redone version of The Navigators and make sure I didn’t miss any cuss words or sex scenes.
I’ll send you a free ARC copy to read; you report back. Maybe leave a review if you like it – which you will.
The paperbacks of Double Blind arrived yesterday, and I’m reading it…
What can I say? I like paper, and I like my writing.
Anyway 2/3 of the way down page 41, Mr. Dilger hears a noise as he’s alone in his warehouse. He thinks it could be a burglar. By the end of page 44 he’s still on edge about it. That’s 4 pages of tension – that I added just to have more tension before he gets killed.
All stories have, or should have, lots of tension. In a romance, the tension is about whether the main characters will get together, so don’t let them get together too easily. In an action story, there should be lots of hurdles for Indiana Jones to jump over to get the lost ark. You get the idea.
Tension is everywhere in most good stories, and once you see it, you see it everywhere.
Then you can add it to your own work and suddenly it starts to be a lot more un-put-down-able.
So if you need / want additional length (sorry if that sounds like a commercial for a men’s product) ADD scenes that ADD tension.
We talked about this recently, about how in Shakespeare In Love, the guy stammered for 40 seconds at the big moment, the start of the play. Same thing.
I did the same thing in Double Blind when the killer was looking for the jogger, his second victim. I had him not find the jogger too quickly. It wasn’t as effective there, btw, but it was still very good. Once we know a murder is about to happen, draw it out. Readers love it and they’re excited so they’re reading at a fast pace anyway – so it goes by quickly.
Don’t just get there. Set it up, let us know what’s coming, then draaaaag it out. Dragging it out while writing isn’t dragging it out at all when reading. It’s savoring. And if it’s well written, it goes by fast.