Before becoming a novelist, Susan Goldsmith was an undercover private investigator, worked as an outside sales rep, and spent five years in pharmaceutical sales. In this interview, she talks about her journey as an author and her exciting road to publication. She also discusses her creative process and offers tips to aspiring writers.
Q: It's wonderful to have you here, Susan. Why don't you start by telling us a little about your background and how you started writing?
A: Stories are what got me through my childhood. When real life was overwhelming, I'd crawl into my imagination where sick mothers could be made better with a magical potion, or crazy fathers weren't really crazy. They were just more evolved than the rest of us. Could see whole words and realities we couldn't. Mean teachers? Witches - the whole lot of them. I soon branched out, and after sitting in Stephen King's head for a while, decided my life was a Disney movie compared to the stuff his characters endured. Poor Carrie. Now that girl had issues!
I loved stories, and had an endless supply of original ideas that would make fantastic books, but darn it, no matter how hard I willed those ideas to be carried through osmosis from my brain to my favorite authors', it never happened. There they sat, alone in the dark, wilting, while I pursued every career, but writing, and no, graduating with a degree in Journalism most definitely doesn't count. Journalism and imagination are two words that don't belong in the same sentence.
A creative imagination was also frowned upon in my brief stint as an undercover private investigator with Pinkerton when I was placed in a company (no, I'm not telling which one!), and was told to write down my observations. Uh oh, I had a captive audience but couldn't embellish what I was seeing and boy was my imagination coming up with some really good stuff. In reality, I was bored silly. Eventually that boredom had me shaking things up... but that's another story entirely.
Several career paths later, fate intervened and I found myself home, being a full time mother and wife. Suddenly, I was staring at the blank computer screen, not writing, just staring. I'd make a point to walk by it on my way to the bathroom, in-between Barney episodes, or during those times when my children actually did fall asleep during nap time.
Eventually, I did turn the computer on, and have been writing ever since.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your first novel, Abithica. That's an unusual name. How did you come up with it and what does it mean?
A: Abithica is a word I made up. Without giving too much away, it is the name of the main character, so it had to be both unique and otherworldly.
Q: What is Abithica about and what was your inspiration for it?
A: Abithica must borrow all that she is from others: names, lives, even bodies, but only for periods of time she cannot control. What is she, and why is she compelled to fix the lives of the people she inhabits, even the despicable ones?
When she switches into the troubled life of Sydney Turner, she ends up breaking the one rule that has sustained her, the one thing in her control-never get attached-and learns the pain of loving and being loved in return.
My vacuum, Thomas Moore and my very persistent imagination were the inspiration behind Abithica. Maybe I should explain that. You see, all my best thoughts have come while pulling a vacuum. Now enter Thomas Moore. He wrote a book called Care of the Soul. In it, he asked a very profound question: what is your worst fear? Hmmm, what is my worst fear, I wondered. Naturally, I grabbed said vacuum and unleashed my imagination.
Losing my husband and children was the answer. Oh, but what if I was taken from them without their knowledge and they didn't even know I was gone? Ouch! That would definitely suck. But what would suck even more is if another soul took my place and I was there, unseen, invisible, watching their lives continue as if I had never existed.
I was getting closer to my worst nightmare, but I wasn't quite there yet. It needed a little something more. Got it! What if the body I was in had never really belonged to me in the first place? What if it was me who had been the intruder all along? I had been borrowing the woman's life... and now... she wanted it back.
The question became an obsession, and my vacuum and I spent a lot of time together. Soon, the idea of "switching" was born. It grew legs and arms and even acquired a face, Abithica's face.
Q: What is your protagonist like? Tell us something irresistible about her.
A: She is you and me. She is anybody who has ever asked the questions, why am I here? Is there a God, a purpose, a cosmic plan? She perceives herself as a victim, a pawn in some cosmic joke, only to discover in the end she is oh, so much more!
Q: Who is your target reader?
A: My target readers are bound to be urban fantasy lovers, the romantic at heart, and those of us who like to ponder all those enormous, unanswerable questions about life, and what the heck we're doing here.
Q: How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
A: You have no idea how funny that question is! My "creative process", if you insist on calling it that, was throwing tantrum after tantrum. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but the words... they weren't matching the woman in my head. The tone was wrong. The voice was wrong. The action was wrong. The whole darn story was wrong. It wasn't Abithica, not even close.
The problem I soon learned was I didn't have an outline, so I ended up re-writing the first chapter 30 different ways and every one of them was the beginning of a completely different story. I was like an artist standing over an empty canvas. Was I going to use pastels, pencil or paint? Was it going to be a nature scene, or a portrait? Why not an elephant? Did it even have to be on a canvas? Why not the side of a building or a sidewalk? I had no idea so I kept trying a little of everything, until eventually, nothing worked and I found myself pinned to the ground, screaming uncle.
At the same time, I was well aware that some of my best writing had come about by accident when I had unwittingly allowed the characters to tell their own story. They were the writer, I was the vessel. Every single writing session after that, it's what I strove to duplicate. I'd sit down at the keyboard, clear my mind, and relax enough to set the characters free. On a really good day, they'd talk for eight hours straight and take me places I had never even imagined. Eventually, I got better at it, I started to set an alarm to remind myself to eat. I'd then set it to remind myself to start dinner and then again to remind myself to pick up the kids. This was the reason I wrote, and the reason I kept coming back for more.
I had a problem though. What I needed was something to keep Abithica on task, without constricting the creative flow I craved. The answer: a plot summary. I took the next couple of days building on that concept until I had a sketchy beginning, middle and end. I now had a direction, but Abithica still had plenty of wiggle room to be creative and I was still willing to follow her on whatever tangents she chose to take me on.
Q: What is your writing schedule like?
A: My writing schedule revolves around my family. When the girls are at school, my hubby is at work, and I'm alone, (if it's possible to be alone with 3 dogs, 2 cats and a bird!) I unleash my imagination and hold on for dear life. My favorite part is the end, when I get to read the crazy places my imagination took me that day.
Q: How did you find Twilight Times Books?
A: Twilight Times Books was recommended to me by my mentor, Gerry Mills, who helped me put some "magic" into my writing. It didn't hurt either that TTB was recommended by Predators & Editors, or that the water cooler discussion on Absolute Write had nothing but positive things to say about TTB and its founder, Lida Quillen.
Q: What has been the most surprising aspect of publishing for you so far?
A: I was delusional. I actually thought when I wrote, The End, I was done. Oh contraire! That was only the beginning. The hardest writing I've ever done was condensing 95,000 words into a one sentence summary!
Now, I'm learning the wonderful world of marketing. All I can say is, God Bless Goodreads! If it wasn't for that website nobody would know Abithica exists, and believe me... she is so done with that!
Q: I hear there's a sequel in the horizon. When is it coming out?
A: Yup, there is a sequel. I am 40,000 words into it. The beginning and the end are done. All I'm doing now is filling in the middle.
Q: What is your best tip for aspiring novelists?
A: Don't just talk about it, do it. Write it for yourself, and then later, after you're convinced it's a masterpiece, set it in a drawer and forget about it, the longer, the better. Then read it with fresh eyes. Fix all the problems, and then repeat, again, and again, and again....