Interview: Susan Wiggs, NY Times Best-selling Author

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How long have you been writing?

All my life. Literally. There was never a time when I wasn’t writing. I even have a copy of a book I self-published at the age of eight. My first novel was published in 1987, so this marks my 31st year as a published author.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?

I write mostly fiction, straying to write the occasional article or blog post. I love the novel form, because I seem to “think” in big, tightly-structured stories that have a lot of twists and turns, that the writer has to build like a complicated house.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

Raw, honest emotion, according to my readers. I like to think there’s a lot of humor in my books, but that seems to be overshadowed by the emotional impact of the story.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  

Trying not to manipulate the characters. I could see them struggling and making bad choices, and I had to restrain myself from “mothering” them too much.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Rushing to get to the page each day. This is one of those stories that held me hostage because it was unpredictable. I would dream up a storyline, but once it took on a life of its own, it led me to places, light and dark, I didn’t plan for.

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?  If so, discuss them.

Oh boy, in BETWEEN YOU & ME, it would have to be the Amish. There is a lot of Amish fiction being published, but its niche seems to be in the Christian inspirational market. This novel definitely doesn’t fit in that mold. It’s not an “Amish” novel in that sense, but a novel with Amish characters—if that makes any sense.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

When I was a teacher,  would write each night from nine to midnight, on weekends and holidays. The only other thing I did was raise my daughter and dogs. I missed the 80s entirely because I was focused on teaching, mothering, and writing.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

Teen tour guide at the Palace of Versailles (I lived down the street), failed waitress, personal assistant to a famous Texas oil baron (until he sexually harassed me), classroom teacher. Each job has affected my writing in some way or other. The teaching had the greatest impact, because a classroom of kids is a microcosm of life itself.

What do you like to read in your free time?

New, wonderful, buzzy bestsellers and mind-blowing nonfiction. Currently on my nightstand—THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni, and a sad, nostalgic re-read of my old battered copy of KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL by Anthony Bourdain.

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’m revising THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CLUB for publication in 2019.

What do your plans for future projects include?

While on a writing retreat aboard a cruise ship, I wrote two proposals for future books—A BRIEF HISTORY OF HAPPINESS and AMERICAN PRINCESS.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.

“Susan, can I please buy a large gondola filled with hardcover copies of Between You & Me? I want to give them out to everyone I pass in the street.”

Answer: Yes, of course.

Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?

I told the fountain pen story in the other questionnaire but here’s something else. When I’m plotting a book, I do it on endless hikes with my husband. Check the dedication of MAP OF THE HEART and you’ll get what I mean. My husband is a unicorn. I kid you not.

What book do you wish you could have written?

My NEXT book, THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE. If I had written it, I could go out and play right now!

Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?

The writers in my various critique groups and classes through the years—Barbara Dawson Smith (writes as Olivia Drake), the late Alice Borchardt and Arnette Lamb, Lois Faye Dyer, Kate Breslin, Anjali Banerjee, Sheila Roberts, Elsa Watson, Robin Gainey, Debbie Macomber and a few others I’m probably leaving out. I’m inspired by writers who teach so well—Donald Maass, Christopher Vogler, Bob Mayer, Elizabeth George, Terry Brooks, and Michael Hauge to name a few.

If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?

Let’s cast the blond Hemsworth brother (Chris, I think) as Caleb, so gorgeous and troubled and uncomfortably Amish. That would be just fine with me. Reese, our sharp, ambitious doctor should be played by a sharp, ambitious actress—Emma Watson or Shailene Woodley or Emma Stone.

How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

Super important. The name on the page is the reader’s first introduction to the character. You get a different picture of a Dennis or a Trevor. A Bertha or a Brooke. You want the reader to form a certain impression right from the start, and the name is a big part of that.

I love naming characters and I approach it as a life-or-death matter. The names can’t sound too made-up (“Flair MacKenzie” eg.) They have to look right on the page and not demand too much interpretation from the reader. For example, “Siobhan” is lovely, but few US readers will “hear” it properly in their heads. I like names to be typical of the character’s birth year. So I wouldn’t name a Regency heroine “Wendy” since that was coined in Peter Pan. I get inspiration from research I do for the book (all the Amish names in BETWEEN YOU & ME), from my Facebook fan page, movie credits, the spines of books on my shelf, songs, you name it.

I keep an alphabetical running list of names in the book I’m working on in order to avoid too many similar-sounding names in the same story (Harry/Henry, Mary/Marilyn, etc.).

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?

Probably graphic violence against children or animals. I killed off a dog in an early book, and a child in another, and 30 years later have never gotten over it. I can handle dark matter (evidenced in BETWEEN YOU & ME) but not that dark.

What do you want your tombstone to say?

Skipping this one! Too grim!

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

To know the outcome of every decision I make.

If you were a superhero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?

My name would be “She Who Must Be Obeyed” and I would wear a fair trade cashmere bathrobe and a set of high-quality Bluetooth headphones.

What literary character is most like you?

Harriet the Spy. Or maybe Jo March in Little Women. Strivers who are smart and a bit weird.

Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?

Only one? I have a list as long as my arm. Right now, the top item is Landudno in South Africa.

If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be?

A mountain goat. Nothing seems to bother them much, and they never close their eyes.

What is something you want to accomplish before you die?

I want to learn a new language (already know English and French), sing in a choir again, re-learn the cello, learn to play more than 3 chords on the guitar, see my children and grandchildren living happy, fulfilled lives, write a screenplay, see the end of illiteracy, gun violence, and intolerance, and read all the books on my TBR, and introduce my husband to Jamie Oliver. To name a few.

If you could have any accents from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

I’ve always loved Audrey Hepburn’s accent—a fusion of Belgian, Dutch, and Brit. She sounded so classy and smart.

 

Aboutthebook

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Caleb Stoltz is bound by a deathbed promise to raise his orphaned niece and nephew in the Amish community Middle Grove, where life revolves around family, farm, faith—and long-held suspicions about outsiders. Although he has always harbored doubts about their insular culture, he’s committed to staying for his family.

But when an unimaginable tragedy strikes, Caleb seeks help from outside his community, thrusting him into an urban environment of high-tech medicine, a decision that will force him to reconsider what family, love, and community truly mean.

Reese Powell is poised to join the medical dynasty of her wealthy, successful parents. Bold, assertive, and fast-thinking, she lives for the addictive rush of saving lives. When a devastating accident brings Caleb Stoltz into her life, Reese is led on an emotionally charged journey into a society veiled in strict customs, compelling her to confront everything she thinks she knows, and emboldening her to question her most powerful beliefs. 

Then one impulsive act brings about a clash of cultures in a tug-of-war that plays out in a courtroom, challenging the very nature of justice and reverberating through generations, straining the fragile threads of family and faith.

 

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abouttheauthor

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Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She lives at the water’s edge on an island in Puget Sound, and in good weather, she commutes to her writers’ group in a 21-foot motorboat. She’s been featured in the national media, including NPR, PRI, and USA Today, has given programs for the US Embassies in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and is a popular speaker locally, nationally, internationally, and on the high seas.

From the very start, her writings have illuminated the everyday dramas of ordinary people. Her books celebrate the power of love, the timeless bonds of family and the fascinating nuances of human nature. Today, she is an international best-selling, award-winning author, with millions of copies of her books in print in numerous countries and languages. According to Publishers Weekly, Wiggs writes with “refreshingly honest emotion,” and the Salem Statesman Journal adds that she is “one of our best observers of stories of the heart [who] knows how to capture emotion on virtually every page of every book.” Booklist characterizes her books as “real and true and unforgettable.”

Her novels have appeared in the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List, and have captured readers’ hearts around the globe with translations into more than 20 languages and 30 countries. She is a three-time winner of the RITA Award,. Her recent novel, The Apple Orchard, is currently being made into a film.

The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. She lives on an island in Puget Sound, where she divides her time between sleeping and waking.

Visit Susan Wiggs’s Web site at www.susanwiggs.com

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