June 2014 First Friday Breakfast with an Author

waitingForMagicWelcome to our June First Friday Breakfast (so fun, I couldn’t wait!) with NYT Bestselling author Susan Squires. She published twenty-one novels and novellas with Dorchester Publishing and St. Martin’s Press, as well as self-publishing her new Children of Merlin Series. She’s been a finalist in the Rita contest and garnered several Reviewer’s Choice awards from Romantic Times BookReviews. Publisher’s Weekly named Body Electric one of the most influential mass-market books and One with the Shadows a Best Book of Year. She lives at the beach in Southern California with her husband, who is also a writer, and three Belgian Sheepdogs who help her by laying their chins on the keyboardddddddd…

This morning I’m enjoying an old favorite: egg fried in coconut oil, sprinkled with kelp granules, and lined with wild brine kraut, arugula salad topped with white peach, blueberries, pecans, and cilantro-infused olive oil. With a decaf coffee and a drizzle of almond extract. What are you having for your virtual breakfast, Susan?

Well, what I usually have is Cheerios, and soy milk with some fruit on the side. NOT a dream breakfast, but I can count the calories. So today, I’m going to imagine I’m eating Dim Sum. Little scrumptious Chinese dumplings and buns served for breakfast. Some are sweet. Some are filled with meat or seafood. They have so many varieties you can’t count: sticky rice with other “stuff” wrapped in lotus leaves, little egg tarts, deep fried things, green pepper boats with a seafood mix in them, roast duck, etc. etc. And they bring it all around on carts that stop at your table. You point and they leave small dishes to share. Then they stamp your bill to indicate how much you should be charged for the dish. We’ve had it in LA, in San Francisco and in Hong Kong. We learned the Chinese names for our favorites. THAT’s the virtual breakfast I’m having today.

I love dim sum.  My favorite is jin deui (sesame balls filled with bean paste) and har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) last eaten in Denver. Good choice! Tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.

hesAMagicMan 453x680

I may start with a “concept” but I progress to the characters very quickly in developing the story. So for instance, for Body Electric, my starting concept was: A brilliant hacker falls in love with the artificial intelligence she creates. For my current series, The Children of Merlin, I came up with the concept of a big family who is descended from wizard of Camelot and so have magic in their genes. Then I go straight to character. Who are these people? What are their problems? Why are they who they are?

As far as my process goes, I used to write by the seat of my pants, making up the story as I went along. My first five books were written that way, for an editor who had faith in my ability to pull off the end product. The problem with writing by the seat of your pants is that you can get stuck in the middle and write yourself into corners. That’s both frustrating and time consuming.

When I sold to St. Martin’s Press, they bought three books based on the usual half-page email I wrote to tell my editor what I was doing. St. Martin’s probably only gave me a contract because I had books they could read to know I could tell a good story. Several had won awards and contests, so I had a track record. My new editor wrote my contract so I got part of my advance only when I submitted a synopsis. Uh, oh. I had to learn to figure out the book in advance. That was scary. But I found that writing a synopsis of the story in advance didn’t kill my joy in writing it, and kept me from wandering around in the middle. So now that I can write books any way I want, I still do a synopsis.

For the Children of Merlin series that meant working out what all six books were about, including characters, plot and themes. I think in a series, that’s even more important. It’s hard to keep six books on track otherwise. And it doesn’t keep you from creative innovation because you don’t have to adhere to your outline religiously. I just had a bastard son show up on the scene in my series (without my permission) and demand to have his own book. I find that exciting.

I do a first draft slowly and painfully. Even though I think about the book in advance, keep a notebook with thoughts about everything from plot to setting to characters, and think I’m ready to go, I revise first chapters a lot, trying to start just when the action really gets going. Then I push through, revising only what’s necessary, until the first draft is done.

The only thing that keeps me from despairing about making my books as good as I want them to be is the old Ernie Hemingway quote, “Great books aren’t written, they’re rewritten.” Thank goodness. I don’t pretend to greatness, but I do want to craft a book that will give people a satisfying ride, so they feel like they actually lived the story along with the characters. For me, that means lots of drafts. Before I sent my book into my editors, or before I publish my books myself, I make sure they are the best I can do at that moment.

Tell us about one of your books. What inspired your main characters, and the storyline?

doYouBelieveInMagic453x680I’m going to talk about the first book in my Children of Merlin series, Do You Believe In Magic? Merlin appeared in my last DaVinci Time Travel book, The Mists of Time, as a character and I liked him a lot. I found myself wondering what his life would have been like after the close of the story, what he would have wanted from life. I decided he would have wanted most to pass his magic on to his children. That was the germ of my new series right there. I imagined that the magic was dispersed and lost through the ages, but it wasn’t gone. It was waiting in his descendants’ DNA for the right time to begin gathering again. How would it gather? By creating an attraction between those who have the gene—an irresistible force that urges them together, so their children have more magic concentrated in their genes. What does that sound like? Well, to me, it sounded like true love. The Children of Merlin series was born.

My series is about the big and successful Tremaine family. They have six children and one adopted kid at the start of the series ranging from 14 to 30. I thought about each one of the kids. One would think finding his magic would never happen for him, but want it very much. One would be sure of her destiny, and have it take a nasty turn. One would be attracted to someone she least expected. I even wanted readers to start guessing about who might be right for each of the siblings.

Of course, the family has enemies. Magic DNA has also come down from Morgan Le Fay, and her descendants are gathering power with very different ends in mind. Merlin left artifacts, called Talismans, meant to increase the power of the magic. Morgan’s descendants are on the hunt for these lost treasures, and the Tremaines must find them first.

Okay. I had an outline. I knew who the characters were. I was set. And then I got paralyzed. Where to start? Whose story should be first? I agonized for a while. Finally, over cocktails at sunset, I confessed my angst to my husband. He actually rolled his eyes. “Is there a bad boy in the family?” he asked. “Of course there’s a bad boy,” I protested. He sighed and nodded. “Start with the bad boy.”

So Do You Believe in Magic? is about the second oldest brother, Tristram Tremaine. He doesn’t think he belongs in the family. They run an international conglomerate that specializes in green industries and the deployment of rescue supplies and equipment after natural disasters. He restores classic cars and motorcycles for Hollywood stars (and starlets.) After disappointing his parents one too many times, Tris leaves his life in L.A. and hits the road on his cycle, drifting away from his destiny.

That is, until he meets Maggie O’Brian, a spit-fire rodeo rider with a strange ability to calm wild horses. Maggie lives on the road too, avoiding relationships. Her mother left her, the boy she loved left her–even her dog left her. Her secret desire for enduring love and a family seems far away. The last thing she wants is a tomcat like Tris with “love ‘em and leave ‘em” written all over him.

But the connection between Tris and Maggie is instantaneous. After a mysterious accident nearly kills Tris, he and Maggie must learn to believe in their destiny and each other to stay one step ahead of those who will do anything to prevent them from claiming their future.

I love Tris and Maggie. They got the engine of the series running, so to speak.

Let me warm up your tea. What did you find fun about writing Do You Believe in Magic? What was difficult?

This is a trick question, because what is most fun about writing a book is often also the most challenging. For instance, when you write a series about a big family, each character has to be fully formed from the very first book. They have to be who they will be when they get their own story, even the very first time the readers sees them, though the events that occur during the series can affect them. I found that exciting. In fact, the family itself is almost a character in the books. I enjoyed that immensely.

Another challenge was keeping all the details straight. Different looks, different powers, who said what, it’s a lot to keep straight. Hint—there is one secondary character in the early books whose last name wobbles around a bit. Ooops!

Finally, I wanted to write a story where the magic sneaks up on you. I wanted it to feel real. So in the beginning of Do You Believe in Magic? readers have to look hard for the magic. It’s there, though, and it grows. By the time Tris and Maggie get their magic, I want the reader to believe that’s the way it would happen. I found getting that effect that both challenging and satisfying

Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.

nightMagicThe fourth book in the series, Night Magic, will be out in July. Readers have been waiting for a while for the oldest brother’s story. Kemble Tremaine believes his gene is recessive. Magic has past him by. Four of his younger siblings have their powers. He’s thirty-seven, and he hasn’t had a glimpse of true love. Even his father agrees he might as well get on with his life. He proposes to his sister’s best friend, a mousey girl he’s known almost all his life. Jane’s home life with her alcoholic mother is dreadful. He knows she’ll accept his proposal even though there is no love between them.

But Jane has loved Kemble since she was twelve, a fact she can never reveal to him, since he would only pity her. She doesn’t expect him to love her, but thinks she can make him comfortable, at the least.

However, this isn’t a comfortable story. The family is under attack and Jane and Kemble are pushed to their limits to defend it. An unexpected responsibility will challenge them, and the magic has a surprise in store as well.

Thank you for sharing your breakfast and writing life, Susan. I enjoyed learning more about your writing process. Since I have enjoyed the rest of the Children of Merlin series (and worried about Kemble), I’m thrilled to hear Night Magic will be out in July.

Here are a few links if you want to read more about Susan Squires and her fabulous books.

Susan Squire’s website: http://www.susansquires.com
Susan Squire’s Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Susan-Squires/e/B001IOBHHM/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susansquiresbooks
Twitter: Susan Squires@SusanSquires https://twitter.com/SusanSquires

Before you blast off to Amazon to get your copy of Do You Believe in Magic? or click http://www.amazon.com/You-Believe-Magic-Children-Merlin-ebook/dp/B007SH6YL2/, who would like to join us for a cup of her favorite English Breakfast tea?

NOTE: *Adult Paranormal Romance – Contains sexual situations*

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About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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5 Responses to June 2014 First Friday Breakfast with an Author

  1. imagbigreader says:

    Michelle–

    Nice to read about a science fiction author. I’d enjoy reading more science fiction if I knew authors to choose. Don’t care for techno books, I want human [or sentient creature] stories wherever they are set.

    Kaye

    • mlknowlden says:

      Kaye: She may consider herself more of a paranormal romance writer than SF. Her imagery of magic is so lovely. –Michelle

    • Kaye, Michele is right. I would consider myself a paranormal romance writer. Romance is a big tent, and includes all sorts of things in with the romance: thrillers, mysteries, and even sci fi. The books I’ve written that are most SF are Body Electric, (named one of the 10 most influential mass market books by Publisher’s Weekly that year) about a brilliant hacker who falls in love with the artificial intelligence she creates, and No More Lies (my Rita finalist book) about a psychiatrist who starts hearing voices. She’s been infected with a virus that lets her hear other’s thoughts. But I’ve also done vampires in Regency England, Time Travel, and Dark Age Britain, where religion and magic coexisted. I read LOADS of SF in my younger days, and I think thats why I have rather lost my ability to write “straight” romance.

  2. dayya says:

    Great interview!

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