SPOTLIGHT: SUZANNE GATES

 
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Suzanne Gates began writing historical crime fiction after listening to family stories about her great-uncle, a gangster in 1930s Los Angeles. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of California, Irvine, and she lives in Southern California. THE GLAMOROUS DEAD is her first novel.

How does it feel to release your debut novel, THE GLAMOROUS DEAD, out into the world? 

It's a relief. The build-up to my launch date was stressful, even though now that it's over, I don't remember doing anything difficult. It was the idea of the book's publication that floored me. Now that it's out there, a done deal, I'm fine with it. I did see the book in a store and my stomach flip-flopped, but I guess I'll get used to it. Since the launch I've been to several bookstores signing stock, but it still kind of freaks me out. The name on the book is my name, but it doesn't seem like me.

 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned working on THE GLAMOROUS DEAD? 

I learned that the old list I'd made of writing "nevers" was complete baloney. I'd written this long list of what I'd learned from other writers, things like "never use 'ly' adjectives," "never use the word 'suddenly,'" stuff like that, and after writing and rewriting THE GLAMOROUS DEAD, I came across that list and saw that I'd broken almost every rule I'd set for myself. When I went back and checked those places in the manuscript, I didn't change a thing. 

 

Have your feelings about writing or the writing process changed since you first started writing THE GLAMOROUS DEAD?

Yes! I have never been someone who plots, but when I wrote the first draft of THE GLAMOROUS DEAD, I tried to plot it out. I ended up throwing away that entire version, 400 pages. It was flat, both in writing and in story. I guess I'd thought that to write a novel, a good, true novel, one had to have some map of where to go.

Next, I wrote a draft that began with me sitting in a chair, having no idea of what words would come out. This is funny to me, even as I'm writing down my thoughts now, because the story I'm currently writing is entirely dependent upon a map, and I had certain plot points that had to be included.

What's changed, then, is that I have realized I'm always in service to the story. Always. The story directs how it wants to be told, and it's my job to work on craft, keep working on craft, and listen to the story.

 

From idea to publication, how long did it take you to write THE GLAMOROUS DEAD? If you could go back, is there anything you’d change about that process?

I would skip that first useless draft! I'd go right to the part where I began listening to the story. As it was, the book took me a good ten years. Part of that was the time it took to sell the book.

My wonderful agent never gave up on a story she believed in, and kept shopping the book--through 47 rejections! But--and here's the point of it all--the 48th was not a rejection. The editor who bought my book believed in the story as strongly as my agent. 

 

“Our ideas often come from the stories that wrap our families, and that's certainly the origin of my current project.”

 

What project are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak preview or any details?

I'm writing a re-visioning of TREASURE ISLAND, that essential adventure story by Robert Louis Stevenson. My version is set in 1934 Los Angeles. The "island" is the historic core of downtown L.A., and the "pirates" are gangsters.

It's the story of a boy who leaves his family of migrant pickers to take a summer job as a "runner" for the gangster Jelly Jones. The boy hopes the move will change his life, and it does--but not in the way he expects.

Sounds like YA, doesn't it? Yet, I'm writing to an adult audience, and I have all kinds of historical figures popping in and out: Al Capone, John Dillinger, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, and even Pancho Villa make appearances.

For me, this is a story that honors my own father, whose family were migrant pickers during the Depression and "followed the fruit," as they used to say--picking whatever was ripe up and down the Sacramento Valley, to Oregon and back. My father's bleak childhood came alive when his gangster uncle would visit and tell him stories of Los Angeles. Our ideas often come from the stories that wrap our families, and that's certainly the origin of my current project.

 

What challenges or fears do you face in your writing routine and what steps have you taken--or do you take--to overcome them?

I have one fear and one challenge.

The fear comes when I haven't written for a while and I need to get back to it. Then I feel the fear physically: sick stomach, tight muscles especially in my neck, shoulders, and arms. If I keep writing, even a bit a day, I don't feel that fear.

But this is where the challenge comes in, because I also work full time and I cannot write for weeks at a time. There's no remedy for a home mortgage except work, so that's what I do. It's my challenge.

The result: Every few weeks or months I have to kick that fear and write anyway. I don't have a way around this. I force myself to sit in my chair, and I start each session by writing a journal entry. I have pages and pages of short paragraphs filled with nothing but describing how my body is feeling as I write, and then somehow I transition from a focus on my body to a focus on story. It happens every time.

It turns out that I overcome fear of writing by...writing! 

 

“I can only be in service to the story if I have sufficient craft to tell that story.”

 

What were the highlights of your editorial work with Free Expressions or attendance at a workshop? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory?

I have been to many Free Expressions workshops. I've traveled to Houston, Seattle, Portland, and Austin to attend them. Each time, the highlight has been my one-on-one time with Don Maass.

I'm humbled by his ability to get at the heart of a story. He is a great teacher--and I say that having taught for over twenty-five years. Some people are born with the ability to bring out the best in others, and he has that gift. His early encouragement of the concept behind THE GLAMOROUS DEAD gave me the strength to dump my first draft and begin again, working on character depth and developing historical figures as important voices within the plot.

One of the most important characters in THE GLAMOROUS DEAD is the great actress Barbara Stanwyck, and I'd been afraid to give her a storyline and dialogue. After all, she was a real woman with a very distinct personality. In my one-on-one with Don, he wouldn't accept my excuse. We discussed the ethical boundaries of developing historical figures as fictional characters. Don said to develop her personality, and so I did. I now think her character is one of the highlights of the book.

 

What advice do you have for writers in terms of seeking out editorial services or determining what workshops or conferences would best suit their needs?

Best advice: Go to a Breakout Novel Intensive. Then go again, working on the same book. Then go again, with a different project. I've been to the week-long intensives several times, and each time I've been able to strengthen and deepen my writing.

Other than that, the best conferences I've been to have been the annual Romance Writers of America conferences, even though I do not write romance. There are always several craft workshop threads, appealing to writers at differing levels of writing strength and career advancement. I don't go to many of them now, but in the past, I have never been disappointed. 

 

What does your dream writing retreat look like?

An ocean view, lots of iced tea, a comfortable chair, and nothing but surf sounds. And no laundry. 

 

“Writers hold out two hands, one to touch the writers who come before, one to reach the writers who come after. We honor both.”

 

What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?

Nonstop reading. I read before I go to sleep. I remember being told by one of my college professors that writers hold out two hands, one to touch the writers who come before, one to reach the writers who come after. We honor both. I had not read many mysteries by women writers, and I could feel that absence in my own writing. Last summer I read nearly everything Agatha Christie wrote, and then I read all of Dorothy L. Sayers' books. Now I'm beginning Dorothy B. Hughes' masterpiece, IN A LONELY PLACE. After that, I'm focusing on Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson. 

 

What compels you to write in a particular genre?

I began writing mysteries because of a murder committed when I was in my twenties. A grade school friend of my own best friend became a victim of a serial killer.

We were all raised in the same working-class neighborhood, and when Maureen's body was found in Oregon's Molalla forest, my friends and I kept asking this question: Why her, and not me? Why did she, and not me, step into the wrong car? We were stunned by her death. Absolutely stunned. Why not me?

There is a simple answer, and a complex answer. The simple: I did not become a drug addict, and Maureen did. This was luck, as I had ingested my fair share. But the complex answer is why I keep writing. It's because I don't know the answer, and by excavating the past and layering on mysteries, I keep trying to figure it out.

 

FAST FACTS

What are you currently reading?
Currently I'm reading Eleanor Roosevelt's YOU LEARN BY LIVING. She wrote this book three years before her death in 1963, addressing her grand- and great-grandchildren who might gain from what she learned throughout her life. She discusses eleven life lessons, though I've only read through two so far. The first lesson is on pushing through fear, and timely for me, as I'm facing a hefty revision of my second book.

If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
Put me in Dorothy L. Sayers' GAUDY NIGHT! This is her masterwork, set in a rare women's college in late 1930s Oxford, a mystery with rich discussions of what it means to be a woman in education, and the social implications of giving up dreams of family for academic achievement. All this, with a rising background of fascism in Europe and the protagonist's own dilemma of what marriage would mean to her autonomy as a woman and as a writer. I want to button up my academic regalia and follow Harriet Vane.

Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
I prefer silence. I do like hearing the dishwasher rumbling downstairs, because that makes me feel like I'm getting things done.

Is there a specific food or drink that fuels your writing?
I can drink iced tea all day long. On a cold day or if I've got a cold I'll drink hot tea, but all that varies is the type and temperature. Tea, tea, tea.

Find out more about Suzanne and her book on her website. You can order THE GLAMOROUS DEAD from Barnes and Noble.

 


UPCOMING EVENTS

STORY 360
Tampa, FL
March 24-25, 2018

Wellington, FL
May 5-6, 2018

Houston, TX
July 14-15, 2018

BREAKOUT NOVEL INTENSIVE
Hood River, OR
April 9-15, 2018

Tampa, FL
September 9-15, 2018

EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION
Philadelphia , PA
November 2-4, 2018

BONI GRADUATE LEARNING RETREAT
San Diego, CA

February  26-March 4, 2018


EDITORIAL SERVICES

Free Expressions is booking editing clients through 2018. 

Whether you’re looking for help in building a sound novel or want comprehensive feedback on a complete or partial MS, we’d love to work with you. We’ve helped hundreds of people achieve publishing—and sometimes bestselling—success.

Let us help you put your best writing foot forward!

Click here to learn more about our editing services.

SPOTLIGHT: GIGI PANDIAN

 
 

USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world on their research trips and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the backyard vegetable garden. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery stories.

 

What project are you currently working on?

I’m having fun finishing a draft of the fourth Accidental Alchemist mystery about a centuries-old female alchemist and a gargoyle who was once stone but was accidentally brought to life through alchemy.

Once I hand over a rough draft to my critique partners later this month, I’ll be returning to the stand-alone novel I was working on at a Free Expressions workshop earlier this year, an atmospheric mystery set in Edinburgh.

I also love short stories, especially locked-room “impossible crime” mysteries (a genre of mystery popular during the Golden Age of detective fiction), so in between book projects I’ll be writing a new locked-room mystery short story that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while.

Yes, it’s true I like coffee more than sleep.
 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your most recent book or working on your most recent writing project?

I write puzzle plot mysteries that require careful plotting, so I always write a detailed outline before I begin writing. Therefore, I’ve always thought of myself as a “plotter” as opposed to a “panster” (someone who writes by the seat of their pants).

However, I recently realized that I have never been right about the culprit in any of my mysteries. Never! I’ve come to realize that my outline is my security blanket and I need it to get started, but that I’m a much more organic writer than I admitted to myself.

 

“There’s so much in this business that’s beyond our control, so I have fun with the parts I can control and don’t dwell on the things I can’t.”
 

THE NINJA'S ILLUSION is your eighth book. How does it feel to send it out into the world? Have your feelings changed since ARTIFACT was released?

It’s funny, in so many ways I still feel like I’m new at this, because I continue to learn so much about both the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

Having my first novel released was an exciting milestone, but I continue to be both thrilled and nervous about each new book. I’m more mellow now, not because the excitement has diminished, but because I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. There’s so much in this business that’s beyond our control, so I have fun with the parts I can control and don’t dwell on the things I can’t. I don’t read my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads; reviews are for readers, not the author.
 

What were the highlights of your editorial work with Free Expressions or attendance at a workshop? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory?

I’ve attended multiple Free Expressions workshops, because I always get so much out of them. Donald Maass’s teaching style and insights push me to be a better writer. And I never would have had the courage to finish the stand-alone novel I’m working on if not for the critiques from the team at a Free Expressions workshop.
 


“And I never would have had the courage to finish the stand-alone novel I’m working on if not for the critiques from the team at a Free Expressions workshop.”



What does your dream writing retreat look like?

Two years ago I created my dream writing retreat for my 40th birthday: going to Edinburgh with my writers group for a week at a cozy flat with a view of Edinburgh Castle.

The retreat came about because shortly after my 36th birthday I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. While undergoing a year of cancer treatments, I made myself a promise that I’d live my life to the fullest once I was well – which included taking my writers group to Edinburgh, Scotland for a writing retreat. I rented the flat, and my writers group and I spent our mornings writing and our afternoons and evenings exploring one of my favorite cities.
 

What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?

I love to travel the world. The trip that inspired my first novel, ARTIFACT, took place when I was ten years old. My anthropologist mom had to spend the summer doing research in the Highlands of Scotland, and she brought me with her. While she was doing research I climbed ruined castles, made friends with the locals, and began writing travel adventure stories. I was hooked on both world travel and writing.

Whenever I travel, even if I’m not working on a project I take a notebook with me and fill it with ideas. Writing on paper allows me to be most creative.


FAST FACTS

What are you currently reading?
THE ART OF FORGERY: THE MINDS, MOTIVES AND METHODS OF THE MASTER FORGERS by Noah Charney. Book research! 

If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
Any of the Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters.

Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
Either. But when it’s music, a different style for each book.

Is there a specific food or drink that fuels your writing?
Coffee. And more coffee.

Find out more about Gigi and her books on her website and stay up to date by signing up for her email newsletter.


UPCOMING EVENTS

BREAKOUT NOVEL INTENSIVE
Hood River, OR
April 9-15, 2018

Tampa, FL
September 9-15, 2018

EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION
Irvine, CA
January 26-28, 2018

Philadelphia , PA
November 2-4, 2018


EDITORIAL SERVICES

Free Expressions is booking editing clients through 2018. 

Whether you’re looking for help in building a sound novel or want comprehensive feedback on a complete or partial MS, we’d love to work with you. We’ve helped hundreds of people achieve publishing—and sometimes bestselling—success.

Let us help you put your best writing foot forward!

Click here to learn more about our editing services.

Spotlight: Robin Gainey -- Get the Story on the Page

 
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Robin F. Gainey grew up in a household full of pencils, erasers, Underwood and Royal typewriters (one of each), and cases of liquid paper.

Raised by her author-grandmother and an extended family of eleven women and two men, there was always something to write about, much of it hidden from the naked eye. Throw in a secret side of the family recently revealed and we now have a multi-volume saga with a predominant theme: Transformation. 

“Write what you know” is mostly what Robin does. And, what she doesn’t know she makes up. It’s fiction, after all…


What project are you currently working on?

Now working on two things at once: a stand-alone screenplay and what I hope to be the final edit of my third novel, slated to finish both by early spring.


What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your most recent book or working on your most recent writing project?

The messages writers convey in each novel are most often messages designed for themselves.
 

"The messages writers convey in each novel are most often messages designed for themselves."


How does it feel to send LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN DANCERS out into the world? Have your feelings changed since JACK OF HEARTS was released?

Letting go of that final galley is the worst. I don’t think it will ever change. Maybe trite, but the book truly is like a child. At some point you must let it go, knowing it will never be perfect. If perfection existed, why keep writing?


Has your writing process changed since you finished LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN DANCERS? What do you do now as a writer that you didn’t do or wouldn’t have done before?

My process changed after the first novel, JACK OF HEARTS. I used to re-read the chapter before, every time I started the next, and get caught in editing.

Now I right through to the end, never going back until that last page. What may lack in continuity at times, is made app for in speed.

Get the story on the page, then craft the words.


What do you consider your biggest writing success right now, at this very moment?

Having LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN optioned for a limited TV series. It’s a great validation that my story touched people who are willing to work very hard to bring it to life on the screen.

The adaptation process is not for authors of faint heart, however. LOTS of changes to the story; additional characters and story lines; different ending. All come with valid reasons.

I have learned to step out of the way. My goal is to get the story on film. What screen version is as good as the book, anyway?


What challenges or fears do you face in your writing routine and what steps have you taken--or do you take--to overcome them?

My challenge early on was discipline.

Bryce Courtney taught a workshop I once attended who said that the most important aid to writing was “Bum-Glue.” Sit down and stay there. Write even if you don’t know where the story is going. It almost always knows the way even if you don’t.

The other best advice came from Dorothy Allison, whom I was also blessed to have as a teacher. She said, “Remember, darlin’, no writer is born with the knowledge. Get out there and learn!"
 

"Success happens only if you feel it will." 


If you could go back 10 years and give your future writing-self one piece of advice, what would it be?

SUCCESS HAPPENS ONLY IF YOU FEEL IT WILL. Sit down, put those fingers on the keyboard, and take a breath. As Nietzsche said, “The hardest thing is to begin."


What were the highlights of your editorial work with Free Expressions or attendance at a workshop? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory?

The Free Expressions Workshops are the very best you can do for your writing. Thoughtful critiquing, a staff clearly invested in the author, and the instruction, supreme.

Don Maass is one of the very best instructors available. Run, don’t walk, to the next workshop. You’ll never regret it.


What advice do you have for writers in terms of seeking out editorial services or determining what workshops or conferences would best suit their needs?

Word of mouth is the best informant for workshops and conferences. Ask those who’ve attended. Look for reviews. Editorial services are an absolute must. Writers fall in love with their words. A non-biased intermediary must be enlisted.

My experience is that you get what you pay for on this note. That being said, a distinction exists between line editing and story editing (character, chapter, and story arc) and development.

Again, research reviews for certain editors, ask for references, and query those references. Don’t throw money at someone you haven’t investigated.


"Writers fall in love with their words. A non-biased intermediary must be enlisted."


What does your dream writing retreat look like?

Luck enough to already have been discovered: my boat in Canada, three months a summer, mostly alone. WRITING HEAVEN.


What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?

Already mentioned: I boat.

My third novel is partially set on a boat up in Canada. Also, I am a chronic walker, about five-to-seven miles a day. Clears the mind allowing ideas to enter. I spend a lot of the walk speaking to my assistant, Siri, recording my thoughts!


BONUS QUESTION: If we didn’t ask you something that you wish we had, what would it be, and how would you answer?

What do you think is the “why” of story-telling?”

Each generation benefits from those tales once told around ancient campfires: did you hear the one about the guy who wandered into the woods and night?

Stories have very literally keep humanity alive…or at least aided in Natural Selection. ;-)


FAST FACTS

What are you currently reading?
IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam Haslett

If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST by Gene Stratton Porter. An old but a goody. The mystical wood!

Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
I make up a playlist for each novel as I plan the outline. Helps me get out of the now and into story.

Is there a specific food or drink that fuels your writing?
Caffeine in various forms…never discount dark chocolate….

You can find out more about Robin at her website, http://www.robinfgainey.com.  She's also on Twitter as @caesarsdog tweeting as Shimoni, the canine hero of her first novel.