Today we welcome Susan Sloate, author of Stealing Fire.
This book was a Quarter-Finalist (Top 5%) in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.
So welcome, Susan!!!
Hi, Desiree! Thanks so much for having me on your blog today!
I know everyone asks this but why did you decide to write romance?
STEALING FIRE is not a category romance, though it is a passionate love story. Romance, to me, is a genre that often has rigid conventions, whereas a mainstream love story tends to be more dimensional, with characters who are more real and better developed. I see my novel as a mainstream love story.
I didn’t really ‘decide’ to write romance. I always liked reading love stories (yeah, even some category romance), and in my earlier years I wrote two teen romances for a girls’ series called SWEET DREAMS. Those really were category romance, which ended with the girl getting her first kiss.
In this case, the story was based on a relationship I was in when I began writing it. I wrote to try to understand the situation, and the novel just developed from there.
Probably what was hardest was getting the words down on paper in some cohesive order. Instead of writing in linear fashion from beginning to end, because I had no real structure in mind, I wrote bits of the story as I thought of it. There was no plan, no outline—all I had was the real-life relationship I was living through, and I drew a lot of incidents in the novel from that. But I had no idea, really, what I was writing with this one. I didn’t plan it, didn’t do any character analysis beforehand. I just wrote.
What was the easiest thing?
Deciding who the characters were (duh—they were me and the guy I loved, and I took both characters’ makeup directly from life). I used all the emotional stuff from our own real-life backgrounds but changed their homes and careers (slightly). In STEALING FIRE, Amanda lives and works in New York, and she was raised on Long Island, near New York City. I was born in New York and raised in Westchester County (a large suburban area near Manhattan something like Long Island), but was living and working in L.A. at the time I met the man I fell in love with. Beau in STEALING FIRE is a Broadway lyricist and librettist (a librettist writes the play and all the dialogue for the musical). In real life, the man he was based on was a novelist and screenwriter. It was close enough, but not exact, which for some reason made it easier for me to write. And because of my lifelong interest in the musical theater, dipping into that for my background was easy; I knew tons of show scores and had read extensively about how a lot of shows were put together. It was easy to develop a back story for Beau, my hero, because of all the previous reading I’d done.
My first manuscript for my first book was actually commissioned by a New York company that produced books for big publishers. It was the sixth and final book in a girls’ series called BLUE RIBBON, about girls who trained for Olympic dressage. I was looking for book assignments to do, and this was the first that came up. I got the material from the book producer and wrote sample chapters to audition for the editor, and they liked what I did. When they called to tell me I had the assignment, they told me they needed the finished manuscript in a month. I had never actually finished a full book; I had no idea whether I even could. So without losing a beat, I said, “No problem,” and got the book finished on time, panting right down to the wire. They gave me notes for rewrites, and once I’d completed those, in two or three weeks, my work on the book was done.
Tell me about your first contract?
BLUE RIBBON was my first contract. Fortunately I’d made contact with other editors in the same house who were working on other projects, because right after I finished this assignment I was hired to write two Y/A biographies for a series called GREAT LIVES—I wrote Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart, one after the other (and later, Clara Barton for the same series). I then did a book on pre-teen fashion for a series called SMART TALK. Altogether I did eight books for that book producer.
I got my next assignments through an editor I’d planned to work with at that first book production company on a historical fiction series which never quite happened. But the editor remembered me when she went to another house and hired me in 1992 to write 3 books for a Y/A series called GIRL TALK. I wrote each book in a month (they weren’t that long) and the last book, about a 4-H fair and calf raising, which I knew nothing about, was the funniest of all. I had no time to research calf raising or 4-H fairs, so I simply made it all up, and the editor told me that at the highest levels of the house, that was by far their favorite! Go figure.
Do you base any of your stories on real people or places or events?
STEALING FIRE is entirely autobiographical, though it’s also been fictionalized. All the story beats actually happened, though not quite the way I wrote them in the book. My other novels certainly have autobiographical elements in them. In fact, I recently realized to my embarrassment that though I write in many different genres–mystery, historical fiction, love stories, etc.—virtually every one of my heroines is so version of me. Amanda in STEALING FIRE is the very young me. Cady in FORWARD TO CAMELOT is a very glamorized version of me. Lindy in THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL (an upcoming novel) is closer to the me of today.
What gets you in the mood to write?
Nothing gets me more in the mood to write than those first moments of having a great new story idea. When a thought takes shape in your mind—“What if such-and-such happened?”—and you start to think about what that would mean and how it could happen—those moments are fantastic! You usually get a rush of ideas, one after another, so fast you can hardly write them down, and each one solidifies the idea more in your mind. I LOVE those moments; I fill notebooks full of thoughts that occur when that first connective locks into place, and I keep adding to them as I get more. It’s a real high!
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? 10 years?
Rich, famous and thin, with easy access to chocolate and my kids thinking I’m really amazing. Well, okay, maybe not that last one. No point in wishing for the impossible.
What do you enjoy most about being an author?
The pleasure of a good writing day. When you’re sitting at the computer and ideas are popping in your head like popcorn and each one hooks into the last and takes you closer to realizing your first vision of the project, there’s nothing like it. I love the first day of starting a project, when you know you don’t have to know everything to get started, and I really love that moment when you type THE END and mean it… when a book is really, totally, absolutely finished. Wow.
I also love talking to readers of all kinds. In fact, oddly enough, I love public speaking, and I’ve done a lot of it. I’ve spoken at schools in front of 1000 students and in front of a dozen people at a book club. The feedback is wonderful, and I love sharing stories about what my writing life is like.
Okay, quick fun questions:
Favorite ice cream: Vanilla—boring but true
Favorite music: I still love ‘80s pop music, in fact pop music back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. Still love the Beach Boys, the early Beatles, a lot of mainstream groups and singers. Bacharach-David songs. And yes, I still love movie music and Broadway show scores. Surprise!
Favorite movie: Kenneth Branagh’s DEAD AGAIN. It’s so good I think they should teach it in college cinema classes!
Favorite time to write: When I have a good idea! Of course, I don’t always wait for that, especially not during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), a November marathon to write 50,000 words in one month. Then I have to write whether I want to or not! But I’ve done it 7 times, won it 6 times (writing 50K in a month is a win), so it’s been very worthwhile.
If you could be stranded with a movie or television star who would you pick?
Hugh Jackman. Get him and I’ll take off for that desert island tomorrow!
If someone played you in a movie who would it be and why?
I’d want Kate Winslet. She’s got a wonderful old-fashioned quality about her, and she’s a terrific actress. If we’re really dreaming and I can pick an actress who’s no longer alive but would magically re-appear to play me, it would be Natalie Wood, another beautiful and intensely talented woman. Nothing wrong with being more glamorous in a movie than you are in real life!
Be sure to pick up your copy of Susan’s terrific book, STEALING FIRE.