Check out this fun Q&A with NYT bestselling author Suzy Spencer. And while you’re at it, sign up for her upcoming WLT workshop, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Writing & Publishing but Were Afraid to Ask” on Saturday, November 12 at St. Edwards University in Austin. NEW: For those who live out of town, the class will be live-streamed. If you’re interested in attending the class virtually, email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
What are you reading right now?
Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson. I love this book. I yearn for it to make the New York Times best-seller list.
When you’re not reading or writing, what do you like to do with your time?
I’m boring. I like to eat, watch TV, and then go to the gym to try to repent for my “sins.”
What’s your favorite opening line of a book?
I don’t have a “best of times … worst of times” favorite quote. But I do love the opening line of Megan K. Stack’s Every Man in this Village is a Liar. “This memory from childhood is still there: the voices of the adults bounce fretfully, eternally, in rooms that have since been sold or abandoned.”
What life lesson did your last book or project teach you?
Oh, gosh. (And I sink my face into my hands.) That I’m not the person I thought I was.
That book will be published October 2012, and after reading it, you’ll understand why I say that.
What word do you love? What word do you detest?
I love the word hamburger. (I told you I like to eat!) Okay, okay, I know that’s not what you meant. You want something deeper, but I’m just not that deep. How about beach? I love the noun beach, but I don’t like the verb beach. I also love the word friend, in its truest, deepest form. I hate the word guilt/y.
What is a little known fact about yourself?
I dreamed of becoming a professional water skier … or at least a water ski instructor at Club Med.
How do you deal with ups and downs of the publishing business?
I climb in bed with cookies, nonfat milk, and fall asleep watching bad TV. After three days of feeling sorry for myself, I call my friend and novelist Carol Dawson, who talks me out of the depths.
How do you balance writing with work and family?
I don’t. With the exception of going to my 12-year-old cousin’s flag football games, I go into hibernation when I’m writing. It’s the only way I can live in the world of my “characters.” “Characters” is in quotation marks because I write nonfiction, meaning I write about real people, not characters.
What is your writing routine and where do you write?
I usually begin my writing day with my first meal of the day – sitting in a restaurant reading and editing the previous day’s work. That lets me know where to start when I get home. Then I go into my office and write. Too often I can only stay at one writing spot for an hour before I lose my writing mojo. So, I might work at my desk for an hour, then move to my dining table for an hour, then to another restaurant for an hour, and so on.
Do you outline or just start writing?
I wish I could outline. I know that doing so would make me a better and faster writer. But I can’t seem to do that. I have to just write, then cut, cut, cut, cut, and cut … often 200 pages or more just to find the story within the words. That’s why I say outlining would make me a better and faster writer.
With the last book, I tried to make myself write toward plot points or turning points in the story, which one could say is a loose form of outlining. Still, I had to cut 200-300 pages.
Do you have trusted readers you turn to as you write, and if so, who and what stage?
I let a few people read a few pages when I’m feeling rotten about my work and need encouragement. Other times I let a few people read a 100 or more pages when I know my work is rotten and I need help figuring out what the problem is. The problem with either is finding people who will give you honest feedback in words that aren’t overly positive or emotionally damaging in their negativity and people who are knowledgeable enough about the business of writing to understand what you need.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
When I realized there’s nothing else I can do. It is what I am.
The Fast Five
1. What are three things in your office/writing space that would surprise someone who popped in
I’m not sure there’s anything in my office that would surprise someone. The utter mess and chaos? The five legal boxes and 24 notebooks of sex research? The Baylor University visits Trinity Baptist Church, Alor, Setar, Kedah, Malaysia banner? Can we say guilt/y?
2. What book first influenced you as a child?
I’m not sure I can name one. But I loved The Cat in the Hat – the rhythms, the rhymes, the surprises. And it’s not a book, but the Dennis the Menace comics where he went to Hollywood and Hawaii impacted me profoundly.
3. What time of day do you write?
Whenever I need to, but I don’t hit my stride until very late afternoon.
4. If you could have a beer or coffee with a writer living or dead, who would it be and why?
At this point in time, Jeannette Walls, because I think The Glass Castle is the penultimate memoir and I know she struggled with it. Thanks to novelist Amanda Eyre Ward, I did get a few minutes to chat with Jeannette, but I’d like an hour or two.
Come to think of it, Jeannette’s opening to The Glass Castle is my favorite opening line. “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.” WOW! Characterization and conflict in 27 words! And I’m hooked.
I’m also eagerly awaiting the day that I get to sit down with Donna Johnson and talk to her about Holy Ghost Girl.
5. Beer or coffee?