“Wednesday Writer” – Susan Aylworth

Besides being the author of 11 published novels (her 12th will be out in June), Susan Aylworth is a wife and mother, owner of a “devoted old dog and two quirky cats,” and grandmother to 21 grandchildren (with two more expected this spring). But you can find all that information on her blog. I like to dig a bit deeper.

Susan AylworthME:  Where did you grow up and what, in your young mind, set your family apart from others? (I’d love a picture of you as a child to share with my readers.)

SUSAN:  Other families on our block were very much like us. If something set us apart, it was probably me–always organizing the neighborhood, staging skits and plays and parades, driving my neighbors half-crazy. A neighbor named Jane Hawes declared she was grateful when I was finally going to school; now she could throw away her oatmeal boxes. Hey! They made great marching drums.

(Already into storytelling in a big way, I see.)

DSCN3496(Susan as a 3rd Grader when she attempted her first novel)

ME:  Which parent did you take after most, and how are you similar? (Please provide a picture of you with your parents)

SUSAN:  Dad was the hard-working, easy-going guy who just settled in and got things done, Mom the fretful worrier albeit equally hard-working. I’m a good mix of both of them, although I’m probably more like Dad. I’m the worrier in our family, although I try not to fuss as much as Mom, but I got Dad’s imagination. He was the family story-teller.

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(Susan and her husband with her parents)

ME:  I understand you started your first novel at age 9. What was the storyline, if you can recall? And how old were you when you finished your first complete novel? What was it about?

SUSAN:  That first novel was a shameless rip-off of Black Beauty, which was then my favorite book. Told entirely from the horse’s point of view, it documented the story of a romantic wild stallion from his birth. (Notice how she described him as “romantic”? Even then, she was thinking romance.) I wrote nine whole pages on a big yellow legal pad before I exhausted my enthusiasm.

The first book I finished was a romance called The Flaming Phoenix. I’d barely completed it before I knew it was a seriously flawed experiment. My second eventually became BENEATH SIERRA SKIES, Silhouette Romance #702, my first published book. The story was a recasting of a real-life plane crash in the snow that killed a high school girlfriend. In this version, the hero and heroine survive for weeks in the high mountains alone and rescue each other, meanwhile falling in love. It was therapy for me, romance for the reader, and a big win for my longed-for entry into publishing. (Yay! Therapy AND a publishing contract. Can’t get much better.)

Beneath Sierra Skies

ME:  Please tell us about your degrees in English and how they helped or shaped your writing and your life.

SUSAN:  I started college as a journalism major with newspapers in mind. Half-way through undergraduate school, I married a competitive journalist (he has worked in newspapers for forty years) and knew my plan was unworkable. I loved my English classes, so the natural switch was into an English major. Since I was going to be a full-time mommy, it didn’t matter where I got my degree, did it?

But it did. When it turned out we needed my income, as well, and I was being offered secretarial jobs, I went back for the graduate degree, taught my first college class as a grad assistant and just kept teaching. I prepared more classes, learned to teach in different areas, and developed a thirty-year teaching career at California State University, Chico.

Anyone who has taken literature courses can tell you how academics sneer at “commercial fiction,” and I absorbed the attitude through my skin while a student. Later as I met people who were earning a living writing commercial fiction and began reading their work, I knew this was the kind of story I had always loved and the career I had always wanted. I endured my share of snide remarks from colleagues when I began publishing, but I was also approached by several of them on the quiet, people who wanted to know the secret for writing a successful romance. I found joy in telling them there is no secret, simply write a good book.

ME:  Which genre of fiction do you enjoy most, as both reader and writer, and why?

SUSAN:  I always come back to romance, but I love books—all kinds of books. Good stories of almost any kind intrigue me, although I have to admit I’m getting tired of the male revenge plot. I guess that’s fair since my husband is weary of romances.

ME:  Please compare your first published book with your latest. Is there any common theme or thread that unites all your writing?

Maggie Rising

SUSAN:  My first book was a romance and most books since are also romances. Even the paranormal mystery MAGGIE RISING and the family saga ZUCCHINI PIE have some romantic elements. It’s a cliché, but I believe the one unifying element in my stories is the healing power of love—romantic love of course, but also family love, closeness between friends who support one another, all forms of love.

Zucchini Pie

ME:  Having taught at the university level for decades, what new directions do you see fiction going, and are those changes positive or negative in your view? (I would love to post a picture of you teaching in a classroom, if available.)

SUSAN:  The past couple of decades have led to many experiments in literary forms. Graphic novels and serialized novels, often told in tweets of 140 characters at a time, are two examples of experimental styles that may or may not hold into the future. Flash fiction is a major trend that will probably stay with us as long as our society is still heavily dependent on social media; it adapts so well to these platforms.

One trend that’s been big for the past several decades and which is likely to continue is the tendency to refute anything as literature if it does not have a tragic or even nihilistic ending. Stories that end well are considered sentimental and unrealistic. To me that always begs the question of why we bother to read “literature.” I do read it and some of the books I love, but a steady diet of tragic endings is hard to stomach. Give me the rebellious, well-written serious novel that ends with joy and hope.

(I agree. Life is difficult enough. I’m all for happy, or at least hopeful, endings as long as they don’t seem forced and they make sense.)

ME:  Tell us the storyline of your latest book, and how different was it from what you envisioned when you first sat down to write it?

SUSAN:  Just last week I sent a book off to my editor and beta readers. It’s book #8 in the Rainbow Rock Romances, so I had expected it to be fairly easy. I knew where it was going when I started it, but DANNY’S GIRL turned out to be a harder story than I had expected to write, hard in terms of the threat of violence, the emotional issues, the depth of the psychology involved. I knew I’d be dealing with domestic abuse. I hadn’t realized I’d be getting into some shady criminal behaviors and questions of co-dependency. The story made me stretch, sometimes in uncomfortable ways, but I’m pleased with the end product. (Sounds interesting.)

Rainbow Rock Romances

ME:  What are you working on now, and how would you describe your writing process?

SUSAN:  My new work in progress is another romance but in a hospital setting in an updated Gold Rush town in the Sierra Nevada. She is an orthopedic surgeon and trauma intern (an extremely rare specialty for a woman to pursue) and he is a field rep for a company that sells orthopedic devices. The difference in their places in the hospital hierarchy and the goals they’ve set in their careers are working to keep them apart while Cupid is busy trying to put them together. I’m having fun with it.

(It also sounds like you’ve had to do a fair amount of research regarding the way hospitals work.)

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space in the voice of one of your favorite characters from one of your books. (And I must have a picture of that space.)

SUSAN:  Danny Sherwood, from DANNY’S GIRL:

Frankly Susan’s work space would drive me nuts. Here at the Highway Patrol sub-station where I file reports, there is a place for everything and everything is always kept in place. The rest of Susan’s house is pretty much like that, but her office is a mess: it’s where she keeps all the half-done projects, all the bits and pieces waiting their turn for her to get to them, all the reminders of other commitments. It’s pretty chaotic, although she seems to know where to find everything. She has a laptop and could choose to work anywhere, but she comes back to that messy corner instead, partly because that’s where she goes into ‘work’ mode and partly because of the windows that look out on her rose garden. All I can say is I’m glad it’s her work space, not mine. 

(:D)

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(And here’s the proof)

You can learn more about Susan and her work by visiting her website. All of her books are available in both print and ebook form on Amazon. Most of her paperbacks can also be ordered through her own online store.

I’ll be back next Wednesday for a chat with Theresa Sneed, author of the No Angel series built around an angel with an attitude.

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Originally posted 2014-03-26 06:00:50.

Reading, Reading, and More Reading

Present word count of WIP:  54,620

Sorry for slacking off here. I know I missed posting last Friday and this past Monday, but I was in the middle of a terrific writer’s conference (LDS Storymakers)…and then I was still recovering from it.

(A ten-hour drive in one day is not easy, despite M&Ms and other caffeinated products, particularly after you’re coming off of five nights of only 3-5 hours of sleep on average. But an audio book leant to me by my writing/conference buddy, Liz Adair, certainly helped!)

Anyway, it was a great conference. The best thing was that I had another excuse to see my daughter. I won’t have too many more opportunities like that before she leaves on her mission. And she even came to the Whitney Awards Banquet with me (that’s become a custom…I’ll definitely miss her next year).

Liz and I were roommates again and we also kept each other company during the massive book signing (and I got to pick up a lot of tips on how to do a signing by watching our neighbor, Janette Rallison, respond to the lines and lines of fans queued up for her signature or picture).

Liz and I at the Book Signing

Me with Janette Rallison and Rachelle Christensen

I took part in one of the critique sessions held during the Publication Primer the day before the conference and met some terrific writers there, including David King, Rebekah Wells, and Becky Tueller and her sister, Cheryl. Our group was led by Natalie Hickman, almost due to have her baby and just out of the hospital that morning. Talk about dedication to your craft!

Me with David and Rebekah

I pitched my WIP to Holly Root of the Waxman Literary Agency and she wants to see the first three chapters when it’s ready. YAY!!! She also said she’d have no problem taking on a client that wanted to write both Women’s Fiction and Middle Grade…all under my own name. Hmmm. Maybe I won’t need a pen name after all.

Also, I met with my editor, Linda Mullineaux, and they’re now looking at sending my book (which will be called something other than Laps) to press in August! I gave them a new suggestion for the title and I think they may go with it. But I’m not announcing it here until it’s finally approved. Anyway, I’m firmly a part of the Walnut Springs Press family, as shown by this picture of several of their authors taken after the Whitney Awards Banquet.

Walnut Springs Authors (Me, Angie Lofthouse, Liz Adair, Jenni James, Betsy Love, Theresa Sneed, and the injured Tristi Pinkston)

Besides the fact that I desperately need a makeover, I learned lots of great things at the LDS Storymakers Conference, as usual (particularly loved Jennifer Nielsen’s class on Middle Grade Fiction and Jeff Savage’s on Podcasts), though I didn’t get to attend nearly as many workshops or classes. That was because:

1) My body crashed after my Friday afternoon pitch . . . it’s a little too old now for these midnight film premieres (but “The Avengers” was terrific!)

and . . .

2) I volunteered to help do timekeeping for pitch sessions on Saturday morning. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be the one watching the clock rather than the one racing through my pitch over and over in my mind while waiting for the signal to go in and face the agent.

While I didn’t spend much in the bookstore, I came away with two more books to review this month. I was already set to review Jolene Perry’s Night Sky on May 14th (I just finished reading it today and have the review all written), but now I’m due to read Heather Moore’s Daughters of Jared and Tristi Pinkston’s Women of Strength, as well, before the end of the month.

Not to mention all the Whitney Award finalists and winners I’ve got downloaded. As I put in my title, it looks like all I’ll be doing the rest of this month is reading, reading, and more reading!

Originally posted 2012-05-11 13:23:28.

“Wednesday Writer” – Tracy Winegar

As I wrote last week, Tracy Winegar and I share a couple of things in common: we both have sons with an autistic spectrum disorder, and we both wrote novels about it, though she set hers, KEEPING KELLER, in an earlier time period long before doctors really knew what to do about it.

Tracy WinegarME:  What was it like growing up in Indiana, and who were your earliest and/or strongest literary influences? Also, how would you compare the Western and Midwestern mindsets, and where do you come down between the two?

TRACY:  Growing up in Indiana was not a bad way to spend my youth. I had a fairly carefree childhood. I was the third of eight children. My mom was a stay at home mom. She was very fun and had a great sense of humor. My dad provided for our family. I had nothing but sisters until I was about five years old, when my brother was born and then two more sisters before my last sibling, another brother, was born. I grew up in cornfields and with a small town mindset. There were very few LDS people in our area, so I knew from an early age that I was very different, at times excluded because of it. Hard work was important and I began working part time when I was fourteen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Tracy as a teenager)

I spent summer vacations on my grandparents’ farm in Tennessee. When I think of my favorite places, that is one of them. It was quiet, and beautiful, and simple. Very few distractions gave me and my brothers and sisters the opportunity to use our imaginations and spend time in the great outdoors. My grandmother was a great storyteller and we loved to sit with her and hear her stories of when she was growing up and how she met Grandpa and fell in love.

I enjoyed a lot of different activities, but I loved drama and I loved writing. Each year they had a competition called the Young Authors Competition. I entered every year and always placed. (So, the talent showed itself early!) The prize for winning was that you were able to attend a lecture with a real life author. That was when I got to hear some of the great authors of my youth speak, one of which was Judy Blume.

Judy Blume(Judy Blume)

When I was young I loved to read Pippi Longstockings, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Little Women, Calico Captive, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

As I got a little older, one of my biggest influences was a teacher I had my sixth grade year. Mrs. Meier-Fisher. She had us read some really beautiful literature and she gave us some great writing assignments. I was on cloud nine when she read one of my pieces to the class as an example. (I’ll bet!) She had us read some of the great Hoosier writers and I fell in love with Gene Stratton Porter.

Gene Stratton Porter(Indiana poet and novelist Gene Stratton Porter)

One of my Grandma Beaty’s favorite books was her novel, A Girl of the Limberlost, and when I read it I was in love with it too. I also really loved James Whitcomb Riley, another Indiana author who had become a great poet. In seventh grade I read Gone With the Wind and loved it as well. I discovered that anything historical was right up my alley, fiction or non-fiction alike.

James Whitcomb Riley(James Whitcomb Riley)

I am still very much a Midwesterner, although I have lived in Utah for the past twelve years. I like things simple and uncomplicated. I love being home with my family as much as possible, and I miss the green landscape and beautiful stretches of empty land. I would love an acreage, but land here is very expensive and every space is taken up with houses. Gone are the cornfields and soy bean fields that stretched for miles.

ME:  When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and what brought about that realization?

TRACY:  When I was a kid, I loved paper. Before I could even write I spent a great deal of time “writing” cursive loops, although none of it was actually words. In third grade I wrote a tall tales story for a school wide competition and was hooked when I was one of the winners.

I did a lot of creative writing in high school, but then I got married and had children and didn’t have a lot of time for writing. When I turned thirty, I told my husband that it was a dream of mine to write a novel and so I began and I kept at it and somehow managed to finish the thing. That was my first novel KEEPING KELLER.

Keeping Keller 1

ME:  Why did you move to Utah at 19? And if it involved college, how did your college studies impact the kinds of things you write today?

TRACY:  I moved to Utah because I wanted an adventure. I moved to Utah because I wanted to see what it was like to be surrounded by people who were like me and not be the odd man out for once. (I know exactly what you mean. That’s why I went to Utah after high school in Beirut.) It was fun to be able to go to parties and to have social events where I knew I would be welcome. I enjoyed dating and being independent. I missed my family very much, but also was happy to be experiencing new experiences.

ME:  What type of writer do you aspire to be, and which writers have influenced you the most?

TRACY:  My goal is to try and make people feel something when they read my writing. To invoke a reaction, to get people to relate on some level to the story or the characters would make me a happy character.

I love classic literature and I enjoy historical fiction. It’s hard to say who has influenced me the most, because I have read so many quality books by so many awesome writers. My favorites are the books that leave me feeling haunted… I just can’t forget the characters or the storyline. As I stated before, I love A Girl of the Limberlost, but I also loved Gone With the Wind and A Tale of Two Cities. More recent books that I enjoyed were The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.

Kate Morton(Australian author Kate Morton)

While many great authors have inspired my work, I also attribute my writing style to the themes I know best. Motherhood, marriage, and my relationships with friends and my family (thanks Mom and Dad) are themes that are always reoccurring in my writing, because that is what I know best.

(And it shows.)

ME:  Strangely enough, I’d forgotten we were both Whitney Finalists in 2008 in the General Fiction category for our first novels, KEEPING KELLER (yours) and THE RECKONING (mine). (That’s why your title sounded so familiar to me.) As an awards program, what do the Whitneys mean to the LDS writing community in general and to you, personally?

Whitney Awards

TRACY:  I think it’s great that there is a forum for LDS writers. I thought it was a wonderful honor and was very excited to be involved when I was a finalist. It is difficult to be seen or stand out in a field where anyone can publish and the market is saturated with books, both good and bad. This gave me the opportunity to be seen, which is any author’s dream.

(Amen!)

ME:  We’ve both written novels based on our personal experiences with an autistic son. Please tell us a bit about KEEPING KELLER and how much of your son comes through in the book. Also, I’d love to hear the story of your son’s diagnosis and your reaction to it (and post a picture of you with him, if possible).

TRACY:  The character in KEEPING KELLER is nothing but my son. Many of the experiences I wrote about in the book were based upon things that had happened to me. It was very personal. I love the story, but do feel it could have been better with more editing. However, that was a very honest look into the life of a mother dealing with autism, as well as the difficulties she would have encountered during that time period (the 1950s).

I had it much easier than Beverly, because I was able to get help and learn how to work with my son. When he was young, our family life was very complicated and difficult. Thankfully he has gotten a little better and a little better, until we are now in our own comfortable normal. He throws us some curve balls every now and again, but I don’t feel as though I might have a nervous breakdown a majority of the time any more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Tracy with her son, Luke)

My son was my second child. I first had a girl who was very smart and very vocal. He began to develop normally until about eighteen months old. We noticed that the few words he had acquired seemed to be lost. He had odd behaviors that we couldn’t quite figure out. A lot of people told me that it was because he was a boy and that boys were very different than girls. I knew instinctively that something was not right. I persisted in trying to get him help until he was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. At the time, I was a month away from having my third child, another son.

(I imagine that made you extra nervous.)

One of the reasons we moved back to Utah from Iowa was in order to get my son into the Northern Utah Autism Program. There were many difficult and sad years. It is hard to come to terms with the fact that your child will never be normal. We love him, but Autism is such a devastating thing to live with. We have had many bad experiences, we have been judged and treated badly, but we have also had a lot of compassion and some true friends to come of it.

(That’s a blessing, indeed. It sounds like your son’s on the more severe end of the spectrum. You and your husband must be twice as strong and even more patient.)

Sometimes I see boys his age and think “He would be doing this” or “He could have done that” and I feel sad. But then there are times when I see boys his age and things they are doing and I am very grateful that he is innocent. I will never have a missionary, a football star, see him graduate, or go to college, or get married. But I will always have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and that will always fill my life with the magic of childhood.

(How true!)

ME:  Your second novel, GOOD GROUND, came out last year. What led you to write this story and what are its main themes?

Good GroundTRACY:  I wrote GOOD GROUND based on my love of my grandparents’ farm. I loved the setting and the time period, which was when my grandparents courted and fell in love. I had a deep commitment to telling the story of a man who was what he was because of his rearing.

I like to think that we have the power and ability to change the destiny of children who seem to have no future. I work with children on a daily basis, mine and many others. I see such great potential, but I also, at times, have seen children whose potential has been robbed of them by the adults in their lives and the examples they have set. There are more than a few that I have daydreamed about rescuing, taking into my home and raising as my own.

I also liked the idea that nothing is coincidence, things happen for a reason. The whole analogy of farming tied in so perfectly with the themes of work, family, and investing in something that will produce results. I think the thing I am most proud of is the change that you see in the characters from the beginning to the end, especially Clairey. Interestingly enough, she is someone that many women have related to, which makes me very happy. I love the fact that the love story is very real, based on mutual respect, an established relationship, hard work, and sacrifice.

(Sounds good. I’m going to have to check it out!)

ME:  Are you an organic type of writer when it comes to the process, or do you prefer outlining, and why or why not?

TRACY:  Very, very organic! I always have an end in mind, but I rarely outline. I am far too unorganized and my life is way too unpredictable for me to keep up with planning it all out. I’m not sure if that is beneficial or harmful. I could probably get a lot more done if I were able to outline, but then too, I am open to different impressions and ideas as they come to me and have the ability to be somewhat creative because of my oddball style.

(Yet one more thing we have in common…)

ME:  When do you do your best writing and what are you working on now?

TRACY:  I am definitely best writing in the evening, but I try and write whenever I have a free moment.

Right now I am trying desperately to finish a trilogy set during the Civil War. I have successfully finished the first two novels and am about 2/3 the way through the last. But the last one is KILLING me! Hopefully I will be able to complete it this summer. (Fingers crossed.)

ME:  Finally, I’m of the belief that a writer’s space is crucial. When you consider the area that you use to write, what five things stand out about it that makes it uniquely yours. (And I must have a picture.)

TRACY:  I wish I could say I have a space of my own. I do not. I write where there is quiet. Sometimes that is my dining room table, sometimes my bedroom, sometimes outside on my porch, or sometimes my lunch break at work.

I dream of an office with large open windows in a restored older home. Someday I may actually have that space. Right now I make do with what is available to me.

(Everyone…order Tracy’s books and spread the word so she can afford her own writing space!)

WritingSpace(Her temporary space at the dining room table)

Tracy has a website and a blog, where you can learn much more about her and her writing (and she’s posted lots of pictures on her blog). Her books are available on Amazon.

I only have two more weeks to go in my Wednesday Writer series because after July 2nd I’m putting it on hiatus in order to complete some exciting projects during the rest of the year. So be sure and check back next week to read my interview with Theresa Sneed, who’s recently released Book 1 of a new YA fantasy series.

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Originally posted 2014-06-11 01:00:59.