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: 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.)
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.
(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.)
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?
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.
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.)
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.
(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.
Originally posted 2014-03-26 06:00:50.