LINDA SPOKE VIA CYBERSPACE WITH SUSAN SNOWDEN. WE CAN'T WAIT TO HEAR WHAT SHE HAS TO SAY ABOUT HER WRITING:
Susan, would you tell us a little about yourself?
I earn my living as a freelance book editor (fiction and nonfiction), but before that I had a career as a freelance journalist. Finally, in 1994, I got tired of writing other people's stories and started writing my own stories, poems, novels, etc. Don't have a book yet, but I have published lots of stories and poems and am hoping my novel and poetry collection get published in the near future.
Q. What would you like our readers to know about you?
I guess one of the things I am proudest of is getting a full scholarship to New York University for a master's degree at age 37. I managed to earn the degree in a year and a half inspite of having a husband with me, a two-year-old son, and five large dogs. We rented out our home in Atlanta and headed for New York. At NYU they teased me about my Southern accent and nicknamed me Sue Ellen, but I showed 'em; I got the second highest grade point average of anyone in the program (3.8) and I was the first in my class of 95 students to finish my thesis!
Q. How long have you been writing? What made you put that first story/poem down on paper?
I wrote my first short story at age fifteen after a trip to New Orleans. That interesting city would inspire anyone to write. I'm not going to tell how many years I've written, which would give away how ancient I am.
Q. Have you been published? What was the first story/poem? Where was it published? How long did it take? What was the process? How easy was it finding a publisher?
After publishing hundreds and hundreds of nonfiction pieces as a journalist, I was more thrilled about having my first poem published than anything else I'd done before. That was in 1995 and a great little journal called "The Writer's Exchange" took it. It took a year to get the courage to start submitting my work, but only a few months to start getting acceptances. I learned a strong lesson: If you don't send out your work, it won't get published. Funny thing about that.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre?
No. I love every aspect of creative writing: literary fiction, creative nonfiction, narrative poetry (free verse). My novel has been called "literary fiction."
Q. Who’s your favorite author and why?
I have many. I love the Southern novelists like Lee Smith, Doris Betts, and Kaye Gibbons. But there are scads of other writers I adore: Ann Patchett, Sue Monk Kidd, Alice Hoffman, Marly Swick, Janet Fitch, Jane Smiley, Andre Dubus III, and David Guterson. (If I'm not writing, I'm reading.) I grew up gobbling up Carson McCullars, Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, etc. But when I earned a degree in English lit, I had to branch out from all those Southern writers and take a look at the rest of the world!
Q. How did you deal with rejection letters, if you received any?
I am always sending out work, so of course I get rejections. I just say, "Well, this person didn't relate to my subject matter. I need to keep sending it out till I find an editor who does." Sometimes, I reread the piece and face the fact that it needs to be reworked before I send it out again. I try to just keep on keepin' on.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
- Writing in a clear, accessible way so that your message reaches people.
- Writing from the heart -- or gut -- whichever the case may be.
- Revising, revising, so that the writing is "tight" and not rambling.
- Attempting whenever possible to "show" rather than "tell."
Q. How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I don't use any formula. Often I start from something that really happened -- to me or someone else -- and then let my imagination run wild.
Q. Do you have a favorite writing link you’d like to share?
Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?
Go out to dinner and movies with friends; walk in these beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina where I now live; watch videos; but most of all read!
Q. What does your family feel about your writing? Are they supportive?
They think it's great and they are very supportive.
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
Many, many authors inspire me. Reading great literature inspires me. People who keep on plugging and submitting in the face of rejection slips inspire me. My students (I teach creative writing at a community college) inspire me. Sometimes what I "preach" to the students ultimately inspires me as well.
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
I got a grant from the NC Arts Council to write a novel. It's written and has received very favorable rejections (ha-ha!). But I am revising it before sending it out to the next publisher on my list. When I'm not doing that, I'm working on several short stories that need polishing, and I am always working on a stack of poems that need "tweaking."
Q. How do you handle Writer’s Block?
I never have it. What I have trouble with is the tendency to stay so busy editing my clients' books that I forget to work on my own projects. I guess the operative word is "procrastination." What I do about that is get so disgusted with myself that I finally put my bottom in the computer chair and get on with it!
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
Nothing frustrates me about writing. What frustrates me is having to earn a living and not being able to write for myself every day. The most rewarding thing about writing, I think, is the sense of having created something brand new. I feel like an artist when I'm writing, only words are my paint and the blank page is my canvas. I get lost in it.
Q. Do you have any kind of writing schedule?
I wrote my novel by writing from 6 - 8 a.m. every day before work and every weekend. Now, I try to block out time on Friday afternoons and on weekends. I don't do very well writing at night; I'm too tired.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer? What’s the worst?
The best piece of advice I've been given came from two different women writers. They both said the same thing and it sank in. Judy Goldman, author and poet, and Nell Maiden, poet, both encouraged me (in their workshops) to go deep inside and find the material I was avoiding -- the powerful, often painful, stuff I didn't want to deal with -- and then write about that. The first time I did it I wrote about a very painful thing that happened to me when I was fifteen. I wrote a poem about it, and it has won three or four prizes; it's coming out in an anthology next month. It's powerful, apparently, to write about truth, no matter how painful.
The worst piece of advice I ever got was, "Self-publish; nobody's getting published anymore unless they've got connections." I don't buy that. I have plenty of clients who get their books published and they have no connections. I don't have a book out yet, but I am not giving up. In the meantime I've published lots and lots of my work in respectable journals and three anthologies -- without connections.
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story/poem, what would your advice be?
The advice that was given to me: don't avoid writing about anything. Write about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Write from the gut; write what's "hard" to write about. And forget what other people think. That inner critic is the worst enemy we have.
Q. What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Write, write, write. But more important, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Get into a good critique group or study with a published writer. Get a coach if necessary. And send out your work. Getting published and having people praise your work are great incentives.
Q. Any last comments or advice?
Don't feel as though you have to send your first story to "The New Yorker." There are tons of wonderful "little" literary magazines and e-zines that are great places to get your feet wet.