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This February, Bonnie Rock talks to Susan Wiggs about her newest release, PASSING THROUGH PARADISE.
Be sure to check out Susan and PASSING THROUGH PARADISE at The Best Reviews.
Or check out Susan's homepage at
Using blunt scissors, pages from a Big Chief tablet, a borrowed stapler and a Number Two pencil, Susan Wiggs self-published her first novel at the age of eight. A Book About Some Bad Kids was based on the true-life adventures of Susan and her siblings, and the first printing of one copy was a complete sell-out.
Due to her brother's extreme reaction to that first prodigious effort, Susan went underground with her craft, entertaining her friends and offending her siblings with anonymously-written stories of virtuous sisters and the brothers who torment them. The first romance she ever read was Shanna by the incomparable Kathleen Woodiwiss, which she devoured while slumped behind a college vector analysis textbook. Armed with degrees from SFA and Harvard, and toting a crate of "keeper" books by Woodiwiss, Roberta Gellis, Laurie McBain, Rosemary Rodgers, Jennifer Blake, Bertrice Small and anything with the words "flaming" and "ecstasy" in the title, she became a math teacher, just to prove to the world that she did have a left brain.
Late one night, she finished the book she was reading and was confronted with a reader's worst nightmare--She was wide awake, and there wasn''t a thing in the house she wanted to read. Figuring this was the universe''s way of taking away her excuses, she picked up a Big Chief tablet and a Number Two pencil, and began writing her novel with the working title, A Book About Some Bad Adults. Actually, that was a bad book about some adults, but Susan persevered, learning her craft the way skydiving is learned--by taking a blind leap and hoping the chute will open.
Her first book was published (without the use of blunt scissors and a stapler) by Zebra in 1987, and since then she has been published by Avon, Tor, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Mira and Warner Books. Unable to completely abandon her beloved teaching profession, Susan is a frequent workshop leader and speaker at writers' conferences, including the Romance Writers of America conference, the PNWA and Maui Writers Conference. She won a RITA award in 1994, and her recent novel The Charm School was voted one of RWA's Favorite Books of the Year. She is the proud recipient of several RT awards, the Peninsula RWA's Blue Boa, the Holt Medallion and the Colorado Award of Excellence.
Susan enjoys many hobbies, including sitting in the hot tub while talking to her mother on the phone, kickboxing, cleaning the can opener, sculpting with butter and growing her hair. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Jay, her daughter, Elizabeth, and an Airedale that hasn't been groomed since 1994.
PASSING THROUGH PARADISE
|Writerspace: How did you get started writing? Susan Wiggs: I self-published my first novel at the age of eight, using blunt scissors, notebook paper, a stapler and a pencil. The title was A Book About Some Bad Kids; the story was based on the true-life adventures of me, my brother and my sister. The first printing of one copy was a complete sell-out, and my mom still has the book. Writerspace: How long had you been writing before you were published? Susan Wiggs: Twenty years -- I published my first book at age 28. :-) I had been writing actual romance novels for about 3 years when I first sold. Writerspace: Many of your books - such as the Chicago Fire Trilogy - are connected. What do you enjoy about writing connected books? What are the inherent challenges in writing them? Susan Wiggs: I love revisiting established characters-it's like sitting down to a cup of tea with old friends. The challenges are keeping them consistent with what I'd established earlier, and not disappointing readers with how their lives are going since their grand romance. There's a scene in the Chicago trilogy (THE HOSTAGE, THE MISTRESS, THE FIREBRAND) told in each book, each from a different point of view. I had 3 documents open in WordPerfect, and I kept juggling back and forth! Writerspace: How do you do research for projects like the Chicago Fire books? Just what kind of artistic liberties do you allow yourself to take with history? Susan Wiggs: I use books and libraries, the Internet and research trips, and I try to get the details right. The key is to bring the place and/or time to life for a reader so she feels as though I've taken her away somewhere. I fictionalize houses, streets and so forth, but in general, the landmarks and many historical characters are as depicted, as much as I'm able to show that. Again, the key is to keep the reader firmly in the chair, feeling as though she's sharing a wonderful or harrowing or exciting world. Writerspace: What attracts you to America in the nineteenth century? Have you even thought about writing in a different historical time period or setting? Susan Wiggs: Definitely! I'm loving the contemporaries, so that's one option. I can find something interesting in every historical time period, but I keep coming back to the Gilded Age because I simply love it so much. In the past, I've done books set in many, many historical eras, from Medieval to Regency to Tudor. My upcoming historical, ENCHANTED AFTERNOON (Helena's story, for those of you who have read HALFWAY TO HEAVEN) takes place in Saratoga Springs, NY in the 1880s. Beautiful! Writerspace: You write both contemporary and historical books. What are the differences and challenges of writing these two genres, and which do you prefer? Susan Wiggs: I've always loved writing emotionally rich, character-driven novels that explore the way people fall in love and deal with life's triumphs and tragedies. I enjoy both genres, though perhaps "enjoy" is the wrong word. Writing is a struggle no matter what the genre. It's like passing a kidney stone. The only thing worse than doing it is NOT doing it. In contemporary women's fiction, storylines can be more open ended, and the canvas broadens beyond the falling-in-love stage of a relationship that is the terrain of pure "romance." My contemporary books are about all of the loves that fill a woman's life: her relationships with parents, children, siblings and friends: everyone who plays a part in her journey. Writerspace: What qualities do you think are essential in your heroes and heroines? Who are your favorite hero and heroine? Susan Wiggs: My heroines tend to be smart, vulnerable, maybe a little caustic; other than that, they come from all walks of life, just like real people. The heroes tend to be good guys-skilled, caring and aggressive (in a good way). My favorites are the hero and heroine of the NEXT book, always! Writerspace: Do you prefer to write books that are plot based or character based, and why? Susan Wiggs: Character-based, because there are only a few basic plots, but there is an infinite variety within people. Writerspace: Which of your books is your favorite? Susan Wiggs: The NEXT one. Always. :-) Writerspace: Can you tell us a bit about your current release, PASSING THROUGH PARADISE, and what inspired it? Susan Wiggs: The themes of personal integrity, sexual awakening, and emotional healing in the book have been percolating for a while. I'd been wanting to write about a woman forced to choose between making a damning disclosure to save her own skin, or staying mum and hoping for the best. Like all of my novels, there is a strong, underlying mythic structure to the story. The characters undergo enormous struggles and are transformed by the process. I'm fascinated by the way people live their lives, the secrets they keep, the ordeals they endure for the sake of something that's important to them, the way they deal with loss and find redemption. To me, the tale of a woman navigating her way through the rocky shoals of life can seem as perilous as anything you might read in a crime thriller, while the emotional threats a woman faces in an intimate relationship are as real and compelling as international espionage. Writerspace: What do you have planned for the future? Susan Wiggs: Mira Books is reissuing a personal favorite, THE LIGHTKEEPER, in March, followed by a new historical romance entitled ENCHANTED AFTERNOON in September. It is set in Gilded Age Saratoga Springs-definitely Wharton territory. I'm just finishing up another contemporary novel, ACTS OF LIGHT, about the lives and loves of two sisters in Texas, who face a crisis over the daughter one gave birth to and the other raised. I just love this book, and hope to see it published in a hardcover edition.|
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