Susan Tsui is the third of four siblings born to Chinese immigrant parents. She currently resides in New York City where she is a regular user of the Queens Public Library system. She is a fervent believer of reading and writing as she thinks doing both can change the individual and the world. Susan currently holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and has published stories in Expanded Horizons, Mind Flights, and the 2010 edition of Warrior WiseWomen. Susan is also the author of Identities: Short Stories and the novel, You Shouldn’t Call Me Mommy.
What inspires you to write?
That’s a little bit of a chicken or the egg question. When I started out writing as a child it was mostly because I had insomnia and telling myself bedtime stories was a good way to fall asleep. These days it’s mostly my ideas that keep me awake. I quite often wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed while trying not to jostle my husband, and pitter patter my way to a stack of post-its. I’ll make whatever notes I can, tack them onto the screen of my laptop, and attempt to go back to sleep. As for where my ideas come from, they seem to come from everywhere, what I see, what I eat, what I do, and so on.
My main inspiration for writing You Shouldn’t Call Me Mommy was an article my husband showed me about how Japan was turning to technology to care for the elderly due to the lack of resources. There are robotics programs geared towards creating the perfect health care attendant and human washing machines. It’s very interesting and a little freaky to think about
Tell us about your writing process
I usually start with an outline, but I think I do a little bit of everything. The medium, laptop or pen and paper, doesn’t matter to me. That depends more if I’m at my desk or sitting on the subway riding home. Once I’m done with the outline I move on. The thing is I don’t necessarily stick with the outline. The outline is more of a general layout so that if I get stuck I’ll have something to look back on. If, part-way through my novel, I find that the outline is no longer relevant, I’ll toss it. I might even make another outline or not. When I wrote You Shouldn’t Call Me Mommy, I went through about five or six different outlines as my story evolved. The same goes for character sketches or world-building. I like outlines as a useful tool, but I refuse to let the outline use me.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I have to. I might have created my characters, but they all have very distinct personalities of their own, and I have to be willing to recognize that my characters are going to make decisions I would never make. In You Shouldn’t Call Me Mommy, my character Ian does some horrible things I could never imagine doing to a sibling, and yet, I could never be as unforgiving or blind as Jay. Both of them are on extreme ends of the spectrum for me, but I have to reach out to both and let them guide me along in telling their stories.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I’m very much of the theory that one shoe does not fit all. Some authors choose to pursue the traditional route of publishing while other authors choose to self-publish, and I think that choice depends very much on what an author needs or wants. At the end of the day, it’s a very personal decision.
I choose self-publishing for a number of reasons. One main reason was that the feedback I was getting from potential agents was that they loved You Shouldn’t Call Me Mommy, but that it was either too sci-fi to be literary or too literary to be sci-fi which made it hard to fit in any sort of marketing box. Then I thought about it and decided, well, I’ve never really liked boxes or labels anyway. They serve a good function, but they are not the end all or be all. At the end of the day, it was the part where agents loved my book that caught my attention. I like the idea of people reading my book because they love it.
The other main reason I choose to self-publish was because a friend of mine was doing it and she seemed much happier than the people who were just sort of waiting around and hoping, and I thought, I’d love to be as happy as she is right now. So far, the happiness theory has worked out well.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
As an author who loves to explore the myriad possibilities of the future, I wish I could predict what that future holds. For one, it would certainly make my life easier. Whatever might be in store though, I think publishing is heading somewhere exciting. Authors and publishers alike are already seeing major transformations regarding what is publishable now versus what was publishable before. Word counts don’t mean as much anymore when you don’t have to worry about the cost of printing. Stories can be whatever length they need to be. The creation of print-on-demand has eliminated the necessity of warehousing books. Authors are now capable of putting out their own works with little to no cost. The future is space on a blank sheet of paper It’s pretty amazing.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Beta Readers
What genres do you write:: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy
What formats are your books in: Both