SUSAN SLOATE is the author of 20 published books, both fiction and nonfiction, traditional and indie. In 2013 she published three full-length novels in 90 days: STEALING FIRE, a love story about 1980’s Broadway musical theater (which went to #2 in its category on Amazon); REALIZING YOU (co-authored with Ron Doades), a self-help novel–a genre she pioneered; and FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition (co-authored with Kevin Finn), a revised edition of their 2003 time-travel thriller about the JFK assassination. The original 2003 edition of FORWARD TO CAMELOT reached #6 on Amazon, took honors in 3 literary competitions and was optioned for film production by a Hollywood company. She has also written 17 young-adult books, including five biographies, a history of Alcatraz Island, a book about baseball and one on pre-teen fashion, plus titles for five different girls’ fiction series. She has written and co-directed two one-act plays, been a sportswriter, screenwriter and magazine feature writer, and written an informational film for McGraw-Hill Films. She has managed two recent political campaigns and founded an authors festival in her hometown to bring professional authors together with students to promote literacy. She lives in Mount Pleasant, SC.
What inspires you to write?
I find my best ideas usually come from American history, which I love, or from incidents in my own life which I’m trying to understand. STEALING FIRE is very much about a love affair I had when I was very young, and I began writing it while the affair was ongoing, trying to understand what was happening. (I didn’t completely finish it till last year, which makes it the longest project I’ve ever done: thirty years from start to finish.) FORWARD TO CAMELOT is about my ongoing fascination with the Kennedy assassination, which gave me a good excuse to immerse myself and my co-author in the research of the event for literally years. Most of the time I write to try to ‘fix’ something that went wrong, either in my life or in history. It’s a compulsion, and when I finish a project, I feel relieved that I tried to make it better.
Tell us about your writing process.
I used to outline like crazy, until I read Stephen King’s book ON WRITING, in which he advised you to just jump in, because outlining takes you away from the heartthrob of your inspiration. I find when I get an idea and make a few notes, then jump into a first draft, my energy levels are higher and the draft has a sense of passion, even if it’s a godawful first draft (which mine usually are). Now I just take notes, careful to preserve my initial thoughts about the project, especially place names, character names, etc–stuff I don’t want to have to do again. Then I get started and see where it takes me. It’s very freeing, actually.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
My characters sit on my shoulder, and they generally let me know if I’ve gotten off track in writing them. I know So-and-so wouldn’t actually say this or do that, and they nag at me till I go back and fix it. (Sigh) They can be so annoying!
In FORWARD TO CAMELOT I had a weird experience. Two of my main characters are President John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, and we tried hard to write them exactly as they were, not as they’ve been depicted in certain books. We tried to find out who they REALLY were, and present them that way. And I found, when the final edits were done and the book had gone off to the publisher (and this happened twice, both in the 2003 first edition and the 2013 revision), for a couple of days afterward, I felt absolutely bereft. Both men had been sitting on my shoulders for all the time I’d been writing, and when the book was done, I literally FELT them recede from me and back into history. It was a lonely feeling, and to some extent, I still miss them both.
What advice would you give other writers?
LEARN YOUR CRAFT.
King talks about this extensively in his book, and I agree. Yes, this is a great time to be a writer, because of the amazing opportunities that technology has opened up for us. But at the end of the day, you STILL have to know how to tell an interesting story with characters you can persuade us are real. Yes, you can (and should) use a good editor to catch mistakes and inconsistencies. But if you don’t know how to get a character up a tree and cut off the tree branch behind him, you’re not doing your job–and all the fancy book covers and beautiful production in the world won’t disguise that. Your reader either wants to turn the page and keep reading, or he doesn’t. It’s your job to tell a story so compelling that he won’t want to stop.
Learn how to do it. You need to know spelling and grammar and sentence structure, yes. But storytelling is an art in itself. Find teachers who can help you to learn it. And read books like Syd Field’s SCREENPLAY and THE SCREENWRITER’S WORKBOOK, which teach you basic story structure, a critical component of your craft.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
My first 17 books were published by traditional publishers, and I was under contract for all of them. I had no say in whether to publish independently or not. Also, my first books were published in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when self-publishing and POD were not really options. In 2002, when we started looking at self-publishing FORWARD TO CAMELOT (which we eventually did), I began to see a whole new world emerging. And now that world is here, technology is knocking down all kinds of barriers, and I have no intention of publishing via a traditional publisher again. It’s indie publishing all the way for me, for the foreseeable rest of my life. I’m a big believer in controlling your own destiny, and that’s what indie publishing allows you to do. I LOVE that.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades!
Seriously, there’s never been a better time to consider publishing a book. Between the ability to reach a reader at the touch of a button, and the unbelievable and inexpensive options for production, and the new marketing techniques available online, it’s a whole new ball game, and you get to control it, rather than being controlled by publishers, editors and others who decide your fate. I love all that, and I think it’s great for writers.
I see only bigger technological improvements coming down the road, along with a shake-out process, where every single person who wants to publish a book will eventually fit into a hierarchy of those who really have something amazing to offer in their storytelling–and consequently get big sales–and others who just want to get the message out and will reach a smaller market. And in my opinion, if your work has real merit, I think you deserve a huge slice of the marketplace. It’s all good, believe me.
What do you use?
Co-writer, Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?
Women’s fiction, love story, history, time-travel, thriller, mystery, Y/A and New Adult, biography
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print
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