How I Write — Susan Page Davis
Today I’m excited to welcome author Susan Page Davis back as she shares some insights into her writing process and answers some tough questions. Read all the way through to learn how to enter to win a free copy of Found Art.
When I set out to write a new book, it depends on whether it’s a new standalone or part of a series, and if it’s for a traditional publisher or will be independently published.
Let’s say I want to start a new series to be marketed to traditional publishers.
First, I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I usually start with the main characters. A lot of my books are character-driven. I want to come up with people who are complex and endearing, who have real problems. I want someone the reader will like and will root for.
In my book The Saboteur, I created a heroine who is very nervous around new people and has panic attacks when she has to stand up in front of a crowd. She dropped out of law school because of that. None of my usual publishers wanted to accept this book, and I have to assume it was because it did not have a “strong” heroine, which seems to be a prerequisite these days.
Last December, I finally got brave enough to self-publish The Saboteur. I’m getting a fantastic response from my readers. They love Debra! So far, all the reviews it’s pulled in are 5-star. The readers don’t seem to care that Debra needs to be rescued at one point, or that she is often at a loss for words with her new boss. They can identify with her.
Sometimes I think of a plot first. Then I consider who the characters should be. Who would carry out that plot best? Right now I am four books into a series called Maine Justice. I recently thought of a plot that could become book 7 or 8. I immediately wondered how I would make this case personal for the recurring characters of the series, and who should take the lead in solving the mystery.
Guess what? I’ve decided to let one of the secondary characters shine in that story—and give him some deep trauma. I don’t like doing bad things to my characters, but conflict is what keeps us all turning the pages.
After I’ve decided on the characters and the main plot points, I generally rough out an outline or synopsis. Then I start researching the things I’m not an expert on (which is nearly everything). I’ve learned that guessing isn’t good enough. You have to know.
After I’ve researched the most important things and adjusted my story to fit them where needed, I start writing the story itself. I’m one who writes in spirals. I keep looping back and fixing things so that the early part agrees with the later part. I can’t push on to the end knowing I’ve got contradictions or mistakes in the manuscript.
By the time I finish the first draft, the story is pretty well set. I go back over it and fill in gaps, elaborate on things I’d left sketchy, and fix mistakes. Sometimes I chop off the first scene, because the story doesn’t really start there. And sometimes I’ll add or delete scenes in the middle.
Then I have my husband read it. He’s a retired editor, so this is a helpful part of the process. When he gives it back to me with his notes, I go through it again. This is the minimum. Sometimes I another writer will read through it for me and point out inconsistencies or anything that just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes I let it sit for quite a long time before I go in and finalize the story, but I don’t usually have time for that.
If the book is going to a traditional publisher, I have to meet their deadline, so I send it in. A few weeks later, I get the editor’s notes back and start revising again.
For an independently published book, the process is much the same, but I don’t have a deadline. I have to make myself keeping moving forward with the project. And it’s doubly important to have several people read through before it goes to print. Editing is crucial to any book. Even authors who are good at self-editing miss things.
When it’s as good as I can make it, I send it to the publishing concern, and my new book is ready to go!
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy romantic suspense, mystery, and historical romance novels. She’s a winner of the Carol Award, the Will Rogers Medallion, and the Faith, Hope & Love Readers’ Choice Award, and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards. A Maine native, she now lives in Kentucky. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com.
Susan is giving away a copy of her romantic suspense book Found Art. If the winner has read this book, she may choose another of Susan’s books. Paperbacks are restricted to the USA, but international readers can win an e-book, if allowed by law.
Buy Found Art: http://amzn.to/2rgPN7H
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Getting to Know Susan:
Why did you choose this setting and time period?
For this romantic suspense series, I chose the present day and a city I know—Portland, Maine.
I felt it was a large enough city to realistically be the setting for an ongoing crime series.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Since I lived in Maine most of my life, I am aware of regional name trends there. I’ve also considered generational names. In my generation, baby girls were given names like Linda, Sharon, Diane, Patricia, and Sandra. Twenty-somethings in my contemporary books are more likely to be called Lori, Alex, Chloe, Megan, or Bree. For my male characters, I deliberately gave the series hero an old-fashioned name, Harvey. The younger men in his detective squad have classic names: Eddie, Nate, Jimmy, and Tony. I save the very unusual names for minor characters. For last names, I use a mix of traditional Anglo-Saxon and French names for this series set in Maine. I’ve been known to grab a phone book and browse it for last names.
What advice would you give to a beginning author?
First, read a lot, and read widely. Write something every day. And don’t give up! It’s a lot of work, but with persistence you can do it.
About Susan’s writing process:
- What do you enjoy most about writing?
I like connecting with people and sharing stories with them.
- Do you have a dedicated place to write, or a nook or corner of a room, or the kitchen table?
Yes, I am fortunate enough to have a spare bedroom converted to an office. It has my desk, printer desk, seven bookcases, four file cabinets, and a closet where I keep shipping materials, old records, items I use for book signings, and … stuff.
- What can your readers expect from you next?
My fourth book in the Maine Justice series (Heartbreaker Hero: Eddie’s Story) will launch in July. I also have a couple of historical novellas coming out in collections later this year. The collection titles are: Captive Brides and Seven Brides for Seven Texas Rangers. I am also writing books in the Tearoom Mysteries cozy series for Guideposts.
Excerpt from Found Art:
An unexpected bonus turned up in the tobacco smuggling case we’d been working on for weeks. My best detective, Eddie Thibodeau, had investigated and identified the suspects. We’d raided their nondescript beige ranch house at dawn and sent the prisoners off in a marked unit.
Arnie Fowler was in charge of cataloguing the contraband we found in the garage. A red pickup with a Maine license plate and a green SUV with a Quebec plate were parked in there, and the SUV was ready for the run to Canada, where the taxes on cigarettes are extremely high. The boxes were piled in the back seat and behind it in the cargo area, with a tarp thrown loosely over them.
“How could they take all this over the border?” Nate Miller asked. He was the newest detective in the Priority Unit, and Eddie’s partner.
“They wouldn’t try to go through the customs gate,” Arnie said.
Eddie nodded. “Yeah, they had a contact scheduled to meet them on a woods road. The border patrol plans to meet them at the drop tonight.”
There were places, lots of places, along the world’s longest unguarded border, where people and contraband could cross undetected, bypassing the checkpoints. A four-wheel drive and a little nerve went a long way. Although it might seem small potatoes compared to some drug operations, smuggling tobacco could be very profitable, and these guys had figured to make a bundle on the cargo of cigarettes.
Arnie turned to me, clipboard in hand. “All set, but there’s something odd here, Harvey. Help me set it out on the floor, Nate.”
They lifted a large, flat box out of the cargo area of the SUV and set it on the cement floor in front of me.
“This was behind the tobacco,” Arnie said.
“Did you open it?” I asked.
“Not yet.” Arnie handed Eddie his completed inventory of the items in the SUV. “You want me to?”
I stepped closer and looked it over carefully. A large cardboard box with “Panasonic printing with option—” on the side had been trimmed to fit the contents and taped around it, making a flat, rectangular box about three inches thick. When I picked up the package and shook it, it didn’t make any noise. I took out my pocketknife and carefully slit the filament tape along the seams and laid the cardboard back. Eddie, Nate, Arnie and his partner, Clyde Wood, stood silently watching me. The edge of a nice, hefty frame showed in the opening, and I lifted it out.
“A painting,” Eddie said.
“A good painting,” Arnie agreed. “What do you think, Harvey?”
I didn’t recognize the picture or the artist. It was an oil painting of fishing boats nuzzling each other in their harbor slips. A fretful, brown sky lowered over them. It reminded me a little of the Turner in the chief’s office, but it was newer and brighter. The boats had numbers on their bows—numbers with ME in front of them, the state’s designation.
“Not an old master, but it’s good,” I concluded. I squinted at the signature in the lower right corner and made out E. L. Nevar. “All right, Arnie, add it to your inventory. I’ll take it back to the station myself and do a little research.”
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In the book Found Art, this question is raised: Is having beautiful things in your home worth the security risk? What do you think?