Interview With Susanna Calkins

Crimespree Interview with Susanna Calkins

Susanna will be signing books on tour including MAY 3rd at 7:00 Pm at BOSWELL Book Company in MilwaukeeSC


Crimespree: With A DEATH ALONG THE RIVER FLEET you are now on your fourth book and book tour. Do you enjoy meeting fans?

Susanna : I love meeting readers. Not just those who read my book but those interested in reading crime fiction, historicals, and—let’s face it—people who just enjoy reading. There’s something really great about connecting with others who get excited about the same things you do, such as great plot twists or the most imaginative place to hide a body.

Do you enjoy doing the research for your books?

Susanna: I really do. It’s why I pursued a Ph.D. in English history. I have always been inspired by the strange and odd things in history. Now as a writer, I just have so much fun incorporating these details into my stories. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know more about murder ballads, scold’s bridles (masks to keep women from talking), bloodletting techniques, eye portraits, and public executions?

How has the writing experience changed for you between book one and now?

Susanna: I wrote my first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, over the course of ten years, with multiple drafts, many re-writes, and a great deal of rethinking. I always joke that I wrote two hundred pages of that novel without even knowing whodunit! I understand how to structure a mystery now, and I think I do a better job with pacing and building tension. I can hardly believe it, but I wrote the first draft of my fourth book in only five months. I already had the world and characters in place; I just needed to think through the plot. And in those moments of self-doubt, it was definitely easier to look at the other three books on my shelf and say, “Hey you did it before, you can do it again!”

If you could go back in time and give 13-year old Susanna advice what would you say and would she listen?

Susanna: Well, that’s a fascinating conundrum! The problem is that 13-year-old Susie was very rule-abiding, and I would go back and tell her to quit following all the rules. She would do it, of course, because I told her to, but her mind would be BLOWN. I think it would be good for her. But of course, her rule-abiding decisions did lead me to who I am today, so who knows what would have happened if she hadn’t followed rules…. Now whose mind is blown?

Do you self edit after a first draft or look for outside eyes before you go through a second time?

Susanna: My preference is to wait until I have a decent first draft of the entire novel before letting anyone else read it. In fact, I didn’t even tell anyone—not even my husband—that I was writing a book when I was working on my first one (which took me ten years to write!). But my husband proudly calls himself my “alpha reader;” because he is always the first to give me feedback from a reader’s perspective. After I take his edits, I then send the manuscript to a trusted group of friends who give me additional feedback. At that point, I feel comfortable sending it on to my editor and/or agent.

What is your writing process like? Do you write every day? Have a target word count?

Susanna: I do not keep a very consistent writing schedule, mainly because of my day job and having two kids. So, I’m pretty psyched if I can write even one paragraph during the week (and that’s total!). But this means I never have writer’s block; by the time I’m ready to write, I’ve usually got a scene or two in my head ready to go. I write any time I can catch even 30 minutes free, or at night. When I get closer to my deadlines, I will start writing everyday though, in a panicky haze that usually seems to work for me.

What has been the coolest by product of being an author so far?

Susanna: It’s been a thrill meeting authors who I’ve long admired, like Anne Perry and Charles Todd, and getting to be on panels with them. I’ve also gotten to do some awesome things, like speak to my son’s English class about writing, speak to historians about historical fiction, and run a critique program for MWA-Midwest (an awesome organization!) Also, not only have I gotten to explore new cities by attending mystery conventions, but I’ve learned so much more about Chicago, Milwaukee and the Midwest more generally, from travelling to so many bookstores and libraries. I truly feel very lucky to get to do these things.

What is one thing that is ALWAYS in your refrigerator?

Susanna: Even when we don’t have milk or cheese, we always have a crisper drawer full of beer and a few bottles of white wine. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? I’m sure it’s because we just go through milk and cheese so much faster than alcohol. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.