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Interview With Susan K. Downs

Meet Susan K. Downs
Interview by Sandra Moore

1) Tell us a little about yourself -- age, married/single, children, how many books authored, etc.

Thirty-one years ago June 9th, I married the love of my 17-year-old life two weeks after I graduated from high school. David is still the love of my life. (If you're dying to know my age, you can do the math.) Together, we raised three sons and two daughters--adding three of those five children to our family through the miracle of adoption. Our youngest will be a senior in high school this year and I'll soon be facing an empty nest. Any day now, however, our second son and his wife will make us the proud grandparents of our first grandchild—Kaden Micah.

Since my first attempt at writing inspirational romance fiction in 1999, I've been privileged, by God's grace, to sell for publication: six novellas, a Heartsong Presents inspirational romance novel, (which was re-released as a part of a 4-in-1 collection); another Heartsong Presents book co-authored with Debra White Smith, and a nonfiction book on marriage published by RiverOak Publishing. I've also contributed to several other nonfiction book projects with Honor Books. For years, back in my early days, I wrote weekly non-fiction inspirational humor columns for both local newspapers and denominational adult Sunday school curriculum.

I'm tickled to announce the sale of a 4-book romantic suspense series, which I am co-authoring with Susan May Warren. Barbour Publishing will release EKATERINA, book one in The Heirs of Anton series, on January 1, 2004 as a part of their trade fiction line. The remaining three books—NADIA, MARINA, and OKSANA--are scheduled to release at six-month intervals following the series debut. Susie and I dubbed these Russia-set stories as a “Reverse Generational Saga,” since the series starts in present day and spirals back in time through the Cold War, World War II, and the Bolshevik Revolution to solve several family mysteries.

2) How did you become interested in writing?

When I was ten years old, my father, at age 40, decided to quit his job as a freight manager for a trucking company and go into the newspaper business. My mother also resigned her position as a high school English teacher to work alongside him. (She learned a week later that she was pregnant.) We sold our home and moved to the little town of Yukon, Oklahoma-right down the street from a kid by the name of Garth Brooks. :-) My parents started The Yukon Review in competition against a newspaper that had been in business since before statehood, but they felt confident the Lord was guiding their steps. Within a year, the competition was out of business.

Over the course of the next two decades, our family worked together to make The Review a success. My first job assignment, at ten, was to run the folding machine. As I grew, I worked my way through almost all the different tasks required to publish a newspaper, although it didn't take me long to realize that my most favorite assignments were the writing ones. I loved stringing together those who. . .what. . .when. . .where. . .and whys. However, I never considered writing fiction until 1999.

Before I moved to Ohio from Texas, I served as an international adoption social worker. In this capacity, I helped to facilitate an adoption for Debra White Smith and her husband, Daniel. In the months that followed, despite our move and my resignation from the adoption agency, Debra and I became friends and she planted the idea in my mind that I could write fiction. She had such faith in my potential, she allowed me to co-author one of the books in her Heartsong Presents Texas series. The rest, as they say, is history.

3) What was your biggest obstacle in regards to writing and/or getting published? How did you overcome it?

I write s-l-o-w. There is too much editor in me to sit down and simply let the words flow. I often dissect a sentence several times before I can move on to the next. As much as I try to listen to the "expert's" advice and "just get the story down on paper first--then revise," I find I simply can't. It was a freeing day when I finally accepted the fact that my writing process is another expression of my unique individuality and creativity. Regardless of the way the experts said I should write, the edit-as-I-go method works for me.

4) What has been the highest moment of your writing career?

Nothing beats the high that comes from holding a hot-off-the-presses release of a book with my name splashed across the cover!

5) Who/what is your greatest inspiration to write?

My father grew up on a farm in Blackwell, Oklahoma. He worked his way through college and settled into a middleclass life. But he found the push toward self-expression and creativity too strong to be denied. His first year as a newspaper editor/publisher, he won first place in the Oklahoma Press Association editorial competition. (This created a real stir, because he hadn't yet joined the association.) He continued to win awards for his writing, despite the fact that he never even took a journalism class in school. He wrote his weekly front-page editorial columns with a Will Rogers style humor. Folks often commented that, after reading his work, they always felt as though Jim Watson was a friend, even if they had yet to meet him face to face. Dad refused to give up writing, even though glaucoma left him blind. He showed me the impact of the written word on people's lives and impressed upon me the importance of following my creative dream.

Story ideas? They come when I look at something in real life and then ask myself, “What if?”

6) Are you a seat-of-the-pants writer, or do you plot extensively before your fingers hit the keyboard?

I'd classify myself as a Middle-of-the-Roader when it comes to plotting. I like to have my major plot pivot-points down and a good idea of my character's goals/motivations/conflicts, then I let them carry me away.

7) What's the nicest thing anyone ever said about your writing?

A teenage girl once wrote and told me that she hoped to fall in love with and marry a Christian man just like the one in my book. Her words blessed me, because I knew I'd reached one of my highest goals-to not only entertain the reader, but to reinforce the scriptural pattern for true love and to present romance in its wholesome and pure form.

8) Who is your favorite character in your books, and how did you come up with that character?

This week's favorite would have to be Winnie Wainwright, the widow who finds love in my novella, Mending Fences, in the collection, The House Love Built. I love Winnie's penchant for using vegetable expletives and her feisty determination to overcome the major hurdles life throws her way late in life. I initially envisioned my mother when I wrote the preliminary character sketches of Winnie, but the more I got to know Winnie, the more I saw myself in her. I hope to be just like her when I am 65.

9) How do you deal with publisher rejections?

Don't throw rotten tomatoes or computer monitors at me, please, but to date I've sold all but one submitted proposal (not counting a submission under current consideration) and I have never received a rejection letter per se. Maybe the Lord knew I didn't have the fortitude to continue writing in the face of rejection. Maybe it shows my lack of risk-taking ability. I don't know. I certainly don't entertain the notion that I can maintain such a success rate throughout my career. Chances are, now that I've stated this fact in black and white, I'll never make another sale!

10) If you could give a beginner one piece of advice what would it be?

Nothing will bring on mental constipation in a writer any faster than to try and digest every tidbit of writing advice served on the How-to smorgasbord. There comes a point when it's time to put away those scores of Writer's Digest Book Club tomes and start to work. . .a point of diminishing returns as far as learning all there is to know about the writing craft. Once you feel as though you've gained a comfortable understand of the basics concerning plot development and characterization, shut out those myriad (and often conflicting) voices of authority and trust your own instincts to guide you in the right direction. Let your creativity take over.

11) You're also an editor. What is your advice to new writers regarding the ongoing debate whether or not one should follow the "rules" of writing when submitting their first manuscript?

“It depends, I suppose,” she said with an innocent grin,“ on whether or not this new writer actually wants to sell that first manuscript.

I may not be the best person to ask, seeing as how I wear both the writer and editor hats, but since you did. . .I am a graduate and proud alumnus of the rule-keeping school. Until you've established with your editor the fact that you know the rules and have a good reason for bending or breaking them, it might be in your best interest to stick as close to those preset boundaries and literary guidelines as your creativity allows. Then again, I always colored within the lines, too, and my mother swore I produced masterpieces that rivaled Michelangelo's.

12) What is the first thing you look for in a query letter/manuscript?

ALL I ask is that an author pulls me into their story with a great hook and holds me captive with personable characters and a compelling plot. Now, is that too much to ask?


You can find more information at Susan's Website.

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