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Interview with Susan G Mathis

With numerous novels and short stories under her belt, Susan G. Mathis visits her childhood home in upstate New York's Thousand Islands each year to research for her next novel. She also teaches writing and editing and encourages writers to develop thick skin for an industry that sometimes requires great sacrifice.

What message do you hope readers take away from your newest release?
All eight of my Thousand Islands’ stories have hope as the central theme. Hope for a better future. Hope for love. Hope for healing. Peyton’s Promise also focuses on healing broken hearts, forgiving an abusive father, and forgiving those who persecute you.

Other than returning to the islands where you grew up, what literary pilgrimages have you taken for research? What was your favorite and what did you discover or learn?
I grew up just twenty minutes from the Thousand Islands, so I spent every summer and more exploring the beautiful region. I’ve stayed on several of the islands and camped and rented cottages there. So, after I wrote my debut novel about the largest island, Wolfe Island, I was hooked. There are so many fascinating stories to tell.

Now, I take an annual Thousand Islands Book Tour to the islands where I meet with fans, friends, and family. I’ve stayed in Singer Castle, Casa Blanca, and other places that are the settings of my book. I’ve talked with the owners of the islands, local historians, and researched in the Thousand Islands archives.

As I’ve done before, while I was writing my story, I posted questions on a Thousand Islands Facebook page where I connected with dozens of people who stayed on or visited Calumet Island. I added their stories and tidbits to my story including a hidden cache of wine, a gemstone imbedded in the sidewalk, stories about greenies, and so much more.

You have a long and diverse career in writing, and you began with magazines, articles, and much shorter stories. What have you learned from writing full-length fiction, and also from writing a series?
I’ve been teaching writing, editing, or writing most of my life. But when I started writing fiction…I was hooked! My imagination has become my playground and the characters my friends. I love the challenge, the freedom, the fun of creating with the Creator. But…I only tell that to those who love fiction—or they might lock me up as a crazy person.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Being a member of ACFW and other writer organizations is always money well spent. Not only do you have access to great resources, workshops, and conferences, but also, the personal connection to other authors is invaluable. The support, friendship, learning, and care is worth every penny.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
All my novels are based on a specific place in the Thousand Islands and the true stories of the owners of that island. So, my plot is generally true. Then I overlay the storyline of the fictional servants to create the story. This makes my stories a bit more challenging, but I love a good challenge.

In the 1980s I had the privilege of staying on Calumet Island when it was a bed and breakfast. My time there was so inspiring that I knew I had to write a story about it one day. Then, last summer, the caretaker graciously brought me over to the island for an afternoon of touring it, hearing stories, and recapturing the essence of the island.

The Emerys, owners of Calumet Castle, did have a Grand Ball with a spectacular two-hundred-guest summer gala and fireworks. During this time, fireworks were often used in celebrations, so I wanted to explore that. And because women’s suffrage was also prominent during this time, a woman taking over this kind of job was scandalous.

Between the subplots of suffrage, fireworks, upholstery work, and carpentry, research became rather complex. But hey, I love to research, so it was fun. I generally do some of the research on the front end and then do deeper research as I move through the manuscript.

Were resources easy or difficult to find? Do you have a favorite resource?
I love researching, and there are lots of resources out there. The Thousand Islands Museum has a wonderful archive, and I’m also grateful for Toujours Jeune: Always Young by Rex Ennis, a fine piece of non-fiction about the Emerys, Calumet Island, and the castle. The many historical details helped make Peyton’s Promise accurate and interesting.

I’m also blessed to have the president of the Thousand Islands Historical Association read through all my stories for historical accuracy. If she sees a jot or tittle in error, she lets me know!

As writers, we often must be careful of our word count. Sometimes, that means snipping bits of what we write during the revision process. That being said, what did you edit OUT of this book?
Researching fireworks was a blast, but the information was way more than I needed. As I was writing Peyton’s Promise, I connected with the country’s leading pyrotechnics historian. He read through all my fireworks parts and corrected anything out of that time. How wonderful is that? I’ll never watch a fireworks’ display the same way.

You have successfully diversified your writing with a speaking career as well. What takeaway do you hope attendees receive at the core of what you teach?
I hope to impart the love of writing but also caution writers to never, ever stop learning and growing in the craft of writing. Too many writers think they can just magically pop off a book without sufficiently learning the craft or doing the hard work of editing it well.

I also encourage them to have thick skin—this is a tough market, and they must let go of their little darlings and sometimes much more.

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I’d journal—and keep them. That was never encouraged in my childhood, but I liked to write and never kept my work. My four granddaughters now journal, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into their precious lives.

You have been on quite the rollercoaster ride through many highs and lows in your spiritual and physical life. How do your faith and spiritual walk play out in your novels?
Every book I write is a journey of healing and hope, and this one was no different. My faith walk is reflected in each of my stories to one degree or another. Peyton’s Promise also explores forgiveness, and Patrick’s journey of forgiving his father parallels my journey of forgiving my stepdad.

Finish this statement: In the future, I will…trust God with my writing and my life. It’s the only way to go!
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having an active imagination and a flair for the dramatic. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning author and speaker who works as a homeschool mom and independent contractor, helping others become their best from the inside out. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Kentucky. They have a daughter and son, and 2 cats. She has sold over 25 books so far, three of which have won annual reader's choice awards. She is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. (

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