Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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AUTHOR VIP

SUSAN SANDS

 

July 2015

WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.

SS:      Thanks so much for having me as your guest this month, Winnie! I'm honored. I was born in Lafayette, but grew up in a very small town in Northwest Louisiana called Negreet. It's near the Texas border, and close to Toledo Bend Lake, where the Space Shuttle Columbia went down in 2003. It helps folks get some idea where that is. I graduated from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana with a degree in education in 1989. We've lived in suburban Atlanta for just over twenty years, but I'll always be a Louisiana girl at heart. I have three nearly-grown teens and one in his early twenties. My husband is a dentist in the Alpharetta/Johns Creek area where we live. We have two fur children as well.


WG:      Let's talk about your own personal road to publication: 
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

SS:     I've always been a big reader. Haven't you heard that from most writers? I tend to think in dialogue, or correct others in my head. I always have. It's a weird thing, I know. But when I turned forty, I actually said the words, "I want to try and write a novel." The strangest thing was that nobody actually laughed out loud. My husband figured it would take attention away from his golf habit, and bought me my first laptop. And my children had no idea what that would mean. Or they might have resisted the idea.


WG:      Tell us about your journey.

SS:      I attended my first writer's conference near San Francisco when I was 15,000 words into my first manuscript. I can hear the writers laughing. It was a "From the Heart but Smart" conference put on by Algonkian and Michael Neff. It was strongly geared to learn how to write a flawless pitch. There were agents and editors on hand, and a couple of well-known authors of craft books. It was a small group (only fifteen of us) and we worked up to ten hours a day with out laptops in a circle. It was intense. And it was a fantastic conference. Believe it or not, someone wanted my manuscript when it was complete! Y'all are shaking your heads. : Understand, I'd never written anything before, and I'd never taken a single craft class or read a book on the craft of writing. Now you're laughing.

I'm spending time on this because I got an agent on my first submission. You're saying, "Shut up!" YES, I DID! By the time I'd written the manuscript, I'd at least learned about POV (point of view) and a few other important essentials of writing. I'd even hired an editor to help me. But y'all, it was awful. Of course I had no idea. And it went out to New York City! YES IT DID! You're shaking your head. But the agent loved it and she believed in me, God bless her. And she submitted it. It didn't sell. And I will love that agent for believing in me and giving me the confidence to keep writing until this day. We aren't together anymore, but I love her for all the reasons I just said.

Now, breaking up is hard to do. Especially for one who doesn't like conflict. But I moved on and was fortunate to find another agent after many "almosts" once I'd completed my third book. This one finaled in the Maggies and won the Finally a Bride Contest, both highly esteemed Romance Writer's of America chapter contests. It had been requested by agents and editors numerous times during pitch sessions at several writer's conferences, so I really believed this was THE ONE. My new agent submitted it to New York. It didn't sell. I almost quit writing. I was almost seven years into this thing and was incredibly discouraged.

But people, it's often timing, friends and the grace of God that brings everything together. My dear friend and critique partner, Tracy Solheim, had just written a novella for the Tule Publishing Group. They were looking for Southern voices for their new Southern Born Line. She hooked me up. I had to make lots of changes and cut many words, but the experience with my editor there was so wonderful, and their team is fantastic.


WG:      How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

SS:     I've written three, but I'm working on my fourth and fifth now. I haven't signed a contract yet, but I'm looking forward to my next two, hopefully with Tule. I've rewritten the first, and hope to sell the first two as a series.


WG:      Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?

SS:      It was all done by email. And it was thrilling! And it was such a relief to finally see my hard work pay off.


WG:      How has being a published author impacted your life?

SS:     Since I just released my first novel, I'll have to let you know. But things have gotten really busy. It's a little scary that it's now going to be my job. I haven't worked full time in years.


WG:      What aspect of life as a 'published author' surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

SS:     How proud my friends and family are, and how willing they are to help me make this a success. It thrills me. It's as if they are in it with me.


WG:      What about your writing process? Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

SS:      I either write for many hours or almost none at all. I really need to set a better pace. But I'm more efficient with a deadline. I'm a pantser who outlines and does a full character sketch. Other than than knowing generally what should happen to get to the ending, everything else evolves. But I know my characters pretty well. A typical day for me is never typical.


WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

SS:      Working on that!


WG:      Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

SS:     I sometimes listen to Baroque instrumental classical music or spa sounds.


WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

SS:     I think I spend a lot of unofficial "between the ears" time before I sit down with it, so there's a lot already done mentally by then.


WG:      Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

SS:      A storyline, then characters. A series naturally develops.


WG:      Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories? 

SS:      I like clean-cut, solid, loving men with strong characters. Of course it doesn't hurt when they are super handsome. My heroines are usually good girls as well. Ivory-girl types who don't need/wear a ton of makeup. I haven't written a character with tattoo yet. Who knows, maybe I've got a bad boy/girl waiting around the corner…



WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

SS:     I've been told I have a strong, Southern voice, even when my writing wasn't well-developed. I don't think I could write without humor either. Levity in a novel is never a bad thing, in my opinion.


WG:      Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

SS:     Everything. Kids, dogs, Facebook. I'm easily distracted.


WG:      Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

SS:     I like to know what's in store, what's coming. I need a deadline and all the answers to my questions. I likely drove my publishing team crazy as a debut author. I want signed, sealed and delivered, or I have a hard time writing.


WG:      Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

SS:    I love romantic suspense and women's fiction in addition to contemporary romance. I also adore historical romances


WG:      Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

SS:    Maybe a bit of romantic suspense. I have to keep myself from going too dark and angsty.


WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

SS:    Don't quit!! If you quit, you'll never publish!


WG:      Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

SS:     I realized how unfocused my story was when I began working with my current editor. Her suggestions made so much sense, It was a huge learning moment.


WG:      Rejections, less than stellar reviews and notes from unhappy readers are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

SS:      It took a long time to realize that it wasn't a personal attack. Every time someone told me they didn't like something about my story, it was as if they said my baby was ugly. After the initial punch in the gut, I learned to look at their suggestions and use them to better my work. I even asked a few times for just a few suggestions as to why my work was rejected or how I might make it better. I got the nicest and most helpful replies.


WG:      Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?

SS:    Not to read my reviews. I've learned the most from the three star reviews. Those folks have told me the most technical things about my writing and storytelling. Well, most of them. My skin is pretty thick now, so I can handle it and let go of the ones that aren't helpful.


WG:      What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

SS:     The reward of knowing I put out something I can be proud of. I struggle with hoping I can do it again and again.


WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

SS:     I cook, I paint and play tennis (not well).


WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

SS:     A mommy.


WG:      What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

SS:     That I'm such a country girl living a nice suburban life. I come from a modest background. Sometimes I feel like a fraud.


WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

SS:     We watch EVERYTHING. DVR, baby! I love everything from Star Trek to Jane Austen to Austin Powers. I love Game of Thrones and True Detective, currently. Everything!


WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

SS:     "We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It's up to us to make it good or bad."

I feel like we have to work to overcome our obstacles instead of making excuses as to why we don't do things. Life is full of very good reasons as to why we can't accomplish our dreams. It's up to us to make things happen, no matter what life throws our way.


WG:      Please tell us about your current project. 

SS:      My work in progress is the next story in a series about a woman who is living under another person's terms.


WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

SS:     In my current release, she is the sister of the heroine, and I hint at her abysmal history with men and other sad, sad things.


WG:      What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

SS:     The heroine in the upcoming book is a former Miss Alabama who lost her crown ten years ago, and is now a pageant coach. I had to do some serious pageant research. It's, uh, not part of my background.


WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

SS:      Not officially under contract, but working as if I am.


WG:      And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

SS:      I love hearing from readers! I'm in all the fun places!
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/susannsandsauthor
Twitter: @SusanNoelSands
Blog: Sweet Home Alpharetta at susansands.com


WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!

SS:      Thanks so much for having me, Winnie! This has been so much fun! Be on the lookout for my print release of AGAIN, ALABAMA August 26th. It's currently on sale on all the digital platforms!

 

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