There's nothing like scrolling along Amazon's Kindle shelves and falling into a new world by the flipping of an electronic page. Caetera, a world outside of our own and yet intimately connected with us, is waiting to fill you with an epic story and I'm so excited to be able to bring the author to you for a quick Q&A:
Why did you first start writing? What was the inspiration for your first book?
I am certain that the first story I wrote has long since left my memory. The very first piece of long fiction I completed was a historical fantasy based on the life of Cleopatra.
Did you ever consider traditional/indie publishing? Was there a reason you chose the way you did to go about publishing your works? Do you have any insights for future authors trying to make the same choice?
I chose to publish independently for now. Sometime down the road, I may look to solicit an agent, but for now, I want to focus more on telling my story than searching for someone to represent me.
How many books do you have published now?
Do you have any books in the works at the moment?
Yes. I’m editing book 2: Sixth Induction. I have book 3 drafted: Cursed Talent; I’m drafting book 4: The Vile Vasilias; and I have the story outlined with some written for books 5 and 6 which are yet to be named.
Any advice you’d offer up-and-comers looking to find their place in the literary world?
Be persistent and learn to seek out critical feedback and how to evaluate it well. Don’t give up when you get hurtful advice. Not everyone will like your work, and that’s okay. Follow the technical rules but stay true to your vision.
What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
A writing day for me varies. I write whenever I am able. If only I were so fortunate to have a writing schedule. Full-time job and busy family tend to take priority, but I make time whenever I am able. What distracts me most these days is gaming with the family.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
Character names in my books are only important in where they tie the character to a specific structure in society. For example, since Niccolai was originally a ward of Smythe House, but is now a ward of Phillary House, his name is Niccolai sur Smythe-Phillary. Benefactors last names are the name of the House they represent. Voteri names involve the name of the god/goddess they serve.
Where do your ideas come from?
Inspiration for me tends to come from human feelings, desires, or emotion tied to every-day situations. Open Season was partially inspired by a desire to depart a job in the corporate world (not my current one, I might note.).
Is there a genre that you've been wanting to experiment with?
Historical fiction would be amazing, but I haven’t been successful in finding an idea that I want to go all the way with yet.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Editing out the stuff I really love.
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I started to create a book trailer but haven’t completed. It seems that they’re becoming more popular, but I don’t understand the craze. I’m guessing this may be a generational thing, so I want to explore it more in the future.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Writing or in life? In life, it’s raising 3 children who are downright good people. In writing… well, I just published my first book. 😊
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully retired from full time work, writing and traveling…
Have you always liked to write?
Do you hand write or do everything on your computer?
I do both. The change sometimes gets the juices flowing again.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I wish I could make my living by writing, but I’m currently not that fortunate. I have a job as an IT Project Manager as well that pays the bills.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
Yes, I read reviews of my book. I’ve responded to them graciously, but I haven’t received a harsh review yet. I’d take the criticism into consideration for future improvement, but in the end, I believe that everyone has different tastes and people are entitled to opinions. Naturally, though, I hope that everyone enjoys the read.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both! There are times when I finish a chapter, and I’m super excited. Other times, I feel the need to go to bed immediately.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I write the story in my head. Naturally, I want the reader to enjoy the work, but I have a hard time with writing about the current hot topics. And if I did, I likely would take too long to get to market to capitalize on the trend. Original is, in my opinion, the best way to go.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have a group of authors who participates in a bi-weekly writer’s group. We analyze one another’s stories and provide constructive criticism in all areas of story-telling. They also keep my creativity flowing.
How did you find/choose your cover?
The cover of Open Season has two of my three children on the front along with some stock images. It depicts some of the main characters in the story.
How do you choose what you are going to work on? Do you write one story at a time, or are you working on multiple pieces from multiple storylines at any given moment?
I’m working on a series that began as a single volume epic fantasy. Then, it took over and made itself into a series of novellas. I have many storylines going on and I’m trying to order them in some kind of coherent fashion.
What was the hardest novel/novella/story you’ve written so far and why?
The answer to this is always the current one. Today it’s The Vile Vasilias, and that’s because my characters have to battle it out to determine how the plot will best unfold. There have been times when my characters wrote their own stories without my concent.
Do you plan out your books in advance or just go for it, Muse Delight You, as she may?
I try to plan. I have a plot and chapter outline. In the end, one or more of my characters typically breaks my plot and creates a chapter or two of his or her own.
How would you best classify your writing? So, I always say I write Fantasy romance, with a way capital F there, lol. If you were trying to describe your books to someone, how best would you describe what you write?
I tell stories about human relationships through a Fantasy and Science Fiction lens.
How do you handle writing both books and blogs and Facebook posts and so on and so forth and ad naseum!? Lol. Okay, I’m looking for help, lol, how do you manage your time so well?
When you figure this out, please do let me know. 😊 I’ve decided that my social media activity needs to be limited to a few areas, and I’m looking to block off some time to schedule out my posts so I don’t have to be on constantly.
I’m wonky when it comes to writing. I don’t pre-plan anything, per se, but I have files on all the stories that I’ve written to keep my series in order and in line, even if I’m the only one who ever sees any of that. Do you do any pre-writing or post planning work for your novels or series?
Prewriting is an ever-happening event. I collect those ideas in OneNote. I try to jot down things as they come to me, and they tend to hit me the most while I’m driving. I’ve pulled over before to take
down notes, then resumed my trip.
What made you choose to write a novel?
I’d classify them as novellas (less than 40K words). I love to read and absorb stories of all kinds. Stories beget stories for me, and that’s what started the adventure.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I traveled to Italy and Greece. That played a large role in building my world.
What do you think is most emblematic of your writing style/novel?
Human interaction and relationships fascinate me. Socio-cultural histories play a large part into my writing as well.
If you could pick your favorite scene out of your work, what would it be and why? (If you have an excerpt, please feel free to share also.)
I love the scene where Javine and Elle meet at Cantigny Golf Course. I’ve attached an excerpt to the email.
What makes a “novel” to you?
A well-developed storyline and interesting characters.
How do you feel about novellas or short stories?
Uhm… Love them! Binge-able! That’s my goal.
Why not a full novel? Why a novella/short story?
Oops. I answered the Novel questions. The story I’m telling is very long with many sub-plots. The subplots are typically not quite long enough to make the length of a novel, and I believe the binge-able format is becoming more popular. I suppose you might say that I hope to bring the Netflix craze to reading.
What do you think is the best part about writing a shorter work as opposed to a novel?
Hands-down, the sense of completion and accomplishment.
How long does it take you to write a novella/short story?
Depends. I “wrote” Open Season and Sixth Induction in a week each. However, I had already written a lot of backstory that went with them. If I averaged it out, I’d probably say 3 months as a rough estimate.
What is the hardest part about writing a novella/short story?
Ensuring the plot is rich enough to carry it. Although, I think I worry about this a little more than I should.
How much does word count/page count bother you when writing your story?
Very little. My first goal is to tell the story well.
In a short story/novella, do you feel like you have to sacrifice anything to the form that you could have included in a longer novel?
No, because the format I chose is a continuation of the story. Like episodes.
Would you recommend this medium for beginning writers?
I’d recommend that a beginning writer get their story on paper and then figure out what format is most appropriate.
In the context of a shorter narrative, what do you think is the most important thing to develop for the readers? (Everything, I know, but what is the thing you focus on in terms of the story?)
The story-line and the characters must be complete no matter what form of narrative that’s chosen. The shorter form simply means that the plot cannot bend back on itself as many times before getting to the climax.
It’s 1775 and the Revolutionary War in America has just started, and your main character is thrust into the middle of the Battle of Bunker Hill! Would they live/die/flee/fight?
Elle would spend time learning what to do, then she’d fight.
Can you tell me a bit about your series?
The series is a binge-able science-fantasy epic that takes place between Earth and an alternate dimension, Caetera, where a sterile society pilfers from Earth’s society to perpetuate their own.
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
For now, it would be the 3rd: Cursed Talent.
Where did you get the inspiration for your series?
Work, life, years and years of reading.
Did you always plan on writing a series or were you surprised to continue to write it after the first book was done?
Absolutely not. I originally set out to write a single-volume epic fantasy, but soon realized that it would rival Lord of the Rings in length. Therefore, I broke it into a series that covers Elle’s arc, but also delves into the arcs of the other characters. I have lots of work to get this series to completion, but every now and then, I venture off the path and write a short story. I’ve written two in the past year: The Muse of Wynter and Golden Eyes. The Muse of Wynter will be published later this year by my writer’s group. I’m unsure if anything will ever come of the other one, but we shall see.
If there is one fantastical creature out there that you haven’t gotten to write about yet, which one would it be, and is that a story you’ve got coming for us in the future?
If only to win my son over as a reader—DRAGONS!
What is the appeal, do you think, about writing with/about supernatural/paranormal characters for readers picking up your books?
In my case, I think that stepping away from reality allows the reader to experience a very human emotion through something that totally would never happen. It allows exploration of emotion separate from making it seem too real. It’s a matter of escape, but it forces us to face real inner turmoil.
How do you merge the elements of the world you’ve created with the more mundane existence of normal human everyday life?
Very, very, very carefully. There is a great deal of planning that goes into this and some amount of editing as well – when I inevitably screw it all up.
If one of your characters from your fantasy/syfy worlds stepped into our twenty-first century craziness, how would he, or she, fair?
THIS, and the inverse are the crux of my series. 😊
What would you classify as the difference between your version of fantasy/science fiction writing and another top name in your genre?
I blend a bit of urban in with high fantasy through the use of separate dimensions. It melds the modern with the not-so-modern. It’s fun to see people react to this dynamic.
What is the hardest part about creating a new world to you?
Keeping it consistent and conveying exactly what I intend to convey at exactly the right time for the reader to process it correctly. If you’ve built a world well, you are typically more embedded within it than your reader, and therefore you must seek feedback to understand what is too much to deliver at one time.
If you have alien characters in your story, are they humanoid aliens, or are they aliens that diverge from traditional bipedal modes of locomotion and form? Do you try to incorporate other varied body-shaped aliens into your writing? Does this make it harder or easer to build your world? Do you think readers prefer to read about realistically familiar shaped aliens, or about the variations potentially possible in the universe?
I use exaggerated humanoids, likewise exaggerated animals. Things are just a little left of real in Caetera.
If your novel was to become a movie on SyFy channel, would there be sharks involved in a tornado, or no? Follow-up, if your novel was to become a Sharknado movie on SyFy channel, how would the sharks impact your story line?
What is the quintessential element of a fantasy/syfy novel in your opinion?
It uses and extends the current knowledge of science into some imagined world or situation.
If you could live in any time, when and where would you choose?
Toss up between Chicago in the 1920’s and the Renaissance in Florence, Italy.
If you could choose one author to sit down and have a cup of tea with, and yes, it has to be tea here, who would it be?
Must he or she be alive? If yes, Jacqueline Carey. If no, JRR Tolkien.
And we’re going random here, but do you like sushi? Hear me out before you go: WHAT?!?! I think it’s so interesting when looking at what people write and when and where they write and I don’t think any of my characters have ever tasted sushi before but I personally LOVE sushi. SO, do you, and your characters, like sushi? Or pizza? Have you found that the different cultures you write about influence you personally too?
I love sushi. Elle would love sushi too, but only Chicago-style pizza.
If any one of your novels was to become a movie or a TV show and you got the chance to work with the casting director for it, do you know who you would want to play your characters or who your inspiration for those characters were when you were writing your novel?
Some of the images I have pictured are from too far back for the actor to still fit the role.
Have you had the chance to travel abroad to the different places where your stories take place? Any favorites of places you’ve gone to? Any places you can’t wait to see again?
Italy: Florence and the Amalfi Coast.
If an alien were to pick up one of your novels in an intergalactic space port, what’s the most interesting thing they would learn about “earth culture” from your works?
Of those introduced so far Earth and Terrináe:
Earth in Chicago is business focused and climbing the corporate ladder is of utmost importance. Terrinians are a bit disjointed as a society, though they think they have their stuff together.
When you think about losing yourself in a different world, whether it’s one you’ve written or read about somewhere, where would it be and why?
I’ve written about it, but it’s not published—yet. I’d probably love to live along the Ripplemere in my short story, The Muse of Wynter.
Which one of your characters is your secret crush? As in, they’re walking down the street and you’ll fall at their feet just wanting to be held by them?
Dragons…or wolves? One word answer is not enough! We must know! What is your favorite supernatural creature?
Dragons! I can’t break the connection between a wolf and a dog. I have dogs, and I can’t imagine them as a fantastical creature. 😊 Dragons, on the other hand, are so far from reality that they are absolutely fantastical!
If you were murdered, which of your characters would shrug and say, “meh”?
Andreas Javine. There are always casualties to any plan. Which would claim vengeance in your name? Niccolai sur Smythe-Phillary, though only after tormenting himself for not preventing it first. And which one would scamper away to hide hoping they’re not next? Yster sur Javine, she’d run to her partner, Natsue. (And, for fun, which of your characters would have committed the deed? One you will not meet until book 4, and I won’t give it away here. 😊)
Thank you so much, Susan, for taking a moment to hang out and talk to me about your first novel and the start of your series. I'm so glad to have had this chance, and, just so you know, if Jacqueline Carey ever invites you over for tea, I better get a call too, because I love her work as well!
Take a look below for all of Susan's links and don't forget to pick up her newest book, Sixth Induction, The Caeteran Tales, Book 2 as soon as it comes out!
Javine puzzled over why she turned away just as their eyes met. But when she approached Alan, her reasons seemed logical. She was pristine, poised in her golf skirt and collared shirt. He went to the bar, leaned onto his elbows, ordered a Macallan single-malt—neat, and waited. He’d be patient, they’d come his way soon. And they did.
Javine forced himself to not blink against the irritating contacts that bothered his vision. The light surrounding Elle was still there, but muted. It annoyed him to have the acuity blurred, but the obfuscation was necessary. From the time he’d watched her over the years, Javine knew the colors of her glow—the marker that predicted Flare.
“Andre Jordan, I’d like you to meet the new V.P. of Corporate Communication, Elle Jones,” Alan introduced, making the predictable motions from one to the other.
Javine stood straight, scotch in one hand. Though his contacts and glasses obscured her glow, he’d seen the highlights before. Lavender streaks weren’t a foolproof indicator, but he’d come prepared just in case. He offered her a gloved hand. If her Flare turned out to be touch activated, he didn’t want to inadvertently give things away.
“Coming from the range, Mr. Jordan?” Elle asked.
He raised his brows with a single nod to affirm, then said, “Elle, I understand that you come to Travelers from Jewel Systems?”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Jordan.”
“—Andre,” he cut in. “Software to financial services is quite the leap. What made you switch?”
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/Caetera1_BN