*Looking for the next captivating read? Check out this exclusive interview with Susanne Dunlap. This week you’ll have a chance to win TWO books: Susanne’s latest novel, The Musician’s Daughter and Hardcover Copy of Anastasia’s Secret.
Susanne Dunlap is a prominent historical fiction author. Her novels include Emilie’s Voice, Liszt’s Kiss, The Musician’s Daughter (YA) and Anastasia’s Secret (YA). Susanne has a PhD in Music History from Yale University and as integrated her love of music into each of her novels. Her latest novel, In the Shadow of a Lamp, will be available April 2011. When she isn’t creating spirited female heroines, she enjoys cycling. As a matter of fact, she has put anyone’s weekend to shame as she spent this Sunday participating in the New York City Century Bike Tour! If you’d like to learn more about Susanne, check out her blog: Writing, Reading, Living.
1) How long have you been a writer?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I’ve been a published writer since 2005. I have written for a living in different ways since I left college (a LONG time ago). And I tried to write a Nancy Drew mystery when I was about 9, and made a few unsuccessful attempts at fiction in my 20s. But I’m not sure if there’s a finite start date to my “being a writer.” I suppose that being able to write the several novels I’ve written means that it was all fermenting inside of me for quite a while.
2) How did you get started in publishing?
I’ve never actually worked in the publishing business, so technically I’m not “in publishing”. But when I wrote my first novel, I knew that I would want to try to have it published. I kind of don’t believe people who say they write solely for themselves, because what’s the use of having a story to tell and working really hard to tell it if you don’t intend to share it with anyone? And the best way to share it with the most people is to try to get published the traditional way.
So I did the standard thing, I queried agents (Publisher’s Marketplace is the place to look for agents who work with writers in your genre), and was fortunate enough to find one who liked my book enough to take me on. He made me work on my novel for another year before he thought it was ready, and when it was, he was able to sell it—for which I’ll always be very, very grateful!
3) How long did it take you to publish your 1st book?
If you mean how long it took from when I started writing it to when it was published by Simon & Schuster, I would say about four years.
4) How is Historical Fiction different than other types of Fiction? How do prepare for and decide on a book?
That’s an excellent question! In many ways, historical fiction is just like other types of fiction. First, you have to have a compelling story that will keep people turning the pages. It has to feel authentic, so the research is important—but that’s also important in a contemporary book, as well as in something that takes place in the future. (Although in that case, it’s not research so much as careful world building.)
For me, usually it’s some event or circumstance that captures my imagination. That’s what Anastasia’s Secret was. I was intrigued by the idea of going through everything a teenager goes through against that incredibly dramatic and sad backdrop.
My next book, In the Shadow of the Lamp, (coming April, 2011) is based on a portion of the life of Florence Nightingale. I’ve always been intrigued by her but never known much about her. In fact, my editor mentioned how fascinated she was by Florence Nightingale, and I started thinking and researching and I “discovered” a story. I created a young parlormaid, a low-class Londoner, who stows away with Florence Nightingale’s nurses to go to the Crimean War. It was an incredible, moving backdrop for the heroine’s romantic entanglements and her coming of age. I might not have thought of it if my editor hadn’t dropped that seed of an idea in my lap.
And I do think about what readers might enjoy, what might strike a chord with a young person today and help her see that as human beings, we have been struggling with the same issues, experiencing similar joys, for centuries.
5) What is your best author experience so far?
I think it’s not one but many: being able to connect with readers through blogs like this, and knowing that people are reading and being moved by my books. It’s a gift that I am always conscious of.
6) What do you when you’re not writing?
I love, love, love to read. I always have two or three books going at the same time. I also attend bookstore events when I can.
Recently I’ve started editing aspiring authors’ work, and I’m finding that very rewarding. It’s hard work though, and takes a lot of time out of writing.
And I have a wonderful little dog named Betty, a Coton de Tulear who is so sweet and keeps me company. I love taking her on walks when we can get out of Brooklyn, which is kind of a scary place for her.
Plus, I’m a mad keen bicyclist. I like to go on group rides in the area, and will be riding the New York Century (100 miles) in September.
7) Have you ever had trouble writing? What to you do?
I don’t think I suffer from what you’d call writer’s block. If I get to a stuck place, I simply do something else for a while, and the answer comes. It takes patience to write books!
8 ) Do you have any book promotion tips?
I think the only tip I would give is try to make yourself available, and look for ways to connect with readers. Writers have to do a lot of their own promotional work these days, not because the publishers are letting them down, but because they don’t have the budget or the time to do it. That said, the writing itself is the most important thing. We all just have to do what we can and are comfortable with.
9) Tips for other aspiring writers:
Write every day. Writing is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it won’t get stronger.
Be willing to accept criticism from readers you trust. Chances are if they don’t understand something, or think something drags, your potential readers will have the same issues. They’re giving you constructive feedback, criticizing your work, not you.
Read, read, read. Try to learn from what you read. Notice how authors keep you dangling on a hook so you can’t put the book down.
If you really want to be published and you’re willing to put in the hard work, take the criticism and rejection, chances are it will happen for you eventually. So stick to it!
10) Tell me about your current book, The Musician’s Daughter:
It’s is now available in paperback, and it’s the story of a young violinist in 18th-century Vienna whose violinist father is murdered on Christmas Eve. Determined to solve the mystery of his murder, she uncovers dark secrets and befriends a Gypsy girl.
11) You have a PhD in Music History. How did channel your love of music into your novels?
My first three books were all about musical subjects. My first book actually dealt with an idea I had while I was researching early opera. And both Liszt’s Kiss and The Musician’s Daughter gave me an opportunity to express the joy of performing music.
12) What’s your favorite instrument?
That would have to be the piano, which is the instrument I play!