Monday, June 28, 2010

Interview: Susan Quinn on Life, Liberty and Pursuit

I have the pleasure today of interviewing Susan Quinn, whose first novel, Life, Liberty and Pursuit, was just released by Omnific on June 22nd.

A little about the story:

When college-bound Eliza falls into a cruise-ship pool, she doesn’t expect to fall in love. And when navy recruit David pulls her from the water, he finds her surprisingly hard to resist. But a whirlwind of rescues, candlelit nights, and beachside misunderstandings pulls them into a four day love affair that threatens to break their hearts before their love has a chance to start.

When David leaves for endless drills and physical training in boot camp, and Eliza returns to Albuquerque to prepare for Princeton in the fall, they dare to keep loving each other and struggle to imagine a future when they can be together. But when miles and mistrust pull them apart, they are forced to choose between keeping true to their dreams and having the courage to love.

A little about Susan:

Susan Kaye Quinn grew up in California, where she wrote snippets of stories and passed them to her friends during class. Her teachers pretended not to notice and only confiscated her stories a couple of times.

Susan left writing behind to pursue a bunch of engineering degrees (B.S. Aerospace Engineering, M.S. Mechanical Engineering, Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering) and work for NASA, GE, and NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research). She’s studied supersonic engines, designed aircraft engines, and studied global warming, but she was drawn back to writing by an irresistible urge to share her stories with her niece, her kids, and all the wonderful friends she’s met along the way.

All that engineering background comes in handy when writing science fiction stories, and her boys continue to clamor for more middle grade books and less love stories. Unfortunately for them, she enjoys writing both.

She doesn’t have to sneak her stories in notes anymore, which is too bad.

Susan writes from the Chicago suburbs with her three boys, two cats, and one husband. Which, it turns out, is exactly as a much as she can handle.

You can find Susan blogging at Ink Spells and her new website at

Interview Commences!

Ink: So how did the science junkie get drawn back into writing stories by her family? Was there a specific moment? A little eureka! sounding inside your head, or was it more of a slow pull?

Susan: Although the idea of writing children’s stories had been lurking in my head ever since I started reading to my kids, there was definitely a eureka! moment. My niece lives 1000 miles away, and I’m always looking for ways we can bond long distance. When she, along with every other 14-year-old on the planet, was in love with Twilight, that became something we could share. Then I discovered this thing called fanfiction and thought, “Hey, I’ve written stories before. I can do this. It will be kinda cool.” As soon as I started writing, I was completely entranced by the writing process. I wrote! People read! The feedback was immediate and intoxicating. It wasn’t long before I was writing my own stories.

Ink: Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write? Are you writing your middle grade stories for your boys? And what about the YA? Is there someone specific you picture, or is the audience more abstract? Or is it simply yourself, age classifications be damned?

Susan: Although I’m inspired to write stories for my niece and my boys, my novels are really for myself. I write about things that resonate with me: epic love stories, characters railing against slavery or intolerance, people finding their place in the world. But I funnel these ideas into YA or MG stories because the impact of stories on children is so powerful. The world is new, undiscovered, to them. Truths about love, justice, and purpose have yet to be revealed to them, and I love to write stories that touch on those powerful themes. Philosophical stories had a great impact on me in my youth, so writing kidlit speaks to me on many levels.

Ink: Has your science background impacted your writing? Does a little NASA sneak into each story?

Susan: My middle grade science fiction WIP is rife with science. Spin-tronic computers! Anti-matter drives! Genetically engineered pets! I adored inventing new technologies for that story and getting my kid-beta-readers jazzed about science. My YA stories are less science-driven, although I had fun playing in boot camp with David in Life, Liberty, and Pursuit and creating tech-gadgets for my current YA WIP, which takes place 70 years in the future.

Although I’m a scientist by training, I’m really a bit of a hybrid: my father is an engineer and my mother is a psychologist. The psychological evolution of my characters, the passion that drives them through their character arc, is even more interesting to me than the cool tech I get to dream up.

Ink: Has it shaped your approach to writing? Have you taken a rigorous, scientific approach to learning the craft? Or damn the science and I’m just gonna jump in a pool of words and fling them about?

Susan: I was strangely non-linear about writing when I set out. I just sat down and started writing. And kept writing. Much like an uncontrollable addiction. Only later did I learn to apply some plotter rigor to my inner pantser-gone-wild, and seriously study the craft. But I still approach my craft improvement in a 10%/90% fashion: 10% book/workshop/critique learning, 90% writing-like-mad.

Ink: Okay, here’s a toughie – You’ve worked on aerospace and jet engines, so I want to know what kind of flying craft your YA novel would be (don’t you love metaphors?).

Susan: Life, Liberty, and Pursuit is an old-time dirigible that gleams with the latest modern engines. It’s tethered to the ground, awaiting its appointed duty, but tugs on its lines, secretly wishing to fly high in the clouds where its heart belongs. (Who said engineering can’t be romantic?)

Ink: Your novel is a YA Romance. How did it come to be? Why a YA Romance?

Susan: While my niece was enamored with Twilight, I was inspired to write a love story that was real – real young people, dealing with realistic modern issues of love. I wanted to write a novel with a dramatic love story that didn’t require magical creatures. Life, Liberty, and Pursuit grew out of that singular idea: an epic love story in a modern setting, with the isolation of boot camp and the romance of love letters adding a retro feel.

Ink: What’s your process like? Meticulous plotter? Fighter pilot out for a joyride? Multi-tasking mother of three juggling plotlines?

Susan: I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but my mom wouldn’t let me sign up at the Navy recruiter desk. I was sixteen.

Each novel has been a different experience. Life, Liberty, and Pursuit was plotted out, but then I radically changed the ending. My MG SF story was rigorously plotted. But my current YA WIP was much more fighter pilot joyride – it started as a 50k tutorial in Voice, and then became an actual novel. I’m still pantsing my way to the ending on that one.

Ink: Where and when do you write? Regular hours? Big desk or little desk? What’s the view? What’s the soundtrack to the story?

Susan: I write at home, preferably on the couch with my mini-laptop, from the minute the kids go to school until the moment they get home. I occasionally write nights and weekends too, until the husband starts to complain or the children start giving me odd looks, as though they can’t quite remember who I am. It’s that addictive thing. After 18 months of writing fiction, I still can’t shake it.

And I can’t listen to music while I write, unless I’m trying to drown out something else. Like cats. Or children.

Ink: Romances are known for their happy endings. Did you ever just want to, you know, run ‘em over with a truck and say “Ha!”? Are there frustrations in writing for you?

Susan: I’m contemplating killing a major character right now. He’s a little suspicious, but I don’t think he knows. My biggest frustration in writing is not having enough time to do it.

Ink: Who have your writing influences been? How have they shaped your work?

Susan: My work is still evolving, so this is a difficult question. I’m greatly influenced by the SF masters: Asimov, Heinlein, LeGuin. Modern influences: Westerfeld, Eoin Colfer.

Ink: What have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know before?

Susan: That I’m a very emotional person when I write: I laugh, I cry, I made strange facial gestures. The mailman must think I’m demented.

Ink: What’s the process of moving towards publication been like for you? Working with your publisher? Letting one of your babies out into the world?

Susan: Working with Omnific has been fantastic – having a team of editors, artists, and marketing professionals, all trying to get my work to market in the best possible shape, with the best hope for success, has been a moving experience for me. And because they’re a small start-up publisher, and I’m one of the first ten books they have put out, I feel like I’m part of a fiercely proud family, all working together towards the success of our books and the company.

Strangely, I was much more nervous about the release of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit before publication. Somehow, now that it’s launched, I’m sanguine about it. That will probably last until the first negative review.

Ink: E-books are a new form, but quickly gaining ground. What appeals to you about them? Were you excited to see your book in digital print? Is your inner science-child excited about the digital future? Here’s a big question: paper or binary code?

Susan: There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those that know binary, and those that don’t. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

I am terribly excited to be an author in this digital-age. I still haven’t held a paper copy of my book (it’s coming), but I got chills when I opened the final PDF version, complete with ISBN and scripty lettering. I think e-books (and small, nimble e-publishers) are going to change the way books are published. Web 2.0 has already changed the way authors and readers interact. Being an optimist, I think this will all (ultimately) be for the greater good.

Ink: The online world of publishing seems a little different than the traditional style. Is there more of a community, do you think? Is the connection between writers and readers more direct? If so, do you think it will last as the e-book market continues to grow?

Susan: I think the distinction between “online” publishing and “traditional” publishing is going to continue to blur, with traditional publishers adopting what works online in order to survive, and online publishers taking full advantage of POD and changing models of business (like no advance, higher royalty models). Not only will the connection between writers and readers be more direct, but the connection between publishers and readers will be more direct. This is especially true in YA, one of the few growing markets, where readers are heavily influenced by online marketing and outreach. And that connection is not a coincidence.

Ink: In honour of the glorious and recently ended Dystopia Month, I have to ask you some dystopia questions. I know you like them. Why is that? I know you’re involved with politics – does that interest play a role in your interest in dystopia? Does your role as a parent make you naturally want to write about the beauty of totalitarian regimes?

Susan: Moms do rule the world. As long as you understand this, we can still be friends.

I love dystopias because they feed all my interests: they are very political; they are giant intellectual thought experiments; and they are (usually) optimistic, with individuals battling the overlords and winning. Even when the oppressed lose, dystopias are fantastic cautionary tales, rich with ponderings on what it means to be human and where our various excesses may lead us into treacherous waters.

Ink: What else are you working on now? Is it dystopic? (notice the great segue… )

Susan: My middle grade SF story is a light dystopia – a future where clones are slaves, genetically engineered to their function in life and modified to be happy while doing it. My paranormal YA WIP is a more serious dystopia – a future where everyone reads minds, except my protagonist. A major theme in the story is the intolerance we have for anyone different, no matter what that difference may be.

Ink: You write YA and middle grade novels now, but what do you see yourself writing in five years? Ten years? Will your audience change as your children grow? Do you see yourself attempting adult novels, or do you find yourself continuously drawn to the conflicts of children and teens?

Susan: I only just recently realized the writing was here to stay, not some passing fling. Writing snuck up on me, surprising me with its never-ending attraction. I’d love to be one of those writers who has unfinished work because they literally keeled over while writing in their old age.

In five years, I will have three teenage boys. I would love to continue writing stories my boys can read, but they already complain I write too many love stories, and I don’t see that getting any more interesting to them in the teen years. Each novel has been a voyage of discovery for me, and I’d like to have the freedom to keep exploring. Although there is a perception that children’s novels are “easier” somehow than adult novels, I’m hard put to see how: less word count to work with, minimal sex and violence to use to drive plot, but a requirement for pacing that leaves you breathless. Seems to me I started out with the hard stuff. Maybe I’ll take it easy and write adult novels in retirement. :)

Seriously, I only like to predict the future in my novels. One thing I’ve learned from writing: you never know what plot twist is right around the corner.


Matthew Rush said...

Great interview! You both rock. Great to get to know Susan a little better. Thanks for giving the interview Susan, and for sharing it with us Bryan.

salarsenッ said...

This is great! I'm reading Susan's book right now. PDF form isn't as tangible for me, but it's working. I love it. She has a way of soothing the reader. Before I knew it, I was already on page 30.

Can't wait to finish it, Sue.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Thanks so much to Ink for hosting this, my very first interview as a published author! :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Matthew I love getting peeks into authors' lives through interviews, but it felt strange (and very cool) to be on the other side of that coin. Plus Ink asks the best questions!

@Sheri I'm so pleased you're enjoying it! I haven't held the paper copy yet either (it's coming, hopefully today), and I expect that will be a very different experience. Ink may be right about that after all. :)

caroloates said...

Wonderful interview with a great insight into the mind of an author. Great to know I'm not the only one getting funny looks from the mail man.

Mira said...

Susan - what a fun and interesting interview! Who knew you had so many sides to you? Very unusual for someone to be both gifted in Engineering and writing. That's very cool. :)

Congratulations on your book launch - that must be so exciting. I hope it's a wonderful success! :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@carol For being such an individual activity, writers really have so much common!

@Mira I don't know about "gifted," but I'll own "unusual." :)

Thanks for your sweet words!

Rehman said...

Amazing people you are... and amazing is this blog.

Marjorie said...

Nice post. I love interviews.

Vicki Rocho said...

Awesome interview!!! Thanks.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks for chipping in, everyone!

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