Susan Kimmel Wright is a lover of writing, composing articles, devotionals, and novels with more projects on the way. To hear more about what she's about, read on:
Are you working on any current projects?
Yes. I'm currently finishing an adult cozy mystery, Mabel Goes To The Dogs, book two in a projected series, Volunteer of the Year. The first book is now with my agent.
In book one, Mabel Gets The Ax, Mabel is facing her 50th birthday, having been abruptly fired from her longtime job as a low-level associate attorney. She decides to reinvent herself by volunteering for a variety of nonprofits and writing about her experiences. Unfortunately, her first volunteer gig with the local historical society lands her in a notorious ax murder house, just as history begins to repeat itself.
You've written novels, short stories (*note: I don't write short stories, but do write personal experience), devotionals, and essays, all while maintaining a blog. How do you keep your momentum?
Momentum--for me--ebbs and flows, but I try never to get too off track for more than a few days. In honesty, the blog has been hardest for me to maintain, and it's gone through more than one iteration. I've taken an extended break and plan to return to it in an entirely different format, which I think will fit my personality and work schedule much better.
As for the rest of it, the work tends to create its own momentum. A novel wants to be finished; problems want to be resolved. External pressure helps, too--agents and editors are waiting. In recent years, most of my writing has been given to novels, and stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul books, which are subject to deadlines.
When working in different forms, are there any key differences you come across in your process?
Length is a big difference. A devotional, essay, or personal experience leaves little room for development, so tight focus is critical. I need to find that before I begin. Interestingly, I find everything I write--including nonfiction--benefits from strong fiction techniques: sharp sensory details, dialog, story arc, and characterization.
How do you go about incorporating messages in your writing?
I don't! I tried to do that when I was younger, but I've learned the hard way that theme is best left to grow organically out of placing my characters in challenging situations.
In one of your blog posts, you mention you're immediately attracted to or put off by certain settings. As setting is priority for you, how do you go about assembling your settings?
This is a good question, and in reality, settings seem to find me. In the same way another writer might start with a character or situation, and the synapses start firing, I find setting serves that function for me. It's truly a case where that setting simply occurs to me, maybe because I read an article or someone mentions a place. The moment it drops down over my story, everything starts coming to life.
Three examples: (1) The ax murder house in Mabel Gets The Ax. (2) My middle-grade WIP, Ghosts of Harpers Ferry. I love this scenic and historic town, and the moment I conceived of it as a potential setting, I made a quick trip and took tons of photos, which I assembled into an album for inspiration and reference. (3) My Life Among The Undead, a YA zombie cozy WIP I set in Centralia, now a ghost town, with its long-raging underground mine fire. I've never been there, but I spent hours in online research, and printing evocative images.
How do you give your readers a feeling of place, outside of describing the visual?
Another good question. I appeal first to the other senses. I love to capture the smells--the burnt aroma of coffee roasting in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, lilacs on Mackinaw Island, or the fishy scent of the seacoast. Touch--the mist hitting my face at the Niagara Falls railing. The sound of fog horns and bells in the morning pea soup of Sault Ste Marie.
Other great ways of creating a sense of place is through the locals, with their quirks, foibles, prejudices, passions, and unique point of view.
When writing in the mystery genre, what helps you maintain the element of surprise? How do you keep the plot from becoming predictable or convoluted?
Plots, at least for me, don't arrive fully formed. Nor can I sit down and produce one by force of will. I need to play with the elements I have and brainstorm answers to the mystery I've generated. I need to be relaxed about this and wait for my subconscious to do the work and provide a direction, which eventually comes in a flash of inspiration.
The great Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster, Phyllis A Whitney saw the subconscious as a lazy imp, whom she fed bits of situation, plot, character, and setting, and then sternly directed to provide solutions to her plotting dilemmas. She said the imp, being lazy, would initially try to foist off contrived or cliched solutions, but we need to keep insisting on something fresh. Patience and persistence with this are critical. I've never let the imp shortchange me without later regretting it.
What's something you wish more writers knew about writing for young readers?
Kids today are the same as they always were, in essential ways. By this, I mean their idealism, uncertainty, hopefulness, high spirits, playfulness, and other universal qualities of youth. However, kids today are profoundly different than they were even 10 or 15 years ago. In their language, dress, interests, habits, responsibilities and expectations, etc., so much has changed. If you want to write for young people, you need to be able to speak to the age-old core of youthful human nature within a new framework. If you want young readers to listen to you, you need to know them. If you don't have kids or grandkids, don't teach, etc., you'll need to volunteer at school or find other avenues for getting to know your audience. Kids have an unerring instinct for zeroing in on anything they consider "lame."
Check out the full list of her work here.
Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram. Check out her website too!