Susan Gabriel


First of all let me welcome the author, Susan Gabriel, to Kissed By Venus, and thank her for taking part in our 20-question in the hot-seat “interview” sessions.

1. The first question we would like to ask you is why do you write, is there something that compels you?

In my more dramatic moments, writing feels like life and death to me. I guess I spent so many years without a “voice” that it is crucial for me to have one. I have written novels for 14 years and at this point I can’t imagine not writing. I feel like I have certain stories that are mine to tell. I worry sometimes that I will die or become incapacitated in some way before I get to write them all down.

2. What, for you, is the hardest thing about writing?

The money part. If my books don’t make enough money then I have to supplement my income, either editing other people’s manuscripts or taking an odd job here or there. It’s the writer’s age-old dilemma. The arts are not valued in our society so it is hard for artists not to fall into a “starving artist” mentality.

3. What genre do you feel most at ease writing in, if any?

I love fiction. I love stories. Although I have a blog that I enjoy writing, too, that is definitely not fiction. But there is something magical and archetypal about telling a story.

4. How do you like to approach your writing when starting a new project? Do you do outlines, and breakdown scenes, or do you just leap straight into writing the narrative?

Most of my stories begin with a voice. I will hear a character’s voice and it’s as if they begin to talk to me. They begin to tell me their story. So it usually begins with a dialogue or a first-person voice. I don’t do outlines or breakdown scenes. It is a total leap of faith.

5. How do you create your characters? Do you start with a basic outline of personality type, or work them up as you go along?

They simply show up and are usually pretty fully formed when they do. I know their family history, their personal habits, and their motivation. However, I rarely know where a story is going after I start it, nor how it will end up. So the process is very entertaining to me. It’s like the story and characters have possession of me instead of me possessing them.

6. Do you talk to your characters at all?

Sometimes if I’m stuck I dialogue with them on paper and ask them where they want to go next. Sometimes I even dream about them. In my current book, Seeking Sara Summers, Grady showed up in a dream and waved to me. I thought this was very generous of him since he is not the most sympathetic of characters.

7. Do you have certain writing rituals that you like to perform?

I always have a small pot of tea by my side before I begin, either at home or at my favorite coffee shop. My favorite tea at the moment is organic Assam and the baristas at the coffee shop start making it for me as soon as I come in the door.

I usually write in the morning from 9 until 12 or 1:00. Then after lunch I market my current book and answer emails. I keep track of my hours, so I can prove to myself that I am not goofing off. I also jot a note about what I worked on and the progress I made.

8. Writers quite often work through personal issues in their narratives. Do you, and how do you handle that?

Seeking Sara Summers is about a woman who finds herself in a marriage that isn’t fulfilling and then who falls in love with her best female friend. This happened to me, yet the story is not my story. In a way it’s what I wished would have happened. Because this story was the closest to me, it was the hardest to write. I wanted to direct it, instead of letting the characters tell the story. I revised it many times, working to get myself out of the way.

9. Do you have people read your work as you write, or do you wait till a project is complete? What would you say were the benefits to either approach?

I’ve done both. With Seeking Sara Summers, I was in a writer’s group and I presented a new chapter every other week when we met. Any comments the group had I wrote on my copy and saved for the end. I didn’t go back and rework. It’s important for me to get it all down before I start revising, otherwise I can get stuck in the revision process. I allow myself a really bad first draft before I start looking at it again. And now, since I’m not in a writer’s group any longer, I wait until the 2nd or 3rd draft before I let anyone read it. My first reader is always my partner. My second reader is my agent.

10. Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

I truly love my characters and do my best to tell their stories. They inspire me.

11. Do you like to write to music and, if so, what kind?

At the coffee shop, there’s always music and talking in the background, which I am good at tuning out. At home, I usually write in silence.

12. If you didn’t write, what would you do?

I would probably still be a marriage & family therapist. I closed my practice because I ended up putting all my creativity into the therapeutic process and had nothing left for me.

13. What’s your favorite story and why?

My favorite story is usually the one I am working on. It takes 100% commitment. However, every story I’ve written is precious to me and has its own special treasures.

14. What are some of the things you do to improve on your craft? Do you attend conferences? Take workshops? What works best for you to improve how and what you write?

You name it, I’ve probably done it. I’m a little burnt out on going to conferences. I’ve also been in and out of writer’s groups over the years and have a bookcase full of books on writing. Yet I feel that I’ve made the greatest improvement by simply writing—day in and day out. I used to be a professional musician, so I know the discipline involved in becoming good at something. It truly does take daily practice. It also helps to have a literary agent who believes in me and gives me good feedback.

15. As a writer what do you look for in a prospective publisher?

I look for a publishing house that is legitimate and has a track record for successfully promoting their books and their authors. Although, not many writers have a huge choice with their first book. You’re usually happy to get anyone interested in your work.

16. What, from your perspective, are some of the most common mistakes first time authors make when starting out in the business?

We all start out as naïve, I think. If we didn’t we probably wouldn’t want to be writers. I shared a lot of my stories in the beginning with anyone who would read them. I regret that now because I wasn’t very good. I’m much better now because I’ve put in the time to get better. When we start out I think we’re just so proud to get anything on the page. So I think one of the most common mistakes is to not take the time, years if necessary, to develop the craft.

Also, I’ve met many people who want to be writers who don’t even like to read. This doesn’t make sense to me. Reading books—lots of books—is one of the ways you develop the craft.

17. What are some of the things you do to build up interest for your work? What do you think are some of the most effective things an author can do to advertise him or herself?

Have a website and a blog. Post on other blogs that are related to what you write. Participate in interviews. I created a video trailer for Seeking Sara Summers. I am building my community on Amazon.com. There are a lot of different ways to market and the best ways will vary depending on the author, the type of book he or she has written and the subject matter.

Building interest in our work is very hard for many writers. Writing is, after all, a very introverted endeavor and marketing is an extroverted one. I haven’t met many authors who enjoy marketing but it is a requirement in the world we live in. In fact, I’m afraid many very fine authors fail to do this part and don’t get read as a result. I work every day to not be one of those people. I’ve read that 80% of book sales is word of mouth. Marketing is getting enough people to become aware of your book and then selling them the book. Assuming it’s a good book that captures the reader, they will tell others about it. It all starts with writing the very best story or book that you can and then being strategic about how you will market the book and then very consistent with executing your strategies and tactics.

18. How do you feel about e-publishing and e-books? And would you go that route?

I think if you’re absolutely certain that you have a good story and it has been professionally edited and you’ve come close many times but haven’t been able to find a traditional publisher then it is something to consider. Unfortunately a lot of writers put out their first writings into this format because they’re impatient. They’re not really writing things of high quality yet. This gives e-publishing and e-books a bad reputation.

19. What were your best and worst experiences with an editor?

I’ve had the usual nightmares. Executive editors who are very interested in a story, who offer suggestions and request a rewrite and then when I send the manuscript back to them they never respond again, despite follow-up letters. I’ve also had an executive editor get fired and another editor simply disappear. I hope these people are not behind the perfume counter at Saks now. It’s a rough business.

20. And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a writer? And what, for you, totally sucks about it?

What sucks is struggling to make a living while in the service of stories. It seems we live in an upside-down world, and if it were suddenly right side up, then the storytellers and poets would be the millionaires.

My favorite thing about being a writer is the process. I love having a cast of characters show up, getting to learn their story and then relaying that story. I love that period of time when I’m totally in my imagination with the story, seeing it play out in front of me and then, writing it down.

Also, I love hearing from readers who really liked Seeking Sara Summers, who couldn’t put it down and got swept up into the world of the story and were moved by it. This is very, very special. I think stories have the power to heal and inspire. And if I accomplish even a tiny bit of that then I have done my job.


Author Profile:

Susan Gabriel grew up in the archetypal American South, playing in the shade of mimosa trees and catching lightning bugs as the heat waned on long summer evenings. She lived on banana popsicles and when not in school, spent most days exploring the woods around her home.

Later in life Susan became a professional musician and played many venues in Charleston, SC, including Piccolo Spoleto and one gig that took place on a 300 ft. sailboat where she was situated below in the hold. She has yet to get her sea legs back.

Susan became a psychotherapist, in part to understand the strange array of characters in her Appalachian gene pool. Yet ultimately closed her successful counseling practice, and moved with her two daughters to Asheville, NC where she did dream work with a Jungian analyst and began to write poetry, paint with acrylics and found her true love of writing fiction.

With her daughters launched into the world, Susan moved to Colorado, where she is exploring the wild mysticism of the Rocky Mountain landscape. She writes full time and is the author of Seeking Sara Summers.

You can find out more about Susan, and her writing, at SUSAN GABRIEL

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