Revisiting Susan Wales

Susan Wales is the author of several books including Standing on the Promises, Social Graces, The Pleasure of Your Company, Faith in Gods and Generals, and The Chase, which she co-wrote with Robin Shope. Susan is married to Hollywood producer Ken Wales. They live in Pacific Palisades, California, with their daughter, Megan.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
Author James Patterson said he was turned down several times on his first novel but he won the Edgar Prize for mystery for his first book, and since then he’s sold a zillion books, so believe me, I’d much rather have had his problem, but truthfully, my journey was easy . . . I had a non-stop flight to publishing. I was too naïve to know it was supposed to be difficult. As single women, my writing partner Ann Platz and I prayed for husbands and collected miraculous love stories from magazines and books to read whenever we became discouraged. I’m sure many of you can relate!

Ann miraculously met her husband John, and several years later, I met my husband Ken in a miraculous circumstance. As a result, Ann and I were called into a ministry to pray and encourage singles. “One day we’ll do a book,” we promised! Years later when my daughter Megan went away to college, Ken asked me what plans I had for my life as an empty nester. I knew my time to write had come at last! I called up a publisher with the idea, and by the second sentence, he was sold. Ann and I published our first book, A Match Made in Heaven!

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

Not about writing per se, but my doubts come from— will the books I spend months writing and putting my whole heart into make it into the hands of the reader? Ann and I naively believed our first book would sell a million copies. Go ahead laugh!

Although our book sold less than a million, a divorcee who had plans to kill herself one Christmas night, faxed me a letter that explained how she hesitated before taking the pills to pick up our book that her mother had stuffed in her stocking Christmas morning. It was a last minute gift she’d bought on Christmas Eve as she stood in line at Wal-Mart. The book gave the divorcee such hope that she chose life instead. That was huge for me!

God spoke to my heart through that incident. I learned never to be concerned about the sales because when he calls you to write a book, it may be for just one person. Helping to save that one life made all those years spent writing Match Made in Heaven worth every moment of hard work! I’m not sure the publishers will be happy with my one reader philosophy . . . but after that letter, it was easy for me to relinquish my book sales to God. Now I just pray that the books get to the people who need to hear the message.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

Writing never, but after my first novel, I considered specializing in writing only gift books. My agent convinced me that I was a great storyteller and should stick with novels. I probably couldn’t have quit anyway . . . it’s an addiction you know!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Our school librarian Mrs. Awbrey gave me the stellar advice to read every book I could if I wanted to write, so I emerged upon a serious bookworm phase in junior high. My parents grew concerned, and told me if I wanted to have something to write about, I had to live life too and not keep my nose in a book all the time, so I began going out a lot!

Later they regretted their advice, but they were right. Ha! I have tons of experiences to write about. Today when I’m writing and I’m tempted to slip into my hermit phase, I force myself to socialize. My husband Ken also shared with me the great advice Walt Disney gave him, “Bambi’s mother had to die because every story must have jeopardy.” Thanks Walt and Ken . . . It’s the jeopardy in our books that makes them work!

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

To write a movie script. It is so difficult to go between scripts and books because it’s the actor and not the dialogue in a script that shows the character’s reaction, but in books, you have to describe it. I have adapted books to a screenplay for top screenwriters, but my work is technical, and it’s their rich dialogue that really makes the script soar.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I wish I had taken some refresher courses in creative writing courses and read some how-to books before I dove into writing. Now I study, take courses, and really hone my craft striving for excellence in every aspect of my writing. In publishing, I wish I had realized publishers really are the experts and listened more during the process of my first couple of books. They’re not infallible, but they really do know what they’re talking about!

Was there ever a difficult set back that you went through in your writing career?

Absolutely! It’s humiliating and humbling, but I learned more about writing from my setback than anything I’ve ever experienced in my career. Everything in my writing career had gone fairly smoothly until then . . . I had never missed a deadline even if it killed me, so when the time arrived to turn in this particular book, I was super busy, but I just sent it in, even though I knew in my heart the book was far from what it should be. A part of me hoped I would luck out and they would love it anyway, and whatever was wrong could be fixed in the editing process, but when the editor read it, she said, “Sorry, this is not good enough.”

Yikes! Your whole world flashes before your eyes shattering your dreams shatter into itsy bitsy pieces, but I gained so much from that humiliating debacle. I learned a tough lesson . . . It’s the lesser of two evils to miss a deadline than to turn in a pathetic book. Deadlines are important so alert the publisher ahead of time if you sense you have a problem along the way. They don’t bite . . .promise! Most important is communication. Don’t make excuses for yourself, just apologize and swallow your pride admitting you have a problem. From someone who’s been there . . . it is a great lesson in humbleness and grace!

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

Thanks to my school librarian, I love the classics. To Kill A Mockingbird, Les Miserables, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

My first novel – The Chase. After Robin and I wrote it, Novelist T. Davis Bunn read a few pages and recommended that we live with it a year before trying to get it published! Although we were itching to have it published, I had an enormous amount of respect for Davis, so we took his advice. For the next year I pulled it apart word-by-word, and then I had a friend read it, and share with me her thoughts. I sent the manuscript to Robin and together, we “fixed” it. It was a long haul, but it was such a wonderful feeling when my agent called to tell me Baker wanted to publish it, and the enthusiasm the acquisitions editor had for our work. If you haven’t been there, I hope all of you can know that feeling, one day!

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

I have this Scripture and this quote taped to my desk.

My teaching is not my own. It comes from Him who sent me . . . He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the One who sent him is a man of truth. John 7:16

I have this quote pasted on my desk:

The writer must be willing all else, to take chances, to risk making a fool of himself — even risk revealing the fact that he is a fool. —Jessamyn West, author of Friendly Persuasion

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

I’m an early riser; sometimes up as early as five a.m. First I pray, and then I have my devotional, and then I go downstairs for breakfast. Instead of coffee, I have a Diet Coke with tons of crushed ice. I know, I know it’s unhealthy, but Southerners will understand my addiction. In California my husband warns me repeatedly not to confess that I’m addicted to Coke!

After breakfast, I work sixteen-hour days if I don’t have a real estate appointment, the career that supports my writing habit. I also produce the MOVIEGUIDE® Awards each year, and I have a meeting for that, and when it’s in production I can only write late at night. After Ken and I have dinner, I write, and then I exercise. My husband thinks it’s not good for you to exercise so late, but it’s just the way my body clock works.

I go to bed with my husband, and after he goes to sleep I slip out of bed and tiptoe downstairs to my office and write, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. On those days I go to bed around four and sleep until nine. Occasionally, I take luxurious naps in the afternoon. My husband is very social so I force myself to go out a couple of times a week with him. Once I go it’s rare that I don’t hear something or see something wonderful that really adds to my writing so I’m grateful Ken’s a social butterfly!

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

I am a plotter because that’s the way I’ve been taught, but I don’t particularly like it because as I’m writing, I’ll come up with a zillion better ideas. As a result, I end up throwing my outlines in the trash and writing another one. Fortunately, my agent and publisher like the better ideas.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Creating characters. I just adore people! When writing my first novel The Chase, I developed a crush on Craig, one of the characters in the book. When I confessed this to my writing partner, she admitted that she had a crush on him too! Oh, I hope our husbands won’t read this . . . Ha! That’s the great thing about being writer creating the perfect man—romantic, handsome, and attentive! Not that my husband’s not, of course!

The sedentary lifestyle is my least favorite. As my four-year-old granddaughter Hailey said recently, “GaGa, your bumper just keeps getting bigger and bigger!” Out of the mouth of babes! I work hard on my treadmill, trying to walk those calories away, but I’ve gotten behind; no pun intended!

How much marketing do you do? What’s your favorite part of marketing?

I’m lousy at self-promotion, but I love every other aspect of marketing. However, I’ve hardly done any on my fiction, because I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. Novelists don’t get the radio or TV interviews other authors get unless you’re famous. The Internet is fast becoming the best place to market books, so I’m terribly excited and humbled that you’ve invited me to do this interview! What a great service you have!

I’ve gone on a few book tours, and I loved dashing from city to city appearing on TV, and going to book-signings to meet the readers . . . there’s nothing more rewarding than this to an author . . . talking to readers about the story and hearing their take on your characters! Readers have helped me improve my writing by sharing their thoughts. Please email me, cherished readers – I plan to become more attentive to my website in the future . . .

Do you have any parting words of advice?

There are writers out there far better than I who remain unpublished. The difference between those writers and me is that I just sit down and do it. I want to encourage wannabe writers to find the time in your schedule to write. I can assure you that your passion for writing will supply all the time and energy you will need. Also, write what you know, not what you are told will sell. Write from your heart. Just sit down and do it, and send me an autographed copy of your book when you’re done! Blessings to all!