Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She lives at the water’s edge on an island in Puget Sound , and she commutes to her writers’ group in a 17-foot motorboat. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have made national bestseller lists, including the USA Today, Washington Post and New York Times lists. The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Readers can learn more on the web at www.susanwiggs.com and on her lively blog at http://www.susanwiggs.wordpress.com/.
Andrea N. Richesin is the editor of four anthologies, Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; an as-yet-untitled father-daughter collection (May 2010); the forthcoming Crush: 30 Real-life Tales of First Love Gone Wrong by our Best Young Adult Novelists; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her books have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Daily Candy, and Babble. Andrea (Nicki to her friends) lives with her husband and daughter in northern California . For news and updates, visit http://www.nickirichesin.com/
is blazing off bookshelves. Nicki Richesin, editor of the mother-daughter anthology BECAUSE I LOVE HER, spoke with Susan- a contributor to the collection- about her daughter, writing, love, keeping secrets, music, and more….
Nicki Richesin: Susan, you are a serene queen bestselling writing machine. Congrats on your latest FIRESIDE. I was in a bookshop yesterday buying a last-minute birthday gift for my hubby, when I noticed a woman in the check-out line clinging to a copy as if it were a life-preserver. How does it feel to have legions of readers breathless with anticipation for your next book?
Susan Wiggs: I totally love it. This is exactly what I hope for—the chance to share my stories. By the time the book hits the stores, I’m several months removed from it, so it’s fun knowing that for some reader, she’s meeting the characters and story for the first time. I always hope like crazy that she’ll like it.
NR: Thank you so much for contributing your remarkable essay to my mother-daughter anthology BECAUSE I LOVE HER. I already confessed to you that of all the essays in the collection, yours resonated with me the most because I too have an only daughter and know all too well that peculiar sinking feeling when the quiet becomes too quiet and you suddenly fear the worst. You beautifully depict the frustrations and joys of raising a child while working from home. Now that your daughter Elizabeth is all grown up and engaged to be married, do you still dispense advice and are you helping with the wedding planning?
SW: Absolutely. Elizabeth and I have always been close, and planning the event of her life together is mad fun. She’s turned into a big-hearted, fun-loving and bright young woman and I’m incredibly proud of her. She is my work-in-progress. For those who want to see the happy couple, I posted them on my blog here. It started out being a post about Jackson Browne but then I realized how much like the groom he looks! I’m terrible, I post everything on my blog.
NR: In a recent interview, you mentioned that you stole your sister’s boyfriend and married him. Then (much later?) you apologized and laughed together about it. Now there’s a story, do tell…
SW: There’s a whole novel about it! HOME BEFORE DARK, which came out in 2003. But the real-life version is much less dramatic. He was her New Year’s Eve date one year, but at the end of the night…um…we pulled a switch on him. We were all really young at the time so there wasn’t much drama involved. Jay and I have been married twenty-nine years this year.
NR: As an epigraph to your essay in BECAUSE I LOVE HER, you included the last words of Roald Dahl’s last book The Minpins that you loved to read to Elizabeth :
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
What secrets have you discovered and where did you find your magic?
SW: I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Honestly, I love that excerpt from the book, because it reminds us to look beyond the obvious. Think about all the times in your life you’ve taken the time to look at something deeper or through a different lens. You’ve probably found the magic. I know I have.
NR: You often offer recipes on your blog and to accompany your books like gougeres in SNOWFALL AT WILLOW LAKE and caponata from SUMMER BY THE SEA. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and more importantly, what would you serve?
SW: What a fun fantasy. I’d invite my parents, and Malachy and Diana McCourt, because I know they’d have a grand time together. Tiger Woods, so Jay would have someone to talk to about golf. Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life,” because I love his laugh, and the Obamas, of course, and Jackson Browne to play piano and sing to us. Oh, and Nancy Pearl because no party is complete without a librarian. There. That sounds like a nice group, doesn’t it? Food? Anything prepared and served by Amy Sedaris. Her book, I Like You, is the best book on entertaining ever.
NR: In JUST BREATHE, Sarah Moon had a high school crush on Will Boon (love this character’s name!), but he ignored her. Years later, when they’re reunited, Will and Sarah fall in love. Have you ever had a secret crush or unrequited love?
SW: I’m horrible at keeping secrets. When I like someone, I let them know. But I’ve definitely had a crush or two that’s a one-way street. Ouch! I tend to remember moments like that and use them in my books. Might as well do something constructive with them.
NR: In your essay in BECAUSE I LOVE HER, you write that Elizabeth “self-published” a book just like you did with your A BOOK ABOUT SOME BAD KIDS you wrote at age 8. Did you ever imagine you would one day be writing full-time and successfully publishing novels? Over thirty novels later, do you feel you have exceeded your wildest dreams? Is writing your greatest accomplishment?
SW: I was so convinced I was a writer that I never imagined any other career for myself. I’m so grateful to be doing what I love. Writing isn’t my greatest accomplishment—that would be my marriage and my daughter—but it definitely rates high on the list.
NR: Do you have a favorite piece of music you like to play on your cello while staring out at your breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier ? Seems like a scene from movie…
SW: Sadly, I had to hock my cello during the lean years, and I never replaced it. I took bluegrass fiddle lessons until I gave myself tendonitis practicing. There’s always music on in my house, though. I put together a playlist for every book. Here’s a link to the one I made for JUST BREATHE.
NR: In BECAUSE I LOVE HER, I loved your description of your mother teaching you how to type on an old manual typewriter while you sat by her side on a stack of encyclopedias. As your first writing teacher, she would write the words you dictated- stories about a child up a tree with scary things coming after him. You wrote that to this day, that’s pretty much what all your books are about. What did you mean by this?
SW: In today’s books, the tree and the scary things are metaphoric, but the theme is the same. My books are all about a woman who reaches a tough place in her life, and how her journey takes her to a better place.
NR: I also read in one of your interviews, that you read romance novels aloud while nursing Elizabeth as an infant, because you were trying to teach yourself the craft while bonding with her. Then you sold your first book, and everything changed. Do you think motherhood made you hungrier to pursue you art?
SW: Definitely. Becoming a mother brings on a whole new dimension of emotions. I was more motivated than ever to put my stories out there. Also, writing was a way to stay at home with my daughter, so that was a huge source of the drive to succeed.
NR: Which books are currently sitting on your nightstand?
SW: ALMOST HOME, a memoir by Dr. Christine Gleason, one of the pre-eminent neonatologists in the country. It’s very moving and beautifully written. There’s also a novel called THE BROKEN SHORE, an edgy crime drama set in Australia . And pages from an unpublished manuscript by Elsa Watson. She’s in my writers’ group, and her book is wonderful enough to qualify as bedtime reading.
NR: My five-year-old daughter Lily would like to know how many trees you have in your garden. And one last question, do you really kickbox?
SW: Tell Lily there are too many to count! My favorite is a sequoia. They’re very rare around here and it looks stately in the yard. Lily would like the juniper trees, because they are filled with birds’ nests. I learned to kickbox for fitness but I would never be able to defend myself! Nicki, I loved writing my essay for the anthology, and I can’t wait to read them all. The mother-daughter bond is so compelling to me.