I first tried to meet Susan Crawford at a group book signing of local authors at a nearby Barnes and Noble, but due to some poor placement of the authors around the store and my own introverted tendencies, I did not introduce myself. Nervously but determinedly (since I chickened out in person), I emailed Susan instead and asked her for an interview, noting my first sad attempt. Little did I know that I would find a fellow introvert who welcomed my questions and was kind enough to meet with me, returning to that same Barnes and Noble and indulging me in what would turn out to be a very lovely chat.
We started off talking a little bit about Susan and the start of her novelist journey. She deemed herself officially a novelist in 2014 when The Pocket Wife sold to a traditional publisher, which she had completed that same year. Susan noted that her first draft was written in about six months before going through edits and revisions that would lead to the eventual published tale.
DMG: I assume you like to read
SC: I do
DMG: What books do you enjoy reading?
SC: Right now I’m reading April Witch. It’s very dark in fact it’s a little too dark for me, have to read it in increments. I love Margaret Atwood, anything she writes. She’s able to write so many different kinds of books and people don’t care as long as she’s the one writing. Also, another favorite is Susan Minot. I like Kate Atkinson and Liane Moriarty. It is helpful to read other writers that write similar genres so you can say ‘oh, this works!’
DMG: Your Amazon author profile mentioned reading mysteries in a hammock as a child, what mysteries did you read?
SC: All of the Nancy Drew books, really.
After enumerating the ways that reading aids a writer, we turned to The Pocket Wife.
DMG: What part came to you first? A scene, a character, the plot?
SC: Before I knew anything else, I knew there was going to be a dead body.
DMG: Did Dana come from anywhere in particular?
SC: She did. I’ve been very close to bipolar people before, so I had sympathy and empathy for them. I thought it would be interesting because we always look in at the person with, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and try to see what they’re thinking and judge them, you know ‘what are they going to do next’. And I thought it would be interesting to switch that around and try to show the world from the perception of the bipolar person instead of the bipolar person from the perception of the world.
DMG: One of the things I most enjoyed about The Pocket Wife was this aspect, most interested because of it
DMG: What about Jack Moss’s character? The empathy he seems to have for Dana or someone like her?
SC: I think people are very intolerant of most people with mental illness, which is why so many of them are living on the street, and then we put them down for asking for money. I wanted to show the humanity in Jack Moss. He’s in this position of authority and has, not much power but some power, in the situation at least, and he’s flawed. He’s screwed up his relationships with two women, and two sons and one of them died. And also to show that things that happen to us fleetingly when we’re young, and these things stay, often and make an impression. He had seen someone – maybe it was Dana maybe it was someone like Dana, but it made an impression on him that probably helped him to be a better cop and detective.
DMG: So I was curious, did you actively decide to use present tense or did it just start coming out that way?
SC: I just do it. The next book is also in present tense. I’m not quite sure. Maybe because with suspense it seems a little more immediate, especially with Dana who is so frenetic.
DMG: Did you learn anything in particular from writing this book, The Pocket Wife?
SC: I learned something about suspense writing by reading other suspense writers and I learned that it’s really a fun genre to write. And then the whole publishing world was an education.
On the subject of publishing and Susan’s writing process:
DMG: What influenced your decision for traditional publishing?
SC: I just never thought about any other way. I didn’t have the money, for one thing to do the vanity press or the personality to be out there selling my books. If it hadn’t been picked up, I would have continued to write.
DMG: What steps did you take to get published traditionally?
SC: Well I’m a member of the Atlanta Writer’s Club and once or twice a year they have a conference. Writers can go meet agents and editors. So that’s what I did, and found a fantastic agent.
DMG: Do you have a favorite writing spot?
SC: I like, my daughter’s old bedroom, it’s sort of a small room. And it’s upstairs. It’s a really silly place because the computer is on this old desk and there’s a window right there so of course I can’t work there because the light comes through. So I have a shade over the window and I have a quilt over the shade. It would probably be smarter to find a different spot but…that’s how I write.
DMG: What about music?
SC: I do like music, but it can’t be something so interesting that it takes my mind off work, so sometimes I work without music. Classic music is best, no lyrics.
DMG: What do you have the most difficulty with when you’re writing?
SC: The phone. If you’re not at work you’re not at work, so people think I’m more available, probably, than I am. To say nothing of telemarketers and just sort of random phone calls so I often work with the phone off the hook, and then when I take a break I’ll check my messages.
I’m not a terribly disciplined person so scheduling is key. What I do usually is get up, feed the cats, and then start working. People will say they have writer’s block, or only certain times of the day they can work, I don’t feel that way. I feel like there’s always something that can be put down. Even if I throw it out later.
On Susan’s upcoming novel and current writing project
DMG: So you’re next book is also a mystery/thriller type novel, but you said you like writing literary fiction. Do you think mystery/suspense is kind of where you’re leaning towards now?
SC: That’s an interesting question. I think…I like to combine them. I’m not sure I would say I wrote literary fiction because that’s such a nebulous term. I mean what does it really mean, I just really like characters. I like to develop the characters. So my emphasis is on the characters which I think then throws it into that genre of literary fiction. I do that with the suspense as well though. So the concentration is on the characters.
DMG: I definitely saw that in the Pocket Wife
DMG: What can you tell me about The Other Widow other than it comes out in April? The synopsis on the HarperCollins website was really intriguing. Can’t wait for April!
SC: It’s told from three points of view. One is the widow (the wife), the other is his girlfriend (the other widow), I wanted to make her a sympathetic character, not overly so but realistic instead of just somebody out there that steals people’s husbands, not this diabolical character. And then the third point of view is the insurance investigator.
DMG: What about what you’re working on now?
SC: I don’t have a title for what I’m writing right now.
DMG: Is it another suspense type?
SC: It is…I’m only at the beginning of it so it’s still forming, not quite sure where it’s going to go. Sort of feeling my way through it, with the help of the characters who do often sort of tell the story because of who they are. Being who they are, they will only do certain things so that when they come together it makes for a certain kind of scene, which is interesting. But right now we’re all flailing around.
Don’t forget to order your own copy of The Other Widow when it comes out in April!