Hey all! Welcome to another fortnightly interview. Today I welcome Susan Rocan to my blog.
Hey Susan, thanks so much for hanging out with me on MFB. Why don’t you tell everyone a bit about yourself?
I’m Canadian, specifically from Manitoba, which seems to be the heart of the Young Adult market, these days. This works very well for me, because that’s what I am most known for – my YA fiction – and where my publisher is situated. Great Plains Publications has produced both of my YA novels, ‘Withershins’ and ‘Spirit Quest’, which are time travel tales set in Manitoba during the mid-1800s.
Withershins sounds like a fascinating idea. Where did it come from?
It began when my writers group and I were brainstorming short story ideas for a new anthology we wanted to produce. It was supposed to come out around Hallowe’en, so we were discussing scary stories. I suddenly remembered a time when I was 18. I was with three friends at the oldest church in western Canada late one Friday evening when one of them suggested we try the withershins, although at the time we didn’t even know it had a name! I was too chicken to finish the third circle around the church, but speculated what might happen if my character did it. The result was two novels where it started simply as a short story.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
The answer is simply, ‘no’. I never seriously considered it growing up, although I always enjoyed creative writing in school and I did write in a diary as a teenager – you know, the usual angst stuff. I did always want to work with kids and ended up with two Bachelor degrees, one majoring in Speech Pathology and Audiology, the other in Elementary Education. Both career paths involve words and language, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would become a wordsmith!
What got you to start writing?
Well, I started writing when my youngest child began going to school – about 18 years ago. That was about the time when my husband and I got interested in an old British SciFi show called ‘Blake’s 7’. The series ended with all the heroes being killed, apparently, in an ambush by their arch enemy. That bothered me more than you’d expect. I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to save the heroes and finally came up with a satisfying conclusion. I wrote it all out then decided there was no point to it, but I really liked the characters that I had created to help the ‘Blake’s 7′ crew and decided to write a story that revolved around them. When it was done, I joined the Manitoba Writers’ Guild. In one of their newsletters was a call for ‘fan fiction’. I had never heard of it, so I called up the woman looking for stories for her ‘fanzine’ and submitted my original ‘Blake’s 7’ story. She liked it and it was published in her fanzine. Her husband ran a writers group and, since he really like my story & writing style, asked if I’d like to join. By that time I had a couple of novels written, so wanted their feedback. I said, ‘yes!’
Their critiques were rather brutal, but I learned a lot from them. By the time my ideas for ‘Withershins’ came along, my writing had improved considerably. They loved it and helped me improve on the initial premise. One of the members practiced wicca and gave me some insight into magical ways. Their group disbanded before I finished writing it, but I was fortunate to have another group who helped me polish it all up and helped me through the synopsis stage and inquiry letter. I have both groups to thank for the hours they spent helping me perfect my stories.
Brutal crits can be best, as long as they’re not intended to be mean. What was the best lesson that you learnt from being critiqued?
That no matter how good you think your manuscript is there’s always room for improvement. My hubby read my very first story and questioned certain scenes. I got very defensive, trying to argue why I wrote it a certain way. Once I thought about what he’d said, I realized he had legitimate concerns. If he questioned parts of the story, other readers would probably feel the same – and I couldn’t defend their criticisms! After that first critique experience, my hubby hesitated to read my future work. He and my first writer’s group helped me realize the importance of taking criticism in the spirit to which it was given – to help make the manuscript the best it can be. I respected their opinions because they had been writing a lot longer than I had, at that point. It’s never easy to have your ‘baby’ criticized, but if you want your readers to read more of your work, some changes will inevitably need to be made.
So true. How do you deal with cutting your baby? (Editing out scenes?)
It’s a matter of deciding what is not going to progress the plot. It may be a wonderful scene about picking daisies in a field, but what does it have to do with the plot or character development? If it’s just a scene for the sake of a scene, no matter how eloquently you described it, cut it out!
I don’t trash all the scenes I delete, though. They are all on a file somewhere on my computer in case I need something similar for character development, like if the character is stressed and needs to chill, I would adjust the daisy scene to show that she is trying to unwind, or is learning how to de-stress. I know that’s a silly example, but I hope you get my drift.
With ‘Withershins’ I have about four different versions, especially the beginnings. At first, I wanted to dump a lot about my lead character’s background at the beginning, scenes like being in history class and how it was so boring, which would have bored the reader, so I completely cut out the first chapter, jumping into the scene where they were actually on their way to the church.
I handle my edits like that too. I save every draft and every round. Do you plan your plot ahead or do you pants your way through a draft?
For my published work it was mostly by the seat of my pants. I was so focussed that every morning, I had pretty much the whole next chapter in my head. There were scenes that I would have to divert my attention to research, but for the most part, It was a day-by-day process with no real plan in mind except the ending.
I also keep the ending in my head. How much time do you spend on writing?
When I wasn’t working, I spent several hours every morning once the kids went to school, until they came home for lunch. Sometimes, if I was on a roll, I would continue once they headed back to school. Nowadays, my writing times have been more sporadic, catching an hour or two whenever I can.
What’s your favorite part about writing?
When I’m so immersed in the story that the characters practically write themselves.
Aah I love that too. Last but not least, where can people find you on the internet?
My blog can be found here. My books are available through Amazon, at Chapters (at least, in Canada) and McNally Robinson Booksellers. My twitter handle is @SusanRocan. I do have a ‘Withershins’ Facebook page, too, which can be found here.
Thanks again for the great interview!
To the readers I ask: What got you writing?