Thursday, August 12, 2010

7 Questions For: Author Susan Runholt

Award-winning Susan Runholt, author of the Kari and Lucas mystery series (click for my review), shares her teenage heroines' love of art and travel and commitment to feminism. She has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and Africa, and lived in Amsterdam and Paris, working as a bank clerk and an au pair. She's also been a waitress, a maid, a motel desk clerk, a laundress, a caterer, and director of programming for South Dakota Public Television.

For the past two decades she has lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she serves as a fundraising consultant for social service and arts organizations. She was named runner-up for the Debut Dagger Award by the Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain for The Mystery of the Third Lucretia (Kari + Lucas Mystery).

And now Susan Runholt faces the 7 Questions:

Question One: What are your top three favorite books?

Okay, everybody cheats. We know this. But if I'm going to cheat, I need plenty of scope. So I'm going to make a list by age range, cheating as I go.

My favorites in, say, fourth and fifth grades: the Nancy Drews, Trixie Beldens and Betsy Tacy books. Oh, and The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.

By sixth and seventh grades: Some of the earlier favorites plus Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. Oh, and that's when I discovered Mary Stewart and Sherlock Holmes.

What I keep re-reading now: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, Mary Stewart, the Rumpole stories and, when I need comforting, Miss Read. Oh, and mysteries by Marsh, Caudwell, Beaton, Leon, Allingham, Francis, Brett, and on and on and on.

Question Two: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I probably spend 15 to 20 hours per week actually writing, and about that same amount of time on the business of being an author: appearances, maintaining a web presence, doing research,corresponding with fans, attending my writers' group, etc. I also have a day job and -- and this is more relevant than one might think -- I'm single. So I have to go to the bank and the grocery store, take out the garbage, walk the dog, pay the bills...

I'm reading more these days because I've discovered that if I'm going to stay healthy, I have to take time to relax. I try to read for at least a half hour before going to bed, and I usually get in six or seven hours on Sundays. That's not counting the audio books I consume by the dozens as I drive, clean my house, walk the dog and deal with almost anything that has to do with finances.

Question Three: What was the path that led you to publication?

I had been writing for 18 years when I learned about the Debut Dagger Awards given by the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. Our CWA bestows Edgars, their equivalent is the Dagger. And the Debut Dagger is a category the Crime Writers of America don't have: manuscripts by previously unpublished authors. It's open to anyone who meets their qualification for unpublished, writing in the crime genre in the English language anywhere in the world.

I submitted The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, which emerged as Highly Commended -- essentially second place, but it is only awarded when they believe the field of submissions is particularly strong. I'm not certain, but I think mine was the first manuscript for young readers ever honored by the Debut Dagger committee.

As it happens, one of the judges was an agent for ICM, which at that time had an office in London. She referred me to Tina Wexler (click for an interview) , her colleague in the New York office, who reviewed and accepted my manuscript. Tina managed to get a mini-bidding war going, and the book was finally placed with Viking.

An interesting side note. My manuscript was highly commended by the Debut Dagger committee in 2005. In 2008, a manuscript by the wonderfully talented Charlie Rethwich (pen name C.J. Harper), another member of my writers' group, earned the same honor. Same honor, same writers' group, Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA -- what are the odds?

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I believe a writer is born with the ability to create a story, just as a composer is born with the ability to write music. One indication is the perennial fan question: "Where do you get your ideas?" This question tends to leave many writers speechless. The answer seems so obvious. Of course we get our ideas from our imagination.

(Interesting that I don't get this question from the young people I meet. Kids are still close enough to their imagination not to have to ask.)

I also believe that writers need to be taught, and, if they are to succeed, must learn to take criticism and become a better writer because of it.

Question Five: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

I love getting lost in the story. I love it when my characters come alive and start behaving in ways I couldn't have predicted. I love fan mail. But the single best thing is traveling to do research in the places I write about. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Scotland, Kenya -- what's not to like?

My least favorite thing, hands down, is working with voice activated software, which I have to do because of repetitive stress issues. Imagine having to write an entire manuscript this way:

Open quote Lucas all caps that exclamation point close quote I screamed period open quote look out exclamation point close quote new paragraph the cap jaguar missed her by inches period

In print this would look like:

"LUCAS!" I screamed. "Look out!"

The Jaguar missed her by inches.

That's not even including the problem of the mistakes the program makes. And as wonderful as Dragon NaturallySpeaking is, it still makes lots of mistakes.

Question Six: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

To succeed as a writer you need to do five things.

1) Read everything you can, preferably including Shakespeare and the King James version of the Bible.

2) Write. Preferably every day, whether you think you have it in you or not.

3) Finish your projects. You'll never get anything published if you don't get anything finished.

4) Take criticism. (See above.)

5) Persevere. Even when it's a drag.

Question Seven: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Jane Austen. I want to find out how on earth she managed to write such incredibly wonderful books with only the barest minimum of plot. Frankly, the thought of so much talent makes me tired.

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