Susan Crandall is an award-winning women’s fiction, suspense, romance and mystery author from a small town in central Indiana. A lifelong reader, she began writing with her sister after raising her two children and retiring from her first career as a dental hygienist. Her first solo-book and first published work, Back Roads, won the RITA award for best first book, as well as two National Reader’s Choice awards in 2003. She has released eight more critically-acclaimed and award-winning novels since. Her newest release, Sleep No More, a romantic suspense thriller is out now.
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it?
I spend a lot of time pondering book ideas before I settle on one that really strikes a chord with me. I was lying awake in bed thinking one night, searching for something deeply personal that could introduce an element of danger when sleepwalking popped into my mind. (Was it because I was lying in bed? Perhaps. These things are often a mystery, even to me.) Once that idea came to me, there was simply no getting it out of my head. My daughter did a little sleepwalking when she was a small child. Even that little bit was very disturbing. What if my character’s sleepwalking had led to one of those horrible consequences that had flashed through my mind when I found her sleepwalking? Oh, yeah. Now I was off and running.
SLEEP NO MORE deals with a woman so emotionally scarred by events that happened during her childhood sleepwalking that it shaped her entire life. Although Abby Whitman been sleepwalking-free for years, the stress of her mother’s recent death and her worry over her father’s mental health has triggered her disorder once again – confirming that she’d been right in her decision to live alone, isolating herself to prevent harm to others.
One night she awakens behind the wheel at the scene of a fatal accident on a deserted country road. The victim is a prominent senator’s son. As the investigation begins, it becomes clear that there was someone else at the scene of that accident; someone who will do anything to prevent Abby from telling what she saw. However, Abby has no recollection because she’d been sleep-driving. Threats and close calls ensue.
Abby goes to family friend and psychiatrist, Jason Coble to try and recover her memory. Although he knows that if Abby had been sleepwalking she has no memories to recover from this event, he sees that she needs help to solve other family issues. He agrees to help her, but only as a friend, not a professional. Jason is struggling with his own issues of professional inadequacy and family trauma. Somehow these two people find a way to help one another work through their issues, but the real danger lurks in places unseen, driven by secrets worth killing for.
Are you a full-time writer or do you have another job?
I’m very fortunate to be a full time writer. When I began writing, I was a stay-at-home mom. Luckily at just the right time, when I was ready to return to the work force, BACK ROADS sold to Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing). Since then I’ve devoted myself one-hundred percent to writing.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
Oh my, I never, never outline. Tried it once and it almost killed my creativity completely. While not a total stream-of-consciousness process, I do write instinctively (or as some would call it, by the seat of my pants). I give a lot of thought to character development and have the main plot idea in my head before I begin. Those elements then guide the course of the book. When I know what my characters would logically do in a circumstance, it makes the story flow more naturally for me.
Sometimes I spend weeks coming up with the perfect opening line before I can actually sit down and write the book. I know that’s really silly, but it’s how my brain works. I write in a very linier fashion, can’t go to the next scene until I have this one near perfect.
As a rule, my secondary characters spring up as I write. But that wasn’t so in SLEEP NO MORE. When I began this story I knew the secondary characters were going to play significant roles, so I had them (their motivations, back stories and how they would affect the plot) thought out ahead of time.
What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
I find it crucial to read good writing and watch lots of movies to keep my muse fed. I like listening to music, either dramatic or with phenomenal lyrics, before I sit down to work. I must have complete silence when I write. One of my secret weapons to get my mind going is going is getting on the lawn tractor and cutting the grass. We have an acre, so it takes over two hours. During that time of constant white noise, amazing things happen in my mind. It’s a little rough in the winter here in Indiana though, so long hot showers sometimes work in cold weather.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
I took the most conventional route to finding my publisher – through a literary agent. The process of finding an agent is much the same as finding a publisher. Do your research and put together your wish list. Query with a one page letter. If they’re interested, you’ll submit material and it goes from there. And brace yourself, rejections most likely will come. We all have them. It’s a process to find the right match.
These days it’s very difficult to get a major NY publisher to look at your work without an agent (most of you in the hunt for a publisher most likely already know this). So if a major traditional publishing house is your target, search for a really great agent – and by this I don’t mean one with just a good reputation. It takes much more for an agent to serve you well. Don’t settle for an agent who is lukewarm about your work, whose offer for representation is less than ecstatic (and I mean the kind of effusive enthusiasm that leaves you red-cheeked and your heart racing when you get off the telephone). A lukewarm agent can tie up your work for months and even years with slow and careless submissions to a publisher. Hold out for an agent who is right for you and your work. It’ll be worth it.
Do you think a critique group is essential for a writer?
I think it depends on what kind of writer you are. I do belong to a critique group, but finding the right fit is key. For me, that took a few false starts. You have to be willing to walk away if you’re not able to give and receive criticism that adds to your creative process.
You also have to take the suggestions offered and evaluate them, test them for validity in your writing. You can’t jump at every suggestion without killing your special voice and writing yourself entirely out of your own book. Critique groups are a good way to help you find errors, uncover plot, motivation and character inconsistencies, things like that. If you’re working with someone who wants to rewrite your work, you’re with the wrong group.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
My website is http://www.susancrandall.net There people can find more about my books, read excerpts and reviews, and discover some things that never make it between the covers of the finished product. I also have video interviews posted that some might find interesting. I’m working on adding a “for writer’s” section that will have tips for submitting your work to agents and publishers. It should be up in the next month.