01 August 2006

Author Answers with Susan McBride

Say hey to this week's author -- Susan McBride.

McBride is the author of the Debutante Dropout Mysteries, and her newest book, Night of the Living Deb, is slated for release in January 2007. The series starts with Blue Blood, The Good Girl's Guide to Murder and the Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club -- all the books feature plucky heroine and amateur detective Andy Kendricks. McBride's also starting to work on a YA series, "The Debs."

She's got a website here and she's also a regular contributor to The Lipstick Chronicles.

WORD NERD: Place you do most of your writing:
MCBRIDE: I have a spare bedroom in my condo which I've dubbed my writing room, and that's where I work. I finally took the time to paint and spiff it up a year ago, and it was worth it. It's such a comfortable space. Though I'm about to move into a new house, and I've already picked out my new writing room. So I get to do the painting and decorating all over again!

WN: What’s your writing process like from when you get an idea to when it gets published?
MCBRIDE: I'm on a book-a-year schedule with HarperCollins right now, which means I stay a year ahead of myself. So I'll be finishing the fifth book in my Debutante Dropout Mystery series by the end of December, just about when the fourth book, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB, comes out. I start mulling over ideas for the next book early on, well before I sit down to write. Once I let the story stew in my head for long enough--usually several months--I start getting itchy. Then I know it's time to rock and roll. In between writing, I'm often promoting, and I travel a good five to six months of the year doing mystery conventions, book festivals, bookstore and library events, whatever I can fit in my schedule. I don't think most people realize how much of a writer's life is spent on the road. With me, right now, it's about half the time (which is too much!).

WN: Why did you decide to become a writer?
MCBRIDE: I was always a writer, I think. I tell people it was in my blood. I started reading very early on, and I always surrounded myself with books. My mom has found short stories I wrote throughout grade school, and I have three books I wrote in fifth grade. I even loved the feel of writing longhand, even if it was just a grocery list. When I was 19, between transferring from the University of Texas to the University of Kansas, I had an epiphany during a car trip. I heard these words in my head: I will write a book. I took time off school and wrote a 700-page historical romance, which made the rounds of editors in New York and garnered some very encouraging rejections. That was it. That's all it took. I knew from that moment on that I was meant to write. I was hooked.

WN: How long did you have to work to get published and what made you keep working at it until your name was on the cover of a book?
MCBRIDE: I wrote a manuscript a year for nearly eleven years after I graduated from college before I signed a traditional publishing contract. It was a long, hard road but I would never have given up, not for anything or anyone. I found agents for various manuscripts, so I always had hope that something would sell. I never stopped writing either, starting a new book as soon as I finished one. It was great practice, as I wrote in different genres and different points of view, until I found my voice. I have total faith in my ability to finish projects, too, which helps tremendously when you have publisher-imposed deadlines. I remember, though, a family friend approaching me at my grandmother's funeral, when I'd gone ten years and ten manuscripts without selling, and he said, "Don't you think it's time you gave up?" That infuriated me and only made me want to work harder. Years later, after I was published, his mother came to one of my signings and bought him a book. I inscribed it with, "Sometimes dreams do come true." I should've added, "Take that, you big jerk!" When you'd just as soon stop breathing as stop writing, nothing anyone says will convince you to stop. I couldn't. I didn't. Now I'm finishing up my second contract with HarperCollins with a third looming on the horizon! (And another deal in the works that hopefully will become public soon--exciting!)

WN: Since your bio says you no longer live in Texas, how much research do you have to do to make Andy Kendrick’s adventures in Dallas believable for somebody who knows that area? What other sorts of things do you have to research when you are writing a novel?
MCBRIDE: I lived in Texas for half my life--Houston for eleven years and in Dallas for nine--so it's not hard to make my settings believable. The basic things haven't changed much: where the rich folks live, where the malls are, where the big-name hotels and restaurants are located. I can go online and look up information, which is great, plus I try to get back once a year. If I can't, I rely on friends to tell me what's what. Researching the Debutante Dropout Mysteries are a hoot, because their storylines often relate to subjects I'm interested in. I hate Hooters restaurants, so I offed the owner of a fictional restaurant called Jugs in BLUE BLOOD. The debutante dropout, Andy Kendricks, ends up working undercover in hot-pants in order to clear a friend arrested for the murder. In THE GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER, I kill off a Martha Stewart type character who's a friend of Andy's socialite mom, Cissy. I'd watched one too many of Martha's specials at that point and was feeling woefully inadequate, so that felt good. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB, set for a January release, starts out in a strip club...a real strip club in Dallas. A friend of mine generously agreed to accompany me so I could see the place and describe it. I'm researching plastic surgery (did you know Dallas is the plastic surgery capital of the world?), Botox parties, and related issues for TOO PRETTY TO DIE, which I'm just a few pages into. So basically, if I'm intrigued by something I hear about or read about in the news, it can blossom into the idea for a novel.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
MCBRIDE: Hmmm, that's a toughie, as I've read many influential books that have inspired me. High on my list is GONE WITH THE WIND, because it's such a fabulous example of pure story-telling ability. Margaret Mitchell knew how to spin a yarn, that's for sure. Lately, books like Mark Salzman's LYING AWAKE and Margot Livesey's EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE have proved inspiring just because the prose is so beautiful and lyrical. I love writing that's rich in voice. I can read those books over and over again, finding new things to admire every time.

WN: If you had to live the life of one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
MCBRIDE: I already feel like I'm living Andy Kendricks's life in many ways! She's always been an outsider, a simple girl brought up in a world of privilege who wants nothing more than to live her own life. I was forever the new kid in school, as my family moved around a lot when I was growing up, so I can identify with the feeling of not fitting in. I hung out with rich kids in high school and college (the idea for the Debutante Dropout Mysteries originally sprung from memories of watching the Dallas debutantes in my sorority practice curtsies during study hall); but I never wanted to be one of them. When things go right in my life--like finding a wonderful guy!--Andy's fictional life always ends up reflecting that. Writing books is my own form of therapy, I guess!

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
MCBRIDE: As far as the technical side of writing, it's when in doubt, leave it out. When you're a fledging writer, every word seems so precious. You don't want to cut or change a thing. As you mature, you realize that taut, lean prose is far better than flabby, flowery prose. As Elmore Leonard said (I'm paraphrasing), "leave out whatever will bore the reader."
On a more spiritual note, it's to hang in there and continue writing if it's something you love doing. Don't listen to the naysayers and don't try to take shortcuts. If your goal is to be traditionally published, as mine was, don't bend, don't cave, don't quit. It's a tough business to break into, so use your time wisely, working on finding your voice and making your writing as strong and fresh as possible. Oh, and don't listen to rules or write by formulas. Be true to yourself. Be unique. No one else can tell your story but you.

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