10 Questions for mystery writer Susan Finlay. Follow her on Facebook, visit her blog, or visit her publisher's website.
Hi, Susan! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
Hi, Mary! I have been writing for nine years. When I began, I told my husband I didn’t care if I ever got published. I just wanted a hobby, and I wanted to see if I could write a novel. The stories had always swirled around in my head, from the time I first started reading, and I wanted learn how to bring them to life.
I began reading every book about writing. (By the way, I still read the books, always looking for new techniques and ideas.) I used my husband’s computer for a few months, and then we bought a new laptop computer for me to use.
Flash forward a couple of years: I was still writing, but with a determination that one day I will be a good writer and will get published.
Before I knew you as Susan Finlay, I met you as Greenleaf on Authonomy, an online writer’s community run by HarperCollins. How did you come across the website? What was your experience like?
Although I’d been writing for almost eight years by then, I needed readers and feedback, so I searched for local writing/critique groups, first. Finding none, I searched for online groups and found a website that listed the most popular writing groups. The website summarized each group and provided links to them. I tried out three groups, briefly, but was disappointed. Then, at the beginning of January, 2012, I signed up for Authonomy and uploaded some chapters of my suspense novel, Chameleon.
The site gave me readers and feedback, and helped me improve my writing. But there was a bonus I didn’t expect. On Authonomy’s forum, I met and socialized with writers from all over the world. Some of us got together and started genre-specific critique groups on the forum, which helped us improve our books even more.
Although I only visit the site occasionally now, I have maintained the friendships I made on Authonomy. We even have a Facebook group where three hundred of us (current and former Authonomites) socialize and discuss writing. I would love to name all of those friends here, but the list would be too long. The friends I can’t forget to mention are the extremely talented authors, Zoe Harris and Sammy HK Smith. They introduced me to their amazing editor, Robert Peett, around the end of March 2012. He became my editor, as well. I, in turn, introduced some other writers to Robert. I learned that writers help one another. It’s one of the things I love about the writing community.
What is your opinion on digital books versus printed books? Do you agree with the doomsayers who believe bookstores are dying?
It looks like digital books are becoming more popular than printed books, but I hope that printed books and bookstores won’t die. My husband, daughter, and I do not have ebook readers. We still want the real thing—a book with pages we can physically touch and smell.
As a writer, I spend too much time looking at a computer screen. I read books on my computer (mostly my own books, but others, too). I need a break from the screen. Also, I’ve found that when I print off pages of a book from my computer, and read them, there is a difference. I notice things that I didn’t notice before.
Your mystery novel, The Outsiders, will be released by Grey Cells Press soon. Can you tell us a bit about your book? What inspired you to write it?
The Outsiders is set in a tiny French village modeled after a real place. I chose that setting because of the caves that lie in the hillside beneath and behind the village. Researching the area, I discovered that there’s a whole labyrinth of caves and that people known as troglodytes used to live in them. Over the last forty years, modern homes have been built into the caves. Even some of the houses that look normal on the outside are connected to the cave system in the back. What that means is that almost everyone in the village can access the caves undetected from the outside (at least in my setting). This gave me the idea for my mystery novels—The Outsiders (Book 1) and Provenance (Book 2).
In The Outsiders, Dave Martin is a former cop from Chicago, who travels to Reynier, France, to take care of his sick grandmother. There, he meets a mysterious young woman, Maura Barrington. She has a secret that she’s desperate to hide from him, but the detective in Dave can’t stop trying to figure out what’s going on.
There’s a lot of information out there about how to submit to publishers, but not much on what happens once you get the coveted contract. Can you share some of your experiences with working with a publisher?
Well, I think each author’s experience will differ. For me, I already knew this publisher before I signed with them. That was a huge help, because I knew I could work well with them. I also knew the editor’s abilities, methods, and time schedule. I could trust his instincts when it came to content editing, and I knew that I could communicate with him.
I sent him the full manuscript and he read it, then we discussed the plot and came up with some ideas for revision. Now, I’m rewriting portions of it and he’s line-editing those chapters. It’s working great and I’m very happy with the edits.
When it comes to looking for a publisher, my advice is to do some research before you accept an offer. Find out whether you’ll be happy with them, by asking them questions and by looking at the basic discussions about your book and the quality of the work they’ve done (already published).
At some point or another, all writers come across the “rules” of contemporary writing: no adverbs, no dialogue tags, show don’t tell, etc. In your opinion, how important are they to writing? Are there any that you particularly adhere to?
I’ve read so many books about writing. I used to think I had to follow the rules. Now I consider them guidelines. I use adverbs, but in moderation. Same with dialogue tags. If I can leave out the tags, I will. My own personal rule regarding dialogue tags is that I only use “said” or “asked” along with he/she or the character’s name. I never use replacements for said or asked. As for show don’t tell, I try to do that when I’m writing a scene, but sometimes all I need is a summary and not a full scene.
For me, the one rule I try to always follow is”one scene, one POV.” I write in close third person POV and I don’t “head hop.” It makes it more difficult sometimes, and I see other writers who change point of view mid-scene and it works for them. I’m just fussy about it in my own work. That may be because I write mysteries. If the reader knew what all the characters were thinking, some of the mystery would be lost.
Are there any books or writers who have especially influenced your writing?
My favorite writers are Diana Gabaldon, Elizabeth George, and Tess Gerritsen. They all write in different styles. I don’t copy any of them, but use them as good examples. Other writers I admire are Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Victoria Holt, and Peter Robinson.
If you could meet any book character, who would it be, and what would you do with them?
Well, I’ve thought about this question a lot since I first read it. It’s funny, because the characters I would be most interested in meeting aren’t from books that I’ve read, but from books my husband reads. I know the characters almost as well as he does since the books are based on the television series, “Star Trek.” I would love to meet Captain Kirk, Captain Picard, and all the rest of their crew members, because I feel like they are longtime friends.
Of everything you’ve ever written, whether it’s to be published or not, what’s your favorite piece or scene?
One of my early novels is Cobblestone. It’s set in Bavaria, and the main characters accidentally get transported back in time to the eighteenth-century. Several of my favorite scenes are in that book, and that’s why I am considering rewriting it. One scene has them hiding out in a dark cellar on their first night after they time-travel. The man, Max, sneaks out after nightfall and steals one of the oil lamps hanging from ropes across the streets.
What books are you currently reading?
I’m reading Breathing Life Into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon, The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey, and A Good American by Alex George.