10 Jul Episode 219: Find Your Character’s #WishSong with Susan Wiggs
We have trouble believing you haven’t already heard of our guest this week, Susan Wiggs, but just in case—she’s the author of many many novels, a multiple #1 New York Times bestseller and an overall amazing storyteller. Her current novel, The Lost and Found Bookshop, is on sale now and her most recent bestseller, The Oysterville Sewing Circle, is just out in paperback.
We talk crafting a story, starting from the emotional journey versus the physical plot, building a character, choosing a setting and our collective addiction to writing books, and Susan reveals that she does indeed read fiction while she’s writing fiction—and it’s a good thing, too, because her reading list is long indeed.
Links from the Pod
Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman
This American Life, Promised Land (the “I Wish” song episode)
#AmReading (all Susan, and you’ll see why)
Aging in Place by Aaron D Murphy
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
On Ocean Boulevard by Mary Alice Monroe
House Lessons by Erica Bauermeister
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
Sabrina and Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
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KJ Dell’Antonia 0:00
Hey, fellow writers this week we’ve got an outright amazing conversation with Susan Wiggs. Many, many times bestselling author of many, many novels, who really knows how to construct a story. And when getting the work done doesn’t just take talent and dedication, but an understanding of the craft of creating a story. If you’d like to work with someone who understands that craft, head over to Author Accelerator and look into finding the right book coach for your work, or if craft is your jam, learn more about becoming a book coach yourself at authoraccelerator.com. Is it recording?
Jess Lahey 0:36
Now it’s recording.
KJ Dell’Antonia 0:39
This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone and try to remember what I’m supposed to be doing.
Jess Lahey 0:43
Alright, let’s start over.
KJ Dell’Antonia 0:44
Awkward pause. I’m gonna rustle some papers. Okay, now one, two, three. Hey, I’m KJ Dell’Antonia. And this is #AmWriting. #AmWriting is the podcast, the weekly podcast, about writing all things, fiction, nonfiction, short things, long things, pitches, proposals, everything you have to write before anybody lets you write anything. And in short, this is the podcast about sitting down and getting that work done.
Sarina Bowen 1:16
And this is Sarina Bowen. I’m the author of 35 romance novels. You can always find more about me at sarinabowen.com.
KJ Dell’Antonia 1:26
And I am KJ Dell’Antonia, the author of the novel The Chicken Sisters, and also the book How to Be a Happier Parent, former editor of the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, and still sometimes a contributor there. And we are so excited to welcome our guest this week. This is the first guest we’ve ever had that has rivaled Sarina in prolificness. We’re so excited to welcome Susan Wiggs. She is the author of (I think I counted 37 but as soon as I let her talk, I’m gonna check) novels, multiple number one New York Times’ bestseller and an overall amazing storyteller. When you pick up a Susan Wiggs book, you know that you’re getting a fully built world and a story that’s going to grab you and hold you tight and that you’re going to be sorry when it lets you go. Her current novel is The Lost and Found Bookstore. And she’s also got another novel just out in paperback – The Oysterville Sewing Circle. That one’s just out right now. Am I right?
Susan Wiggs 2:29
That’s correct. It’s just out in a paperback, the book club edition just came out.
KJ Dell’Antonia 2:35
Ooh, cool. I love the whole book club edition and this edition.
Susan Wiggs 2:41
I just love book clubs in general. So yeah, thank you so much for having me. This is such a thrill to talk to somebody who’s not a fictional character.
KJ Dell’Antonia 2:51
Yeah, we don’t do much of that right now either. They’re either fictional characters or they live in our house, that’s all we got. So yeah, we are really excited – so, how many books is it before I even get started?
Susan Wiggs 3:02
Oh, I knew you’re gonna ask me that. And you know what? To be honest, I don’t have a count. But I can tell you my first book was published in 1987. Huntington Zebra books, and I’ve published a book or two every year since. And so I’ve stopped doing the math. I just write my next book.
KJ Dell’Antonia 3:27
But we will ask, you just because our listeners always want to know. How did you get started? Tell us how that first 1987 book happened, travel back in time with us.
Susan Wiggs 3:40
You know what, you always remember your first time and I’ll just leave it at that. I’ll leave that to your imagination. But honestly, I was a young teacher just out of graduate school. I got myself through graduate school by reading really big, thick, romance novels, you know, the real bodice rippers all through the 80’s. And so yeah, I had such a taste for them, and such an affection for them and a love for the form that I just wrote one. And I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote it on a typewriter. I didn’t know about any writer’s associations. I knew Writer’s Digest, I was a subscriber to Writer’s Digest, I always knew that I wanted to write and so I wrote a book called Texas Wildflower and I wrote it on a typewriter. It was this huge, unwieldy pile of pages. I was very proud of it, but I didn’t know what to do with it. And so somehow, I wormed my way onto an editor’s desk at Kensington Books, which had and probably still prints Zebra, Pinnacle, various ones like that and they’re still up and going, and the editor’s name was Wendy McCurdy, and she’s still in the business. I believe she may be back at Kensington now. Anyway, she was delightful. You know, very young, probably as young as I was at the time, editor who called me up in the middle of a very busy life. I had a toddler, and dogs, and a house, and a teaching job. And I was very overwhelmed. And she called me in the middle of all that and said, ‘We like your book, and we want to publish it.’ And I was just floored. Yes, I was stunned. I didn’t have an agent. And so I just said, ‘Yes, where do I sign?’ And so it’s interesting that we would be talking about this right now because one of the things that I did because I didn’t have a literary agent, I didn’t really know how to negotiate any sort of contract. And one of the biggest blunders that I made that is turning out to be kind of a very funny and happy accident was I gave them the copyright back then. And I think now copyrights revert to the author if the book is out of print and unavailable for, I believe, three to five years. And I think I signed my name to something to say it was out of print and unavailable, but they had 16 years to reprint it. And in those 16 years, my books became rather popular. And so they never wanted to revert the rights to me because I would always say the book’s not out, it’s very old, don’t you want to revert the rights to me? Because that way, the author controls his rights and creative control over that property and you know, you can resell it and things like that, but no, they kept hanging on to it. And so I’m sitting here, it is 2020 and I’m looking at a royalty check dated May 26, 2020 for that book, for Texas Wildflower that was first published in April 1987. Because they keep reissuing it, they still have it in print, they reissued it numerous times in different packaging. And as my books have evolved, the very original cover (you can probably find it on my website susanwiggs.com) was a very, very in your face bodice ripper cover. I just loved it, I thought was really cool. But as my books have become more mainstream and evolved into general fiction, or mainstream fiction, the covers look very upmarket now and rather sophisticated. It’s basically the same book – at one point I did go in and do some light editorial work, and, you know, cringing the whole time because obviously after you know, 50 something books, I’m not that same writer that wrote Texas Wildflower – and so I had some rookie moments in that book, many of them, and yet readers still, they’re drawn to something about that book. So, you know, it’s still in print. So thank you, Kensington Books for keeping me alive on your list.
KJ Dell’Antonia 5:40
That’s a great story. And I love that it is still out there. And the cover thing is really funny because we have talked to a lot of authors and we’ve seen that same evolution many times. And I know Sarina and I are both really fascinated by cover art and why publishers and authors pick one style over the other and the new trend towards the sort of drawings instead of actual pictures of people.
Susan Wiggs 8:48
All authors are obsessed with cover art. You know, even before I was published, I was designing the cover in my head, and I’m terrible at it, but I’m always gratified when I see the way that my books go out into the market because usually it’s spot on, there have been some turkeys in my repertoire – no fault of mine or the publisher, sometimes they just don’t turn out well, but the new book, The Lost and Found Bookshop, did you guys get a copy of it? Or the advanced reading copies?
KJ Dell’Antonia 9:23
Yes, and I really, really love it. But do you know what, my copy doesn’t have a cover. So I haven’t seen it.
Sarina Bowen 9:32
It’s beautiful, though. I love the cover.
Susan Wiggs 9:35
Well, the journey – that cover went through so many iterations. And the reason is that they try to build and this is a really great thing about publishers, if they’re committed to an author, they really try to build you as a brand. And so you don’t want each cover to be so unique that it doesn’t even look like it could be by the same author. And so I had a rather good hit with The Oysterville Sewing Circle last year, and one of the big pieces and one reason that that book really struck a chord was it had an incredibly striking cover. It was like stark white with this blood red spool of thread on the front with a sharp pin sticking through it. And they wanted to build on that. But I wrote about a bookshop, so there’s no sharp needles or anything. And so we really struggled with what this new book should look like so that it kind of accesses the spirit of the previous book, but also is inviting and beautiful enough to attract new readers as well. So I hope this cover does it. It hasn’t hit the shelves yet, so I guess we’ll see.
Sarina Bowen 10:43
It’s very beautiful.
KJ Dell’Antonia 10:45
Yeah, I agree. And I can see how it looks with The Oysterville Sewing Circle, I’ve just pulled it up.
Sarina Bowen 10:52
It’s a lovely analogy to that other book but I also noticed that your that Oysterville has a new cover, too. Which is also very beautiful, and sometimes publishers do that. If they don’t like a cover, but sometimes they do it just to catch the eye of people who didn’t grab it the first time.
Susan Wiggs 11:12
Yes, there’s been three iterations of the Oysterville cover. The first one with a big spool of thread was the hardcover. And then there was a mass market paperback that came out in January. And because of the timer in the pandemic time, it was widely available only in essential markets like Walmart, the places that could stay open during the pandemic. And so it sold like wildfire. In March, it was the number four New York Times’ paperback. And so there was this little paperback edition of it and then they decided for this summer to do a premium paperback, they’re called trade size paperback, and it’s a bigger edition and they add extra content in the back. I think there’s a reading group guide, and article, and a recipe, and some other materials back there to give reading groups something to chew on. And then they decided, let’s use a new image on this cover and the one that they did on that edition was actually a rejected hardcover look, you know, they they tried several looks, and they knew it was a pretty look, but they wanted to go out in trade paperback with that one. So no effort is ever wasted. That’s what I am finding out. Yeah, my agent calls it four bites at the apple because the fourth bite is the audio book. And audio books are quite a big category these days and there was a slump during pandemic but as things are opening and people are going back to work and commuting again, there’s an upturn in audio sales.
Sarina Bowen 12:12
Mm hmm. Yes, I definitely felt that audio slump in April.
KJ Dell’Antonia 13:04
I want to say, You have so many books under your belt and you were talking about how that first one is very, very different from the writer that you are now and we wanted to talk about how you go about now, structuring a new story. Because your stories are so – I’ve only read your later stuff, so I didn’t read the earlier stuff. Your stories now are so tight, and they really don’t have a lot of extraneous stuff, and I really would love to hear where you start from and I guess we’ll start with that. Where do you start when you’re looking to start a new book?
Susan Wiggs 13:54
That’s one of those things that probably didn’t change a lot from the very beginning. What inspires us, you know, something has to grab you, and it’s almost visceral. And for example, in The Lost and Found Bookshop, it was a very stark moment that I had. I was speaking with some elderly people that lived at my mother’s assisted living place, and I’m in charge of my mom’s elder care, she now lives with me. And so I do a lot of speaking with groups like that. And one question that I love to ask older people is, what if you got to have a do over, you know, what if you got to make a different decision in your life? And so, somebody said something like, ‘I would have been a meteorologist, but women weren’t allowed to do that back then.’ And I thought, wow, you know, I want to write about somebody who does get that opportunity. You know, she does get to walk away from her very steady, predictable, corporate job and life. Unfortunately, what drives her to that point is very tragic, but she does get there. And suddenly she gets to make a new blueprint for her life. And so I was very inspired by that. And I realized that with every book, even from that very, very first one, it’s a moment of profound change in a character’s life, whether it’s a decision that she has to make or some situation that’s forced on her. And so I’m most fascinated by that. And it’s always, you know, my characters, there’s a lot of variety. They come from all walks of life, but she’s usually the smartest person in the book, but she doesn’t know it. That’s the one thing I would say they have in common, but from there, the process has become not a routine for me, but definitely a journey that has familiar signposts, you know, I have to know my character and I get to know her in ways that come to me subconsciously or I consciously research her world. I build her world around her, what did she do? What does she fear? What was her family of origin? Like that’s huge for me, because I believe that people, as adults are the sum of their family of origin, good, bad, indifferent, or usually a mixture of everything. And I sort of build the character, psychologically and physically, that way. And at that point, I kind of have a sketch. It’s usually written down in sketchy notes, and then I figure out what does she want, what is her utmost desire? And I try to figure out what that is and then find ways for her to not be able to have that. I know, it’s kind of mean, but that’s where the story comes from. Because people read for the struggle, I do, you know, somebody wants something, you know, Dorothy wants to get back to Kansas or Luke Skywalker wants to destroy the Death Star. Whatever, the main character has to want something that is profoundly important to them. Whether it’s you know, to revive a failing bookstore and look after her elderly granddad, or to create a women’s support group for domestic violence survivors, which is The Oysterville Sewing Circle. There has to be a really powerful want that I believe I relate to and readers might relate to and once I have that, I’m off to the races. I sort of pick the setting, and I populate her world, and I create a plot, and I write an outline. And I say outline, it’s really just a 5-10 page present-tense narrative that I then pitch to my literary agent and my editor, sometimes separately, sometimes, simultaneously and they usually have some feedback for me. I have a writing group that I meet with regularly here on the West Coast up in Puget Sound, which is where I’m broadcasting from. And through that process, I get a roadmap for my book and then I kind of disappear with my pen and paper for about six months and I do write with pen and paper it’s kind of old school but it keeps the distractions at bay while I’m drafting the story.
KJ Dell’Antonia 18:41
Wow, I want to come back to drafting with pen and paper. But Sarina and I often talk about (I’m only on like novel number two in terms of anything I’m going to try to sell) but…
Susan Wiggs 18:53
Then you are light years ahead of 99% of everybody else, believe me.
KJ Dell’Antonia 18:58
And I don’t discount my treatment I’m super excited, my debut is coming out this summer, everything is going great. And I’m just literally, like, painful minutes away from giving the draft of the second book to my agent so we can figure out if maybe we can go out with it before the first one comes out.
Susan Wiggs 19:23
You know, every writer is convinced that all the other writers have the answer. And we always want to pick each other’s brain.
KJ Dell’Antonia 19:29
Yes, it’s easier for everyone else.
Susan Wiggs 19:30
I want to hear how everybody else does it because I’m doing something wrong because I’m so stuck right now.
KJ Dell’Antonia 19:36
Well, we often talk about whether you start from the emotional story or the plot story and it sounds like for you, it’s almost always the emotional story.
Susan Wiggs 19:46
Yes, because I have to have some sort of connection. Otherwise, I’m just writing a work report. And there’s also something that really resonated with me, it was on that one of the very first podcasts of history This American Life, probably familiar with it, with Ira Glass. I don’t remember the the specific episode but he talked about something called the wish song that appears in every Disney animated musical. The main character looks out at the landscape whether it’s in the little French town for Beauty and the Beast or in the wishing well for Snow White or whatever and they sing a song, and the song expresses their wish. And so I don’t give my character a wish song but I look for that deeply held emotional and sentimental desire, you know, the yearning that the characters expresses. And when you build the story around the character, then her emotional journey is really the plot. She has to do something she has to be in a world in a situation but her emotional journey is really where I go to get my deepest pieces of the story.
KJ Dell’Antonia 21:39
And then when you’re trying to take that emotional journey and marry it to a physical journey. Do you generally know where you’re going from the beginning? Is it hard to figure out what physical journey will best tell that emotional story? I’m sure you’re really good at by now…
Susan Wiggs 22:00
Well i don’t know but I do know that it’s the fun part for me because I love to explore different settings. There are some writers who go back to the same setting again and again and it really works for them and they get known for being a writer of a certain region or something like that. For me, I love to travel and I’m such a fan of world travel. So I love to find what will bring out the deepest aspects of this character. Is it a city, is it a beach, is a lake, is it somewhere out in the countryside? What time period is it and so I have all these different explorations that I do where I find the perfect pairing. Because some of my stories, like The Oysterville Sewing Circle, it could take place anywhere in the world. It’s a woman on a career path, who has a big complicated life situation, and she ends up forming a group for domestic violence survivors, but I ended up setting it in the most remote town in the most remote piece of beach on the Washington coast called Oysterville, because I felt like that was a metaphor for you know, this woman going out on a limb. And on the other hand, The Lost and Found Bookshop, I wanted a bookshop on like the cutest vintage street in San Francisco. Usually my setting is a place that I would love to be, a place I would love to visit. Some of my favorite books are books that make me want to go there, want to be there. So I’ve got a stack on my desk right now – I’ve got Ocean Boulevard, and there’s a beach picture, and I’ve got hello summer, and there’s another beach. We’ve got a theme going here. So the setting is something that I hope will play up aspects of the story and character in a metaphorical way. And so that’s one of the things and then the other thing that I love playing with is, as a writer, we get to live so many different lives, we get to have so many different jobs. And so every main character I’ve ever written has a job that I fantasize about. She’s a photographer, she’s a dancer, she’s a writer. Well, I don’t fantasize about that, I know the grim reality of that, but I’ve always wanted to be a bookseller. And so The Lost and Found Bookshop was gratifying for me to write about that. But we’re very lucky because we get to experience these things vicariously through our research and through the people that we write about. So it keeps it very exciting and fresh. We don’t go back to the same job day in and day out.
Sarina Bowen 25:08
Right. And a bookseller is an interesting observer of humanity in terms of who comes in to look at what. That’s a really durable archetype, which is amazing.
KJ Dell’Antonia 25:24
Hey, listeners, KJ here, before Susan tells you what she’s been reading, let me tell you, that’s a lot. Let’s talk about what you’re writing, or rather where you’re writing, Sarina and I have been loving our new Dabble Writer software. I’ve already raved about how intuitive it is, and how much we love the plotting tool. But since this episode is about beach reads, and I hope you’re finding a way to indulge in a summer getaway, I want to tell you that another cool feature of dabble is that you can use it anywhere and on any device. Online, offline, PC, Mac, Chromebook, Mobile, they all work and they’re always synched up. So the edits you jotted into your phone yesterday are right there on your desktop today. We really think you’ll like it and we’d love to hear what you think. So check it out with a free trial at dabblewriter.com and then get in touch.
Sarina Bowen 26:25
But I wanted to take you back a second to the Disney wish song because that was really interesting to me. I’m actually not a big Disney watcher, as my kids are a little older now but, I hadn’t really realized that before. And I love that you start from the character’s wish. I find when I start, and I’m wondering how you get past this, but sometimes does that wish feel a little bit thin to you until you really dig in. It’s like the chicken and an egg of character conflict.
Susan Wiggs 27:03
Absolutely, totally. And I’m always so envious when I open a book, and the character has this life or death problem or situation, because my books are really personal and they’re kind of intimate and they’re very much about a woman’s desires in her everyday life and she’s not out saving the world or vanquishing bad guys or something like that. And so my stories – until I really dig into them – feel a little every day, a little mundane. And so I’m very sensitive about that and it possibly makes me work harder, all the harder on the aspects that are really going to bring the story to life for the reader and really going to get the reader involved and behind the character. And with The Lost and Found Bookshop, one of the things that the publisher did is they sent out a lot of advance reading copies to working booksellers, or actually furloughed booksellers because of the time that we’re in, and the feedback that they got was so extraordinary that they ended up making a deck of quote cards with feedback from these booksellers. And it was really extraordinary to see how they experienced this book and what their feedback was. And so even though it was a woman who doesn’t consider herself anything special, she was really special to these readers. So I’m really hopeful that when the book goes out into the world and is not my baby anymore, the readers will relate to that.
Sarina Bowen 28:51
That’s wonderful. And as you point out, those of us who write emotional journeys, you know, some days doesn’t it seem super tempting to just kidnap your heroine on the first page?
Susan Wiggs 29:02
Yeah, it does really and you know, have her like swept away by pirates or something just to get the action going, when instead she’s got to give a presentation at work and it sucks and, you know, something like that. Actually, that’s interesting that you brought that up because my original opening scene of The Lost and Found Bookshop was pretty much exactly that. She had a work situation at her corporate job and it does not go well. And it’s very important to her. But I was concerned that the readers might not hook right into her because she’s a little challenged by the situation and she’s not a warm, fuzzy person in that moment. And that’s a little risky to do, because you want your reader to like your protagonist right from the start. And so, I was apprehensive about doing that. So what I did is I added and this is something I sometimes do, I sometimes don’t, I added a prologue. And the prologue put her in the most emotionally stressful situation I could find for her at that moment, so there’s like just a one page prologue, it’s really quick, but it’s like, everything that I wanted the reader to know about this character, so that when they turn the page, and there she is in her work meeting, and she’s sweating and nervous and that sort of thing, they can relate to her in a different way. So that was actually a writing craft moves that I made, you know, a lot of writing is inspiration and it’s art and it’s talent. But a good other segment of it is just knowing how to manipulate your craft and steer your craft towards the best experience for the reader.
Sarina Bowen 30:59
It’s been Powerful to realize at some point in your development as an author that you have got the spotlight in two hands and you can point it wherever you want.
Susan Wiggs 31:10
It is and hopefully we know what to do with that spotlight. That’s generally what revisions are for, right?
KJ Dell’Antonia 31:19
Yeah. I sometimes find myself just thinking, I don’t know, it felt kind of like this last time and it kind of worked last time. So I’m just hoping it’s working now.
Susan Wiggs 31:32
Yes. And it’s hard when you’re deep in the weeds of your draft of your novel, it’s really, really hard to have the perspective that ultimately the reader is going to have and sometimes you just have to forge ahead on faith.
KJ Dell’Antonia 31:48
So when you are lost in those weeds do you find yourself going back to that 5-10 page narrative that you mentioned at the beginning?
Susan Wiggs 31:56
Um, no, what I usually do is go pull weeds in my garden or hike with the dogs or something, and try to walk away from it for a bit. And then I also do more research, a lot of times I’m stuck at a spot in the book, and I just need to read more about the situation, you know, whether it’s more articles about elder care or more articles about this Spanish American War, which has a very weird, kind of interesting little spotlight in the book. So sometimes I just do more research. There’s a very good book, there’s so many good writing books, but one of them that was quite instructive to me a million years ago, it was called Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Al Zuckerman. He was (maybe still is) a big agent in New York, and he was Ken Follett’s agent and he talks about when you get blocked the first thing you should do is go back and do more research into your setting, and your situation, and into the character’s job. And I don’t know that that resolves it every time for me, but it’s very helpful.
KJ Dell’Antonia 33:11
I love books like that. I love books that at least just tell me something to do when I’m stuck, anything, just just give me something I can get my fingers into.
Susan Wiggs 33:24
Yeah, I’m a writing book junkie. I have probably 16 linear feet of books on writing and I have my favorites but there’s always something that I can glean from most of these. I don’t always work through them cover to cover but I love browsing through them, that’s always inspiring to me as well.
KJ Dell’Antonia 33:48
I love hearing that because I am so there. I love stuff like Save the Cat Writes a Novel and Write Your novel in 90 days and it doesn’t have to be great. I don’t know, I like dipping out and finding a roadmap from time to time, I think.
Susan Wiggs 34:06
Yeah. It goes back to writers being convinced that every other writer has a secret and they’re hiding it from us.
KJ Dell’Antonia 34:14
I do have the secrets to how other people can write them that turn out to be the problem. Well, this is a great time to shift into talking about what we have been reading. In every episode, we like to just shout out something that we’ve been enjoying lately. And so I hope you’ve had some time to read and have something in mind that’s been keeping you entertained when you’re not writing right now?
Susan Wiggs 34:46
Absolutely. I’m always reading and I’ve always got a couple of books going – one on the nightstand and one in the living room and one wherever I happen to be. And right now some of my books reflect where I am in my life. I think I mentioned that my mom has moved here, she’s 90, she’s a bit high maintenance right now. So I’m reading. Let’s see, I’ve got a stack here. I’m reading Aging in Place by Aaron D. Murphy. Not very interesting, except when you need it. But the other one that I just love, and I’ve read it before, but I’m rereading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Medicine and What Matters in the End. And then for light hearted reading, I have the new Mary Kay Andrews, Hello, Summer, was just published. And a good friend of mine, Mary Alice Monroe has a new book out called On Ocean Boulevard. And it’s like the ultimate summer read. It looks like I haven’t started it yet, but I’m looking forward to that one. I have a book here that is a memoir. Because one of the things that my husband does, he does a lot of things, he’s a designer, but one thing that he’s been doing is he’s been renovating old houses. And he’s not really a flipper because he renovates them beautifully and then sells them or rents them. But anyway, I’m very preoccupied with old houses these days. So I found this book House Lessons by Erica Baumeister, who’s written some of my favorite books. She wrote a book called The School of Essential Ingredients that I loved. And this is a memoir of restoring an old house called House Lessons: Renovating a Life.
Sarina Bowen 36:58
And then for my birthday my husband got me Untamed by Glennon Doyle, amazing, amazing memoir about a woman’s very extraordinary journey.
KJ Dell’Antonia 37:15
I’m in the middle of that one might now myself.
Sarina Bowen 37:18
She’s a wonderful writer and then I bought well because Father’s Day is coming up and and Jerry is not my father, but his sons are probably going to forget. So I bought him the new Eric Larsen, The Splendid and the Vile, which is a history of Churchill during World War Two. And I just love Eric’s books and Eric’s a good friend of mine and so I tease him I say that he’s everybody’s father’s favorite writer. You could always count on somebody’s dad liking an Eric Larson book, just like you can always count on somebody’s mom liking a Susan Wiggs book.
And then two more on my nightstand. This one is a collection of stories called Sabrina and Kareena, there was a there’s a lot of controversy about a big book that was out earlier this year called American Dirt. And it focused some attention on Latino writers or Latin ex-writers. And so I decided that I did not have enough on my shelf and so a bookseller recommended Sabrina and Kareena by Kali Fajardo-Anstine. But it won the National Book Award and the stories are just lovely. I love them. And then finally, I just started this morning over coffee The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid and If you haven’t heard of her, you will soon because her book, which was called Daisy Jones and The Six is about to be a very big series on, I think Amazon Prime, or maybe Netflix, and quite, quite the big hit. And I adored that book as well. So I know I’m gonna like this new one. And you wonder with all these books that I’m reading, do I have time to write? No, I don’t. Do I have a deadline? Yes, I do.
KJ Dell’Antonia 39:26
We fully understand.
Sarina Bowen 39:29
But you know what, reading books keeps the craft alive. As a writer, you read a book differently than just a reader. And I say just a reader with a lot of respect, but it’s kind of like my husband’s an apparel designer. And he can look at any garment and see what it took to make that garment and he knows a lot of technical things about it that the casual person wouldn’t even know and I think the same can be said, of writing and it is a little harder for me and probably you guys to, to really get into a book. Just because we’re also noticing things that are not supposed to be noticeable.
KJ Dell’Antonia 40:14
Every so often I’ll be like, Oh, I bet that was a major subplot at some point, there’s a reason that that dog is a German Shepherd or whatever, you know, and but now there’s not and you can go in and out of that mode, right? Well, so it I think rather than say anything that I’m reading, just because we have a great list here, I’m gonna just ask you one last question, which is – do you read fiction while you’re writing it?
Susan Wiggs 40:49
Always? Yes, I do.
KJ Dell’Antonia 40:52
We do, too! So many people don’t – or say they don’t.
Susan Wiggs 40:56
Um, I would probably go through withdrawal symptoms if I couldn’t read fiction, and so for some reason, it’s not a problem for me personally to distinguish what I’m writing from what I’m reading. And you know that I don’t know if that’s true for everybody. But it doesn’t seem to be a problem for me. Maybe it’s telling that one of my first things that I remember writing for publication was when I was in seventh grade, they decided to publish a book report that I had written in the newspaper because I was supposed to do a book report on Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. And I was so destroyed by the ending of that book that I rewrote the whole ending of the book, and that was my book report. So my seventh grade teacher thought that it was interesting enough that you know, she published it in the newspaper. So that was one of my first publishing credits. I was rewriting John Steinbeck. So, I don’t know maybe you need maybe you need that level of arrogance to kind of push your way into publishing.
KJ Dell’Antonia 42:06
I think that you predicted your own future. Well, we have to respect your time but we are so grateful that you came and did this. I think this was a fantastic conversation about writing. I enjoyed it so much. Thank you.
Susan Wiggs 42:21
Thank you so much. I’d love talking shop with you guys. You’re amazing.
KJ Dell’Antonia 42:25
It’s great. So for our listeners, you’re definitely going to want to look for The Lost and Found Bookshop and also maybe take a look at The Oysterville Sewing Circle. So, Sarina you want to take us out with our with our always final saying?
Sarina Bowen 42:56
Until next week everyone, keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.