AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: SUSAN DONOVAN
This month we get to chat with one of my favorite authors Susan Donovan, whom I have enjoyed since way back with Knock Me Off My Feet
Her latest work is…
The Night She Got Lucky from St. Martin’s Press.
Tell us a little about The Night She Got Lucky and what inspired you to write The Night She Got Lucky?
It’s Book #2 in a trilogy about women in a dog-walking group who give up on men and decide to lead happy lives in the company of their dogs. Of course, since I write romance, these women fall off the wagon one-by-one as they find their true loves. (Book #1 was Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, and Book #3, Not That Kind of Girl, comes out November 3.)
The Night She Got Lucky is the story of Ginger Garrison and Lucio “Lucky” Montevez. Ginger is a newly unemployed forty-year-old who’s raising teenage boys while trying to put her world back together after a painful divorce. She fantasizes more about Botox than bad boys and is suffering from a case of psychosomatic menopause. Then she meets Lucio, a sultry Spanish lothario and world renowned wildlife photographer who’s been sidelined by an international “incident” that cost him his job, pissed off the Chinese and raised the suspicions of the State Department. Lucio decides he’ll take pet portraits to pay the bills while he gets the mess sorted out, and he wants one of his first clients to be the succulent Ginger and her little bichon frise. There’s an undeniable attraction, but can Ginger trust Lucio enough to reveal her hidden wild side? Is Lucio telling the truth when he says he’ll stick around? Or will someone out of his playboy past cost him the only woman he’s ever really loved?
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
I always know my characters first. The plot comes later.
I’m what’s called an “organic” writer, which means two things: 1) my plots develop spontaneously during the writing process; and 2) my first drafts can be used as garden fertilizer. I don’t recommend that approach to everyone – it can get nerve-wracking. But I’ve learned to trust all the bizarre little details that appear in my first draft, especially comments my characters make, because I’ll often discover they’re part of a plot twist I haven’t even considered yet. The subconscious mind is a strange and wonderful thing! (On some days, mine’s more strange than wonderful.)
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, but, being the practical soul I am, I figured I should follow a career path that would result in a regular paycheck. I decided that being a newspaper journalist would allow me to make a living writing. So I got my bachelors and masters degrees in print journalism from Northwestern University and went out and collected my regular (albeit puny) paychecks for about a decade. In the back of my mind I’d always told myself I’d have my first novel written by the time I was 40, which seems entirely doable when I was 20, 25, 30, 32 . . . but then one day I turned 39 and freaked out. At the time I had two young children and was working part-time as a fundraiser for a symphony orchestra. I quit my job. I researched the commercial fiction market to find out what kind of books actually got published and became bestsellers. (Those were my goals – get published and become a bestselling author. No point in writing books that no one will ever read, right?) So I saw that my choices boiled down to mystery, crime and punishment, military, horror, erotica, suspense, romance, fantasy/science fiction, women’s fiction, and paranormal.
I picked romance. I decided that the greatest stories in history always revolved around a man and a woman and I thought I’d enjoy writing those kinds of stories. I figured I could add other layers onto the basic romance structure – a little suspense here, a little erotica there, maybe a little mystery for good measure – and toss the whole thing with comedy. So that’s what I set out to write. I had never read an actual romance novel when I decided to write one. (Please see my related answer below.) Then, true to my self-flagellating nature, I allowed myself one year to get a publishing contract. I figured if I didn’t make it in a year I didn’t have any talent. (Plus, it was all the time I could afford to go without income.) I wrote two-a-half books in that first year, and got “the call” almost one year to the day that I started writing.
Do you have a favorite character you have written?
Whoa. That’s like asking me which one of my kids I love the most. Let me just say that I do have a favorite non-human character, and that would be Hairy from Take a Chance on Me, the hairless, incontinent, neurotic Chinese Crested who witnesses a murder. Yes, he’s a dog, and I had the privilege of getting into his tiny head and writing his thoughts, from his POV. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. Though Hairy may have been the “designated patient” in the story, he seemed downright sane compared to the humans in his world.
Do you have a character that you look back on now and don’t like?
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
We all know how wacky lawyers can be, so I could get in real trouble if I said I’ve modeled some of my fictional characters after actual people. Let’s put it this way – I’m inspired by real people, how they view the world and what they do and say. I often combine the habits or characteristics from several sources and splice them into one fictional character.
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
As Miss Ohio, I was named second runner-up in the 1982 Miss America Pageant. Surprised? Wait – does this thing have to be surprising and true? Oh. My bad.
Then I guess I’m stuck with this: I’ve gone skydiving. Not surprising? OK, then I used to be nearly fluent in Japanese. Ho-hum? Well, I happen to sing second soprano in a community choir. Even ho-hummer?
See why I write fiction?
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I would have to say no, because I’ve decided to live my remaining years without guilt. I don’t always succeed (which I feel completely terrible about, by the way) but I sure am trying.
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juices don’t flow?
Coffee IS my creative juice. I do most of my writing before noon, so coffee is vital to my brain function. The other things I absolutely MUST do before I write are: wake up the kids, pack their lunches, get them off to school, and walk and feed the dogs. This usually insures that the other living beings in the household will leave me alone so I can write. I don’t stop until the afternoon, when I walk the dogs again and have lunch. During summer break, my plan is to start writing as early as possible so I won’t have to work in the middle of domestic chaos. (Hey, a girl’s allowed to dream, isn’t she?) I used to have a little voodoo talisman by my computer for good mojo, but one of the dogs ate it.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
Music is always part of my writing process, especially when I’m barreling through the first draft. If I don’t already own the music I think I need for my “soundtrack,” I download it from iTunes, plug in my headphones, and I’m off! In fact, I can tell you what kind of music I listened to during the writing of every one of my novels, and, yes, some of my novels do have theme songs. My music tastes run all over the place. For example, I’m working on two books at the moment. The one set in Boston requires Mozart and the one set in North Carolina calls out for Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus.” Here are a few of my past music-book combinations:
Knock Me Off My Feet – Contemporary and traditional Irish music, especially the band Solas
Take A Chance on Me – classic 1970s disco. The theme song would have to be “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by Taste of Honey.
The Night She Got Lucky – Classical Spanish Guitar pieces
Gail’s Gone Wild – Cuban salsa, baby! Plus reggae and Jack Johnson. (This is a novella set in Key West that will be part of the 2011 spring-break anthology from HQN called The Guy Next Door, with Lori Foster and Victoria Dahl.)
If your story was optioned for a movie, who would play your characters?
If we’re talking about The Night She Got Lucky, I would have to say Christina Hendricks as Ginger Garrison and Gilles Marini as Lucio Montevez. Now THAT would burn down the Cineplex.
Where were you when you got your first contract? Who did you tell first?
That’s a long story. But here’s a sampling from an article I wrote called “After The Call, or, What I Did On My Summer Vacation,” that first appeared in the Washington Romance Writer’s Update newsletter, January, 2002.) To read the whole piece, please see my blog at www.susandonovan.com.
It was 6 p.m., Monday, May 14, 2001. I was up to my elbows in raw meatloaf mixture. My son was hitting my daughter over the head with his language arts folder. The dog was clawing a hole through the screen door to get to a squirrel.
And the phone rang.
Upon hearing my son repeat the phrase “Who is this?” with escalating rudeness, I quickly washed my hands – aware that I was likely covered in e-coli – and grabbed for the phone with slippery fingers.
“Hello, Susan. This is Monique Patterson from St. Martin’s Press. We met at the Harpers Ferry writers retreat.”
Ka-Thunk! My heart made the sound my old Maytag makes at the end of a spin cycle. I immediately tried to recall which critique partners I’d told about Monique Patterson, and which of them would perpetrate this kind of sick joke.
In the next instant, I realized I recognized her voice. It really was Monique Patterson. I really had met her at the Washington Romance Writers at Harpers Ferry two weeks before, and I really did send her a partial manuscript soon after.
Then it dawned on me that I might be getting “the call.” I responded quite profoundly.
“Yikes,” I said.
When did you read your first romance book?
Um. Please don’t hate me. The truth is, I was a literary snob and, until the age of 39, I only read “literary” fiction or nonfiction and biography. I hadn’t read a single romance novel when I decided to write one. Once I started reading romance, I could have kicked my own @#&, however. I’d been missing out on so much fun!
My first foray into the wonderful world of romance was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Somehow, I was under the impression that this was a “typical” romance novel, and immediately set out to write something similar. My first manuscript – which no one in their right mind would ever want to read – was an 850-page saga in the contemporary/suspense/historical/erotica/ghost story genre. Of course, I’ve since read a lot of romance, and realize my error – I forgot to throw in a vampire!
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
As I mentioned, Not That Kind of Girl comes out in November, and Gail’s Gone Wild! (The Guy Next Door anthology) comes out in Spring 2011.
And what I’m working on now? Two projects that couldn’t be more different from each other.
The first project is two connected contemporary romances for St. Martin’s Press tentatively entitled Cherion Top and Candy Pants, which will be coming out sometime in late 2011 and mid-2012. The books are about best friends who escape their hometown and make it big in the Florida real estate boom, only to lose it all in the crash. One at a time, they crawl back to Bigler, North Carolina to face their demons, reacquaint themselves with their families, and find love in the least likely of places.
The second project is unlike anything I’ve ever done and might come as a surprise to my readers. I’m co-writing a sexy romantic comedy that is half contemporary and half historical – but juicy all the way through – about an uptight museum curator who discovers the two-hundred-year-old secret diaries of a London courtesan and uses them as a step-by-step guide to seducing her modern-day man.
My partner in this endeavor is Celeste Bradley, the New York Times bestselling historical author. Celeste and I happen to have the same publisher, editor, and literary agent. In fact, our brains operate in such a bizarrely similar fashion that it’s scary sometimes, even though her stories take place in a world of carriages and ball gowns and mine happen in a world of iPhones and traffic jams. The story is set in both Regency England and modern-day Boston, but it’s not a paranormal – nobody goes cavorting through the space-time continuum except via their imaginations. We don’t have a title or a release date yet, but we’ll keep you posted.
Where can readers find you?
SDonovanAuthor at Twitter
Susan Donovan on Facebook
Or…in the car, driving my kids around
And for the silly side – What is your favorite type of chocolate?
The kind I can unwrap real fast. :)