Monday, September 6, 2021

An Explosive Tale

Don't we all love the real-life stories that come from authors? Today's Writing Corner guest, Susan Furlong's stories began even before she was born.  She tells us that she was born in the middle of a spring snowstorm at the University of Michigan so her mother had to walk across campus in the snow to the hospital while she was in labor. What a beginning! 

Susan says she doesn’t remember any of this auspicious beginning, but it always makes for a good story! And haven't we come to love her stories?

She says as a child her family moved across the country six times to various big cities before the age of fourteen because of her father’s career in women’s ready-to-wear clothing. She met and married the love of her life in college and moved to his small hometown in southern Ohio. That put an end to her travelling. She says now you can’t get her out of there with a crowbar! She taught first grade and fourth grade and raised her children who did not have to change schools even once.

Creating stories started early in life—as is typical of most writers—even before she could actually write. Then came handwritten pages stuffed in her underwear drawer, followed by stories created on a manual typewriter. Her first computer—a Commodore 64—was replaced by a series of computers and laptops, which her husband promised she could never fill up the storage space, but she always did. At age 32 she performed in her first community theater play—Guys and Dolls—where she quickly realized that she wanted to play ALL the parts, which is exactly what a writer does. She writes and/or directs church-related plays and sketches and also performs and sings with a music and drama ministry, LightReaders.

Her love of history led her to wanting to write two plays about her now hometown, and they were presented in reader’s theater style by local citizens. That was followed by two non-fiction books about local history published by Arcadia Publishing. She says she loves to do the research even though old books and documents make her cough and sneeze! Susan first discovered romance novels when she won a copy of Velvet Song by Jude Deveraux at the local bookstore. She still reads all varieties of books, but historical romance is forever her first choice.

Her books Steadfast Will I Be and By Promise Made were published by The Wild Rose Press in 2019 and 2020 respectively. By Promise Made won the NEST – National Excellence in Story Telling – for Historical Romance for 2021.

Her third book – Keeper of My Dreams – a continuation of the Cullane family adventures -- is being officially released today!

Susan, please tell us about your road to publication.

Me at age 9 in my kimono

Creating stories started early in life—as is typical of most writers. At nine-years-old I wrote, directed, and starred in my first play, inspired by Japanese kimonos sent to us by a family friend. This was followed by handwritten pages stuffed in my underwear drawer, then stories created on a manual typewriter which I wrote while cooking dinner or after the kids were in bed. I then filled up the disc storage on my early computers, and today I have dozens of flash drives to save my work. 

I wrote my first paid story for a children’s magazine, followed by numerous published short stories for children and articles for adults in various national magazines. The busy life as a working mother (a teacher and writing coach) slowed down my own writing, but in 1997, I co-wrote a full-length play about the Last Supper, “The Twelve Seats at the Table,” published by Eldridge Publishing and has been presented at over 100 venues across the country. In 2007 and 2008 I wrote two plays about the history of my hometown and a local cast presented them to the community. This led to writing two books for Arcadia Publishing about this same local history and people. In 2018 I sent a historical/adventure romance novel to be professionally edited, and this editor suggested I send it to The Wild Rose Press. Steadfast Will I Be was accepted and published in 2019, followed by By Promise Made in 2020, and now Keeper of My Dreams. 

What do you find is the most challenging part of being an author

The most challenging thing for me is the actual time it takes to sit at the computer and type out the words. Stories and plots are always floating around in my head, and I often work them out while doing other things. I can shut out TV commercials or take a break from reading with the book still in my lap or go for a walk, but I tend to be restless (As anyone who has to sit beside me in church will tell you!) so sitting for extended periods of time at the computer is hard for me. Still, when I get excited about a story, I can find myself at my desk for hours.

How do you come up with your plots?

I love history, not the dates or places, but how the people lived. I love to do research, even though old books and historical materials make me sneeze and cough (The Internet has been a godsend for my dust allergies!) It continually astounds me how many unbelievable/seemingly ridiculous events actually happened. This usually sets me off thinking about how I could drop my characters inside that situation and see how they survive. 

My first book, Steadfast Will I Be, was inspired by the fact that King James V was held prisoner by his step-father until he escaped at age sixteen and regained his throne. The second book, By Promise Made, started when I learned that King Henry VIII waged war against Scotland, killing thousands of people, because four-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, would not marry his nine-year-old son. The seed for my most recent book, Keeper of My Dreams, grew when I learned that the Chinese first intended gunpowder to be a life extending elixir until it exploded and burned down their houses. You can’t make this stuff up, but you can write about it!

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Write, write, write whatever speaks to your heart. Write about people and places you love, even if you have to research them until you fall in love with them. Write what pleases you. If you try to please others, such as publishers or unknown readers, you take the joy out of the creation process, and if you write to follow the latest trend in books, it’s a waste of time unless that trend stirs you. If it doesn’t stir you, it won’t stir anyone else.

Don’t be discouraged when after a publisher accepts your work or you self-publish it, you get it back to make dozens of corrections. Proofreading and editing are very important, so never neglect them, but your writing life is in the creation of characters, worlds, and adventures while the editor’s job is fixing mistakes, crossing the t’s, and using the commas. While both worlds have their place, your joy comes from the story, not the spelling. Although, no one can understand the world you’ve created if you don’t cross the t’s and use the commas! 

The scariest part of being a writer is showing your work to other people, but do it. Sometimes criticism is based on their own shortcomings, not yours, but if you see value in what others say, use it to improve your work. I’ve listened and I’ve learned, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled when my historical fiction book, By Promise Made, received 5 star reviews from InD’Tale magazine and N.N. Light’s Heaven Books, and then won the NEST (National Excellence in Story Telling) award for historical fiction. Yes, I’m bragging, but that is the joy bursting out of me!

I have so many stories/novels sitting in my closet that will never be officially published, but I still remember them fondly and all the pleasure I had in writing them. Some of them I even cannibalized for a new book. Nothing goes to waste.

Be a writer because you MUST write. Be a writer because your soul would be missing a piece that can only be filled with whatever you put on paper. Your stories must find a place in YOUR world first, and if they find a place in other people’s worlds, all the better. 

What is your latest book and how did you come up with the idea to write it?

My latest book is Keeper of My Dreams. In doing research for an earlier book I found references to the development of weapons in England and how England’s advanced use of gunpowder defeated the Scots who preferred hand-to-hand warfare. During the same era, pirates freely roamed the seas with the support and authority of the government. Leaps of imagination led me to Reid, the gunsmith, who designed an advanced handgun and to the pirate who wanted it. To balance these two strong men, came Leena, the daughter of the Cullane family featured in my first two books.

Gunpowder and love, both explosive.

  Reid Haliburton, a skilled gunsmith, wants to control who uses his revolutionary handgun until a vicious pirate decides the gun will be his. The price of refusing is Reid’s life and those of his three young sons. Reid’s only chance to save his sons is to send them away and face the pirate’s wrath alone.

Leena Cullane Adair is stunned to find three lads hiding in her cart, and, although she only met their father a week ago, he holds her heart and her dreams, and she will do whatever it takes to keep him and his sons alive.

That sounds like a fun read!  What’s your next project?

I have two books in my “next pile.” One is at my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, for review and edits, and is tentatively entitled “Desperate Hope.” It takes place during the American Revolution and highlights George Washington’s secret spies who eventually turned the tide in the patriots’ favor. My hero and heroine think they are fighting on opposite sides until they discover the truth.

My next book is still in the plotting/research and writing stage and is about the Glencoe Massacre in Scotland in 1692. This tragedy is often an example of clan warfare, but in reality was a plan by the government to suppress opposition to its policies. My hero is a soldier ordered to carry out the massacre, and the woman he loves is about to be one of the victims. They must find a way to stay alive and together. 

Thank you, Susan for being my guest, and good luck on your new book. Here are the Contact and Social Media links if you would like to follow her books.

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