Susan’s love of stories began before she could read or write. Her earliest childhood memories are of a make-believe game she played with her sister, creating and telling epic stories inspired by a picture chosen at random from a National Geographic magazine. Susan loves to bring new worlds and fantasy adventures to young adults and inspire them to join her on her make-believe journeys. Winner of the Dante Rossetti Grand Prize for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2016 (Seer of Souls, Chanticleer Reviews) and First in Category, Dante Rossetti Best Young Adult Fiction of 2017 (Soul Sanctuary, Chanticleer Reviews) she is actively crafting stories that sing in your memory.
Susan, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I am admittedly fascinated by your story that led you to write. While you have shared your experience in other interviews, would you mind giving us a recap?
Writing is admittedly my second career. I spent the first thirty years in the insurance field. I hold a BA in theology and a CIP, which stands for Chartered Insurance Professional. I like to think that my years spent in the crazy, eye-opening world of insurance has given me an insight into human nature that few receive. There is nothing like the stress of losing it all, to bring out the good and the bad within the human psyche.
Trauma and stress will test people, and bring out their inner hero or demons. I dealt with enough of both, to have a steady stream of personalities on which to base my characters.
When my employer of over two decades announced an imminent corporate merger, I knew that it was unlikely that I would survive the merge. Kind of like the television show ‘Survivor’ I knew that my name would eventually be put down, as former alliances and loyalties evaporated and a new agenda rose. This was in 2014.
I remember receiving the news via a conference call (I worked from a home office). After hanging up I headed to the fridge, grabbed a bottle of wine and went out back to my deck and drank the whole thing. I then went back inside and started writing Seer of Souls.
It took me about six months to finish, and then I sat there and wondered what to do with it. That is when my true author journey began.
The creation of your debut novel, Seer of Souls, shares many similarities with my first published novel. From what I know, you are an avid dreamer who woke with a concept you could not shake off, telling the story of an unlikely hero in the “smallest, most unassuming” of characters. You then sat on your book for a year while figuring out publication. This is exactly my story too! Have your other book concepts come from dreams too, or did the single dream spark the series that followed?
The concept for the Spirit Shield Saga flows from a series of bitter events in my life that culminated in my happy career change to full-time author. One of the most poignant influences for that series was the death of my mother to cancer, in 2009. The loss of a loved one invariably forces us to examine our belief systems and search for answers in the afterlife.
The Spirit Shield Saga reflects not only my classical liberal arts education, but also draws on my intensive studies of all religions. Every character and the overall theme of the series is a reflection of a different religious system or faith that exists on our planet. You will find Christian, Hindu, Native American Indian, Norse, Celtic and Wicca. I even pull in some Voodoo!
This debut series is a battle of the gods, of faith, of beliefs. Humanity is a bystander to the machinations of the Gods.
When I completed Seer of Souls, I was not completely sure how the series would wrap up other than I knew it would be reflective of the reincarnation philosophy. I am speaking of the concept at a deep level here, but the actual story is young adult and reads much more simply, I assure you!
I dream much of my writing. I find that during sleep, my resting brain will often sort out plot points or will suggest possible resolutions. It’s almost like my brain ‘unpacks’ what I have written during the day and carries on the storyline in my dreams. This is also why I must be careful what I watch before going to bed because I will dream it for sure, that night. I have reinvented endings to movies so many times you would think I was on the payroll!
I consciously try to fall asleep with my latest manuscript on my mind for this very reason.
My first break came when the now defunct Booktrope hybrid publisher picked up Seer of Souls and helped me towards publication. Seer of Souls released in February 2016 and in May 2016 Booktrope closed its doors, launching me into full-time indie.
I know you enjoy building new worlds. Can you tell us a bit about your process? Do you craft the entire world before writing or do you build outward as the story unfolds?
I do a bit of both, frankly. I start with my series premise and try to work in as many details as I can into a basic outline, but mostly I come at most of my writing as a pantser.
I find that I am not very good at more than a basic outline. I try to write ten to twelve key points, to give myself a beginning and end point. I am a believer in the three-act system and try to hit those beats in my basic outline as it helps me to know where I am at in my story progression and it keeps me moving along.
I am also famous for writing a crazy conclusion right off the hop. I write whatever comes to mind and throw in whatever I think is cool, as I find it informs the story as I go along–an author writing carrot dangling at the finish line and waiting for me to grab, so to speak.
I know my beginning and end, and several key points along the way, but after that I allow myself the freedom to dream the story and live it with my characters.
How do your favorite authors (J.K. Rowling, Robert Jordan, etc.) influence your craft when telling a story? Are there certain elements you try to emulate or build upon?
My favourite authors are gods to me. I spend a lot of time in their books, reading and rereading their prose. While the first few times I read for pleasure, I now read to study their sentence structure. I consciously try to absorb how they form their sentences, how they structure their plots and what it is about a particular phrase that sings in my mind.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series I have on CD’s and back when I was still in the insurance industry, I would listen over and over and over to the books while driving between appointments. I have those books memorized for the most part. Her ability to turn a phrase is fascinating and inspiring to me, and I try very much to emulate her structure.
Robert Jordan I respect for his world-building abilities. I love fantasy (obviously) and part of that love is in the building of worlds that you feel you could walk into and totally understand. I read to be taken away, to experience a different world, and any author that can build a new reality that is every bit as real as what we live in, is an inspiration to me. Being Canadian, we are very open to living alongside other cultures, and this is hopefully reflective in my writing.
You recently released the Heart of Citadel series. Please tell us a bit about this series and what your goals and intentions are for these books?
The Heart of the Citadel at its heart is the story the struggle between two cultures, one human and the other djinn.
A disgruntled djinn steals dragon eggs from his homeland of Jintessa, and enslaves an elder dragon with threats of destroying the eggs. They fly to Gaia and via a secret coup Madrid takes over as emperor of Gaia.
Gaia is an island of ten provinces, ruled through a central citadel. Madrid sets out to crush the use of magic within Gaia. A great purge ensues and a magical barrier is erected between the provinces. It prevents access to their neighbours other except via the citadel, which the emperor controls.
But there are twenty young men and women, bearers of a crystal heart, who are destined to save magic in Gaia. The ten women are rescued and sent back to Jintessa to train in magic and to partner with a dragon and djinn shapeshifter. The ten young men are not as fortunate, and Madrid captures them and brings them to the citadel under his control.
Each book in the series is the individual journey of the male and female heart bearer’s conflict as they struggle to free their home province.
Book One, Heart of Destiny lays the foundation of the world.
Book Two is Heart of Tyr and follows Elissa’s journey to bring down the barrier.
Book Three is Heart of Shadra and follows Shikoba’s journey.
Book Four is Heart of Bastion and follows Kara’s journey (now on preorder).
Fourteen books are planned in this series.
Even when writing fantasy books, the characters are reflections of people in the known world. Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book that you feel needed to be spotlighted in today’s cultural climate?
My last release, Heart of Shadra, incorporates themes reflective of native American indigenous culture. It also touches on the subject of child slavery, a curse that is still very prevalent in our modern world. It is a subject that touches my heart.
According to Compassion International, “There are 168 million children worldwide trapped in child labor, accounting for almost 11 percent of the overall child population: 1 100 million boys and 68 million girls.” As a parent I find this statistic abhorrent.
What can we expect from you in 2019? Will you be publishing any more stories?
Does a leopard have spots? I will write for the rest of my life, it’s in my blood!
On tap for 2019 are two new series.
The first series, is entitled “Guardians of Legerdemain” and will be an ongoing series about a family of magical art restorers, who are responsible for the maintenance of the portraits of criminals with magic. These convicted felons are trapped by their portraits, literally painted into their portraits as a way of controlling their magic.
I am also working on a couple of fairy tale retellings, one involving Aladdin and the other Arthurian.
There are also a lot more to write in the Heart Of The Citadel, so 2019 will be a very, very busy year of story creation!
It has been a pleasure, Susan! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
You can find me at www.susanfaw.com
For live events, I will be attending the Chanticleer conference in Bellingham WA from April 26 – 29th located at the lovely Hotel Bellwether.
I will also be in the Artist Alley at Fan Expo Toronto, August 22 – 25th
Other dates and locations to be added. Please check my website or Amazon author profile for more dates and locations!