Suzanne Adair, a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Historical Novel Society, writes a historical mystery/suspense series. Paper Woman received the Patrick D. Smith Literature Award. Camp Follower was nominated for the Daphne du Maurier and Sir Walter Raleigh awards. Adair shares advice for aspiring writers, what draws her to the genre of historical fiction, and why her characters are real to her. Adair will be attending Nashville’s Killer Nashville writer’s conference this weekend.
PC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
SA: I wanted to write when I grew up. I scribbled my first fiction when I was in second grade. It was fun, and I wanted to write more.
PC: What do you think makes a good story?
SA: A combination of compelling characters and riveting drama makes a good story. Give me characters with enough depth that I can care about them, and unfold a plot without bogging down the pace or stretching my suspension of disbelief too far, and I’ll read your story.
PC: What is it that draws you to the historical mystery and suspense?
SA: Sometimes contemporary mystery and suspense lean too much upon the “magic” of collected evidence (ex. DNA). Characters in historical mystery and suspense cannot rely on cutting-edge forensics techniques to help them apprehend villains. Thus the greater emphasis in historicals is on detectives talking with witnesses, not obsessing over collected evidence. Law enforcement officers will tell you that solving crimes the old-fashioned way is the way it works most of the time nowadays, too.
PC: Are your characters real to you?
SA: Very real. To bring them to the page as three-dimensional characters, I have to immerse myself in their world and learn their motivations, what’s important to them, what they fear. The only way to move that deeply into characters is to believe that they’re real.
PC: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
SA: I don’t write from a formula or specific outline. When I begin a first draft, I know where the story must start and where it must end and several points in between. About 20% into the draft, I get out of the way and let my characters take over and tell their stories. Characters shape plot, and plot shapes characters. Deeper into the story, big pieces of plot become apparent. Sometimes I create loose outlines to help me navigate through those areas.
PC: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
SA: I write about a piece of Southern history that isn’t covered in most high school history classes. I make it entertaining. This inspires readers to do their own research, learn more about this crucial time in world history. It’s gratifying to see this overlooked history get attention.
PC: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
SA: I hear from readers every week. Their messages might come through the contact form on my web site, like this one last week: “I’ve read all three of your books after meeting you and purchasing the books in Williamsburg. They were wonderful. Is there a book after Camp Follower? I certainly hope so!”
Here’s a message I received via Facebook: “Though I’m only on page 71 of Camp Follower, I can already say that it’s great writing. It’s pulling me along from chapter to chapter, making me want to keep reading. I like it so much that I ordered a copy of Paper Woman today. Great work! Keep it up.” I also get messages from readers through the Amazon boards, Goodreads, and LibraryThing.
PC: What advice would you share for aspiring writers? What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
SA: Advice: Read constantly. But don’t just read your favorite genre. Read widely. You need to figure out what works and what doesn’t work in writing. Persevere. There are plenty of cynics out there. Surround yourself with people who are supportive of you. Live life. Don’t just be a writer. Explore professions. Develop hobbies. Succeed and fail. The wider your range of experience to pull from, the deeper your writing.
A good dictionary
A good thesaurus
A style guide
The ability to not take yourself too seriously
PC: What are you reading now?
SA: The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character by Samuel Noah Kramer and Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
PC: You’re coming to Killer Nashville 2010. What is your favorite aspect of attending this writing conference?
SA: I’m looking forward to talking with readers and writers at Killer Nashville and participating on the “Writing and Selling Historical Crime Fiction” panel with Stacy Allen, Graham Brown, Marion Hill, and Charles Todd.
For more on Suzanne Adair visit: http://www.suzanneadair.com/