Interview With Susan Wells Bennett
1) Why did you choose to publish your work with Inkbeans Press?
I read a book Inknbeans Press published called Raw, written by Steven Revare. As a natural-born editor, I was impressed with the refined quality of the novel. At the time, I thought Mr. Revare had self-published. I sent him a note to say I loved the book and planned to write a review. I also mentioned I’d found about 20 errors (which is amazing for self-published fiction, as I’m sure you know). Almost immediately, I received a note from the “Boss Bean” at Inknbeans, a lovely woman named Jo Lowe. She asked if I would mind sending along the list of edits and she mentioned that five sets of eyes had reviewed the book before it was published. I found that sort of dedication refreshing. I asked if she was accepting new authors and she invited me to send along a sample of my work. I sent her Circle City Blues. Within a month, I had a publisher, albeit not one of the major players. But Jo is amazing. Inknbeans is like an agent, publicist, and publisher all rolled into one. Since I joined, she has taken on a number of other authors. She always has time for each and every one of us.
2) What inspires you as a novelist? How did you come to be telling these particular stories?
I have always had stories rattling around in my head. When I was younger, I believed that I didn’t have anything “important” to say, and that led me to ultimately abandon the manuscripts I started. By the time I reached my late thirties, those around me had all but decided I would never finish a novel. I was on the verge of abandoning my dreams when my husband agreed to let me to devote six months to writing. Our agreement was that if he read what I wrote and didn’t like it, I would go back to work. I wrote a novel about a young family drawn into the mafia lifestyle in post-WWII Chicago. Dan loved it. What’s more, just the act of writing every day seemed to prime my imagination. I actually have a dozen plots just waiting for me to write them. Since my ideas frequently come to me in dream images, I recently began drawing as well. It seems like my creativity has blossomed in the last three years.
3) It seems as though there is always a gay male couple in each novel. They are never major characters, but they seem to be well drawn and very believable. Are they based on a couple you know? Would you ever consider writing a novel with a gay protagonist?
I have been blessed to know so many wonderful gay men and women. My mom owned a square-dance apparel shop in the Eighties, and we ended up outfitting an entire club of male dancers (about half of whom dressed as women for the dances). When I was in my twenties, I lived next door to a wonderful man named Fernando. He is the inspiration behind Adam, though Adam is not Fernando and their lives are anything but parallel. Steve, his partner, is an amalgamation of other men I’ve known, as is Sax from the Brass Monkey series. Sax is one of four protagonists in the Brass Monkey series, so I am, in fact, already writing novels with a gay protagonist. Adam and Steve have a lot of fans, and I have a plot idea tucked away for them…someday I’ll get to it!
4) In the Brass Monkey series, the setting of the novels is very much Pheonix. I notice you mention being a third generation Arizonan and it sounds as though the place is quite special to you. Could you share some thoughts on Arizona/your home town
I have lived most of my life in Phoenix, Arizona. I spent a few years at a small college in Missouri and a bad first marriage in Sierra Vista, Arizona, which is close to the southern border of the state. Setting my novels in Arizona is really my only concession to the well-known “rule” that you should “write what you know.” Giving my characters concrete locations to inhabit makes them more real in my mind.
Like anyone who lives in a place for a long time, I know Phoenix like the back of my hand. The city swells with waves of people who come here for a fresh start; it shrinks when many of them fail and move on. For anyone thinking of moving here, I advise that they don’t. The state appears exotic and beautiful, but it’s really just a desert full of strangers.
5) Have you gotten much feedback from readers? How has it influenced you? Is there anything you’ve done differently or changed based on reader feedback?
I love to get feedback from readers! I haven’t received nearly as much as I would like. It’s been gratifying that so many of my readers have loved my characters. Mac from CIRCLE CITY BLUES is a particular favorite among my female readers. Several of my readers have requested a sequel to one of my novels, and I’m seriously considering writing one as a result.
6) At times there is a distinct “Hollywood” quality to your work. Can you talk about movies (or television shows or books for that matter) that have influenced you?
I’ve given a lot of thought to this question. My novels tend to be dialogue heavy. I think this is because my first love was acting. I used to read scripts for fun. When I write scenes, I often find myself actually making the gesture I am describing.
I can’t think of any movies or television shows that have inspired my writing. I tend to watch a lot of science fiction and fantasy. I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon.
I like to believe that my favorite writers have influenced my writing. I have been reading John Irving and Margaret Atwood since I was a teenager. I’m afraid my sense of the absurd isn’t nearly as well developed as Irving’s, but that doesn’t keep me from trying!
7) Wow. I’ve now read and re-read the three novels in the Brass Monkey series several times, and find I am really loving this story. Have you started on the next volume yet. Any idea when it is likely to come out?
Thank you so much! Nothing makes me happier than knowing when a reader is enjoying my work. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of NEW LIFE, the fourth book in the series. It will probably come out in July or August. After that, I’m going to focus on something else for a while. I have an illustrated children’s book on the back burner, as well as a sci-fi novel.
8)Can you share a bit about your other novels? I’m frankly amazed at all the books you have already published in a relatively very short career. I’m genuinely looking forward to reading your other books.
Since I began writing full-time almost three years ago, I’ve written an average of three novels per year. I know that seems like a lot, but I’m a slowpoke compared to Nora Roberts!
I tend to bounce back and forth between humor and drama. Three of my novels are definitely more on the “tearjerker” spectrum: THE THIEF OF TODAYS AND TOMORROWS, THE PROPHET’S WIVES, and FORSAKING THE GARDEN. CIRCLE CITY BLUES and AN UNASSIGNED LIFE are fairly light comedies — though the latter does open with a suicide. A careful reader will find that most of my books have “crossover” characters. Once I’ve created them, my characters don’t like to be forgotten — they suggest themselves into my future novels, the pushy things.
9) You mentioned that you’ve had some contact with your readers, but I find myself wanting to ask an old stand by– do you have a reader or readers in mind when you write? Is there a particular reader or type of reader you are aiming for?
The first reader I have to entertain is me. I don’t write with detailed outlines, because I think they make my muses laugh. When I can make myself laugh or cry as I’m writing, I’m optimistic that my readers will laugh or cry as well. My second reader is always Dan, and he is an excellent gauge of whether I’ve succeeded or not. I often give him the manuscript (after a revision or two, of course) and then find a reason to be nearby while he reads it. Nothing thrills me like hearing him laugh aloud or sob at my words. Of course, I’m sure he wishes I’d find something else to do while he’s reading…