As the Guild’s Publicity Chair, I’m pleased to welcome award-winning author and St. Louisan Susan McBride to the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference Blog. Susan will be one of the 2012 “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” MWG Annual Writing Conference presenters. She has published 12 books in the genres of women’s literature, young adult and mystery. Her most recent title, LITTLE BLACK DRESS, debuted in stores Aug. 24.
If you don’t already know, the conference will take place April 20-22 at the Doubletree Hotel in Chesterfield, MO just outside of St. Louis. During the conference, Susan will give a breakout session titled “Writing the Big Book, or How to Crack the Women’s Fiction Market” where she will share her insights in the women’s fiction market including what type of writing it takes, what agents are looking for, and more.
Hi, Susan! Thank you for taking the time to visit MWG’s conference blog and to our first interview in a series of blog interviews featuring our talented speakers for the 2012 conference. We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say about women’s fiction today, and at the conference.
Susan: Hi, Sarah! I’m excited to be participating in the 2012 conference. I hope the information I have to share will prove helpful to other writers.
Question: To get us started, sometimes it’s challenging for newer writers to decide which genre their manuscript fits. Could you talk about what defines women’s fiction and some of its current trends?
Susan: Women’s fiction encompasses a lot of territory, and I’d basically say it’s any mainstream fiction that focuses on issues of interest to women, particularly love, families, and relationships. It can be anything from modern-day chick lit to a family saga. More and more women’s lit crosses all kinds of genre lines to tell more powerful stories, whether it’s with paranormal or magical elements or mixing the past and the present, even tossing in a little mystery. What will always be attractive to agents and editors is fiction with a strong central voice, a compelling storyline, and a fresh perspective.
Q: Could you give us one insight into the women’s fiction market as a preview to your breakout session?
Susan: One thing writers need to think about when they’re writing for the women’s fiction market now is the “big book.” This type of story has to go beyond the ordinary. It’s means coming up with an intriguing idea and then giving it a twist and pushing it beyond any boundaries to make it extraordinary.
Q: If someone wants to write the ‘Big Book’ what is the most important piece of advice that you could give them?
Susan: Go big or go home! Seriously, don’t be afraid to stretch your literary muscles and try something you’ve never dared to try before. Now is the time to tell that amazing story you’ve been itching to tell (and that your critique partners said was “too out there”). Push your imagination and then push some more.
Q: You’ve published about 12 books in women’s fiction, young adult and mystery. How did you overcome the challenge of crossing multiple genres?
Susan: I have been very fortunate to try my hand at different genres including mystery, young adult fiction, and women’s fiction. Before I was published, I wrote manuscripts in a variety of genres so this was something I’d always dreamed of doing. I read a lot of all types of fiction, which helped me understand what was expected of me, and I worked closely with my editors, listening to their insights, taking their advice to heart, and really going beyond what I thought I could do. It’s been so challenging and so rewarding. I’ve learned a lot from writing these different types of books. I think it’s made me stronger and less afraid to tackle something new.
Q: Your newest book, LITTLE BLACK DRESS just hit book shelves Aug. 24 and has already gone through a second printing. Congratulations! Could you tell us what it’s about and how you came up with the idea?
Susan: In a nutshell, Little Black Dress is about two sisters, one daughter, and a magical black dress that changes all their lives forever. The seed for the story started with my thinking of things that connect women, and I remembered my mother always saying, “Every girl needs at least one little black dress in her closet.”
I considered having an LBD that connected three random women then I decided it’d be better if it was something tying together three women in two different generations of a family. Like an heirloom, I wanted this dress to be passed between the sisters, Evie and Anna, before it’s found by Evie’s daughter, Toni. I went further, wondering what if this particular LBD showed its wearer a glimpse of her future.
I decided I’d tell the tale through Evie’s eyes and through Toni’s in alternating chapters, with Evie filling in the history until the past meets the present. I won’t pretend that my first draft was gorgeous, because it wasn’t. But when I revised Little Black Dress, I felt so many things click into place. It was, shall I say, very magical for me!
Q: In LITTLE BLACK DRESS – how was writing magical realism different from your traditional women’s fiction books?
Susan: It was wonderful and very freeing to use a bit of magic in the story. It allowed me to go places I couldn’t have gone if I’d stuck to being entirely realistic. I absolutely loved working in the magical element, and I can’t wait to do it with my next women’s fiction book!
Q: What are the challenges of being a Midwest Author and working with a publishing industry mostly located in New York? Are there advantages?
Susan: Ah, what an interesting question! I’d never really thought much about my being a Midwesterner mattering in any obvious way. I’ve actually lived all over the country—the Midwest, the East, and Texas, which is a region unto itself!—so I feel connected with lots of different places. I’ve heard other authors mention their publishers suggesting they change their setting from the Midwest to one of the Coasts, but that’s never happened to me. I love living in Missouri. My roots are here, my family is here, and I adore the down-to-earth attitude of Midwestern folks. Although I wish I could hang out with my publishing peeps more often (I try to go up to NYC at least once a year before a new book comes out), the Internet makes it so easy to reach everyone, that I don’t see an issue of living here instead of there.
Q: It’s common advice to read the type of books that you want to write. If someone wanted to break into women’s fiction, what books & authors should they be reading?
Susan: There are SO many amazing authors writing women’s fiction today that it’s hard to pinpoint just a handful. I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen for her Southern stories interspersed with magic, Kate Morton for the mix of history and mystery, Barbara Delinsky for her tales of modern women balancing work and relationships, Santa Montefiore for her romantic style, and so many more I could fill pages and pages!
Thank you, again Susan, for sharing your insights with us. If you would like to learn more about Susan and her books, visit her web page at www.susanmcbride.com. You can find her books online, in most brick and mortar bookstores, and in Target stores (Little Black Dress is one of Target’s Recommended Reads for the next few months!).
Win your very own signed copy of LITTLE BLACK DRESS!
I hope you’ve learned something that will help you as you get ready for the MWG conference. If you liked this interview or something resonated with you, please let Susan and I know, by leaving a comment. Susan has graciously donated one of her books to give away to one lucky reader. Everyone who comments between today and 9/22 will be entered into a drawing to win their very own signed copy of LITTLE BLACK DRESS! How cool is that?
Happy commenting! The winner will be announced on Sept. 23, so be sure to come visit us again!
In the mean time, make sure your guild membership dues are up-to-date to get the discounted conference rates and more great membership benefits. It’s only $30 to renew! Head over to www.missouriwritersguild.org to download the membership renewal PDF.
Our next interview will be posted on September 30th.