Hello and welcome to A Cup of Conversation where I am joined by multiple book author, and co-author of a number of books, Susan Mary Malone. She is certainly a writer to look out for. She explains how, “the main thing awards do for authors is to give a sense of legitimacy. And funny enough, that legitimacy from readers and judges isn’t it, exactly. It’s the feeling within an author that one belongs…” and shares a passage with us from a story which sat in an anthology along the work of Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Bebe Moore Campbell, Jane Yolan, Carol Nelson Douglas, Alice Walker, Erica Jong, Ursula K Le Guin, Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Now that is truly amazing, right? So without further ado let’s read more about Susan Mary’s writing journey and insights into being an author.
1. Your website states you “grew up on the wings of fairytales and mythical creatures.” Tell us what this has meant to you and how it has influenced your writing.
As I child, I spent an enormous amount of time with my grandmother, who lived with us. Gran made up stories (often with me in them!) and told new ones almost every day. As I grew a bit older, she involved me not only as a character, but guided me into creating them with her. We flew on unicorns through the night skies, ran from woolly beasts, and chased dreams to the edges of the known Universe. My aunties would chime in as well, with stories of the “old country,” which included fairy tales they believed as children (and I came to believe too!). What a wonderful childhood for a writer!
2. Which authors did you enjoy reading as a child?
I read voraciously as a child, often getting into trouble for having the flashlight under the covers, shining on a book, when I was supposed to be sleeping. But I didn’t read the mysteries that most of my peers were consuming. My reading list all focused on horses or dogs. I devoured Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, riding along with Alec Ramsay (my first crush!), bonding with that big black horse. Fell madly in love with Albert Payson Terhune’s Lad: a Dog series (we had Collies when I was growing up), and a host of other books with animals as protagonists. I can still feel the biting cold, hear the howl of the wind, from Bugle, Dog of the North.
3. Describe the themes of your fiction books in six words.
Myths and meaning of women’s lives
4. What do you hope readers take away with them after reading your books?
A deeper understanding of the human condition, and what connects us all. So often we cannot understand what the people around us do, how they can see the world so differently from how we see it. But once we glimpse under the surface, actually walk in the shoes of the “other” in our midst, that understanding arises organically from within. We have of course all walked different paths, and have knelt at different graves. But at our core, we all seek the same thing, no matter how cloaked that might be to others.
5. Have any of your own experiences of growing up in Texas been woven into your novels?
Oh, enormously! Although I truly do believe people are people at the core level, what I know for true is that a land shapes its inhabitants, and that changes with geography. I come from sturdy West Texas stock, and visiting my relatives there, and working our own Central Texas farm, taught me to see the differences in folks. Plus, when I grew up in Ft. Worth, it was still a smallish town, and differed enormous from big-city Dallas. I marvelled then (and still do now) at how attitudes change the farther you get from all those lights . . .
6. Can you share an extract from the book and tell us why you chose this particular part of the story.
This is the opening to “Over the Pass,” which was included years ago in a major literary anthology, Wild Women, which also had stories by Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Bebe Moore Campbell, Jane Yolan, Carol Nelson Douglas, Alice Walker, Erica Jong, Ursula K Le Guin, Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
“On a backroad byway between Idaho and Montana, through the Red Rocks Wildlife Refuge, I lost the feeling. My heart got out and took a hike and we were another day down the road before I realized it was gone.
From Missoula we had shot southward, past the goat-hunting grounds and into Idaho, then east to West Yellowstone. That one section of scenery, amid the post-card laced miles, still gnawed at me. Over the most haunting of mountain passes, through years of flat valleys edged by rough and sculpted peaks, the path switchbacked forever.
Troy had taken a shortcut, traveling down an abandoned dirt road that reportedly joined the two states. Rand McNally and Co. lay sprawled on the pickup seat between us.
I loved to scan the atlas, loved to plot trips across country I would never see; to dream of journeys and adventures. Troy, on the other hand, never dreamed, rather drove on, often down these desolate, rutted roads that he swore led to somewhere but never did.
Most of the day, I hadn’t a clue in which state we cruised. I was certain, however, that the crossing wouldn’t be marked, not on an abandoned path such as this. But the mountains looked the same. Funny, who’d have thought Idaho and Montana could be so similar? But there we had been, unable to discern the difference.”
I’ve always loved the set-up to this story, which is about getting lost in a relationship, and trying to find one’s way back out, as it mirrors a trip across the Great Divide.
7. You have been a past “Winner of the Ed Mathis Award for fiction”. How did this impact on your writing career?
The main thing awards do for authors is to give a sense of legitimacy. And funny enough, that legitimacy from readers and judges isn’t it, exactly. It’s the feeling within an author that one belongs. We’re an odd bunch, and constantly facing that ‘you’re not good enough’ demon. When said demon comes at you, fangs barred, it’s often helpful to go, ‘wait a minute—this book won such and such.’ Over the Pass, and Other Stories won runner-up in the North Texas Book Festival Awards this year, and that still lights a dark night.
8. Which three aspects of the writing journey have you improved on since you first began your writing career?
Marketing. LOL! Although I’m still not very good at it. It’s amazing how much of a writer’s time that all takes.
Knowing what criticism to take, and what to toss aside. It’s a fine balance, actually. We all need outside eyes, but sometimes those eyes want a different story from the one the author has written. It takes a while to learn to sift through that.
Believing in my own work. While many writers believe they’re brilliant from the get-go, that wasn’t my experience. Lol.
9. What has your experience of co-writing books with other writers been?
I’ve co-authored 3 non-fiction books with experts in their fields, and one biography with a great guy, Kent Waldrep.
What this taught me most of all was to be able to write in someone else’s voice. That sounds easy, but it’s truly a difficult endeavour. And funny enough, that helped enormously in my work as a book editor—I edit in the writer’s voice as well.
10. What advice would you give a new writer?
Honestly, the old standby—write, write, write. Read, read, read. Settle in for the long haul—this isn’t learned overnight.
11. Are you a planner or a pantser?
Pantser! I write Literary Fiction, and while I usually have a beginning, or a vague notion of the theme, or even know how a story will end, that’s about all I know going in.
Almost always, a new novel comes to me via the main character, out of the blue, talking in my head. That’s my first glimpse.
I have a new novel coming, and it’s created through the eyes of two dogs. I literally had to stop cooking the other night and write down what they were telling me—in two very distinct voices. Where will this go? I have no clue! But that’s how it always is with me when beginning a new novel or story.
12. What three things are on your current to-do list?
Three things? Can we expand that to 30? Lol.
My life is always so cram packed, just the fires that need putting out can consume an entire day.
I write. I edit. I raise, train, and show English Labradors.
Rarely do I know my name!
Thank you for joining us Susan Mary and I wish you all the best not only with your writing career but with your very busy life raising, training and showing English Labradors…there must be a story in there somewhere! To my weekly readers, I hope you’d like to link up with Susan Mary you can do so on her links listed below.
Until next week, Happy Reading, Happy Writing, Happy You.
Big hug, Soulla xxx
Instagram: Lord, I’m on Instagram but don’t even know how to access it! (I’ve found you! @susan_mary_malone )
Amazon link to books: https://www.amazon.com/Over-Other-Stories-Susan-Malone/dp/1984956957/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1FRS4E53RNIIV&keywords=over the pass, and other stories by susan mary malone&qid=1574356976&s=books&sprefix=Over the pass, a,aps,213&sr=1-1