In case you haven’t figured it out yet, being a published author is my dream job. Ten years ago, when I first started writing, authors were my rock stars. I read their bios with devotion, pored over their acknowledgements hoping to find a tidbit more of their personality, and pretty much daydreamed like a gushing fan girl about meeting one someday. Ten years later, I still squee on the inside, but I’m way better at taming my idol-worship into a poker face. I’ve also met a few. Turns out, they’re a lot like you and me. At the beginning of my brave year, I noodled the idea of a six-week series interviewing authors. Fun, right? The rest is history. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
Today, I’m interviewing C. S. Lakin. If you’re a Western romance fan, you may know her as Charlene Whitman. But she’s my friend, so I call her Susanne. I met Susanne seven years ago when I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference for the first time. Susanne has been a gift to me. Through her blogs, edits, and friendship, she has single-handedly taught me more about the writing craft than anyone else.
So let’s dig into the questions!
Rachelle: You are a resource powerhouse. Your blog, your books, your editing services, have all helped me grow in my writing craft like no other. Tell me about your journey from fiction writer to writing educator and coach. What made you decide to start coaching and editing? What’s your favorite aspect of it? The hardest?
Susanne: I’ve always loved English Comp and done bits of editing for others over the years. I got into editing when I was looking for a new career (tired of landscaping and hauling wheelbarrows of dirt and rocks up hills!). It made sense to go in that direction as I’d already written a handful of novels. I decided to start a blog to increase visibility online and via the blog started sharing all the things I’d learned over thirty years of writing novels, taking workshops, trying to get published. The blog resonated with a lot of writers and became very popular quickly. In addition, I started guest blogging on top writing sites and getting to know top writing instructors. From there, I started teaching workshops around the country and online, which I love. Unlike many writers, I’m very social and gregarious, so teaching is a whole lot of fun for me. My favorite aspect of my work is teaching live workshops. My least is probably having to do a critique on a terrible manuscript and trying to slog through, be nice but instructive.
Rachelle: Your newest book, Crank it Out!, is all about writing productivity. Tell us a little more about this and why you decided to write it.
Susanne: I did a survey last year to my blog readers and newsletter followers and got about 500 responses back. I asked writers what they struggled with most and needed the most help on. I was blown away to see how almost everyone complained about not having time to write, dealing with distractions and obligations, struggling with self-doubt, procrastination, and self-sabotage. The list went on and on, but everyone wanted to get a book written but just couldn’t figure out how to do it. So I hit the Internet and searched through dozens of articles, contacted super-productive writers who crank out books, and put this little book together. I learned so much from the research! Boy, I’m never going to scrimp on sleep again, that’s for sure!
Rachelle: When did you first start writing? Tell me a bit of your journey from blank screen to published work.
Susanne: I’ve been writing all my life. My mother was a professional screenwriter, and I read books and scripts all the time. I started with poetry and short stories, then wrote my first (awful) novel at age 30. But though it had agent representation, it never sold. And I’m glad it didn’t. It’s hidden under my bed. But I wrote on and off for 23 years and finally got published when my novel Someone to Blame won a top contest, which garnered a five-figure advance and publication.
Rachelle: What your favorite novel that you’ve written? Why do you love it?
Susanne: My favorite book that I’ve written is my fantasy story, The Map Across Time. I love it because it blows me away. I read it and can’t believe I wrote it. Which is how the muse often works. I love the characters (the twins are the two sides of my personality), and the twists and turns in the time-travel plot are so fun. If that was my only novel and the only book I could ever read, stuck on a remote island, I would die happy.
Rachelle: What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Susanne: I would have studied genre much more seriously. Meaning, before I wrote my first psychological mysteries, I would have looked at the best sellers in that genre, then matched my books to them instead of trying to be as different as I could. I also would have used a different pen name for every genre, as cumbersome as that sounds. But it’s very hard to brand yourself if you’re all over the map like I am. Right now I have a pen name for my Western romance (Charlene Whitman) and my new dark comedy will have a different pen name (which is a kind of inside joke that maybe some readers will figure out).
Rachelle: What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done as a writer? Or in life?
Susanne: Wow, I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe just persisting and sticking with it after so many times wanting to quit and feeling like a failure. It takes a lot of courage to keep on. I don’t know if I’ve ever done any brave things in life. I’ve done a lot of stupid things, for sure.
Rachelle: Haven’t we all! I might need to hear some of those stories off record.
What keeps you inspired?
Susanne: I love to write. I love people and stories. I come up with crazy ideas all the time. There aren’t enough hours in the day or years in my life to write all the books I want to write. I think true writers who love to write can’t not write. When I go too long without writing something creative, I wither. So really anything can inspire my imagination: a great book, a news event. Even Donald Trump, who is inspiring a lot of my new novel, which is all about ageism, sexism, and the mistreatment of women. There you go!
Rachelle: What’s your most vulnerable moment as a writer? Why did it feel so exposing?
Susanne: I think this happens a lot when a fan reads something of mine in a different genre and they get upset. Mostly those who read my Christian fantasy and then my more gritty psychological suspense. It feels bad to me because I didn’t use a pen name for each genre and so feel I’m disappointing my readers’ expectations. But that’s a lesson learned.
Rachelle: What quirk does the greater public not know about you?
Susanne: Oh, there are many. But I think most people are surprised to learn I used to have a commercial pygmy goat farm and love to stick my hand inside goats to pull out their stuck babies. See chapter 2 in Conundrum . . .
Rachelle: Now that’s an image! I’ll definitely be pressing you for more details on that later.
Let’s end with a rapid-fire favorite round. Answer with one word. What’s your favorite:
Book—The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Vacation Spot—South Lake Tahoe (though if I ever get to New Zealand, that will probably top it).
Hobby—Reading (ugh, so obvious, right?) and hiking
Place to write—Outside by my creek or in the woods at Lake Tahoe while camping with my black lab
Thank you, Susanne! I so appreciate your answers and insights.
I highly recommend you read every single one of Susanne’s blog posts over at Live Write Thrive.
And if, like me, you’re constantly struggling to find time to write and accomplish all the other things in life well, buy Susanne’s new book, Crank It Out! I got my copy and can’t wait to absorb all the wisdom.
Here are some of the things you’ll learn in Crank it Out!:
- How to dig deep into the Productivity ABCs—attitude, biology, and choices—and analyze yourself to prepare to make the needed adjustments to be super productive
- How to spot destructive attitudes and rewire them to allow you to break through to success
- How to determine your biological prime time and identify your peak hours to write in order to get the most out of your writing time
- How to hack around your excuses, bad habits, and distractions that are blocking your way
- How to alter your sleeping, eating, and other behaviors to ensure peak performance
- How to thwart self-sabotage and perfectionism, which prevent you from becoming the super-productive writer you long to be