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Why did you become an author?

It’s in my blood! Maybe not literally, but my parents were both school teachers whose passion for reading came to me as an almost heritable trait. They read to me from the time I was tiny and taught me to read before I went to school. Then too, I was always a storyteller. I remember when I was about six, I turned a chicken crate on its top, used the flat bottom as a stage, and ‘wrote’ a play for the neighborhood kids to perform. (I couldn’t actually write yet, but I gave them their lines and they came through for me. Bless them!) From third grade on, I dramatized class presentations. In fourth grade, I wrote a play on Arizona state history that we produced for the whole school. Even the parents were invited. Now that I think of it, I suspect I owe all my teachers a huge apology. Having me in their classes must have posed a serious challenge.

Why write romances? And why ‘sweet’ romances?

Love makes the world go ‘round, right? When we consider the fact that well over ninety percent of the world’s adult population marries, the dynamics that bring a couple to the altar form an almost universal constant. I’ve written other kinds of stories, but I’ve stuck largely with romance because of its appeal. Throughout a couple of college degrees, I frequently heard the romance genre trashed, but when I looked at the great stories that have moved people throughout time, I frequently found strong romantic threads. I have stuck with the ‘sweet’ side of the genre—the tender emotions rather than the physical attraction—because, when I look around me, I see more lasting, happy unions among couples who began as friends and more sad endings between people who jumped into being lovers before they knew each other well. I want my couples to have a realistic shot at a happy future together. 

What is the appeal of the small town?

I’ve lived in some big cities: San Francisco, for one, and even, for a short time, in the Tri-State Metropolitan Area surrounding Manhattan. (Our home was in Connecticut.) Yet most of my life, I’ve lived in smaller communities, in towns with populations as low as 600! That includes several years in northeastern Arizona, in and near the Navajo Nation. I’ve seen both the good and the bad of living in small towns. For the most part, I love them! Admittedly, the towns I write are idealized. Think Mayberry at its best. Why not? If I’m going to make up a town, why not have it be a perfect place to live and love? 

What’s the hardest part of writing a novel? What part of the process do you enjoy most?

Novelists talk of being ‘plot-driven’ or ‘character-driven.’ I am driven by character. I usually start with the germ of a story including a place and situation. Then I imagine what sorts of people would be there. After that, I let those people become real to me; that is, I flesh them out, imagining them so completely that sometimes I even dream about them. Once the characters have become people I know and understand, I throw them into the story and let them tell me how they’ll work it out. (Yes, I realize how crazy that sounds. Trust me: we writers are an unusual bunch.) The hardest part comes when they don’t want to do what I think they should. The part of the process I most enjoy comes when they show me where they’ve been headed all along and make the whole story work. That part, I love!

 

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

With one set of characters occupying my thoughts, I can really only draft, or compose, one book at a time. If that book is part of a series, I’m beginning to work with the secondary characters in that first book, imagining how their stories will begin when I get to them, but I’m still writing just the one story. In the midst of that, I may get a book back from the editor that needs reviewing, and I’ll shift gears for a while to get that book reviewed, revised, or edited. In other words, I work on different parts of the whole editorial process with various books, but I create only one book at a time. 

Where do you get your ideas from?

This is one of the questions most frequently asked of any writer, and one of the most difficult to answer. For writers, the ideas are literally everywhere! I hear a newspaper headline about a volcano eruption in Iceland and how it’s interfering with air traffic. I think “what if a man and woman were both stranded in an airport after their flight was cancelled”? I have the germ of a new story. The same thing can happen with other authors’ fiction. I might read a love story by another author and imagine a similar plot in a different setting with people who relate to one another differently. By the time I have it written, it’s completely changed, but it grew from a moment in her story when I thought “What If?” That what-if question, applied to just about anything, can get anyone’s imagination rolling. It’s following that thread through to create a full story that takes effort, along with some skill and attention to craft. 

 

What about your characters? Are they all people you know? Or all they all you?

 

It’s possible someone I know could find themselves in one of my stories, but they’d be doing as much creation as I am to get to there! Although I pick up situations, attitudes, personalities, conversations, and many other bits of truth from the world (and the people) around me, each of my characters is a child of my imagination, wholly made up and made real in my head. That said, they’re all a little bit me, including the difficult and unlovable ones; they’re what I’d let myself be if I gave in to the ‘dark side.’ (How’s that for a Star Wars reference? I promised my son I’d work one in.) 

 

Do you ever feel compelled to write?

Oh yes! It started as a natural substitute for reading, grew into a career interest, and became an obsession. W. Somerset Maugham once said, “We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.” That’s how it works for me as well.

 

Do you plan to write any Christmas-themed fiction? If so, why?

Absolutely, yes! Christmas is such a lovely time of year. The Christmas Spirit is real. People are kinder and more generous which makes for a world of fun stories in a Christmas-time setting. This year, I will release a novella set in Bedford Falls, California, a.k.a. Christmas Town. I hope to release a Bedford Falls novella every autumn as we approach the holidays. 

 

You have some great male characters in your books. How do you write from a male perspective?

One dad, one husband, three brothers, six sons. I’ve lived most of my life around men. I like them, and although I can’t think like them, I do often know what they are thinking. My male characters, the heroes of my stories, are always somewhat idealized, but they’re real guys too, with the same worries and insecurities and hopes and dreams and drives that are common to all men—and often, to all people. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’m also an inveterate snoop and eavesdropper. One can learn much by listening.)

 

What writer do you admire most?

Long lists of writers could answer that question. As a little girl, I was horse crazy and read everything by Marguerite Henry and later, by Walter Farley. In my pre-teens, I devoured the historical romances of Thomas B. Costain and then everything I could find by Pearl S. Buck. Today I read widely across fiction and non-fiction and in all genres. I’m a great admirer of Nora Roberts, Dick Francis, Debbie Macomber, Heather Moore, Dean Koontz, and I could go on and on. There is something to be learned from every one of them. 

 

What’s your favorite way to relax, other than writing?

I cook! Not always well, but I like to go into a kitchen and try something new. Lately, I’ve been binge-watching British baking competitions and trying new kitchen skills. When I had a recipe that called for marzipan and couldn’t find any in my local supermarkets, I learned to make marzipan. The same thing happened when I wanted candied ginger. (Hint: Be careful when grating it if you want to keep the recipe strictly vegetarian!) I get tired of cooking, but I enjoy creating or baking something new. If you can figure out that dichotomy, please explain it to me. 

What’s the importance to you of a happy-ever-after ending?

When I see a cute young couple at their wedding, I think, ‘Oh, if you only knew what’s ahead!’ Of course, I don’t know either, but I do know it will be an adventure. Life always is. The truth is that none of us ever life happily all the time, but we can always find a measure of happiness—even in trial—if we’re with our best and dearest friends. That’s what a good couple should be, and that’s how a good romance should end. I look for a good resolution in every story, even if a totally happy ending isn’t realistic. What’s the point in telling a story where everything ends badly? Where’s the hope or help in that? 

Do you truly believe in happy-ever-after?

Yes! Although no one is happy every minute, I believe a good relationship that starts with friendship and continues with mutual love and trust can be the heart’s home that we read about in romance novels. In June 2020, my husband and I will celebrate fifty years of marriage. Were we happy every minute? Of course not! We’re flawed human beings who have given each other plenty of grief along the way. In the end, he’s the one I most want to be with, the one I keep coming home to. That’s what happy-ever-after should be. 

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

On occasion, I’ve met people who say they want to write, but they don’t like to read. Their ambitions are doomed from the start. Read, read, read, read, read—whatever you can get your hands on. You can learn from poorly written work as well as from what’s good. When you find what you love, narrow down and read in that genre. Join writers’ groups, go to writers’ conferences, become part of—or even create—an accountability group where writers brainstorm together and keep each other on track. Study and practice your craft. Write every day. Listen to everyone’s advice, but, in the end, find your own path. Quoting Somerset Maugham again: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Susan Aylworth writes sweet and clean, contemporary romance novels set in small-town America (USA).

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