Susan Baganz is the author of 12 novels and 3 novellas including the new Christmas romance The Doctor’s Daughter. She is also an editor for Pelican Book Group. She was kind enough to let me interview her not only super close to Christmas, but super close to her wedding. Congratulations, Susan! And thank you.
You write lighthearted contemporary romance and Gothic Regency romance. What attracts you to romance in general and these subgenres in particular?
To be honest – I was in a difficult, abusive marriage for years. I think I started reading romance because I still believed that true love and godly, honorable men still existed. I started writing that genre as a way to give my characters the love I lacked. That’s sounds so depressing doesn’t it? But the reality is that the greatest romance is between God and us. I also wanted to write books that my daughter, if she read them, could see a better standard for her to strive for should she seek a husband someday.
I started writing Regency because it was one of my favorite genres to read but there is little out there in the Christian marketplace. Other than my Christmas novellas, my Black Diamond Gothic Regency series has more suspense to it, a bit more darkness that my characters have to fight. We are all in a spiritual battle whether we realize it or not. I put a person for my characters to battle, even though at the beginning of the series they didn’t really know who it was.
I started writing in 2009 with National Novel Writing Month – and wrote The Virtuous Viscount. Then I wondered if I could write without the challenge of the 50,000 words in 30 days that NaNoWriMo presented. So I tried contemporary, Pesto & Potholes, as a way to put a psychological concept into a metaphor. I have a master’s degree in counseling psychology so it seemed a fun challenge. That book was the first that was published. Both of those first books were the ones I cut my teeth on as a writer and underwent complete re-writes and revisions. Pesto & Potholes has far more of “me” in it than I realized, however, so it is near and dear to my heart for that.
What is your favorite part of the writing process? Why?
Writing the rough draft is my favorite because I start with my main characters, a title, concept and inciting incident. I know I will have a happily-ever-after ending but have no idea how I will get there. I liken it to riding a roller-coaster. I strap myself in tight and hold on tight for the wild ride and enjoy most of the ride. It is bittersweet when I end the story. I never write “the end” because in my mind the story only stopped there but the lives of my characters are still going on. They become very real to me.
What is your least favorite part of the writing process? Why?
About the second week of writing I hit what I call “the wall of fear.” This only happens in full-length novels, not novellas. But I get to a point where I believe that what I have written is drivel, the worst thing ever. I think I’ve written myself into a corner I can’t figure a way out of and believe it to be boring. I’ve recognized it is fear. I pray, sleep on it, and then force myself to write. I’ve written 14 full length novels (12 of those are published) and could not tell you now where that spot was.
You are an Editor for Pelican Book Group. What is your greatest joy as an editor? What is your greatest challenge?
My greatest joy: I love helping another writer reach their publishing dreams. I’ve met and made some wonderful friends in the process which is a delight to my heart.
My greatest challenge? Divas. Authors who get demanding and sometimes even insulting. An editor is your champion. When I contract a book, I want the very best for that novel and not every author treats me like that. I’ve been insulted and slandered. Not a wise thing to do in this industry. There are a few authors that have gone elsewhere now for future products and it might seem mean to say, but I’m relieved they are not people I have to work with anymore. They were amazing writers but difficult to work with which takes the joy out of the process.
Any editor pet peeves you’d like to share?
Authors who are divas. Some that fight the house style rules or argue about internal dialogue. I love internal dialogue but it should be used sparingly (much like an exclamation point!). I don’t get much push back on exclamation points but sometimes I do when I remove and change too much internal dialogue. Some publishers won’t accept it at all.
I really hate first person present tense and personally I won’t publish it. I’m not a fan of first- person past tense but for mysteries or suspense it can work if it’s done well so I have published some of those.
What is a writers conference like from the editor’s perspective?
First word that comes to mind is: Exhausting but fun! I love teaching so that’s fun and I enjoy meeting authors. The hard part is when I have to be honest about issues or problems that an author needs to fix for their writing. I never want to crush an author’s dreams but there’s a fine line in how to communicate that with love and encouragement as I have been a writer coming to conferences and more than anything I want that author to walk away, maybe not with a promise of a contract but at least hope that they CAN do this if they persevere and do the hard work. Because of that I always pray with every person who sits down with me – because even if I never publish them, they are still my brother or sister in Christ and I want them to know that love that goes beyond getting published. Our worth cannot be tied up in that, but it can be hard because our writing is an extension of who we are.
You have a seminary degree in counseling psychology and a background in mental health. How does this knowledge and experience influence your writing?
As I mentioned, my contemporary series does delve into deeper emotional issues that my characters have needed to face. I hope I can be more authentic in not only exposing those hurts of my characters in such a way that the reader will resonate with, but also in helping them find healing throughout the story. I don’t write psychological thrillers though. The love of another person isn’t the cure, but a healthy relationship can help with healing as I’ve found in my own life.
Remember I started writing because I lacked love in my personal life– but this year, God blessed me with scripting my own real-life romance. Not perfect, but definitely better than anything I could have dreamed of or hoped of for myself. And definitely not without conflict from outside forces either! I look forward to seeing how that impacts my future romance novels!
What particular advice do editors typically give that authors typically ignore?
Not giving due process to preparing a manuscript for publication. Write, let it breathe, go back and revise. Get a beta reader or two. Revise again. Use tools like autocrit.com or prowritingaid.com to evaluate overused words and phrases. (Or do it yourself and look for overuse of the following words: feel/felt, hear/heard, know/knew, have/had, then, than, just, see/saw, look, watch are just a few!). Let it rest – then read it again critically. However, having said that, it took a good friend to tell me that you can edit and revise forever, at some point you need to dip your toe in the publishing pool and submit!
Not submitting when I ask for a manuscript is huge. The majority of people I ask to send me a story never do.
Every author has to decide what advice to accept or reject because much of what an editor does is subjective. As an author myself I’ve had to weigh that kind of feedback too. I have a novel right now that got torn apart and I had to question: was the editor right? I even went to another author/editor/friend to give me a second opinion. Kind of like going to a doctor for another opinion. She generally concurred and now I have some serious work do to and thankfully that friend was able to be brutally honest with me and tell me they thought I had been lazy in writing that story. I had to think and pray about it and say I think she was right. So now I have some hard work to do to fix it and make it publishable.
What do you look for in an author beyond the quality of the writing?
I’m more about story than I am about platform. However, if I have an author who I work well with, who does the work I ask and has a good attitude about the process, then that is the kind of author I would want to continue working with. We always hope that an author will continue beyond that first book as the relationship becomes a valuable part of the process.
Thank you, Susan!
Check out The Doctor’s Daughter
Miss Silvia Burnett is left without a home after her father, a local physician, passes away unexpectedly. She appeals to a friend from boarding school, Mrs. Katrina Tidley, who resides in the same area where her father’s mentee set up practice. With a calf-love on her part, they’d once agreed to wed each other if she remained unattached at a certain age. But are youthful promises meant to be kept? Would the handsome physician want her now?
Dr. Bruce Miller has watched all his friends from university marry and begin their families. Living in the village of Didcot did not provide him with a wife. When a letter from the daughter of the doctor he interned with in Bristol arrives at his door, hope soars within that maybe this woman is the answer to his lonely nights.
As influenza spreads and Silvia uses her talents in medicine to aid the doctor, will he find her competition or a viable companion? With Christmas dawning, will dreams be shattered or fulfilled?
More about Susan:
Susan M. Baganz chases after three Hobbits and is a native of Wisconsin. Susan writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view.
Susan speaks, teaches, and encourages others to follow God in being all He has created them to be. With her seminary degree in counseling psychology, a background in the field of mental health, and years serving in church ministry, she understands the complexities and pain of life as well as its craziness. Her favorite pastimes are lazy…snuggling with her dog while reading a good book or sitting with a friend chatting over a cup of spiced chai latte.