In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Suzanne Redfearn is the author of Hush Little Baby, a novel about a woman who risks her leaving an abusive relationship for the sake of her life and her children’s. Here is what Suzanne had to say about reading, writing, and cringing at her early work.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
Thank you for inviting me to do this interview. Like my protagonist I am an architect who lives in Laguna Beach, California. I have two kids, and my husband and I own a restaurant called Lumberyard. I am an “accidental author.” I didn’t set out to be a writer or go to school for it, I sat down one day with a story and started to write. Seven months later I had my first novel and I was hooked. Hush Little Baby is my fifth novel, but the first one to get published. It turned out that I love to tell stories. The stories I’m particularly drawn to are contemporary tales of morality. I love creating complex characters who I then pit against each other on either side of an issue.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
Write, write, write, and keep writing. I don’t worry about finishing or where it the story is going. I allow the story to develop at its own pace and its own organic way, but I always write. I keep notebooks everywhere and I don’t restrict myself to writing sequentially. I do a lot of my writing in my car. An idea will strike me and I’ll pull over and write a single line or a chapter. The best ideas come when I’m not thinking about the story. I keep a sticky note beside my computer that reads, “Drama is anticipation with uncertainty.” I go where the story leads me, having faith that it will take me somewhere unexpected and amazing.
People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?
Hush Little Baby is relevant to our times. The story was inspired by a couple who were going through a horrible divorce. There was a lot of he said/she said, and it was impossible to know who was telling the truth. It made me realize the power one spouse has to destroy the other. The idea was originally about marital sabotage and evolved into one about domestic violence and how far a mother will go to protect her children. In order to write the story I needed to do extensive research on abusive relationships and gained a chilling understanding of the pathology behind domestic violence. It made me realize that every woman is susceptible to the fear and manipulation abusers use to control their victims. I became incredibly sympathetic and much more understanding of their plight.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?
I just finished The Rosie Project and I absolutely loved it. Some of my favorite books are The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Writing has definitely changed the way I read. If I read something wonderful, I find myself envious of the author’s talent. If I read something not so wonderful, I find myself editing the book as I read which distracts me from enjoying it.
Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?
I do read when I’m writing. I try to avoid novels too similar to what I’m working on, but I find other author’s voices inspiring. I also do a lot of research, devouring anything and everything that pertains to the topic on which I’m writing.
What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?
Originally the novel had been titled Swing Low, and I had named it that because the hymn references Jillian’s Christian upbringing and alludes to Jillian stooping to the level of Gordon in order to save her children. A wonderful surprise came when I researched the song and discovered it was actually a song written by a black man who went to live with the Choctaw Native Americans after escaping slavery. The song is about him being separated from his family when he was sold as a young boy, and his hope to be reunited with them in heaven. He is praying to Jesus, asking if he will be forgiven for the bad things he’s done to survive – nearly the exact internal struggle Jillian deals with in the story. It was a wonderful discovery, but the title was changed, so the double-entendre was never realized.
What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?
Jillian actually says in the novel that she loves dramatic literary novels by Anne Tyler and dark thrillers by Stephen King. I think she would also appreciate Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?
When I’m writing, it’s very intense and the story is usually on my mind 24/7. I could probably use a “daily routine,” but truthfully, I’m not disciplined. I keep notebooks everywhere – my car, beside my bed, in my workout bag – I write bits and pieces in bursts and spurts throughout the day – fifteen minutes, an hour – from dawn until I go to sleep, sporadically taking time to type it into the computer. Two hours is the most I can write in a sitting, after that, my brain turns to mush.
Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
The book was originally titled Swing Low, but my publisher didn’t like it, so I sent in dozens of other ideas, and from those, Hush Little Baby was chosen.
Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?
I cringe at my early work, but I also cringe at my new work. Writing is hard work and it’s a process. The more you write the better you get, but it still comes out pretty rough at first. You need to be able to look at it honestly and put in the effort to fix it. Now that I’ve been at it for a while, I don’t stress over how bad it starts out, having faith that it will evolve and eventually come together.
How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?
Only one at a time, and it completely fills my brain. I mull a lot of ideas around between projects, waiting for one to take root. Then, when one does, I hang out with it for a few weeks to make sure I like its company since we’re going to be together every day for probably close to a year. If we get along well, and it doesn’t bore me, I take a deep breath and dive in. So far this process of selection has worked. I’ve hit a few hiccups and detours, but I have yet to scrap a concept entirely.
As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?
The passion of the readers. It’s awesome hearing from the readers about how my story and the characters impacted them and to hear their unique perspectives. I didn’t realize there was going to be such an intimate dialog and exchange between them and with me about the book.
Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
Paul was my favorite. I think I’m a little in love with him. He’s such a wonderful complex character who epitomized the misperception of evil and good, which is an underlying theme in the book. No money, no ambition, an ex-con, a rebel, a selfless good man.
Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?
I think maybe it is because I am an architect, but I do a ton of research before I start to write then continue to do research as I write. The first word doesn’t hit the paper until I have a pretty good handle on whatever topic I’m tackling.
Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?
I like to write in my car. It started because I happened to be in my car a lot because I have kids. It’s amazing how much writing you can get done sitting in the pickup line at school. And now, I find it’s the best place for me to focus; there are no distractions. It is confined, just me and the paper, nothing else. Obviously I spend a lot of time at my computer as well, but the first draft is long hand in a Mead notebook sitting in my car, usually with the ocean or the mountains in front of me.
I am working on an exciting new story about another mother protecting her kids. Though the mother-bear theme is similar to Hush Little Baby, the story is entirely new and the protagonist wonderfully different from Jillian. She’s more of an every-woman – a young, single mom, bumbling her way through life who finds herself in an extraordinary circumstance that quickly spins out of control. One kid thrives while the other two struggle, and difficult choices need to be made, this mild-mannered mom faced with the daunting challenge of taking the reins of her runaway life before they all go over the edge and she loses everything.
Have you read this far? I have signed copy of Hush Little Baby to giveaway to a reader courtesy of Suzanne! Fill out this form by Monday, December 9th at 11:59 p.m. EST for your chance to win this signed copy of the novel.
About Suzanne Redfearn: Born and raised on the east coast, Suzanne moved to California when she was fifteen. She currently lives in Laguna Beach with her husband, their two kids, a Cockapoo named Cooper, and a cat named Martha. Prior to becoming an author, Suzanne was an architect specializing in residential and commercial design. When not writing, Suzanne enjoys doing anything and everything with her family – skiing, golf, tennis, surfing, playing board games, and watching reality TV.