Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Essentially, I’m boring. My name is Susan Helene Gottfried. I have a BA and an MFA in creative writing. I own cats. I hang at the Hoity Toity Health Club in the mornings and dream of bicycling 100 miles at a clip. I’ve got two kids and a husband.
See? Boring. Are you even still awake?
What do you do when you are not writing? Do you have a day job as well?
Nope, no day job. I used to work as a freelance copy editor, but then my husband’s high tech company got bought out. I had an agent at the time and so my man and I decided I’d quit freelancing and focus on my ambition — writing fiction. Needless to say, the agent never sold a book for me, we parted ways, and then the ShapeShifter project was born. I was offered representation for it by another agent, but she, too, wasn’t meant to be. Now, I focus on writing and the marketing that goes along with it. Needless to say, I love my life.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Oh, I couldn’t give you a date for this one if I tried. I remember writing a book in seventh grade… maybe there was one before that. I call this my birth defect — I was born with the need to write. And while nothing ever came of those early attempts, the desire to get books into the world never left.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
It chose me, to be honest. When I was a senior in high school, I landed a job in this old-fashioned, mostly extinct creature called a Record Store. I was there when CDs were first released; that’s how old I am. But it was also the perfect time to be working in music. I fell in love with the business end of things and almost went to work for a record label once I had my undergraduate degree. But… I couldn’t figure out how to write books AND hold down that sort of all-encompassing job. So now, I write about rock and roll and the people who make it. It’s my way of combining my two loves. Two afflictions? You decide.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you ever experience writer’s block? Do you work with an outline, or just write?
Hey, there’s more than one question here! No fair!
My ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. When I am deep into a project, I’ll look at pretty much everything through my characters’ eyes. And I mean everything! From going to a hockey game to buying chicken.
Yep, I struggle with writer’s block. One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is that when I hit that wall, the best thing for me to do is rip out the last few paragraphs. Usually, being stuck is my gut’s way of telling me I’ve gone astray. Once I get rid of the bad stuff, I’m off and running again.
And no, I don’t use an outline. For my latest project, which I’m not talking about yet, I have the pitch done. When I wrote Trevor’s Song, I didn’t even have that much done. I just wrote, found the end, and then revised. A lot.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
I probably should point to Chuck Kinder and Reginald McKnight. They were my professors at Pitt, and they didn’t teach me to write; I already knew that. Rather, they taught me to laugh about my mistakes, to learn to recognize them, and to strive for improvement. I’ll never forget the time Chuck wanted to drop a German satellite on one of my main characters. Once your professor does that, the harshest criticism becomes a lot easier to swallow.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Snort. THIS was an adventure. I had Trevor’s Song ready to go. I’d even begun blogging as a way to build my audience — and they were absolutely rabid over Trevor. (He’s that sort of guy.) But I was getting nowhere with agents. Finally, I read an article that gave me some insight. I sat down with the afore-mentioned agent who offered representation, only to not pan out. It was at a writer’s conference, so I signed up for a pitch session with her, brought her a boatload of research that I’d done and said, “Is it true that books about rock stars don’t sell and this is the ultimate problem?”
She said, “Yes.” And then she wanted to hear about Trevor anyway. And, of course, she fell in love. And then she offered representation. And then she fell off the face of the Earth. Maybe she ran off with a real-life version of Trevor. Who knows?
That was 2006, I think. Somewhere in there. Self-publishing wasn’t what it is today — a viable alternative. That’s how the Demo Tapes were born — to test the waters and basically give my rabid groupies a book to hold in their hands. I didn’t get it out until 2008, and then Trevor’s Song came out last summer.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
The ONLY thing I’d do differently is get Trevor’s Song out sooner than I did. A lot of my initial groupies not only stopped blogging but unplugged from the Internet entirely. They probably don’t even know the book is out there. They are people who could have helped create a bigger momentum wave for the book, had they still been around.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I do mostly online marketing. There’s still a strong anti-self-publishing bias in my local community. I love doing interviews and guest blog posts, but I think what’s worked best for me is the support of my groupies. People who read Trevor love the guy, plain and simple. And they love telling others what they’re missing out on. I am lucky, and I know it.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
Nope, although I have a few hidden away — including the one that should have been the victim of that German satellite — that I might revise and put up on Smashwords, just to see what’ll happen.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
No, not yet. But I can — and will! — tell you that one of the books I’m working the hardest on is the sequel to Trevor’s Song.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Sort of… Trevor is part of a rock/metal band. (I’ll let you decide which.) I was never in a band; I’m tone deaf. Instead, I did crew. I was a DJ. I worked in record stores. I was all set to go work for a record label but walked away at the eleventh hour because I wanted to write books. I know the world of music inside and out — and know who to ask when I get stumped on a detail. But the conflict and the problems Trevor faces? All imaginary.
What project are you working on now? Will you have a new book coming out soon? Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I’m hoping to put out two books in 2011 — the third Demo Tapes anthology, with more short fiction featuring Trevor and the band. All of the stories were originally published on my blog, the Meet and Greet at West of Mars. I’m also hoping to get the sequel to Trevor’s Song out. But there’s also something new I’m drafting… stay tuned for that. It’ll be different but sort of similar. Maybe. I’m not sure yet; it’s still the early going.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Write, write, write. And be open to constructive criticism from others. The best advice I ever heard came from literary agent Barbara Poelle, via one of her clients: Read 2k words every day and write 2k words every day.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
There’s no better time to join the Trevolution! And thanks again, Jennifer, for having me stop in today.
Susan Helene Gottfried is the author of ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes — Year 1, ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes — Year 2, and Trevor’s Song. She can be found online at http://westofmars.com, where you can find The Meet and Greet, among other goodies.
A tone-deaf rocker-at-heart, Susan worked in retail record stores, in radio stations, as stage crew, and as a promoter while earning two college degrees in creative writing.
Susan walked away from a continued career in the music industry in order to write books, so it makes sense that most of her fiction revolves around rock bands. Once you get those record stores, radio stations, and fellow roadies and promoters under your skin, they never leave.
When not writing, Susan captains the team at Win a Book, a promotional site for authors and book bloggers — and readers like yourself.
The blog is the Meet and Greet at West of Mars — http://westofmars.com/blog