Author Interview: Susan Sage

Are there therapeutic benefits to modeling a character after someone you know?

Absolutely! I modeled Catherine, a gutsy young law school grad, after my great aunt in my latest published novel, DANCING IN THE RING. She was one of the first women to graduate from the Detroit College of Law in the 1920s. Trying to see the world the way she did, as well as the way she had to put herself out there has curiously helped me become more assertive in trying to promote my book. Also, the main character of the draft I’m writing now is another confident and bold woman. Cassie takes on a job as a houseboat captain going down the Mississippi when a civil war’s about to break out. I’m not like either of these characters but writing about them helps me be less shy and retiring.

At what point do you think someone should call themselves a writer?

Great question! There’s probably no right answer, but I’d say it would have to be when someone’s been writing consistently for a long enough period of time. I began writing poetry when I was twelve and have written almost daily ever since. I guess by age 13, I felt justified to call myself a writer—at least to myself. It took years before I actually claimed to be one. It’s certainly not after a writer has been published, as has been purported by too many a non-writer.

Do you play music while you write—and, if so, what’s your favorite kind?

I play NPR radio. My station plays mainly classical music, though I have the volume down pretty low so I can concentrate. I often play with the volume until I get it just right—audible, but barely. I enjoy playing Classical, jazz, or really any instrumental music in the background. Nothing with vocals, as words are way too distracting!

Does writing energize or exhaust you? Or both?

Writing is as energizing as it is exhausting! I especially find writing a first draft to be the most energizing—even exhilarating. The slow process of editing can be both. If I realize something needs to be discarded or entirely re-worked, I’m at first energized, but pretty wiped out afterward. Because I’m a morning writer and don’t write for long chunks of time, I usually don’t leave my office feeling too weary.

Have you ever traveled as research for my book?

Yes, my new release, DANCING IN THE RING, takes place in Detroit, Michigan during the 1920s and 30s. While I’m from Detroit, I don’t get a chance to go there often, so I took a two day trip there to stop at the various places mentioned in my book. At the time, I’d already written several drafts. It was a great experience because I saw the neighborhood (Corktown) where my characters (who were real people) lived and was ecstatic to see a lot of the houses and a few buildings from that era were still standing.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

One of the two major characters is a boxer so I knew I wanted to have the word ‘ring’ in the title. The plotline revolves around the courtship and marriage of Bob (the boxer) and Catherine. They met in law school and married soon afterward. Their marriage was a difficult one—much like a boxing match. At first I called it ‘Trapped in the Ring,’ but a dear friend came up with ‘Dancing in the Ring’—and I liked it much better.

How do you process and deal with negative book reviews?

It’s not easy, but in the few instances that I’ve had them, it’s a growth experience. Before I’m able to process one, I feel steamrolled. A couple reviewers have pointed out flaws I’d been unaware of. There’s so much to know about the ingredients necessary for writing a good book, and there’s something elusive—but very real—about the excellent ones. Recently, I read that negative reviews actually help with sales because readers are curious about the reasons the particular book’s been poorly rated.

How do you use social media as an author?

The common advice seems to be for authors to make themselves as visible on as many platforms as possible. Hello? There are only so many hours in a day and I will NOT fritter away more of them than I already do. Someone once wisely told me to be active on a couple of them, though there’s nothing wrong with putting in a ‘guest star’ appearance on others. I like to occasionally share posts about my books. It’s not always easy to know how much sharing is too much…I still haven’t figured that one out!

How long did it take for you to write this book?

When I wrote DANCING IN THE RING, it was right after I’d recently retired in 2019 – just before COVID hit. It took a little over two years to write. My previous two books took a lot longer, no doubt in part due to working full time.

Have pets ever gotten in the way of you writing?

Every. Single. Day. I kid you not! I have two cats that are very spoiled. They come to my office door and blat at me every time they want to be fed, go outside, or simply want my attention. I try my best not to spoil them, but as a crazy cat lady, I find it almost impossible not to!