Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I’m Susan Finlay and I’m sixty-one years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
That’s a difficult question that sometimes stumps me, because I’m never sure how much to tell. I was born in Germany but lived there only as a baby. I grew up in the U.S. and have lived all over this country.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
In addition to writing, I love photography and traveling. I live in Arizona with my husband and our cats. Before becoming an author, I earned a degree in business and worked as a Bank Auditor. We have a grown son living in Germany and a grown daughter living in the U.S.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
On the 8th of January, 2018, I published my ninth novel. This one is Breadcrumbs and Bombs, the first book in a new historical mystery series set partially in the Sudetenland and Germany during World War II. It’s about a young American man’s search for his ancestry, but also about much more. It’s about secrets, lies, prejudice, betrayal, guilt, love, genealogy, and what it means to be a family.
I’m now working on a brand new YA time travel/historical mystery that goes back to the 1860’s and the Colorado Gold Rush. I’m hoping to get the book published around the middle of July this year.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
One of the things I like best about reading novels is that I’m not just seeing words. If the book is well-written, I’m seeing a movie in my head, feeling what the characters are feeling, and visiting all kinds of interesting places. I’m learning, experiencing new things, and perhaps even finding ways to empathize with people I didn’t previously understand.
That’s why I wanted to learn to write. I wanted to create that kind of experience.
I was a late-bloomer in that I didn’t start writing until I was in my forties. That said, I’ve always had stories rolling around in my head.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Fifteen years ago when I got serious about writing. I was determined to learn everything I could about writing so I could create the kind of books I loved reading.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I would browse in book stores, looking for the kind of stories I loved and that I used to read over the years, but couldn’t find anymore. I thought, why not write my own?
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Titles are difficult for me, usually. But when I first started working on the book, Breadcrumbs and Bombs, the title sprang to mind and it stuck. The ‘bombs’ obviously because of the war. The ‘breadcrumbs’ because people were starving during the war and also because the protagonist was searching for his ancestry and thinking of each little bit of information he found as breadcrumbs.
With my very first book, In the Shadows, the title didn’t come to me until I was working on the book cover, which features a painting my daughter made in her college art class. I loved the light post shining in the night, creating spooky shadows. That was perfect for the story in which a young woman is running away from something in her past.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I love writing books in close third-person viewpoint. I strive to get into the characters’ heads as deeply as possible. I also each write scene in one viewpoint only (no head-hopping). That said, when I finish one scene and start a brand new scene, I frequently will write that new scene in a different character’s viewpoint. My books may have anywhere from three to twenty viewpoint characters, depending on the story’s needs. That isn’t easy to do, because I need to keep track of all the characters and also create unique voices and identities, if that makes sense. I often include a cast list in my books, either in the front or in the back, to help readers keep track, too.
In Breadcrumbs and Bombs, I have seven viewpoint characters, some are children and some are adults. They are from different cultures and different places. Makes the writing challenging, but also allows me to show many different perspectives on the war and on family.
Here’s what I wrote in my Authors Note at the beginning of the book:
Although this is a work of fiction, the historical figures and the war itself are real and I’ve tried to make this story as realistic as possible. I’ve read many nonfiction and fiction books about World War II and how it affected everyone, on all sides. I’m particularly interested in the lesser known stories of the ethnic Germans living in the former Sudetenland and their expulsion from their homeland at the end of the war.
My American father and one of his sisters worked on their family tree many years ago. On one side of the family, they were able to trace back to early 1800’s. On the other side, they were able to trace back to the 1600’s. My mother, who came from the former Sudetenland and Germany, was able to also provide some history for her family tree, but only back a couple generations. Years later, after she’d passed away, one of her brothers obtained some old WWII-era Identity Cards that his grandparents had carried. He made copies for me and for one of his sisters. From those, I was able to fill in some missing information from that side of my family’s tree.
I tell you this, because I understand why people have an interest in genealogy. As I worked on this book, I got out those old records and photos and dug deeper around my family tree, in a similar way to what my protagonist does in this book. My historical research, and the story I wrote, helped me better understand what my German relatives may have endured.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Not usually, but sometimes travel that I did in the past influences my books.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Ken Dawson of Creative Covers in the UK designed my book covers.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I just want my book to make readers think and feel and maybe learn something they didn’t know. How the book influences them is entirely up to them.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I actually read far more books by new writers and/or indie writers than well-known writers, at this point. I’ve found much more variety of stories and freedom to write what the authors want to write, instead of what somebody tells them is ‘hot’ or ‘big selling’. I read books by Pam Jenoff, Gemma Liviero, Tom Winton, and many others.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
About five or six years ago I was a member of an online writing community called Authonomy (created by Harper Collins Publishing). In that group I met hundreds of other authors. We all helped each other, encouraged each other, and many of us are still online friends even though Authonomy is no longer a website. To help us stay in touch, I created a group on Facebook called Authonomy Friends.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Well, it’s certainly a career for some writers. I don’t have the marketing skills (yet) to go big, so it’s more of an aspiration right now.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, I don’t think so. It’s still really new and has only three or four reviews, but those reviews have been really good. That book is my favorite of all my books, and I hope readers will agree.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I tried something new with my latest book. I labeled each character’s scenes with their name, location, and date. This was because the book has two timelines and covers several locations. I also alternated chapters—odd numbered chapters were in present time; even numbered chapters were in wartime. That worked extremely well for this book.
I also did a lot of research for the book and learned a great deal of World War II history that I was never taught in school. Some of it was heartbreaking.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Hmm. Good question. First person who came to mind was Matt Damon, but he’s older than my main character, Lucas. He doesn’t really look like Lucas, either. I guess I would have to think more on that.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Don’t give up. Keep writing and keep learning. Never discard any of your book pages or old novels you’ve written. Sometimes, they’ll come in handy. Also, read other people’s novels. Read books on writing. Read grammar/punctuation books. Writing is a learning process and you should never stop learning new skills. Find a good editor. Proofread your books thoroughly, or hire a proofreader.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Before I became an author, I never wrote book reviews on Amazon. It never occurred to me that I should. I would read them, but I didn’t think it was my duty (or right) to write them. Since then, I’ve written lots of reviews. My husband has, too. What I’ve come to realize is that authors and readers need book reviews from all kinds of readers, not just from professional reviewers.
Authors look for reviews because they are putting their books out there to be read, and they long for feedback. They want to know that people aren’t only buying the books, but are actually reading them. Reviews also help the author (usually) because they help potential readers make a decision to give the book a chance.
So, if you are a reader and you want to write a review, how do you do it?
It can be daunting. How much do you need to say? What if you aren’t good with words, grammar, and punctuation? What if you hurt the author’s feelings?
Well, first, don’t worry about your own writing skills. It doesn’t matter if you make typos, misspell words, etc. No one is going to complain. Second, you don’t have to write an essay and give a full synopsis of the book. One sentence giving your feelings about the book is plenty. Readers and authors want to know your opinion. That’s what counts. Of course everyone has different likes and dislikes. Don’t worry if your opinion is different from that of other reviewers. It doesn’t matter. Go ahead and post your reviews. Third, it can be difficult to read criticism about one’s own book, but authors usually develop a tough skin and can take constructive criticism. Most won’t get their feelings hurt–provided the review isn’t a vicious attack meant to hurt.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m reading a book that is also about World War II and the Sudetenland. It’s called The 5K Zone and it’s by Gary R. Hall.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Oh yeah. It was The Wizard of Oz. I was about seven years old. I remember being amazed at how I was able to picture everything that was happening in the story. I told my mother I wanted to be able to write like that.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Photography, reading, hiking, billiards, gardening, etc.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I watch a variety. My husband loves the superheroes movies and shows, so I watch those with him. But I also watch science fiction, dramas, comedies, and a few variety shows, like Gold Rush and So You Think You Can Dance.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Watch movies and TV shows, travel, take photos, hike.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
I have a website. My son recently helped me update the website and he did a great job with it. https://www.susanfinlay.com/
You can also find me on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Susan-Finlay/e/B00H1BX1RA
And on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. The links are all on my website. I have a new email address, too. Susanfinlay.email@example.com.