1. Name: Susan Wylie Wilson, pen name Suzana Wylie
2. Age: 64
3. Where are you from: I was born and raised in Tupelo, MS, but as an adult have lived in Jackson, MS, extreme northern Maine, Biloxi, MS, western New York, the Florida panhandle, southern middle Tennessee, Alabama, and now Colorado.
4. A little about yourself (i.e. your education – Family life etc.): I’m the oldest of two, born to a very dysfunctional family. There was never a time when my parents were happy as a couple, and when I was in my early teens, their marriage finally (hallelujah) ended. I’ve always had an interest in science and languages, and my teenage dream was to go to work for NASA as an exobiologist (though the term didn’t exist at the time). Instead, I graduated from high school with four years of Spanish, two of French and two of Latin, and majored in French, before discovering the delights of Sociology. Much later, I got a Master’s in Computer Information Systems.
5. Tell us your latest news?: The third book in the Fallow Moon series is in edits at the moment, and will be released fairly soon, I hope. Another book, not in the same series, is being spit-polished for my publisher, and may actually be out sooner.
6. When and why did you begin writing? I’ve been writing since I figured out which end of the pencil to lick, as I tell people. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t make up stories, when I didn’t write poems.
7. When did you first consider yourself a writer? That’s a tough one. Reading a poem for Eudora Welty when I was in college was a big deal, but again, I’ve never not written, so it’s hard to pinpoint. Selling my first piece (a non-fiction essay for a magazine) was perhaps the first time I considered myself a professional.
8. What inspired you to write your first book? I’m going to confine this to my first completed book, since there are many that I began to write and didn’t finish for one reason or another (usually having to do with my inner editor). I wanted to create a world as rich and full of depth as Tolkien, though I had no illusions that I would be as good as he was. I wanted the symbolism, the deeper meaning that’s there if you look for it, the background of long history, and I wanted to do this in a world that didn’t include elves and hobbits and wizards. That first completed book then grew into a seven-volume epic fantasy saga, more than a million and a half words, written over eight months. It’s not available, since it needs a heavy rewrite, probably losing at least a quarter of its length. If you want to talk about the first book I finished that’s published, the inspiration is a bit different. I wanted to write a love story, but with the main characters two men rather than a man and a woman. There’s a dynamic in the relationship between two men that simply isn’t present with a man and a woman, and that dynamic fascinates me. Add to that the supernatural element-one of the main characters is a vampire-and it becomes even more interesting. It’s important for the world to see that two men (or two women) can fall in love and have the same desires for a life together that society is more used to seeing between a man and a woman. Men loving men, or women loving women, is perfectly normal and natural (though not the common and expected thing), and presenting those relationships in a positive light rather than the derisive mockery LGBTQ characters are often portrayed with helps to build understanding between the straight community and the LGBTQ community, and by giving LGBTQ young people positive role models, can actually and literally save lives.
9. Do You have a specific writing style: Not really. Different books require different voices and styles, and poetry even more of a different style and voice. Unless I have a character who speaks that way, I tend to avoid flowery phrases, though I’ve been told my prose is often poetic.
10. How did you come up with the title? Though I hate to admit it, Bittermoon was on a list of titles ‘for adoption’ in a National Novel Writing Month Forum. The sequel, Stygian Moon, is a very dark book, and ‘stygian’ refers to the river Styx which must be crossed by the newly dead in order to reach the underworld, and to darkness itself, so it seemed appropriate for a dark novel about a newly-turned vampire as he crosses into the life of a nightwalker. Fallow Moon (the third book and the series title) refers to a field which isn’t planted, but allowed to grow anything at all, to ‘rest’ the land. The relationships between the main characters haven’t been tended or cultivated, and many unwelcome things have grown up in the meantime.
11. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Other than the universality of love, the fact that there is more to the relationships between two men than simple the rut of sex, not really. Not in those books. Raveneye, the one not in the series, does have an underlying spirituality, as do the Sentinel Chronicles (the seven-volume saga).
12. How much of the book is realistic? The dynamics between the characters are realistic, and the settings are taken from actual places. Other than that, not much. After all, the characters are vampires.
13. Are experiences based on someone you know OR events in your own life? Only very loosely. Once we’re past a certain age, all of us experience grief and betrayal, love and longing, and those experiences carry over into my writing, but more specific than that? Not in Fallow Moon. Raveneye, a bit more so, since there is the spiritual dimension, and a bit of Native American-type ritual practice.
14. What books have most influenced your life most? There are many. Tolkien, obviously. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. Asimov, Heinlein, Niven – many science fiction books. The Disappearance, by Phillip Wylie. The “Watch” novels from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Everything written by Nya Rawlyns and Erin O’Quinn.
15. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? It would be a tie between Nya Rawlyns and Erin O’Quinn. Both have helped me tremendously, encouraging me when I needed it, banging me over the head with a large club when I needed that, and demanding that what I send into the world be the very best I have to give at that point in time.
16. What book are you reading now? There’s never just one. I’m on a Terry Pratchett kick at the moment, and have just finished “The Last Hero” (first read) and am re-reading “Night Watch.” I’m also re-reading Nya Rawlyns’ “The Wrong Side of Right.”
17. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? There are several ‘lit sisters’ at my publishing house whose work I’m watching carefully, including an emerging writer, Rebecca Poole, who is also my cover artist.
18. What are your current projects? Revising and editing Fallow Moon, polishing Raveneye. Raveneye is the story of a Native American/Latino gay man who has a raven as his spiritual guide, an assassin with origins in the Eastern Block nations who believes he’s straight, and a transgender woman who helps these very different men to form a relationship. There are a few books on simmer, including “Price of Admission”, a novel about a prison warden who entraps vampires and uses them in arena-style executions, “One Soul Between Us” the starting point of which is a kind of reverse beauty and the beast tale, and a possible collaboration with Nya Rawlyns, “Split Infinities.”
19. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members? Again, that’s a tie, this time 3-way. Nya Rawlyns, Erin O’Quinn, and Rebecca Poole.
20. Do you see writing as a career? Hmmmm. Possibly. The hesitation comes from the fact that careers are often 9-5 type things, left behind when leaving the office, and retired from after a number of years. I can’t see a time when I stop writing. It’s not exactly a career, though I am working at making a living from writing. It is simply who and what I am, and in that sense, no, it’s not a career.
21. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? Of course. Writing—and life—are learning experiences and nothing I did at any time in the past would be repeated exactly if redone today.
22. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I really don’t. Once I realized that those pressed sheets of dead tree that were corralled between pieces of buckram-covered binder’s board contained worlds, places to go, things to see, people to meet, people to be, I knew that part of me would always be involved in exploring and creating those worlds.
23. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
An excerpt from Fallow Moon, written in first person, from Leo Ruggeri Glendubh’s point of view:
It was supposed to be, I thought, a chance for us to be away from the High Court, for the first time in nearly two years. A chance to relax without the tension and the constant political bullshit that had plagued us since Kesan Glendubh and I reconciled. Saying that all of that had been a strain on our marriage was such an understatement that I couldn’t even get away with saying it to myself. It was far more than a strain.
Or maybe it was far less of a marriage.
I’d finally given in to Kesan’s near-constant pressure, and some pressures of my own, and stepped down as Peter Marsden’s Vice Chancellor. Kesan was older, stronger, and much more inclined to play those kinds of coercion games than I was or would ever be. He’d had enough practice to be good at it, especially with me. It wasn’t the first time I’d given in to his pressure. It hadn’t been my idea to marry in the first place, the legal pas de deux, and rings and vows. I hadn’t thought we needed that. But he’d wanted it, and somehow he’d managed to drag me to London for a long weekend and quickie wedding not long after we’d reconciled, while we were still in the ‘look, shiny’ phase. And then there’d been the whole Vampyr ‘eternity’ pledge at Court he’d also insisted on.
Two years later and I was wishing I’d had the cojones to resist. We loved each other, yes. But happy? No.
It’s never just one thing when a relationship between two people goes wrong. It hadn’t been easy for me at Court. Besides the constant strain of working on the Alliance between Vampyr and Varulv, the werewolves, there were other tensions. Peter had been setting in place the planned restructuring of the American Chancery to more closely align it with the European Court, and though he didn’t make this obvious, vice versa. That left it to me and to the Alpha Varulv to push forward the Alliance. While I was Vice, we’d often traveled to various Vampyr clans and Varulv packs, putting the need for the Alliance to them bluntly: Alliance or both races fade and die. It was a touchy situation, since it involved breeding hybrids and we had to overcome centuries—maybe millennia—of prejudice, ill-will, and feuds. It hadn’t been easy, but constant work had a good number of packs and clans playing footsie with us. The ones who weren’t? Yeah, they were a problem, but there were fewer of them as time wore on.
Or maybe their opposition had become less overt.
The Alpha, Brindle Demon by name and Marquis by rank, was Peter’s bedmate, and that fact both helped and hurt the Alliance. There are homophobes in both races, though not nearly as many as among humans. Brin had done his part, made his contribution, as Alpha, and the first hybrid would be born in a few months. Reports were that everything was going well with the pregnancy. That didn’t mean the work on the Alliance had gotten easy.
In some horror and adventure movies, there’s a room where the minor good guys are trapped and, to the tune of maniacal laughter, the walls move in, or the floor and ceiling decide to kiss and make up. You have to watch while the crew try, and fail, to stop the inevitable, until the pressure is so immense the soundtrack becomes the crispy rice cereal of bones, with snaps, crackles and pops layered over the screams. That’s what the last two years had been for me.
Sometimes in the movies, one of the gang would escape. It wasn’t happening in this scenario. I remembered the movies where the major good guy would pull a last minute rescue, yanking the pretty girl to safety. I wasn’t exactly a pretty girl—too much dick for that—but I knew if someone ever wrote the Script Starring Me who the major good guy would be. This appeared to be improv, though, and my good guy wouldn’t yank me out unless I was already more than half out in the first place, no matter how much I wished for just that. He’s honorable, that good guy. He has to be as Alpha, or the whole thing falls apart.
Like my marriage.
Brin and I managed to keep a lid on the doing, though not on the wanting to do, and the fact that I could and would deny myself—and Brin, an inner voice prompted—had been enough to keep the marriage going for a while. But the tick-tick of the long night hours had marked the passing of other things. In the absences, the turned shoulder, the cold sheets, it was plain that there was something amiss with Kesan. Something he wouldn’t talk about.
Kesan wheedled, set verbal traps, flung open the trenchcoat he wore over his temper, night after night. He pressured me to leave the Court, to go with him to Scotland, and finally I felt like I could walk away. I could leave our work on the Alliance in decent shape for Brin and Peter to take care of when they weren’t taking care of each other in bed. That was the other reason, besides my marriage, I’d stayed out of Brin’s bed, the fact that his lover was my boss, and leader of all the Vampyr.
Now Kesan and I were at his ancestral home in Argyll, and though I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there, I had to admit it was beautiful by moonlight. I shoved down the ‘wonder what Brin would think of it’ bit, and went back to looking around. There was less of the feel of manicured seed-and-roll-for-centuries that English estates seem to have. It was tended carefully but hadn’t been scraped down to bedrock and beaten into submission as a lawn. There was contour to the land, even small rocky outcroppings here and there along the slope upward to the site of the manor itself. I could hear a small stream out of sight but nearby. The estate was very peaceful, and exactly what he thought we needed. He hoped that it would be a good setting for putting the shine back on what we had had between us. I stomped hard on the mental raised eyebrow over my thinking ‘had had,’ putting our marriage in the past. Slip of the tongue. Or brain. I told myself in hopes I would believe it that it meant nothing.
But maybe I wanted it to mean something.
An excerpt from Raveneye, written in third person:
“Hey, Teo, your 2 o’clock’s here, and dayyum.”
“Gracias, chica.” Teo grinned at the lanky blonde standing at the doorway to the candlelit massage room. “I’m ready.”
“Uh, no, Teo, I don’t think you are. Wait till you see this one.”
“Just show…” Teo glanced at the appointment sheet, “…Mr. Sokolov in, Edie.”
“That won’t be necessary,” a deep voice sounded from behind Edie. “I’m already in.” The man eased his way past her.
Edie was right. This guy merited a ‘dayyum.’ Not a body-builder, but his fitness was obvious in the long lean lines of his torso, tapering from invitingly broad shoulders to slender hips. High cheekbones, different than Teo’s own, but still pronounced. The man’s eyes were a deep tawny brown, with flecks of gold scattered through the irises, and Teo was sure they could read him as if he were a—not even a book. Maybe a children’s book. Few words, but lots of simple lines and interesting shapes and colors.
“Dusan Sokolov. They didn’t tell me your name when I made the arrangements.” His accent was subtle, but it was there. Even without the name, the voice would have confirmed one of the Eastern Bloc nations as his home. A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of the man’s wide mouth. His grip as they shook hands was firm, his hand an odd mix of soft and rough, as if he worked with his hands, but also took pains to care for them.
“I apologize, Mr. Sokolov. I’m Mateo Velasco, but everyone calls me ‘Teo’, sir.”
“Teo. Where do I undress?”
“Here is fine, Mr. Sokolov. I’ll step out to give you some privacy. I’ll knock after a few minutes.” Teo headed for the door.
Teo closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it. Edie looked over at him from the reception area and winked. “Told you,” she mouthed.
“Where’s his jacket?” Teo pushed away from the door and looked around for the file folder that should have been on the reception counter.
“Well, that’s the thing. There’s not one. Management said not to worry about it.” Edie shrugged. “Some important person on the down-low, I figure. Can’t be his real name, so I didn’t google him.”
Teo nodded. “It’s not that unusual. Many of our guests don’t want it known they’re gay, after all.”
Edie grinned. “You’ve kneaded some famous backsides, all right. And some whose congregations would give a lot to know about it.”
“I don’t like that look, Edie.”
“Teo, you know I’m not going to jeopardize these cushy digs. Living at a resort? Not gonna risk losing that. It’s just that little devil in me, enjoying thinking about it.”
“Is that the bit that hasn’t had the surgery yet?” Others might gossip about where she was in the transition process, but Teo saw no point in changing the way they interacted simply because Edie was no longer Ed.
“You’re into fur?”
Edie grinned and pantomimed throwing a pen at him. “If I didn’t think you’d be busy later…”
“Too much woman for me, girl.”
“What’s a lady have to do to find something to stick her dick in around here?”
“Not a question I’ve ever needed the answer to.” He brought his mental shutters down. Edie was a friend, a work-friend, but he needed the solitude inside his own head to get himself under control before working on Sokolov, or he’d be too close to a line he would not cross. Massage wasn’t about sex. It never had been, and never would be. Not for Teo. If that’s what his clients wanted, they left with blue balls. What happened in the massage room was sacred, and he wouldn’t profane it with the sweaty slapping of flesh on flesh. If they were attractive, and offered, he might meet them later. But never in the room, and never, ever for money. I’m not a whore, he repeated to himself. I’m not. But Raveneye, my friend, sometimes I wish I were.
In the space between his ears, a raven croaked. An avian chuckle, perhaps. It could be hard to know, unless they were—
The door opened. “Teo.”
Edie peered around him, but Teo carefully blocked her view. Not that there was one. When he stepped into the room, his client was already sitting on the table, draw sheet across his lap. Sokolov moved fast. Maybe there was more than his obvious attractiveness about this client that would require careful handling.
Teo led Sokolov through the pre-massage questions about temperature, lighting and music preferences, about areas that needed particular work. They were questions he asked every client. Comfort and relaxation were key, after all, and while he was especially gifted at detecting trouble areas before touching the client, it was good practice to know where they thought the problems were, even if they were wildly wrong. How anyone could fail to recognize the body as a whole that works as a whole was beyond Teo. It was obvious, just as it was obvious the spirit world is a whole and works as a whole. But many couldn’t see that either.
The last question was always, “What do you hope to gain from massage?” Sometimes the client would mention sex at this point, or sometimes that would come later as he worked certain areas. Most often, sex wasn’t mentioned at all.
Sokolov’s answers had been terse. Not rude, simply direct. Like Teo’s own nature, though he had learned early to wear what he called his ‘robe of sociable’ at work. The answer to this question wasn’t exactly terse.
“You need to know something, Teo. I’m straight. I have no interest in sex with a man. None. And that’s not going to change.”
“And yet you’re staying at Aguajero Azul, a gay resort.”
“This is a good area to withdraw and recharge, so it makes no difference. I’m straight. Do you understand that?”
“Certainly. It’s unusual, but I have no trouble understanding either the need to recharge or that you don’t want sex with me.”
“There is a line with this massage, Teo. If you cross it, you will regret it.”
“Never, Mr. Sokolov. I’ve never crossed that line in this holy place—the massage room.”
24. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Making sure that each character has a distinctive voice and that they speak in and from that voice. Avoiding the cardboard cut-out syndrome with characters I don’t like very much.
25. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? Oh, that’s impossible. My favorites vary from time to time. There are some who are never off that list, though their places may swap around some. Pratchett, for the breadth of his imagination, his humor, and the depth that’s there if people stop to look for it. Rawlyns, for the essential reality of her work, her no-pulled-punches approach to how she treats her characters, and the stark beauty of her words, like the bare granite mountains covered in snow that pierce the abode of the gods and lift us there for a time. Erin O’Quinn, for the joy in her work, the hope that her characters manage to find in the midst of adversity, and the dead-accurate historical research that allows her not simply to create a world but to convince us of its reality and our own places in it.
26. Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? Have to? No. My life is, however, shaped around travel, since my family is scattered far and wide. I write on airplanes (earbuds are wonderful things and a notebook and pen can be used even during takeoff and landing), and when my travels are cross-country in a car, I take my digital voice recorder and talk through plots, or knotty problems, or ask my characters questions.
27. Who designed the covers? Rebecca Poole of Dreams2media. She’s amazing and incredibly easy to work with. With Bittermoon, there was a bit of back and forth, communicating what I wanted and locating models and poses she could use, but once that was done, and for the others, I’ve just said, “here’s the model I want to use, go forth and do magic” and she does, every single time.
28. What was the hardest part of writing your book? SPOILER: letting a main character die, leaving the other in despair and grief.
29. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? Indeed. I learned a lot about my writing process, and many fiddly bits about writing that have changed over the years (like the fact that an ellipsis is no longer followed by a period when it comes at the end of a sentence), and a great deal about how I react to criticism and suggestions, not all of it pretty. I know me a lot better, and that means I can know my guys a lot better, too.
30. Do you have any advice for other writers? Learn the difference between an attempt to help you improve (and you will always have things that need improving) and criticism. Listen to the people who want you to be the best you can be. Don’t burn your bridges behind you. Get people other than your family and friends to beta read and listen to what they say. Don’t stop writing, but don’t publish something the moment you put that last period at the end of the last sentence. Never publish something, even in your blog, that’s not your best work. Realize that it is work, and be willing to do the hard bits as well as the fun stuff.
31. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? Thank you! Please feel free to communicate directly with me about what you did and didn’t like. I may not agree with you, but I will listen to what you say.
32. Do you remember the first book you read? No, I don’t. I was reading by the time I was 4 and that was a long time ago.
33. What makes you laugh/cry? Almost anything can make me do either. Snow falling. Cats purring. The smiles of children. Danny Kaye movies. Pike’s Peak in the pink light of dawn. On the other hand, the blindness of societies and individuals who don’t realize that we’re all the same inside. The fact that in the land of plenty, there are people who stand in the snow at my grocery store parking lot with signs that say, “homeless, father of three, please help me,” and burst into unbelieving tears when I hand them a twenty dollar bill. The lack of simple courtesy and caring.
34. Is there one person past or present you would like to meet and why? John Lennon. Why? Because JOHN LENNON!
35. What do you want written on your headstone and why? I don’t want a headstone. I want someone to stick an apple in my mouth, sew me up in a gunny sack, toss me in a hole in the lower 40 with enough of a marker so Farmer Bill doesn’t plow me up, and let me grow apples for my great-great-grandchildren. That’s illegal in most states, so perhaps something like, “Love is all she needed.”
36. Other than writing do you have any hobbies? I knit, play piano, dabble in painting, am a hobbyist book-binder.
37. What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching? TV shows? Not many. I don’t watch TV much. I used to watch Star Trek (TOS, TNG), CSI, NCIS. Discovery channel stuff. Mostly these days, football. Films? Again, not much. I enjoy the classics, and there are some current movies I’ve enjoyed, like Matrix, Avatar, a few others. I think that Schindler’s List and The Help should be required viewing for entry into the human race.
38. What are your Favorite Foods/Colors/Music? Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Indian, love ‘em all. Colors? Purples and blues. I’m not a fan of yellow or orange. Music? Oh, geez. Beethoven, The Legendary Pink Dots, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Mozart, Gershwin, Mose Allison, Dave Brubeck, Beatles, McCartney, Lennon, Pavarotti, Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance), Audiomachine, Hans Zimmer… and many more.
39. If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done? Leave this planet and stand on another world. Find meaning in the heartbeat of a nebula. Learn from the Dalai Lama. Medical research. Sit at the feet of Steven Hawking. Paint.
40. Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? I have two, actually. This one http://suzanawylie.com has mostly poems, with a bit of non-fiction and short fiction. This one http://heartbreakroad.com I use to post bits of my current WiPs, sometimes public, but sometimes not.