I want to first thank you, Ms. Albert, for granting me this interview. I will be posting the graphics of your China Bayles Herbal Mysteries, Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the Robin Paige Victorian Mysteries in chronological order. I have a few questions for you that I am sure the Cozy Mystery site’s viewers would greatly enjoy.
— I know you were a teacher in your “previous” life… Do you think that your training has helped you with your writing?
It was the research and writing training (I was an English professor) that has stood me in good stead. I learned to use a library and other research tools, learned how to search for information and organize it once I found it, and learned how to pull the material into a coherent narrative–not much different than the way I work today. Also, being in the classroom taught me how to think on my feet, without notes. In my current work, I enjoy doing panel presentations and talking to readers about the books.
— When you start a new mystery, do you plot it out in its entirety or do you let the plot advance as you write it?
I always start with an idea–usually fairly general–and a situation, which is usually fairly concrete. I put the characters into the situation, present them with difficulties, and let them find their way through (with the idea still in the back of my head). So the characters more or less invent the plot as we go along, within the parameters of the idea and the original situation. Often, I’m surprised at what they come up with.
— Where do you write your novels? Do you use the computer, typewriter, or do you prefer to write your manuscripts long-hand?
Does anybody compose in long-hand today? I’m a computer person. I wrote my first stories nearly 50 years ago on an antique (even then) Royal typewriter. I wrote my first academic book on a Montgomery Ward electric typewriter. My first book-length fiction was written on an Apple IIe. Now, I have a desk-top, a laptop, and an AlphaSmart. I still write the grocery list by hand.
— What is your typical day like?
When I’m writing (about 8-9 months a year), I’m at the computer by 9, into the book by 10, and done for the day by 5, when the dogs insist on taking me for a walk. I start with the new work I produced in the previous afternoon, doing revisions and expansions, then move into new work later in the day. I aim for 1500 words a day. I multi-task between the current writing project and emails, work with my webmistress, and other book business.
— Why did you decide to write mysteries, rather than another type of book?
When I left the university in 1985, I chose to write genre fiction, because I wanted to make my living writing and thought genre fiction was a better bet. for five or so years, I wrote mostly young adult novels (some of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, for instance). When I decided to move into the adult market, mysteries seemed like a good choice. I grew up reading and liking mysteries (Agatha Christie, Rex Stout)–didn’t care much for romance, didn’t read much science fiction, and Westerns were out-of-style at the time. So mysteries it was.
— Do you miss writing your Robin Paige Victorian Mystery Series with your husband, Bill Albert?
We both miss it–miss the research, the sharing of ideas, the what-ifs, the long conversations. But that project was terribly time-consuming. We get mail often, suggesting that we go back to the series, but we just can’t justify it in terms of the investment of time and energy it takes to write one of those books.
— Do you ever get writer’s block, and if so, what do you do to shake it?
I’m lucky–I don’t suffer from that malady. I do sometimes get stuck in the middle of a book and have to find some sort of impetus to move the story along. Usually, my afflictions go the other way: I have too much to say, too many ideas.
— How long does it take you to write one of your mysteries?
It takes about 70-72 days, on average. I know, because I have kept writing logs for over twenty years: notations of daily word count. I usually calendar 90 days for the project, because life has a way of presenting challenges and interruptions now and then. This doesn’t count the three days I spend doing the copy edit, or the 2 days it takes to read and correct the galleys. And it definitely doesn’t count the time it takes to promote the book, once it’s published.
— Once you turn a manuscript in to your publisher, what types of revisions take place and how much time elapses before the novel is published?
No revisions, just a slew of corrections on the copy-edited manuscript. I don’t rewrite, I just fix the many little things that need fixing. It takes my publisher 12 months to produce the book, from the manuscript deadline (in the China books, the end of March) to the publication (first week of April, the following year).
— Do you have pets, and if so, what types and how many?
At the moment, our animal companions include two dogs (Toro and Molly Maguire), both very active blue heelers (cattle dogs), a black cat named Shadow, two longhorn cows, a sheep, and an assortment of ducks and geese (haven’t counted them lately). Bill just told me (two seconds ago) that he counted eight deer on the other side of our fence. I don’t consider them pets, but I think THEY do. They also think that I’m growing roses especially for them!
Thank you again, Ms. Albert, for participating in this interview. It has been a pleasure for me, and I am sure it will be a pleasure for cozy mystery fans.
Thank you, Danna
Here is the link to the Susan Wittig Albert page on the Cozy Mystery site.
(In April 2014, when I moved my author interviews to a new area on the Cozy Mystery site, I changed the graphics to go down the side of the interviews, rather than have them at the bottom. I think it makes the page more colorful. I hope I’m right!)