Please introduce yourself and your books-
My name is Susan Buffum and I am the author of 18 novels, 19 anthologies, 6 novellas, and one early reader chapter book. The majority of my books have paranormal and/or supernatural elements paired with romance. I have a series dealing with witches and warlocks (Black King Takes White Queen, Black Knight, White Rook, and White Bishop Among the Pawns), a different sort of vampire novel (Out), a novel with a witch and a vampire and other assorted beings such a druid, an Amazon, and demons (My Magical Life), and a novel with a werewolf (The Clockmaker’s Son). Miss Peculiar’s Haunting Tales Volumes I-III have mostly supernatural stories while Miss Peculiar’s Ghost Stories Volume I and The Hanging Man and Other Stories (side note: I also drew the cover image for this book) are purely ghost stories. I also write light romance short stories and novellas (Love Me Knots, Auspicious Beginnings, Cupid’s Darts, Bending Birches, The Girl with the Ivy Tattoo) and Christmas stories and novellas (The Winter Solstice Ball, The Red Velvet Suit, A Major Production, Christmas with the Family, Christmases Past, Christmases Present, and Christmas Inspirations). I also have two novels in a series where the lead characters have been genetically altered by a mad scientist (The Archetypes-First Generation and The Archetypes-Shockwaves). I started self-publishing decades of writing in June of 2015 after sharing my work only with family and friends who all kept hounding me to do something with my writing. In 2016 Black King Takes White Queen was shortlisted for the OZMA fantasy award. In 2017 Out was shortlisted for the PARANORMAL award. In 2018, The Hanging Man and Other Stories was a finalist in the Best Book Awards/American Book Fest.
What is/are the stories behind your books?
I’ve lived in a haunted house and have had a number of paranormal experiences, so those things have influenced and inspired some of what I write. Otherwise, I honestly don’t know where my ideas actually come from. In my brain there are always stories being told, even when I’m sitting at my desk at work doing my job there are stories running through my head. (I call it my eight track brain, which probably dates me somewhat!) There is a story generator, evidently, that I was born with s the stories are just always there. It’s a little unnerving and frustrating to me that I can’t possibly write them all down.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Loneliness, I suppose. I was painfully shy growing up and had difficulty making friends. I was somewhat of a loner all through school, although I had a few acquaintances. I didn’t have any close friends until I met a girl in college and we clicked as best friends. We’re still BFFs today. I entertained myself reading a lot of books and writing stories and poems. To help myself fall asleep at night I told myself elaborate stories. I still do this to unwind at the end of the day. As far as creativity goes, I have always been creative. It’s genetic as my sister writes and my mother did some writing, too. We’re also artistic in my family. I do pen & ink drawings.
How do you deal with creative block?
I used to have anxiety attacks about writer’s block. It’s happened to me often enough that I have taught myself not to panic and worry about it, not to become frustrated because that only makes it worse. You can’t force yourself to write, to make something happen. I think we all hit dry spells when the spring of words runs dry. What I’ve found is that you cannot make something happen when it’s just not there. It’d be like putting an empty cake dish in the oven and waiting for a cake to magically appear. It’s just not going to happen. So I read one or two of the books in my stacks and stacks of to be read books scattered all over the house, relax, watch old movies, listen to music, and draw. In time (there is no set time frame- it could be weeks, it could be months, it could be a year or so) it comes back. I try to relax and enjoy the downtime while my brain reboots.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
One mistake is continuity issues. If something in the flow of the story is off it throws the reader off. It drives me crazy to find continuity issues in books I’m reading. It makes me stop and go back to search for where the problem lies just to make sure it’s the author and not me. And when I do that, it throws the pleasure of reading that particular book right out the window for me. Another mistake is veering off on tangents. A little detour that circles back fairly quickly to the main plot is fine, but don’t give the reader an uncharted tour of your extensive imagination or they may jump ship and abandon the book because they lose interest in the story you were writing before you decided to entertain yourself with these divergent forays into areas that have no significant impact on the main plot. And finally the ultimate big mistake is writing a great book and giving it a quick, sloppy ending. That leaves a bad impression of you as being lazy and careless, or simply in a rush to get the book out. My husband just complained about this after reading a couple of books by an author I won’t name here, but he was ticked off because the author wrote great books, but they ended suddenly and left him feeling angry because there were too many loose ends, there should have been something more, not just an abrupt ‘I’m done writing this’ ending. If you’re going to write a book check the continuity, don’t go off on odd tangents that are irrelevant to the story you’re telling, and take the time to write a proper ending that will leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction that you’ve done your job.
Do you have tips n choosing titles and covers?
Titles are my stumbling block. Whenever I think up a title I Google it to see how many other authors have already used that title, and if there are too many, I discard it and think up another until I have something a little different. Covers are the bane of my existence. Fortunately, I have a clever author friend who is also a graphic artist/designer. She asks me for central images and themes in my book and comes up with great covers. She designed the cover of The Clockmaker’s Son for me in less than an hour. She even included a sweet little violet on the spine!
I do find myself going into bookstores and critically examining book covers, specifically looking for covers that catch my eye and examining them to determine why. I also look for covers that my eyes would ordinarily skim right over and try to figure out their flaws and why they just don’t work. It’s author homework to get out there and look at other authors’ book covers.
I have no secret tips on either titles or covers- just heartfelt good luck wishes to authors everywhere on coming up with a good title that hasn’t been used a hundred times by other authors and a decent cover that will help sell your book.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I have a little sign on the bulletin board near my desk- ‘You can’t please everyone.’
When I walk into a bookstore I view it as a big box of chocolates. I’m not going to like all of those books. Some of them may look interesting, attractive, tempting on the outside, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to enjoy the text inside.
I don’t write my books with the expectation that everyone is going to like it or love it. That’s rather nave and unrealistic. Being an author should come with an automatic understanding that not everyone is going to like your work, so rejection and criticism is inevitable.
It stings when a critic pans your book or makes disparaging remarks- but you have to remind yourself that there are NO impartial reviewers. Human nature prevents us from being that way. I’ve received some very strange critiques in my four years self-publishing. One reader gave me a low rating in her review because in my anthology I had too many red-haired female characters. She thought I was obsessed with redheads. The real story is that every ginger lead character I write is a secret hug meant for my goddaughter Emily who has red hair. It’s a personal thing, not an obsession, like Carol Burnett tugging her ear at the end of her shows to tell her family she loves them. I do not make every lead female character a redhead, but that reader skipped over the blondes and brunettes and just nitpicked that point after reading only one of my books. I thought it was a weird reason to give a low rating when the quality of the writing and the content of the story and how well it’s told should matter more than the hair color of the lead characters.
Another critique complained about my grammar in a fantasy novel. The ironic thing is that her critique was riddled with grammar errors. I felt like correcting it in red pencil and sending it back, but restrained myself. I am the author in this relationship between writer and critic, the one with the talent and creativity whereas she just has to complain about something, I suppose, in order to feel that she’s doing her job.
I do appreciate constructive criticism, not petty complaints. Tell me what I did wrong, the technical stuff, like a poorly designed cover. I need to know things like that. I pay attention to the good advice and it has helped me grow as an author. The petty stuff, it just makes me shake my head. Constructive criticism and critical observations about issues in the book are good, whereas petty nitpicking belongs on the elementary school playground, not at the professional level you’d think these people would work at.
How has your creation process improved over time?
I used to restrain myself a great deal in the past because I wrote for my daughter as she grew up. It took me awhile to ease into more adult topics and situations, to let my writing grow. Kelly has always been my most avid reader since I write a lot of stories for her while she was growing up, and still write for her now that she’s in her upper twenties. My writing has matured. My creation process now encompasses subjects I wouldn’t broach in the past. The Worth of a Woman was totally different from anything else I’d ever written. It was wrenching for me to write, but Jade’s story needed to be told. I went to work in tears after writing a rather heart wrenching scene and my co-workers thought a real person had died when I’d only killed off a character that was close to my heart. Otherwise, I used to write just off the top of my head, the story unfolding and telling itself as if I was just channeling my muse. Now I actually write down notes and ideas for advancing the plot. With each new anthology of stories, novella, and novel I am growing as an author and gaining more confidence in my ability to tell a story. My maternal grandfather was a fantastic oral storyteller. I’ve always been a listener and observer, but I can write a good story.
What were the best, worst, and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your books?
The best thing I’ve encountered during the process of writing my books are the other authors I’ve met and become friends with over the past two years. I was encouraged to form a writer’s group in my hometown, but I didn’t want it to be one of those sit and write to prompts and then gently critique one another groups. I created a social and support group for local authors without any real expectations of it going anywhere. I have been thoroughly surprised by this group. When a group of authors and writers get together in a room the energy generated is invigorating. We currently have 54 members, some as far away as Minnesota, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont. We stay connected on a private facebook page for the group. When we get together for our monthly meeting we laugh, we cry, we talk non-stop about writing and our various journeys. There is a tremendous connection between us. We support, encourage, commiserate, help, and advise one another, and celebrate our successes whether they are large or small.
The other best thing I’ve encountered was how quickly I made progress in writing contents. I began self-publishing in 2015. I entered a Chanticleer Review contest in 2016 (OZMA Award for fantasy, etc.) with a novel I’d just written for Kelly, Black King Takes White Queen in June of that year. It wasn’t even completely edited, so being shortlisted in that contest kind of blew me away. The following year I entered my non-traditional vampire novel, Out, in their PARANORMAL Award contest. Again, this novel had just been written. I was amazed that it was also shortlisted. Then, in 2018, I put together a collection of ghost stories which included The Hanging Man, the longest story in the anthology. I named the book The Hanging Man and Other Stories. I needed a cover for the book, so one day, during my lunch break at work, I grabbed a piece of copy paper from my printer and drew a hanged man with black Flair marker in about twenty minutes. That drawing became the cover of the book. That quick drawing was framed and displayed in the local book shop along with copies of the book and was purchased by a collector of horror and the macabre, And the book reached finalist status in the Best Book Awards sponsored by American Book Fest that same year.
Although I haven’t won any major awards, to be recognized by being shortlisted twice and reaching finalist status once in the three years after first starting to self-publish my books, without really promoting myself is kind of incredible to me, but tells me that I am an author and I can tell a good story.
The worst thing I’ve encountered is the monumental task of self-promoting and marketing my work. I’m really bad at stuff like that. I like the writing part. I can talk about my books in small groups and to individuals, but selling my books out there in the marketplace is thoroughly intimidating and overwhelming to me. I also work full time, so I have very limited time to do anything because after work I write, I draw, I attend board meetings and writer’s group meetings, and squeeze in managing and running my home in spare moments.
The most surprising thing I’ve encountered is that people come up to me at book signing events and ask when a sequel to a specific book is going to come out. I always leave room in the story at the end for the possibility of a sequel, and have written a couple series, so the surprise factor is that people connect with these characters and want more of them. I have my favorite characters and hate to end a book and leave them behind, so fans wanting sequels is not a bad thing by any means. It shows me that I’ve created characters they’ve connected to and invested something of themselves in.
The other surprising thing is the support and encouragement I’ve received from my friends who’ve known me for many years, were vaguely aware that I write stories because I’ve occasionally shared one with them, but didn’t necessarily know how much I’ve actually written over the years. They try to treat me differently now, but I won’t let them. I just say, “Hey, I’m just me. You’ve known me for years, so don’t make a big deal out of this.”
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
Primarily, I write the book I’d want to read. Often, I throw things in that I think other people will enjoy and then sort of blend and merge it all together into a seamless whole. I don’t think it’s possible to actually be able to balance the two because readers can be a fickle lot while authors can be somewhat self-absorbed in the sense that we observe and listen to everything going on around us and then it all gets processed, sorted, embellished, fictionalized, expanded upon, edited, and recreated internally in that little engine comprised of gray matter lurking within our skulls. It’s an internal process that no one can physically see until all the words are printed on the pages.
Balance? I just try to write a ripping good story. But, sometimes the author and the reader find themselves way out there in separate pastures divided by several fences- the connection is not happening. As an author, my satisfaction lies in writing the book I’d go into a bookstore and buy, take home, and thoroughly enjoy. I’m happy when readers tell me they love my books. I’m uneasy and disappointed when readers tell me they didn’t like my book, but also curious to know why so I can better understand what failed to happen between me and that reader. Most of the time I don’t get the why from those readers who didn’t care for the book.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
As human beings we connect with one another on an emotional level. We bond via shared experiences. To connect yourself as an author to a reader you need to create characters that readers can emotionally connect with. If your characters are flat paper dolls you move around in nicely defined scenery then readers are going to close the book and donate it to the next book sale. Characters, like real people, need flaws and foibles. No one is perfect, not even in the world you create as a writer. Yes, you can create gorgeous, handsome, breathtaking characters but you need to give them a few real characteristics- like she’s ashamed of her hands because she’s been a nail biter since childhood, or he has a pesky cowlick that ruins his perfectly cut and styled hair. Give them some real issues like anxiety, self-doubt, a degree of social awkwardness, clumsiness, an off-key singing voice, a nervous habit like finger tapping. Make your characters real so that your reader will emotionally connect with them. That’s where the power of good story telling lies.
Also, we share universal situations- sickness, the birth of a baby, the death of a parent, or child, or pet. We celebrate triumphs and commiserate with one another over defeats, losses, things that don’t turn out as expected. Everyone likes a happy ending, but in real life, it doesn’t always happen.
Besides creating a world in which your characters dwell and enact the tasks you as the author assigns him, or her, or them you need to create moods and situations that evoke emotion in the reader. A tightrope walker stumbles and teeters on the high wire- the reader’s heart rate increases. Will she fall? Was a safety net previously mentioned? Will she recover her balance? She does and she continues on, reaching the safety of the platform where she’s embraced by her sibling, her father, mother, lover- whoever is as happy that she made it as the reader is. Or, you can have her fall. As the creator of this imaginary world, the characters’ fates lie in your hands. The emotions you wring from your readers also lie at your fingertips.
Do you have any creativity tips?
Not really. Stuff just pops into my head ready to write, or it gets kicked around a bit and either develops into a story or gets relegated to the ripening room in my brain where it might re-emerge in a better form later on.
I think people are born with various degrees and types of creativity. I am an author and an artist. My husband, on the other hand, is brilliantly analytical and understands technology, things that are lightyears beyond my ability to comprehend. Our daughter has all of these traits-she writes, she draws, but her drawings are different from mine in that hers are very technical and detailed whereas mine are detailed but have some imagination to them. She’s an engineer. He works in IT. I would be happy just writing and drawing all day, but work in a medical office. I am organized and a good problem solver. I also can get things done while my husband and daughter are procrastinators.
When I am with a group of author friends I feel connected to them. You can feel the electrical, spark-like charge of creativity leaping from one to the other of us as we chat about writing and related subjects. It’s invigorating, to say the least. Put me in a room with computer geeks and mechanical engineers and it’s like hitting the snooze button in my brain, although John and Kelly are in their glory.
What are your plans for future books?
I write in multiple genres and many of my books are cross-genre. I never know what I’m actually writing until it’s finished. I have three novels that I’m currently working on- a paranormal romance with some suspense elements, a witch/warlock novel that melds past and present as a longstanding feud reaches the point where it’s going to be resolved one way or the other, and a straightforward romance with no ghosts, supernatural events, werewolves, vampires, witches, or other beings- just ordinary people.
I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a western. We’ll see what happens with that!
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.
I surround myself with props to help me write. I have a lot of plush animals, including a big werewolf Kelly gave me for Mother’s Day when I was writing The Clockmaker’s Son.
I collect antique and vintage clothing buttons and charmstrings, which are long strings of antique buttons strung in the mid-to-late eighteen hundreds- a popular fad among girls at the time. I have an online charmstring museum featuring many of the strings in my collection.
When I can’t sleep because my mind won’t shut down or I’m having anxiety I get up and clean my dining room which is where all the creative stuff accumulates- novels in progress, binders of stories, loose stories, half-finished drawings…it can get quite messy.
I have a dark, wry sense of humor.
I don’t like horror.
I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio, although I like old movies and can be persuaded to watch one occasionally.
Other than that, I’m pretty normal.
Learn more at http://susanbuffum.blogspot.com