Author of the Month
Susan Wittig Albert
[June 2008]
Chosen by reviewer Laura Strathman Hulka , MyShelf.Com

 


 

Susan Wittig Albert has been a fascinating and influential writer to me from the first moment I picked up Thyme of Death in 1992. China Bayles was the perfect character for my post-hippie decades; she was clever, loved herbs, and didnít have to have a man to be complete. Of course, as the books progress, she develops a permanent relationship with eventual-husband Mike McQuaid, but never at the expense of her independence and individuality! I was so pleased to have some time to interview Susan via email, and catch up to date on all her news...

 


Interview

Laura Strathman Hulka: You continue to expand your interests and your book series - and I love all of the series, including the ones done with husband Bill Albert. Are there other series or books in the wings for you?

Susan Wittig Albert: You never can tell, can you? The Cottage Tales will be finished in a couple of years - just eight in that series. So I may spin something out of the China Bayles series. I really enjoy Sheila Dawson and expect to do a book featuring her as the central character. If that goes well, maybe she'll become a new series. I've also finished a memoir (due out in Fall, 2009) and I'm working on another book of personal writings, a journal about the year I'm living, a year-in-the-life-of-a-writer book. I've got a fiction trilogy stuck in the back of my mind, but it's probably 3-4 years away. Lots of stuff!

Laura: Only the China Bayles series can be seen as a "modern period" series; do you prefer to write about other time periods such as with Beatrix Potter's early 20th century experiences, or the Victorian / Edwardian eras in the Robin Paige, Kate Ardleigh Sheridan and Sir Charles Sheridan series?

Susan: Contemporary fiction is easier, since this is my culture, my time, and the research burden is substantially less. But I love the more formal English of Victorian / Edwardian England, and I always learn so much with every book. I love doing both. Actually, I love doing whatever I'm currently doing, which at the moment is one of the Cottage Tales.

Laura: Only the China Bayles series can be seen as a "modern period" series; do you prefer to write about other time periods such as with Beatrix Potter's early 20th century experiences, or the Victorian / Edwardian eras in the Robin Paige, Kate Ardleigh Sheridan and Sir Charles Sheridan series?

Susan: Contemporary fiction is easier, since this is my culture, my time, and the research burden is substantially less. But I love the more formal English of Victorian / Edwardian England, and I always learn so much with every book. I love doing both. Actually, I love doing whatever I'm currently doing, which at the moment is one of the Cottage Tales.

Laura: You have lived in several states, Illinois to California and then to Texas. How have those moves affected your writing? How much traveling do you now do in research or for fun?

Susan: I don't think the moves from state to state influenced my writing, although it's true I went to California to go to graduate school, and there's nothing more dismal than Academic English. Texas (which is really a state of mind) has made me looser, livelier, maybe. We're pretty crazy down here. Traveling for fun: Bill and I have a vacation place in the mountains of New Mexico - we drive back and forth (counting every mile these days, believe me!) I travel for book promotion, usually in April - long, drive-myself book tours. A couple of years ago, I drove a 10,000 mile tour. The research travel is pretty well wrapped up until I come up with a project that's set, say, in China or New Zealand.

Laura: Do you think of yourself as China's alter ego? Do her Texan points of view and history stem from some of your own experiences or personality traits?

Susan: China is a lot like me in some ways: too structured, too logical for her own good, too sure that she is right, too hung up on personal space. She needs Ruby to take her down a peg or two, and McQuaid to hold her close. Also, China's legal career as a criminal defense attorney gave her a skewed view of the justice system, which I always think of as quintessentially "Texan" - we're not only crazy, we're outlaws, some of us.

Laura: I have recommended your books to many women of all ages. Do you have a particular age group or focus group in mind as you write?

Susan: That's a really good question, Laura - and it's changed. When I first started writing the series in 1990, I was writing for late-80s feminists, mostly East Coast / West Coast, in their early-mid 30s. In the mid-90s, I realized that the biggest audience for these books is the garden / herb cozy reader: I added more garden-related material, recipes, and crafts, and softened China's language. I even went back to Books 1 and 2 and took out what my mother called the "bad words." Now, the audience is older, I think - and of course, so am I. I'm always surprised when a guy pops up and says he's a China fan; I hug him and tell him he's in the minority, but I'll take all I can get.

Laura: Tell us a bit about your place in New Mexico. What motivated you and Bill to buy there - and how does it affect your approaches to work and play?

Susan: We're south of Taos about an hour, on the east slope of the Sangres, at the edge of a national forest, on a mountainside overlooking a valley. We love it, especially the snow in the winter and the cool mountain breeze in August (when it's 104 in the shade back in Texas). We knew people in the area and enjoy being a part of several communities. Work / play? Gosh, it's hard for me to separate the two. I have a loft writing studio that looks up into a mountain, pine trees, blue sky, birds. Writing there - which is working, I suppose - is really like being on vacation.

Laura: You mentioned on your website (MysteryPartners.com) that you are journaling more intensely these days, with an upcoming book about your current year. How important has journaling been in your life? Do you enjoy the technique of blogging?

Susan: Oh, wow. Journaling has been my life-line since the late 60s, when I moved from Illinois to California, started grad school, and got a divorce. Journaling has kept me sane through a great many life changes. It helps me understand how I feel, what I need, who I am, where I've been, where I'm going. The blog is a public journal: journaling for an audience. There's a difference, a huge difference, actually. The journal book I'm writing is also journaling for an audience. The "raw" journal (the journal I keep for me, myself, my Self) is something else altogether, richer, intensely private, sometimes completely incoherent.

Some of your non-fiction works are geared toward women changing careers, women understanding and appreciating themselves. Does your journaling flow from those interests? (women, careers, personal development)

Susan: It's the other way around, actually. All the things I do flow out of the journal, in the sense that the journal is where the exploration begins, where I figure out what I think, what I need to be doing. I think that's often true with women who journal: the journal is sister / friend, confidante. That's the point where the spirit begins to move out into the world, into words. Then words become acts and choices, and choices and acts manifest themselves in a variety of interests - no, passions, really.

Laura: Any other news to share with Myshelf readers? What projects do you have going online and in your writing to which we can look forward?

Susan: Yikes. There's always stuff going on online! Right now, I'm planning next April's (2009) book tour, developing a Friends group of book clubs, and continuing to send out my herbal eletters. Next spring, I'll be developing a new website, a companion to the memoir that's out in Fall 2009 (University of Texas Press), called Landscapes of the Heart: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. That will be fun: lots of photos of our place here in the Texas Hill Country. And I try to keep my mind open to opportunities as they come along. That's how I grow as a writer and as a person, being surprised by what I meet when I turn a corner.

Nightshade
China Bayles Mystery
By Susan Wittig Albert
Laura's Review of Nightshade on myshelf.com

Frame1

Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka

WEB SITE

Mysterypartners.com (with her husband, author Bill Albert)

Email

2008's Honorary List

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