Beneath the Covers Past


Susan Wiggs Interview
Review of Passing Through Paradise
Her Pen Is Mightier Than A Sword
An Interview with Susan Wiggs
By Suzie Housley
June 2002

Using blunt scissors, pages from a Big Chief tablet, a borrowed stapler and a Number Two pencil, Susan Wiggs self-published her first novel at the age of eight. A Book About Some Bad Kids was based on the true-life adventures of Susan and her siblings, and the first printing of one copy was a complete sell-out. 

Due to her brother's extreme reaction to that first prodigious effort, Susan went underground with her craft, entertaining her friends and offending her siblings with anonymously-written stories of virtuous sisters and the brothers who torment them. The first romance she ever read was Shanna by the incomparable Kathleen Woodiwiss, which she devoured while slumped behind a college vector analysis textbook. Armed with degrees from SFA and Harvard, and toting a crate of "keeper" books by Woodiwiss, Roberta Gellis, Laurie McBain, Rosemary Rodgers, Jennifer Blake, Bertrice Small and anything with the words "flaming" and "ecstasy" in the title, she became a math teacher, just to prove to the world that she did have a left brain. 

Late one night, she finished the book she was reading and was confronted with a reader's worst nightmare -- She was wide awake, and there wasn't a thing in the house she wanted to read. Figuring this was the universe's way of taking away her excuses, she picked up a Big Chief tablet and a Number Two pencil, and began writing her novel with the working title, A Book About Some Bad Adults. Actually, that was a bad book about some adults, but Susan persevered, learning her craft the way skydiving is learned--by taking a blind leap and hoping the chute will open. 

Her first book was published (without the use of blunt scissors and a stapler) by Zebra in 1987, and since then she has been published by Avon, Tor, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Mira and Warner Books. Unable to completely abandon her beloved teaching profession, Susan is a frequent workshop leader and speaker at writers' conferences, including the Romance Writers of America conference, the PNWA and Maui Writers Conference. She won a RITA award in 1994, and her recent novel The Charm School was voted one of RWA's Favorite Books of the Year. She is the proud recipient of several RT awards, the Peninsula RWA's Blue Boa, the Holt Medallion and the Colorado Award of Excellence. 

Susan enjoys many hobbies, including sitting in the hot tub while talking to her mother on the phone, kickboxing, cleaning the can opener, sculpting with butter and growing her hair. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Jay, her daughter, Elizabeth, and an Airedale that hasn't been groomed since 1994.

Suzie Housley:  Susan, you have had two books published so far this year, THE LIGHTKEEPER and PASSING THROUGH PARADISE. Do you have any other books scheduled for release this year and if so, can you give us a preview of what is to come next?

Susan Wiggs: ENCHANTED AFTERNOON is a September release. For fans of the historical romance HALFWAY TO HEAVEN, this is Helena's story. She's the sister. After that, look for a reissue of THE DRIFTER in March 2003, and my first hardcover, a contemporary called HOME BEFORE DARK, about the lives and loves of two sisters in Texas.

Suzie Housley:  When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

Susan Wiggs: I can't recall a specific moment. I'm one of those born writers! My mother posted a funny story in my bio on my web site. ( I think I always wrote, beginning with cartoons on the backs of church collection plate envelopes! I started writing for publication in 1983, and sold my first book in 1986.

Suzie Housley:  What direction do you see Women’s Fiction taking? 

Susan Wiggs: I can only speak for my own books, because this segment of fiction is so diverse. The direction I've taken for my hardcover women's fiction is in keeping with my first two contemporaries, THE YOU I NEVER KNEW (2001) and PASSING THROUGH PARADISE (2002). These are stories of a woman's journey as she grapples with a seemingly overwhelming problem. The "voice" in these books is a little edgy, or even "hip" as one reviewer put it. But the core of the stories is extremely emotional. 

Suzie Housley:  I understand that your mother maintains your web page and if I may say so, she does an excellent job of doing so. Can you tell us more about how this came about and a bit about the rest of your family?

Susan Wiggs: It came about as a result of too much champagne one afternoon! We were brainstorming ways to put a real personality out there on the Web, one that is user-friendly and approachable, yet informative as well. My mother is a lifelong letter writer,  her Christmas letters are cherished by all her friends, so it seemed natural to have her present her daughter on the Web in a neighborly fashion, complete with gossip and recipes!

Suzie Housley: Your past books have been published by Zebra, Avon, Tor, Harper Collins, Harlequin, Mira and Warner Books. Do you know which publishing company is going to be publishing your books before you start writing them?

Susan Wiggs:  Not always. Sometimes a book is completely "mine" until I finish it, or enough of it to entice a publisher to take a chance on it. I wrote THE YOU I NEVER KNEW and HOME BEFORE DARK in their entirety before settling on a publisher, because they  were out-of-genre departures for me. However, based on Mira's support and enthusiasm for my work  over the years, I've built a substantial backlist there and they will be publishing me exclusively now, and for the forseeable future. 

Suzie Housley:  What are the total number of books you have published? Was there any one that was more difficult to write then the rest? If so, which ones?

Susan Wiggs: I think around 25. Every book is hard--like passing a kidney stone. The toughest research was for OCTOBER WIND, a historical about Columbus. The trickiest plot was probably PASSING THROUGH PARADISE, and the most emotionally wringing were THE LIGHTKEEPER and HOME BEFORE DARK.

Suzie Housley: What other languages can your books be found it? Do you have a wide spread international audience?

Susan Wiggs: Lots! I am fortunate to be published in French, German, Italian, Dutch,  Latvian, Hungarian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Russian, to name a few! Every once in a while, I hear from an international reader, and it is such a thrill!

Suzie Housley:  How has the Internet effected your writing? Research? Relationship with fans?

Susan Wiggs: It's streamlined everything, absolutely. It puts a world of research at my fingertips, and makes me accessible to readers everywhere. I love it and allow about an hour a day to deal with e-mail and online research.

Suzie Housley:  The cover art for all of your books are the most attractive I've seen in the last couple of months. Do authors have much input into what sort of cover goes on their book?

Susan Wiggs: It depends on the author, the editor, and the publishing house. Both Warner and Mira listened to my ideas and shared early concepts and sometimes sketches and mock-ups. Ultimately, the decision is left to the publisher, but I've been generously granted plenty of input and I've loved the results! It's something each author works out individually. I enjoy having this input and often, while researching and writing a book, I save images to share with the publisher at cover design time.

Suzie Housley:  I always love reading about the different types of difficult situations you place you characters in. How does an author get on paper the feelings that they imagine for their characters?

Susan Wiggs: In my case, I almost always feel like a failure when it comes to translating emotion to the page--what comes out is never as powerful as what I feel inside. However, I do the very best I can to put my heart on the page by trying to live in the character's skin as a write.

Suzie Housley:  What do you want readers to take away once they read your books?

Susan Wiggs: A warm fuzzy, maybe a new way at looking at something familiar, the feeling that she got her money's worth, and an eagerness to buy the next book! 

Suzie Housley: What characteristics are 'musts' in your heroes? Do you enjoy writing about the bad guys?

Susan Wiggs: I don't have very  many--my heroes are an eclectic bunch. Caring, honesty and integrity are always present in these guys. Plus they have to like dogs.

Suzie Housley: I have always believed your books would be excellent movies.  Have you ever thought about pursuing this avenue?

Susan Wiggs: I think all authors do! It's a fantasy of mine. My agent works with West Coast associates who pitch books to movie and tv companies. So who knows? One day I might get lucky!

Suzie Housley:  What haven't you written yet that you really want to do?

Susan Wiggs: A special mother/daughter story that's been percolating, a story about a castle in Bavaria and my PhD thesis.

Suzie Housley:  Do you ever find yourself living through you characters? For example, is there anything you had wished to try and haven't yet, but you put your characters through the emotional turmoil?

Susan Wiggs: Absolutely! I'm a real Walter Mitty. I would never crack open someone's chest or shoot a gun or tell off the Vice President, but my characters definitely would! 

Suzie Housley: Do you ever see yourself breaking out of writing romance and writing something different?

Susan Wiggs: Not really. Even in my women's fiction, there's always a strong love story. 

Suzie Housley: Is there anything you would like for us to know that we haven't discussed?

Susan Wiggs; The reader is the most important invisible character in my books! I just love the connection. I write because I'm such a devoted reader myself.

Suzie Housley:  How can fans contact you?

Susan Wiggs: Via my web site,


By Susan Wiggs
Warner - February 2002

ISBN: 044661078x -- Paperback
Contemporary Romance 
$6.99 US 

Reviewed by: Suzie Housley, MyShelf.Com
Buy a Copy

One frigid February night, Sandra Winslow and her husband State Senator Victor Winslow went for an evening's drive. Their vehicle was involved in an accident that sent their car hurling over a bridge into an icy cold river. Sandra survived, but her husband's body was never recovered. Evidence in the vehicle suggested his death was the result of foul play. The townspeople of Paradise, Rhode Island were easily convinced Sandra was guilty of killing the much-loved politician. For the past two years, they have dubbed her the Black Widow of Blue Moon and made her existence a living hell. Fed up with the 'hospitality' of the citizens of Paradise, she decides to sell her run down Victorian beach house and move far away. With her home needing major repairs, she decides to hire a contractor to restore it to its original state so that it will sell quicker and generate a hefty profit. Hiring Mike Malloy proves to be an enlightening experience - not only is he skilled with his hands, but he has the tools to fix her broken heart.

Mike Malloy is an expert on restoring historic houses. He is the victim of a bitter divorce, and finds himself in desperate need of steady work. Reluctantly he agrees to work for Sandra Winslow, even though her husband was a close friend. He believed the rumors that circulated around town that she was responsible for her husband's 'accidental' death. When the project brings them closer together and he realizes Sandra has been falsely accused, he sets out to prove her innocence. What he uncovers unleashes an awful truth that uproots the entire town. Once the mystery is solved, will it be fair of him to ask Sandra to stay in a town that has so cruelly rejected her?

Whenever I pick up a Susan Wigg's novel, I always finish it with the same feeling - total satisfaction. Ms. Wiggs is a master storyteller that, once savored, will keep coming back for more. Her latest release, PASSING THROUGH PARADISE, is highly recommended. Once again she has brought to us characters that will long be remembered.

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