For this month’s interview, I want to introduce you to my friend Susan Tsui. Susan and I were in Goddard College’s MFA program together, and she writes fabulous science fiction. Susan is the third of four children born to Chinese immigrant parents. She currently lives in New York City where she is a regular user of the Queens Public Library system. She is a strong believer in the value of reading and writing as she thinks doing both can change the individual and the world by default. She has published stories in Expanded Horizons, Mind Flights, and the 2010 edition of Warrior WiseWomen. She is also the author of the novel, You Shouldn’t Call Me Mommy.
Susan, what inspires you?
Everything and everyone inspires me to a certain extent. My husband breaking his knee one year, running down the steps to catch the train, the woman I see walking down the street wearing a long red cloak around a gray leotard. I once saw a woman dressed like Alice in Wonderland, woven basket and all, chatting on a cell phone. It was the middle of summer so it obviously couldn’t have been a Halloween party. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and what she might be doing. I imagined a magic line to wonderland that she was using to stay in touch with the Mad Hatter.
I love that idea! What are your favorite ways to defeat procrastination/overwhelm?
On occasions where I have trouble moving forward on a larger project, I randomly contact several of my friends. I tell them all that I will be sending them ten pages of a writing project per week, inform them they are not obligated to critique if they are busy, but then ask them all to hound me if I don’t hand in those ten pages on my regularly scheduled deadline. This keeps me going at what I believe to be a reasonable pace while placing me in a situation where I can be held accountable if I don’t perform. It’s amazing how well you can manage your time when you have people asking about your progress and wagging their finger at you.
I think a certain sense of isolation is a natural part of being an author, but I don’t mind it. Sometimes I enjoy it. Yes, writing is a lonely, hermit-like, boring to the naked eye kind of occupation. However, I could be piloting a space ship or slaying dragons or walking along a meadow while typing away madly at the keyboard at my desk.
What’s been the biggest surprise in your work so far?
How much of my work is actually out of my control. I know that sounds weird because I’m the writer, but it’s true. My characters are the ones in control of the story. The narrative is theirs not mine. Characters have personalities, and in order to be believable, they have to grow within those personalities. I can plot all I want, but if the plot calls for my character to take a certain action that doesn’t make sense then that action just isn’t going to happen. The plot that was has to be scrapped for a new plot to be, and I’m not the one in charge of that. It might sound a little schizophrenic, but it’s true.
Don’t worry. I used to think writers who talked about characters taking over were crazy—and then it happened to me! Now I laugh at the idea that authors are in complete control.
What projects are you currently working on?
Well, I just finished the first in a series of novellas that’s sort of alternate universe and sort of mystery. I’m waiting for feedback on that one as I’ve never done anything like it before. I also have a re-imagining of the Swan Princess in my head that I’ve outlined. It’s the only fairytale I know of that ends on a cliffhanger, which just makes me want to finish it. My primary project at the moment though is a story involving the digital afterlife. What happens if people never pass on, if their minds get uploaded into a virtual world instead? How does that affect the way people perceive death or the afterlife? What are some of the real world implications? Is this just another form of retirement? Do these “deceased” people have a right to vote?
Susan, is the creative process a spiritual connection for you?
Very much so. Writing is a way for me to explore myself on a conscious and subconscious level. It’s a way for me to see what was or is important to me at the time of writing. I try not to get too deep into this until a piece is done though because too much self-exploration can hinder the writing process for me. Still, I often find myself on some level or another while writing. I don’t always like what I find, but sometimes I do so it all balances out.
That’s fascinating. Thanks for sharing your process with us, Susan!
You can visit Susan at www.susantsui.com and follow her on Twitter: @susantsui