Friday, November 2, 2012

Interview with Susan Wilson author of The Dog Who Danced

November's featured read for the B&N.com General Fiction forum is The Dog Who Danced. Susan will be with us as we read and discuss the novel. Click the link above for the reading schedule and join us.

 Interview with Susan Wilson
Author of “The Dog Who Danced”

Susan welcome again to the General Fiction forum at B&N.com. This time you’re booked for a whole month as we read and talk about your latest novel “The Dog Who Danced”.
Thank you so much for choosing The Dog Who Danced as your November selection. I am honored and thrilled to be a part of this. 

Tell us about your writing career.
How did it begin?
Did you always want to be a novelist?
Do you only write fiction?
I guess I would have to say that the career part of my writing began about 1990.  I had always written, but it was never meant for public consumption.  I wrote to simply entertain myself.  When I was a kid I wrote myself into my favorite television programs:  The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek.  Nowadays they call those fanzines.  But as a grown-up I knew that if I ever wanted to pursue writing as a legitimate career, I had to work a lot harder.  So I grabbed every chance I could to write, even if it was only the PTO newsletter.  I had a couple of non-starter novels tucked away and had started on something completely different when a sample of my writing was seen by someone who was then willing to introduce me to her former agent.  The agent liked what she saw, wanted more and, as they say, the rest is history.  I don’t mean to make that sound like it was easy.  It wasn’t.  I had been practicing the art of writing for a long time before the stars were aligned for me.  I’d written newsletters for my various employers, done interviews, business minutes (talk about a great way to develop a voice for fiction!) and, as a development assistant, loads and loads of annual appeal and acknowledgment letters.  All writing is practice, even writing this.  I don’t always write fiction, but I only publish novels.  The other writing is an occasional column on writing in my local paper, or my poor abandoned blog, that sort of thing. 

During our last chat, you were working on a 2014 release about a WW11 war dog.
How do you research a historical novel like this?
I’m still working on it.  Don’t hold me to it, but the working title is One Lucky Dog and it is about a canine veteran of World War II and the people whose lives intersect with his.  It’s been an adventure writing this one.  I discovered that the dogs who went to war during WWII weren’t bred for it.  They were people’s pets.  People volunteered their dogs as part of the whole ethos of ‘the war effort.’  Stunning thought.  Mixed breeds and purebreds were sent and performed brilliantly.  If a dog was accepted into the K-9 Corp, it was trained as scout, guard, sentry, casualty or messenger dog.  If the dog survived the war, it was re-trained and sent home if its owners wanted it back.  This is actually my second novel set during WWII, so I already have some sense of the era.  I’ve been fortunate to locate some fairly obscure writing on the subject of the Dogs for Defense program and was able to procure the actual military War Department manual on dog training.  Additionally, I was lucky enough to find an illustrated book filled with advertising, letters, photographs and such to get a good look at what those dogs and their people experienced.  I am not the world’s best researcher, I tend to write, then fact check and rewrite.  Of course, nowadays, Google and other search engines are invaluable to get quick answers to questions of military vocabulary and 1940s music.

Do all of your novels star a canine?
No.  One Good Dog was my first with a canine protagonist at the center of the story.  It was so well-received that it was a no-brainer to try and do it again.  Now I’m hooked.  I will say that most of my books have had some animal as a minor character.  My first book, Beauty, had Bad-dog, the hero’s mixed breed who moves the story forward by his being, well, a bad dog.  In Summer Harbor there was Pilot.  The hero thinks that sometimes it’s the weight of his dog’s head on his feet that keeps him grounded. 

Now if I was say your, sister-in-law. Would I recognize myself in one of your novels?
Do you base any of your characters on people you know?
I sure hope not!  As I always say, everything to a writer is DNA.  And, like real DNA, you never know how which chromosomes are going to come out.  All life is experience, all experience is grist for a writer.  Obviously there are influences, but anything overtly similar to any human being is purely, as it says in the disclaimer, a coincidence.  My novels are neither autobiographical or roman a clefs.

Tell us about your pets. Are there just dogs or do you house a menagerie?
Actually, just one dog, Bonnie, a terrier-mix we adopted ten years ago.  She looks like a miniature wolfhound or a giant Jack Russell.  Take your pick.  The other domestic inhabitants are a cat named Sasha and a Betta fish named Shakespeare.  I also have two horses but they don’t exactly live with us.  All in all, I guess you’d call that a menagerie.  I know that I spend an inordinate amount of time caring for them.  My husband complains (gently) that if he had four feet I’d worry more about his feeding schedule.

Are you a reader?
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Oh golly yes!  I firmly believe that you cannot be a writer unless you are a reader.  How else would you learn how to do it?  I pretty much stick to fiction, but a good biography is always fun.  Visit me on Goodreads to get a sense of my favorite authors and books.  Any author that makes me stop and say: dang, wish I’d written that sentence—is my favorite.  Good story, good use of language, avoidance of cliché or trope, and that’s the author I’ll most likely dub a favorite.  For instance, Old Filth by Jane Gardam has all of that. 

Do you belong to a writers group?
The short answer is no.  I have been in a couple, but I have never found the time spent talking about writing to be as useful as time spent actually doing it.  That said, I work very closely with my agent(s) and my editor, so, in effect, I do have a group.  And they’re only interested in my writing, not their own. 

I’m excited about November Susan, I know that my visitors will love this novel and they’ll love your participation too.
I’m just thrilled to death to be a part of this B&N group and am looking forward to meeting everyone and getting a good dialogue going. 

My Review of The Dog Who Danced

The Dog Who Danced
Susan Wilson
St. Martin’s Press
ISBN 13: 978429950541
320 pages

An unexpected call has Justine Meade grateful for a shotgun seat on a semi heading towards a home she hasn’t seen since she left at seventeen because it means that her dog Mack is with her. Mack has been her salvation and made her look at life in a better way than the defeatist, betrayed way she used to when all she could think of was the loss of her childhood then later the loss of her son. The dog who learned to dance with her has been much more than a mere pet which is why she’s overwrought as she finds herself abandoned and dog-less by the trucker she hitched a ride with.
Ed and Alice Parmalee have been imitating life for the seven years since the death of their only child, a child that was prayed for then delayed until neither of them thought it was ever going to happen and then took away at fifteen, it was a tragedy that shook them to the core and that has been an invisible barrier between them ever since until the day a stray dog comes into their lives and puts color and connection back into their world.
In the midst of a family crisis Justine frantically tries to find Mack with the help of a few friends and many strangers while the Parmalees are reconnecting with the help of one small furry miracle and who know nothing about the dog’s distraught owner.

There are many dog stories out there, those who heal, those who protect, those who comfort, what makes this story different is the poignant way that Susan Wilson brings it to life with her words. Her characters are all three dimensional, so realistic that I could smell the earth at Stacy’s grave and could feel the wind in my face as she takes Justine down the highway on the back of a Harley. The dialogue is a mesmerizing string of monologues that took me into the hearts and souls of the narrator, that made me a fly on the walls of their worlds and that gave me insights that I wish they would convey to each other. And then there was Mack, who Susan gave a voice to as well and who’s expertise in translating dog really shines through, it was amusing, it was touching and it was beautifully penned. This is the story of rejuvenation of forgiving of unconditional love. It’s the story of one woman’s best friend and the lengths she’ll go to get him back and it’s the unconditional love that one dog has for his human(s).
This is my first foray into the writing brilliance of Susan Wilson but I guarantee it will not be my last.
Thank you Ms. Wilson for one of the most heartwarming and inspiring stories I’ve read for a while.
Buy the book here visit the author's website here




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