Susie Moloney is the author of four novels and her new story collection, THINGS WITHERED, just came out! She stopped by to talk about the new book, her writing, what scares her, and much more!
Please welcome Susie to the blog!
Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Why did you start writing?
Kristin, thank you so much for having me here. I love your blog, which I discovered via Twitter! So this is really nice.
I always like to tell young writers about my background, because it’s atypical I think. I have no real post-secondary education, and no degrees. I’ve never actually taken a writing class. I’m more of a Malcolm Gladwell kind of girl—I started writing as a very young girl and never stopped. I put in my 10,000 hours you could say. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been an avid reader all of my life. I’ve read the range, too. I read pulpy stuff, genre, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, good literature, probably a lot of bad. I cut my teeth on historical romance and horror novels. I’m like a kid when I’m reading—if it’s a good story, I like it. My husband says I’ll “buy whatever I’m standing in.” It’s a real estate reference but it applies to reading. I’m a happy reader.
I will tell you a funny story about how I wrote my first novel, Bastion Falls. I had just finished reading Stephen King’s book, Cujo. I’d had such a good time reading it, that I didn’t want to stop. So I decided to just start writing something with his voice in my head. Sat down to write what I thought would be a little “transition” writing … and ended up with what would be my first novel. I guess I’m a reader first, and a writer by default.
Will you tell us about your new collection, THINGS WITHERED?
Things Withered is my very first collection of short fiction. I’m not well-known as a writer of short stories. In fact a couple of the stories in there were so long, they had to be cut down. Once a novelist …
When I was going through the files looking for what I wanted to be included in the collection, I did happen to notice a bit of a theme. A number of the stories seem to be of angry, displaced people—people who were excluded, or excluded themselves. I’m not sure that’s entirely auto-biographical, but I have spent most of my adult life living alone, with a child. I was a single mother back in the day, when that was still suspect, and certainly at that time I felt outside of society, not quite acceptable, and I think that’s where that theme comes from.
I am also the mother of sons. I often think that young men and boys have a hard road to navigate—so much is expected of them, even now. The men and boys in the stories are finding their way, trying to be better, bigger men for the wrong reasons.
Much of the horror that I write is about displacement, isolation, and maybe worse, knowing that you aren’t fitting in, that you aren’t up to standard. Choosing the stories for Things Withered made me think through the themes of my novels, as well, and I see the same issues cropping up. But … aren’t all writers a little outside the norm?
What is one of your personal favorite stories in THINGS WITHERED?
I have two favourites, and that’s probably because of the characters. My very favourite story, maybe favourite that I’ve ever written, is “The Last Living Summer.” It’s about two older women, good friends, at the end of times. I really identify with the narrator in that one, and her friend is based on a real friend, Donna from Winnipeg.
My other favourite is “Truckdriver,” simply because of the creeping evilness. The young man in the story buys an old milk truck with the hope of starting a delivery business. The truck has other plans.
I’m also partial to “Wife,” “Night Beach,” “I (heart) dogs,” and “The Windemere,” (the Windemere is a post-novel story from The Thirteen; I wasn’t quite done with witches, I think).
What is different, or challenging, for you about writing short stories as opposed to writing longer fiction?
Writing a short story is a real art form. It’s something that when done well, is a piece of true art. I’m not sure I’m there yet, I think of the masters, like Alice Munro or George Saunders, Annie Proulx, and I realize I’ll probably never get there. But there’s a real satisfaction in writing something that is so self-contained, creating a mini-world that exists all on its own. You can sit down and have something wonderful in a matter of days, as opposed to the novel, which is a pretty major commitment. It can take me two or three years to finish a novel. Then there’s the editing! Oy!
What is your writing process like?
Most of the time I’m not sure I have one! (Note to self: get process). I usually start with an image, and it’s usually something thematic. A woman standing on the beach, looking at thousands of dead fish, for instance, with a wooden seagull on a post in the background. That was the starting image for “The Last Living Summer.” Once I have the image, I can usually figure out what she’s thinking. Then I build the world. I think of it all as circular. My protagonist at the center and the things that affect the image moving outwards in concentric cirlces, until I have the story. Same works for the novels. I’ve found if you think of it in circles, in order of importance, or weight in the story, then you can get an outline started.
Oh, I always outline. Wow! I do have a process!
Also, I burn a candle while I write. Just for fun. Makes me feel romantic, as if I’m writing in a Paris garret in 1860.
What are a few authors or books that have influenced you in not only your writing, but in life?
I suppose I should mention Cujo by Stephen King again. I have been a huge Margaret Lawrence fan, and The Diviners was one of the first novels I read, and I was absolutely too young to read that novel at the time. I’ve probably read Edith Warton’s House of Mirth about five times, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte at least a dozen. It’s my go-to when I’m feeling a little low. That book really seems to take me away. I love Billie Livingston (Going Down Swinging, One Good Hustle). I was just a young pup when I read Armin Wiebe’s The Salvation of Yasch Siemens and because I knew he was from Winnipeg, I was inspired to aspire. More recently I have become enamoured of Gillian Flynn, Emily Schultz, Lynn Coady. There are a remarkable number of amazing writers out there.
What are you reading now, and what will your next read be?
Currently I’m reading Mariana Endicott’s The Little Shadows about a family of girls on the vaudeville circuit around WWI. Next on the docket is Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. I feel pretty behind for leaving it this long, actually. He’s The Man in horror fiction.
You’ve tackled many scary subjects in your writing, but what’s something that truly terrifies you?
Like all writers I think I fear dying alone and forgotten, in a discarded refrigerator box in a dirty back alley, surrounded by old newspapers.
That aside, I am afraid of ghosts, maybe even as much as I am intrigued by them, or the idea of them. I think there is a thin veil between here and the other side. True story: once I was walking around in the back yard with my then 3 year old son. We were looking under rocks for bugs, which was his passion at the time. Out of the blue, he said to me, “I know your grandpa.” Both my grandfathers were dead at the time, and he was not very acquainted with his paternal grandparents, so I was curious about who he meant. I asked him how he knew my grandpa. He said, “I saw him where I was before I came here.” Creepy, right? Also, aw. I love the idea that my grandfather—who I was very close to, who gave me my first typewriter—had spent some time with my son before he was born.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
Well, I live in New York City and my husband is a playwright. Most of our friends are actors. I go to a lot of plays. I love the theatre, and so that’s a great way to spend my time. I like any sort of storytelling, actually. I watch too much television, I go to movies. Every year I vow to see everything nominated for an Oscar—a lofty goal—and so I’m back on that kick now. And I read. Also I have dog who is blind, so I spend a lot of time telling people not to put their face near his face, and to not touch his ears (chronic ear problems).
I think all writers use their free time as another opportunity to watch and observe the world going on. I do that, too. Often from the inside of a bar.
What’s next for you?
I have a number of television projects that I’m finishing up, by February I should be done most of that. There’s a second draft of a screenplay I’m writing with the writer/director of Ferocious and Walk All Over Me, Robert Cuffley. I have a new gig writing humor for www.VitaminW.co (dot “co”, not “com”; the internet is getting weird). My first piece ran in mid-December and it should still be up. It’s a fake rider for the fake “abortion insurance” that was all the talk the month. What can I say, even my humor is dark.
After that … what else: Another novel. Dark and creepy.
About THINGS WITHERED:
A middle-aged realtor trying to get ahead any way she can. A bad girl pays for cheating with a married man. A wife with a dark past lives in fear of being exposed. The bad acts of a little old lady come home to roost. A young man with no direction finds power behind the wheel of a haunted truck. From behind the pretty drapes of the average suburban home, madness peers out. Stories of suburban darkness from the award-winning author of A Dry Spell, The Thirteen, and The Dwelling prove that life can turn on you, or you can turn on it!