Sunday, November 6, 2022

Susan Walter

Susan Walter was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After being given every opportunity to become a concert violinist but failing, she attended Harvard University. Walter hoped to be a newscaster, but the local TV station had different ideas and hired her to write and produce promos instead. Seeking sunshine and a change of scenery, she moved to Los Angeles to work in film and television production. Upon realizing writers were having all the fun, Walter transitioned to screenwriting, then directing. She made her directorial debut with the film All I Wish, starring Sharon Stone, which she also wrote, and her fiction debut with the bestseller Good as Dead.

Walter's new novel is Over Her Dead Body.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Oooh I love this question! But I can’t answer it fully because that would give too much away. If you have ever heard someone reply to a request or a command with “over my dead body!” you know that it means “never will I ever!” Louisa Lake George, the ageing casting director our actress-protagonist meets on her late night dog walk, is a multi-millionaire. She is also deathly ill, and has to get her affairs in order ASAP. Upon meeting Louisa, we learn she had a falling out with her children and wants to cut them out of her will. Her nephew warns that if she doesn’t do what’s customary (leave her fortune to her kids) the family will implode: “It will be like the Hunger Games, with everyone out for blood.” But she refuses. It’s an “over my dead body” moment – literally! There are other layers to this title, it comes to have a double, even triple meaning. But you have to read the book to find out!

What's in a name?

Character names just land in my lap. My protagonist is Ashley Brooks. A cheerful name for a cheerful gal from the Midwest. She’s in a love triangle with Jordan and Nathan, two names I like but chose me more than I chose them. When it came to naming Louisa, I let a more uncommon name seduce me; I like it because it evokes someone of a different generation (baby boomer). She goes by both her last names: maiden name Lake (which I stole from a friend), and George (random) because she’s a liberated woman who would not be content to use just one last name, certainly not the one that implies that the life she lived before marrying was irrelevant. As for her children’s names, I found Charlie and Winnie just right. Winnie’s given name is Winifred, and the character has quite a strong opinion about being named after the martyred patron saint of virgins; “I have reached the undeniable conclusion that my problems started at birth, upon being named Winifred.” Charlie is a Jr., named after his father, as sometimes (favorite) first born sons are.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would be surprised by every aspect of this novel, most notably that I wrote any novel at all! I wasn’t a big reader of fiction in my teens. I was a violinist and listened to music… OK, and chased boys. I always thought I would write comedy or rom com, and I did for a while. The switch to suspense thrillers was not planned. I just woke up one day with an idea and decided to see if I could work it out. That story became my first novel, Good as Dead. It’s about a woman who loses her husband in a car crash, and is bribed to stay silent about what she knows about the driver. And even that one, which starts out as a character-driven drama, only became a thriller when I indulged its explosive ending. So yes, surprises all around!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I’m a pantser, which means I don’t outline, but rather, as they say, fly by the seat of my pants. I describe my process as getting into a boat and paddling out to the middle of the ocean to wait for a storm then see where it takes me. It’s a terribly exciting process, emphasis on terrible. But if I write to an outline, the story feels forced, like I am connecting plot points instead of letting the characters get themselves into trouble. All that to say, endings are hard. Because I have to pull all the threads together in a way that surprises even myself. I love beginnings. I would start a hundred novels if I could sell them without finishing them! I love creating worlds and characters, and infusing them with textures and intricate backstories. It’s those textures and backstories that save me in the end, because there’s always something there to pay off, a detail I can use to make a character credible or push them where I need them to go. I did that with Ashley … her backstory becomes super important in the final twist (that I didn’t plan, but was right there for me to exploit).

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Both my books have characters who work in Hollywood, as I did for over twenty years. So I use not only details about “the business,” but also my love-hate feelings about it. Ashley, my protagonist in Over Her Dead Body, is a struggling actress, and she is ambitious and a bit of a dreamer. That’s totally me. She also is a bit boy crazy, as I once was. I have a screenwriter character in my first novel, Good as Dead, who offers a brutal take of what it’s like to work in Hollywood (hint: it’s hard and cruelly unfair). Writing that character was cathartic for me because he speaks what is in my soul. So yes, there’s a lot of me in many of my characters. And guess what, there’s other people in there, too. People I know, or who I’ve worked with, but whose identities will remain secret because some of them are bad.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My favorite movies of all time are the thrillers from the late 80’s and 90’s: Jagged Edge, Sliver, Fatal Attraction, A Simple Plan, Outrageous People, Spy Game, Indecent Proposal, Sneakers, any Tom Clancy novel turned into a movie. I want to write books that could be made into these kinds of character-driven suspense-thrillers. The Jason Bourne trilogy with Matt Damon is one of my all time favorites, I wish I could watch them all for the first time again… and maybe even create the next Jason Bourne!
Visit Susan Walter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue