Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Creative Writing Program. Susan has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest where she received a thousand dollar prize. Susan won the National Writers’ Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. Prior to moving to Oregon and writing full time,
Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.
Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, her fictional characters, and more books than one person could count. Website: https://susanclaytongoldner Goodreads Author Page
INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born in New Castle, Delaware, and grew up with four brothers. After graduating from high school, I attended the University of Delaware where I received an Associate’s degree in Applied Science. I married and moved to Arizona. After my two children started school, I enrolled in creative writing classes and ended up pursuing a MA in Creative Writing.
How did you get started as an author?
From the time I could hold a pencil, I was always writing. It seemed I had to write about something before I fully understood how I felt. I believe writers are born with the passion to write. We can learn to perfect our craft, but writers write because they can’t help themselves. Who’d choose such a difficult and isolating path? So few of us can make a living writing.
Can you talk about your latest book and the inspiration behind it?
One of my reviewers inspired my latest book, Dark River Rising,—a retired minister and police chaplain, who sent me his idea for a novel. I try to deal with a social issue in each of my mysteries and he suggested I consider writing about the difficult topic of child pornography and sex trafficking of minors. I have a kidnapped ten-year-old girl, sold into pornography, and eventually murdered as one of my point of view characters. It was a difficult novel to write from the POV of a dead child. I knew it was risky, but I didn’t think there was any way to convey the horror without hearing it firsthand from a child who’d experienced this trauma.
How do you approach the writing process? Do you have a specific routine or method?
I consider writing to be my job and I go to work daily—sometimes spending 8-10 hours at the computer. Until my husband of 34 years died unexpectedly from a brain bleed, I was producing three novels a year. I’ve slowed down considerably during the past two years, but still manage at least one.
How do you develop your characters and bring them to life on the page?
I always begin by writing an elaborate character sketch for each of the point of view or important characters in the story. I delve into both their physical and psychological history. Sometimes these sketches are ten or more pages long. Writing the sketching helps me to find their voices and to know how and why they behave the way they do. I ask them a lot of personal questions about their childhoods, their parents, their siblings, what they do for a living, what they are most ashamed of in their lives. I ask them what makes them happy. And what hurts them most?
Can you discuss your research process for your latest book?
I always try to read at least three autobiographies of people who have experienced the social issue my character is going through in the book. For example, I wrote a book called Lake of the Dead where I have a transgender individual. In order to climb into her head, I wanted to understand what it felt like to be born into a body that didn’t fit your image of yourself. In Forgotten Creek, I deal with homelessness and, besides reading autobiographies, I went to a homeless encampment in Ashland, Oregon (where my mysteries take place) and spoke with many members of that community. It helped me so much with the character I called “Corndog.”
How do you handle writer’s block and overcome creative obstacles?
I rarely have writer’s block, but for months after my husband died, I could write about anything except grief. Mostly when I feel stuck, I reread what I’ve written so far, along with my character sketches, and that puts me back into the fictive dream.
Can you share any upcoming projects or books you are working on?
My next novel is called River of Mercy. It is about a mercy killing. When my husband had his first brain bleed, he was paralyzed on his entire left side. Most of the time he was coherent. He begged me to help him die. We’d had many discussions about this and I’d always said that I would. But, when it came down to it, I couldn’t. He begged. He cried. He even screamed, “Susan, why won’t you help me?” About a month ago, I woke up after having had another nightmare about that time and the thought entered my mind, “What if I had?” With that thought the seeds for #14 in the Winston Radhauser mystery series was planted.
Can you talk about your experience working with a publisher or literary agent?
In the course of my writing life, I’ve had 3 agents. None of them were successful at placing one of my novels. When the third one took a paying job as foreign rights manager for another agency, she dropped the clients who were not yet making money for her. I was among them. I tried smaller presses and queried three. Two of them accepted my stand-alone novel, A Bend In The Willow. One of them was Tirgearr Publishing in Ireland. I love them. They have now published 16 novels for me, designed beautiful covers, provided great editing. I could not be happier. What I like most is the response time. If I write with a question, I get an answer within minutes—never longer than a day. That was so refreshing after waiting months for a reply (if you get one at all) from one of the major houses.
How do you stay motivated and disciplined while writing?
Because I love writing so much, it is not difficult for me to be motivated and disciplined. There is almost nothing I’d rather be doing than creating characters and telling their stories.
Can you discuss any themes or messages you hope readers take away from your book?
As I mentioned earlier, I like to deal with some social issue in my novels so that they are more than a mystery. The books in my series are a cross genre—somewhere between a family drama and a mystery. I want my readers to come away from the books moved to a place of feeling—be it sadness, empathy, joy. I want them to have taken a journey with the characters and come to care deeply about the outcome. I hope that I can change someone’s heart from contempt to compassion—as in the book about the homeless man.
How do you market your book and connect with readers?
This is the hardest part of the process. I’ve found Bookbub to be a great resource, but it is expensive and difficult to get. I put the first book in the mystery series, Redemption Lake, on Bookbub for free. The first day, over 100,000 people downloaded it. And this turned out to be a smart move because the other books sold at full price. I’ve also used the newsletters like ENT, FKBT, Bookbaby, Book Adrenaline. I have a website and a blog. I send out a newsletter to about 5,000 people. Every year I try to enter a few contests and line up reviewers who will post on launch day. It’s hard work and not nearly as much fun as the writing itself.
Can you share any advice for aspiring authors on how to get published?
Be tenacious. I think tenacity is the best gift a writer can receive. Keep trying. Never give up. I was writing for two decades before I finally found a publisher. But it was definitely worth the wait.
Can you discuss any other genres you have written in and if you have plans to write in other genres in the future?
I have written 3 stand-alone novels. One, Tormented, is a thriller. It won the Rone Award for Best Thriller 2019. Missing Pieces is a family drama about a daughter’s journey to forgiveness with her father. A Bend In The Willow, my first published novel, is about a mother’s love for her son who has leukemia and the lengths she will go, risking her own life, to save him.
Can you share any experiences you have had with book clubs or other reader groups?
I love talking to book clubs. I recently did one in Tucson with a group of women who were so conscientious. I gave them a list of questions to answer about A Bend In The Willow. They actually typed out their answers. We had a lively discussion. The host put on a catered luncheon and she’d bought copies of all my books and created a centerpiece for the table with them. It’s fun for the writer and the readers. I highly recommend them.
How do you handle criticism and negative reviews?
It’s a crazy thing, and probably true for most writers, but we remember the critical reviews. We can have 100 excellent, glowing, five-star reviews, and not remember one of them. But we never forget the bad ones. They hurt more in the beginning. I now understand that not everyone will love my books. And that there are mean-spirited people in the world who leave a one-star review just because they see the book has a lot of five stars. I used to read every review, now I often skip the bad ones. But the most important thing to remember is not to respond to the negative ones. Thank a reader for the positive ones if you can.
How do you balance your writing with other aspects of your life?
This is often difficult to do, especially if you have a young family. I did not start writing full time until I’d retired from my job and my children were off to college. So, for me, it has not been difficult. I often take my computer with me on vacations and write during long train, airplane rides or any other time I can steal away and write.
ABOUT DARK RIVER RISING
Where has Ava Cartwright been for the past three years and why was she dumped on the eve of her thirteenth birthday?
When Detective Winston Radhauser’s phone rings in the middle of the night, he knows something terrible has happened. On this night, a homeless man, rummaging for food in a local dumpster, finds the body of a severely beaten young woman. On scene, Radhauser estimates the victim to be in her early twenties. He’s overcome when he learns the forensics reveal she is the girl whose disappearance has haunted him for three years–Ava Cartwright.
In broad daylight, Ava’s bicycle had been found parked with the kickstand down near a wooded area. Search parties inched their way through every portion of those woods, the neighborhood, nearby Lithia Park, and along miles of railroad tracks, but there was no sign of the little girl.
Where has she been all this time? And why was she dumped on the eve of her thirteenth birthday? There must be something, some tiny detail, he missed that will give him a lead. This time, Radhauser won’t quit until he finds it.