Interview with Sue Perry

Published 2014-12-28.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The adventure continues.
Why do your novels have playlists on Spotify?
No question that writing is my calling, but if I had my druthers (or any talent), I’d be a musician. I missed my chance during the punk era, when ability was optional.

Music is exceedingly important to my writing – and the rest of my life. I can’t write while listening to music, yet music dictates the shape and feel of every page.

I’ve now got playlists on Spotify (a digital music service) that summarize the music that constructed my latest novels, NICA OF LOS ANGELES and SCAR JEWELRY. To listen, follow scperryz on Spotify.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I'm from the suburbs and I get bored just saying that. Everything influences my writing so surely the suburbs did too. This question makes me notice that my writing is sited in not-the-suburbs: big cities, small towns, the country, wilderness - and now, in FRAMES, other dimensions! Closest I get to the suburbs is in my novel HEADLINERS, which features a pair of teenagers who follow the national tour of an inspiring rock band, in part to flee the 'burbs.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Collaboration with my subconscious. I know such a collaboration has occurred when I come out from under during a writing session with no knowledge of what I've written. I re-read it and often discover I like it. These sessions happen intermittently and unpredictably and can be exhausting. Sometimes I catch myself avoiding writing to avoid one.
What's coming soon?
"Nica of XXX", the second novel in the fantasy detective quartet called FRAMES. The location is currently embargoed, hence the XXXs. "Nica of Los Angeles" published in September, 2014. Nica is a lively female sleuth who gets engaged in what is a missing person case in this dimension but a battle between good and evil in other dimensions (called Frames).

I love detective and fantasy novels, and to me the genres meld nicely. I was comfortable writing in detective and thriller genres but had never tried a fantasy, although I raised myself on fantasy and science fiction. Reading Stroud's "Bartimaeus" trilogy and Colfer's "Artemis Fowl" series inspired me to give fantasy a try. I love those books so much, they are so witty and clever, I couldn't wait until reading time - this was back when I read aloud to my kids each night.

Having made the decision to write fantasy, out for a walk one evening, I passed a high school gym and a gang of track hurdles and spiraled. What if that wasn't just a structure? What if those weren't strictly objects? I imagined a universe of many dimensions, where the ability of objects and structures to think, talk or move changes from dimension to dimension. Neither the gym nor the hurdles became characters in FRAMES but that walk launched my universe. Another influence was a poem by Yeats, "The Hosting of the Sidhe". The Sidhe (pronounced Shee, fyi) are Irish fairies who surely inspired Tolkien's most powerful elves. Mortals who encounter the Sidhe can never fully return to the lives they led before.

Drafting FRAMES was daunting at first, until I let myself go and put my subconscious in charge. I uncovered the details of the Frames universe as I proceeded. My second drafts are always heavily rewritten but none so much as the first novel in the FRAMES series, because I had to interweave and adjust so many details I discovered as the book evolved.
When did you start writing?
I have started writing several times. When I was a kid I wrote a speculative piece about what life on other planets must be like.

I started writing again in high school, when an English teacher made us keep journals and did cartwheels about my entries. I carried her praise and support into college, where I continued to write fiction to get out of assignments. More praise from more profs led me to a short story writing class. This was not my medium and I had no ideas, nothing to say.

I started writing again after I began work in Hollywood, it being a requirement in the film biz to have screenplays littering one's car trunk, shelves, and closets. But my scripts had a literary feel and eventually I turned to writing novels. At last I had found my format. I left Hollywood to write a hardcover novel under advance from Bantam-Doubleday-Dell. By the time WAS IT A RAT I SAW was published, I was disaffected with the publishing industry, the mother of twins, and a graduate student in earth science.

I started writing again in graduate school. I knew I didn't have the mental space or energy to work on a novel but I did manage to write the first novella in the C.R.I.M.E. SCIENCE series.

I started writing again when my kids were teens and my post-grad-school career had settled in. SCAR JEWELRY and now FRAMES are the outcomes.

I don't anticipate another writing hiatus. Nowadays I feel much urgency to write and have so many ideas queued and bubbling up, waiting their turns at the keyboard.
What's the story behind your literary fiction SCAR JEWELRY?
My novels apply a filter, sieve, and paintbrush to my life, with the occasional handful of feathers thrown in. SCAR JEWELRY evolved through disparate experiences and observations that gradually connected inside my head:
+ When my twins were little, a friend would tease me by stage whispering to them, "I know things about your parents."
+ A decade later, I was hanging around with other parents at our kids' track practice, when one mom sought me out to introduce herself. Her husband had pointed me out: "She's wearing a Billy Zoom t-shirt." Zoom is the guitarist of a legendary yet obscure punk band, X, which we had all loved long before. From that point we became friends - and I looked at the other parents differently, wondering who they were before they were parents.
+ We set aside so much of ourselves to become parents. Some of us never regain those set-asides. Most children don't much care about the non-parent parts of us and can be dismissive of what matters - or used to matter - to us.
+ As parents, we don't always appreciate what matters to our children. We make decisions that dramatically and permanently change their lives, yet we rarely consult them as we decide what's best for them. Hey, we're the grown-ups, right?
+ I am adopted. As an adult I was lucky enough to be contacted by my birth family. It turns out that after I got adopted away, my birth parents married each other and had five more children. Meeting my birth family transformed my views on many things and they've been a part of my life ever since.

By the way - though it may seem otherwise - nothing I've said here gives away SCAR JEWELRY's secrets.
What's the story behind your detective novella C.R.I.M.E. SCIENCE?
About the time I got tired of working in Hollywood, I got hooked on earth science and went back to school to become a disaster scientist. Before then, I read a lot about split brain research as background to WAS IT A RAT I SAW I discovered that scientists are sleuths who seek the truth about the natural world, and that scientific research requires detective skills. I saw an easy fit for scientists to solve crimes.

I wrote Book 1 during a brief lull in grad school. At home I had toddler twins and although sheer stubbornness finished Book 1, I couldn't muster the wherewithal to market it, or write Book 2. Then TV filled with scientists solving crimes, and I set Book 1 aside, figuring I had missed my chance to publish something fresh. Today the concept of scientists solving crimes is a genre standard.

Recently I decided to publish Book 1, set in Oregon in 1999, because it's such a good yarn and because I am excited about plans for Book 2. The second C.R.I.M.E. SCIENCE will regather the team - plus a couple new generations - in southern California after a 15 year gap. Book 2 should be out in 2014.
What's the story behind your psychological thriller WAS IT A RAT I SAW?
I happened upon a two-day symposium on brain research, not realizing it was for scientists and it would mostly be way out of my comprehension zone. Nonetheless what I understood fascinated me and while sitting there I realized that a brain with limited access to language would make an interesting witness to murder. So I kept learning about the science. As a supporter of animal rights, it distressed me to discover how much of the research was done on non-humans. This underpinned several important elements of WAS IT A RAT I SAW.

Meanwhile, I had long been drawn to the Caltech campus and mystique and that became the book's academic backdrop.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans mean so much to me! I write to connect with other people, and in my fans I see evidence that I have succeeded. I always appreciate hearing from fans and of course fan reviews are crucially important to indie authors.
What are some of your favorite books, and why?
I like books that transport me to unfamiliar situations or locations yet feel true and real; with characters I care about, but cannot anticipate. I want to laugh and I want to be moved. I seek books that take me for an emotional ride but never manipulate me.

Recently Read Favorites:
TANGERINE by Edward Bloor
PIGEON ENGLISH by Stephen Kelman
IN DEEP by Patricia Cooper
GHOSTS OF BELFAST by Stuart Neville
LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel
SONG OF FIRE AND ICE by George R. R. Martin

Off the Top of My Head (=Many Grievous Omissions), Some All Time Faves:
STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams
THE BLUE EYED SHAN by Stephen Becker
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Raymond Chandler, John Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, Tennessee Williams, Tom Stoppard, Jane Austen, James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, Tolkien, J.K. Rowlings.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, blogging, hiking, attending live music, gabbing with friends, enjoying time with my kids and the four-legs in the household - currently five* cats and one dog.

*Why yes, I am insane. Why do you ask?
Describe your desk
I ain't got no desk. I write and plan on my iPad, rewrite on my laptop, and occasionally spread papers over the couch or a patio table.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I was drawn to Indie publishing because now I can publish as soon as I finish a book, and I am much more closely connected with my readers.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I have such appreciation and respect for Smashwords. The How-Tos are clear and accurate, the service is versatile, the humans are helpful and supportive, and overall there is an atmosphere of fairness and enthusiasm.
What are you working on next?
The original plan was to commit C.R.I.M.E. SCIENCE #2 to words while my subconscious did the preliminary work on FRAMES #2. Meanwhile, I was going to convert HEADLINERS to an ebook. However, Nica and the FRAMES universe have consumed all my interest and attention, so it is full speed ahead on FRAMES #2.
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A girl, a boy, a feral cat, pursuit by unhuman things... Love, tragedy, adventure, and danger unfold in the secret diary of 16yo Ella, which concludes with this, book 9 in the series. (DD = Dear Diary, sE = signed Ella.)
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Nica works as a detective and longs to be called back to her new life in the other dimensions called Frames. Nica's latest client is a wife who suspects that her husband is unfaithful. Routine stuff, except that the wife is from a Frame where unfaithful spouses must die. Also, P.S., the wife is human but the husband is, well, not.
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