Interview with Sue Robishaw

Published 2015-03-29.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Answering questions from readers, usually about gardening or various homesteading questions. I wrote regularly for "Countryside" magazine for 25 years and many of those articles are stil 'out there' (though I "retired" from that regular column a bit ago). That along with other articles, interviews, and presentations I've done, and the many articles and information on our website ( It all results in a fair amount of correspondence from readers. It's fun to hear from those who are contemplating or involved in similar projects or lifestyle to ours, whether they have questions or just want to share their experiences. Plus our original "Homesteading Adventures" has been around since 1997 and is still being read. So I think our (Steve and I share this impulse!) tendency to share what we've learned "markets" our books in a rather natural way.
Describe your desk
I'm sitting at an old light green drafting board "desk" whose painted service is getting rather rough and someday I'll get around to refinishing it. On one side is Steve's desk (a piece of 1/2" plywood). The other side sits a custom moveable file unit that Steve made me one Christmas with one drawer below and a top that hinges open to a top file bin. I really like this! It does tend to get piled with stuff so you can't open the top though. I'm working on an IBM Think Pad with Windows XP (by choice) (PageMaker is still my favorite word processor and layout program!). Behind the computer are several pottery mugs with pencils, pens, markers, Prismacolor pencils, a decades old really nice stapler, a small pottery bowl for snacks, dust bunnies (preferably not in the bowl), probably cat hair. On the left is a pile of my blueberry/strawberry/raspberry gardening notes for reference for current book project, and several song & tune sheets that I need to change chords or words or clean-up to share with fellow musicians. Right side has many pieces of paper covered with various "things to do" -- book work, music, dance, arts organization (website, PR, board stuff), homestead chores, scratches and doodles. Mouse, mug (local potter) with herb tea or water, pencils, pens. Wall behind is corkboard with many little notes, often for inspiration, that I seldom read because it's rather dark back there, and doodads that get stuck there and forgotten but seen and enjoyed now and then. Above shelves have office stuff, folders, bins, notebooks, books, on up to the 10"x10" beam that helps hold the roof of our underground house up off our heads. LED lighting. Slightly padded folding chair from an old cardtable set. Fits me nice and it's comfortable, especially nice is a sheepskin pad on it. Surrounded by pine wood floor, walls, posts, beams (we live in forest land). Comfortable place.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Beaverton, a small town of about 1000 (when I left at 19) downstate (the 'mitten' part) of Michigan. I did OK in school and got along fine with teachers, classes, classmates. Nothing special. Writing was always easy for me but I never thought of it much, or was encouraged in any particular way. Never thought of "being a writer", I just liked writing, without really even thinking about it that way. I just did. I always preferred essay questions on tests to fill in the blank where the "one right" answer too often disappeared from my mind as I went to write it down. But I could explain the answer if they'd let me put down more words! I almost always wrote my term papers during the night they were due, and got good marks. I was probably one of the few who enjoyed the process. As a child my favorite hobby was penpals and used to correspond with many people, from children my age to a never met great uncle in Scotland. I liked writing and was allowed to write without any pressure or particular attention (well, except for my poor penmanship...). I think that was good. It was just something that was left to me to be a natural part of me. The life that I draw from for my writing as an adult comes from my world after I left Beaverton and moved to the Upper Peninsula (the oft forgotten part of Michigan above the mitten).
What's the story behind your latest book?
My husband, Steve Schmeck, and I moved to the backwoods of the Upper Peninsula (Michigan) in 1978. We designed and built a cabin, then our house (underground), created our homestead. As we learned we wanted to share with others, many who were embarked on the same type of adventure. Steve wrote our first article in 1981 for "Backyard Poultry" (one of "Countryside Magazine"'s other publications at that time) about the earth bermed, sod roofed chicken coop we had built. As life went on I wrote more articles. I went on to write for Countryside for almost 30 years. We got a lot of mail and a lot of questions and I realized we were often answering the same questions over and over. So why not put it all together, our first twenty years on the homestead, and write a book? And we wanted to do it ourselves, be our own publisher. It couldn't be that hard could it? (Well, actually, yes, it was...). This was before eBooks and Smashwords and POD. Well, that was quite an adventure in itself! But the book happened, "Homesteading Adventures, a Guide for Doers and Dreamers", mostly practical, somewhat creative. It was well received, sold well, and we did several printings. I went on to write four more books, three fiction, a small one on gardening ("Frost Dancing"). After many years I really wanted to make corrections and editing changes to "Homesteading Adventures" but at the price of regular offset print run that wasn't an option. Then Steve got into writing again with with his "How to Make a Treadle Lathe", publishing it as a very early eBook (as well as a printed-on-our-printer print book). (We also did a great deal of writing on our website.) But we still didn't consider redoing our older books. The technology just wasn't there yet. Then the eBook "revolution" and Smashwords opened doors. Suddenly I could imagine making those changes! But first Steve (who is the tech person of our team) redid his Lathe book (which had a good following), Then my smaller books, "Frost Dancing" and "Moving with the Music" (hurray, I finally got to rewrite this novella that I so loved!). Finally, I edited and made the changes I wanted to make to my original "Homesteading Adventures"; Steve did the magic (OK, work) on turning it into the file it needed to be to be sent to Smashwords and become the new eBook edition. That was my most recent book project. What a lot has changed in these almost twenty years since that original off-set print edition. Now I'm working on our subsequent twenty years!
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The desire to share. When I first wrote "Homesteading Adventures" it was to share what we had learned thus far with others wanting the same or something similar. To help them as so many had helped us. There was a "regular" publisher interested in the book but they wanted to turn it into a "light" read for those just slightly interested. More fluff, less substance. And they weren't interested in printing on 100% recycled paper which was important to me. So I decided to publish it myself. Self-publishing was just getting popular and the "how to" books made it sound pretty easy (it wasn't). But we were, and are, "do-it-yourselfers" by nature so it actually fit us better anyway to become our own publisher. Self publishing wasn't as well thought of back then as it is now but that didn't matter. I helped start a group of independent publishers and we helped each other. It was a great learning experience and I'm not sorry we did it. But I sure do appreciate the options and technology available nowdays!! I like being an indie author. It's a great and interesting community to be a part of. It suits me.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The feeling of flying when the thoughts and words are streaming in and you know you're on the right path. After that comes the editing... But when it gets to the point when I feel I have something worthwhile to share, then the work is worth it and it is a joy.
What are you working on next?
Growing Fruit the ManyTracks Way -- tips and information from the many years of learning and growing fruit on our homestead in the northern midwest. This isn't a general how-to on all fruits but personal experience with the fruits I grow, including the very important strawberry and blueberry cages!
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Life, fun projects, cats, sun, ideas, the fire going in the woodstove on a cold morning (which means Steve got up earlier and got it going).
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
It varies so much, depending on the season, the day, what we have going. Our "business" (busy-ness?) name is ManyTracks for a reason! But it might include music--Steve and I start many days playing fiddle and guitar and we play out a fair amount, with others or as a duo. Gardening is a big part of my life in season since we grow a good portion of what we eat (and I love vegetable/fruit gardening). Hiking & row boating (we're building a skin-on-frame dory this spring) in the summer and fall. I'm quite involved in a local non-profit arts organization so a lot of things-to-do there. We do two dances a month (I organize and call, Steve fiddles). We like music and dance so attend concerts, jams and dances. There are always homestead projects to work on or think about. Both of us enjoy the "do-it-yourself" life so our days are never boring. Having fun, being happy, enjoying our community, both near and far.
What is your writing process?
Sit at the computer and start typing. I suppose it should be more exotic or exciting than that! But when I'm inspired to write I just do. I know I'm going to edit and revise later which gives me the freedom to just "go with the flow". Of course, the more clear I am in my mind about where I want to flow the easier it is to organize later. Generally whatever I'm working on has been in and out of my mind for awhile so I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say before I start typing. The first novel I wrote (The Last Lamp, now out of print) was often written longhand with pencil on paper, which was good and worked. It gave me a chance to do a first edit as I typed it. But my penmanship leaves a lot to be desired so I seldom go that route. I guess my writing process starts in my mind. It's fun to knash it around before committing to paper or screen.
How do you approach cover design?
With a LOT of experimenting with PhotoShop and/or by giving it over to my inhouse tech (partner/husband) who is better at it than I am. We do our own covers because we like that creative process but it is not an easy thing. For most self-publishing authors I recommend hiring someone who knows how to do it. Unless you'd just rather do it yourself.
What do you read for pleasure?
That changes so often depending on my current interests and what I'm involved in. Non-fiction. Books by people who are happy doing what they're doing and excited about life. Abraham-Hicks books.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author or publisher.

Books by This Author

Growing Berries for Food and Fun: Notes from the Northwoods
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 29,040. Language: English. Published: February 26, 2016 by ManyTracks. Categories: Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Gardening » Fruit, Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Sustainable living
Picking fresh berries from your own home-grown plants is a treat no matter where you live, but in the cold short season climate of the northern Midwest there is a special satisfaction. Between the long winters, short summers, wild critters, busy schedules and varied weather it is a real joy to finally hold in your hand sun ripened fruit that you grew. This book helps you get there.
Homesteading Adventures: A Guide for Doers and Dreamers
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 93,860. Language: English. Published: March 10, 2014 by ManyTracks. Categories: Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Sustainable living, Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Green living
From bare beginnings to a comfortable, ever changing homestead, Sue leads the reader through their early years of building, learning, laughing and creating their home in the woods. Both fun and practical with plenty of how-to and a little bit of philosophy, from home building to home power, from organic garden to country kitchen, and a whole lot in between.
Frost Dancing: Tips from a Northern Gardener
Price: Free! Words: 9,990. Language: English. Published: January 2, 2014 by ManyTracks. Categories: Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Gardening » Organic, Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Gardening » Vegetables
Here is a concise, friendly garden book free of fluff and fuss, full to its short but sturdy brim with useful, nippy, usable ideas for short-season gardeners who want to grow their own food. With more than 240 down-to-earth tips from Sue’s own thirty-five plus years of organic gardening even those in warmer climates will find something here.
Moving with the Music
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 15,620. Language: English. Published: December 18, 2013 by ManyTracks. Categories: Fiction » Urban
Here she was in the city, in an old house that looked worse than she felt. The past hadn't gone very far away but she didn't expect much. They would clean up the house; they would live here. Then the neighborhood walked in with young Ramon leading, and Sara’s world opened up.