I am thrilled to have Susan Grant visit here today, as part of the Science Fiction Romance month, celebrating the launch of Junkyard Heroes, which came out on Thursday.
Susan is a New York Times bestselling author, a USA Today bestselling author and a RITA Award winner, too. She has been published by Dorchester, Berkley, Harlequin, and last year became an indie author. She has won a slew of other awards, too.
On top of all that, she was also a US Air Force pilot, which is the coolest “other” profession I’ve ever come across in romance authors. Susan is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and currently works as a civilian pilot flying 747s for United Airlines.
There’s more to tell. Susan has one of the best About Me pages I’ve ever read. I’ll put a link to the About page beneath—for once you’ve read the interview.
Please make Susan feel welcome!
Thanks so much for visiting today.
Hi Tracy! Thanks so much for having me.
I have to ask about the Air Force pilot training. It makes my little geeky story-teller’s heart leap, as it seems to be a naturally high-risk, high-adrenaline profession, filled with daily drama that would provide oodles of material for stories.
Ha ha! Thanks. You make it seem very exciting, and I guess it was. I’ve been lucky to have an adventurous life, however I didn’t see it as high risk. But then I wasn’t flying fighter jets into combat. As for story material, yes, there is that benefit. As I get further into my new indie writing career I want to write more stories about military characters and military situations. I feel like it will be a natural fit. In the meantime, I write military characters, human and alien, who are in space, or serving on space stations.
What made you decide on such a career?
It was born in me. I have wanted to fly for as long as I can remember. I was about three years old when my father hoisted me up to his shoulders during a visit to the beach to watch a formation of fighter jets fly over. I remember being thrilled at the noise and the sight. That remained with me for the rest of my life. As a kid, I was always watching the space launches and hero-worshiped the various astronauts. At about 10 years old I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. In a very logical way I looked at what needed to be done to make that happen. I saw that I would need to fly jets for the military (because I didn’t have the desire or mathematical talents to be a scientist). It would also be best if I got admitted to one of the military academies like the US Naval Academy or the US Air Force Academy. They are prestigious schools that would look great on an astronaut application! Also, they were tuition free and my family was of humble means. Except there was one problem. A big one. In those days, women weren’t allowed to fly jets for the military. And they weren’t even allowed into the United States service academies. But then I’ve never been known for taking the first no or even the second or third as an answer. Despite closed doors and high walls at every turn, I kept my hopes up. When I was sixteen years old the first women officers were accepted to Air Force pilot training. That same year women were admitted to the United States service academies. That became my goal. I was a bit of an underdog, but I did it!
Do you find that your time training pilots and flying jets still influences your writing, even though you have since moved on?
Oh, definitely. I do of course get lots of story ideas from my job. Any country can feel like another planet—the foods, the different types of clothing, the languages, the climates, the culture differences, all of it is fodder for new plots, litters and litters of plot bunnies. Like every storyteller, I bring my life experiences and observations to my books. I can write high-risk, action-packed scenes quite easily. I know what it feels like to fly at the controls of a jet and love bringing that realism to my readers—the sights, smells, sounds, and feel of it. Also, the discipline and responsibility required to do the job. A recurring theme in my books are characters who are innately honorable and are subsequently forced to balance the demands of duty with personal happiness.
You’re now flying commercial Boeings. Is it a staid career after air force jets? Your About Me page seems to hint that it is not. Do you get lots of material for stories as an airline pilot?
No, not staid at all. It’s just different. In the Air Force we had a tangible mission. Mine was to train student pilots who would go on to fly jets and protect our country. There was a real sense of responsibility, of meaning. It was gratifying work. There was also a great camaraderie in my Air Force squadron. The other pilots were like my brothers and sisters. It was a wonderful experience. Now, as a commercial pilot, my job is to transport people safely to where they need to go. It’s still a mission, but not as clear-cut, not as meaningful, however I still love the job. As a 747 pilot I get to see and do a lot of exciting things. Beautiful scenery from the best seat in the house. Visiting exotic places, landing in countries all over the world. Best of all, I fly the iconic airliner of our century and the last century too! The 747 will soon be retired and I will no longer have the privilege of flying her. But every day that I do is just a blessing. I am so lucky that I have had such a long career being able to fly the 747. Other planes I flown for the airlines just don’t compare. And none of the planes that I will fly in the future when they retire the 747 will compare.
You turned to writing in the 1990s. That seems to be a huge change of pace. What made you consider writing?
I decided to pursue publication of my stories in the 1990s but my love of creative writing began long before that. When I was in elementary school very kind teacher sent a short story I did to the Ellery Queen magazine. They rejected it of course but were very nice about it! Much nicer then the rejections I would go on to receive during the year and a half it took me to sell my first two books. Like many authors, as a child I was always making up stories, always living in my imagination. My first indication that I was good at it was when my friends would say, “Where are we today and what are we doing? What are we going to be?” They would look to me to create the imaginary world that we would play in. And I loved doing it.
When I attended the United States Air Force Academy, the only choice for a major was a bachelor of science degree. But there were some English courses, and a few where I got to do creative writing. But for all those years and through most of my Air Force years, the stories I made up remained in my head. But, I honestly never thought of writing a book. It never occurred to me. One day in the 1990s when my kids were little I was with them at the doctor’s office. They were in a double stroller because they’re very close in age and I started talking with another mom whose kids were also in a double stroller. During the conversation I learned that she had written a book. I thought that was the most amazing thing. I had never met someone who had written a book! I thought: if she can write a book I can write a book! And that really is how it all started.
In 1997 – 98 I sat down with the goal of writing a book. Knowing nothing about the business, nothing about what was bought or sold, I wrote an epic, nearly 700 page historical with two romances in it. It broke all the rules. But I didn’t know what the rules were! I remember getting up hours before my kids had to go to school. My fingers flying over the keyboard of what must have been an electric typewriter. Although I soon switched to a word processor. It was so wonderful writing that book, it was like skipping through a beautiful field of flowers in the spring time, no rules, no strict self editor, no readers voices giving me one star reviews on Amazon. It was just me and my story, and the joy of it all. But soon enough reality intruded. I found out that I would probably never be able to sell that book. And I never did. But then I never really tried. Maybe someday I will resurrect it.
After writing futuristic romance for Dorchester, romantic suspense and paranormal romance for Harlequin, Berkley, and others, you have lately focused on science fiction romance as an indie author.
I wrote science fiction romance for Dorchester. In the 1990s it was common to use the term “futuristic” to describe a romance that had science fiction as part of the plot. It can be a rather condescending term, and why I’m very happy to see that it has fallen out of favor. My romantic suspense and paranormal romance for Harlequin were also science fiction romances. That’s the thing about my books. They bridge two or more genres. For instance, my RITA-winning book Contact is a science fiction romance about an alien abduction, but it is also an aviation thriller. My 2176 Freedom series is science fiction romance that takes place 160 years in the future on earth. But it’s also a dystopian military thriller and an action adventure romance. The only purely paranormal stories I wrote were for Berkeley—the Mysteria anthologies. Those were fun novellas to write because they were outside my usual—in each novella a character was a demon and lived in a town filled with shifters, werewolves, fairies, vampires, witches etc.
What do you like best about SFR that the other sub-genres don’t offer?
Science fiction romance is my favorite genre to write at the moment. I love it because of the almost total lack of boundaries. Anything goes. The adventure, a wild West type of frontier feel, the fantasy aspect. Strong, independent characters. Yes, I have facts that need to be based in science, but the genre lets my imagination run wild. I can make up anything. I love that. One of my favorite themes is “fish out of water”. In my science fiction worlds I put my characters in those types of situations. Maybe it’s how I feel sometimes when I am walking around in a foreign country. A fish out of water, but also full of curiosity and wonder.
Your latest release is The Champion of Barésh, which is book 1 of a new SFR series, making it three SFR series in total. Will you be adding more books to the Star series and the 2176 Freedom series?
Six series total, three with a traditional publisher and three of my own. With Harlequin, I have two sci-fi romance trilogies, each a separate science fiction romance series. I started on a third trilogy but that finished up my contract and was the time I decided to leave traditional publishing. I would love to get the rights back to all of them, and especially the Lost Colony series one day (The Last Warrior) and finish it. I love the unique concept (about a colony on a distant planet that loses contact with its home world. As the centuries have passed, they have forgotten their roots/where they originally came from, war is celebrated and science is seen as evil, and those who “dabble” in it are at risk of being punished). Definitely a fantasy feel to it. But, like all my older titles, the book would also require a major rewrite to bring it up to the level it needs to be. Anyway, those Harlequin books are like my kids who have to live away from me in a foster family LOL. I think about them all the time, but I can’t pick out what clothes they wear or where they live or what they do…and I miss them very much. Anyway, to answer your question, yes I currently as an indie have three series going. The Star series consists of The Star King, The Star Prince, and The Star Princess; plus the novella The Star Queen, which is the prequel. The Champion of Barésh is number four in that series, coming directly after The Star Princess. After I stopped writing in 2011, I continue to get mail for many years from readers who wanted Klark’s story. As a gift to my loyal readers and maybe also to myself, when I returned to writing it was Klark’s story I wrote first. It took a while to find the right heroine for him. He needed to be redeemed. Badly. After all he was the bad guy for two of the three Star books. Luckily I found just the woman for the job! Jemm was everything Klark disapproved of. So, she was perfect! She’s scrappy, she cusses, she’s poor, and she’s an athlete. Not any athlete, but at the very pinnacle of the sport that Klark believes can only be played by men. I loved writing that book. But since it had been more than five years since I had published a book, I knew I needed to reintroduce myself to readers, so I did a spinoff of the Star series called the Star World Frontier series. These books take place primarily in the Galactic frontier, where Earth and Barésh, are located. Thus, Champion can serve as an entry into the series, as I wrote it to be a standalone. Or, for readers of the Star series, a continuation.
Right now, the plan is for at least one of my 2017 releases to be another Star World Frontier book. On Barésh there is a black market in trillidium, the material used to make spaceship hulls. I dearly love space pirates. I also love space marines. Yes, the couple will include one of each. I’m sure the characters hate me already because of it. But that’s what makes a book fun to write.
Beside your own SFR novels, what are your favourite SFR authors?
I read widely, and often outside my own genre. I mention a number of these books in this interview, in fact. It’s so hard to pick one favorite. Some great resources to find wonderful science fiction romance authors are Facebook groups like the Science Fiction Romance Group.
Did your reading habits change when you became a professional writer? Who are your major influences these days?
Oh yes! My reading habits totally changed. Primarily because I have so little time now to just read a book for pleasure. I miss it. One thing about being an indie author that I never knew until this past year is that it’s so much work. I have an assistant and people who help me with various things but so much of the work still falls on me. The business aspect. Promotion. Doing things like this interview for you, a labor of love, but all of it takes away precious writing time. So I have to try to find a balance. Unfortunately, pleasurable things like reading books can fall by the wayside. Usually I reward myself after producing a high word count or catching up with some things I have to do. That reward will be curling up in my favorite chair and opening my Kindle to read. There is nothing more inspiring than a fantastic author and a fantastic story. If I am reading a great book that has great writing, it makes my own writing better. In the past year, two authors who stood out for telling great stories are Hugh Howey and Kristin Hannah. I recommend the Silo series by Howey (best opening paragraph ever—if you read it, you’ll be hooked) and Hannah’s The Nightingale. They are truly masters of the craft.
And what is your guilty pleasure, reading-wise? Why?
My guilty pleasure when it comes to reading are apocalyptic/disaster novels. My favorites are when comets or asteroids hit the earth and destroy almost everything. A classic I love is Lucifer’s Hammer. Also Moon Fall. But I also love a good killer plague or alien invasion story. Station Eleven was a literary take on a deadly flu virus tale. Another apocalyptic story I read is called One Second After, which is about an EMP pulse, which activated my “prepper” impulse. I do have a small amount of food put away, however I don’t think I would last very long during the apocalypse. If I did, I would be living off good-for-thirty-years oatmeal. This pretty much illustrates why I love apocalyptic fiction—the “What if it were me” factor. I think of these things. My flying skills would definitely not transfer over in a dystopian world, but my ability to weave a tale would. I could tell stories around the fire and earn bullets and cigarettes to barter for supplies! 🙂
Do you read either print or ebooks exclusively? How do you keep your personal library under control and organized?
I read e-books almost exclusively. Since I am not that fast of a reader I haven’t had that much trouble keeping my personal library organized. Everything is on my Kindle. When we moved a few years ago I got rid of a lot of books and held onto only those keepers that were important to me and some personally autographed books. I used to keep ten copies of each of my paperback books from when I was with traditional publishing, but I reduced that further to three copies per title. They are in boxes in the garage.
In your About Me, By Me essay, you mentioned “Manfred our 6 foot 8, 345 pound vineyard foreman/ex-Albanian prison guard fired for using excessive force, and his wife Frieda, our housekeeper, a retired circus performer/knife thrower prone to acute bouts of PMS. :)” Have you fired Manfred and Frieda, yet? Or are they still at large? Enquiring minds want to know.
Ah yes, dear Manfred and Frieda, my loyal staff. I will neither confirm nor deny that these people really work here, or if they exist only in my imagination. But perhaps it is not worth the risk for any intruders to find out the truth if they venture onto our farm. 🙂
If someone offered you immortality, but you could never write again…would you take the offer?
I would totally take immortality! To be a storyteller I don’t need to write the stories down. I can go back to telling them or living inside my imagination. Once a storyteller always a storyteller. Almost as good as immortality would be the ability to go back in time and see certain historical events, or meet the historical figures. But you didn’t ask me that. 🙂
The Desiree Staccato
In honour of Desiree Holt who started this Saturday Night Live style tradition:
Favourite colour? Deep indigo blue
Favourite drink? My homemade limoncello
Favourite writing outfit? leggings, Uggs, and a T-shirt with one of my favorite cardigans.
Favourite food(s)? Pizza! Avocado! Bacon! Melted cheese! And veggies sautéed in olive oil and garlic! Oh I can’t forget kettle chips. Yum!! Now I’m hungry wait – I also love really fresh Atlantic salmon and gulf shrimp. Can I keep going? I love food sigh…
Favourite music? I do have a soft spot for eighties music, electronic dance music, and bluegrass.
Favourite body part? On me?! Or on a guy? I’ll take the guy. But then it’s so hard to choose. There are so many nice parts. 🙂 Forearms! Better yet when the forearms are attached are some really nice shaped hands and a shirt is being worn with sleeves rolled partway up.
Favourite spot in the world? The society islands, Polynesia
Favourite movie? The Terminator
Favourite TV show? I love Game of thrones. But currently we are gorging on Vikings. It’s awesome!
Favourite flower? Hyacinths
Favourite thing to do at knock-off time? Have a glass of wine and catch up on Facebook or since I have become a bit of a newshound watch some news on TV. And then cook. I love to cook. It’s very relaxing for me.
Do you have a current or upcoming title you’d like to share with us? A tidbit about the experience of writing it, or what I am sure was a hair-raising experience that inspired it?
I do! I am very excited to say that I have my first boxed set coming out. I’ve put together the first three Star series books and the prequel novella. And am offering it at a steeply discounted price. That comes out on January 31 which is prior to this blog. But I appreciate the support all the same!
My next release is on February 7, when I am releasing The Star Queen on its own. It takes place 11,000 years before the Star books begin. That is what I call a prequel!! It’s been a very long time since the book was out, and a lot of readers have been asking for it.
But the exciting news is that I have done a huge rewrite on the novella. Even though The Star Queen was always well received, and won some awards, and was a bestseller, there were some things that just didn’t work anymore. When it was with the publisher there was nothing I could do to change it after the fact. But the beautiful thing about being indie and getting the rights back to the book is that I can roll up my sleeves, go in and make changes—big changes. Which is what I did.
As for what’s coming up next? I was going to make a big announcement in my February newsletter and spell out all the series that will be out this year, all the new books. But then my muse scolded me. 🙂 She said, “Isn’t freedom a big reason you wanted to be an indie author? So you could decide what you wanted to write next? And when?” The muse is right. I say what book is coming out next, it feels like a deadline to me, and that’s the fastest way to squash my writing and productivity. So, I will say this: my aim for 2017 is to put out at least one Star World Frontier book and another in one of the new series that I want to start. I’m one of those people that have several projects going on at once. Usually what happens is one of them takes off and I then write it to completion. All the more reason to leave things open creatively so I can change my mind and put another book out first. Anyway, in a long confusing rambling way what I am saying is that anyone who subscribes to my newsletter will know what is coming and when it is coming before anyone else.
Susan, thank you so much for visiting!