Susan and I crossed paths back in September at the SCBWI conference. At the time, I wondered why her name was so familiar to me. Only when I returned home and started to do some updates on my social media did I realize we were following each other on twitter. Lol.
I am so excited to have Susan Adrian with me today, especially since her debut novel, TUNNEL VISION, will be out in just a few days. Five days to be exact. So lets dig in, get to know Susan, and find out more about her fantastic YA thriller.
Stephanie: One of the tried and true, good ol' questions. Have you always dreamed of being a writer? And how long have you been writing?
Susan: I've been writing poems and stories since I was a kid—I remember having a story about my cat posted in the local paper when I was 10 or so. I didn't try my hand at a book until about 14 years ago, though. I just didn't ever think my ideas were original enough. More life was needed!
Stephanie: Tunnel Vision has taken quite a few turns in getting to where it is now. When you first envisioned or were struck with the idea for Tunnel Vision, did you have any idea it would turn out to be what it is?
Susan: The story of TUNNEL VISION is an unusual one. I actually quit writing completely after about 10 years of frustration and not-quite-getting-there. I decided I was tired of banging my head against a brick wall, and gave myself permission to just stop it all. But my brain couldn't stop telling stories. To get myself to sleep at night, I started telling myself a story in my head, carrying over from night to night, about a boy who had an ability the government wanted. When it got so exciting I was staying awake until 3 am imagining it, I finally gave in and wrote it down. That story became TUNNEL VISION. It's developed more, and the ending point changed. But much of it is the same as I imagined it to be.
Stephanie: How long after you returned to writing, did you get started on Tunnel Vision and how long did it take you to finish it?
Susan: I returned to writing FOR Tunnel Vision, and once I started writing it down I finished a rough draft in about 10 weeks.
Stephanie: I am so glad you didn't quit writing, though I do understand your feelings. I was getting there myself. If you hadn't returned to it, we would not have this great story to look forward to. When I first heard of Tunnel Vision and that you were from Butte, my first thought was something to do with the mines. It is definitely way cooler than that, but have you ever thought about doing a story of the mines?
Susan: No, not really. The topic just hasn't appealed to me yet. I start with a character in a situation, and go from there. But I won't rule it out—maybe someday a miner character will inspire a story.
Stephanie: We met in September at the Montana SCBWI 2014 Fall Conference. You actually crashed it with your agent Kate Testerman, which was a treat to have you there with her and see the author/agent relationship and actually have you to answer our questions. During this, you stated the title changed along the way. What was your original title?
Susan: The original title was THE TUNNEL, which is the project name DARPA uses for Jake, my main character. When he uses his power, he "tunnels" to another person. But TUNNEL VISION fits so much better.
Stephanie: What does DARPA mean?
Susan: DARPA is an actual government agency. Website here: http://www.darpa.mil/default.aspx (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
Stephanie: So speaking of acronyms, are you a member of the SCBWI (Socitey of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators)? If so, how long have you been a member? Do you feel it helped you get where you are?
Susan: I am a member, and have been since 2009. I attended a very stimulating SCBWI conference in New York when I was just getting into the industry, and I think the SCBWI Book is very useful. I haven't availed myself of too many of the resources there, but I greatly appreciate what they do.
Stephanie: The SCBWI is an amazing organization. Without it, I think many authors would have given up. What is your current profession?
Susan: I'm a scientific editor, and have been for almost 20 years. I'm the Publications Editor and Chief of the Information Services department at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, the state's geologic survey. We're part of Montana Tech in Butte.
Stephanie: 20 years is quite a long time. The history of Butte is an amazing one, fraught with sadness, greed and corruption because of the mines. Recently my family visited the Mining Museum there at the tech and I have a niece currently attending Montana Tech. What brought you to Montana?
Susan: That job! My husband and I had both been laid off in California during the recession, and we did a nationwide job search. I hit first, we loved Butte when I came for the interview, and we've been here ever since. My parents followed us here too.
Stephanie: Well, I for one, and very glad you made it to Montana. I never would have met you otherwise. How did you find Kate?
Susan: I've been on Twitter for a long time, and I was aware of Kate there—and when it came time to query a new agent, I checked out her client list. I had read and loved so many of them, I knew she was a good match. I queried, and it worked out!
Stephanie: It definitely pays to do your homework. I remember Kate talking about how impressed she was with your query. What advice do you have to aspiring authors about this crucial yet terrifying step in the process? Do you mind if I include a link to your query letter?
Susan: Absolutely! The query letter, in a joint interview with Kate, is here: http://www.yahighway.com/2014/07/query-series-author-susan-adrian-and.html
My advice is to read TONS of queries, from a site like Query Shark, and see what works and what doesn't. Then write one and run it by your writer friends. My friends vastly improved mine, and some of the language that they contributed has made it through all the way to the book cover.
Stephanie: When it comes to queries, writing a book is the easy part. And it definitely pays to have good writing buddies. Can you tell us about TUNNEL VISION?
Susan: TUNNEL VISION is the story of Jake, who just wants to lead a normal life and get into Stanford, but he slips up at a party and shows off his secret ability, and the government finds out. Jake can hold any personal object, like a pet rock or a ring, and sense not only where that person is, but see what they're seeing and hear what they're hearing. He's a perfect, invisible surveillance unit, and the government "recruits" him to be a spy. But it gets more complicated when bad guys get interested too, and then when Jake isn't sure who the bad guys are anymore…
Stephanie: On your website, you tell us you are currently working on the sequel to Tunnel Vision. Can you tell us what dangers Jake is going to face and how are you going to up the ante? When can readers expect to see the sequel and do you have a name for it already?
Susan: The current title is TUNNEL VISION 2. I'm a titling genius. I can't say much, but I will say if you've read TV you know that it doesn't exactly all end with a pretty bow. Jake has a lot of work to do if he wants to be free and clear of all the mess that's happened. In the sequel he's free of the mess for about two pages, I think, before it all gets worse.
Stephanie: You are a titling genius :-) Very straightforward, lol. Your sequel sounds just as exciting as the first book. What else are you working on?
Susan: I'm also on submission with a middle grade book, a magical realism about a girl who gets to be Clara in the Nutcracker, and a new thriller about two sisters from Spain, and what happens when one of them pushes a stranger off of a cliff.
Stephanie: Where do you get your ideas?
Susan: I think ideas come from everywhere. They are a conglomeration of all the things you notice in your daily life, have experienced, and observe in other people…set off by a spark of an idea. I see where my imagination goes from there, and always, always, try to go the unexpected route. I think writers have to read enough to know what the expected route is, and avoid it!
Stephanie: When not reading and writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Susan: I like to travel with my family, and watch movies and TV on down time!
Thanks for this, Stephanie! It was great to meet you and hang out with other Montana writers!
Thank you so much Susan. It was great to learn more about you and I hope to see you at many more writing events around the state. We are planning a lot of changes and additions within the Montana SCBWI Chapter and will have some great spring events. Look for my spotlight on Susan's debut novel on January 20th. Can't wait to see what Jake does!
Stephanie N. Pitman, Author
The written word is magical...
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