I read Suanne Laqueur’s A Charm of Finches in March this year and was blown away with how beautifully she portrayed emotions and reality. This book is the second in the Venery series, but I felt comfortable reading it because it could even pass off as a standalone book. I wrote a review of the book and posted it on my blog (which you can read here), and to Goodreads. And then I forgot all about it.
A few days later, when I was doing my March Wrap Up video for my YouTube channel, I happened to take a look at Suanne’s Facebook. And to see that I was getting all the love for that review. I couldn’t believe my eyes! That was perhaps the best day of my life so far! Then when Suanne agreed to do this interview – the very first for my new, revamped blog – I was, and still am pleasantly speechless.
Read on for a very candid interview with the genius called Suanne Laqueur!
Tell us about the inception of the Venery series – how you got the idea, how you worked on it.
I love books where the town or city becomes a character in the story. A lot of towns (like the one I grew up in) have that family: the one that’s been there since the town’s inception. The Browns. There’s Brown’s Pharmacy and the Brownville neighborhood and Brown Hill Road or Brown Park. “Yes, the library is on the old Brown estate…” It’s a name attached to the town. So I wanted to write something like that and I sketched out a family tree with three siblings, Valerie, Roger and Trelawney. I didn’t have a last name until I saw this funny post on Facebook about group terms for animals. Reading down the list, I realized a lot of them sounded like titles. Then I saw “An Exaltation of Larks.” I loved how it sounded. Wait. The family’s last name could be Lark! And that was that, there I was, there I went and it just grew from there.
How important is The Charm of Finches to you? I say important because I believe that in this time and age, when discrimination against the LGBTQ community is still prevalent despite “modern” thinking, this book turns everything on its head.
I always say Finches might not be my best-written book but it is by far my most important book. I made this brief mention of Steffen Finch at the end of Larks which locked him into being an art therapist. From the start, I planned to have him work with survivors of sexual assault, but in the early scenes, he was working with women. I toyed with the idea of one of his clients coming between him and Jav, that kind of love triangle thing. But it seemed to cheapen his work and I couldn’t put Jav through another triangle anyway, poor guy. Then I thought, What if Stef worked with men? Who writes about that? Who even talks about that? It sets Stef at the middle of this range of male behavior: he’s becoming intensely involved with a male lover, at the same time he witnesses the opposite end of the spectrum and counsels male victims of rape. And just like with Larks, it grew from there.
Tell us about your process of writing. Do you follow a set routine or does creativity work like it does best – strike you in the middle of nowhere? What do you do when you get an idea when you cannot note it down?
In the beginning, I work with a pen and notebook. I like the physicality of writing by hand and I find the mind-hand connection flows better for me. I also find it non-threatening. It doesn’t have to be in order, you kind of just meander along and write whatever you want and if it’s not working, just turn the page. I work this way for about three or four months, alternating with research, then I start transcribing all the chunks onto the computer.
When I get an idea and can’t write it down, I make up these crazy mnemonics to trigger my memory later. I also attach gross motor movement. If it’s the middle of the night, I visualize painting a few words on the back wall of my garage and I’ll move my arm like it has the paintbrush. My husband will roll over and grunt, “Got an idea?”
How much research goes into writing your books?
A ton. I read everything I can get my hands on. I seek out experts in the field. I throw questions out on social media. LinkedIn is a great resource. When I was writing Give Me Your Answer True, I scouted LinkedIn for dancers who worked at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. I made contact with this one girl who was a treasure trove of “a day in the life of” information and she even texted photos and video from backstage. I find professionals love to be consulted. When you tell them you’re writing a book, they’ll bend over backwards to help you get it right.
You have a lot of humor in your books. Is that a Suanne Laqueur thing or a character thing?
Oh that’s me. Like my character Val Lark, I deal with a lot of stressful situations by looking for the funny. It’s also a listening thing: often I hear something and I think, “That’s something Val would say.” I glean a lot of the humorous situations from real life. Plus Finches is full of corny jokes my dad would always tell.
What was the easiest part of writing A Charm of Finches? What was the most difficult part? And what was the best part?
Everything about this book was challenging. The researching, the writing, the editing, the revising, the publishing, the promoting—it was all like pulling teeth. The easiest part was what I thought was going to be the hardest part: Stef and Jav’s relationship. I’d never written any M/M before. It didn’t go much past kissing in Larks and clinches were always getting interrupted or filled with angst. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go, so the first month I just wrote little scenes with them in bed…and then I couldn’t stop. They wouldn’t stop! My new hobby became drinking and writing about these two together. I started to worry there wasn’t going to be an actual book.
The hardest part naturally was Geno’s story. He was really slow to show himself to me, which makes sense given what happens to him. Researching and reading testimonials and case studies, putting all that together with who he was… It was really, really hard. I always have a bit of a post-partum letdown after a book release, but after Finches came out, I had a bit of a legitimate breakdown. I was wiped out.
The best part? I guess it was feeling like I’d told an important story and maybe given a voice to a silent demographic or even just opened people’s eyes to an aspect of sexual assault they never thought about before. How the plight of a raped man is not better or worse than a woman, but that it definitely has psychological and cultural aspects that can make their coming forward even more difficult, shameful and traumatizing. Again, it’s not worse. It’s just different. Because society has made it different.
Are your plot points mapped out before you write or do you wing it as you write? What are your first drafts like?
I do map out a certain arc of the story but I’ve learned by now not to get married to anything and to be willing to let go of “darlings.” I’m constantly asking “What if?” well into the second and third drafts. I’ve essentially learned to follow my characters around and write down what they do, instead of forcing them to follow my set-in-stone ideas. So parts of my first drafts will show up intact in the final, but a lot of sections that I slaved over end up on the cutting room floor. I never delete them though. They get saved in the slush pile. It all belongs to me and it’s all recyclable.
There are a lot of writers who say they detest reading. What is your opinion on this?
Well, if your craft is words, it makes sense you need to feed the beast. Damn, if I could clone myself, I would make a separate Suanne who would do nothing but read. In fact, I’d make two Suannes: one would read new books, and the other would only re-read favorites.
How can one turn a non-reader into a reader? What is the best book you think that a non-reader would like?
This is a sore subject with me because I, the voracious reader, somehow produced two children who are not readers. They read because they have to. My husband isn’t a reader either. He’ll tell people he’s read a dozen fiction books in his life and five of them were mine. So anyway, I’ve devoted a lot of years to trying to entice them with books and you know what? You can’t force a love of reading. You just can’t. People will come to it in their own time and their own way, or they won’t. I have no idea what book a non-reader would like. Maybe The Martian? That book was hilarious and smart, two of my favorite things.
Who are your favorite authors? And your favorite books? Which book made you laugh the most, which made you cry, and which made you hopeful? [Long question, but I really want to know. :D]
While I’m writing, I tend to avoid my own genre and I’ll read fantasy, non-fiction, YA or books that have an other-worldly, magic-realism feel. When I’m between projects, I’ll read more mainstream, contemporary and literary fiction. The result is a list of favorite authors that’s all over the place: Rumer Godden, Laurie Colwin, Fredrik Backman, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne Valente, Leigh Bardugo, VE Schwab, Philip Pullman, TJ Klune.
The Martian made me laugh the most, I was actually surprised at how hilarious that book was. Backman’s Beartown made me cry, as did Alice Archer’s Everyday History (they were my top reads of 2017). Hopeful… That’s a tough one. TJ Klune’s books always lift me up because I think he’s an incredible voice and talent in the LGBTQ community and he’s showing these books can be mainstream and universally appealing and relevant.
Did I mention The Martian was hilarious?
Have you started your next story? If yes, what is it about? And when can we hope to read it?
Yes, my next book continues the Venery series and is called A Scarcity of Condors. It follows a young man called Jude Tholet, whose family who lived through the 1973 coup in Chile and built a new life in Vancouver, Canada. A DNA test reveals something shocking in his family history and makes him re-think everything he knows about himself and his relationships. It’s in the scribbling/research stage and I have an AMAZING team of beta readers (SHOUT OUT!!) giving me feedback on all the disjointed chunks, so it’s slowly taking shape. Hopefully it will be a 2018 release, but I don’t flirt with a release date until I send the 27th draft to my editor. It’s done when it’s done.
Your advice for aspiring authors?
Search Ted.org for Elizabeth Gilbert’s talks, “Your Elusive, Creative Genius” and “Success, Failure and the Passion to Keep Creating.” Because everything she says is what I would say if I thought of it first. I know not everyone digs her books, but as a speaker and observer of the creative process, she’s brilliant. Seriously, I watch these two talks at least every month. Do it.
Suanne Laqueur is the author of 10 books so far. She debuted in 2015 with The Man I Love and hasn’t looked back since.