I’m thrilled to feature another Alabama author on my blog this month. Susan is such a sweet spirit and has always been so kind to me. Sometimes when you meet people you automatically think, “I like her. We’re going to get along just fine.” Believe me when I say those types of people are in short supply.
With that being said, it doesn’t mean she’s too sweet to write a nail-biting fantasy book with a dash of science fiction because she did the thing. Are you intrigued? Good! Keep reading.
Susan McPhail spent years writing technical documentation and developing marketing materials for high-tech engineering firms. She is now a fantasy/science fiction author living in Huntsville, Alabama (aka the Rocket City) with her husband. When she’s not writing or catching the latest movie, Susan enjoys handcrafts like crocheting and quilting because it looks like she’s doing something useful while in fact she is pondering how to work out tricky plot points.
A. When did you realize you wanted to be an author?
S. I’ve always been a voracious reader and welcomed opportunities to get creative with words in my work life. A few years ago when I transitioned out of a full-time job, I decided to challenge myself and see if I could write fiction. About halfway into the first draft of my first novel, I realized that I had also always wanted to be an author—I had just not taken the time to acknowledge that passion.
A. In what genre do you write?
S. My first published novel is Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key. It’s historical fantasy adventure, a heroic quest that I describe as “sword-and-science” because there is an element of sci-fi in it as well.
A. Is there a genre you haven’t written in, but want to?
S. I have plans for a humorous cozy mystery series featuring a smart wife/mom/working woman who reluctantly gets drawn into murder investigations. It’s set in a small, rural southern town filled with marvelously eccentric characters.
A.Oooo! This sounds so fun!
A. What is your writing process? Such as, outlining, freehand, computer vs paper and pen?
S. My process tends to be less outline-oriented and more seat-of-the-pants. I start out by jotting down notes about major plot points that turn into a somewhat vague synopsis. Then when I start working on a first draft, I develop new and better ideas as I go, so the story starts to diverge from my original notes. The basic story I had in mind remains the same, but taking my characters from the beginning to the end is a very satisfying creative endeavor.
I’m always jotting down notes about different ideas for different stories, so much of that is done with pen and paper (or notebook or napkin or whatever is handy when an idea strikes). But when I have big chunks of writing time, I like to be on my computer. I can type faster than I can write legibly!
A. Who are you writing inspirations, famous or not?
S. Stephen King has been a favorite author of mine for decades. I don’t like every book he’s ever written, but he is a master story teller. I love J.K. Rowling’s imagination and world-building skills. I was also influenced by lots of science fiction writers from H.G. Wells to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. One of my all-time favorites is Anne McCaffrey’s science fantasy series Dragonriders of Pern.
A. YES! Rowling is an artist!
A. How much research, if any, did you have to put into your novel(s)?
S. Since my series Treasures of Dodrazeb is grounded in real human history, I have to do quite a bit of research. The hero is a third-century Persian warrior-prince, so I’ve done extensive reading about ancient Persia and that region of the world. In addition to historical research, it’s also necessary to get the details right on a hefty amount of science. While on a quest to bring a criminal to justice, the Persian warrior-prince discovers a hidden kingdom using what we consider to be modern technology in everyday life. That means I have to understand their technology and then be able to describe how an ancient warrior would react to it.
A. Do you listen to music while you write or edit? If so, who do you listen to?
S. No, I’m not usually listening to music while I write—I listen to the TV. It’s an old habit from when I was in school. I would do my homework in the living room with the TV on. Apparently, that works for me just like listening to music works for others.
A. Interesting. I’ve never heard that before.
A. When you’re not being an amazing author and writing away, what do you for fun?
S. What’s more fun than reading? I read a lot. I like going to the movies, too. Touring historical sites is fun. I recently got to tour the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. Her novel, Gone with the Wind, was an incredibly successful historical novel with vivid, unforgettable characters. I was able to celebrate a love of history, movies, reading, and writing all at once in one afternoon!
A. What has been the most exciting experience for you since starting your writing career?
S. Receiving the first print copy of my first novel was too awesome for words. Being able to hold an actual copy of a book that I had written made it real for me. I wasn’t just an aspiring writer any more—I was a published author!
A. There is no greater feeling!
A. Who created your amazing cover art?
S. I did! We tried working with a cover artist, but he just never could quite capture the look I wanted. So I put my years of marketing experience and working with graphics to good use.
A. That’s awesome. Maybe I’ll be hitting you up for some tips on that. 😉
A. Is there an artist, book blogger, editor or anyone else that you want to give a shout out to?
S. Absolutely! The Rocket City Lit Fest in 2015 was a major catalyst in spurring me to take the final steps and get my first novel published. Thanks to Ashley Chappell-Peeples and A.G. Porter, both wonderful writers themselves, for all your hard work on that event.
I also want to thank my amazing editor Molly Felder. With her help I was able to polish my pretty good story into a true gem of a first novel. I appreciate her patience, eye for detail, and willingness to teach me how to be a better writer.
A. The Lit Fest was amazing! Thanks for the shot out!
A. Give us a brief description of your WIP (work in progress) or your newest novel.
S. Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. While on a quest to avenge a horrific attack on his father the king, a Persian warrior discovers a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. He thinks the villain is hiding there, but a sly princess is determined to sabotage the Persians to protect her kingdom’s ancient secrets. What is she so desperate to keep hidden?
A. This is a Halloween blog post so you must tell us, do you enjoy Halloween? Why or why not?
S. I do enjoy Halloween. I like seeing children donning costumes and exploring the idea of becoming someone or something else for a little while. I like seeing the older kids and adults freeing themselves of their conventional identities for a time and getting creative. I like the idea of costume parties. Perhaps most of all, I like CHOCOLATE!
A. Do you have any Halloween traditions?
S. I like to watch favorite old spooky movies or fun ones like Hocus Pocus or Nightmare Before Christmas leading up to trick-or-treat night. Then we usually order in pizza and have fun answering the door to shower neighborhood kids with candy on Halloween night.
A. Do you believe in the spiritual realm?
A. Have you ever had an encounter with a ghost or something happen that you just explain?
A. What is your favorite scary movie and/or book?
S. Donnie Darko. Not necessarily scary, probably because I’ve seen it so many times, but that’s the kind of movie that haunts me.
A. Most importantly, what is your favorite Halloween candy?
S. Tootsie Rolls. Hershey minis. M&Ms. Milk Duds. Chocolate!
A. What author would you geek out over if you met them in real life?
J.K. Rowling. She is my idol!
A. Yes! She’s on my list. I would probably faint. Haha!
A. Hands down, what is your favorite book of all time and why?
S. It used to be Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Reading it as a teenager introduced me to so many questions about so many things, I began to develop the ability to think independently, examining issues from many sides.
If you consider an entire series as a single story, it might now be Harry Potter. That story is just magical in so many ways with layers upon layers of meaning.
A. What book would you like to see in film or do you believe that books should be left alone?
S. Other than my own book? 😉 I think, if done correctly, any good book can be a good movie if filmmakers respect the source material. The book will always be better, but sometimes it takes a movie to get a person interested in a book. The Harry Potter series was done well as movies and I was also impressed with The Hunger Games films.
A. As a reader, what about a book turns you away?
S. I don’t care too much for whiny, one-dimensional characters.
A. If you find you can’t get into a book, do you put it down or be a trooper and finish it?
S. When I start a book, I’m usually committed to finishing it. I keep thinking that if I stick with it, the book will eventually get better. This is not always the case.
A. Do you stick to one genre or do you like to read around?
S. My personal preference tends toward speculative fiction, but I’m game for lots of other genres. The one I tend to avoid is Romance, unless there is a strong element of mystery, suspense, humor, horror, or some other kind of genre mash-up.
A. Are you a book-in-your-hands reader, e-booker, or both?
S. I like to acquire autographed books, and there’s something about turning pages and never worrying about battery life that is appealing. But I also read e-books for their convenience, portability, and affordability.
A. Favorite movie?
S. Donnie Darko
A. Favorite TV show?
S. All time: Star Trek (every one of them). Currently: Game of Thrones, Westworld, Big Bang Theory
A. If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
S. That’s a tough one! If I could or if I had to? What keeps popping into my head as I ponder this question is pizza, so I guess that’s my answer.
A. You can’t go wrong with pizza!
A. What’s your favorite candy/dessert?
S. Did I mention chocolate already? Warm brownies with a scoop of ice cream!
A. What band or musician can you listen to over and over again? You can list more than one.
S. Beatles. Styx. Michael Jackson. Adele. Is my age showing yet?
A. What’s your hidden talent?
S. Sarcasm. No, wait—that one shows up pretty frequently. My hidden talent is appearing confident in public when I’m ready to shrivel up and die inside.
A. I know what you mean!
A. What is your dream vacation?
S. Leisurely touring Great Britain and Ireland, staying in castles that have been converted into 5-star luxury hotels.
Author Name: S.D. McPhail
Facebook: S.D. McPhail, Author
Goodreads: S.D. McPhail