I discovered Suanne Laqueur’s books about one year ago thanks to my blog buddy Danielle @prettymessreading. She was so enthusiastic over The Man I Love that I had no choice but to read it (I was also afraid Danielle would kick my behind if I didn’t 😉 ).
I fell in love. Hopelessly in love. I can’t explain what Suanne’s writing made me go through but I was a mess by the end of my read. I also had a huge book hangover.
So what would you have done?
Well when I love an author I have to tell them what they did to me. I stalk them (respectfully of course LOL).I contacted Suanne to gush about her book and her talent. From that moment on we’ve talked and joked. She even included me in her beta read group for A Charm of Finches.
I discovered an exceptional woman. Not only an amazingly talented author but a woman fighting for her beliefs, concerned by what happens in our world, attuned to this world. She is artsy, gifted with her cooking or anything creative and she is absolutely generous. I really invite you to follow her on Facebook you won’t be disappointed!
That’s why today I’m overjoyed to publish this lavish interview of someone I love.
Hi Suanne, thank you a thousand times for this interview!
First let us know you better:
1) I really would like to know how was your childhood. How was it in the Laqueur family? Do you have brothers and sisters? Were you close or fighting all the time (my kids currently can’t stand each other and ignore the other on good days)? Did you play pranks? What was the worst fear you caused your parents?
Well, to start, Laqueur is my married name so really the question is “How was it in the Bierman family?” J I grew up in a little village called Croton-on-Hudson, about an hour north of New York City. My father was a translator and he commuted into Manhattan every day. My mother owned a dance studio in town which is where I spent most of my childhood days. She was the choreographer for all the high school musicals. I have an older brother, Steve. We grew up in a very eclectic, musical, artsy environment. With either classical music or Broadway soundtracks on the stereo.
2) How was little Suanne? The nerd? The party animal? Walking the line? What did you want to be as a kid? A singer? A bounty hunter? A dog psychiatrist? A dancer? Did you always know you would write one day?
I was extremely shy and introverted. I lived in my head most of the time with a small group of close friends. When I was little I wanted to be a nurse for a long time, then an artist and a dancer. As I got older, I moved on the edges of all the school cliques, not belonging to any particular one. Dancing was my biggest passion and the thing I was known for, but I wrote all the time. Journals, little stories. Bigger stories. But I never thought I would be a published author in my childhood. That dream didn’t come until I was in my forties.
3) You are always creating something: be it gardening, creating meals, jewelry, books ….who are you looking after in your family? And what studies did you follow?
The creative streak runs deep on both sides of my family, though it manifests in different ways. My mother, besides being a teacher and choreographer, was an avid gardener and was always doing some kind of craft or project. She taught me to sew and cook. My dad’s hobby is model trains, so there’s a little bit of the miniatures influence you see in Larks. My brother is like Erik Fiskare – more a tinkerer than a creator, though it feels like the same thing to him. He can take anything apart and put it back together, and his plans go to K, minimum.
I double-majored in dance and theater at Alfred University. And while I didn’t go into the profession, per se, I feel like being a dancer and an actress gave me a really valuable skill set to take into the world. You have to use all parts of your brain, be super organized, memorize quickly, be able to handle disasters on the fly and improvise. You either acquire the confidence to get through tough situations, or the ability to fake convincing confidence.
4) Where and how did you meet your husband? The one following you in all your adventures and featuring in some funny videos on your Facebook page? How did you know he was “The One”?
JP and I met at work. He was the new guy in the office and I actually first saw his name on the list of phone extensions. I thought “Laqueur” looked so cool and French. Then he was being brought around and introduced to people. He put out his hand to shake mine and knocked all the bins off my desk. I can’t say I knew he was “The One” (I was actually dating someone else at the time), but I had a very strong feeling at that moment that he was going to be someone in my life.
Now about your journey as a writer:
5) Why did you choose to write about ballet and the dance world? And how did you work for your first book? First build the plot? Or flesh out the characters? Where did you get the idea for The Man I Love?
I pretty much always wrote characters in the dance and theater world because it was the world I knew. I spoke the language. My first real “novel” was written in college, about the romance between a dance major and a football player. It was a real, complete manuscript but I never did anything with it. It just hung around in four manilla envelopes for twenty years, and every now and then I’d try to write about the characters as adults. But never with any intentions of publishing.
But it wasn’t until my forties that my writing began to take off. Very long story short: someone from my past who hurt me came back into my life to make amends. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotion that hit me when I got this long-overdue reconciliation. It was as if I were experiencing it for the first time and I realized I’d shut down the part of myself that had been hurt so badly. Put it in a box, took it to the backyard of my heart and buried it. Now the box was open and it was almost frightening how intense the feelings were. I went into a very anxious depression and I needed something besides counseling to channel that emotion away from me. To do something with it. This experience bumped into that old manuscript I’d written in college and all of a sudden, this voice in my head said, “It’s time. Write this book. Finish this thing. And put it out there.” That was around October of 2013, and The Man I Love was published the following June. Once I made the decision and set the goal, things moved really quickly.
6) What was your strategy to launch your first book? What was the most helpful? And when you got a first review what was your reaction? Drink alcohol? Do yoga? Run? Squeal? Ask your husband to pinch your behind to make sure you did not dream? Something else??
I’m a believer in setting reasonable, quantifiable goals. The goal was to finish the book, work with an editor to make it the best it could be, then self-publish it so I could show the people closest to me what I had going on in my head. Print a few copies so I could sleep with one under my pillow, display it on a shelf and say “I did this.” And maybe a few friends would be nice and read it and say nice things. And that would be it. Honestly, that was the goal.
Along the way, I joined a few writers’ groups and did some homework and got a bare-bones understanding about marketing. I had a small ARC team, that was it. Promoting TMIL was a really steep learning curve and the slowest of slow-burns. I remember my first review that didn’t come from any of my friends or family. It wasn’t anyone I knew and it was thrilling as hell to move outside my social circles and get that positive feedback from a stranger with no investment in my journey. My big breakthrough came a year after TMIL was published, when Aestas Book Blog read and reviewed it. I was extremely fortunate to get that kind of exposure and I’ll always be grateful to Aestas for it.
Now about your books
7) You really love destroying your characters. Be it what happened to Erik and Daisy (and you were destroying them not once but twice!), or what happened to Javier (crushed hopes, kicked out of his family, rejected) and now to Geno (I won’t tell more than that he had to go through Hell) you make them suffer. And you make us suffer (and nearly throw up). Why? Are you a sadist? Do you believe in what does not kill us makes us stronger? Do you see them like phoenixes? Is it necessary to bear this burden in order to become who they were meant to be?
LOL, I swear, I don’t set out to be mean to my characters. It’s not like I sit at my desk rubbing my hands, thinking, “What terrible thing can I do to this guy?” A lot of writers start with a storyline in their head and think up characters to fit. Others, like me, start with the characters. I spend a lot of time just fooling around with the people who come into my head. Back to my theater background: it’s like a huge improv session. I let them try on a bunch of different costumes and act out different scenarios. I don’t worry if it works or if it’s going to make it into the final version. I just let it all flow and write it all down. I try to keep the pressure off and just mindfully enjoy the process of messing around.
Stephen King is one of my idols and what I admire most about his writing is not the thrilling/horrifying stuff that scares you to death, but rather the ordinary-ness of his characters as they go about daily life. That’s his genius—he creates ordinary people and puts them into extraordinary situations. You learn a lot about a character 1) when they’re hanging out with their friends and 2) when they face adversity.
I’ll give an example using Daisy and Erik. TMIL was written from the ends in. Meaning I had them written as college students in love, and I had them written as adults reconciling. But reconciling over what? What had happened to break them up? Well, maybe someone cheated. OK. Who? Daisy, but why? She’s not a malicious, reckless, foolish person. What would drive her to do that? Were external forces at work here? Did something happen? Yes, something happened, but what? What traumatizing event could drive her into such a polar-opposite of herself, that she sabotaged the one thing she loved more than dancing? And what were Erik’s circumstances that would drive him to just cut himself off, bury the whole thing in the backyard and walk away without a backward look for over a decade?
So it’s constantly asking “Why? But what? But why? What happened? Why would she act that way? Why would he react that way?” And it’s not being afraid to pursue a whole bunch of possible answers, no matter how far-fetched or insane. To keep following the thread as it unravels until you hit upon the…thing. Which, in this case, was the shooting in the theater, and Erik’s abandonment as a young boy.
8) How do you build your characters? Are some inspired by friends, neighbors or celebrities? Who was the most challenging character to write about?
Usually the name comes first. A name makes me see a person, and then I start fooling around. Giving them parents, a job, friends. A spouse or significant other. A weakness, a strength. A hobby and a habit.
The most challenging character to date was Geno Caan. Geno makes Erik Fiskare look like a cabaret performer. He took the longest to open up and show himself to me, and understandably so.
9) You often write from a male POV. Is it more difficult or easier than writing from a female POV? Do you ask your husband if it feels right? You also wrote sex scenes between men how did you prepare? Read lots of books? Interview some gay friends? Watch some hot MM movie? And how do you know if what you wrote is what happens between two men? You know sometimes we read sex scenes and we are like ”Really?” “Three times in a row?” or “Are they contortionists” or “Is it technically feasible?”. So yes: what’s the trick?
I have no idea why writing from the male POV comes so much easier to me. When I decided to make TMIL from Erik’s perspective, I wasn’t sure I could do it. But within weeks, I’d found his voice and it felt extremely instinctive and natural and right to me. Same with Alex and Jav and Stef and Geno, while writing from Daisy’s or Val’s or Deane’s POV took a lot more conscious effort. I like my female characters, but they are always more challenging for me. I have no idea why.
In the same way, I started writing Jav and Stef together with the same trepidation—“I’m not going to get this right, I have no idea what I’m doing or what they’re doing, this is going to be awful.” I read MM books and noticed a lot of them tend to fetishize the sex, which I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to stuff them into behavior because “that’s what a gay man would do.” First of all, these were two bisexual men and second, I knew them better than anyone else. I just needed to let them be themselves.
So I guess that’s the trick: know your characters well enough that no matter the situation or scenario you come up with, you know how they’re going to act and react.
10) About An Exaltation of Larks: why choose this period and the tragic events to start your book? Did your kids had to study about the military coup in Chile? And did you have this idea right from the start or was it something else and then it made sense to go there?
It started as something else. In the early drafts, only Jav was Latino. Alex I think had some Italian ancestry but I didn’t really get much into it. Not until I started digging into their friendship and what they had in common and where their life stories might overlap. I thought it would be cool if they both spoke Spanish. I saw a YouTube clip of the comedian Joanna Hausmann showing all the different Latino accents. She demonstrated how Dominicans speak incredibly fast. And how an Argentinian sound like an Italian who’s overly impressed with his ability to speak English. I thought that could be a great ongoing gag for Jav and Alex—Jav would talk like a machine gun and Alex would answer in this slower, sing-song drawl, and each would make fun of the other’s accent.
But of course, if I’m making Alex from Argentina, then I had to figure out how he got to America. Or how his parents did, if he was born here. I read Isabelle Allende’s memoir of Chile during the military coup and I thought it would be an interesting layer to Alex if he were a political refugee. When I found out how the coup began on September 11, 1973, it added another layer of possibility.
Layer upon layer builds up. And that’s how it happens.
11) How often did you throw up writing some scenes, especially in A Charm of Finches? Or cried and raged on behalf of/for your poor heroes? Do you hesitate sometimes to write some particularly hard scene or soldier on? And what helps writing these? Hot chocolate? Tons of alcohol? How do you feel at the end of the day when you wrote very difficult scenes? What helps to wash away the sadness?
I won’t lie, the research for Finches was brutal. Three months of reading books and articles and essays and testimonials left me exhausted and more than a little depressed. I worried I’d bitten off more than I could chew, that I wouldn’t be able to properly tell Geno’s story and do it justice. But I kept telling myself, “This is important. This is an important book. If they can live it, you can tell it.”
I hesitated about a lot of scenes, and put a lot of time and thought into deciding if they were relevant to the story, necessary to the story. If there was extreme adversity, there had to be courage and strength and redemption as well. This was more than a journey for Geno and Stef and Jav, it was a quest. A lot of times it was really hard to keep going, but I did. And when I sent the final draft off to my formatter, I was exhausted. I’m still exhausted. This one took a lot out of me so I’m just trying to take care of myself by reading and walking and doing the other things I love. Not worrying about the next thing I’ll write.
12) Now about A Charm of Finches and without spoiling the read I can tell it will be about Jav but also a new hero: Geno. Geno broke my heart where Jav stole it. How do you manage this trick, making us fall in love with all your heroes? They are not perfect. They are battered by life and at the same time they shine so bright! They all are survivors of some kind. I can already tell that Geno will have every reader root for him and want to help him. So what’s the trick really to make us feel their emotions so hard. To make us BE them. Walk in their shoes? What’s the magic recipe?
I have this little post-it on my computer: “Simple Story. Complex characters.” I’m not really sure what the magic recipe is, or if it’s magic, or even a recipe. I think spending a lot of time with your characters and writing their back stories and writing them in different situations… Writing all of it, even if it doesn’t all end up in the book, allows you to be them. And again with the theater background: I act out a lot of scenes. Jav’s whole thing about talking to himself is very much me! I act out conversations when I’m driving, or outside gardening, or lying in bed. If the dialogue doesn’t work out loud, it doesn’t work on paper. So I guess me literally living the characters lets the reader live them as well. I fiercely believe in my made-up people and I think my main characters are only as good as their supporting cast. The people have to be real, but the world they live in has to be real as well. Details matter. Research matters. All that stuff that’s invisible to the reader matters.
13) Describe A Charm of Finches is a few sentences? How was it different and was it different from your other stories?
A Charm of Finches explores how men make love with each other and how they make war on each other. Steffen Finch stands at the center of this range of male behavior. At one end he’s helping to heal Geno Caan, a boy who survived a brutal sexual assault. At the other end, he’s exploring his own sexuality in a passionate affair with Javier Landes. The three men’s lives unexpectedly overlap in a unique “life triangle.” Each man has something to teach the others.
It’s different from my other books in that it has no lead female character. It’s a very male book.
Writing, publishing and promoting a real journey:
14) So far what was the most gratifying experience related to writing and publishing a book.
Definitely meeting and connecting with readers. As someone who spent a lot of their youth feeling lonely, the amazing and loving network surrounding me now isn’t something I take for granted.
15) What part do beta readers and fellow authors play in your process? I can already tell the readers that it’s immensely gratifying to be one of your beta readers as you’ve created a group for us to interact and exchange our experience. Usually beta readers don’t know the other beta readers but your idea was pure genius as it helps us to better ourselves. But would you change a scene you absolutely love if it does not work for others? How much say do we have over your writing?
At the end of the day, it’s my book. But getting to the end of that day, I rely heavily on the input from the readers I trust most. I love the discussion. I rely on their honesty and open minds and I love how they don’t just drop “This doesn’t work” and leave, but they stick around to talk about it. They really are a great group and I’m so lucky to have them.
16) Now tell me, face to face: what is your next project? I know you are currently drinking tea with a blank page and pen sooooo… Do you ever plan to write a book with another author? Emma maybe? What would be your dream collaboration? Or are you a loner? And could you write Fantasy or are you a contemporary writer through and through?
I have literally no idea what I’m writing next but I’d like to try my hand at something short. We all know I can write long books so I wonder if I have a short story in me. Or a few to collect together.
I’d love to write The Voyages of Trueblood Cay which definitely has fantasy elements, but thus far, The Thing isn’t talking much to me about it.
While I’m a loner with my writing, I’m actually fascinated by collaborations, how they work and the balance of creativity and how they work out conflicts. To be honest, I don’t have any plans to collaborate but I know better than to use words like never and always.
Time to have some fun!
17) Your secret book crush? And that one book everyone seems to love but you can’t understand why?
I didn’t feel compelled to read all the Outlander books, just the first one a few years ago. Yet I still to this day think about Jamie Fraser. (I know, I know, I should get in line and take a number.)
As for that one book… God, this is where I’ll get in trouble. OK, a gajillion people loved The Bronze Horseman but I did not. And I’ll just leave it there because to each their own.
18) The heroine you’d want to be? And the one you’d like to go out on a fun night with?
I don’t know who I’d want to be but I would love to go out for drinks with Elizabeth Gilbert. And see, this is my antidote to #17 because a gajillion people hate Elizabeth Gilbert’s books but I love them. And her.
19) First kiss?
I was fourteen, it was at a roller skating rink in Syracuse, New York. His name was Jeff…something. It was surreal. That’s really all I remember.
20) Most embarrassing moment of your life?
I forget those as quickly as possible.
21) What would you ASK Justin Trudeau? What would you DO with him?
Ask? Do? I’d be a tongue-tied moron.
22) Your best recipe, the one your family can’t resist?
I make these pumpkin-chia breakfast muffins that are stupid easy, there’s nothing complicated or extraordinary about the recipe, but my family will demolish three dozen in a week. You can find them here: http://suannelaqueurwrites.com/eatsreadsthinks/2013/11/21/pumpkin-chia-muffins
23) The talent you wish you possessed?
I wish I could sing. I can carry a tune and “sing” but I wish I could really SING.
A huge thank you for answering these questions and trusting me to be a beta reader. You are truly one of the most interesting and fun person to interact with and I’m really happy you’re coming to RARE London. I’m smitten with your books so getting to beta read them is a dream come true!
You are so welcome and I can’t wait to hug the hell out of you!!
You can find Suanne’s books here