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e-interview: sue owens wright

e-Interview/Autumn 2002

Sue & Bubba
Sue Owens Wright & Bubba Gump.

Sue Owens Wright

Sue Owens Wright is the author of Howling Bloody Murder, and her writing has also appeared in The Bark, Dog Fancy, Byline, Good Dog!, Dogs International, Pets, Part of the Family, and Dogs, DOgs, Dogs! (Canada). Howling Bloody Murder is her debut novel, and Sue designed the book cover as well. This book will be the first in a series that features Native American Elsie "Beanie" McBean solving mysteries with the help of her Basset Hound, Cruiser.

In Howling Bloody Murder, land disputes at Lake Tahoe between developers and the Washoe Indians turn deadly, and Beanie and  Cruiser find themselves up to their ears in a homicide investigation. It's up to Beanie and Cruiser to collar the killer and clear a Tribal Elder's name. Howling Bloody Murder was nominated for a Maxwell Award by the Dog Writer's Association of America, and was rated among the Top 10 most requested POD titles by The Library Journal in 2001.

Howling Bloody Murder can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Deadly Alibi Press, Borders, Books a Million and Waldenbooks through Sue's web site, Beanie and Cruiser. This book is also available at PETCO and various other pet stores.

Sue is a senior columnist for Comstock's Business Magazine, and she has been twice nominated for the American Legion Auxiliary Heart of America Award. Sue studied fiction writing at Trinity College and University Galway in Ireland, and University College London in England. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, PEO International, and Sisters in Crime.

Sue lives in Northern California, with her two Basset hounds, Daisy and Bubba Gump.

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How old were you when you started to write? When did you realize writing was something you wanted to pursue seriously?

I had a love for the written word as a child. I enjoyed reading and liked making up stories in school. When I was eight years old and was reading Judy Bolton mysteries, I tried to write my own mystery. I never finished it or even showed what I'd written to anyone, which was probably just as well, since I think it started with, "It was a dark and stormy night." I wrote a lot of poetry in my late teen and got my first poem published in a neighborhood newsletter, but I didn't start writing in earnest until ten years ago. That's when I got my first article published in a magazine and actually earned some money for what I'd written. There's no thrill like receiving that first paycheck for something you've written, unless it's seeing your first novel displayed on a shelf at a bookstore.

As you are a senior columnist for Comstock's Business Magazine, how does writing an article and writing a novel differ? Which do you prefer?

I find writing an article easier than writing a novel. For one thing, it's a lot shorter. You have X number of words in which to cover your material, which forces you to write tight. It's also an assignment with specific guidelines and a deadline; that's not usually the case with a novel. JT Long, the managing editor at Comstock's Business, is great to work with. She even provides me with contacts and a few questions along with each assignment, which give me a springboard for formulating questions for my interviews. It's hard to say which I like more, though. I enjoy the narrower limits of an assigned article, and I get to chat with some really interesting and truly inspiring people. I find that very rewarding and educational. It's also great when I read letters to the editor praising an article I've written or when I get nominated for awards, which I have been twice for features I wrote for Comstock's. Yet, there's no feeling like setting your imagination free to create characters and whole worlds, like you do when you're writing a novel. The thing that both have in common is that when you are in the flow of writing, be it a 2,000-word article or a 70,000-word book, time stands still.

Where did you get the idea for Howling Bloody Murder?

It's no accident that my protagonist, Elsie MacBean, wears a sweatshirt that says, "I Love Tahoe." I love Lake Tahoe, too. I've been going there since childhood. It is called the Jewel of the Sierra for good reason. The beauty and clarity of the lake is unparalleled, and it inspires me whenever I'm there. The Washoe Indians, who are indigenous to the area, called Tahoe "The Lake of the Sky"; at nearly 7,000 feet elevation, it truly is. I've been taking my Basset Hounds to our mountain cabin for the past 20 years, and we've left no area of Tahoe unexplored. You've probably heard the oft-repeated advice, "Write what you know." More accurately, I think you should write what you love, and Howling Bloody Murder incorporates all the things I love: Lake Tahoe, nature, native legends, dogs, and mystery.

What is your next writing project?

Book 2, titled Embarking on Murder, is completed. I'm currently shopping for a new publisher for the Beanie and Cruiser series. In the meantime, I'm working on the third book.

How many books do you foresee in Cruiser's future?

I have at least three other books in mind for this series. I'll keep writing new mysteries for Beanie and Cruiser to solve until I run out of ideas, which I hope will never happen. I like being in her world.

What is your favorite muse scenario when writing?

I enjoy writing in my garden or while listening to music at my computer, but I am most inspired when I go to a coffee shop or bookstore. If the coffee shop is located at Lake Tahoe, even better. I journal, plot my books and get a lot of my ideas while I'm sitting in those places sipping tea. Sometimes a character in a book comes walking right through the front door. I also pick up snippets of dialogue for scenes in books. Writers are experts at the art of eavesdropping. My favorite writing teacher, Author John Dufresne, says it best, "Nothing is lost on a writer."

Your web site is delightful! Did you design the pages?

Thank you! I get a lot of positive comments about my web site, and I wish I could say I designed it myself. After the hair-tearing frustration of trying to build my own site, I wisely employed the skills of a talented young designer named Mat Parker, who now owns The Shirt Guys Company. My publicist, PJ Nunn of BreakThrough Promotions, recommended him. I told Mat what I wanted, but he far exceeded my expectations. I did help out a little by locating the sound bytes for the howling dog and the music, "Do your ears hang low?" It was so much fun finding just the right howl for Cruiser, the basset in Howling Bloody Murder. There were so many yips, barks, and woofs to choose from, from Chihuahua to werewolf. I also found the basset graphics, but I wouldn't have had a clue how to incorporate them onto the page in the creative way Mat did. I access my own web site several times a day just to see that little basset sniff across the page and hear him howl.

What word processor program do you prefer when writing?

I use Microsoft Word on my Macintosh. I used to write everything by hand first, but now I create directly on the computer screen, which saves me from having to transcribe pages and pages of material. It's so much easier to make changes to text on the computer. Saves a lot of paper, too. I still plot on paper, though.

What advice would you give another writer just starting out?

I would advise beginners to attend writer's workshops and conferences, read the kinds of books you'd like to write, study your craft and hone your skills by writing, writing, writing. The more you write the better you get. In the words of Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never quit." If you are going to survive as a writer, you must possess the qualities of persistence and patience. Also, don't take rejection personally. Glean what you can from any criticism you receive to improve your work, and then send it out to the next editor or agent. That's a sure cure for the rejection blues.

I know you're a dog lover, and I am too! I'm curious if you let Bubba Gump sleep on your bed? Do you basically treat him as if he were a human child?

I have two Basset Hounds, Daisy and Bubba Gump. They both would love to sleep on the bed with me, of course, but I'm a little too allergic for two-dog nights. Being bassets, they shed and drool a lot. I do let them jump up with me in the morning for snuggles, though. That's how we start every day. Sometimes Daisy takes a nap with me. There's no denying that they're kids in fur suits. There's nothing in the world I love as much as my dogs. There's nothing I wouldn't do for them. Maybe it's because they were throwaway dogs and weren't treated kindly in their first homes that I try to make their lives as happy as I can in return for all the unconditional love they give me.

Does Bubba Gump get upset with you when you write for a long period of time, thus tending to ignore him for a bit? What does he do about it?

Funny you should mention. Bubba just now moseyed into my office and planted himself beside my chair because it's getting close to 11:00 a.m., which is walkies time around our house. My dogs demand 3 walks a day, and if you've ever had a Basset Hound look at you with those Sad Sack eyes, you know it's pretty hard to say no. Plus, Bubba is a champion whiner. Sure, you can try ignoring them for a while, but then they resort to more direct tactics to distract me from writing, like nudging my elbow with a cold, wet nose or placing a drool-soaked chin on my knee. Gets my attention every time.

What thoughts or actions do you use to keep yourself motivated on the days you don't really feel up to writing?

I try to remind myself that even if I am able to write only 500 words a day, I'll have a book completed in 4 months. I have to confess that I have a tendency to work in spurts. I may not write every single day, but when I do sit down to write, I'll crank out several thousand words at a time. The greatest challenge for me most of the time is just shutting out the world and sitting down at the computer. Once I'm there, the rest is easy. I'm considering installing a seatbelt on my office chair.

It must have been fascinating to live and study in Ireland. Did you delve into the writings of Joyce, Yeats, Shaw or Beckett? Did you get to see any of their haunts? Did you see the Book of Kells?

Hoo, boy! Ireland. Don't get me started. I didn't really get to live in Ireland, more's the pity, but I spent the summer of 1998 studying writing with a group from Florida International University while attending Trinity College. What a place! I loved staying there. It's a beautiful, historic campus. Dublin is a fascinating city, full of literary history and music, music, music. They don't call Ireland "The Land of 1,000 Welcomes" for nothing. The people are so friendly. While I was in Dublin I visited the Dublin Writer's Museum, which has a wealth of information, artifacts, and original manuscripts of all the renowned Irish authors. Dublin is filled with all the haunts mentioned in Joyce's "Ulysses," and I visited many of them while I was there. In fact, the day we arrived in Dublin was Bloomsday, June 16. I tried to see the James Joyce museum, but because of Bloomsday, it was just too crowded. There was a long waiting list to tour it. I also attended an Oscar Wilde play at The Abbey Theatre, where it was first performed.

There are pubs on every corner of Dublin's streets, but my favorite restaurant/pub was the Davy Byrnes. The ones in the area of Dublin called Temple Bar are fantastic, and you'll see traditional Irish bands and dancers in nearly every one.

Dublin is such a walkable city, and I left virtually no corner of it unexplored. I remember the awe I felt when I placed a finger in one of the bullet holes that still scars the columns of the post office on O'Connell Street where the famed Easter uprising against the British took place. I took an Irish rebellion walking tour, which was most informative and interesting. And yes, I did see the Book of Kells, but so many other people were looking at it, I had a hard time getting a peek. What was more impressive to me was the library of Trinity College. It's immense, and there's probably a copy of every book ever printed on its floor-to-ceiling shelves. Another thing that's interesting about Dublin is visiting all the antiquarian book shops, where I saw original manuscripts of famous Irish authors for sale in the windows. I was drooling like Cruiser. Dublin is a city of books, a book lover's paradise. I loved the modern book stores, too. My favorite was Hodges Figgis, which had a lovely café upstairs where I ate, sipped strong Irish tea, and wrote in my journal. I was in Heaven.

I loved hopping the DART train and visiting all the picturesque villages along the coast, like pretty little Malahide with imposing Talbot Castle, Dun Loughaire, and my favorite, a quaint fishing village called Howth, which the Irish pronounce "hote."

We ate at a very interesting restaurant at the Howth Railway Station called "The Bloody Stream," built at the site of a famous battle that occurred on August 10, 1177, during the 2nd Norman invasion of Ireland. A peat fire warmed the pub's interior and the food was great, too. It was voted Pub of the Year in 1998. There's so much to see within a half-hour train ride of Dublin. I also studied at Galway University, and toured some of southern Ireland, which is beautiful beyond description. The last week of the trip, we ended up at University College London, so I got to stomp around London again, too. That summer was one I'll never forget. It was truly the adventure of a lifetime.

If you visit the Clever Magazine Archives, you can read my story The Ghost of Howth Castle, as well as some of my dog stories at Clever Magazine, including my August 2002 issue rescue story, A Tale of Two Scotties.

What is your all-time favorite book?

That's such a hard question to answer. There are so many great books to choose from. I'll cheat a little by mentioning several favorites of mine: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Gone with the Wind immediately come to mind. Also, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a great book. I enjoy Stephen King, too. I usually love books that scare the bejeebers out of me.

More recently, I adored reading Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. It's not often when I finish reading a book that I want to flip back to page one and start reading it all over again. YaYa was that kind of book for me. I just started reading Wells' Little Altars Everywhere, and am loving that one, too.

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