Susan and I go way back! She and I worked together for a couple of years and gabbed over our mutual love for literature, writing, and sarcasm. I mean, I’m no match when it comes to literature–I’m not worldly in any way in that department–but I can hold my own in the sarcasm games. Susan has this amazing way with words. I remember the first poem of hers that I had the pleasure of reading. It was unbelievably moving–it was so sad and shocking, and I knew, right then, how amazing this woman was. From week to week, I have been enamored of her work, and, from the comments, it’s clear to see that I’m not alone there. I have been longing to do this interview–I mean, I tried to get her into this back in January, but to no avail–and that time has finally come! I am so glad Susan agreed to do this interview. I have fallen more in love with her and her writing, and I am certain you all will too! Ladies and Gentleghouls, without any further ado, I present to you the Ghoul’s Celebration of Susan Shuman!
What is your name, online handle, and blog name & link?
Susan Shuman/ The Abject Muse, aka SusanWritePrecise/ https://TheAbjectMuse.me
How did you hear about Grammar Ghoul Press? What brought you to the site?
I heard about GGP from Suzanne Purkis when we were both doing Yeah, Write writing Challenges. I started entering my stuff in their challenges and then they needed an editing assistant & I was the gal for the job.
Where are you from?
I was born in Arlington Heights, IL and grew up in Denver, CO.
Illinois then Colorado, and I met you here in Alabama. You’ve been all over the place. Were you an army brat?
No, I didn’t start traveling in earnest until after Robert & I got married. Before he retired he worked for Hughes Aircraft as a market manager & account executive. We moved a lot due to that. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was by far the worst. Jackson, MS and Fullerton, CA are tied for second worst.
Of all the places that you’ve lived, is there a favorite place? Why or why not?
I loved Metairie, Louisiana until Hurricane Katrina; lost everything in that. Metairie had a character like no other. The magnolia trees in spring…just the feel of the city. I liked Seattle a lot, too. Before AL, I lived in Connecticut, which was almost perfect, aside from being too expensive. Chicago will always be home, though.
What are you currently reading?
Isaac Beshavis Singer, The Collected Stories and The Source, By James Michener
What are you currently working on, if anything?
I do have a project but don’t want to jinx it. I’ll tell you all about when it’s finished.
Ooh! I love suspense, but I’m itching for more information about your project. I won’t pry, though. So, what got you into freelance–er, Elance?–writing?
I’m compiling an eBook for a client.
One of my college professors and friends, Moira Amado-McCoy, called me out of the blue one day and asked if I wanted to start a freelance writing business with her. Hell yeah, I did! So, she suggested we try Elance, and the rest is history. There, I got my first client who ended up being a “regular.” I started out writing product descriptions—which is still my favorite professional writing (that, & travel writing)—for his Judaica website. He’s from Israel, which is how I ended up getting a lot of Israeli clients. Word of mouth. About a year or so later, I got my first editing gig from LinkedIn. Freelancing had been good to me for a long time.
What drew you to Grammar Ghoul Press?
The name. You gotta love it!
What value do you place on writing and reading, in general, in society?
I think both are integral.
People need to be informed to make decisions. Reading opens doors to thought, and thought leads to ideas. If a person cannot read, s/he can only rely on what others tell them. No good can come of that. Wow. Was that profound, or what?
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In 2011 after I got fired from a job I didn’t like, I launched SusanWritesPrecise. When I got my first Elance gig, I was a writer. It was awesome!
Do you write for a living or pleasure?
Both. I’m a freelance writer but I also have a “real job” with a steady income.
A couple of years ago I made a good living at freelancing, but that was then… I have a blog that I write for regularly. I participate in writing challenges and try to keep up with writing a post a day with TheDailyPost.com. I’ve also begun dabbling in photography. It’s good fun. Cee Neuner has some great photo challenges at CeenPhotography.com
Your photography is beautiful and intriguing, at least what I’ve seen on your blog so far. There’s a beautiful purple-grey filter you’ve got going on. Was that intentional?
Thanks. I take pictures with my cell phone and then jazz ‘em up with Aviary Photo Editor. That’s a free download with MS Edge. I just started playing around with it and really have no idea what I’m doing.
I’ve seen a leaf on concrete bricks and a screw–that sounds simplistic, and like I’m brushing it off, but I’m not. Where does your inspiration for your photography subjects come from?
I don’t know. People have told me that I have an eye for photography. Maybe I do! Or, maybe they are just slop shots. ☺
Do you have any hobbies besides writing?
I like to finger paint, and am fascinated with languages and linguistics.
Might we see any finger-painting samples? That sounds like great fun!
It is fun! Plus, it helps with writer’s block. I will take some pics and send them to you.
I, too, am fascinated by linguistics and etymology. What is it about linguistics that interests you so much?
The way language works, I guess. Morphemes & allomorphs; how the smallest unit of sound conveys meaning. It’s all so cool to me.
Do you crave to know the origin of words and why we use them?
Yes! For instance, in an Eskimo language there are like 30 different words for types of snowflakes.
Have you discovered information about a word that really inspired elated you?
What amazed me when I started learning different languages was that the word for pineapple in both Hebrew and Russian, is the same: Ananas. I think it might be that in Italian, too.
What inspired you to start writing? Where did your interest in/love of writing and storytelling originate?
In 6th grade, my teacher assigned a creative writing paper, and I was hooked! I’ve forgotten now what I even wrote about, but from then on I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Have you written a book?
Yes, but in a fit of depression I deleted it and destroyed the hard copy. It pretty much sucked anyway. I don’t even recall the title. This was 20+ years ago.
Are experiences in your writing based on someone you know, your own life, or completely fictional?
I think there is a bit of truth in all the fictional stories I write.
Do you have a particular writing style? Describe it to us. (Do you write more by logic or intuition, or both? What’s your writing process? Give us some details.)
Aside from research, I don’t consciously engage logic. I go by emotion, experience, and gut instinct.
You noted emotion as a force behind your writing. Have you found that your emotion–whatever emotional state you’re in at the time–drives your writing, or is it the other way around? Maybe both?
Yes, indeed. The more trauma I experience, the better the writing. For me, the best writing comes from my darkest hours. I have an abundance of dark hours.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like writing in the shower, writing by candle light, writing in the nude, or only using a pen and paper first)?
I seem to have the best luck when my socks don’t match and my outfit clashes. That gooses my creativity.
The mismatched socks would absolutely drive me crazy, but that sounds like the way to go! Please tell me there are some silly print socks or maybe even fuzzy ones that help boost the creativity that much more?
The secret is clashing as much as possible. Picture it: M&M sweat pants, a turquoise sock and a red one—both made of different material, a brown t-shirt with a moose on it and a pink bathrobe. All set!
Do you prefer to write in any particular genre? Subject?
I don’t know. I like the dark stuff, the kind of writing that has a gut-punch. Happy endings aren’t my thing. Those come under the heading of SciFi.
What do you think it is about the “dark stuff” that draws you in so much when it comes to writing?
I am unable to relate to the uplifting, happy-ending sort of writing. To me, that is science fiction. I like to write about the human condition; the crappy stuff that happens in everyday life. It’s real.
What types of dark stuff is your favorite? Monsters under the bed? Monsters in the form of horrible people? Blood-soaked ceilings and hands?
I like anything that provides a gut-punch. I need that unexpected twist at the end that makes you go, wtf?
Is there any particular subject you believe you will never write about? Why?
Probably parenting. I know nothing about it.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose names based on liking the way it sounds, do they have a special meaning, etc…?
Names are wicked important to me. I have a character-naming source book, even. My character’s names must have relative meaning and reflect personality.
A character-naming source book? That sounds fascinating! Where can we find one like that?
At the Character Naming Sourcebook store. ;-). Sorry, kidding! I got mine from Amazon, but Barnes & Noble should have them as well.
I struggle with finding names that reflect the personality I’m trying to write. While I think the name does well to reflect an attitude, I doubt whether others will see it the same way. Can you give us an example of a name and personality that you’ve written to demonstrate this idea?
Kerwyn Argyle comes to mind. To me, just the sound of his name is indicative of his personality and plight. I wrote that for the Mutant 750. Any hope of that challenge coming back? I miss it. Back to the question: basic examples would be naming a bully Spike, and his victim Merriweather. Or naming a villainess, Lilith, who is an evil-doer in Jewish lore.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging when writing?
Getting started is always tough for me. But once the first sentence is on the page, I’m good to go. Usually. On a good day.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
Franz Kafka. I love Kafka!
I’ve heard of Kafka, and I think that might have been from you. What is one of your favorite works of Kafka’s?
It would have to be The Hunger Artist. Well, that & A Country Doctor.
What do you think it is about Kafka’s writing that interests you so much? Is it subject matter or more his voice?
Both his voice and the bizarre subject matter. It’s also his background. Kafka had a rough go of it. First, his problematic relationship with his father clouded his entire life. He not only struggled with anxiety and depression, but also tuberculosis. Here is one of my favorite Kafka quotes: The Meaning of Life is that it stops. How can you not love a writer who thinks such things?! Here’s a link to some of his work.
Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
Cut & run.
What is something you want to accomplish before you die?
I want to be someone’s hero.
See, you have a poetry to your words. Your statement moved me with just a simple sentence. How do you know you’re not already someone’s hero, in some way?
[Blush!] Thank you, Tony. Maybe I was, or am. I kind of doubt it though.
What secret talents do you have, besides writing?
Hmmm. That’s a tough one. I don’t think I have any.
What were you like as a child? Did you have a favorite toy/game? Do you find your writing to have any inspiration from your childhood?
I was a shy crybaby, an awkward, angst-filled introvert. Things haven’t changed much. LOL! Although I have two half-brothers and a half-sister, I grew up as an only child. I never cared much for dolls, aside from Barbie. My stuffed animals got pushed around in the baby carriage while the baby dolls were stuffed in the bottom of my closet. Yes, my writing reflects my childhood at times, and vice versa.
I sense a deep love for animals over people based on what you said about your childhood. Am I right? Do you have any fur-babies?
You nailed it! I have four cats: Nicole Tatiana (Nikki), Zelda Louise, Nadyezhda Brunovna Shumanovsky (Nadia or Nadz), and Arlington Albert Horowitz (Arlo). They are all rescues, so maybe I am someone’s hero.
Do you have or have you had any recurring dreams/nightmares you’d like to share?
No, not really. Just the usual finding myself naked in public scenario. Sometimes I still have waitress & bartender nightmares. You know, where your station fills up and you can’t find a pen, or the beer taps start flowing chocolate syrup.
Okay, chocolate-flowing taps sounds amazing! I take it you have experience as a waitress and bartender? Any juicy stories from the field?
Chocolate taps are frustrating as hell! Yes, I have many, many juicy stories to tell. At age 17, I dropped out of high school to embark on a waitressing career at the Union 76 Truck Stop in Wheatridge, CO. There, I met and fell in love with a truck driver who talked me into moving to Mason City, Iowa. I guess he didn’t think I’d actually do it because he forgot to tell me he was married. That sucked. Later, when I’d become a bartender, I met and dated the notorious John Irish who made a living as Reverend John Irish; a mail order preacher who made a living off victims of plane crashes & other accident sites. He was in cahoots with an ambulance-chasing attorney. They’d made a ton of money over the years. The victims would be on their death beds and ol’ Johnny would talk them into suing and refer them to his buddy. He’d even given dying people last rites a few times! Ugh!! I had no clue any of this was going on. Then one day a couple of detectives visited me at work… Those are just two of my misadventures.
I’ve had a “naked in public scenario” dream once–literally, once. Many years ago. As a teenager. And I’ve remembered it all this time. It’s weird and it dealt with sex in a very “oh, this is what that meant” way. When you reflect on it, do you see any deeper meaning to those dreams rather than just, “Well that was embarrassing.”
I think that the naked-in-public dreams speak to secrets revealed; being found-out.
What is your biggest fear? Logical or irrational.
Fire. I am terrified of fire.
Fire? I think you’re the first person to say that, at least to me. What is it about fire that terrifies you?
It’s hot, for one thing. The idea of being burned alive is terrifying.
What literary character do you think you are most like, or that is most like you?
Oh, wow. No clue, so I just took one of those Buzzfeed quizzes. It turns out I am most like Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird). One of my favorite books and movies. Now that I think about it, maybe Boo Radley is more realistic.
HA! Can we really trust those Buzzfeed quizzes? I mean, they’re on the internet after all, so why not, right?
Buzzfeed is ridiculous, true, but I thought perhaps I could gain some insight. Kind of like a writing prompt. Hah!
If you had a superpower, what would it be, what would your costume look like, and would you be a hero or villain?
My superpowers would be infallible clairvoyance and the ability to be in several places at one time. I wouldn’t have a costume; I’d be a regular gal on the street. Captain Anonymous!
The world has enough villains.
Captain Anonymous! Love it! And I couldn’t agree more–the world has enough villains. So, would you use your powers for the good of others?
Most definitely. I’d rescue people from all types of misfortune. From lost car keys to acts of terrorism; from running out of toilet paper at crucial times to car fires.