Interview with Susan Kietzman

Susan Kietzman: Author of The Good Life, The Summer Cottage,

and several other poignant contemporary novels

* Click here to read my book review on The Summer Cottage!

I recently had the great fortune of picking the brain of a brilliant New England writer who sticks to an early-morning writing routine, understands the value of downtime, and didn’t publish her first novel until she was fifty-three years old. I find that incredibly inspiring since it’s common to hear about people getting their first crack at publishing by age thirty when so many of us are well past that age! I think one of the things aspiring writers most often want to learn about is a successful novelist’s writing process. Perhaps we all want a magic bullet piece of advice to kickstart our creative juices! While Kietzman doesn’t offer that (because no one can!), she has published five books, with two more in the works. She is forthcoming with details about her daily routine, what it was like getting published for the first time, and why it’s crucial to steer clear of negative reviews.

During this interview, Kietzman was busy with her son’s beautiful springtime wedding, so it was conducted mostly via email, but nothing was lost in translation. Susan Kietzman is honest, genuine, and quick to offer advice to all of us who are still reaching for that brass ring called publication!  

LA: Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers, tell them a little about yourself, where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing?

SK: I’ve lived in Connecticut most of my life, and I’ve been an early riser since childhood; dawn is my favorite time of the day. As a child, I was the first up in my house. The same holds true in adulthood. After coffee and writing in my notebook, I head outside for some exercise, often a walk along the Mystic River. In the winter, it’s usually dark when I set out. I think it’s the quiet that I like most – and the promise of a new day. I eat a quick breakfast upon my return, aiming to get to my desk by 7:30 or 8 a.m. I’ve been writing since my second son was born and I chose to stay home and raise my children. He’s 32 now. I’ve taken breaks here and there – in fact I’m on somewhat of a sabbatical now – but I’ve written far more often than I haven’t for 30 years.

LA: Did you have a career before writing? If so, what was it, and at what point did you transition over to writing full-time?

SK: Before the boys were born, I was a newspaper journalist. I was home for a while, and then I returned to work part-time. I wrote for corporate clients and taught English at a community college in Midland, Michigan. When we moved back to Connecticut in 2007, I taught at Three Rivers and then wrote grants for Mystic Seaport. I stopped working outside the house in 2016 to focus on fiction.

LA: How many books have you published so far? Also, how old were you when you wrote the first book?

SK: I’ve published five books with Kensington Publishing: The Good Life, A Changing Marriage, The Summer Cottage, Every Other Wednesday, and It Started in June. The Good Life was published in 2013, when I was 53. But I worked on an earlier version of the book when I was in my 40s.

Susan Kietzman published her first novel at fifty-three! That is very inspiring to those of us who wonder whether our window of opportunity has passed us by. Authors like Kietzman prove a good story knows no limits!

LA: Have you ever written a manuscript that didn’t translate into a finished novel?

SK: Yes, my very first attempt – called Staying in Town – was never published. More recently, I finished a novel in 2019 and another in 2021 that are not yet published.

LA: Can you talk a little about your writing process?

SK: Since I’m a morning person, I write in the mornings, when the day is fresh and I’m clear-headed. I sit at my desk for three hours, writing, editing…sometimes staring out the window. But I do make myself sit, five days a week. Creative work can be taxing, so three hours – sometimes a little more – is about all I have in me each day.

LA: Do you write with music, or do you need it quiet while you work?

SK: I need a quiet space to focus my thoughts. The hum of the refrigerator is okay, as is the rumble of a lawn mower next door. But I’ve never been able to write with music playing or people talking.

LA: Do you outline your stories before you begin writing them?

SK: I don’t outline my novels, but I know what I’m writing about and who’s telling the story. My first draft is the most fun because it’s all creative. My second draft is much more difficult. The characters are becoming a bit clearer, but they need much more development. The story, too, is evolving. I like the idea of an outline, but it doesn’t seem to fit into my process.

LA: Can you tell us about your experience getting a novel published for the first time?

SK: Getting a novel published is difficult. There are many, many people writing now, and most of them are interested in seeing their work in print (or in an e-book). Some of these writers publish their own work. More of them seek a traditional publisher, who receives pitches and manuscripts from literary agents. While self-publishing guarantees a finished book, it can be very expensive. A traditional publisher pays the writer, as well as covers the cost of printing and distributing the book. Those looking to publish need to present their very best work – novels that have been workshopped by a writers’ group or reviewed by a professional editor. Once the book is ready, an author must sell her idea to an agent. If the agent likes the book, she will enter into a contract with the author. And then the agent attempts to sell the book to a publisher. If the agent is successful, she typically gets 15% of all monies paid to the author. Publishers Marketplace is a great resource to find an agent. It costs $25/month. Another way to find an agent is to read the acknowledgements in a book similar to yours. Contact that agent, indicating you have a book she might like, and cross your fingers!

LA: How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?

SK: In general, it’s a good idea not to dwell on negative reviews. Some authors don’t read any of their reviews. I don’t mind criticism if it’s thoughtful. People are, of course, entitled to their opinion, even when I don’t agree with them.

LA: What advice would you give to someone who has writing ability, but is stuck in fear and can’t go the distance with a full-length manuscript?

SK: Most of us are fearful. Most of us doubt our ability. This is part of being a writer. Creativity and insecurity are intrinsically linked. The best advice I received is to keep at it. If you want to be a writer, then you must write.

Kietzman gives us the advice on writing that we might not want to hear, but certainly need to accept: “If you want to be a writer, then you must write.”

LA: What is the one thing that surprised you regarding becoming a published novelist?

SK: Getting published was and is a thrill. But I caution you about expecting too much. The great majority of published writers cannot live on their royalties. They need jobs (or another source of income) to pay the rent and car insurance. Don’t write for the money. Write because you have a story to tell.

LA: Who are your favorite authors? (This can include who inspired you in the early days, up to what you’re currently reading).

SK: Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read all her books. But I do jump around a lot, depending on what I see on the shelf at my local bookstore or what a reading friend has recommended. I’ve enjoyed the writing of Kent Haruf, Leif Enger, Lily King, Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, William Faulkner, Ann Patchett, Sue Miller, Brittany Cooper, and Heather McGhee.

LA: What are you currently working on?

SK: I’m currently looking for an agent for my latest book, What Becomes Her.  I’m also evaluating my publishing prospects. The market continues to change and evolve, which means prudent writers must do the same.

I sincerely thank Susan Kietzman for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for myself and my subscribers. It’s always an honor to speak with a published author, especially one who writes strong female characters dealing with real but relatable everyday dilemmas. Kietzman has given us five compelling, poignant contemporary works of fiction, with more in the works.

I look forward to seeing what else she has up her sleeve!

Susan Kietzman lives in Mystic, Connecticut, with her husband and dog. Check out Susan Kietzman’s Author Page on Amazon and her Instagram account here.

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