A Conversation with Local Author Susie Orman Schnall

Local author Susie Orman Schnall discovered the joy of word play as a child, filling blank journal pages with love poems dedicated to lost loves. The California native built a life from her passion, heading east for college to study Communications and English and then writing for magazines, Internet companies, nonprofit organizations, and advertising and public relations agencies.

In April, she celebrated the release of her debut novel "On Grace."

Recently, the busy wife and mom of three boys shared with Books, Ink the background of her book, a peek inside her writing life, what comes next, and her intriguing alternate career choices.

Please tell us about your novel "On Grace."

"On Grace" is an authentic portrayal of the challenges women face when they go through transitions in their lives. Specifically, the novel is about a woman turning 40 who is struggling with her marriage, her life choices, and her sense of self, but really, that relates to women of all ages. It's about confronting your struggles, learning from them, and coming out better on the other side than you were before.

What inspired you to write to write it, and where do you get your ideas?

I had always wanted to write a book but never knew what to write it about. When I finally decided to go for it, I decided to "write what I know." I had recently turned 40 when I started writing "On Grace" and I and/or my friends were going through a lot of what Grace goes through. I fictionalized the reality of the world immediately around me and that became the novel.

What's the most surprising thing you learned while writing "On Grace"?

That I was able to string together 80,000 words in a way that made people (other than people I'm related to) laugh and cry and want to recommend "On Grace" to their friends!

What is your process like? Do you outline, create character bios, write linearly?

I am definitely an outliner. But I'm also a list-making, calendar-keeping, highly organized person, so it was no surprise to me that that was my process. I took a class before I wrote "On Grace" and homework included writing character bios, character arcs, plot summaries, etc. so I was very prepared before I even wrote the first sentence! I knew where the book was going, but I certainly allowed characters and plots to veer from the plan as I was writing.

What's the hardest part about writing for you, and how do you manage it?

Starting book number two! When I wrote "On Grace," I dedicated 3-4 hours every day to writing for several months. I feel like I have to be able to carve out that time before I start the next book. That's what I'm hoping to do in July! And then my goal is to clear my calendar until I finish it.

If you could meet three authors, who would you choose and why?

Nora Ephron: I think she had the purest voice, and I admire and respect her style of writing. It's so clear and straightforward but it's very difficult to write like that.

Jane Austen: I would just like to have tea with the woman who has provided so many hours of joy for me. I love reading about the time period she writes about, and I would love to ask her about how she created what she did.

Emily Giffin: To me, she is the epitome of the modern American women's fiction writer. I'd love to meet her to pick her brain. We would have wine and cheese. Lots of cheese.

Where is your favorite place to write?

In my little office in my house. I get distracted by too much noise when I write so coffee shops don't work for me. Cozy sweats, hot tea, and munchies, and I'm ready.

What are you working on at the moment?

In my brain, I'm planning my next novel. In real life, I'm working on the promotion of "On Grace": social media, talks and book clubs, appearances, and doing interviews like this one! I'm also working on The Balance Project, which is a series of interviews I do and post on my site every Friday. I ask inspiring and accomplished women relevant questions about work/life balance. My goal is not to get women feeling inadequate if they're not leaning in too much. It's more about revealing the tragically glorified "doing it all" craze for the insanity that it is and letting women off the hook for not even trying to do it all.

What's the best advice you ever got about writing?

1) "Write what you know": From my dad.

2) "The proper subject of the novel is universal human experience grounded in the minutiae of ordinary life": From a cut-out piece of newspaper article taped to my computer monitor.

3) "Drama is anticipation mixed with uncertainty": By William Archer from Andrew Stanton's TED talk.

Ask and answer one question you wish I'd asked.

Question: If you could have any job what would it be?

Answer: A back-up dancer for Beyonce or a social anthropologist.


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