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Author Susan Strecker, second from left, at the launch of her newest novel, Drive, with her daughter Ainsely, 14, her son Cooper, 15, and her husband Kurt. Strecker will give a talk about her new book at events coming up in Guilford and Deep River. (Photo courtesy of Susan Strecker )
Author Susan Strecker at the launch of her newest novel, Drive, which took her several years to write. Strecker says she knows how hard it can be to be a writer, which is why she likes offering free workshops, like the series coming up in North Haven. (Photo courtesy of Susan Strecker )
Author Susan Strecker, left, at the launch of her newest novel, Drive, with her daughter Ainsely, 14. (Photo courtesy of Susan Strecker )
Drive, Susan Strecker’s third novel, is billed as a story of love and loss against the backdrop of the NASCAR circuit. )
Nowhere Girl, Susan Strecker’s second novel, focuses on a labyrinth of deception and betrayal, and finding the strength to face the truth. )
Night Blindness, Susan Strecker’s first novel, is about the search for unconditional love in the aftermath of more than a decade of complex grief and secrets, and the importance of honesty in family relationships. )
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If books were babies, then Susan Strecker’s first two books were perfect babies that slept through the night.
Her newest novel?
“Like a colicky, fussy baby that’s been crying for 10 years,” she says. “I had to put it down for three years. I wrote two other novels in the meantime, because this sucked so bad.”
It wasn’t worth it, she told herself.
Then she thought about the time and effort she put into it, and the stories that drove her to start it in the first place. She finished it. It went into production. And, about a year after that, she got a copy of her new baby, Drive: A NASCAR Novel, due out Tuesday, Oct. 15.
“It includes car racing, and fast times, and partying. And I think I was afraid people would think it was silly. And, then I came back to it and I read it, I thought, oh my god it makes sense now. It was all worth it...It was so hard and I’m so glad I did not give up on it,” she says. “I feel like I really found the book’s soul.”
At the soul of the book is how to persevere in times of grief and what it is that makes life worth living.
Even before the book’s official release, Strecker has received grateful emails from readers, saying Drive was the book they needed to read right now.
“So, so what if it took me five years? That’s why I’m doing it, if I can help people get through something like grief,” she says.
While she’s happy with how the novel turned out, Strecker says the experience of writing this one reinforced for her something she already knew, writing is an often solitary pursuit that is not easy.
That’s why, even with the launch of this new novel, and the book tour, and the events, and the interviews, on top of caring for her family, and the rest of her life, she also works as an editor on books by other writers, and also offers free lectures and free multi-session workshops at local libraries, helping and encouraging writers.
From Hard World to Win-Win
Strecker will be talking about her new novel Drive at Breakwater Books, 81 Whitfield Street, Guilford on Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. Her next free writing and editing workshop will be at the North Haven Public Library, 17 Elm Street, North Haven, taking place on several Mondays, Oct. 21, Oct. 28, and Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m. (for more information and to sign up, search by date on www.northhavenlibrary.net/programs-adult). She is also planning a writing and editing workshop at the Deep River Public Library in November, and an author talk there in December (deepriverlibrary.accountsupport.com).
At the free writing workshops, Strecker discusses the elements she considers essential for a successful novel. It’s open to anyone at any stage of their writing career, and the writers are welcome to share their work. The atmosphere is cordial, collegial, supportive, and fun. Writers get some good advice and support and encouragement for what can sometimes be a lonely pursuit.
“I do them to give back,” says Stecker of the free workshops, who adds she attributes her success in part to people who have helped her throughout her career. “The writing world is so hard.”
Strecker says she sometimes wonders, if she had known ahead of time how hard it would be, would she have tried it?
“I’m not sure I would have done it. It is so hard to get anywhere and really get into the business of writing. For me, it was a whole series of meeting the right people at the right time and dumb luck and a generous agent who believed in me. I have a whole army behind me,” she says. “So, yes, I believe in giving back.”
She says she loves connecting with other writers, helping them connect with each other, and helping them succeed.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” she says.
Likewise, her writing and editing business also allows her to connect with other writers, use her skills, while also allowing her to make money from those skills and the time she spends on them. Strecker, who lives in Essex, does both development editing and copy editing.
Development editing allows her to take a look at the whole book and the whole story.
“It’s really looking at the whole book and the gestalt of the book,” she says. “What needs to be improved? The arc, does it happen? Is the pacing too rushed? Is there enough of a back story? Are the characters well developed? We look at the development of the whole book, and it’s very labor intensive.”
Copy editing is the all-important finish work, an art and skill in and of itself, and a step that, when ignored, can result in errors large and small. The small errors can cause a reader to lose trust in a writer. The large errors can be embarrassing debacles for both the writer and the publishing house.
“Proof reading on steroids. Grammar. Punctuation. Checking to see if sentences are cumbersome, and, always, fact checking,” she says.
She recalled one of her first editing jobs.
“One of the characters gets pulled over and someone reads him his Miranda Rights,” she says.
The Supreme Court handed down its decision in Miranda v. Arizona in 1966. This book was about the mob in the 1950s.
“Especially in this day and age, there is no excuse for inaccuracies or inconsistencies like that,” she notes.
Fun, Silly, Terrible
When Strecker thinks about how hard the writing world can be, she’s not just thinking about punctuation, grammar, and coming up with the perfect story arc. There is also the part where writers tend to plumb the depths of their lives, hearts, and the darkest crevices of their souls to get at the true meaning of a story. Strecker has heard it said that everyone has at least one great book in them.
“Even people who are not naturally gifted writers can be great storytellers,” she says. “It’s about using real life in your writing.”
She says she does that with parts of her life.
“Some of it is fun, some of it is silly, and some of it is downright terrible,” she says. “You have to incorporate that, and set it free in the world, and have it be something that means something to people.”
She is reminded of Pat Conroy, one of her favorite authors.
“What I really love is how he used such a tormented childhood as a kind of a framework. It wasn’t so much that he used his experiences as the basis for his books, but it was, in a way, his catharsis, maybe a way to let go of such a terrible childhood” she says. “That he could turn so much pain into something so beautiful? I just love it.”
She says delivering such a story is an unselfish act, one that can take time to do just right. The first few attempts might be messy.
One of her favorite quotes, from Vince Lombardi, is “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” It’s something she’s fond of saying to her kids when they are practicing sports. If you ride a horse badly or practice lacrosse badly, you will ride or play badly, she tells them.
That does not apply to writing, she says.
“You know what, I feel like writing is the one place in the world where that doesn’t apply. With writing, with any of us, if we waited to write until we did it perfectly, we would be staring forever at blank pages,” she says. “Bad writing is better than no writing. You cannot edit what is not there. If I waited for divine inspiration, I would never write. My first 10 drafts are terrible, just terrible.”
Except for her new novel, Drive, she says.
“I would say I learned how to write this novel by doing it wrong 15 times,” she says. “I was a big fan of doing it the hard way this time.”
More information about Strecker and her work is available at www.susanstrecker.com.
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