Susan M. Brackney
Susan's website: Lost Soul Companion
Q. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I've always had a knack for writing, but I never intended to be a professional writer. (Actually, I had always wanted to be a roller-skating waitress!) Early on, freelance reporting--and my dabbling in fiction and poetry--helped pay a few of my bills now and then, but it wasn't until The Lost Soul Companion Project that I really began to get a taste for writing. I had some important ideas to communicate to aspiring actors, musicians, artists, and, yes, writers, and the very best way to do that was through my writing. Reaching out to other people like that was a joy.
Q. What are some of the sacrifices that you made to get where you are?
Maybe the biggest sacrifice with regard to "The Lost Soul Companion" was saving half of the income from my day job for a full year in order to start my own publishing company and self-publish "The Lost Soul Companion". I only made $300 a week, and I worked full-time back then. But it really didn't feel like such a sacrifice. I was just so driven to do it. During the same period I got up early--5 a.m. or so--so that I could research, write, and illustrate the book, then I would head to my day job at 8, get home around 4 in the afternoon, have a quick snack, and then write some more until 11 or midnight. I did that schedule for a full year, and, even though it was hard, I loved it because I really felt like I was doing something very worthwhile.
Q. What inspired you to write the "Lost Soul Companion" and its sequel "The-Not-So-Lost-Companion"?
Well, both are books that I really needed to READ at the time. I looked all over for something like them, but I couldn't find anything at all. I needed to know that I could lead a satisfying life as an artist and general free spirit type--despite my struggles with depression, rejection, poverty, and so many other things that sometimes go along with living the artist life. I wondered if there were other people out there like me who, likewise, were looking for a little help along the way. When it occurred to me that there probably were--and that some of them might be struggling even more than I was--I felt I had a moral obligation to write the books I sought myself.
Q. What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?
To be a good writer, I think you absolutely must read good writers. Not so that your work will be derivative--that's no good!--but so you are exposed to myriad voices and ideas. Eventually, you'll get a good sense of all the available linguistic tools, and you'll develop your own distinct voice along the way. Also, always, always have your reader in mind. For whom are you writing? Do you have a clear idea of what it is you want to say? If you can't answer those, you'd better sit quietly for a while until you figure it out.
Q. What are some of the biggest mistakes that aspiring writers make?
To some extent that depends on what sort of writing a person wants to do, but, in general, jumping the gun is a bad idea. With regard to would-be authors, I see lots of people who send off material that is simply not ready to be seen. Or they don't do enough research about the agent (or agents) to whom they send their manuscripts. The same sort of thing applies to freelance reporters who are having a difficult time getting their work published. They may not be spending enough time carefully crafting their queries to editors. They might not have a clear enough understanding of the editor's needs--or the readers needs, for that matter.
Q. Who are some of your role models and why?
My mom for starters. Since I was a little kid she's been saying the same thing to me over and over. "Don't tell me why something won't work. Tell me how it WILL work." That used to drive me nuts, but now I really appreciate it. She has demonstrated in so many ways that there are always solutions to be found and that we all have the power to make things work if we want to. Also, I'd have to say Susan Kennedy, aka SARK. I have enjoyed her books--especially "Inspiration Sandwich"--and her correspondence. She is very strong, she has a distinct voice, she's led such a vibrant life. And she's inspired so many people along the way. I really admire her for that.
Q. Any tips for lost souls living in small towns and rural communities?
You bloom where you're planted. Too many people use geography as an excuse not to pursue their dreams, and that's just silly. I tend to think small towns are perfect proving grounds for emerging artists of all kinds. For instance, if you want to be an actor, you can start with community theater productions. And if you don't have a community theater program? It's up to you to start one! Take advantage of the inexpensive cost of living that usually comes with the small town territory. Sock your money away for a rainy day, and move to a bigger city in a couple of years if you must. As for me, I still live in a small college town in "flyover country" and I love it.
Q. How do you balance your professional and personal life?
Not very well! I can go for days at a time working on my research or writing and just let everything else go. And then there are those days when I am playing in the garden or messing with my beehives instead of writing. Somehow, it does all work out--but not because I have consciously balanced my professional and personal life.
Q. What is the most important thing you hope to gain out of your career?
All I ever wanted was to know that I helped make life a little more live-able for struggling artists, musicians, writers, etc. And I know I have done that. I guess I want to be able to sustain that. I hope "The Lost Soul Companion" and its sequel "The Not-So-Lost Soul Companion" are kept in print and have real staying power.
Q. What inspires you?
The needs of others inspire me to do my best work. I could never do what I do in a vacuum. In particular, I think about John Kennedy Toole a lot. He was an aspiring writer who committed suicide before he ever saw his writing in print. Nine years after his death, his novel "A Confederacy of Dunces" was published and he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He died thinking he was a failure, but he was actually so gifted. His life and death inspire me to keep working for lost and not-so-lost souls because I don't want to hear any more stories of wasted talent.
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?
As long as I have something worthwhile to say, I'll still be writing. And, hopefully, I'll continue to be surrounded by close friends and family.