Monday, May 4, 2020

You Just Never Know

Q: Most of us - most writers everywhere - do something else first, or do something else alongside. What bits of your other career(s) have you found useful in the business of writing and what bits have you had to ditch?

- from Susan

A: The only piece of my former lives (plural) that I don’t need, alas, is evening wear – long dresses with sparkly wraps and glittery earrings. No more black tie donor events, campaign kick-offs, or other ceremonial events in my life. I miss it. I recently gave my granddaughter one of my favorite, quietly elegant gowns to consider for her high school prom. Sadly, they anticipate only a virtual prom in their living rooms so I don’t know if she will be able to wear it. (This is not the dress, but another I loved.)

My first career was as a journalist, not some hard-hitting, investigative reporter but a newspaper and magazine writer who did feature articles, covered City Hall, interviewed TV actors, wrote pieces about recreational sports, and travel, did a little TV. Asking questions, showing interest, poking around for personality quirks, eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, describing atmosphere and how things work. Fits perfectly with the work of creating stories that have verisimilitude. 


My second career started as public relations director for a college and morphed over time to becoming a fundraising and strategic communications chief and consultant, and an executive for universities. A lot of what I know about wealthy people – their bad and occasionally good characteristics – comes directly from years of watching, listening, and making nice with people whose lives are as different from mine as chalk to cheese. 

 One of those periods was especially, um, interesting as a highly nasty, public feud among scientists and two billionaires battling for control over the organization of which it was my luck to be the new executive director erupted, making headlines all over the world. There were good guys and bad guys, and lucky for me I was on the side of the good guys, who eventually won and went on to many triumphs in their discipline. But, much later, when my blood pressure had returned to normal, I found so much that became story material and had great fund skewering, occasionally killing off, some of the worst of the villains. 

 The through line for all of my careers has been writing and nothing I did had to be chucked aside when I quit that world to write murder mysteries. In fact, I doubt that I ever would have gotten to five published novels in ten years (yes, I’m slow) without the professional experiences of my prior lives. As Dr. Seuss says about life, 


Oh, the places you’ll go!”

9 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

I think whatever our pasts, Susan, from the sensational to the mundane, always inform our work to one degree or another. And I think the story about your millionaires and scientists feud would make a great story on its own. Fictionalized, of course :-) .

Brenda Chapman said...

You've had a fascinating career - sounds like you'd have some great stories to tell over a glass of wine in addition to the stories you tell in your books :-)

catriona said...

I sort of knew some of this, Susan, but it was fascinating to read it in a round-up. And those pictures! Thank you. Cx

Susan C Shea said...

Paul, I did. THE KING'S JAR puts some of the characters in a modified environment. But the people I worked with have recognized a few of their attackers!

Susan C Shea said...

Brenda, I do have stories - don't we all?!

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Catriona. It's both fun and melancholic to look back and think about the good and bad times and realize they really are the past.

James Ziskin said...

Very nice, Susan. Very interesting lives.

Susan Courtright said...

Thank you for sharing a multi level career path, Susan. Ah the stories we will never be able to tell, eh?

Susan C Shea said...

Susan, that's so true!