Susan Berliner has been a nonfiction writer for nearly her entire career. She had originally planned to be an elementary school teacher, but left after a year to become a newspaper reporter for Fairchild Publications. She covered men’s retailing for Daily New Record, a men’s wear/textile trade newspaper, which was the “brother” paper of Women’s Wear Daily.
After Susan’s children were born, she switched to freelance writing–mainly in education–publishing several book series dealing with editing skills, language arts, and standardized testing. She has also created teachers’ guides, student activity sheets, and test passages. During this time, Susan was the project editor for a national science magazine for elementary school students and edited subject-related manuscripts for children in grades 7 and 8. In addition, she freelanced as a local reporter, covering board meetings for the North County News, a weekly newspaper in Yorktown Heights, New York.
When she returned to work full-time, Susan became the promotion manager of the Yorktown PennySaver, a job she held for 20 years. She created many original weekly contests–Phony Ad, Rhyme Time, and PennySaver Prophet. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Where do you get your ideas?
I get ideas two ways: from real life and from my imagination. I’ve always been a nonfiction writer, but my career as a novelist began several years ago after I read a small newspaper article about a strange weather phenomenon called a “dust devil”—a miniature tornado that’s strong enough to toss dust and dirt into the air.
In the little news clip that inspired me, a dust devil lifted the roof off an auto body shop, collapsing most of the building and killing the owner. Since the story was so weird—and it happened in Maine—I was sure Stephen King would write a book about some kind of supernatural dust.
I put the article aside and forgot about it. When I found the story again years later, I realized Stephen King had never written a novel about weird dust. Suddenly, I had an idea, which turned out to be the basis for DUST.
I got the idea for my second (not yet published) supernatural thriller, Peachwood Lake, from another newspaper story, this one about a large fish that—for reasons unknown—jumps in a Florida river during the summer, sometimes injuring boaters. Of course, my fictional jumping fish is a lot stranger—and a lot meaner.
But not all of my ideas come from newspapers. The inspiration for my third paranormal thriller, The Disappearance, came directly from my brain. No outside source was involved. I’ve always loved reading time-travel stories, so I decided to write one. And the book I’m writing now (still untitled), is also from my imagination. It’s on another supernatural subject I’ve always loved: mind control.
What advice would you give young writers?
Writing a novel is such an individual undertaking that I don’t have any specific tips. There’s no right or wrong method; what works for me won’t work for someone else. However, I would suggest that an aspiring author treat writing a novel like a job—something you have to do. Get into a writing routine and force yourself to work for a certain amount of time every day.
Even if I don’t feel like working, I close the door to my room, concentrate, and write. Of course, I became a novelist after leaving my full-time job, which made it easier. But there’s always time to write, even if it’s just a half hour. You just have to decide to do it!
When are you the most productive?
I write best in the morning, even before breakfast. As I explained above, my routine is to lock myself in the computer room with no distractions and do my writing. My family knows not to bother me then. Each morning, I try to write a scene, about 200-500 words. It’s not much, but by writing almost every day, the words add up. I’m currently more than 33,000 words into my new novel. In the afternoons and evenings, I edit or review my work. I usually don’t write new material then.
Are your characters completely fictional or do you base them on real people?
Most of my characters, especially the main ones, come directly from my imagination. Some of my minor characters are combinations of friends, relatives, neighbors, or former co-workers. For example, in DUST, the teen Adam Ackermann, is based on several young tech guys I used to work with.