10 Questions for Susan Elizabeth Phillips

New York Times best-selling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips began writing after bonding with a neighbor over their shared loved of books. The two women decided to try their hand at writing their own romance, The Copeland Bride, which was published under the pseudonym Justine Cole in 1983. Phillips then began writing on her own, completing five more romances. Then, in defiance of the conventional wisdom of the time, Phillips created the contemporary sports romance with the publication of Fancy Pants in 1989, which was followed by It Had To Be You, the first in her Chicago Stars series, in 1994. A three-time RITA award winner and inductee in the RWA Hall of Fame, Phillips continues to gift readers with books that celebrate the power of love to change lives.

Who is Susan Elizabeth Phillips?

In no particular order, because that would only get me in trouble: a writer, a  friend, a wife, a mother and grandmother, a sister, a hiker, a housekeeper, an outdoor lover, a worrier, a clown, a busybody, and a rule follower—except when it comes to my writing,

Tell us about your new book, Dance Away with Me.

I thought you’d never ask! (Oh, wait. This is only the second question.) Tess, the midwife heroine, is a deeply grieving young widow who’s isolated herself in a remote cabin above the town of Tempest, Tennessee. The hero, Ian Hamilton North, IV—and yes, that “IV” is important—is an enigmatic former street artist who only wants to be left alone. Let’s just say that doesn’t last for long as a host of other people enter Tess and Ian’s lives: a fairy-tale sprite with too many secrets, a helpless infant, a group of curious teens, and an entire town that’s suspicious of outsiders. As with so many of my books, Dance Away with Me straddles the line between women’s fiction and romance, my favorite place to write and read.

One of the topics you explore in Dance Away with Me is the creative process. What does your own creative process look like while you are working on a book?

It’s a mess. Because I don’t work from an outline, writing is always a process of exploration and discovery for me. Who are these people and why are they in this situation? I write from inside the characters’ hearts and minds, letting them go wherever they need to go before I eventually try to rein them in—note the word “try.” I’m discovering the story and the characters as I work. I know. It’s a crazy way to write, but it’s my way.

What do you know now about the business of writing that you wished you had known when you were starting out as an author?

I wish I’d known not to worry so much when I’ve written myself into a corner or hit a blank wall. It always happens. And frequently! Be patient, grab a pen and yellow pad, and brainstorm on paper to work through it.

What is the book (or books) that got you hooked on the romance genre as a reader?

Like so many readers “of a certain age,” I got hooked on the historical romances of the late 1970s and early 1980s: Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Johanna Lindsey—and I’ve never looked back.

What have you read recently that you loved and would like to share with other readers?

My son urged me to read Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, although the last thing I wanted to do was read another book about drugged out ’70s rockers. Turns out, I was wrong. The book was a wonderful surprise, written as a series of interviews, which was something I didn’t think I’d enjoy. I was wrong. It’s beautifully executed with different voices for each character and with characters remembering events in very different ways. I was reminded of my reluctance to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society many years ago because it is epistolary, something else I didn’t think I’d enjoy. And how about Bridget Jones’s Diary?  I think we, as readers, sometimes have a tendency to limit ourselves too much. As a result, we miss out on some great books. I also love anything by Jayne Ann Krentz, Kristin Hannah, Kristan Higgins, Christina Dodd, Robyn Carr, Sarah MacLean, Eloisa James, and a bunch more. How’s that for a list?

What is one thing you would love to learn to do that you don’t know how to do now? 

From a writing perspective, I’d love to write faster, but that isn’t going to happen, and I’ve had to make peace with it. From a personal perspective—learn to sing. I am the outlier in a family of musicians. They all tell me anyone can carry a tune . . . until they try to get me to carry one.

What would the title of your autobiography be?

The Autobiography of Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  See how I did that?  I’m getting better and better at dodging questions I’m too lazy to figure out how to answer.

What is next for you?

I’m not telling!  But I’m super excited, and I think readers will be, too.

How can readers best connect with you and find out more about your books?

Sign up for my monthly newsletter at susanelizabethphillips.com. It’s a great place for me to share my daily life, photos, random thoughts, bad jokes, as well as book news. I’m also very active—maybe too active?—on my Facebook page and on Instagram.

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About the Author:

The Romance Writers of America 2002 Librarian of the Year, Charles has been reviewing romances for Booklist since 1999 and is the author of Romance Today: An A to Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance. After working for the Scottsdale Public Library System for 30 years, Charles retired and went to work for Scottsdale's independent bookstore the Poisoned Pen, where he still gets to push books but has to deal with far fewer computer questions.

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