One of the best parts of hosting Women’s Fiction Writers is reading the awesome interview answers before I post them for everyone else. Is that bragging? Oops! Well, it’s true. And so many times the wise words and kind advice hits so close to home. As I’m entrenched in pre-pub craziness for THE GLASS WIVES, I’m reminded by author Ellen Sussman that writers of women’s fiction need to step out the quiet shadows and into the limelight, which many have. And one way to do that is to tackle big stories, whatever they may be. I’m taking that reminder with me every time I sit down to work on new novel!
Ellen is celebrating the release of her third novel, THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE which is getting rave and starred reviews and I’m honored she’s here today! Please welcome Ellen Sussman back to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Ellen Sussman Goes To Bali In Her New Novel And Says Women’s Fiction Authors Should Go Big Or Go Home!
Amy: Congratulations on THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE! This is your third novel, but as a writer I know that our ideas and books don’t always happen chronologically. When did you first come up with the idea for this book? And what sparked the idea? What were you working on at the time?
Ellen: My husband and I visited Bali in 2005, right after the second terrorist attack on that beautiful island. By the end of that vacation, I already had the idea for the novel. I’d create a young American who gets caught in the bombing in 2002 and returns to Bali a year later to find the man who saved her.
But I tucked the idea away, unsure if I wanted to tackle such an ambitious project. It’s funny – I know when a novel idea is good if it won’t let go. That story stayed with me and when I finished French Lessons, it screamed: Write me next!
Amy: THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE is set in Bali. What drew you to this setting as being the right one for this story?
Ellen: That first trip to Bali began my love affair with the island. I returned a couple of years ago to live there for a month so that I could do the research for Paradise Guest House. (tough research trip!) It’s the combination of paradise and terrorism that created so much dissonance for me. I wanted to understand how the Balinese and ex-pats healed after the bombings in 2002. In addition to learning about the Balinese culture and religion, I had the opportunity to meet with survivors of the attacks as well as family members of the victims. Those interviews were very difficult and so important to my research.
Amy: Do you have a writing schedule or a routine that you follow when you’re working on a novel? What is your favorite place to write? (Mine happens to be sitting on the bed in my office that used to be my son’s bedroom!)
Ellen: I’m a very disciplined writer. I write from 9 til noon every day. When I’m writing a first draft of a novel, I try to produce 1,000 words a day. I’m a firm believer in writing as a “job” – we don’t get much done if we sit around and wait for the muse to whisper in our ear. And I’m lucky enough to have a home office with a beautiful view of our garden.
Amy: Obviously I embrace the term “women’s fiction” but we all know that it is often misconstrued. What is your definition of women’s fiction?
Ellen: The only problem that I have with the term is that novels written by men aren’t categorized as men’s novels! I think the term is generic enough that it doesn’t pigeonhole books as chick lit or beach reads. And yes, most readers of fiction are women.
Amy: What’s your most surprising or unusual advice be for aspiring authors?
Ellen: Go big or go home. Make your characters act – and push them as far as you can. I’m getting tired of quiet stories. I want to read about real drama.
Ellen Sussman is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel, French Lessons, published by Ballantine in 2011. Her first novel, On a Night Like This, was a San Francisco Chronicle Best-Seller. It has been translated into six languages. Her newest novel, The Paradise Guest House, will be published in March, 2013. She is also the editor of two anthologies, Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia Of Sex and Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave, which was a New York Times Editors Choice and a San Francisco Chronicle Best-Seller. She has published numerous essays in anthologies, including The Other Woman, and a dozen of her short stories have appeared in literary and commercial magazines. Ellen was named a San Francisco Library Laureate in 2004 and 2009. She has been awarded fellowships from The Napoule Art Foundation, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Ledig House, Ucross, Ragdale Foundation, Writers at Work, Wesleyan Writers Conference and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has taught at Pepperdine, UCLA and Rutgers University. She now teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes out of her home. She has two daughters and lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.
You can find Ellen on her website (where you can find links to buy THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE), on Facebook, and on Twitter: @ellensussman.
10 thoughts on “Author Ellen Sussman Goes To Bali In Her New Novel And Says Women’s Fiction Authors Should Go Big Or Go Home!”
“Go big or go home.” I love that advice to authors. Thank you, Ellen. Congratulations on The Paradise Guest House.
I can’t wait to read this novel, because I’ve been to Bali and I agree that the tension between hippie backpackers, terrorist threats, expats, and native Indonesians provides an incredibly rich context for a story. My novel, The Wishing Hill, is partly set in Mexico because I taught school there for a while and wanted to return to that place in fiction to better understand it. I also agree that women’s fiction could definitely use an infusion of action. Many novels in this genre are beautifully told stories with well developed characters, but with too little happening to build true narrative tension. Thank you for your wise words here.
thanks, Holly. Your novel sounds great too!
I agree with you, Ellen, the only thing that irks me about the term “women’s fiction” is that we don’t categorize “men’s fiction” as well. Actually, I do–I’ll call something a guy book (which usually doesn’t interest me much). But the industry sure doesn’t! Really a great interview, now I’m going to go clear my schedule so I can write from 9 to noon every day.
write up a storm!
I feel like I need to write a book that requires me to travel to Bali for research! 🙂 Great advice and such a great premise, Ellen! Can’t wait to read this!
it’s true — kind of a good gig, huh!
Thanks, Ellen. “Go big or go home!” is now one of the motivational quotes that keep me going. ; )
So much drive here! How inspiring! I’m also in love with Bali and would love to read a novel set there. Good luck with this – I’m sure it’s a winner! Xcat