Author Interview – Suzy Spencer

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent book is an updated edition of my first true crime book, WASTED, which was a NEW YORK TIMES bestseller.  I think the original cover copy describes it best — a rich lesbian, her beautiful young girlfriend, and the killer that came between them.  Of course, I always read that cover copy in a breathy, melodramatic tone.  In actuality, the book is about abuse — be it alcohol, drug, or sexual abuse or physical or emotional abuse — and how denial of abuse destroys lives.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m from a small in town in east Texas, went to Baylor University (the largest Southern Baptist university in the nation) where I graduated with a degree in journalism, then moved to New York City and worked for FORTUNE magazine.  Two years later, I relocated to Los Angeles where I freelanced before getting my MBA in finance and marketing, followed by a Master’s in Professional Writing, both from the University of Southern California.  Eventually, I returned to Texas where I sold my first nonfiction book.  In 1998, that book was published as WASTED.  I’ve since published three more true crime books and am currently under contract with Berkley Books for a look at Americans’ sex habits.

What inspired you to write this book?

I never wanted, dreamed, or expected to write true crime.  I fell into it.  A friend of mine came to me and said there’s a really trashy story out there and YOU have to write it.  I asked her why she didn’t write it.  After all, she’s a writer.  But she insisted that I HAD to write it.  I checked into the story.  It was interesting.  I mentioned it in a casual letter to an editor I’d met — giving it a one or two sentence synopsis.  Unknown to me, she bumped the letter up to her editor-in-chief.  Six months later, I got a phone call asking me if I wanted a contract to write the book.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I write because I have to write.  It’s the only thing I can do.  It’s the only thing that keeps me sane (though it drives me to insanity, too).

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

There are two things that are hard about writing, one is in-process and the other is after-process.  The in-process is just the day-to-day discipline of writing when you don’t want to and writing when friends, family, and other details of daily life are demanding your attention.  The after-process is keeping up the writing spirit after others slam your writing and abilities.

How do you do research for your books?

I scour court documents, I attend trials, and I interview hundreds of people — from killers to cops, from family members and friends of the victims to family members and friends of the killers, and, oh, so many more.

Did you learn anything from writing this book?

I learned so much about sexual abuse and how ignorant our teachers and even judges are about the signs of abuse and the damage done.  I learned about the physical, emotional, and mental damage inflicted on a child by a parent’s drug and alcohol abuse.  I learned how blessed I am that God loves me as much as he loves a killer.  And there’s so much, much more that I can’t put in a simple paragraph.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

As I mentioned before, I’m working on a book about Americans’ sex habits.  Initially, it was to be an overview of alternative sex habits.  But, at the request of my editor, it’s been turned into a memoir.  I don’t know how my editor likes to describe the book, but I like to describe it as an uptight, white Southern Baptist’s research into alternative sex.  And, oh, yeah, did I mention that she’s single and menopausal?

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

One, if you can do any other thing, do it.  Two, if writing is the only thing you can do, don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up.  No matter what others tell you, no matter what flak they give you, no matter how much they discourage you, don’t give up.

One day, I mentioned to a friend that I’d received, literally, 200 to 300 rejections from agents and editors.  At that, she told me to give up.  But I didn’t.  Less than a year later I sold WASTED.  And let me repeat — and repeat to her — WASTED became a NEW YORK TIMES best-seller and it was a finalist for the Violet Crown Award, nonfiction category.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?