Author Interview ~ Susy Flory

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Susy Flory grew up on the back of a quarter horse in Northern California. She took degrees from UCLA in English and psychology, and has a background in journalism, education, and communications. Susy first started writing at the Newhall Signal with the legendary Scotty Newhall, an ex-editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and a one-legged cigar-smoking curmudgeon who ruled the newsroom from behind an old metal desk where he pounded out stories on a battered Underwood Typewriter. Her newest book is So Long Status Quo: What I Learned From Women Who Changed the World (Beacon Hill, 2009).

So Long Status Quo
chronicles Susy’s courageous journey when, inspired by nine amazing women such as Mother Teresa, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mary Magdalene, she decided to get up off her comfy couch and try to change the world, starting in her own backyard. Adventure and self-discovery ensued, ranging from a secret humanitarian missions trip to Cuba, to learning how to weld, going on a fast, and even trading some precious heirloom jewelry for water for Africa. Susy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Robert, and two children. In addition to writing books and articles, Susy serves at her local church and is a popular speaker and blogger.

When did you decide to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer, but because books and words were so vitally important to me, I felt inadequate and intimidated and didn’t dare to give voice to my dream. I grew up not ever knowing a real, living writer and so somehow I felt that writers were some sort of elevated, highly evolved race that I could never be a part of. That changed in my late thirties when I went to my first writers conference. I will never forget my very first meal at the conference; I sat with an editor of a major Christian magazine and he was wearing a tshirt and jeans. Moreover, his hair was messy and he seemed completely normal in every way. I was terrified of him, but he chatted us all up and was very warm and friendly. He wasn’t that different. At that conference, as I came across more friendly editors, along with literary agents and working writers, the idea of becoming a writer finally seemed doable. I could finally voice my dream.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

When I began to see that my words, sentences, and paragraphs touched people. Just recently, I visited a local group that was using So Long Status Quo as a group study. One woman came up to me before the study and told me a story; she had been reading chapter 1, where I wrote about being inspired by Harriet Tubman’s life of sacrifice and service and deciding to sell my jewelry and use the money to fund village water wells in Africa. This woman shared that she loved to travel and everywhere she went she bought a ring as a souvenir. After reading this particular chapter, she had counted her rings and found that she had accumulated 105!

“I only have 10 fingers,” she told me. “I don’t need 105 rings.”

She started selling her rings, and some other things, on eBay and so far she’s accumulated over $500 for well projects. When your words begin to make a difference in people’s lives, it’s time to trust yourself.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

I operate like a journalist, and that means I operate on deadline. If my editors don’t give me deadlines, I have to make my own. And to keep me accountable, I often share my deadlines with a friend and ask her to keep me accountable. I also chart out big writing projects on a white board by my desk. Something about seeing that board each morning helps to keep me motivated.

What kind of activities do you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I love being outdoors, and my favorite stress buster is to take a walk on the regional trails near my house with my husband and our lab, Eli. Walking up and down the hills drains away the stress and refills me with ideas and inspiration.

What is your favorite novel (not written by you) and what made it special?

My favorite novel of all time is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I first read it in sixth grade and the themes of transformation and rebirth, played out in a mysterious walled garden, are with me still. In a way, I think writers are like secret gardens; we are often quiet and reserved but there are hidden riches within our imaginations just waiting to be unlocked once we find, and use, the key.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

Reading the work of others keeps me fluent in the language of the imagination and the mind. My favorite writer is Annie Dillard, author of the Pulitzer prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. One practical way that I’ve made use of her work is to use it to jumpstart my writing. When I’m feeling dull and uninspired (which is not that uncommon!) I sometimes type out a paragraph or two from Dillard’s work. Something about the poetry and power of her language underneath my tapping fingers acts like gasoline priming an engine and makes the words start to flow.

Tell us a little about your latest release.
Where did you get your inspiration for So Long Status Quo?

When I was a teenager, I was poking around in a gift shop and found a tin sign with Rosie the Riveter and her bulging bicep. I loved it and bought it to display on a bookshelf. Years later I was reading the newspaper and came across a full page department store ad with the Rosie image and for some reason it ignited my imagination. Who was this powerful woman? And who were the real women behind the iconic image? I couldn’t wait to find out. And when I did, it started me on a journey to get to know other women who changed the world. And that changed my life.

Your book deals with women who changed their world and inspired you to change yours. What do you believe is the biggest hindrance to people actually moving to accomplish a change like this?

The biggest hindrance is fear and intimidation. When we compare ourselves to women like Mother Teresa or Harriet Tubman, we feel we can’t possibly do what they did. But what I found out is that each woman I wrote about started with just one small act, trying to help someone or fix something in front of her that just wasn’t right. Mother Teresa started by teaching the alphabet to a few neighborhood children in India. Harriet Tubman started her important work on the Underground Railroad by trying to help her brothers to freedom. Conquering fear is all about changing the world by starting in your own backyard with the tools and opportunities you already have.

Was there ever a time in your life when you wish someone would have shared the tips found in this book with you? Can you tell us about it?

I wish I had started writing earlier in my life, but I felt like I had nothing to say. Now I know that each writer has their own unique voice and message, and no other voice or message is exactly the same. Each writer’s voice is important, valuable, and necessary.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?

The women who changed the world were exactly like us – imperfect! They faced many obstacles in areas such as health, education, opportunity, and family responsibility. You can’t wait until life is perfect before you step out and do something. Mother Teresa put it best: “What we do is just a drop in the ocean, but I don’t want to be the missing drop.”

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

Speaking gigs, blog tours, and social networking are the three areas I’ve concentrated on to get the word out. In particular, Facebook and Twitter offer very cost effective and fun ways to reach out to new readers. Also, for this book I’ve had the opportunity to work with a professional publicist for the first time and she has taught me much about building good relationships within the publishing and reading community.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

I’m working on a book of true and miraculous dog stories for Harvest House; that one will be out sometime next year. Another project in the works involves a fresh look at what Jesus did for women 2000 years ago and what he is doing for women today.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Don’t ever be afraid to start a little adventure!
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Susy is giving away a copy of her book, So Long Status Quo. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!

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