While some authors may choose to leave their writing and real lives unattached, many make use of their experiences to further enhance the stories they wish to tell. Recently I had the opportunity of getting to know Susan Calder, a very inspirational woman who almost seamlessly integrates her background into her books. Susan moved from Montreal to Calgary in 1996, and is the author of two mystery novels. She has also won contests for many of her short stories and poems.
- On your website, I read you grew up in Montreal and since you moved to Calgary, have set the city as a backdrop for many of your stories. Why did Calgary in particular stand out to you to write about?
I set my first two novels and many of my short stories in Calgary because I’m familiar with the place and can easily research specific locations. I also have BA in Urban Studies and am intrigued by magnet cities, that is, places that people move to for opportunity or escape. When I moved to Calgary in 1996, the city was starting to boom. It soon seemed like everyone in Canada was heading here or had family and friends who had made the trek. Also, Calgary is a relatively blank slate compared to Montreal, which is drenched in history and baggage. I like the notion of people wanting a fresh start and recreating themselves.
- What is the leading source of inspiration for your writing?
My experiences in life inspire what I write. This includes the good and bad that has happened to me, everything I’ve done and read, people I’ve met and places I’ve lived in or have visited. Somehow it all gets jumbled into the germ of an idea, which evolves into a story and themes that resonate with me. For instance, one of my themes seems to be the need to pursue the truth, at all costs. This is one reason I’m drawn to the murder mystery genre. The sleuth must find out who did it, at the risk of getting herself killed.
- What advice would you give to writers trying to tackle the murder mystery genre?
Two things initially kept me away from writing a mystery novel. One was my belief that it was necessary to outline the whole story in advance. How can you write a murder mystery without knowing who did it and everything that led up to the crime? I discovered that you can and this process works best for me. If you aren’t a writer who likes to outline, just write the story and let one thing lead to another to produce an organic plot. My second difficulty was my lack of knowledge about police work. If you have experience in something related to crime, use it. Readers like inside knowledge and your story and characters will come across as realistic. In my case, I didn’t initially intend my sleuth’s insurance job to be significant to the stories. Only later did I realize that my former work experience would be her niche. And finally, good luck!
If there’s one thing I learned from conversing with Susan, it is that the world around you is the best source of information. Whether that be about your profession, the city you live in, the people you know; Susan demonstrates that by making use of your experiences throughout your lifetime, you can craft both relatable and enthralling tales that can continually capture the hearts of readers, no matter the genre you decide to dabble in. Keep a look out for her forthcoming novel, To Catch a Fox, in February 2019!