Social media is a powerful thing. Instagram is how I “met” Suzanne Spiegoski, author of the recently published The Fisherman’s Lily. We both have ridiculously handsome German Shepherds that we take pictures of and when I learned that she had a book coming out, she graciously offered to send me a copy.
The Fisherman’s Lily is a cat and mouse kind of detective story. Detective Lily Dietz is trying to piece together the mystery surrounding the potentially linked deaths of young women found in the city. Something about the deaths is linked and when she realizes that it’s personal, that the person behind these crimes is after her, the story takes on a whole new dimension.
I asked Suzanne if she would be willing to answer some questions because it’s not very often that I get the chance to interview an actual author and luckily, she agreed! Here are her answers to some questions I asked her about the book, writing and dogs, obviously.
Paperback Princess: Lily Dietz is a pretty kick ass detective. She doesn’t take any crap, she believes in justice but she also wants to get things done so she breaks the rules occasionally. Do you see a lot of yourself in Lily? Is it important to you to create a female character like that?
Suzanne Spiegoski: I would like to think many writers’ characters are parts of them, bits and pieces if you will. A mixture of who we’d like or perhaps fantasize to be, of what and who we see in our surroundings, and who we are outside of being a writer. And then you add these life experiences with an imagination and you come out some kind of firstborn creation. I guess that’s who Lily is to me, and what makes her very important is she is the very first fictional character I’ve crafted but like anyone she has chinks in her armor. She’s an alcoholic suffering from manic depression- reckless with an explosive temper, but she is also strong-willed with a good heart. Like most women of today, Lily endures the daily struggles of balancing her work life with a personal one but while battling with a mental illness makes the pressures of doing it all especially when choosing a career path such as hers, not an easy one. She might come across to some as off-putting, but I think it’s important that regardless it being a character or someone in real-life, women should always be themselves – 100% real and not afraid to hide from that. Embracing who you are rather than trying to be someone who you’re not is an empowering learning experience, growing not only yourself but even with characters you’ve created, whether from real life or outside of it; like in dreams or other influences from like films, music, books, photographs, paintings, sculptures… art.
PBP: The Fisherman’s Lily centers on a pretty dark crime spree – can you talk a little bit about what it was like to write that? I’m thinking particularly of one scene where Tang is alone with Su Pak at his home. How did you come up with something like that?
SS: It’s not for the squeamish that’s for sure! I like to write what I like to read, and have always been strongly pulled toward the crime world, (I even have a B.A. in Criminal Justice). Horror and violence exist in this world and is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Though of course I don’t advocate these things in real life, I believe we all have a dark side and I really wanted to explore that within myself and share it. I spent a lot of time researching serial killers, most especially on their cognitive behaviors because as much fun as it is to shock the reader I did want accuracy, no matter the evil or intensity. I really wanted to express in visual terms and leave the reader with a chill up their spine while exploring a world that is unnatural and disturbing. The novel has its very gruesome parts it is also a story about the test of family bonds, complex relationships, guilt and loss, mental illness and the city of New York.
PBP: While I was reading, I had a really easy time visualizing the scenes – did you write a bit more cinematically on purpose or is that something that you realized when you were done?
SS: Oh, definitely deliberate. I’m also a photographer and am an extremely visual person, so when the idea to write the book came about, I really wanted to make it more a story of being told, rather than shown. The idea of it being translated into a movie has always been open to me and has been from the beginning. It’s funny because when I began writing this I immediately developed a whole cast of actors that I thought would resonate well with the characters and to stimulate my creativity. I even created inspiration boards of photos, short bios and settings interlinking everything together.
PBP: Lily has a German Shepherd, just like you and I. I loved that he was such a big character in the book – is he based on your real life dog? Why do you think dogs don’t figure more in fiction this way?
SS: No, I wish! My real life German Shepherd, McQueen, came into my life after I had finish writing the book. However, I have always been deeply connected to the breed and have had a special bond with them since I was a child. Lily’s GS, Cuffs, is actually based on a long fulfilled wish that finally came true. As a child, I beg and pleaded with my parents for one and no matter what I tried their answer was always no. From that, the fantasy of ‘Cuffs’ was originated and would be the name of my first male dog, but when I met my real life dog, he didn’t fit the mold. He is devastatingly handsome, cool and charismatic- easily adored like Steve McQueen! Plus the famous actor and I share the same birthday.
I’m an avid dog lover. Even my own dad called me ‘dog woman’. I think the reason why dogs aren’t used as characters as often in novels as it can be is because they (any kind of animal) can make inadequate narrators. The great character in dogs is they don’t lie or misrepresent, or keep secrets, and they’re not deceiving. I think it’s up to the reader to expand the imagination and capacity to be just as open as dogs are when it comes to love when soaking in the characters they are reading in a fictional body of work. One of my personal favorite novels using a dog as one of its main characters is David Wroblewski’s, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a story about dogs but more about what even us writers have difficulty writing about: the human condition. I think the usage of dogs or any animals can sometimes be a wonderful way of articulating feelings you may find impossible doing with human characters. Did I mention I love dogs? 😉
PBP: What does your writing process look like? Do you have a ritual? A favourite place to write? A snack that you have to have?
SS: To me, my writing is a slow and lengthy process. My first novel took me approximately four years to complete. To me, there are two different kinds of ways to write. The first one is to plan, plan, plan- to it’s every last detail. The second is more bohemian- you kind of just let the writing take you where it leads you. Less planned. The Fisherman’s Lily was the latter. I didn’t have everything laid out and I really wanted to complete my first novel this way because that’s how the first ideas initiated. Out of nowhere. Once I figured out what I wanted write my first novel about, then came the research and finally the writing begins. And let’s not forget all the bumps in the road during, and just before you think you’re finished, you’ve only completed your first draft! Editing and refining a body of work also takes a lot of time. The whole process requires a ton of discipline and commitment, and I think I developed a pretty good sense of work ethic early on in life from my figure skating days. On top of that it also takes plenty of determination and support to keep going as a writer. I do try to make it a habit to read and write every day, and I do tend to write stories from beginning, to middle and then the end. I like to be a tad orderly in terms of an outline for a story, as I don’t like to bounce around, though I’m not against trying this particular style.
My writing ritual is always, first and foremost, in one single isolated condition. I only write in my writing studio at home alone, in the early afternoon, on a Mac computer, (sometimes an Olympia typewriter when feeling extra sentimental or blue) listening to classical music and the occasional soundtrack or original score to a movie. I used to smoke like a chimney when writing (I know, I know), but have been cigarette-free for over 2.5 years! Now it’s only the other bad habit: anything caffeinated is always at my desk! I’m not much of a snacker when I write, but when I take my short breaks it’s usually eating what ever is left in the fridge followed by searching through Pinterest on what to make for dinner! I’m a total foodie at heart!
PBP: We all know that writers are the biggest readers. What kinds of books do you like to read? Favourite authors? Any books that inspired your own work?
SS: I love many genres of fiction, but my favorite is crime. Some of my favorite authors (in no particular order) are Thomas Harris, Jeffrey Deaver, Stephen King, Tana French, Kyung-sook Shin, Haruki Murakami, John Steinbeck, Charles Baudelaire and John Keats. Two books I would say are inspired in my own work are definitely The Silence of the Lambs and The Bone Collector. Thomas Harris and Jeffrey Deaver were the first two crime authors who heavily influenced my deep love affair with the genre. Stephen King, however, is the first author who made me consider even the possibility of becoming a writer. I read Carrie when I was 10 and loved how much it freaked me out. He is the one to thank for all those sleepless nights reading his books with a flashlight underneath the covers as a kid! I still get that same rush when I read his work, and I really do aspire to bring the same kind of feeling to the readers of my work.
PBP: This novel does have an ending, in the sense that this case is wrapped up. But I get the sense that Lily isn’t finished. You are currently working on your second novel – will we see more Lily?
SS: I am currently working on my second novel and all I can say right now is you definitely haven’t seen the last of her! Stay tuned…
How great a name is McQueen for a dog?? I can definitely see the influence of The Silence of the Lambs in your work – readers, you’ve been warned. The Fisherman’s Lily is available now! Thanks again for your time Suzanne!