Susan Coll

Susan Coll, author of The Stager

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON January 05, 2016

Discussion

Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
Hello and happy New Year! I’m Susan Coll, an novelist whose most recent book is The Stager, a dark comedy about real estate and…rabbits. I also work at Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, DC, where I am the events and programs director. I’m happy to talk about my own work, or about talking rabbits, or about books and the book business and what’s forthcoming in 2016.
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
@susan_coll Which stories you tell yourself have you conformed to?
Lejla Bajgoric@lejlahunts · Intern, Product Hunt
Thanks for being here Susan! Favorite reads of 2015/what books are you most looking forward to being released in 2016?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@lejlahunts Hey Lejla. I loved all the conversations sparked by Fates and Furies. Obama's favorite book of the year---interesting choice. It's been fun to watch the success of that book, especially since Lauren Groff is so lovely in person. But it's been equally fun to listen to the disagreements that it's sparked. There is a great podcast on Slate about this. 2015 was such a busy year in publishing that it's hard to whittle it down, but I liked, in the nonfiction category, Strangers Drowning by Larissa McFarqquhar--- a book about extreme empathy. It made me question my assumptions about giving. In early 2016, there's Elizabeth Strout's new novel which is getting great reviews. We are having her in the store in a couple of weeks. And a memoir from Greywolf by Paul Lisicky, The Narrow Door, is very good. That's just January.
QueenLear@queenleariv · ConnectionAgent-Co-Founder @ButtonPoetry
@susan_coll @lejlahunts just have to give some love to Greywolf Press. Great choice/great author.
Lynne Brenner Ganek@lynne_brenner_ganek
@susan_coll Where do you do most of your writing, for example, in the bathtub like Trumbo?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@lynne_brenner_ganek Hey Lynne, funny, I saw Trumbo and was just thinking about that. I actually do most of my reading in the bath but with a laptop I'm not sure I'd dare to try writing. That looked pretty romantic though, right? But more boringly, I just write in whatever quiet spot I can find, usually at home at the kitchen table or in a home office.
Lars Townsend@lars_townsend
If you could be any literary character (not one of your own) who would you be? Somehow now I'm picturing you as Grendle, but I'm pretty sure I'm off base.
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@lars_townsend I am very flattered to be pictured as Grendle. Very furry and fanged and fierce. I have to admit all of my favorite literary characters are kind of tragic. I don't want to BE Holly Golightly but I feel like I totally get her. Ditto for Nicole Diver---a total mess, but I can see her there on a raft in the Riviera wearing pearls, and it's pretty romantic, sans the nervous breakdown and suicide attempt part :) What about you, Lars?
Lars Townsend@lars_townsend
@susan_coll Hmmm... I've always had a soft spot for Edmund Tyrone from "A Long Day's Journey Into Night," or maybe Sauron from "The Lord of the Rings" (purely because I think I could do a better job at being an all consuming evil). Hmmm... Then again "Buffalo Bill from the Silence of the Lambs" would be fun simply because the line "It puts the lotion on the skin" is simply so, malevolent, misogynistic, and twisted. Hmmm... Or maybe Oedipus, I mean if you leave out the sleeping with his mother / killing his father parts / eye stabbing bits, the whole tragic nobility part would be fun.
Lars Townsend@lars_townsend
@susan_coll You're right, tragic is kind of great.
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@lars_townsend That should be a bumper sticker. Tragic is kind of great.
Lars Townsend@lars_townsend
@susan_coll You do strike fear into the hearts of anglo saxons.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@susan_coll thanks so much for joining us today Susan. Big fan of yours, my question is; with every new piece of writing, how do you approach it mentally? Do you write by chapter by page, purely on flow and rhythm of mind? How do you deal with writers block? Thanks so much again
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@harrystebbings Hey thanks, Harry! I wish I had a clean answer to this, but the process is usually kind of a mess. I begin with an idea and a vision, but I'm not great at plotting, so my general method is to write myself into a wall, back up, and drive into a new wall. It works out eventually but if I had a better plan I could save myself a lot of time and head injuries!
Stephanie Doyle@stephanie_doyle
@susan_coll @harrystebbings Not too many novels grab me anymore, and keep me engaged, but The Stager was a definite winner. And it seems that I approach painting in a way similar to your writing process, diving into walls and such. Thank you for the writing!!
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@stephanie_doyle @harrystebbings Hey Stephanie, thanks for this. Yes, there must be a better way than driving into walls, but it still eludes me. I can imagine how the painting process is the same.
Hash_tag_jeff@jeffumbro · Book Marketing and PR - get in touch
Hi @susan_coll - What are some of your favorite books? Who doesn't sell well, but you wish did? If you could get any author at P&P, who would it be? Who are you most excited to come to P&P in 2016? Who was it in 2015?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@jeffumbro Hi Jeff---great questions! We could do an entire live chat on this one. We are really excited to have Don DeLillo coming in 2016 -- I'd put him down as one of my favorite authors and our events team is thrilled about this. I think the toughest sell is literary fiction---or at least that's the case in Washington DC. We sell it well in the store but people don't always turn out for events. Ditto for poetry. 2015 was amazing---so many great books were out in the fall and we had a record breaking events season. One highlight was a lovely event for Lauren Groff in conjunction with PEN/Faulkner. We also had Patti Smith, Gloria Steinem, and Tahnesi Coates. I could go on and on...
Dona Patrick@cedarwaxwing · Web accessibility specialist, ICFI
@susan_coll Hi Susan! I love how you use your surroundings (and experiences) in your books (mostly because I know the places and some of the events you write about). It looks like The Stager will be the same. Thanks! (sorry, no question!)
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@cedarwaxwing Hi Dona, thanks for the observation. It's true; I am a sponge of sorts in my writing. Some day I'll stretch a bit perhaps, add a martian and a space ship and...a talking rabbit.
Lars Townsend@lars_townsend
@susan_coll Hey Susan, how's life?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@lars_townsend Lars! I am here in Condo land, where we miss you!
Lars Townsend@lars_townsend
@susan_coll @lars_townsend Miss all of you too, say hi.
Lee Adair Lawrence@lee_adair_lawrence
Hi Susan -- Enjoyed The Stager and am eager to know what you are working on now.
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@lee_adair_lawrence Hey Lee! Good question. I have a piece of a novel going, and a piece of a memoir, and not sure which will see the light of day. Mostly my day job keeps me too busy to think about this. What about you?
Lee Adair Lawrence@lee_adair_lawrence
@susan_coll @lee_adair_lawrence I think the only way for you to decide is to come up to Brookyn for a visit. We have all the answers here.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
@susan_coll thanks for joining us! How did you first get into writing? Was there one story or event that first inspired you or it was this more gradual?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@ems_hodge Hi Emily, thanks for the question and for putting up with my inability to parse time zones! I have always wanted to write. I don't think there was a particular story that inspired me as much as a love of reading. I remember reading William Boyd's A Good Man in Africa and thinking, I loved reading that book, and I want to write a book like that. That's still how I keep myself going. Reading fuels the writing, always.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hi, Susan! Book publishing has changed a lot over the years. How has tech changed the way you write and/or market your book (if at all)?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@rrhoover Hi Ryan, it definitely has changed. This live chat being exhibit A. I think there is much more pressure on authors to market themselves and to be active on social media, something I'm slowly coming to grips with. The only way that I think tech has changed the writing itself is---and this sounds ridiculous but I think it's true---it's a bit harder to create a sense of mystery, plot-wise. Characters are presumed to always be connected by tech. If one character doesn't know where another is, you have to explain why. What happened to the cell phone or the Facebook page or the Twitter feed? There's no way to leave tech or social media out of a contemporary novel, and it's really interesting to read new books that are set in an earlier era, even if it's only marginally earlier, like Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told you, set in the 1970s. A character disappears---much harder to write or explain now without bringing in tech.
Lee Adair Lawrence@lee_adair_lawrence
On a more serious note -- quick follow-up. Job, novel, memoire -- any tips at all on how to manage the juggling act? even tips you might not yourself always successfully follow.
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@lee_adair_lawrence Ha! Well on a day when I feel I am not managing any of it very successfully..I would say I just try to have a schedule that I stick to, for the most part. Even if I just write for an hour a day, that adds up. I think one has to break it all down into manageable portions.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
@susan_coll What has your been your biggest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@ems_hodge Hi Emily. Each book is it's own new challenge, but the biggest challenge overall is to remind myself that I write because I love writing, and not because I expect any particular reward. I feel very lucky to do work that I love, and I always advise new writers to be sure they are doing it for the right reason. I think authors who are in it for the money or the glory are in for a tough road unless they are one of the lucky few---and even then it can be hard to sustain.
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · PMM @Twitter // Previously @ProductHunt
How have you seen tablet reading affect your book sales personally?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@andrewmettinger Hi Andrew---great question: at the bookstore we have seen e-book sales plateau. People still want to hold a book in their hands, or they are hybrid readers. I'm a sort of hybrid reader myself---I have come to love audio books since I can read a book while walking to work or sitting in traffic. I've also learned that you can speed up a book, which is pretty amusing, to have someone speed read to you when you need to power through. But I love physical books and I always have one in hand. As an author I'm not sure I care which format people buy. But as a bookstore employee, well I have strong opinions and you don't want to get me started on that subject. I can be tiresome :)
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@susan_coll I have long admired your writing so greatly, and wonder how you think you've evolved as a novelist. Do they get easier? Do you think the act of having written one helps the next/is connected in any way? Or is each experience unique?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
@cmschroed Hey Chris. Thanks for getting me this live tweet gig! :) Each project is its own new challenge. It doesn't seem to get any easier somehow, although I do feel like I keep growing. I guess I'm setting the bar higher each time, which makes it more of a challenge. What do you think, as a writer?
Susan Keselenko Coll@susan_coll · Novelist, dark humorist, book nerd
Thank you all for joining me in this delightful mid-day distraction! Great questions, all. Now back to work, right?
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What was the writing process like?
How closely based on real life people are your characters?