Monday, September 23, 2013

Susan Sloate's STEALING FIRE

In glittery 1980’s Los Angeles, Beau Kellogg, a brilliant lyricist now reduced to writing advertising jingles, yearns for one last Broadway hit to compensate for his miserable marriage and disappointing life.
Amanda Harary, a young singer out of sync with her contemporaries, dreams of appearing in Broadway musicals while she holds down a day job at a small New York hotel.
When the two meet in a late-night phone conversation over the hotel switchboard, it’s the beginning of something neither has ever found—an impossible situation that will bring them both unexpected success, untold joy and piercing heartache... until they learn that some connections, however improbable, are meant to last forever.
STEALING FIRE is, at its heart, a story for romantics everywhere, who believe in the transformative power of love. Today I welcome my friend, Susan Sloate, back to the blog after a long absence.

Susan Sloate is the author or co-author of 20 published books, including 17 young-adult books and the 2003 #6 Amazon bestseller, FORWARD TO CAMELOT (with Kevin Finn), which took honors in 3 literary competitions and was optioned by a Hollywood company for film production. Her most recent novel, STEALING FIRE, hit #2 on the Amazon bestseller list within 24 hours, more than a month before its official publication date. She invented a new genre – the self-help novel – for REALIZING YOU (with Ron Doades), which will be published later this year. FORWARD TO CAMELOT (50th Anniversary Edition) will be published in late October and will include new material added to the original manuscript.

Susan lives outside Charleston, South Ccarolina. Visit her online at

Welcome, Susan.  Give a short synopsis of your most recent book.

Susan, thank you for inviting me to your blog this week! I really appreciate the chance to connect with you and your readers!

My most recent book, STEALING FIRE, is a love story between two unlikely soulmates – a Broadway lyricist/librettist now living in L.A., writing advertising jingles and yearning for more one hit in a theater now dominated by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and a young woman working toward a singing career on Broadway while holding down a day job in a small New York hotel. They clash in their first conversations over the phone but later begin to talk in depth and discover that each has something to offer the other.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

It’s taken me awhile to realize – because I write in multiple genres – that the unifying factor in all my fiction seems to be that the heroine is always some facet of me! (Embarrassing, but true. And I’m sorry to say it’s not hidden – most of my friends can spot it at once!) Amanda in STEALING FIRE is the young me; Cady in FORWARD TO CAMELOT is the idealized version of me – we have lots of similarities but she’s also more glamorous, more resourceful, more courageous – everything I’d love to be. Lindy in THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL (a novel I’m working on) is me at a more mature level. I had no idea for a long time that that was the case. No wonder I was drawn to write all those stories!!

What challenges did you face while writing this book?

STEALING FIRE presented a lot of challenges, because it took me so long to write. I had a relationship very similar to Beau and Amanda’s when I was in my mid-20’s, and it was so painful that I started writing about it. I didn’t have anything in mind at the time; just sat down in front of my IBM Selectric (yes, really) and started typing. This was spring of 1983, and the book is finally being published now, in the summer of 2013 – a 30-year gestation! Crazy!

Anyway, I wrote the way I often write when I’m starting a project – just wrote whatever scene came to mind, no matter where in the story it actually took place. I had no big overview in my mind, just focused on whatever scene I was working on. When I got my first computer in 1988, I re-typed the whole manuscript into the computer – but in those days Word files could only hold so much data, so I put a chapter in each file. What that really meant was that I had no idea how much material I was accumulating. And at some point, I stopped writing because the relationship was long over, the guy was out of my life and I figured I didn’t need to write anymore. And I actually didn’t know how to go on with the book from there. But I never deleted the files. (Writers don’t get rid of anything we write, even if it’s our first kindergarten doodles.) At that point, the challenge was not understanding the relationship enough to stand back and comment on it.

I transferred the files to whatever new computer I got, but left them alone, and then around 1997 found them in a cache of old files on a new computer. At that point I was able to combine the files into one, and incredibly, I had 275 pages of unfinished manuscript there – way too many to discard, and I loved the novel, unfinished and raw as it was. But I still didn’t know how to finish it, and since at that point I thought I’d learned the lessons of the relationship, didn’t see the point of trying. I wasn’t throwing the files out, but I still didn’t know what to do with them.

Then in December 2004, I actually spoke once more to the guy I’d been in love with. He was dying of cancer, but after 20 years of silence, within half a minute on the phone things were just the same as they’d always been – all the chemistry, all the excitement, was right there. Amazing. It brought back joy, but also a lot of pain. And during that short period – about six months that we were in touch – I wrote more pages on STEALING FIRE, because I was beginning to see more of his point of view and learn more of his life, which he’d always kept hidden from me.

Wow! Interesting story, for sure.

He died in 2007, and later that year I heard about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, which was being run for the first time. I could enter STEALING FIRE – if I could get it in coherent shape in about a week. Well, in that week, I cut 100 pages, wrote 100 new pages, did bridges between certain sections, and turned the manuscript in to the contest about 30 minutes before it closed. It still needed work, but it was at that point substantially finished. And being older and having lived through the last of the relationship, I felt I understood much more of the dynamics involved.

The novel made the first cut in the 2008 contest, and when I entered it in the 2012 ABNA contest it made Quarter-Finalist (top 5%). I kept thinking I had to finish and publish it, but until this year, it didn’t happen. Then I finally resolved to get this off my plate once and for all, and when Drake Valley Press approached me to publish it, it seemed like the perfect partnership.

What did you bring to the writing of this book from your own life?

Of course I brought the relationship itself, with all that chemistry and excitement and tenderness. I also brought a lifelong love of the musical theater. My mother had been a singer herself, had lived in New York during the golden era of Broadway musicals – the late ‘40s, early ‘50s – and wanted to sing on Broadway. I grew up on her stories of life in New York at that time, along with all the show scores she knew, and as I grew up and found new scores, I learned those as well. I can still sing most of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, Gershwin, Lerner & Loewe, Jule Styne – this stuff is in my blood.

What’s interesting too is that it’s also in my family. On my father’s side, there was a guy named Fred, who worked in a shoe store but really wanted to write song lyrics. Well, my family didn’t get this – they all started their own businesses, made products, did well financially that way. A songwriter? What was that?

Everyone told Fred to stick with the shoe store job – he might someday become, oh, the manager, or something. But Fred had a partner who wrote songs, and they worked with this young girl who had lots of energy and a great voice. They did this off-Broadway show together that flopped.

But the family stopped teasing Fred the night he got them house seats for his new Broadway musical, CABARET. It was a huge hit, and Fred and his partner, John Kander, went on to write CHICAGO, ALL THAT JAZZ, FUNNY LADY and a song called “New York, New York”, which did pretty well. The woman who introduced that song was the young girl he’d worked with all those years ago, Liza Minnelli. And Kander & Ebb are considered legends in the musical theater.

What do you think is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about writing so far? What advice can you give new writers?

If I have to choose one piece of advice, I’ll side with Stephen King: learn your craft. Learn what the components of a story are, and find stories that do those well and those that do them badly – and understand the difference. Then work at doing it yourself, and keep doing it, to refine your craft and constantly get better.

It is not professional to say that you’ve got an artistic temperament and you just want to fly by the seat of your pants and be creative. You certainly should do that at times – it’s great for you creatively – but you should also know how to spell. Know how to punctuate. These are the tools of your craft. Don’t leave them to someone else (who might also get them wrong, and make you look like an amateur). I’m very picky about how words look on a page – in fact, I’m convinced that part of the pleasure of the reader’s experience is how he or she sees the words on the page – so I’m careful about paragraphing, sentence structure, all that stuff. It’s not thrilling, but I want readers to want to read my books over and over, and if the word placement on the page enhances that experience, I think they will.  It’s a pleasure to provide a good reading experience for my readers.

I also suggest always that you understate rather than overstate – and speaking of that, don’t ever use the word ‘state’! It implies terrific weight to the words being stated, so unless you have a sentence like “The meaning of life is ______,” he stated, I don’t think you can ever use it well.

We all know how important promoting our work has become. How do you get the word out both off and online?

I post regularly on Facebook, less often on Twitter and LinkedIn (I know I should, but I don’t, alas). I also blog – my blog site is, and the title of my blog is Let the Word Go Forth.

I’m starting virtual book tours – a chance to visit a lot of websites, each for one day, where readers gather to learn about new books. I’ll be doing a couple of those tours in September and October – a new experience for me. I’m guest blogging here and with some other author friends. Also looking for both professional and customer reviews for Amazon, B&N and Goodreads. And I’m speaking at conferences and libraries in North and South Carolina.

Can you tell us your future writing goals/projects?

There’s an upcoming sequel to FORWARD TO CAMELOT, where my heroine Cady (who helps save JFK from assassination in the first book) takes on her next challenge – competing as a celebrity on a live television ballroom-dance competition. But the time travel she did in CAMELOT has affected what’s happening in the world now, and it’s somehow connected with the fact that a lot of people on her show are turning up dead …

I want to finish THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, and I also have some young-adult fiction series I want to write – one is a boys’ mystery series based on the personalities of my two sons, and one is about the world of 1950’s New York, which my mother impressed on me in childhood. So there’s a lot on my plate in the next couple of years.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Please visit my website, And my blog –

I love visitors to my site and I’m happy to answer further questions!

Are your books available in print and ebook formats? 

STEALING FIRE, FORWARD TO CAMELOT and REALIZING YOU will all be available in all eBook formats, as well as in paperback.

Here’s the eBook link for STEALING FIRE on Amazon: