Welcome to Kala’s Quick Five, where I chat with authors, artists, teachers and researchers and ask them five questions about their work.
My guest today is Susan Sloate, author of Stealing Fire. The description provided for the book states that… 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.
At the same time, Amanda Harary, a young, idealistic singer out of synch with her contemporaries, dreams of appearing on Broadway, while she holds down a demanding job at a small New York hotel.
When the older man and younger woman meet in a late night phone conversation over the hotel’s switchboard, it is the beginning of something neither has ever found—an impossible situation that will bring them each 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.
Kala: Hi Susan, Welcome to Kala’s Bohemian Blog and to the Quick Five.
Susan: Thanks, Kala, it’s so good to be here!
Kala: Do you believe in Soul Mates? If yes, do you believe that each person only has one soul mate?
Susan: I absolutely do believe in soul mates! That’s really what STEALING FIRE is about, unlikely soul mates who nonetheless have a connection so deep it’s impossible to ignore. In the case of my lovers, they’re separated both geographically and by age, yet something that happens in my heroine’s childhood bonds her to the hero so closely that before they even meet, she is connected to him. I think we can pick up tremendous signals early in our lives–and I mean sometimes in early childhood–that are more powerful than we realize and that stick with us forever. When you meet someone later who harks back to those connections, it’s just too powerful to ignore.
I also believe that all of us have more than one soul mate, and that we’ll meet more than one in this life, but there’s only one in each life whom we’re supposed to be with romantically. The other ‘soul mates’ we meet are in the form of close family members, close friends and colleagues who will help us grow tremendously, but with whom we won’t want to be involved romantically (or not for the rest of our lives). I’ve met a number of people like this, and what they’ve all done, without fail, is help me grow closer to my best self. They’ve supported me in my career, in my personal life and in my spiritual journey, and I can point to each of those people as having a tremendous effect on the person I’ve become. One of my favorite soul mates–unfortunately no longer with us–is my friend Robbie Branscum, a brilliant author who published 23 young-adult books in her lifetime and won the Edgar for Best Juvenile Mystery, along with a slew of other awards. Robbie read the very earliest pages of STEALING FIRE, years ago, and never stopped badgering me after that to finish it. She loved this book and wanted it finished and published. So she’s one of the two people I dedicated it to, because without her constant, loving support, I know I would never have finished it.
Kala: You’ve been a sportswriter, screenwriter and managed two political campaigns in your career. What has led you to writing romance and did these careers assist you in your writing?
Susan: Actually, I don’t believe that I write romance. STEALING FIRE is a mainstream love story, not a category romance, and I never thought of it that way. I think it’s more like the type of books Nicholas Sparks writes, or a standalone book like The Bridges of Madison County. It’s meant to appeal to people who don’t usually pick up a romance novel, and it’s about characters who wouldn’t be staples in romance fiction. This particular story just happens to be a love story set in the world of 1980’s Broadway musicals. But the second part of my answer is also that I was a published author first. Sports writing, screenwriting and managing political campaigns were not things that I did BEFORE this. I’ve been a published author since 1988, when I had my first book contract for my first young-adult novel, a girls’ series called BLUE RIBBON about girls training for Olympic dressage. (I wrote the last book in the series, titled “The Main Event”.) All the other writing I did was in conjunction with that, a way to get paid for sitting down and putting words on the page. Learning screenwriting and story structure may have been the most helpful part of that process: I learned how to literally put a story together and why one worked and another one didn’t. So I feel pretty confident that now, when I create a story for a novel, it’ll be structurally sound. As for managing the two political campaigns, which happened just in the last few years, I took time from my writing to do that, and I can’t think of a good reason why, except I was too dumb, when the candidate asked me, to say no! But as with most of my life experience, it was worth doing, and I’m turning the experience into a novel; that one is called THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL and is about a campaign manager and her candidate during an intense political campaign.
Kala: Do you think it’s important to write about what you know? As in this case, do you know your soul mate? Or is it equally important to write about what you wish to know and understand at a deeper level?
Susan: I think, more than personal experience, that it’s important to write about something that fascinates and compels you. That may not be something in your life; it may be something you wish to experience, and in the journey you take as a writer, it’s amazing how much of that you WILL experience. I have another novel coming out this fall, written with my co-author, Kevin Finn, FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition. That one is about time travel involving the JFK assassination (and the 50th anniversary of that event is this fall, hence our subtitle). I certainly have not experienced time travel, though I’d love to. But the Kennedy assassination happened when I was six, and it has reverberated with me in a very personal way. That novel is my answer to those feelings, and though we did a ton of research to get the details of the book right when we first wrote and published it ten years ago (it’s been revised for this new edition), it was really a wish-fulfillment kind of story for me. It was something I WANTED to happen that I couldn’t possibly make happen, but I did feel compelled to write it.
As for my own soul mate, STEALING FIRE is the most personal book I’ve ever written. It really is the story, with minor details changed, of a relationship I had many years ago. I wasn’t living in New York, like my heroine Amanda, and I wasn’t trying to be a Broadway singer, and the man I loved wasn’t a Broadway lyricist and didn’t live in L.A. But the emotional connection between us was exactly the same connection Beau and Amanda have in my story. As Beau and Amanda were unlikely soul mates, so were we. He had tremendous issues with the idea of being involved with a woman so much younger, and there other complications as well, including–yes–the fact that he was married. But I think he kept trying to tell himself the situation wasn’t as powerful as it was, and that worked when he wasn’t with me; he could pretend it was just a mistake. Whenever we were together in the same room, the emanations were so powerful that everyone saw them. It was impossible to hide. And he didn’t want to be away from me. So eventually, not wanting to change his life, he ran away from me, which caused me terrible pain. It was while I was actually experiencing the pain of that relationship that I started writing STEALING FIRE, in 1983 (yes, it took 30 years to write!). I certainly wasn’t writing the book all that time; I put it away for long periods of time, convinced it had nothing to teach me and there was no point in really finishing it; it wasn’t relevant to my life anymore. But I never deleted the pages and finally felt compelled to finish it.
The man I loved did in fact teach me a great deal about writing, supported my writing career, and insisted I read some good literature to become a better writer. He introduced me to a lot that’s remained with me all these years. He just couldn’t handle the fact that our feelings were so strong and could not be contained as ‘friends’.
As a quick PS, I finally did speak to that man again, 20 years after we had a violent break-up. Within a minute on the phone, our relationship was exactly as it had been, and we talked for HOURS. But he still clung to his idea that his marriage was wonderful (it wasn’t) and his wife was his soul mate. And when I sent him the manuscript of STEALING FIRE, his response after reading it was, “I couldn’t find an interesting character or storyline.” Which should give you an idea of how much in denial he still was about us. Nonetheless, I consider him still to be one of the most significant relationships of my life, and I’m convinced his influence and what he taught me will lead me eventually to the man I should spend the rest of my life with.
Kala: Your book deals with aging, marital affairs, feeling out of touch with the world, and the stress and strains of marriage and relationships. Do you believe in a happily ever after? Are marriages supposed to last for a lifetime or can they?
Susan: I’m a big believer in happily ever after. I’ve seen it happen for too many people not to believe it’s possible, but it only works if you’re really with a soul mate. Otherwise, modern life being what it is, it’s too easy for our world, our culture, to impede and break you up. The right marriages can certainly last for a lifetime, but I’m beginning to think that you’re likelier to find it with a second mate, not necessarily your first. And that’s usually because we often marry without knowing enough of ourselves to determine whether the person in question is really a soul-deep connection for us. We tell ourselves, ‘oh, he’s so good to me’ or ‘we have so much in common’, but that’s not soul mates. Those things are wonderful, but that’s not the deciding factor in whether someone is a soul mate. I find that small bonds you have in common — liking the same song, the same kind of food, the same book — is a lot likelier to be a key to whether that person is a soul mate. It’s not just the big thing; it’s the little ones, too.
Kala: It appears that many young women these days are putting off marriage in favor of their careers and personal goals. TV shows like Mad Men show how women were treated as objects and rarely respected if they stepped out of their tightly created roles as a wife, mother or secretary. Do you feel that society is in the process of redefining relationships and how they work?
Susan: I think more people are coming around to the idea that it’s worthwhile to wait for the RIGHT person, not just the best person who shows up at the time. I know there was a lot of pressure on young women to marry by a certain age many years ago; if you didn’t you were considered a spinster, unwanted, and there was a stigma attached. Now that’s not the case. We do have more choices (though I also applaud those women who choose to make their careers about raising their families). Now, except for having children, and many women are waiting longer for them as well, there’s no real specific pressure to get married. More people, I think, are choosing to wait, and I hope a lot of them are more concerned with their own growth (which is likelier to bring you to your soul mate) than with satisfying a societal dictate. I’ve been divorced fairly recently, and I’m determined, before I get into another relationship, to be sure that the person I want to BE is the one meeting these new guys. Rather than rush into trying to meet new people, I’m more concerned with working on myself, my career and most important, my understanding of who I am. That hasn’t always been fun–coming face to face with your own flaws can be really painful–but I think it’s necessary, if I’m ever to be clear about what kind of man I’m really looking for, someone who can love and embrace the me I’m trying to be.
Kala: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today Susan, appreciate your time.
Susan: Thank YOU, Kala! I always love talking about soul mates!
About my guest Susan Sloate: Susan Sloate is the author or co-author of more than 20 published books, including Realizing You (with Ron Doades), for which she created a new genre, the self-help novel, 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. The much-anticipated reprint, Forward to Camelot (50th Anniversary Edition), will be published by Drake Valley Press in October 2013. She has written young-adult fiction and non-fiction, including the children’s biography Ray Charles: Find Another Way!, which was honored in the 2007 Children’s Moonbeam Book Awards. Mysteries Unwrapped: The Secrets of Alcatraz led to her 2009 appearance on the TV series MysteryQuest on The History Channel. Amelia Earhart: Challenging the Skies is a perennial young-adult Amazon bestseller. She has also been a sportswriter and screenwriter, managed two recent political campaigns, and founded an author’s festival in her hometown outside Charleston, SC Stealing Fire was a Quarter-Finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and combines autobiographical experience with Susan’s lifelong love of the musical theater. She is proud to be related to Broadway legend Fred Ebb, the lyricist for Cabaret, Chicago, All That Jazz and New York, New York. Visit Susan online at http://susansloate.com.