An interview with Suzanne Palmieri, author of The Witch of Little Italy, The Witch of Belladonna Bay, co-author of I'll Be Seeing You and Empire Girls (writing as Suzanne Hayes) and the soon to be released The Witch of Bourbon Street.
Suzanne Palmieri is engaging, empowering, and inspiring, and her books have us all believe in the power of our own personal magic.
Q: When did you write your first book and how old were you?
It's so funny, really. I have a folder from when I was in high school called "novels". None of them were ever finished, and I didn't even remember I'd started any until I was unpacking some things a few years ago. My life got very real when I was very young, so I think I pushed a lot of the writing aside for more pragmatic things. So the actual answer is: I wrote my first novel in 2008. I was 38 years old. That novel is actually being published (with a heavy revision!) in 2016! I wrote three novels before I was contracted by Saint Martin's Press and Mira Books. I just love writing, I would be writing no matter what… publication or no publication. It is such a joy.
Q: What does your writing process look like?
Sometimes I think I don't have a writing process, but the more novels I write, the clearer it gets. I go on extensive writing/editing jags where everyone knows I'm sort of "not around" for everyday things. I am completely consumed by the world and the characters in the stories. Because I'm lucky enough to be under a multiple book contract, the process is cyclical. I am writing and touring over the summer, editing in the fall, and promoting in the spring. It's been a wild, wild ride!
Q: Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
When I'm in one of those "jags" I can't even remember to eat! So I suppose that's a strange writing habit. Other than that… pajamas. I really like writing in my pajamas. And though I edit at my desk, I don't like writing there… I prefer to take my laptop and curl up somewhere soft and quiet.
Q: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
I think the biggest challenge, for me, is doing the story justice. I'm an avid reader, and so I'm my worst critic. Sometimes there is a storyline or a moment, or a conversation, or even a character that I can't seem to get exactly right. That is the hardest part, feeling like I left something undone or not complete. And I feel that way about each book I write. That somehow I could have made scenes fuller or switched a character around. I suppose that's part of the process too. I just realized that the answer to this question is TIME. I feel like I could always use more time.
Q: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I was surprised at how many books are published each year, and how much marketing goes into getting our novels "seen" in a world where there are so many fine novels that go "unseen". I was and continue to be really lucky with the marketing, sales, and publicity teams that I have the privilege to work with… but I found out things inside the publishing industry that were very surprising. Like, for example, publishers pay for "space" at many bookstores. Space on the tables, and even whether your novel is facing cover out on the shelves. I'm grateful I found these things out AFTER I saw my books on tables… but still, it's daunting when you really think about it.
In terms of the writing, I'm always surprised when I type "the end" because each day there is a part of me that is terrified I'll never finish. But I always do… and I'm always surprised!
Q: Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
Thank you so much for that incredible compliment! And thank you for asking this question. I am a #readerfirst and I have many authors who inspire me: Lady Alice Hoffman (I put "Lady" there because that is how I feel about her… she is the first lady of storytelling as far as I'm concerned…), Stephen King (he is the KING of character creation… he can fully flesh out a character in a short paragraph, it's incredible.) L.M Montgomery (We all need a little Anne in our lives), Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden. I named my main character in The Witch of Bourbon Street (Summer 2015) Frances for exactly that reason. It was that book, when I was ten years old, that changed my life. Goodness, so many authors! Bradbury, Roy, Kingsolver, Lamb…. I just love to read.
Q: If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Oh, I don't know! I suppose I'd just like the whole cast of LOST or Once Upon a Time to be considered! Part of the fun, I think, of having your books considered for film is seeing how other people interpret the books. When a book is finished and on the shelves, I consider it a thing of "The World".. meaning, I don't own it exclusively anymore. So there's that!
Q: How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
As a reader, I have been known to put a book down if the names don't ring true in a book! So, I'm VERY careful with the names I use. I don't like "time-stamping" so I tend to use "timeless" names. A well chosen character name can do half the work of helping you establish that character for a reader. I mean, names like "Maria" or "Delphine" (these are two characters in the book I'm writing now…) can give the reader a good visual of that character, and that helps cut down on the long, descriptive paragraphs. I could write a book about how important names are. So I'll stop rambling.
Q: What do you consider to be your best accomplishment to date?
My daughters! I mean that. I know it's an overstated cliche, but everything I have ever done or will ever do is for them. When I look at them… growing and blossoming into young women I am overwhelmed with peace. No matter what happens, they know they are cherished. They are safe. They have a home. That's the biggest thing for me. I'm lost. They don't have to be.
Q: What are your current projects?
Right now I'm rewriting my first novel. That one will be published in 2016 and it's a haunted house family saga! I'm also writing a Suzanne Hayes book that is focused on family and history and is set in New England and Florida spanning the years 1918-1970. And of course, putting the final touches on The Witch of Bourbon Street which will hit shelves May 19th 2015!
Q: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you. Thank you so much for your support, your readership, and your ability to hear what I'm trying to say between the lines. I pour myself into these stories, and for you to read and enjoy them… well, it's an honor. I promise I'll keep writing them. Pinky Swear.
Author of The Witch of Belladonna Bay (May 13th 2014), and The Witch of Little Italy, Co-author of Empire Girls (as Suzanne Hayes May 27th 2014), and I'll Be Seeing You