Welcome to One on One: Insights into the Writer’s Life! Today’s interview is with Susan M. Ewing. She’s been in dogs for over 35 years, and has written eleven dog books, including Bulldogs for Dummies, Poodles for Dummies, and The Pembroke Welsh Corgi: Family Friend and Farmhand. Susan writes a bi-weekly pet column for The Post-Journal of Jamestown, NY and has written for many national cat and dog publications.
She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Dog Writers Association of America and Cat Writers Association, and is a past president of the Cat Writers Association. She lives in Jamestown, NY with her husband, Jim, and two Corgis, Rhiannon and Gael.
SE: Currently I write about pets, mostly cats and dogs. At my “day job” I sometimes write press releases.
Do you find it difficult to switch from one writing type to another? What techniques do you use that help you switch “writing gears”?
SE: I haven’t done real newspaper writing in so long, that sometimes it’s hard to get into a “press release” frame of mind. It helps to remember the old who, what, when, where, and why, as well as remembering that if the piece is too long, the paper probably won’t use it.
How long have you been writing? When did you start?
I remember starting to write a novel when I was about 9 years old. As a teen-ager and college student, I wrote sports features for the local paper, as well as features about Chautauqua Institution. Then I had several jobs writing ad copy at both television and radio stations. I also wrote for a mobile home paper and for an appliance trade magazine.
When did you first know that you were a writer?
I always felt like a writer inside, but it wasn’t until my first book was published in 2000 that I felt like I could actually tell people I was a writer.
Who are three of your favorite authors and why?
Trick question, and hard. I love historical fiction, so Philippa Gregory is on my list. Essays by E.B. White. He’s funny much of the time, and just wrote so well. James Thurber, same reasons. I also like T.H. White, Ted Kerasote, Donald McCaig, oh, wait, only three. Sigh.
Is writing your full-time career? Part-time career?
Part-time now. For a couple of years, it was full-time, which I loved.
How much time do you spend on average writing a day? Do you have a schedule that you keep?
There’s no specific schedule right now. When I’m working on a book, two hours at a minimum and four or five at the most. I do better in the morning, and sometimes, if I get a second wind, around 9 at night. The closer I get to my deadline, the longer I spend at my computer!
Where do you do most of your writing?
I write at my computer. I always wanted to be one of those writers who wrote longhand on yellow legal pads, but, early on, I learned at the newspaper office to just crank the paper into the typewriter and write. It’s certainly faster and my fingers can keep up with my thoughts better. I love the computer for speed and for making corrections or moving text around. If I had to write everything longhand now, I think I’d just shoot myself.
Anything that catches my imagination, that makes me passionate about a subject. Working Border Collies, for instance. Also people doing amazing things that other people may not even know about. I know a man who goes to Ethiopia every year and works with a theatre troupe to educate about AIDS.
Sometimes it’s hard to write freshly about a topic that I’ve written about a lot. Flea protection, for instance. Then I just have to remember that there are new pet owners coming along and they don’t know what to do and they need my advice. Pretending that I’m just talking one-on-one with that new owner helps me to be more enthusiastic about the topic.
Do you have any writing totems? Superstitions? Routines? Things you do or have to have around you when you begin your writing process?
I can do without it, but when I’m writing a dog breed book, I like to have a really good picture of that breed taped where I can see it, and, I usually buy a little statue of the breed to look at. A good photo keeps me focused on the physical characteristics of the breed and sometimes, their personality.
Do you keep a journal? If so, how often do you write in it? Is it for personal reflection, for tracking writing ideas or both? How do you use it?
I love the idea of a journal. In reality, I don’t have one. I do jot down ideas sometimes on the computer, or write the first few paragraphs of an article occasionally. One night I dreamed a novel, so I did write down as much as I could remember, but I don’t think that will amount to much. I save quotes and articles that inspire me.
What is your most recent book or published piece? What inspired this?
My most recent book is “American Pit Bull Terriers” and what inspired it was the editor emailing me and asking me to write it!
How long did it take you to write your first book? Was it easier or harder than you expected?
Oh, my first book….Again, an editor called and said they wanted a book written on Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and a magazine editor had recommended me and did I want to do it? I said yes, because a book had always been my dream, but I was terrified. I had no clue. Fortunately, the book was part of a series, so I had other books to look at for format and chapter titles. I had a bit less than a year to write it, and I needed to get all the photos as well. It certainly sharpened my research and interviewing skills!
Did you have an agent at the time? If you self-published, what were some of the challenges of going that route?
I don’t have an agent and I’ve never self-published.
What is the next project you have in the works?
Nothing currently. I do write a bi-weekly newspaper column, but no books or major articles right now. I’ve GOT to get busy!
How do you define success as a writer?
I’d like to be busier, and I’d like to write about other topics, but when it comes down to it, I feel successful as far as I’ve gone. I’ve written about what I love, and had fun doing it. I’ve met wonderful people, and I have the respect of my peers. For me, having fun, enjoying the process, is the best part. Would I love a big book tour and to write a best seller? Yes, but I don’t worry about it.
What do you find the hardest part about the “writing business”?
It’s not steady work, and the work itself seems to be undervalued.
What’s the worst advice anyone gave you about being a writer? What’s the best?
I think the best and the worst is “write what you know.” It’s the best because what you know keeps you grounded, and probably means that you have the passion to write well enough to share the information effectively with others. It’s the worst if it keeps you from exploring something new and becoming passionate about that.
What advice do you have for other writers who are contemplating pursuing a writing career?
Go for it but keep your day job. Seriously, keep writing and just do it! Lucille Ball was told she had absolutely no talent and would never amount to anything.
What do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?
Gee, I wasn’t planning on leaving. It’s not profound but “She loved what she did and she had fun.”
Thanks, Susan, for sharing your thoughts and experiences at One on One: Insights Into the Writer’s Life!