Interview with Susanne Dunlap

Name: Susanne Dunlap
(Originally published in my old website, in 2005)


Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born near Philadelphia, but I grew up in Buffalo, NY.

Q: Can you tell us your latest book news?
A: My latest book news is that I Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone Books will be publishing my second novel. The working title is “Liszt’s Kiss,” and the publication date is not yet determined.

Q: How old were you when you first started writing?
A: I first started writing when I was a child. My first attempt at a novel was when I was about 28 years old, but I really didn’t decide to concentrate on writing until I was about 47 years old.

Q: When did you first realize you had the potential to be a writer?
A: I don’t know when I realized I had potential to be a writer. Despite having a novel published and another in the works, I still don’t believe I’m really a writer. I’ve always had an active imagination, and I’ve been making my living through the written word since I graduated from college ( I worked in advertising, then I was a scholar, and then I wrote grants and proposals for a non-profit opera company). So it’s something that I sort of grew into almost without realizing it. But basically, the urge to write, to express myself somehow, has always been a part of me.

Q: What was your inspiration to write your first novel?
A: As far as what inspired me to write, I can only cite all the incredible books I’ve ever read. Reading is one of the greatest pleasures of my life, from the delicate domestic dramas of Jane Austen, to the vast panoramas of Tolstoy, to the rarefied gothic romances of Anne Radcliffe. Finding my voice as a writer is almost like having discovered the secret of eternal youth.

Q: Is there anyone or anything that inspired you to write?
A: The inspiration for my first novel was an idea I have had for several years that kept resurfacing in all my musicological research. It was the idea that women’s voices were somehow dangerous and needed to be controlled. This generated the “what if” that led to “Emilie’s Voice.”

Q: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
A: My upbringing was saturated with music, which is probably why I gravitate toward musical themes when I write. But there is also an element of escapism: it’s easy to seek refuge in a fantasy world where one is in control of all the characters and outcomes when real life is so messy and difficult.

Q: Do you have a specific writing style?
A: Writing style: that’s a tough one. I think I write the way I think. I haven’t consciously adopted a style. I’m most interested in bringing my characters to life, and the greatest compliment to me would be that the reader forgets there is an author at all, but is totally drawn into the drama of the characters themselves.

Q: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
A: My chosen genre is historical fiction. I love immersing myself in the past, and as a music historian, I feel very much at home there.

Q: How do you come up with the title(s) for your book(s)?
A: The title of “Emilie’s Voice” existed before the book itself. It just came to me, and I can’t explain how. Other things I’ve written have not been so straightforward, but I think it’s a good sign when the title is obvious.

Q: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A: If I could convey any message I wanted with “Emilie’s Voice,” it would be that the idea of a woman having control of her voice is something that was not always accepted, and that we should all feel grateful that now, although we are still not on an equal footing with men, at least we are finding our voices and being accepted for it.

Q: How much of the novel is realistic?
A: “Emilie’s Voice” contains several historical events. The performance of “Alceste” in the Cour de Marbre is historical, although it took place two years earlier in actuality. The characters of the historical personages are as true to life as I could make them, and I was careful to make the descriptions of Paris and Versailles as historically accurate as possible. In addition, the circumstances of Lully’s and Charpentier’s lives are based very much in historical reality. But there is always so much room for interpretation, and many gaps even in well-documented history.

Q: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your life?
A: Because “Emilie’s Voice” is historical, it really has nothing to do with my own life.

Q: What books have most influenced your life?
A: The books that have most influenced my life are “Gone With the Wind,” almost everything by Jane Austen, everything by Virginia Woolf, and “War and Peace.” This is a question I could answer in many volumes! Oh, and Anthony Adverse is another important one.

Q: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
A: A mentor: that’s tricky. I had the good fortune to work with Lynn Freed at Bread Loaf a couple of years ago, and I still hear her voice when I am writing saying things like “police your cliches” or “sink it, dahling, sink it.” But my true mentor is my agent, Adam Chromy.

Q: What are you reading now?
A: Right now I’m reading “Saturday” by Ian McEwan. He’s completely brilliant. I just finished “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, and had the incredible opportunity of hearing her speak and getting her to sign my copy. An amazing woman, and a truly unique talent.

Q: What new author has grasped your interest?
A: New authors: that’s another tricky one. I’m very jealous of my reading time, and I tend to try to read things I know will be worthwhile. But I’ve gotten to know some writers, and have broadened my horizons. I’ll reserve my answer to this question for now.

Q: Is there anything additional you would like to share with your readers?
A: What I would like to share with my readers is how fortunate I feel to have been given this opportunity to express myself in a way that many other people might share. It’s truly a dream come true, and I want to thank everyone who has read my book for taking the time to do so.

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