TIH 502: Suzanne Young on The Program Series, Writing Routine, and Writing About Mental Health

TIH 502 Suzanne Young on The Program Series, Writing Routine, and Writing About Mental Health

In this podcast, Suzanne Young talks about The Program series, writing about mental health, her writing routine, and much more.

About Suzanne Young

Suzanne Young is the New York Times bestselling author of The Program series. Originally from Utica, New York, Suzanne moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She is a novelist and an English teacher, but not always in that order. Suzanne is also the author of Girls with Sharp SticksAll in PiecesHotel for the Lost, and several other novels for teens.

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Michael David Wilson 0:28

Welcome to This Is Horror a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson and every episode alongside my co host, Bob Pastorella. We count with the world's best writers about writing life, lessons creativity, and much more now, today's guest is Suzanne Young, The New York Times bestseller, selling golfer of the program series, girls with sharp sticks, and the incredible vampire novel. In nightfall. We spoke to Suzanne about a multitude of things including the 10th anniversary of the program series and a rerelease that is accompanying get. We spoke also about her writing routine, writing about mental health and a myriad of other topics. Now, as with a lot of these conversations, this is a two parter. So if you want to hear the second part right now you can do so at patreon.com/thisishorror. But you can listen to these in any order. So before we jump into this fantastic conversation, it is time for a quick advert break. It was

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Michael David Wilson 3:07

Okay without sad here it is. It is Suzanne young on desses hora. Suzanne, welcome to This Is Horror.

Suzanne Young 3:20

Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.

Michael David Wilson 3:23

Yeah, we are excited to chat with you. And I don't to begin with. I want to know any early life lessons that you learned growing up?

Suzanne Young 3:35

Oh, just in general, I thought we're gonna say like something I learned from horror movies, life lessons growing up. I think for me, and I think I'm starting to deep I'll be honest, was to was that when you smile when you're nervous, or when you know, you're feeling anxious, it tends to calm other people. And so I think as a kid, I learned to kind of smile a lot. And it's something as an adult that I'm trying to, you know, stop doing so much, but I just I can't help it. So I definitely learned to smile to make other people feel better, even if it wasn't making me feel better necessarily. But it's something I'm unlearning. I guess I should say now.

Michael David Wilson 4:19

Why are you now trying to unlearn it? I mean big because like the logic and the reason for smiling, it makes sense. But now you're saying you're trying to get away from that. So what's the rationale behind that?

Suzanne Young 4:33

I think for me, because I do smile so much. Everyone thinks I'm always happy. Like I think it's just a general thought that I'm always I'm always happy. I'm always in a good mood. But really, maybe I'm just really nervous or I'm anxious and kind of that coping mechanism I have is to smile. So so I'm trying to make sure that I'm a little bit more reflective of how I'm actually feeling. Although I will say there's times where my dad It'll be like, fix your face. Like, I can definitely tell what you're doing. Next your face. I know you don't like this. So maybe I have to find that balance.

Michael David Wilson 5:10

Yeah, yeah, no, that's an interesting one. Because I always encourage people to be very authentic and to not be afraid of kind of what they're feeling whether it's good or bad. But I mean, at the same time, it is good, I suppose if you can have the glass half full, rather than half empty to go with it half full, so that there's kind of a balance there. It's also interesting that you opened with that answer when, as well as audio, we're doing video. So now me and Bob are going to be like, right? Is Suzanne smiling? Because, you know, we asked some good questions, and she's feeling comfortable? Or is she just anxious? Like, we'll never know, because you could be smiling Eve away.

Suzanne Young 6:01

Now, it's part of the mystery. Yeah, I'm actually feeling pretty good. I feel very comfortable. You're very welcoming. So this is a genuine smile. This? You wouldn't No, no.

Michael David Wilson 6:14

Yeah, that that is exactly what someone would say if it wasn't a genuine smile. You

Suzanne Young 6:24

know, one thing with smiling a lot too. And being a writer is a lot of my books are really dark, and they deal with really heavy topics for and I'll have people that are always like, how do you write such a dark things when you're always smiling so much? So I think that shows that. You know, sometimes when I'm, you know, actually, it's funny, like I write darker stuff, the happier I actually feel. And then when I'm feeling kind of low, that's when I write happier. But yeah, everyone always wonders how I could write stuff I do when I smile so much. So I guess that's,

Michael David Wilson 7:01

yeah, yeah. And I think I mean, it can be a misconception, perhaps from people who kind of aren't into horror or not into darker fiction that they assume are well, dark fiction means like, kind of dark, horror centric person, but I kind of feel and we've said this on the podcast before that, it's actually the opposite. Because it's like, if you're exercising the kind of horror and the demons as it were on the page, well, now all there is left is light and happiness. But if you're not writing about it, then it's kind of being kept inside. So you need to have it. It can be a very cathartic experience I find.

Suzanne Young 7:48

Yeah, absolutely. That's so true. And I swear, it's some of the happiest writers I know are the ones that write Yeah, that was terrifying things. So there is something about that.

Michael David Wilson 7:59

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm wondering, in terms of story, what was your first experience with story, whether that is through books, whoever that is oral storytelling, whatever it is, movies? What was your first experience and who if anybody was that wave.

Suzanne Young 8:21

So growing up, I had a rough, I had a rough childhood, but I had an older brother six years older. So he worked in a video store, he'd bring home all of the horror movies, and I wouldn't even say the best horror movies, it was literally everything. So I've seen every every slasher, every every horror movie ever made, during that time period. And that was kind of an introduction into that aspect of it like that part of the entertainment. And then I loved Stephen King. And I was like, I mean, I was in elementary school reading Stephen King, like I just would devour his books. And then when it came to actually storytelling, I started writing when I was in sixth and seventh grade. And obviously, times have changed. But back then I would write murder mysteries, starring all of my friends. And so I would write a story and we would all be trapped in the school overnight, and there was a killer on the loose and picking them off one by one. And then the next week, they'd be like, well write the next one. I want to be the one to die this time like rent the next one I want to be the killer. So that was kind of I had my brother introduced me to the horror I had Stephen King to introduce me to that and that's I think how I kind of got into the storytelling of my own was fun knows.

Michael David Wilson 9:34

There's so much to jump into from there.

Suzanne Young 9:38

So like a creepy child.

Michael David Wilson 9:41

This is probably the darkest direction or segue that I could have jumped into but you said you had quite a rough childhood. I'm a little bit curious about that. I mean, what what happened if you don't mind speaking to that, what were some of the more difficult aspects of your childhood? And what kind of things did you have to navigate?

Suzanne Young 10:06

So, we're from Central New York and, you know, growing up Central New York, my parents had split when, you know, my, my mom was pregnant with my brother with my younger brother, and I was five, and my older brother was, you know, 10 or 11. And so we didn't have any money, we had lived with my grandparents. And so you had that part of it. We also kind of grew up in a tough area, too. And my parents, or my mom sent me to Catholic school for a little while there, you know, on a scholarship, which was, you know, it was that but it was, it was difficult being the scholarship kids at the Catholic school. And so, you know, we got bullied quite a bit for, you know, not having any money. And, you know, having free lunch, and so, you know, had to deal with that. And then we just had some, you know, custody issues. But then even when I got older, like into high school, like I said, it was it was kind of a rough area, you know, we remember we were out in a cornfield and got held at gunpoint, like it was, it was a different time, but it was also like a very different area. Got into, you know, mixed up and a lot of things we shouldn't have back then. So when I went away to college, I never went back. I mean, to visit once in a while, but yeah, once I, once I got on my own, I started my own my own life.

Michael David Wilson 11:31

Yeah, yeah. And in that answer, I mean, we can already see how some autobiographical elements, and again, get into your fiction, particularly, of course, in nightfall, which we'll talk about a little later. And then also, the girls with sharp the girls with sharp sticks series. So that's obvious influences already. And I mean, you know, I think that probably comes back to this idea of it being cathartic as well, well, it's a way to not only exercise, but to process what has happened.

Suzanne Young 12:12

I've always found like, especially for me, you know, I have, I've always suffered with, you know, loneliness and issues like that, I mean, actually love being alone. But sometimes it's, it's a lot. And when I would write, I would joke, like, I have so many friends, like I have, I have all of these friends in my make believe world and you could, you know, go on these adventures in your head and kind of live through them. And one of the one of the hardest things is when you finish a book, as a writer, you finish a book and you're like, I can't go back there anymore. Like it's different. You can go back there as a reader. I mean, I would never read my books again, if I didn't. Just because you know, as internal editor, but you miss that, like, you miss being in that world. And, and so whenever I finish a book, I immediately need to start another one, because you feel so lonely after you've just had all of these people and you're in their heads, too. And, yeah, it's a great way to, you know, for a lonely child to take up writing that that definitely is cathartic. And it's definitely its own brand of therapy.

Michael David Wilson 13:16

Hmm, yeah. Do you think that might be one of the reasons that you so often write series, because it's a way to spend more time with the characters and more time in that world?

Suzanne Young 13:29

It's a little bit of a mix. It's funny, because all of the books that did eventually become series, I didn't initially pitch them as series, right? It's like I had, yeah, I wrote this book, it ended and then, you know, I had the editor be like, you know, when they bought it, or, like, you know, that we can't end it here though, right? Like, you've built this world, like, you gotta you gotta keep going. So none of those are ever meant to necessarily be a series. But that's that's publishing.

Michael David Wilson 13:58

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I guess yeah, there's the creative aspect. But then there's also the, the sales aspect, and it can be easier to pitch in to sell something as a series rather than a standalone.

Suzanne Young 14:14

Sometimes, and you know, then there's also, you know, you like for the program series, which is my big series of six books, right. So I wrote the first two knew that was going to happen, then I started my next book. But, you know, I had already spent, you know, a couple of years in this program world, right. And so I started writing my next book. And, you know, I had nearly finished it. And I was talking to my editor about it. And she was like, oh, no, and I was like, what she's like, is this set in the world of the program? I was like, Is this set in the role of the program? And we were like, oh, no, I just read another program book. And you know, hadn't even meant to but the world was so I was just still in that frame of mind. And I was like, Well, I guess I'm not done. I'm not done here. And it ended up being like a prequel to the series. Um, And so yeah, it's like sometimes you just have like, like a ghost. I have like unfinished business with the world and the characters and I like will bring him back. So Wayne ends up turning into another book.

Michael David Wilson 15:12

Yeah, I love that that happened unconsciously. It's like you weren't even aware. You know, your editor pointed out. I don't know how to tell you, but you're still right in in the program.

Suzanne Young 15:26

Yeah, I know. And to think like I spent, you know, 678 years, you know, working on those books. And I'll tell you, there's even times now where, you know, it'll, those characters will still be like, hey, like, I still have, I still have something to say. So, I kind of have like a running joke with the editor from that series. And I'm just like, so is it time for Book Seven does it because the minute they give the okay, like, I will go back into that world because it's like a, like an old friend that you miss. You know, you even it's like the most horrible world.

Michael David Wilson 15:59


Suzanne Young 16:02

For so long, like I would, I would kind of love to go back and be there a little while.

Michael David Wilson 16:06

Yeah, yeah. Well, it goes even if you're not going back in terms of the writing. I mean, the program is a big focus for you this year, because it's the 10th anniversary. So all the books are being rereleased. So what can you tell us about how that came about?

Suzanne Young 16:26

Oh, I'm so excited. It's It's so interesting how this series kind of took on a life of its own. It was, you know, when we first when it first came out, and wasn't like a huge splash it like came out and, you know, just teens, but like, everyone just started reading it and kind of passing it around. And like I said, I was a teacher. And I would have students in the back of my room, like reading the program, and like passing it around. And so by the time the second book came out, it hit the New York Times list, because everyone was reading it. And it was kind of just a very cool, organic way for it to, you know, kind of reach readers. And so, since then, it's like, continued to sell, you know, we had the six books come out, we had a short story. You know, we've had, you know, rights, film rights, you know, had been secured, you know, nothing happened, because that's the business but, you know, there was just a lot of activity always. And on tick tock, it's really popular too. And of course, you know, book talk is a big deal. But people just continue to rediscover the series. It's never been out of print. So in 10 years, it's still in, you know, the bookstores, which is very rare. So I was talking to my publisher, like, do we do a book seven, like, it could be fun. And she's like, well, actually, we were thinking it's the 10th anniversary. Maybe it's time to do the new covers and rerelease it now I had been hoping for new covers. Basically, since Book Two, like I love the first program cover. But every cover after that it wasn't a bad cover. But it never captured the same thing, the same feeling of isolation or whatever it is about that first cover that makes it so popular. We were never able to capture that again. But we tried to redo it multiple times and could just never figure it out. So this time, they're like, We have this designer that we think is going to be great. And we're going to focus on rather than it being two people. It's going to be an object from the book. I was like, Okay, well, good luck. Try this before, and we'll see what happens. And they sent it to me. They sent it to me, and they were like, What do you think I was like, I want a poster of that on my wall. Like that is it looks like a like it's just iconic. It looks like a band poster like it is truly cool. Like it is it is honestly my favorite cover that I have seen other than maybe in nightfall, which I love. But it is just really just iconic looking. It looks like a 10th anniversary edition. That makes sense. It's just like really kind of in your face, and like very, very cool. So I'm excited. And so they're gonna re release it, we kind of went through to make sure, you know, we want to update any terms, the book is 10 years old. So we just want to make sure that we're still being respectful about the way we all talk. And especially when we talk about issues surrounding you know, teen suicides, I want to make sure that that was all up to date. And so that was the first time I had read the program since it published. So I hadn't read it in 10 years. And when I read it number one, I was like cringing a little bit because my internal editor have obviously, you know, changed a lot as an author and my writing skills before you improved. But again, like some of the messiness in the writing also makes it feel more real because the world is so messy and I almost felt like it that's what people are connecting with is that it was such a was so raw, like that book is just like emotions just you know, splattered all over the page like it's a really emotional book and And so reading it, I found myself crying because I honestly don't remember writing it because it was so long ago. Right? And if I miss it, and I'm kind of going through, like, all this turmoil, and I finished it, and I was like, well, dang, like, that was actually really good. I want to write another one. AD, sir. Yeah. So it was just I'm really excited for it to come out. And I'm, I'm, I'm ready to, you know, put the focus on, you know, letting people know about the covers, and that I'm reading again. So I think it's interesting, because especially after 10 years, you know, I have had people that read it when they were teenagers, and now, they're, they're not teenagers anymore. And I think you read the book in a different way. Yeah, depending on where you are. But it's still an interesting experience.

Michael David Wilson 20:48

Yeah, yeah. And there's something wonderful about when we reread our work after, you know, a number of years, and then we think, actually, you did good. This is a pretty good book. And especially because I find like, you know, as creatives and writers, there's such a tendency to have self doubt and to question yourself, and you know, that it doesn't matter really the level of success, there will be impostor syndrome. And it's like, my tricking everyone. So it's a good feeling to come back to that.

Suzanne Young 21:24

Absolutely. We are our worst critics for sure. I don't know if anyone could ever imagine how tough it on myself. So to act, I mean, I definitely did not think I would have a good time reading it. I was so scared that I would mean just wanting to rip it apart. So yeah, it was just one of those pleasant surprises. Never so often, you'll get something that you write, and you'll look at it and be like, Ooh, that was and goodbye. And you're like, you know? Yeah. But, but I definitely didn't think I would feel that way about a whole book. So I guess Yeah, like you said, take the winds where you can get a

Michael David Wilson 22:01

right. Yeah,

Suzanne Young 22:02

have those moments? Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 22:06

I think so. And, I mean, how do you ensure that you're writing about mental health, sensitively and authentically, rather than like inadvertently making it gratuitous or insincere? Because it, it can be a very difficult line to tread?

Suzanne Young 22:28

Absolutely, and, you know, I think one of the reasons, you know, the program is so raw is because a lot of that was based on some of my own experiences. I mean, it's not, you know, autobiographical, it isn't, it isn't my life. But um, you know, I've definitely been there in these situations in the book. And so I made sure when I was writing, it might not be someone else's experience with depression, or, you know, other things happen in the book, but those were definitely mine. So no one could say they're not real. Because those moments were real. So some of those, like, really tough moments were things that I personally could relate to. But I also did, you know, we, my husband works in the medical field. And, you know, I did actually go and talk to some doctors, because I wanted to make sure, you know, I talked responsibly, not just about, you know, mental health, but also about, you know, medications and different treatments. And the treatment of the program, I actually based around real treatments, and just, you know, just like you do with any dystopia, you have this real thing, this real treatment, and then I just exaggerated it out, to, to this, this more horrible place. So, everything that they do in the program, everything that happens to these these kids, like, these are real things that happen, I just, of course, it's a story. So you have to, you know, exaggerate it a little bit. So yeah, I just, you know, I tried to, I tried to make sure that I was being responsible about the way he talked about things, even just the epidemic itself in the book, like the suicide epidemic, you know, that was based on real clusters, like real suicide clusters, and I was researching those case studies on those. I mean, it's not a scientific book of any means, but I just wanted to make sure that whatever the base was, that part was real. And then build out your story. There. Can't be built on a lie, I guess.

Michael David Wilson 24:25

Right. Right. Yeah. And, and I wonder too, obviously, with you drawing on your own personal experience, and having to research some very heavy subject matter, I mean, to even say very heavy subject matter. That's obviously that is understating it. But what did you do to kind of protect your own not only mental health but just, I guess state of mind while writing it because you know, if fearless as humans, we're not even designed to consume that amount of tragedy and just sadness and bleakness kind of in one short period of time.

Suzanne Young 25:13

Yeah, what's interesting in this is it's kind of a grief is a is a message in all of my books, every single one of my books deals with grief in some some way. It's just something that I always struggle with. And, you know, it's interesting as the program has that, you know, is the story. And it is, I didn't protect myself at all, if I can be honest, like, it was very much, me just being very honest, emotionally honest. But then the story changes. And by the time we get to the second book, the story has kind of moved on to a different sort of adventure, like a journey. And then the third book is about something. So it kind of progressed away from it. And even with girls with sharp sticks, you know, that was a very sensitive topic. And by the time you get to the second book, they're on that journey. So I think, you know, my first books are especially always the most always me at my most vulnerable, because I'm, you know, digging into these topics, and then after that, you know, you have to have that momentum to propel it into another book. And usually at that point, the characters are reactive, they're doing something else. So I get to get out of that emotional state. But I will say there was a time, you know, I went from one of my earlier books before the program was in need so beautiful, which is very emotional. The program, girls, that shirt sticks, all in pieces, I had all of these books in a row that were very, very emotional. And, you know, I had said to my husband, you know, I feel like it's, it's wearing my soul down. Like, I feel like writing these is wearing me down emotionally. And I think any writer can relate to, you finish a book and one of my friends, I can't remember what it's about. But she was talking about, like, she just finished a book and she's like, I'm going to go shower, like, I'm going to go do this. It's like this, you can't you crawl out of your cave, right? But that was me emotionally. So you know, you finish a book. And for me, I would race to the finish. So I get to a certain part of the book, and I'm like, I just got to finish it. I don't cook for myself, I don't go clean anything. In fact, I would probably never leave my office. If my husband didn't make me. I will finish work writing for the day and I'd be shaking like, yeah, you just get so engrossed in the story. And then it's over. And then you have like that, that little bit of mourning period. A little bit of sadness. It's kind of like, like, there's something I have to do. And it's like, oh, wait, no, I finished it. So it's not even like celebratory for me. It's not like I'm like, Hey, let's go out for a steak dinner. I finished my book. I'm usually just a wreck. And so I think part of it is because I never do emotionally protect myself. I don't know how I think I just maybe need to write less books. If right what to do that. But uh, yeah, I think I pour so much of myself into my books. And I think what helps in those cases, if you're that kind of a writer is taking that little bit of a break to refill, you know, like, refill your soul a little bit and heal a little bit. And then you know, you scratch at the wounds again and bleed all over the page.

Michael David Wilson 28:26

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, that sound. Yeah. Catch him the author of The Girl Next Door. You speak about writing? You know, he talked about writing from the wound. Yeah, that's kind of how we do it. We write weary hands.

Suzanne Young 28:43

Yeah. That's a great way to describe it.

Bob Pastorella 28:46

Yeah. Sounds like you had a hangover. Instead of a celebratory party.

Suzanne Young 28:51

I always say I have an emotional hangover. Whenever I finish writing, I'm like, Oh, and you know, and then you get the itch. Like, there's also the itch, where it's like, I have this idea. And I think it's good, right. And so I always have ideas. I'll be honest, like, I just keep a running Journal of ideas. But sometimes you'll finish writing a book and you'll just be like, I better write, like, I have to write something like I need to get into something. It's you just get this like, I have to be writing something. And you know, sometimes that doesn't go anywhere. But it's like, almost like, it's like your rebound, your rebound book, like, I just want to work on something for a little bit so that I don't feel so alone.

Bob Pastorella 29:35

Yeah, then that itch is lucky. You have to scratch it, and you'll take ideas and run with them and there's no story or anything like that you might be able to find a story. And to me, that's that's it's very, it's part of it. But it's also the most frustrating part is just taking ideas and just trying to roll with them only because you have an itch that you have to scratch. And you know, and so that those ended up in like notes, you know, but I know I know where you come from. Definitely.

Suzanne Young 30:05

That's my, that's my novel graveyard like that's where I keep all of the stories that I started, didn't finish, and it's always growing.

Michael David Wilson 30:15

So I'm wondering, What does your writing routine look like? What is a typical day or a typical week? Because I mean, the way you've described it, if you're in the moment, it's literally you write until your husband drags you out of the room and says, the workday is over? I don't know, is that like a daily thing? Or the only, you know, when you're in the heat of the moment? And I mean, you were teaching high school English. So I'm not sure if that's something Do you still do, or if you teach younger side, but please tell us a little bit about your routine?

Suzanne Young 30:58

Yeah, so I will say when I was teaching full time, it was rough, because, you know, I would teach all day, obviously. And then at night, I'd read a little bit, but I am a morning writer, like I write in the mornings. And so I would write mostly on the weekends, and I would write like, 30,000 words over spring break, or something like that, like, I would just be in it. But so, you know, typically, you know, when I look at writing a book, for me, it's like, I look at it, like, in a year, if I'm writing a book, only about six to eight weeks is that writing phase. And for me, the beginning, I'm pretty into it. And then you know, then there's the middle, and then there's like almost the end. And then there's the and when I get to the end, it's like like the almost the end like that's when I start getting very much like, nobody bother me, like, stay out. You know, I keep my room dark, actually, right in the dark, I keep it very dark. I'll have music playing. And I don't want to be bothered, I don't want anyone to break the spell. Like that's, I feel like I'm under a spell. And I don't want anyone to read the spell. And if for some reason I have to get dragged out to dinner, like, I'll be sitting there just kind of like still writing in my head. And when I go to bed at night, that's the worst. Because I am writing that next chapter in my head. And being like, please remember this in the morning, please write and once in a while, I'll grab my phone and be like, take a note, say something out. So really, it's just that six to eight weeks of of that, and really of that whole time. Probably two solid weeks of it. The beginning and at the end are like the I don't do anything other than write phase. But I'm also very conscious of like, Hey, I know that if I'm getting to that stage, I clear my calendar, because I know that I can't, you know, I do have a day job I work for I work another job. And I do still teach part time online. And I just know like if I'm getting there, like I need to take a couple of days off. Because there's no way I could ever concentrate with a book running through my head because it really does. I mean, there's only so much you can think about at once. And just because honestly, I'm like, Okay, I'm not working, doesn't mean it stops running, it will continue to run until it's over. And I miss it. I don't want to miss any of those good ideas of their past.

Michael David Wilson 33:21

Yeah. So on the days where you're working the day job, is it a case of getting up a lot earlier so that you've got like this concentrated time for writing?

Suzanne Young 33:35

Yeah, definitely. I I'm like the best between like six and 10am. Yeah, and Senator will push it to 11am. But once you get past 11am That's editing time that is not drafting time. Like my drafting time is only in the mornings. I've and that's been like that since and that's always been like that. I can never seem to figure out how to write in the evenings. I wish I could because my life would be easier if I could. But I just need those fresh morning. Yeah, thoughts? I don't know.

Michael David Wilson 34:12

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm actually quite similar like I do my best writing in the morning. And you know, I think I mean, there were some people who they certainly do their best writing late at night and really it's about respecting I suppose your own routine yet. Bob is for people watching the video is pointing towards himself. It's a night writer. But it's me. Yeah, yeah. I think we need to kind of find out what our routine is. And we know we try not to force ourselves to have one that doesn't work. Kind of like if you're an early bird or a night owl. There's no point trying to be the other one. I say there's no point, obviously, like, depending on the work hours of your job, there may be logistical things within society. You can say I'm not coming into work today, I'm not forcing myself to be an early bird. Yeah.

Suzanne Young 35:16

Yeah, you know, now that I wonder, too, when people talk about, you know, writer's block and having writer's block, and I must wonder, now I'm gonna say like, well, what time of the day do you write like, maybe try writing in a different time of day? Because maybe that could be part of it. Like, I wish I could write at night, and every so often I can, but you know, I definitely know what my where my like sweet spot is for creative ideas. Yeah. And you know, maybe that's part of it. Right to fit it in during regular business hours. And that's just not where it's coming from.

Michael David Wilson 35:48

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think any of us can write anytime, but it's about can we write well, or can we write optimally, which is why I find like, write in the morning, get the kind of first draft, get the creative things down. Now, if you've got like a little gap in the middle of the day, or towards the end, you can do editing or almost what I consider writing adjacent work. So obviously, there's the marketing and the promotion. Specific to me and Bob and other podcasters. There is the podcast, there is of course, reading, there's, there's newsletters, yeah, if I, if I list everything there is it's like, my goodness, how dare any of us do anything. There's so much involved. And you know, maybe back in the day in the kind of dizzy days of Faulkner and Hemingway, a writer would just write, but that ain't anymore. Does not just write

Suzanne Young 36:53

I love the idea of writing adjacent, like, you know, book adjacent. Like I that's so true. And I think maybe not everyone realizes that is when you are in these fields, like you do have so many other mindsets that are a part of writing, like even just the research part. There's just so much that goes into it other than just the book part. Like I wish it was just the book part. But it's definitely not.

Michael David Wilson 37:21

Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, I find as well, there have been times where I've tried to like force writing more, I suppose. And I find that there can be some days where there's just diminishing returns. So if I right, let's say from six till 10 is going to be of a certain quality, but then oh, from 10 to 11, we're dipping a little bit and 11 to one. Yeah, it's getting a bit worse. And if I tried to right after lunch, it's like, well, what is this just just do some editing. And it's interesting, though, because I, I can edit other people's work just as sharply after lunch, but for some reason, I can't create my own.

Suzanne Young 38:15

It's the Create, yeah, it's like find your creative, creative time. Like we're creative. And yeah, it's just kind of, it's interesting in that way that our minds are, are wired during a certain time to do these things. But yeah, I wish I, I really would love to write at night. Like that would be just be amazing for me. But

Bob Pastorella 38:40

I mean, I'm mostly right at night, I'm flexible. It depends on how it worked, because I work different shifts. But I think I do it because I have ideas going through my head constantly. And so they build and build and build and build and build. And finally, it's like, you know, get off work and get off to eat, you know, eat, you know, take care of the cats do all the things I need to do. And then I get you know, Oh man, I'm finally in it. You're getting excited. And so you want to have that momentum going in. And then you get the Zen feeling when you're in the zone. And like my whole apartment could be on fire. And then somebody would have to go, Hey, dude, you need to leave on my Oh, no, I'm almost finished the sentence. Let me I gotta get to the net. I gotta start the next chapter chill out. Because I'm not leaving it here. But it's like, it's that built in. There's something about that, that I can't get in the morning. In the morning. I'm like, I need some coffee. And I'd only want to look at the news because I'm gonna be mad for the rest of the day. And I probably don't need that at work. You know? So it's just like, you know, I'm very it's very different. For me to do in the morning, I can put me on a deadline I can write to dunk right in the subway doesn't matter. But, you know, it's just, it's just you got to find your rhythm, you're going to find the time that works the best for you.

Suzanne Young 40:15

And I can relate to what you said about having all the ideas. And I used to have, I used to keep a pen in my car, and then I would always have my bills, because I would pick them up in the mailbox and forget to bring them in the house. So anyways, I'd have like a stack of bills in the car. And I would get at a stoplight and jot down like ideas that I had, because they were there. And this is before, you know, I could really text myself or anything. But yeah, so I would have just these envelopes, covered in story ideas. And in fact, I might show it to you there. The program idea for the program, I was sitting at a restaurant having breakfast, my family, and I got the idea for the program, and I grabbed my kids cran. And I wrote it on the back of a napkin. And that was where I wrote the program. And like the the idea for the program. And so I kept it all these years that Sherry's napkin from, you know, where I had the idea. So it's like, you know, I didn't have you know, I didn't have a laptop. Like, I wrote my first book in a notebook. Like I was really big tech, obviously, still something I struggled with. But yeah, I would just, I would just write ideas down wherever I got them. And it was just kind of, it was like a duck back to the future a little bit, right, like, just kind of like, have this idea to write it down. So yeah, it's just have scattered notes everywhere.

Michael David Wilson 41:38

Yeah, yeah, I get that a lot. And, yeah, there's all sorts of things that I've written on napkins, and just little scraps of paper. And even like pamphlets, it's like, just whatever is to hand that I can write on. And, I mean, there was a time when I was working only, only one day teaching a week. And then the other six were for writing, I mean, really five woman to be for writing and one was meant to be to actually take time for myself. But reality there was nobody six for writing. But it always happened to be on the day where I was teaching, it's like, that's when the bloody ideas will come to me. And I had quite a long commute. So it will be like, just when I could while I'm traveling, just write this down, write that down. And I don't know, it's, there's something to be said for if you have time constraints. And if you have parameters, I've found that I can write better or creatively, I'll be more open. Whereas you know that the times where I have written full time with no, no other jobs? I don't know. Because there's no limits. It's like there's almost no limits to to how much one could procrastinate or could put off the writing. And there's there's little cliche about, it's remarkable how when you have a deadline, some writers houses become so tidy, because they're just tidying instead they're like, Well, I just got to sort this out. But yeah,

Suzanne Young 43:23

I love that. That's my, that's my revision house, whenever I have a revision Do you will never see my house so clean, because I don't mind revision, but it definitely feels like I do have a deadline. But at the time, I'm like, okay, that's, that's a few weeks away, like, I'll get through, I'll get you let me just clean. But I also have that thought of like, I need to be in a very clean space to clean up this manuscript. Like, I get that in my head, too. Like, I need things for me to be very organized, when I am editing and I am not like that terribly, like organized at my desk. But when I'm editing I am like I Yeah, something about it emotionally. I need to have that cleared space to like, make room for it. But it was funny, we're seeing teaching because I will say like, when, when I was teaching, gosh, that ideas. I mean, I always say like, I'd be so creative in my lesson plans, right. And I was reading so many classics and like doing lesson plans on them. But I would find that I would get so many ideas too. And it's just like, I think creativity breeds creativity and, and once you being creative, and one thing or once you're working on a story, like sometimes I'll have these other stories that it's like, that book looks fun, but like, here's another idea that maybe you should work on too. Like all these other ideas will like start to eat for my attention. And then when I don't have any book or I don't have anything creative going on, it's like the well is dry like there's nothing trying to pop up or Yeah, something about creativity just makes more creative ideas pop

Michael David Wilson 44:56

up. Yeah, yeah, I mean, that's time When I'm in the classroom, and maybe there's a timer set for them to do something for five minutes, and then I'll start getting ideas, so I'm just having to write my ideas in the margins. Now clarify in the margins of my own stuff I'm not going around is like wow, there's like a Michael David Wilson story. I no longer have the marking

Yeah, exactly. Well, I mean, I did say you gotta write on what you can. But yeah. All sometimes it's like, Oh, if there's a if there's a test in France, like 20 or 30 minutes where it's silent. Oh, boy. Now the ideas are coming to me. So yeah, well, I'll occasionally look up and kick no one's key England Runtastic. But definitely in my mind to deal with do

Suzanne Young 46:00

it's dinner time for my dogs that I can just hear him crying on the other side of the door.

Michael David Wilson 46:08

And gone. You can is that someone else in the house? You know, we we don't condone just leaving animals or children to cry

Suzanne Young 46:25

yes, no, my son's home, but but he's also upstairs playing video games. So he has to be made aware that the dogs are crying.

Michael David Wilson 46:32

Yeah, that reminds me, I can't remember exactly what he said. But we were talking to an Orford, Jasper bark. And he he said like, you know, his children who are in another room. And he's like, I think they're trying to get out the room and it's like, hang on, can we just have a view of you trapped? Have you kidnapped your children? You don't lock your children in rooms? Like I know we've said that we take the sound quality very seriously. But just don't don't don't kidnap don't lock in children or? Or anyone really? No, we don't condone any locking adults in a room that has no age limit to it.

Bob Pastorella 47:25

Yeah, I can I can hear Jasper bark. Just don't you dare get out of the room? I'm locking the door. Oh, no. That's crazy.

Michael David Wilson 47:46

Now, you said before that your first experience writing stories was when you were in sixth and seventh grade, you were writing these murder mysteries that much to the delight of your peers and other students within the class. Now, if I have done my research correctly, then I believe your first published book was the naughty list in 2010, which is also the fifth book that you finished writing. So I mean, I'm wondering, at what point did you decide that this was something you wanted to do? I guess professionally or vocationally. When did you decide writing books was for you?

Suzanne Young 48:34

It's interesting. So So again, you know, sixth seventh grade, I was writing short stories. I wrote them all through high school. And then I remember telling my family members that I was gonna go to school for creative writing, which they thought was just absolutely ridiculous. And they're like, why would you do that? Like, why wouldn't you go to school for nursing and get a job. But I did. Anyway, I went away to college, and in which school and credit I went to school for creative writing. And I had always seen myself writing short stories. That's what I really enjoyed writing. I had never tried to write a novel, I just always liked that kind of shorter form. And when I when I left school, I moved to Arizona, I started teaching very, fairly quickly. And I would still write short stories then. So it wasn't until I actually moved to Oregon. I moved to Oregon and it was rainy and dark and kind of creepy there and I have a lot more time to write because for a little while I wasn't teaching and I started writing very moody stories. And it was my so the next short story I wrote was it was actually funny but like, became the program like it was part of the program was like the combination of three stories. But this the first one I wrote very first book I wrote was called broken and it was about a girl who fell Love with your brother, his brother's best friend and brother had died. And it was like, you know, questioning their relationship. So that ended up becoming part of the program. But I wrote this. And it was just a short story and kept getting longer and longer and longer. And so I sent it to my sister at the time, she was like, will you send me next chapter? And I was like, No, it's a short story. She's like, No, write write more. And so she just kept encouraging me, like keep writing, keep writing. And so I did, and it ended up becoming a novel. And she's like, oh, you should publish it. And, you know, this is back in 2007. Maybe. And I was like, how do you publish a novel and you know, looked up how to publish a novel. And, you know, found out, you have to get an agent and how all that works. So it really wasn't until, you know, I was I was in Oregon, and I had this constant encouragement of some of being like, Oh, well write more, I want to know what happens next. I want to know what happens next. Otherwise, I probably would have kept writing short stories. But it was until someone told me like, I want to see what happens next that I was able to kind of go longer. And now I love reading novels. And now short stories are the challenge for me, because I'm like, I want to give more. So,

Michael David Wilson 51:13

yeah, I, I had for time, quite a difficulty writing cute stories again, because they always tended to go lung. I knew that there was so much more to the story. That way that I got better at writing short stories. And this is not something that I advocate of people do. But Ray Bradbury has a quote saying that he about writing a story a week and he said it's impossible to write 52 bad stories, bad short stories in a row. And I don't Well challenge accepted because either I prove Ray Bradbury wrong, or I get good at writing short stories. So either way, seems okay to me. But yeah, I had one mad year, right? I'm trying to remember when it was probably 2000 and Ziva 2016, or 17. And I did some wrote a story a week. And I guess, for me, it was just almost treating a short story as more like a photograph or a snapshot. So you are getting something good. It obviously needs structure, it needs to have that beginning, middle and end. But you're just giving a portray, rather than, you know, this kind of massive story answers the case you have novels, but I think, yeah, I prefer writing novels, or novellas, at least, you know, something that can be packaged as a book. And it's just more exciting for me. So we kind of have to go wherever, wherever the story wants us to go. Really, you know, that's what it's about. Obviously, as you hinted at before, as well as the story, we do have the caveat of like, well, what about your agent and your publisher and your editor? Yeah, I guess if somebody is paying us financially financial interests, we have to consider that too.

Suzanne Young 53:24

And I think that's why so many of my ideas do end up in that novel graveyard. So I'll have an idea. And I'm like, This sounds great. Like as an idea, or as a, as a short synopsis. Like it sounds great, is when I start to write it, I usually I can write a first chapter of pretty much any of my ideas like I can get to the first chapter. That's fun. Yeah. So once I get past that first chapter, and there's decisions that need to be made. And if and that's when I start to realize like, maybe something's too thin, like maybe this plotlines, or this character is just the right character for this book. So a lot of times, what I do is I'll have all of these these ideas like these stories started. And when I'm writing another book, I might take a character from a different story, and pull them and put them in my new book, because I liked that character. They just didn't fit in that world in that role. But I still found a way to you know, if not find a better place for them. So I always think of like, my books, marinate, I guess like that gravy? Like me? Yeah. And, and sometimes they go together, and I didn't realize that they did when I wrote them down. So that's why it's important to write down everything. Just keep it to don't go write it on napkins and napkins and envelopes. actually keep it somewhere where you can go back and find it.

Michael David Wilson 54:44

Yeah, yeah. This is why I plot as well rather than pans because, like you, yeah, I can write the first chapter of pretty much any idea, but it doesn't mean that the idea necessarily has legs can stand, you know, the course of an entire novel. So it's important that I do have some scaffolding and some framework. I've found that I kind of need a balance in the sense that yes, there is scaffolding, but my brain in in the actual writing will take us on some tangents and down some of rabbit holes and will veer off here and veer off there. So actually, because of that I do, even throughout the draft, I have to go back to the plan and be like, okay, is this tangent actually serving the story, though? I know you found it interesting. Or you found it amusing, because I liked. I like to include humor, mostly by amusing myself, and it's like, okay, well, you've made yourself laugh, Michael. But is that one gonna make the reader laugh? And does it actually enhance the story? So not only is there their planning before writing, but I have to plan while writing to check that this is like, yeah, serving the story.

Suzanne Young 56:07

I'll tell you, there's nothing harder than cutting a good joke. And edit. Yes. Like you do not want to cut that. Like it made. It was like, Oh, it's so good. And maybe that plotline doesn't even exist anymore. But you're like, but it was such a good joke. Like, I want to keep it and I have tried to figure out how to keep it, but it never works. So yeah, I'm like, hate when I have to cut a joke because they're so hard to get there so hard to get a good joke. When right? Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 56:34

I'm doing that with my current book that I'm working on. And yeah, there was a bit that I thought was hilarious. But it's also completely not serving the story. This is such a tangent, but I've just saved it in a document of its own. It's like, Look, if ever I can go back to that, or, or maybe I'll just read it. You know, for my own personal enjoyment and be like, Yeah, good one, Michael.

Suzanne Young 57:06

Yeah, and I love like putting like little easter eggs or jokes into my books, like I'll sometimes reference like the program, like, very subtly in some of my books, but but even in, I have one book called hotel Ruby. It was renamed hotel for the last. But you know, a haunted hotel? Is that like Hotel California type type thing? And there's no chapter 13. Because, you know, in hotels, there's Yeah. But like, I never told anyone, there wasn't a chapter 13. And I'll tell you the fact that no one has ever noticed it has just makes me so sad. Because I was so proud of that, like not having chapter 13 and that nobody noticed it. And I was like, I guess it was just for me that I just did that for me. And I found it very entertaining, but

Michael David Wilson 57:53

never even noticed. Yeah, yeah. And I'll tell you, too, sometimes when composing something I know, I know that I'm going on a tangent. And I know that something won't make the final cut. But I feel that I have to write it anyway. And there might be something that happens in that scene that is not then included in the book that just informs, you know that the characters and the story. So I think sometimes there's a lot to be said for what happens off the page as well as on the page. So in writing, it becomes real, it's like, even if I cut it, that still happened.

Suzanne Young 58:36

That's such a good way to look at it. It's so true, because that gets us to where we need to be emotionally or plot wise. Like it gets us there to figure it out, even if it gets cut out. And it's always hard to talk about a book that you've rewritten a bunch of times too, because someone will ask you that you're like, for me, at least I'm like, Wait, did that happen in this book? Or was it was it three drafts ago like I can't remember because they've all fused together in my mind, you know, and sometimes I'll even call a character or wrong name because maybe in a later draft, I decided they needed a different name. So it's just kind of funny that for us as writers, like we get to see the multiverse like different ways. The story of God in our heads still.

Michael David Wilson 59:20

Yeah, yeah. It's like isn't it obvious because of that scene that happened? Oh, oh, that scene isn't in the book. Oh, I'll send it you it's a it's a dark dark on my computer now read that scene. Okay. clarified. But I mean, I mean, talking about you know, adding scenes and cutting scenes, you said that with this new version, oh, not new version, but the RE launch you have the program. There are some things that have been changed. So I mean, is Unlike much that you had to cut in terms of actually from, from a scene level, or is it kind of more minuscule details in terms of the edits that were made? Also, is there new, additional material?

Suzanne Young 1:00:18

It is very tiny changes, it's really just some word choice changes. Changing a couple of offhanded remarks that in hindsight, even though, you know, the main character was saying, this is what some people say about the epidemic, or this, you know, I didn't even want those theories in there because of, I didn't want like a conspiracy theory. I mean, yeah, the world has changed in, in all this time. So, you know, I wanted to just cut out any any kind of references that were just either incorrect, or I felt can be taken the wrong way. Also, just certain words that I didn't want to use over and over again, that I was really surprised that I had used so often, like, for example, the word stupid, like, I'm like, Why did I use the word stupid, so many times, like, it feels so like, aggressive now, like, there's just so many. So it was just, I didn't want to change the voice of the story. Even though, if I was, if I were to write that same book, now, it would be a different book. But I bet it wouldn't be as popular. Because I think what people related to was just how emotional and raw it was, I think that's what people like about it is it doesn't feel pretentious in any way. Like there's the writing is is very, you know, just, it's just there. It's not. It's not complex, it's, it's just, it's just people on a page experience something. And, and I think that's what is appealing about it. So I tried to be very careful not to change his voice. So really, it was just like a couple of a couple of word choices, a couple of deletions, I definitely, I definitely saw, like places where I would have added more. But I didn't want to change too, because it's already a really long book. So I didn't want to make it too much longer. But it's funny, because I definitely, you know, when I wrote that book, I had not intended it to be a series, right. So this was a standalone when I had written it, but I can see the seeds that were there for what became those later books, even though I didn't need for that to happen. And I don't know if that's ever happened before. Like you're writing a story and it ends and you go like, Wait, that ties back to something I said at this point, but I never yet for that to happen. It's like the coolest feeling. You're like, How can I do that? I noticed that a lot that there was the seeds that ended up becoming books six and seven like or five and six. Like how did I? How did I know? That? I don't know. I guess I had not planned to make it a series. But now I can see why that series worked, even though I didn't attempt it.

Michael David Wilson 1:02:56

Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much for listening to Susan young Gordon, This Is Horror. Jonas again next time for the second and final part of the conversation. But if you'd like to get it ahead of the crowd, if you'd like to get every episode ahead of the crowd, then become a patron on patreon.com/thisishorror. Now as well as being able to listen to each and every episode early doors. You can also submit questions for our interviewees. And coming up in the next month, we will be chatting to Ai Jiang and Josh Malerman, amongst many others. You will also get our story on bottom step to sodas on the craft of writing, in which we dissect and analyze movies and stories. And coming up shortly is our unboxing of Something in the Dirt so plenty of reasons to support us. Go to patreon.com/thisishorror and see if it's a good fit for you. Okay, before I wrap up, it is time for a quick advert break.

Bob Pastorella 1:04:13

From the host of This Is Horror Podcast comes a dark thriller of obsession, paranoia and voyeurism. After relocating to a small coastal town, Brian discovers a hole that gazes into his neighbor's bedroom. Every night she dances and he peeps, same song, same time, same wild and mesmerizing dance. But soon Brian suspects he's not the only one watching. She's not the only one being watched. They're Watching is The Wicker Man meets Body Double with a splash of Suspiria They're Watching by Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella is available from this is horror.co.uk Amazon and wherever good books are sold.

RJ Bayley 1:04:52

It was as if the video had unzipped my skin, slunk inside my tapered flesh and become one with me.

Bob Pastorella 1:05:00

From the creator of This Is Horror comes a new nightmare for the digital age The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson. After a teacher receives a weirdly rousing video it's like descends into paranoia and obsession. More videos follow each containing information no stranger could possibly know. But who's sending them and what do they want the interest me destroy everything every one He loves The Girl in the Video is the ring meets fatal attraction for iPhone generation available now in paperback ebook and audio.

Michael David Wilson 1:05:29

Well that about does it for another episode of This Is Horror. And thank you so much for joining us for the past decade and 500 episodes so so if you like the podcast, please do leave us a review over on Apple podcasts. Now I really do want us to get more reviews over there as it really helps boost the podcast with those pesky algorithms and other than asking you good people to leave a review of not sure how else to generate that kind of interest. So please if you haven't done so, do consider leaving us a review and let us know what you like and dislike about This Is Horror would mean so much to me and Bob. Now with that said, I will see you in the next episode for part two with Suzanne young. But until then, take care yourselves. Be good to one another. Read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.

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