Susan Wiggs left a steady career as a math teacher to pursue her dream of writing novels. Now a New York Times bestselling author, Wiggs reflects on how far she’s come, how teaching is still a large part of her life, and the ways that her past challenges influenced the characters of Candlelight Christmas.
Zola: When you were 8-years-old, you self-published your first novel A Book About Some Bad Kids, and continued writing all throughout your childhood. But after graduating from college, you became a math teacher. What initially held you back from pursuing your dream of becoming a novelist?
Susan Wiggs: Nothing held me back, ever. My parents and teachers always fostered and mentored my dreams. However, with adulthood came the realization that I had to earn the right to pursue my dream. If it just dropped in my lap, where’s the pursuit? Good writing comes from focus and discipline as well as creativity. So I had to develop the focus and discipline to support myself and my family. In the early years of my career, I never stopped writing. I simply wrote whenever I wasn’t living my life–raising my daughter, teaching school, being with friends and family. The only things I sacrificed were sleep and television. I was an energetic young thing, though, so I didn’t miss it.
SW: That was just a working title, playing off my title from the 3rd grade. I’ve never been good with titles. That first book was a sexy historical novel in the tradition of Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers. It was set during a little known historical conflict (the Dutch Revolt of the 16th century…yawn) and it was very amateurish. But the best way to learn to write a novel is to write a novel, so I persevered. My third attempt yielded a sexy, dramatic medieval romance, and I sold that one.
Zola: When did you know that you wanted to write historical and contemporary romance?
SW: I knew I wanted to be published, and I wanted to write the kind of books I love to read. I love romantic, sweep-you-away stories with strong, smart characters who deal with their struggles the way I hope I would deal with them. I naturally gravitated to writing the sort of novels I felt closest to and most familiar with.
Zola: Logan, one of the main characters in Candlelight Christmas, changes careers during the course of the novel—leaving the insurance business to become a ski resort owner. When writing about Logan’s leap of faith, how much did you draw on your own experience of changing careers? When you took a new path, did anyone try to discourage you as Logan’s father does in the novel?
SW: Oh my gosh, you know, I always say that when I write fiction, I’m writing about myself without knowing I’m writing about myself. It’s only later that I realize a character’s conflict grew out of something in my life, often deep in the past, that I’ve nearly forgotten. So yes, Logan’s experience of leaving a safe, stable predictable career for the uncertainty of running a ski resort was informed by my own experience of moving from a regular (though unjustly small) paycheck from teaching to being a full-time writer. In practical terms, it makes no sense, but Logan realizes safety and stability don’t always fulfill you. Chasing a dream–that’s where fulfillment comes from. Whether you find the dream or not is another story. That’s where the romance comes in. Ultimately, my characters all learn that the ultimate prize is to live a life surrounded by love and family, and the meaning and happiness we get from that.
SW: Oh boy, thank you for doing the math. I feel old now. But I also feel brand new every time I write a new novel. Each time I create a 20-something or 30-something couple struggling to find their way to each other, I get to be young again, and uncertain, and filled with passion, and falling in love. It’s a perk.
Inspiration is everywhere, in the people I meet, the dreams I dream, the issues of the day. For example, Logan is a single dad, a very good guy who hasn’t had much luck in the romance department and is on the verge of giving up. It was a joy to finally put him together with a woman who will bring him joy.
Zola: Unwilling to give up teaching entirely, you still speak and lead workshops at writing conferences. Can you tell us anything about how you strike the balance of spreading your time and creativity across your speaking engagements and novels?
SW: I don’t. I’m awful. I sometimes find myself overcommitted, and I’m trying not to do that to myself any more. But I love getting out from behind my notebook and meeting other writers. Teaching is fun and creative in its own way, so I try to lend a hand when I can. My next teaching engagement is a big one–the Wordcrafters retreat and conference in Eugene, Oregon next March. It’s going to be a fabulous week. There is no feeling like the creative energy of a room full of writers.
Zola: Thanks so much for talking with us!
SW: Thank you so much for the chance to connect with your readers. Everyone is welcome to come join in the fun on my Facebook page.
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This article originally appeared on Zola Books.