Author Spotlight: Louise Cusack

1. Welcome to the RWA Author Spotlight Louise, can you tell us about your re-release fantasy trilogy, Shadow Through Time?

Thanks. I’d love to. I adore these characters, and they’ve been with me since I was a child making up fantasies about a little princess who went to another world searching for her missing twin brother. When I wrote it as an adult it morphed into a story of …Katherine, who leaves our modern world behind and travels through a Sacred Pool in Kakadu, a watery portal that takes her from our multi-coloured world into the earth world of Ennae where everything is brown. At each turn she encounters real and imagined enemies including an erotic shadow woman, an enigmatic tattooed man, and even her beloved brother Michael. Talis, her appointed Guardian, must help her though the dangerous terrain, sacrificing everything to ensure her safety in a land where magic prevails and nothing is as it seems.

This was my first fantasy trilogy, and while sales in Australia were great and the series was selected by the Doubleday book club as their ‘Editors Choice’, it never sold overseas, so I was disappointed that it hadn’t reached an International audience. But I never gave up on it, and neither did my agent Selwa Anthony. So when Pan Macmillan’s digital only publishing company Momentum Books approached her looking for romantic fantasies to publish, I was in the fortunate position of having my rights back from Simon & Schuster Australia and we were able to close the deal with Momentum in a matter of weeks. Those books will be re-released with new covers as eBooks early next year and I’m beyond thrilled that these characters and their stories will be finding a whole new audience.

 

2. You’ve been an RWA member for a long time, how important do you think it is for writers to be part of an association?

Well I certainly think it’s important to be part of RWA, and I joined the year after it was established. I’m a member of several writing associations, but my membership in RWA has been one of the defining factors in my professional career, and in my personal life as a writer. The friends I’ve made in RWA are some of the most important people in my life. The Bianchin’s Babes group I joined 19 years ago on the Gold Coast has evolved from a critique group into a writing support group and it keeps me sane and on task.

Because I write in the fantasy genre and teach writing as well, I’ve been to lots of other genre conferences, conventions, writing festivals, author events and publishing industry forums, and I can say with some authority that RWAustralia is highly regarded both in Australia and overseas. I rarely have to correct misapprehensions about RWA, but when the occasion arises I’m not afraid to stomp on genre bigotry, especially when it’s ill-informed.

 

3. Do you write detailed character profiles before starting a new book, or do you find the characters come to life as you write?

I’m a complete seat-of-the-pants writer, so I usually don’t have a clue what I’m doing when I start a book. My current project is an Arabian Nights style fantasy, and that took me completely by surprise. I had a character running away to the desert and I was like, “Who are you, where are we, and what’s going on?” But if I keep writing, the character leads me somewhere. The trick for me is to stay tightly inside their viewpoint so I don’t drift off and get lost.

Usually, though, I’ll have a natural pause at about 20k where I look at what I’ve got and can do goal/motivation/conflict on the characters I’m working with. At this point I might get glimpses of what’s coming or what the crisis point will be. Sometimes I’ll Google Search pictures (usually actors who seem a close match) and scenery/architecture that looks like it fits the worldbuilding the characters have shown me. I create a screensaver out of that batch of pictures and when I stop writing to think about a scene it inspires me to imagine what’s coming. But 90% of the time the characters are leading me.

 

4. What is your writing schedule like; do you have a daily word count goal that you aim to stick to?

I’ve moved to a tiny beachside community this year – a seachange – and that’s helped me settle into more of a routine than I could manage in Brisbane with all the writing-related activities on offer. When I’m writing draft I aim for 5k a week and when I first moved up here I was doing 10k, so my productivity had doubled, which was fabulous.

For me it’s a natural rhythm thing. I’m trialling letting my body tell me what it wants. I eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired. And when I’m on a roll I just keep writing – the luxury of the single girl writer.

But my life hasn’t always been like this. When I first started writing I had two small children so I had a strict regime. I get more hours in the day now for myself, but I use them for reading, gardening, listening to music, and social network promotion. So I’m not doing any more actual writing than I was, and I don’t plan to. I want to be writing well into old age, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I pace myself. I want to enjoy the journey. It’s one of the blessings of middle age. You finally give yourself permission to relax and just be.

 

5. What do you love most about being an author?

The actual writing. I love it when characters surprise me. When they say or do something and I have to stop and cry. I never think “I’m so clever,” because it’s not about me. It’s all about the characters. Writing draft is the one time in my life where I’m completely out of the picture. There’s no self-consciousness. No performance anxiety. No, ‘Do I look fat in this?” It’s just the bliss of my fingers moving over the keys as words and sentences come together to create a world that hadn’t existed before. I see it happening each day but it still seems impossible that such a simple physical process could create something so unique, so cohesive as the story that unfolds onto my laptop. Intellectually I know I’ve created these stories, but in my heart they just seem to be so amazing I can’t quite believe that someone as ordinary as me could do that.

 

6. What are you working on now?

I’m actually doing manuscript assessments this month (see below) to give myself a break from writing because I’ve done a lot of it this year, and because I love working with other writers. When I finish assessing I’ll be editing the Arabian Nights fantasy (no title yet) and then getting back to a really scary story I started in the beginning of the year and had to stop because it was freaking me out. But the intervening months have made me long for those characters again and I want to finish it. It’s at 20k now and I’ve had the go-ahead from my agent that it’s working, so I just need to man-up a bit and see it through to the end.

 

7. Apart from writing, what are your other interests and hobbies?

I’m a complete cricket tragic. I can watch a whole four day test. Love, love, love it. I also adore anything to do with space, and am an avid follower of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic where I plan to one day be a passenger getting outside the atmosphere. Then there’s da Vinci. I’m hopelessly obsessed with this long-dead guy and his amazing mind.

 

8. You also run a manuscript assessment business. What are the issues you often find in manuscripts that writers could work on before submitting?

Very often the structure of the book needs work. That’s challenging for authors who have trouble seeing the ‘big picture’ of their story and get lost in the details of editing grammar etc. Sometimes there are viewpoint problems: either head-hopping or too many viewpoints dished out which dilutes characterisation.

Tension is vitally important in modern fiction, so I’m always looking for ways authors can enhance the page-turning quality of their books. Sometimes that means holding back information from the reader, and at other times it’s vital to give information to the reader so they can be worried for the characters.

Goal/motivation/conflict has to be crystal clear and sometimes it’s not. Again, that’s big picture stuff. Getting the right balance with characters internalisations so we can see the motivation behind their actions, and dialogue that reflects and enhances characterisation, and maintaining the thread of sensual tension in romances. That’s so important.

With fantasy, which I see a lot of, the worldbuilding has to be strong and consistent, so I’m on the lookout for where it doesn’t gel. When you’re published you get to work with an editor, and I find that so helpful in my own writing. Before you’re published, however, you don’t have access to that resource, so manuscript assessment by a trained industry professional fills the gap for a lot of writers. See this blog post for more details on manuscript assessment:

I see manuscript assessment as a learning tool for writers. I tell them what’s not working and give suggestions on how to fix it. When they’ve used those suggestions to edit their manuscript and can see how much better it is, they usually don’t make those same mistakes again in their writing, so the value isn’t just the enhancement of one story, but hopefully every story that follows. That gives me a happy glow.

 

Connect with Louise online at her website, blog, facebook, and twitter.

 

Thanks for taking part in our Author Spotlight Louise!

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13 Comments

  1. ROB HAMOND

     /  November 14, 2011

    Hi Louise, thanks so much for your most treasured comments which I enjoyed reading. I hope your books succeed with heaps of success and that you get back to your original haunting mystery. Hope the Arabian nights goes well too.
    Thanks for sharing with us…..ROB

    Reply
  2. You’re welcome, Rob, and thanks for those good wishes. ‘Heaps of success’ is the sort of blessing any writer looks for – and plans for if they’re being businesslike about the profession. Nothing worse than being taken by surprise and missing an opportunity! That’s one of the reasons I love RWA. They’re always on the lookout for upcoming opportunities for us so we can be prepared for success. And visualising all those successes just before I fall asleep makes me slumber like a baby!

    Reply
  3. Great interview!!! And HUGE congrats on Momentum picking up your books. Really sounds like a lovely place you’ve moved to as well.
    Rach!

    Reply
  4. Thanks Rachael. It is a gorgeous place, and having Helen Lacey just down the esplanade makes it even sweeter!

    Reply
  5. Cath Evans

     /  November 14, 2011

    What a lovely interview, Louise. I really enjoyed hearing about you and your writing. What brilliant timing that you had your rights back in time to sell the stories again! I hope the international market LOVES them.

    Thanks for the list of m/s issues. I like having things to look for 🙂

    Happy sea change!

    Cath

    Reply
  6. Thanks Cath. Glad to help, and yes the timing was fab. I’d just come back from the RWA conference in Melbourne in August and one of the most important things that came out of that was “get your rights back” to out of print books. So I did, just in time for the Momentum opportunity. As I said in my blog, RWA has been pivotal in my career. Still is!

    Reply
  7. Hey Louise, great interview. Congratulations on the re-release of your trilogy. I’m so looking forward to reading about Talis again – and this time on my Kindle! And 19 years ago our support group started? Time certainly flies by 🙂 x

    Reply
  8. I’m looking forward to reading it on my Kindle too! Thanks Helen.

    Reply
  9. Lovely interview, Louise, with excellent advice. Congrats on the re-release of your books as ebooks – what an exciting time for you. Look forward to reading them!

    Reply
  10. Lillian Grant

     /  November 14, 2011

    Congratulations Louise on taking the plunge into e-publishing. And I am sooo jealous of you moving to the beach. I dream of making such a move. It was wonderful to meet you at the conference.

    Smooches Babe

    Lillian

    Reply
  11. Hey Lillian and Helene, great to catch up with you again here! Yes, I’m loving the beach. Nothing like a sea breeze and the sound of the ocean to calm the nerves and inspire creativity!

    Reply
  12. Thanks for participating Louise! 🙂

    Reply
  13. You’re welcome, Juliet. It was fun!

    Reply

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