Susan E. Farris’s debut novel is a riveting family drama with romance and Southern gothic elements. Here’s what she had to say about the behind-the-scenes of writing her book.

Hi Susan! I’m familiar with your novel, but why don’t you introduce yourself to those who have be unfamiliar?

I write Southern fiction—contemporary with gothic vibes and romance!

My most recent published work is The Gravedigger’s Guild—a standalone, Southern family drama about estranged sisters who have one last chance to lay the past to rest at their mother’s funeral.

What inspired you to write your most recent novel? It is your first or have you written others?

The Gravedigger’s Guild is my first novel. I’ve lost all of my grandparents at this point and really needed a way to write through the grief. So I already had this idea about how funerals can bring people together or break them apart and wanted to play with it.

Then I read an article about a lovely, historic church not too far from where I lived called the Chapel of the Cross. Due to the historic cemetery and old trees surrounding the graves, they have a guild that digs the graves by hand and other really touching traditions surrounding the wake and funeral. And ta-dah! I had the bones for The Gravedigger’s Guild.

My latest series is born from my love for the Mississippi Delta, where my mom is from and where I spent a good portion of my childhood. I wanted to write about all the amazing things of the area without ignoring its challenging aspects.

Each town in the Delta has its own unique character, so visiting them gave me plenty of inspiration for my location and MCs! I wanted to start the series with a pecan theme because of my memories of picking up pecans with my grandfather and the magnificent old pecans surrounding my grandparents’ house.

Such a creative way to explore those themes! What’s your writing routine?

Haphazardly structured! I work according to what stage of story development I’m at, so it can vary a lot.

But I like to start my day off with breakfast and my matcha latte while I sort through email or read for a few minutes. I’m not a morning person, so it takes me a while to rev up—the advice to “write first thing” just leaves me wanting to throw my computer out the window.

Getting nagging little tasks out of the way is the first thing I do, or I will procrastinate all day, so I try not to judge myself for taking an hour or two to work on marketing and business tasks first thing when I sit down at my desk.

To get into the groove, I have to have something to drink on hand (trying to break my soda habit!) and I like to listen to instrumental study music while I work. If it’s a really nitty-gritty day, I’ll shut all of my pets out of my office and light a great-smelling candle.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

Ooh, you went right for the jugular. Right now, probably anything Jane Austen, Circe by Madeline Miller, and Anxious People by Fredrick Blackman.

What writers inspire you?

Anyone with a strong voice, attention to detail and natural beauty, and deep connection to their characters. My best writing friend is Dawn Dugle, another romance writer, who always challenges me to push harder and do more with my writing. I can’t slouch around her-in a good way!

But I’ve also really love writers like Sue Monk Kidd, Kristin Hannah, and Angie Thomas who challenge me to think more deeply about things. Books that leave an impression get a spot on my shelf no matter the genre, so I read widely even when I write niche. One day I’d love to create a Southern magical realism series using old folk tales I’ve been collecting and with notes of Erin Morgenstern.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty! It’s like the Arabian Nights come to life. And now I have a massive book hangover. I’ve got a couple of non-fic books I might knock out next or maybe something frothy like Malibu Rising.

Do you use any life experiences to inspire your writing? Only every dang time. Writing fiction has been a great way to ponder the things I’ve learned the hard way in my own life or observed others going through. Since my stories are based so deeply in places and the kinds of people I know, it’s easy to write in the things that might have been, the things I wish I had done better, or most painfully times I terrifically failed.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve been a BIG reader since I was really little and loved writing short stories and personal essays in school. It didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer until high school but I still went through the usual sidetracks of other majors and careers first. I finally couldn’t take all the words pummeling me inside anymore, got my MFA so I’d have a little more craft experience, and began writing full-time.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

You don’t have to be a full-time author to be a writer. Find a time to sit down and write at least once a week so your story doesn’t go cold. When I was still in grad school and working full-time, I set a goal to write one scene of five hundred words a day. And I got through most of The Gravedigger’s Guild like that way in just a couple of months. Finding pockets of time is your friend.

What’s your experience marketing your book? Any tips?

I actually came from the world of marketing and while the basic skills are the same, it shocked me how different and intense building my own author brand was. The biggest thing has been learning how to speak to readers and not other authors.

One of the things that drove me nuts was the pressure from a lot of resources to do. all. the things. NO. I wasted so much time feeling like I had to be everywhere and try every grassroots and traditional marketing method. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Start with one thing and get good with it before you move onto the next. Full in, one thing at a time.

I’d suggest this order: basic author website, basic email newsletter set-up (one newsletter template, one reader magnet, and one welcome sequence is all you need) and then pick one social media platform. Blogging, video, podcast, affiliate marketing, ads—all that can wait until you’re ready to add onto your platform or wanting to get more advanced with the things you’re already doing.

This framework would have allowed me to set aside all the busy work and focus on writing books and building a readership for those books, before adding all the bells and whistles.

What’s next for you? Do you have any other books in the works right now?

With the launch of Nuts About You this fall, I’m excited to get started on the rest of the Midnight Bluff series—possible seven more books! There are so many fun and quirky characters that I can’t wait for everyone to get to know.

I also have a couple side projects: a children’s book called Llamas on the Loose and a poetry collection called Flooding the Delta.

Susan Farris

Susan Farris is a Southern author and poet with a passion for local stories and local voices. You will see many of her favorite places appear in her stories and poems.

When she’s not wrangling words on the page, she can be found gardening, playing board games, or snuggled up with her three cats and two dogs appreciating her husband’s amazing cooking skills. #cheflevel.

Her debut work The Gravedigger’s Guild, a Southern Gothic novel, is now available online wherever books are sold.

If you’d like to follow Susan’s writing journey and be the first to receive news about upcoming releases, special offers, and exclusive gifts, join her email bi-weekly newsletter here.


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