I’m a huge Susan Elizabeth Phillips fan. Completely obsessed. My obsession, however, isn’t the stalking variety. I don’t have her address and, she’ll be happy to know, I never will. My obsession stems from how she creates characters that worm themselves into the deepest part of my psyche. I think about them as though they’re old friends instead of imaginary people in a fictional world.
As a writer who is never satisfied with my work, I constantly search for ways to improve my craft and studying SEP has brought my writing process to a new level. Why are her books loved by so many people? What is the magic formula that makes her stories bestsellers? Being a person who needs to analyze everything, I searched and found specific factors about her and her writing that may improve my own craft and career.
Just to be clear, I never attempt to steal or copy her voice, because that would be impossible. Her voice is unique, created from her personal history, interactions with loved ones and not so loved ones, and education. My own voice is marked by my life and experiences and my family’s sarcastic conversations at the dinner table.
There are a few things, however, worth attempting to copy from her.
First, I believe a piece of a writer’s soul lies woven into the words and emotions of everything they write. Prior to the RWA meeting in Atlanta, my only insight into SEP’s personality came from reading blog posts and watching some interviews of her on YouTube. She has a natural sense of humor and exudes optimism in her words both written and spoken.
In Atlanta, I begged my way to being her assistant for a literary signing. No easy task when she has handlers ready and able to do the job. Not only did she permit me to sit at her table and assist her as she signed books and stood for pictures, but she tolerated and even answered my million questions. In other words, she was nice. And not only to me. She took time out to listen to every one of her fans. She hugged a woman who burst into tears upon meeting her and allowed another woman to take several photographs from different cameras. Her authenticity shined through in all her words and actions and her fans, including me, became bigger fans.
Second, SEP is a great writer. Grab one of her books and turn to a random page. Chances are, you will find a gem whether an over the top character, a gut wrenching moment, or hilarious dialogue.
When my own written words fall onto the page with zero emotion and lacking originality, I grab one of her books and delve into her elaborate storylines and ingenious phrasings. And then I remember the effort she pours into each novel she writes. Her magic is an innate talent combined with a great work ethic. After I say a quick prayer for an ounce of that talent, I pour myself more coffee and begin the arduous process of squeezing better dialogue and interesting descriptions from my brain. My work always improves when I dig deeper and push the boundaries without falling over the cliff into exaggeration and clichés.
Finally, Susan Elizabeth Phillips tells an amazing story. There’s no shying away from more difficult topics such as greed, hate, and even rape, but the worlds she builds leave the reader with an optimistic outlook and a genuine lightheartedness. Her characters come to life and become part of the reader’s soul, ultimately changing how that reader sees herself and the world.
No one writes like Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I don’t even try. I do, however, try to incorporate three things from her style into my day: her optimism, her work ethic, and her ability to tell a great story.
Veronica Forand is an attorney and an award-winning writer of romantic suspense. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Kiss of Death, RWA’s chapter for romantic suspense and mystery, the RWA Contemporary Romance chapter, the Valley Forge Romance Writers, and the Washington Romance Writers.
She’s lived in Boston, London, Paris, Geneva, and Washington, DC and is currently residing in Philadelphia. An avid traveler, she roams across five continents in pursuit of skiing, scuba diving, and finding the perfect piece of chocolate.