We interviewed author Susannah Charleson, whose first nonfiction book, Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) made the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Amazon, and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists in 2010 and 2011. Charleson’s second book, The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of Rescues Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing, was published in 2013. Her third book, Faithful: Notes from the Search for Man’s Lost Best Friend, will be published in spring 2019. In addition to her partnership with working dogs, Charleson is a full time professor for Collin College, teaching media studies. She is a 2003-2004 alumnus of The Writer’s Garret.
What you’re reading right now:
What led me to read Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life at the same time as Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris? Those are pretty weird bedfellows. I don’t know, but it’s been a lucky pairing. Washington: A Life won the Pulitzer– and justifiably so. I began reading it before I knew I would be crawling all over New England this summer for research, and it’s been pretty amazing to read about a house or embattled patch of ground and then stand where Washington stood, sometimes the day after I read him standing there. Sedaris’ wry take on the world is a great departure. I had heard is radio pieces but had never read one of his books. And here’s where the title’s the thing: I picked Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls off the bookshelf because the whackadoo title told me nothing would be too reverent. Sometimes I need a good shot of take-no-prisoners irreverence.
How do you decide what goes on your reading list? Word of mouth, reviews, friends?
I have a number of authors I go back to, lurking their websites and creeping their social media pages for the next book coming out. Kate Atkinson (A God in Ruins, Life After Life …so many great books) and Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies) are two I just can’t get enough of. My best friend of 40 years is a big reader, and she tips me to a lot of great books. I owe my Atkinson addiction to her. I think word of mouth is probably the thing that hooks me most.
Guilty pleasure read:
Hoosh. I never feel guilty about reading anything. Gideon Defoe wrote a series of small, crazy pirate parodies, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab and others similar, that are certainly not deep reading but do make me laugh every time.
A book you just couldn’t finish:
The Girl On the Train
A book you just couldn’t put down:
Favorite book growing up:
I was a little reading fiend as a kid, but I remember an author named Susan Coolidge, who wrote a series of books in 1872 called What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next, etc. that I liked very much. I also liked the “shoe” books by Noel Streatfield–Ballet Shoes, Skating Shoes, Party Shoes. I was crazy into biographies as a kid, too. I remember reading biographies of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Jenny Lind, and some of the great ballerinas, like Marie Taglioni and Margot Fonteyn.
You’re trapped on an island and can only have three books. What are they?
Patrick O’Brian’s H.M.S. Surprise and Post Captain; Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Authors/books that have influenced your writing style the most:
Patrick O’Brian, Kate Atkinson, Evelyn Waugh, Michael Perry, James Herriot, Barry Unsworth
What do you read when you’re working on a book?
Usually at least two books outside my genre at the time—so, if I’m writing a memoir, I’m reading fiction and usually history or biography. When I’m writing memoir, I can’t read memoir at all. Those voices are very personal, and I’m so drawn into them as a reader that assimilating some of that voice is a risk.
What do you have coming up?
A new book coming out in 2019–Faithful: Notes from the Search for Man’s Lost Best Friend (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). And … one of my favorite seminars to lead for The Writer’s Garret, Pitch Perfect, which helps writers get their stories in front of the right agents, editors, and producers. It’s the seminar I wish I’d had when I was starting out, when I wasn’t sure where to query, how much to say in a pitch, what to submit, and how to figure out the best fit for my work. The great thing about this seminar is that you don’t have to have a complete manuscript to take it. The strategies we cover can also help a writer just really getting into their work figure out how to make a muddy story crystalline from the start—which is what it’s got to be when the manuscript is done.
This interview is the sixth in our Fall Series. To read from the beginning, click here. Susannah’s upcoming class, Pitch Perfect: Your Push for Publication, will take place at The Writer’s Garret on Saturday, October 21. Find out more here.