“God was inviting me…” – An Interview with Catholic Novelist Susan Peek
Most Recent Book: A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis (Third Edition, revised).
Current Employment: Stay-at-home mother, author, and private dyslexia tutor.
Profile: Catholic novelist Susan Peek is a wife, mother of eleven children, and a Third Order Franciscan. Her passion is writing novels of little-known saints and heroes, especially for teens and young adults (and anyone young at heart!). She is an active member of the Catholic
Writers Guild, teaches creative writing in her spare time, and is currently continuing work on her series God’s Forgotten Friends: Lives of Little-known Saints. Her books have been implemented into the curriculum of numerous Catholic schools worldwide and continue to be a favorite with young adults and homeschooling families everywhere. She has also authored numerous radio plays of both saints’ lives and animal stories for children, which have been produced in audio format.
List of Books Published:
Crusader King: A Novel of Baldwin IV and the Crusades (TAN Books, 2003)
Saint Magnus, The Last Viking (Catholic Vitality Publications, 2014)
A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis (Lepanto Press, 2001; Ignatius Press, 2007; Catholic Vitality Publications, 2015)
Author Website: www.susanpeek.com
Favorite Quote: “In many chapels, reddened by the setting sun, the saints rest silently, waiting for someone to love them.” - Unknown (This quote was the inspiration for my series God's
Forgotten Friends: Lives of Little-known Saints.)
Favorite Movie: The Thirteenth Warrior (1999).
Favorite Painting: “The Holy Face” painted by the sister of St. Therese.
Favorite Song: “Once in Royal David's City” by Arthur Henry Mann and Cecil Frances Alexander.
Favorite Place: In a mountain forest.
Favorite Meal: Turkey with stuffing and gravy, black olives and turnips.
Favorite Cocktail: Mudslide.
Last Book Read: The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt.
Last Movie Seen: 84 Charring Cross Road (1987).
Last Trip Taken: To Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Silver City, NM,
where our son took the habit as a Benedictine monk last December.
Last Non-literary Feat: Getting a dyslectic student through all the levels of the Barton Reading and Spelling System as a tutor.
CatholicFiction.net: Why do you write?
Susan Peek: As a mother of eleven, with nineteen years of homeschooling experience, books have always played an enormous part in my life. As my children grew older, I began to realize that there are actually very few well-written, exciting Catholic novels for teens. The market is flooded with wonderful old reprints for little children, but enjoyable, fast-paced novels written in modern language that appeals to young adults were almost non-existent, especially stories of the saints. I've always loved writing – and I've always loved obscure saints that no one has ever heard of – so it seemed that God was inviting me to combine these two loves of mine and write modernized saint novels for teens.
CF: What first inspired you to become a writer?
SP: I wrote my first “book” when I was four years old, and have never really stopped. My idea of summer vacation as a kid was to sit at my mom's clunky old typewriter for three months, lost in some silly novel. But as an adult, my career really started when a Catholic movie producer, who happened to be a friend of my sister, contacted me and asked if I would be willing to write a movie script. I jumped at it, and soon my husband got on board too, and we co-wrote the movie Camillus. Due to funding, it never got produced, but a literary agent in New York got ahold of the script and loved it. She told us there was no market at the time for Catholic movies, and encouraged us to adapt it for something more salable. That's what inspired me to turn it into a novel. It was published initially by Lepanto Press, and when it sold well, I knew I wanted to keep writing novels.
CF: If you were a critic writing about your own books, how would you describe the defining characteristic of your writing style?
SP: To be honest, the one thing critics continually comment on is my use of somewhat modern language in stories that take place hundreds of years ago. Adults often pull me up on it, but I've found that most teenagers (who are my target audience after all!) seem to love it and that's one thing that makes my books so appealing to them. Every author eventually learns that they can't please everyone, so in my case I'd rather please the young adults than the grown-ups.
CF: Is there a favorite place you have to write?
SP: For my first three books, I wrote them out with pen and paper, and then later typed them. So I could write a chapter anywhere – a waiting room, our van, wherever I was bored and free to scribble. Now that I use a computer, I usually write at a little table near a window in the bedroom.
CF: What is your cure for writer's block?
SP: When I'm stuck on a chapter, I start experimenting with viewpoints. I'll try the scene from a totally different POV than I had originally intended, and often the act of getting into another character's head is enough to get the creative juices flowing again. Another trick is to start every writing session by rereading and editing the previous day's work.
CF: What is your cure for procrastination?
SP: Ha! If anyone finds it, please tell me! I'm dying to know!
CF: Describe in your own words what the “Catholic imagination” is – or alternatively, what it means to be a “Catholic writer.”
SP: Just as being a Catholic means to do everything for God's glory, wanting above all to help Our Lord save souls, I think a Catholic writer must also have this always in mind. Someone can be a brilliant writer, and a Catholic in name, but if his work doesn't inspire at some level, then it's really a waste of time. I'm not saying that everything has to be religious or pious by any means, but a Catholic author should at least strive to lift the reader up and bring him a few steps closer to God.
CF: What three writers – alive or dead – would you like to invite to dinner?
SP: First, Lois Duncan. She was my absolute favorite author when I was a teenager. I lived in Albuquerque, NM, at the same time she did, and my creative writing teacher was close friends with her. On one occasion, my teacher showed Mrs. Duncan samples of my writing, and she said, “Someday Susie will be a published author.” I'm sure she doesn't remember me, but I've always treasured her words!
Second, K.M. Weiland. I love her style and she is a master at teaching writing craft.
Third, Therese Heckenkamp. A wonderful lady and the Catholic Lois Duncan if ever there was one!
CF: What would you serve them – appetizer, main course, dessert and drink?
SP: Well, seeing we're all females, my guess is that no one could resist chocolate. And all being writers, coffee would definitely be served. (I suspect every writer lives off caffeine.)
CF: What is the "best thing" about being a writer?
SP: The most wonderful thing is receiving comments from strangers telling you that they loved your book. It's an incredible feeling to know that you're touching lives literally around the globe. For myself, I've even had people tell me they've named their babies after the saints I wrote about – Camillus, Magnus, Baldwin – names they would never have even heard of otherwise. That is the ultimate compliment and always blows me away!
CF: What is your latest book about?
SP: In his youth, Saint Camillus was very worldly and proud – a mercenary soldier addicted to gambling and drinking – yet God never gave up on him until Camillus eventually surrendered his own will to the Divine, and headed off on the road to sanctity.
CF: What inspired you to write this story in the first place?
SP: Like I mentioned, this was originally written, together with my husband, as a screenplay. I thought the action and conflict in the story would make an exciting movie. As a novel, it has since been through three editions and translated into Spanish. The current edition has just recently been released.
CF: Did you hold onto the idea for a long time before giving it shape, or did it come together in a flash?
SP: As a screenplay, my husband and I wrote it in a few months. The script then sat in a bottom drawer for several years before I decided to change it into a novel. Once I got going, the whole thing was written very quickly, probably because I had the movie as an outline.
CF: What did you learn about yourself in writing this book?
SP: I've learned that if someone as rough and wild as my hero could become a great saint, it must be possible for everyone. So in a certain sense, my own book reproaches me that I have not yet followed enough in Saint Camillus's footsteps.
CF: What did you have to do to prepare for this book in terms of research, etc.?
SP: The research was actually very easy, as there were several short biographies of Saint Camillus in books we had at home.
CF: Which characters in this book did you find most challenging to work with, and what was it like to write with them? Conversely, do you have any characters that came particularly easily to you?
SP: The character Curzio started to threaten to take over the story! It was a relief when the plot moved away from him, because he was one of those characters who definitely started writing himself. In this book, all the characters came easily, but that hasn't been the case with all of my books.
CF: Name one good habit you do have as a writer and would like to continue to cultivate.
SP: I read a lot, especially young adult novels, and my mind is always analyzing the writing techniques the authors use. I'm also continually adding to my collection of books on writing craft.
CF: Name one bad habit you have as a writer that you would like to break.
SP: I'm too much of a perfectionist, wanting to get every chapter perfect before I move on. I know that's ridiculous, as my books always go through several drafts, but I can get so hung up on a particular scene that I labor over it for weeks instead of moving on.
CF: Name one good habit you would like to have as a writer and do not have at the moment.
SP: I would love to be the kind of writer that can set a daily word count goal and actually stick to it!
CF: What is the most discouraging aspect of being a writer?
SP: I think the most discouraging thing is pouring yourself into a book, sometimes for a year or more, before facing the sad reality that that particular story isn't going to work out. I've had to abandon several novels, and it always leaves me a little sad, kind of like losing a beloved friend.
CF: What one project do you daydream about accomplishing as a writer – your magnum opus?
SP: I would love to eventually have an entire series of God's Forgotten Friends: Lives of Little-known Saints, which I've only written the first few so far.
Subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter Catholic, Ink. - click here - receive book reviews and the column "The Catholic Imagination and You"
Be part of the Catholic Literary Revival.