Today I am talking with author Susan Wingate about her book, Bobby’s Diner. The review from Coffee Time Romance. Could you start off by giving us the base storyline of Bobby’s Diner?
Of course. The story begins fifteen years after Georgette, a southern girl, arrives in the small town of Sunnydale, Arizona. Her husband (and Vanessa’s EX-husband), Bobby has just died and he ends up bequeathing his diner to both women.
The underlying tension between Vanessa and Georgette was great. Reading it reminded me of when there is an accident on the side of the road and we have to check it out for our own morbid fascination. Did you base either Vanessa or Georgette on any real-life characters?
That’s a great way to describe the tension, Danielle. Thank you!
About the people in the story and their development, I suppose all of my characters have bits and pieces of real-life people comingled in them but to answer is Vanessa fashioned after any one in particular, I’d have to say “no.” Now, Georgette physically resembles a woman I know. But, I don’t know this woman all that well so Georgette certainly is not designed from her personality. These two women are the most fictional main characters I’ve written to date.
The storyline of Bobby’s Diner is very unique. I have never read a story where the ex-wife and the OTHER woman come together in such a way. Where did you come up with an idea like this?
The story came to me in parts. The first part presented itself when Georgette arrived in Sunnydale riding in the semi – the scene with the trucker. After that, the other parts of the story began to emerge. Conflict is at the heart of any good story and I’m always concerned with building it well. I thought, “Okay, so she gets involved with a married man. It’s been done.” Then, I thought, “What can I do to make THAT situation more interesting and new?” That’s where the idea of the two women having to deal with each other on a daily basis came up.
In the story, Vanessa starts out as this bitter woman who really could care less about Georgette. As Bobby’s Diner progresses, her characteristic and mannerism changes toward the other woman. She became almost motherly toward the woman who stole her husband. Was this done deliberately on your part or did the story take on a mind of its own?
A little of both. I definitely developed an outline before I started writing too much of the story. So, much of the intention of Vanessa’s motherliness was there from the beginning but to actually make her sympathetic as a character and toward Georgette was dicey. I needed to be able to pull it off without it seeming schmaltzy. Bringing Roberta into the mix was intentional because Georgette kind of became like a sister to her and, with Vanessa already Roberta’s mother, it seemed to flow naturally from there.
Every detail of Sunnydale and the townspeople is described with such vivid clarity. From the shops, to the weather, to the Mayor; the depictions are very precise and crystal-clear. Were the settings based on real people and places? Or are they a figment of your brilliant imagination?
The setting is definitely based on a small town in Arizona that I’ve actually traveled through several times mostly as a youngster. And, in 2005, when I was researching another story, I traveled through it again. The place seemed to beg to be written into a story.
The people are all fictional. As you can tell by the mayor, I have about the lowest sense of respect for politicians and maybe that’s why he feels so believable. Ha!
Vanessa’s daughter Roberta is very angry and resentful of her father and Georgette. Her characteristics are what you would see from most children that came from a broken home. In some ways I noticed that she almost resembled a little girl who had lost her favorite toy. Did you plan on Roberta staying so resentful of life in general throughout her adulthood and well into her forties?
Absolutely. I know a few women like this myself. It’s like they never break out of the past. Roberta only begins to change later in the story as do most of the characters. I think a progressive life-altering change held out to the very end is more profound than one written in slowly over the entire length of the book. Roberta’s contrast was intentional. It’s part of writing the character’s epiphany, that development of a character’s psyche when she realizes what’s important in life. It’s that “Aha!” effect we hear about.
I notice the telling of Bobby’s Diner is a sort of blasé style of writing. For example, there is a certain part of the story when Georgette is talking about how Bobby describes her looks in a positive way and then let’s the zinger go about her having too big of boobs but he guesses he can live with them. Do you find that you have a sort of matter-of-fact cadence to your talking? Or is this something just found in your writings?
You know, I think it changes with each character that I write. As you’re aware, this is what the industry calls “voice” and I would hate all my narrators to sound exactly the same. I wouldn’t want to read books like that and I’m guessing neither would my readers. But, truly, when I’m writing in the voice of a character from a different background, say, from one that I’ve written in another novel, it only seems natural to change the style of their dialogue or narrative. Harvey in “Of the Law,” my first novel, sounds nothing like Georgette. Not only is this derived from the difference of their sexes but also in his background and mental state. He is oceans different from Georgette in that Harvey lives in the Pacific Northwest. He’s a lawman and deals with professionals within the justice system on a daily basis. Georgette is this sweet, unassuming woman who is a southerner by birth and has not been educated past high school. They should sound different. And, when you get into a story (what I call being “immersed in story”), the character is speaking not the writer.
Georgette describes her stereo system with some of Bobby’s favorite singers, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to name a couple. Are these the same type of songs and singers you like?
YES!!!!! You got me there. I love the oldies and when I was fourteen I actually believed I would marry Frank Sinatra… alas, that didn’t pan out for me.
While Georgette is mourning Bobby, there is such an air of sadness throughout the telling that the very air is permeated with it. When you write such sad scenes, do you use any stimulus such as sad songs to set the mood? Do you have certain habits you find yourself doing while writing, whether it be listening to the radio or listening to the television?
No, not really. Sometimes I listen to classical music while I’m writing but not always. I work best when I have no external distractions. I find every situation, at whatever point I’m writing, takes me to different emotional points. That’s where I write from, the story.
I was checking out your website and noticed in your bio it mentions an accounting degree. How did you go from being an accountant to being a writer?
Isn’t that funny? It seems weird to me too although Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were both engineers. Still, to answer your question, my father was a HUGE influence on me writing, on me becoming a writer. He was a writer and I always admired the fact that he could. I never felt I was nearly his level but would try anyway. I never really showed him any of my creative writing because I felt so inadequate but maybe he would’ve liked my style. He passed away in 1996.
I went from theatre to waitressing to accounting (my longest stint up until the writing) to inn keeping and finally landed in what I love, writing. That’s my crazy journey to where I am now.
Your webpage also mentions you have a blog. Do you have any other websites that your fans may be interested in hearing about? Maybe a MySpace or face book page?
I’m on most of the social networking sites, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Author’s Den, Authors & Experts, Xing, Ning and a few hundred others, I’m afraid!
Your website bio mentions that you are a co-founder of the San Juan Island Creative Women’s Group. It is also mentions that you teach writing classes at your local community college. Can you tell us about the Women’s group and what it represents? What is it about writing that has you passionate to not only put your stories on paper, but to teach it to others?
The San Juan Island Creative Women’s Group is a vibrant group of professional artists – writers, painters, dancers and other arts. We meet regularly and discuss marketing and opportunities for the members. We don’t meet to be creative in our specialty but to be creative in the methods of our promotion as artists which is very different from promoting other business interests.
About the teaching, writing is my passion and when I meet others who want to learn to write novels, I just want to help them. I love being able to pass on my experiences about writing and the writing industry to people who are starting out. Teaching makes me feel like I’m doing something of great value.
I found you on the Goodreads webpage and noticed you have very diverse tastes in books. Do you have a favorite book? Any literature that left a lasting and memorable impression on you? One that started you on your path toward becoming an author?
My favorite book is usually the one I just read! There are so many fabulous reads out there, from classics to contemporaries. I love W. Somerset Maugham and Poe. I love Ian McEwan, Michael Collins, Phyllis Schieber, Richard Russo – the list goes on and on. Meg Cabot! Kurt Vonnegut – Ohmygod!
Now for a couple of fun questions. If you could own your own diner what would it be called and what would the atmosphere be like? Would you want a certain type of food or have more of the typical diner fare?
My diner would be called “Sitto’s” and it would be a place with white linens and chunky candles on each table. We’d have male waiters with long white aprons and a towel over an arm. We’d serve thick juicy red wines and Mediterranean foods – grape leaves, hummus, tabouli.
The name is what we used to call my grandmother on my dad’s side, Sitto. She was Lebanese and happened to be the best cook in the galaxy. The atmosphere of my diner would be classy but comfortable. You’d have to be able to wear jeans!
One more question for you. In keeping with the Coffee Time theme, if you could describe yourself as a cup of coffee, what flavor would you be and why?
I’m very strong, espresso roast, with five drops of agave nectar, a slop of whipping cream on top sprinkled with chocolate shavings and a cinnamon stick so you wouldn’t forget me, of course.
I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I had a great time reading your book and a fun time interviewing you. I would like to add that Bobby’s Diner is available through www.ebooksonthe.net in PDF, HTML, RTF, and Mobi. Cambridge Books has scheduled a release of the paperback version for February 2009!
Thank you, Danielle. Your questions were very challenging and fun. Thank you for reading my book. I appreciate your time. –Sincerely, Susan.