Susan Aylworth - Contemporary Romance in the Aftermath of a Deadly Fire
Susan Aylworth loves "travel, great music, and good raspberry jam" and claims addiction to "words in almost all polite forms." Her first book, started when she was nine, "was a rip-off of Black Beauty. I wrote eight whole pages!" For her fifth grade career day, she stated her ambition to become "a rich and famous author." Years later, she is pleased to have achieved the 'author' part of that goal. As our Author of the Day, Aylworth tells us all about her latest book. Sunny's Summer.
Please give us a short introduction to what Sunny's Summer is about.
Sunny's story is the second in the "Seasons of Destiny" series. We first met Golden Sunny Ray (Yes, that's her real name!) in Book 1, Paris in the Springtime. On the surface, this book is about recovery from the Camp Fire and an accidental meeting that leads to romance, but there's more going on. Healing is the central theme. Survivors who've lost everything have to figure out how to move on, but others need healing as well: from addiction, from misunderstanding, from painful backgrounds. Love as a healing force appears in a variety of ways.
What inspired you to write against the backdrop of the aftermath of the deadliest fire in California history?
Sunny's observations about the fire are actually mine. I live in Butte County. The fires burned within five miles of my home. We were under an evacuation watch for days. The city park only one-third mile from us was closed in anticipation of evacuation and for three weeks, we didn't leave our home without hazard masks. The flames never reached us, but many of our friends were burned out. My husband, a retired newspaper reporter, and I were asked by local officials to interview fire survivors and write their stories, so I was doing much of the work that Sunny has assigned to herself. I heard so many heart-breaking stories: of getting out just before the flames, of not knowing whether loved ones were safe, or leaving precious items and loved pets behind. One woman begged her mother to get in the car, but couldn't force her. She left to save herself, but her mother died. We met other people who had become instant heroes during the crisis and I feel such admiration for them! I suppose this book is my way of processing the whole experience, getting out on paper all the pain and fear I've seen and felt, all the sorrow I've experienced for friends and neighbors, the respect I feel for those who stepped up to save others.
Tell us more about Sunny Ray. What makes her tick?
Sunny was born in a cult commune among The Children of Rah. Her mother, Donna Reyes, was reborn in the cult as Dawn Ray, and her father is officially listed as unknown, although her mother claims he was Rah, the Sun God. Growing up with neglectful adults and other near-feral children, Sunny largely raised herself and her younger sister, Skye, until their Aunt Olivia visited one day and took the girls with her, refusing to let them stay in the commune's unsafe conditions. Sunny has thrived with her Aunt Olivia and Uncle Enrique in the loving community of Destiny. Yet some of the insecurity of her childhood remains, and she is deeply worried for her sister, Skye, who seems to be following in their mother's footsteps.
What makes Sunny and Evan such a great match?
Although their wounds seem very different, they have much in common. Both need healing. Both need the strength they find from being together.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, always. I was nine when my first poem was published in a small-circulation national magazine and eleven when I announced I would grow up to be a novelist. It's been a lifelong quest.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I have to laugh at that one! Secret skills? Not that many, really, but I have some I enjoy. I make and bottle jams, jellies, marmalade, and other preserves throughout the year. I love to try out new recipes like Hot Tomato Jam and Lemon-Ginger Marmalade. This season's newest is Sweet Plum Butter. I make so much more than my family can eat and end up giving it as gifts. I have to be careful with that, though: Some folks aren't that crazy about my Cayenne Pepper Jelly.
Sunny and Evan have trust issues. How important is trust in a romantic relationship, would you say?
Trust is the basis of real emotional intimacy, which is the foundation for lasting love. How can you share your true self with someone if you're constantly worried about what he or she will do or say behind your back? My answer is you can't. We humans grow up learning to protect ourselves; we only take off our masks around those we trust.
How much research did this book require from you?
In a sense, I lived it. I will never forget stepping out on my front walk last November 8, watching in horror as clouds of black smoke thousands of feet high rolled down at us from the Sierra foothills. Neither can I forget the videos I saw that friends and acquaintances shot as they fled their homes, many of them surrounded by flames on all sides. Survivors I interviewed had mostly had time to come to terms, but there was always a moment when emotion overcame us both and we cried together. Like everyone in our area, I've been involved in the aftermath. I still am.
What is the first thing you do when you start on a new book?
I'm a character-driven author. I flesh out who my main characters are until I am coming to know them. Then I put them in a situation and watch what they do. Thank goodness my husband is also a writer. He gets it when I tell him "my people are acting up today. They just don't want to do things my way." If my characters disagree with me about what they should do next, they almost always win. It is, after all, their story.
Do you have a favorite line from the book, and can you explain what that line means to you?
Let me give you one short paragraph: "The surreal experience of driving into the burned-out town came as a second emotional jolt. Fire-seared chimneys stood like headstones and seemed to announce Here lies the Smith home or Here lived the Jacksons. Like headstones, they stood in rows, one after another, block after block, a graveyard for families’ former lives that stretched as far as she could see, clear to the edge of the charred forest." This was my experience the first time I drove into Paradise after the fire lines were down. It was exactly what I thought.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
Yes and no. I try to write five days a week, but some days I spend more of my time on the other parts of being a writer: research, editing, reading galley proofs or giving interviews. I also find it more difficult to write at the beginning of a book and almost effortless at the end, when my characters know what they need and want to do. I try for a minimum of a thousand words, but I don't kick myself if I've been consumed by other parts of the business.. One good day at the end of drafting Sunny's Summer, I got six thousand. I love days like that!
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Is there such a thing as an 'average' writing day? Mine all seem to be different. I work on a laptop. In theory, I could write anywhere, but I find the ideas flow when I sit in the corner of my office with windows all around me that look out on my rose garden. I sometimes watch a hummingbird hover nearby and I always know when the breeze is picking up. That small connection to the natural world seems to prime my creative engine.
What are you working on right now?
In the "Seasons of Destiny" series, I've published Paris in the Springtime and Sunny's Summer. I'm now working on Book 3: Amber in Autumn. It's fun partly because it picks up where Book 2 left off and carries forward the lives of the same characters while adding in new people and new plot twists. I love Amber. What a fun character to write!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My books are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, Google Play, and Apple Books. Readers can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author. Write to me at [email protected]. I'm also on Twitter @SusanAylworth, Pinterest and Instagram. I love to hear from readers.