Interview with Susan Mallery

6 min read

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship, romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live. Visit her at https://susanmallery.com/ or on Instagram @susanmallery

Girly Book Club: What can you tell our members about your new release, The Vineyard at Painted Moon?

Susan Mallery: The Vineyard at Painted Moon is both epic and intimate. It’s epic in the sense that it revolves around the Barcellona family and the vineyards they have nurtured for generations. It’s intimate in that it is really the story of Mackenzie Dienes, a Barcellona by marriage, and what happens when she realizes—or rather, finally accepts—that her marriage isn’t working.

She’s the winemaker, an artist with an almost magical ability to craft world-class wines, so the family matriarch would be happy to let her stay. But if she divorces her husband, she’ll never be anything more than an employee. As a winemaker, she knows the importance of roots, but she’ll never be allowed to establish any of her own.

But if she sets off on her own, she loses the connection to the land that she loves, and more importantly, to the only family she has.

The Vineyard at Painted Moon asks you to consider what does it mean to make the hard decision.

GBC: Where did the inspiration for The Vineyard at Painted Moon come from?

SM: The Washington state wine country inspired me—and the incredible wines it produces. I also loved the idea of writing about a female winemaker. There are more and more of them, but it’s still a male-dominated field. With that established, I asked myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen to a winemaker?” (Because fiction is all about torturing characters and, in the case of my books, making them earn their happy ending.) I thought, “What if she loses the land she loves?”

That’s how it started. The Vineyard at Painted Moonis ultimately a story of hope, a story of naming your dream and then claiming it.

GBC: What was involved in your research for writing this novel? Did it involve visits to wineries and/or wine tasting sessions?

SM: I’m a wine lover, so in a sense, I’ve been “researching” this book for years. And what a joy it’s been! When I decided that now was the time to write this story, I did connect personally with a winemaker I’ve long admired, to get a deeper understanding of the job. It’s the kind of job that’s more than a job, it’s an obsession. It’s not what Mackenzie does, it’s who she is.

GBC: If you were to suggest a wine pairing for our community to enjoy while reading The Vineyard at Painted Moon, what would it be?

SM: Since The Vineyard at Painted Moon is set in Walla Walla, Washington, I’ll recommend a Washington winery. Anything from L’Ecole winery would be fabulous. They do terrific whites and reds. I prefer red myself, but they do both equally well. They have pretty great national distribution, so (fingers crossed) you can find them locally.

GBC: How did you get into writing and what inspired you to write your first book?

SM: When I was in college (studying to be an accountant, of all things), I kept seeing a flyer for an adult education evening course titled “How to Write a Romance Novel.” I didn’t have time to take another class, particularly one that wouldn’t give me any credits toward graduating, but the lure was too strong. I had read romances since I was a young teen, and the idea that writing them could actually be a way to earn a living seemed too good to be true. So I signed up for the class. By week six, I knew I had found my calling.I shredded that first book years ago, by the way. It was horrid. I racked up many rejections before I finally got “the call.”

GBC: What makes a book great, in your opinion? What elements does a great story possess?

SM: For me, it’s all about emotion, and the way a skilled author can elicit them in readers. My very weird job is to make you feel something—what I want you to feel, when I want you to feel it. And without me being able to control your environment or what’s happening in your life.From a writerly standpoint, every great story must be well structured in order for it to work for me. (Reading is very subjective, so of course there are no absolutes.) I want to see a character grow and change, and I want to witness and experience the events that lead to that change. Above all, I want an ending that feels satisfying and that fills me with hope and happiness.

GBC: When you start writing a new book, what is your goal? What do you aim to invoke in your readers?

SM: I want to take my readers on an emotional journey. There may be some heartache along the way, but ultimately each book should leave the reader feeling that her world is a happier place.

GBC: Do you ever base your characters off individuals from your life or include snippets of your personal life into your novels?

SM: Snippets, probably. But mostly no. If I’ve done my job, the characters become their own people. Their reactions to things that happen will be different than mine would be—and sometimes I don’t necessarily approve of the way they react! (I’m thinking of Barbara in The Vineyard at Painted Moon, who… well, you’ll see. No spoilers, but let’s just say that she does some things I would never dream of doing.)I’ve written a lot of books. If I were to base my books on real life—even the lives of people I know—I would have run out of material a long time ago. But thankfully, my imagination continues to supply me with new and interesting stories.

GBC: What does your writing process look like? Do you map each story out from start to finish or do you begin with an idea and see where it takes you?  

SM: Oh yes, I’m a plotter. (In the writing world, there’s a spectrum from plotter to pantser—writing “by the seat of your pants”—and I am on the extreme plotting end.) When I plot my books, it’s essentially the world’s shortest first draft. That’s where I work out all my story problems. Some writers find that restrictive, but for me it’s the opposite. When I know where the story is going, it frees me to jump in and run. And on the days when the writing isn’t coming easily, having a road map allows me to get my pages done anyway.

GBC: Any advice you can share with the aspiring writers within our community?

SM: Don’t quit. Never quit. There are a lot of very talented writers who will never be published simply because they gave up. You never know which story is going to be the one.

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