Please join me in welcoming Susan McBride, author of the popular Debutante Dropout Mysteries, and the forthcoming YA series, THE DEBS.
My name is Susan McBride, and I’m a workaholic. I’m one of those annoying Type As who can’t seem to sit still. I haven’t had a real vacation since God knows when. Yes, I’ve been called “The Energizer Bunny,” and, no, I haven’t been diagnosed with adult ADHD (yet).
Though I must confess, being a go-getter has come in handy. It sure helped when I had my first novel published by a small traditional press in 1999. Not that I’d expected a huge advertising budget spent on AND THEN SHE WAS GONE when only 2,500 copies were printed; but I guess I’d expected, um, something. What I quickly realized was that, if I wanted to sell more than fifty copies to family and friends, I’d have to promote like a maniac. It was definitely on-the-job training, nothing I could’ve learned in class. I put my public relations major to good use, learning my market and targeting mystery bookstores and regional media, somehow pushing GONE into a second printing. By the time OVERKILL came out, I had the ropes down pretty well. I’d concocted the Deadly Divas, four female mystery authors who toured together in boas and tiaras, and I’d developed a network of friends and acquaintances across the country who were willing to give me a hand (i.e., letting me sleep on their sofas during road trips).
With guidance from author-pals, I signed with an agent and soon had a contract with Avon for three books in my Debutante Dropout Mystery series. The first, BLUE BLOOD, debuted without fanfare in 2004 but caught on fast with bookstores and readers and went back to press even before its official pub date (and has returned to press three more times since). I quickly signed for two additional books, and, like clockwork, THE GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER, THE LONE STAR LONELY HEARTS CLUB, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB followed suit, garnering a handful of award nominations and an actual win (a Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery that might be the only prize I’ll ever get).
It felt like a feast after 10 years of famine, and I toured like a woman possessed, going anywhere and everywhere I could to plug my books. My schedule got so crazed that I regularly boxed myself into a corner, often leaving just three months to write a book. I knew I was burning the candle at both ends, but the publicity whirl was so much fun. I was hooked.
Even after I met Ed in November of 2005 and realized I was seriously smitten, I didn’t slow the hectic pace of my life; though I started feeling the pull then, of wanting to stay home yet needing to be out there, smack in the middle of things. I probably would’ve kept it up, too, if it hadn’t been for that pesky breast cancer diagnosis just before Christmas in 2006. Nothing like being told you have a lump in your boob to put a brake on things, huh?
Suddenly, a giant STOP sign had been thrown up in my face and all that mattered was my health. My to-do list changed drastically. It no longer involved speaking gigs, book festivals and conventions, but seeing doctors, setting up surgery, and getting through 33 radiation treatments while finishing my fifth Deb Dropout Mystery, TOO PRETTY TO DIE, and writing THE DEBS, my first YA book for Delacorte. Yeah, even when I was being ordered to rest, I had work to do. I did cancel my trips to promote NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB (released in February as I started rad therapy), which truly upset me. I sat down and cried, feeling like I was letting people down when I’d never missed a gig before, not once for any reason.
What I learned—and am still learning—is that I am not a robot. I simply can’t do everything. I cannot live with so much stress in my life that my neck is permanently stiff. Being forced to be a patient reminded me how much I missed having quiet times, how great it was not to live out of a suitcase, and how thoroughly and completely I loved the writing process. My passion for words is why I’d gotten into this crazy business in the first place. Suddenly, my desire to be Publicity Goddess seemed far less urgent.
The very wise Jerrilyn Farmer advised that I learn to be a Type A-minus, and, boy, I’m working on it. I’ve stopped trying to juggle so many balls at once, which has meant pulling back from unessential obligations. I’m staying home more, focusing on my writing (namely, the non-mystery YA series to debut next August with THE DEBS), planning my wedding, and spending more time with Ed. I used to be afraid to turn down gigs for fear I’d never be invited again, and now I’m comfortable saying, “No.” There’s something very scary—yet very freeing—about uttering that two-letter word when it used to be so anathema to me.
Perhaps some folks can do it all. Not me. Not anymore. I want to simplify my life, learn how to take it easy, and stop to smell the roses instead of trampling over them in my haste to get where I’m going. There’s nothing wrong with taking the scenic route after all—it might take a wee bit longer, but it’s a whole lot sweeter.
P.S. My breast cancer was a rare type—only 2% of cases—called mucinous carcinoma, typically found in older women. I’m fortunate that the prognosis was excellent from the start. I’m completely cancer-free and have been since January, and I made it through radiation with flying colors. I’ve been working out with a personal trainer to regain my strength, and I feel great. Did stress play a part in things? Who knows. But I think my ordeal was definitely a wake-up call, and, baby, I heard it loud and clear. Did I mention Ed and I are heading to a B&B next weekend (no laptops allowed)? Being a Type A-minus does have its benefits!