Vol. 111 (2021) 

Five Questions for New York Times Bestselling Novelist Susan Wilson




Susan Wilson is the author of 12 novels, including her 2010 book, One Good Dog, that spent six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Dog Who Danced, that received the coveted Maxwell Medal for Fiction from the Dog Writer’s Association of America. Her first published novel, Beauty (1996), was made into a CBS Sunday Night Movie starring Jamey Sheridan and Janine Turner. And her novel, A Man of His Own (2013), was named as the One Book One Independence 2020 selection by the Independence Public Library in Independence, Iowa.


She lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, a retired schoolteacher, and their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Cora. She has two grown daughters, three grandchildren, four step-grandchildren and a Quarter horse mare named Maggie Rose.


Stay Thirsty Magazine was, as always, thrilled to visit with Susan Wilson for these Five Questions about her newest novel, What a Dog Knows, her love of animals and her advice to aspiring writers.


STAY THIRSTY: Your new novel, What a Dog Knows, is your seventh book where a dog plays a central role. What was the genesis of this story? How did you settle on a traveling psychic who discovers she can read the mind of animals and who knows that her psychic powers are hereditary?


SUSAN WILSON: Ruby Heartwood was a secondary character in my 2002 novel The Fortune Teller’s Daughter (Atria). She was, of course, the mother of the titular daughter. A friend of mine just fell in love with her and kept telling me that she wanted more from Ruby. Thus, I began with an already established character; a gift in a way. Ruby was already a traveler, refusing to settle in one place; she had family, and it was such fun to give her grandchildren. The idea of the sudden gift of "hearing" what animals think was something that felt plausible. It dovetailed nicely into my theme of the relationship between people and their dogs.

STAY THIRSTY: Your main character, Ruby, is a survivor on so many levels ... an orphan and teenage runaway, a rape victim, a single mother and a woman living alone in a Volkswagen van as she traveled to work carnivals and festivals. Did she develop over time as you wrote this book, or was she fully formed in your mind from page one? Did she surprise or disappoint you at any time?


SUSAN WILSON: As Ruby had been given this traumatic backstory in the previous novel, I had the foundation on which to expand her character development. When I started writing the book, I hadn’t meant to focus on her growing desire to solve the central mystery of her life: who abandoned her at the convent and why. I realized that she needed to do so in order to give the novel the dramatic beat it needed. I admit I was a little surprised when she began to date Doug. Didn’t see that coming.



STAY THIRSTY: You are known for your special affinity for dogs and horses. How did your love of animals evolve and what role do they play in your daily life?


SUSAN WILSON: I think I was just born this way. And as for the role they play in my life, my life pretty much revolves around them: their needs, their health and safety, their entertainment, their relationship with me. I am of the firm belief that you take on an animal, you also take on every aspect of its care and wellbeing. And if that means being up and out of the house on an 8-degree morning to break ice in the trough and blanket not only my horse but her barn buddies … so be it. I chose to commit to this, and my reward is knowing that I’m taking good care of her. (That and her willingness to carry me safely on her back.) If that means that when its blazing hot, my dog still gets her walk in the woods, that’s part of the deal. And my reward is that little bundle of fur snuggled up against me on the couch.

Susan Wilson

STAY THIRSTY: Prior to writing books with dogs as central characters, you wrote five novels that ranged from one based on the "Beauty and the Beast" fairy tale to four that have been described as books that explore the complexity of the human heart. What made you decide to shift gears away from that those genres and focus on stories revolving around dogs? Did you have to build an entirely new audience or did the readers from your first books carry-over?


SUSAN WILSON: Good question. I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. I had a novel-in-progress that I’d been working on forever. Despite her best efforts my agent couldn’t get the book sold. After four books under my belt, this fifth one just wasn’t working. I was in that funk that writers are prone to, and in a phone conversation with my agent, blurted out that I’d had a good run, better than most and maybe it was just time to cash in my chips and call it a career. A pause in the conversation. “You know, dog books are very popular,” she said. This was just after Garth Stein’s epic The Art of Racing in the Rain had dropped to spectacular acclaim. To call it an epiphany is pretty accurate. “I like dogs,” I said. In truth, the whole reason I got started writing at the tender age of ten was because I wanted to write stories like Albert Payson Terhune, author of the incomparable Lad, A Dog, and a whole series of stories celebrating the collie (I was also crazy about collies).


As for who my audience was, I think that my "dog" books appeal to a wonderful segment of readers who are also dog people; but I also think that a certain number of "fans" from my previous books have followed along because, at heart, these books also explore the complexity of the human heart, they are about people as much as dogs.



STAY THIRSTY: After writing twelve successful books, what are the three most important things a writer must keep in mind when crafting a story? What special advice can you give to new writers who aspire to becoming successful authors?


SUSAN WILSON: I’m sure that my three most important things might be different from those of other writers. I might say, character, plot, setting and another author might say pacing, dialog, and action. A lot depends on the type of writing, whether commercial or literary. Things to keep in mind: Use adverbs sparingly. Like your main character. No one is all good or all bad and even villains shouldn’t be one-dimensional.


As for the aspiring writer: sit down and write. Don’t worry about commercial success. If you’re a writer, the reward is in the activity. If you’re only doing it because you imagine fame and fortune rather than because you have a great story to tell, well, prepare for disappointment. Read. Read. Read. Only by reading other authors, particularly in your genre, can you begin to understand how it’s done. Finally, accept rejection. It’s how you learn how to improve.


Thank you for coming up with such great questions. I love being a part of STAY THIRSTY.




Susan Wilson    




All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.