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JJ mew

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author S.A. Sutila about her career, what inspired her to start writing, and the story of her new book release, The Stealing.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I love a challenge, and I’m stubborn. Ever experience being told you don’t qualify or aren’t capable because of your gender? Frankly, I did not like those newsflashes. Instead of shrugging it off, I sometimes considered the idea a challenge.

That’s how I ended up being accepted into the College of Engineering at the University of South Florida in the fall of 1987.  It’s also how I became an IT consultant to IBM in the mid-nineties.  The naysayers disappeared along the way, but I continued to challenge myself with new levels of difficulty. I founded a private investigation company. Fast forward twenty years, and I wrote a modern gothic novel, The Stealing.

S.A. Sutila, author of The Stealing, interview on The Table Read

I have an appreciation for authors, and writing is an art form. The Mastery of writing is a journey, and I’m traveling this road, among other passions, and learning. Finding the time is difficult—and challenging—but I felt this coming-of-age modern gothic journey is important to finish because it highlights the extra difficulty for women to find life’s meaning, purpose, and happiness enduring gender role bias and unequal treatment.

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When did you first WANT to write a book?

The moment I received a brand new, manual typewriter with the black and red striped ink ribbon, I was determined to write a book. I started right away. I still remember, as a preteen, banging away into the late hours on school nights and the dinging sound it made at the end of the line.

I used up every speck of white correction tape to fix spelling errors until those double-spaced pages of my masterpiece piled up.

Before the end, I knew editing with a typewriter was out of the question. Was it interesting enough for a rewrite? Not even close.

I decided the issue with my book was more than grammar—I needed more experience to have something worth writing about. I put the binder clip on the loose pages, stored it in the filing cabinet, and went to the library to find a book I wanted to read. 

When did you take a step to start writing?

The first step is not hard. I found it very easy to begin. The hardest part of writing is breaking the cycle of repeating the first step over, and over. For decades I wrote the first pages of books that were never meant to be, and I would start again. I saved ideas for books and saved lines without a home.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

It took approximately twenty months to complete The Stealing (July 2020 to March 2022).  I wrote the draft in less than three months. Edited the draft for about two months before sharing the manuscript with the publisher’s editorial director for review. After a decision to publish was reached, it was another five months of editing before it was ready for early readers in May 2021. The final layout of the book was completed in July 2021, and the publication date is set for March 8, 2022.

Siren Stories Books

What made you want to write The Stealing?

When I experienced the fear, isolation, and despair caused by the Covid global pandemic, I remembered what I stuffed in the file cabinet as a kid—an unfinished book. The shutdowns provided the opportunity to write. It was time for a unique modern gothic romance to be written. I wanted to share what I had learned through experience. The keys to success are embedded in this multi-layered, coming-of-age journey. A young girl, trapped by her circumstances and in despair, searches for purpose, love, and happiness and ultimately finds the beginning of a new empowered path for what may come next.

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Stealing?

The Stealing was quite an undertaking for a debut novel. At over 96K words as an edited draft manuscript, I had not anticipated how much time it would take before I could share the book. It was a long time to wonder if readers would like the unfamiliar style of writing and the deviation of story elements typically present in the standard gothic romance.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

The Protagonist was inspired by the biblical story of Sarah, but also Frankenstein. She is so beautiful, she is frightening. In response to her beauty, she is loved and/or hated by the men in her life. Each type of love they offer has a price.

S.A. Sutila, author of The Stealing, interview on The Table Read

What she accepts to be loved at first is ultimately rejected by her independent spirit, but she continues to make poor choices until she finally breaks free and saves herself.

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Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

The Antagonist, Max, is a self-interested supernatural being who interferes in the Protagonist’s journey. He is not quite the monster or villain the reader expects. The Protagonist cannot simply blame Max for her problems. He is one of many forces which influence her journey. The Protagonist contributes to her own misfortune due to making poor decisions.

Max is inspired by the devil and appears to Sarah at times as good and other times as bad. He is a dichotomy—a double-sided coin—throughout the book. He saves her by killing her. He then frees her while still possessing her. It is unreasonable to trust Max because he changes. It requires unreasonable optimism to trust Max. The more naïve the reader, the longer it may take to realize Max is truly a villain even if he does not believe it about himself.

What is the inciting incident of The Stealing?

The inciting incident of The Stealing begins with the first line of the 1971 Chapter. “The five-year-old girl took one look at the hairbrush and ran.” Sarah, the Protagonist at five years old, is on the move. She’s running out of the door and the reader must follow her to find out what will happen next.

What is the main conflict of The Stealing?

A young woman (Sarah) is trapped in a dangerous life-and-death triangle between a gentlemen hero (Grant) and an obsessive supernatural being (Max). Sarah struggles to find an independent path—a purposeful and meaningful life—as she is surrounded by men who may love her but also want to control and possess her.

Did you plot The Stealing in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I outlined the events in three Acts and detailed the characters ahead of the story. I also plotted the main points and events of the story including the objectives of the movement of most chapters. Then I started writing. While writing I imagined being there and how the dialog would transpire. Much of the detail was sorted out without pre-planning and while writing the draft. Sometimes the details were refined or changed in editing.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Stealing need?

Yes. I worked with a professional editor to complete the book. The editing process took three months after it started.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Never give up. The most difficult part of writing is between the first draft manuscript to publication. It is difficult to draft a novel, but the editing is time-consuming, and proofreading means re-reading the same book again—and again many times. It’s a labor of love, and the author must be determined and passionate about the book to be able to make sure it is ready for publishing.  Write the story you want to share with the world and stick with it until it is published so that others can enjoy your words.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

The Stealing is the story of how Sarah acquired her superpower. Finally set on an empowered path, I’m curious what happens next. Are you? And would it surprise you to learn Max has also interfered in the lives and stories of others? 

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Absolutely. I read The Stealing many times while proofreading. While editing or proofreading, after the Siren chapter, I would have to stop myself from finishing the book to the last page. It pulled me in. Many times I couldn’t stop reading and continued to the final pages because I longed to experience the joy I knew was in store for both the reader and the heroine.

The book, however, was not something I did on my own. I’m grateful to many others for the completion and publication of this book. It wasn’t easy. I had a lot of help.  The characters and story demanded to be told. I hope every reader also feels and finds joy in those final pages as well.

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