Author in the Spotlight: Susan J. MacGregor

Portrait - Susan at Tess 15 launchI’m excited to welcome today’s guest, Susan J. MacGregor, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Calgary this last August.

Susan has been an editor with On Spec Magazine, Canada’s foremost speculative fiction magazine for over twenty years. She has edited two anthologies, Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales (Edge Books) and also Divine Realms (Ravenstone Books). Her short fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies (On Spec Magazine, Northern Frights, Urban Green Man, A Method to the Madness, etc.) Her debut novel, The Tattooed Witch, the first in The Tattooed Witch trilogy (Five Rivers Publishing), reflects her continuing interest in history, the Roma people (gypsies), spirituality, psychic abilities, and the occult. Her passions for Spain, flamenco dance and song also feature strongly in the book and stem from familial roots. When Susan isn’t writing or editing, she dances flamenco and teaches it at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. As well as working on her trilogy, she is also rewriting and re-issuing her non-fiction book, The ABC’s of How NOT To Write Speculative Fiction through her blog at:


#1: Why do you write?

I think anyone who is creative needs to express that creativity. Another way to put this question is to ask, “What happens when you don’t write?” I can go for about a week at most, before I become disgusted with myself for not writing. Everything else starts to look like fill, or fluff, or a waste of time (especially if I’ve had to tend to domestic needs). The same thing happens when I’m blocked, usually when I’m not sure how to write a difficult scene. That fuels even more self-disgust and a frustrated edginess because I’m not meeting the problem.  Writing is my fix that satisfies my need to create. I have other creative outlets, but none fulfill me as much as writing does. When I write, I’m the creator of my world.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

My earliest experience was as a nine year-old ghost writer for my seven year-old sister who was supposed to write a story for her Grade Two class. As we talked about her story, I became so enthusiastic about it, that I took over the project.  We had no idea this was wrong at the time. (We got an ‘A’.)

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

This is an embarrassing question. I waste so much time dithering about with e-mail and perusing Facebook when I should be focused on my writing. I blame this on summer, kids at home, grass to cut, other chores, etc. Now that fall is here, I hope to waste less time. A good day starts after I’ve read my mail (around 9:30). I write for about four or five hours, usually finishing around 2:00 to 2:30. Then it’s time to take the dog for a walk or handle family/house requirements.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

One of the first fantasy books I read as a teenager was The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt which included three novellas, The Roaring Trumpet, the Mathematics of Magic and The Castle of Iron. I still love this collection, even though the stories were originally published in 1940/41. I’d never read a fantasy novel before, but I picked it up because I liked the cover (which depicted a guy riding a hippogriff, I think – I can’t be sure. Three kids later, I still have the book, but no cover). Reading The Compleat Enchanter started me on my journey as a fantasy reader and then writer. I ran into L. Sprague de Camp at a convention years later, and stammered my thanks for both the book and setting me on my writing career. I’m sure he thought I was crazy. Since that time, I’ve also been influenced by David Eddings (the Belgariad series), Anne McCaffery (Dragon Riders of Perne), and historical writers like Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), Phillipa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl), and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series). I also adore Scott Lynch and Guy Gavriel Kay.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

Never give up. Realize writing entails an apprenticeship – it takes time (years) to learn your craft. Promote your work, but be thoughtful about it. Don’t bombard people. Believe in yourself and trust in your voice, especially if you’re delving into unusual or unpopular themes. Trust that you have something worthwhile to say, then say it.

#6: Describe your writing method:

I start with a plot outline, knowing the major points I want to hit. It might take me up to two weeks of scribbling notes and thinking about plot, character, etc. to come up with a decent outline. I know enough not to hurry this process or be impatient with it. The fun and frustration comes when I need to work out lesser points (for example, points b, c, and d, while trying to get from A to E). With the first draft, I edit as I go, tweaking the language, choosing a better word, rewriting dialogue, fixing typos. I will often review a scene I wrote the day before in order to get my mind into the work before moving ahead. Sometimes, at the quarter point (about 25,000 words mark), I may have a brilliant idea for a new character, which means I have to go back to rewrite. This happened in my trilogy’s second book, The Tattooed Seer. Subsequent drafts seem to go in the following stages: 2nd draft is about structure, what’s working, and what needs to be cut, where major shifts in plot occur, if they occur in the right places, etc. 3rd draft is about chapter dynamics (chapter ends to keep the reader reading, combining chapters that are too short, etc.), and about polishing – looking for word repetitions (especially on the same page), similar sentence structures that need to be varied, making sure earlier ideas are reflected properly later, and so on. The 4th draft is the final go-through, where I make sure the book flows, has proper tension, presents strong visuals and has just the right amount of emotional impact. I usually get a better feel for this after some time has gone by, at least a month. Eventually, the book ends up with my editor, who suggests further changes. Then it’s more tweaking until we’re both happy with it.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

Write every day. Read critically, paying attention to how the professionals you admire handle plot, tension, dialogue, setting, etc. Read as many ‘how to’ books as you can, because even if you’ve been writing for some time, you can always afford to learn more from the experts. Don’t release any work too soon: instead, get constructive feedback from others, especially if they write at a higher level than you do. And always, always – strive to be better.

About Susan’s debut novel:

The Tattooed Witch had its infancy in a family myth. For years, my mother’s side of the family contended that their people, the Frankos, were originally connected to Spanish royalty but were kicked out of Spain by the king. The more likely story was that we were either Jews or gypsies who had been forced out of Spain for religious reasons. In 1492, after Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Moors in Granada (the Reconquista), non-Catholics (Jews, gypsies, and Moors) were told to convert to the true faith or leave. I suspect my mother’s family may have opted to convert, and then later to flee to Austria (now part of the Ukraine) rather than face the Inquisition. I learned through further research that Franko (or Franco, the Spanish spelling) is a Jewish converso name. As for a possible gypsy link, one of my ancestors, Ivan Franko, novelist, poet, and Ukrainian social activist, wrote in great support of the Roma people at a time when they were much reviled there. His outward support may actually reflect a deeper connection.

The Tattooed Witch delves into a number of themes: I wanted to explore the ideas of religious persecution vs. religious freedom, personal spiritual experience, and brushes with the occult. I wanted to paint a bigger reality than what we normally experience with our five limited senses. Finally, I wanted to look at the different kinds of love we experience (physical and emotional/platonic and otherwise), and how love is defined by those involved. Mix in a little magic, tattoos, flamenco, and reflective history, and you have The Tattooed Witch.


Tattooed Witch Cover

When Miriam Medina and her father are accused by the Inquisition of murdering a high priest, Miriam knows justice is impossible. Their accuser, the Grand Inquisitor, is in fact, the real murderer. Miriam’s only hope is to resort to her long dead mother’s magical legacy: the resurrection of the dead through a magical tattoo.


You can read the first two chapters here:

Or, you can read nearly the first four chapters on Amazon here:

Buy Links:



Other: From Five Rivers Publishing – go half way down the catalogue list, and you’ll see it:

Find out more about Susan at:


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