Most people enjoy reading police logs, but they usually move on after a quick read of suspicious person reports, DUI arrests or barking dogs complaints. But not Susanna Solomon.
When San Anselmo’s Solomon reads the sheriff’s calls published in West Marin’s Point Reyes Light, that’s just the first step of story-creation process. After reading a log entry, she thinks of which fictional West Marin character the police incident could involve. Perhaps the opinion-heavy elderly couple Fred and Mildred? Or Linda, a new deputy in West Marin? Once she’s settled on a character, she begins to write the first draft of a short story.
In addition to receiving much attention at North Bay readings for her short stories inspired by the sheriff’s calls, Solomon has published 13 stories in the Point Reyes Light Newspaper and Harper Davis Publishers will publish a collection of her short stories next year.
We’re going to run four of Solomon’s police log-inspired shorts. But before we post her work (look for the first one tomorrow), we want to give our readers a chance to know the woman behind the stories.
Solomon took the time to answer some questions and shared personal details ranging from her favorite local cafes to how the former Marin journalist earned an engineering degree so she could leave her alcoholic husband.
Patch: How long have you lived in San Anselmo?
Solomon: Since November of 1970. That makes 42 years. San Anselmo was really different back then. More than half of the stores were covered with plywood. We had a hardware store and a Five and Dime.
You also have a home in Point Reyes, right?
Yes, as of a few years ago. I own that house with my current husband, Stu.
What first inspired you to write short stories based on the Point Reyes Light Sheriff’s Log?
I was getting tired of the rejection slips for my novel Montana Rhapsody and wrote the stories as a lark. As I went to readings and the audience liked the stories. I was encouraged. And it was more fun than the edits I was working on for my novel (a six-year effort).
So you do a lot of readings?
I love an audience response. It's like a tonic. I read aloud at readings about four times a month in Marin and Sonoma. That way I test my stories on a live audience. It's improved my work about 1000 percent.
I read my first sheriff's calls at West End Wednesday, held the first Wednesday of every month at West End Deli in San Rafael, last June (2011). The audience went wild. Charselle, the host, told me to send the story to the [Point Reyes] Light. The Light accepted it. I also read the same story that same week at Pints 'N Prose and that brought down the house. Cyndi Cady and the other Tuesday Night Writers were very encouraging. So, I keep going.
In a few of your stories I’ve read, it seems your stories at times become a lighter spin on what could have originally been a serious event, such as the police call about a teenager bleeding turns into a 15-year-old named Alice with a bloody noise. Where do you get some of the material for these stories?
From my imagination. Poor Alice, she feels so different. And Mildred always has an opinion on everything. Some of my stories are sad, but most are light. I've had a few murders, some fights, but mostly arguments and sometimes love stories.
Now, when I sit down and write I have absolutely no idea where the story is going to be. I take a look at a sheriff's call entry and think of characters that may fit. Then I write. At the time of the first draft, I have no idea where I am going, and have to consider than everything I write is trash and that maybe I have lost it. And I keep going. Most first drafts I consider my worst work. Sometimes the stories redeem themselves in a few days.
Will the Harper Davis collection entirely consist of the police log-inspired short stories?
Harper Davis is run by Patricia V. Davis, who also publishes an online magazine called Harlot's Sauce Radio. She has published three of my stories on the magazine, none involving the police logs. They are They Said It Would Be Wonderful, Broccoli Dance, and Ready for the Grave. I don't know how or if these stories will be published in the short story collection. Probably not. Check them out on the web.
Your bio on your website begins: “Everyday I can I sit in a café and scribble down words on paper – and from these words – people and places arise.” What Marin coffee shops do you frequent?
Ah, my haunts. , , the in Fairfax, Starbucks in Strawberry, and Starbucks in San Rafael, on Irwin street near Toscalito Tire.
Do you have favorite characters to write about? Perhaps Fred and Mildred, who are featured in the most stories on your website? What inspired you to create that couple?
Mildred talks to me. I have no idea where she came from, but I'm not getting in her way. She's an opinionated little thing, isn't she?
You run your own electrical engineering business by day. That’s a little unexpected for a writer, isn’t it?
Ah, I had come to California years ago to be a writer. I was a freelance journalist in the 70's for the Pacific Sun and the Mill Valley Record (now the Herald). I also wrote news articles for the Tiburon Ark. We had an office in Tiburon that leaked and the fire department closed us down one day. I made very little money doing freelance articles. My husband was an alcoholic and I needed to get a divorce. I spent seven years studying engineering and, with a degree and a job, was able to divorce him and that was 1987. I have worked as an engineer for 25 years. Once my son was out of the house (and a bit before, he's 35 now), I started writing again. So, in summary, the engineering was a way to make a living while I have always been a writer.
Who have you been working on your writing with?
I've been studying writing with Melba Beals, and Jim Frey for about fifteen years. This short story collection is a complete surprise to me, I didn't know I could write them. I started writing memoirs with Melba, and worked with her weekly for seven years, when I met Jim (Melba's teacher), he told me to “toss the memoir s**t” and make something up. It took me five years to write something he liked. Honestly, it's been a bit of a long haul.
Where are you from originally?
Cambridge, Mass. I started writing stories and memoirs when I was fourteen when my mother committed suicide. I still think my memoir stories are my best work, but I haven't had much luck selling those.