Zibby Owens: I did this interview with Susan Wiggs via Instagram Live, which was a lot of fun. Although, like with everybody, we had some connection problems, but ignore those. Susan is a number-one New York Times best-selling author. We talked about her latest book, also a New York Times best seller, but I didn’t know it then. Nobody knew it then, but I could’ve predicted. I didn’t, but anyway, whatever. It’s called The Lost and Found Bookshop. She currently lives on an island in Puget Sound and has been a writing fan for her entire life. She is an internationally best-selling, award-winning author. Millions of copies of her books have been in print in numerous countries and languages. She’s a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, and divides her time between sleeping and waking.

Susan Wiggs: We found each other. That introduction was probably the best one that I’ve ever seen, so I should probably be late more often. Oh, my god, thank you for having me.

Zibby: I was just rambling on and on about your book.

Susan: That’s pretty much how I write a book, rambling on and on.

Zibby: Not to suggest the book was a ramble. I’m just saying there’s so much in it. It was so great. I said multifaceted. I should’ve said just so textural. There are so many different elements to it.

Susan: Zibby, thank you. Thank you so much. That book was my life for a year. I’ve heard a statistic that the average woman speaks thirty thousand words a day. I always think I should just be able to talk for three days and write a book, but it doesn’t really work that way. Thank you for appreciating that.

Zibby: You’ve written fifty novels. That’s insane. Over how many years have you written fifty novels? That’s just the most inspirational thing.

Susan: Is it really? I hope so. Either that or I have no life. I published my first book in 1987. It was a historical romance, a cowboy romance. It came out in 1987 when I was in my twenties. I’ve published a book or two ever since. It’s been my life. I was a teacher. I loved being a teacher. It was my second-favorite career. The writing eventually took over. Then this one, The Lost and Found Bookshop, it’s the fifty-something-th novel, but I’ve kind of lost count. Thank you so much for having me. Thanks for your patience waiting for me to go live with you. This is my first time to go live.

Zibby: This kept happening. I did this show during the quarantine the first couple months. I would say like half the people had not done a show before, so I’m happy to be the one ushering in this new technology. Susan, you’ve written fifty-plus books. How did you come up with the idea for this? I know you alluded to some things in your acknowledgments about who may have helped you come up with it. Tell me the whole story.

Susan: It’s a longtime fantasy that I’ve had, and probably a lot of writers and readers have had, of owning a bookshop. I’d always wanted to write that storyline. Then this one came to me because I usually try to give the main character of the book a job that I’d love to have. This actually is my favorite moment in the lifecycle of a book because I’ve done my work. My editor’s done her work. The publisher has. They made, I hope, what is a beautiful package for the book. Do you like the cover?

Zibby: I love the cover. I love it. It’s amazing.

Susan: Good. It was a long journey to get to it. You wouldn’t believe the different looks that we went through. We had the streets of San Francisco. We had crazy birds flying and feathers and things like that. By the time we got to this look, it was such a good moment because I think it was the first time everybody who saw it agreed that this looks like the kind of book that will look yummy to readers. This is my this morning. This is Lenny. He’s actually from Salinas, California, from a shelter there. He’s all over me because he knows I’m ignoring him right now. He’s my canine companion while I write. Anyway, this one came to me, also was inspired by my mom who is elderly. She now lives with us. She has early dementia. There was character in the book who also has it and presents a lot of tender moments, but also many loving challenges to his granddaughter Natalie who’s not only in charge of him, but in charge of this struggling bookstore in the historic district of San Francisco and the ins and outs of that. I’m glad you mentioned Trevor Dashwood, one of the love interests. He has a clearly made-up name and clearly made-up bio. He’s kind of a fantasy figure now. I think if I was a bookseller, I would fantasize about one of the world’s best-selling authors coming to my shop. It turns out he’s more than what he seems and very different. As in many stories that I love, the answer to all your problems is right in front of you, but you don’t see it until you’ve made this journey.

Zibby: Interesting. It was one of many twists that I felt like kept coming unexpectedly. I guess that’s what makes it a twist, obviously. I didn’t see some of these things even though you say it’s right in front of you. I was taken right along with everyone else reading it, which is funny. One of the things that was so great about the book is how you referenced all these books that are actual books. I was just mentioning this before. It was so funny to read books that even came out last year like Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. I’m like, that just came out. Now here it is.

Susan: I remember when I included that because I was reading it. I thought, this was fantastic. I want everybody to read this book. Then I thought, if I was a bookseller, this would be what’s so fun about it, is to be a book evangelist and to put the book in the hands of the reader who’s most likely to read and enjoy it. That was a little fun shout-out about books that I’ve loved, writers that I like. There are a couple that were made up and a couple of kind of insider-y books like the book that she reads that her mother had left on the nightstand. I guess it’s not a spoiler to say that she inherits the bookshop and the ailing grandad from her mom. The mom left. I won’t say how, but quite suddenly and shockingly. The first thing that she does is she looks at — well, one of the first things she does. She looks at the stack of books on Mom’s nightstand. It pretty much reflected the stack of books on my nightstand. Some of those books are early drafts of books that I’ve written and appeared in another form. I enjoyed doing that as well. Yes, a lot of the authors are friends of mine. There’s one scene in a bar that’s a fantasy. This is another fantasy of mine, to have a library bar.

Zibby: I was concerned you were going to say the fantasy was having a bordello. I’m glad we went a different way with that one.

Susan: How about a book bordello where you help yourself to a book and have a drink? The library, all the cocktail recipes were named after Bay Area authors that I’ve either known and liked or not known but I like their books. That was fun as well. Shout-out to Gail Tsukiyama. She has a book out on the same day as I do from the same publisher, different imprint. Her book is called The Color of Air. It’s kind of a family saga about a guy who goes back to Hawaii. Anyway, read The Color Air. That’s the one that I’m reading right now.

Zibby: One thing that unites some of the books that you’ve written is your interest in what happens to an ordinary person when something extraordinary happens. I think I read that somewhere. What do you think it is that interests you about that moment? It is such a pivotal point in people’s life. You just go about your life. Everything’s the same. Then one minute, everything is different. You love examining that intersection of past and present. Tell me a little bit about your attraction to that time in people’s lives.

Susan: I do. There’s a writing memoir that Stephen King wrote, the author Stephen King, called On Writing. Somewhere in this book he says that the typical writer comes back to the same theme over and over again. For me, it’s usually the healing power of love and family. Also, I’m so attracted to — I think most people don’t wake up in the morning and feel like a hero even though we need to be the hero of our own story. I’m very attracted to a storyline where a person is just going along in their life and some challenge appears before her. That’s certainly the case with Natalie. She’s created this very safe, predictable, steady, secure life that did not feel like her chaotic childhood. That gets turned upside down in a moment. The drama of that and to send somebody reeling with that is something that really drives a narrative for me as a writer and is something that I love as a reader too. That was kind of a no-brainer for me because the last thing that I want to read about is somebody who’s satisfied with their life and she goes along and everything’s fine. We want real life to work like that, but not fiction.

Zibby: I feel like now is an example of this. We’re all ordinary people where something extraordinary has happened to all of us with the complete grinding to a halt of modern society and all the rest.

Susan: Oh, my gosh, yes. We all have these pandemic moments where we realize that something is just not happening. When a book gets published, typically the first thing we do is we go out on a book tour. The publisher lines up book signings and visits and library lectures. You get to go out and promote your book and meet readers. They had this really interesting book tour lined up for The Lost and Found Bookshop where I was going to go from independent bookstore to independent bookstore and talk about bookselling and what that is like today. Talk about in a moment, I got an email that said nobody’s scheduling anything for July. Early on, we thought maybe summer we’ll be back to normal. No. We quickly realized. This is my book tour, so thank you so much for hosting me and letting me still talk about my book and talk to readers. Thank you to people who are joining us and waving and shout-outs. I appreciate it so much.

Zibby: I’ll make this a podcast too so a lot more people can listen to it that way.

Susan: I love podcasts. I love audiobooks. I just got the audiobook to listen to. That’s the only way that I ever reread my books. After they’re published, I’ll read sections of it, but I don’t see myself sitting down and reading it cover to cover because it would kind of make me mental because I’d want to tweak it or something. When I listen to the audiobook, it’s such a different dimension. It just adds so much. It’s a long book, so I’m probably going to have to walk to Chicago before I listen to it all. The audiobook version just released as well. Audiobooks and podcasts have kept me company in many ways through this.

Zibby: I always feel an even deeper connection when I listen to someone’s audiobook, particularly if it’s a memoir and the author reads it themselves. I feel like we are full-on friends by the time I finish listening, but they don’t even know me yet. There’s an intimacy to listening. Podcasts, audiobooks, all of it, I think it helps, any way we can get the message to people even if it’s not through a bookstore. I really miss bookstores right now. I went back to one twice. There’s something so special about bookstores that can’t be replicated. It’s not just about the shopping. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out why I feel so comfortable and at home and happy and fulfilled when I walk into a bookstore. Someone was sort of making fun of a picture I posted on Instagram, like, how could you possibly be that joyful around books? I’m like, I don’t know, but I really legitimately feel joy surrounded by books and in a bookstore. What do you think it is about bookstores that just fills us? What do you think it is?

Susan: That reminds me, I don’t know the quote exactly, but I wrote a paragraph about that. Natalie’s feeling of being in a bookstore is that people between the covers are still living their lives. All you have to do to bring them back to life is to open the covers. If you look around, it’s such a feast for the eyes and the brain and everything. There’s something really enticing about browsing through the shelves and looking at the tables. I tried to include scenes that have always resonated with me, the reader who comes in who thinks she wants a serious book to impress her book club and she ends up walking away with a Jennifer Weiner book and things like that. I tried to include that. I also included a writer who should be very familiar to readers. Her name’s Quill Ransom. She’s a nice lady. People love her books. She’s everybody’s mother’s favorite author. She’s very excited. Her book is coming out. The bookseller organizes this lovely book signing. Then it’s a horrible day and nobody comes. I thought I should show that side of it as well and how that can still have a good outcome, which it does for this nice lady author.

Zibby: I must say, you don’t make it seem easy to run a bookstore, the debt and the building and the inventory. You made many references in the book about, obviously, digital books and digital booksellers. It’s not easy. I do everything I can to help, promoting them and shopping even on and having my little storefront, but how can we make sure that these gems don’t leave? I’m so nervous that after this pandemic we’re going to walk back into different neighborhoods and all my favorite stores are going to be gone.

Susan: I agree. I totally agree. That’s another thing that came into sharp focus with the pandemic. I had a book out last year called The Oysterville Sewing Circle. It did quite well. It resonated with readers. Then what happened at the end the February when everything shut down, it came out in paperback and became a best seller on The New York Times. I was kind of shocked that that happened. Somebody at my publisher pointed out all bookstores closed, but all the essential stores like the Walmarts and the Targets and the Costcos got to stay open. Those are the ones that sell the rack-size paperback. The Oysterville book was out in rack-size paperback, and so that was something that was still able to sell when the bookstores closed. Then I started thinking, if I’m an independent bookseller, what do I do now? They were so creative. I’m so impressed by some of the initiatives they took, the online presence and the curbside delivery. We still got to support them that way. Thank you for bringing up This is a way for people who are listening to shop at independent bookstores anywhere. Even if there’s not one in your community, you can still buy from that and it benefits independent bookstores. I’m very happy to be able to give them a shout-out too. I believe that actually came into being because of the pandemic. I’m excited that it’s become such a thing in bookselling now.

Zibby: It started before. I had a call with them before this all happened. I remember I was out in California. I was like, this is such a great idea. A friend of mine had told me about it. Then they just happened to be in the perfect position, not to say anybody should benefit, but they were in a position to help when the pandemic did start. You can watch as their profits have grown. It’s a great outlet.

Susan: That’s amazing. Bookstores and libraries are the ones that keep the culture in our communities and in our minds. I’m just so grateful to be able to walk into a bookstore and find my book. I’d also like to give a shout-out to a fellow author. Her name’s Suzanne Selfors. She took over an established bookstore on February 1st. The timing could not have been worse for launching a new business. That was actually going to be a stop on my book tour that suddenly turned virtual. One thing that readers can do, they can go to my website, The events page will list all the virtual events that I have. Please look for Suzanne and me too. We do what we can with these indie bookstores. I think they’re doing okay. I hope they are.

Zibby: One of the things that I thought was so funny in your book was how when Natalie was debating what type of guy she — as one of the negatives of someone, she talked about how he wasn’t a book person and how that filled her with anxiety, and was that fair of her or not? I thought that was so funny.

Susan: One of the first conversations that I had with Jerry, who eventually became my husband, was about the fact that he was reading one of my books. He was not only reading it, he would email me questions about it so I could see that he was really into it. That’s a question. Can you be with somebody who’s a non-reader who doesn’t have your same book DNA or book chromosome? I don’t know. I think it would be challenging. It definitely was for Natalie because even though she had issues with the way that she grew up in an apartment up over a struggling bookstore, she still is very much a book person.

Zibby: The one other thing I wanted to bring up is during the period of loss and grief, you talked about this whole trend towards celebrating a life when someone passes away and we have a celebration for their life, but how the people who love them most don’t feel like celebrating at all. They feel like the opposite and not even wanting to go on some of the time. Tell me a little about that. Then I was wondering, did that come from a personal place? Did you have a loss where you felt something similar?

Susan: There’s a lot of personal things. They’ve been transmuted into a more dramatic and exciting journey than I’ve had. I did lose my elderly dad. He died of Parkinson’s. One of the things that I’ve always kept with me is the way we as a family made his exit happen for us and dealt with our grief. One of the things was we had a giant party. It was a memorial. We all said our peace, but we were wearing party dresses. We were drinking champagne. We were sitting on the patio and reminiscing and telling stories at the church and everything. The memorial celebration that takes place in the book, a lot of that came from my memories of those days. Unfortunately, she was very traumatized by the whole situation, but I wanted her to find a way out. I think the way that she journeyed through that transition was a reflection of the way that I kind of did the same thing. Those scenes and conversations, they were really emotional for me to write and I hope for readers to read. Another reason that I love having a book out now is that everybody who reads, reads a different book. You’re going to read it and bring your creativity and your life experience and your lived experiences into the story in a unique way. I can publish one book, but everybody who reads it will read a different book. That storyline, unfortunately nobody makes it out of this alive. I think it’s the way that we manage the journey through those transitions is key to the way that we manage our lives and our love.

Zibby: I’m really glad you took your experience and put it in there because I know many people including myself have felt the same way about different losses. It’s always great to have perspective and share in that feeling. Even though it’s inevitable, I think that the shared experience is something that books do such a great job of doing, is making all of us feel less alone in the things happen.

Susan: Single parenthood was the other personal trope that I brought in. Probably, my favorite character is Dorothy. She’s got a single dad. Their relationship was, it came entirely out of my imagination. I’ve never been a single dad, but I tried to include some of the challenges and some of the rewards of that too. One thing that people, I think, overlook in conversations about single parenthood are the rewards of it. Suddenly, you’re the one. You’re on deck. Your relationship is going to be different because it’s in the world, not two parents. I really wanted to explore that in the book. Hopefully, readers will have some feelings about that, share that aspect of it too.

Zibby: That was another great part. I’m telling you, there was so much in this book. You obviously know this. You touched on so many different themes. It was very satisfying in that way. I know some of your other books have been adapted or are being adapted for film and TV. I was wondering, do you have plans to take this book to the screen as well?

Susan: Oh, my gosh, every book. That’s another fantasy of mine, is to see it adapted for TV or for a movie. I’m hopeful of this one. I have a film agent. I’m sure she’s shopping it around to production companies. This one I feel like would really lend itself because the setting is contained mostly in the bookstore. Most of the book takes place there. In and around San Francisco, that would just be a bonus. I would love to see that. Unfortunately, the author has very little to do or say unless the author is Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King who gets to call their shots. No, it’s totally up to where this books lands in somebody’s hands. I’m hopeful that somebody will see a spark there and try another medium. I would love to see that. I would even love to see a bad movie made of one of my books. I’m just so fascinated by that process and anything that I could participate in other than writing the book. It’s still a fantasy of mine.

Zibby: At least you’ve got some of the swag going already. I saw your tote bags on Instagram. By the way, I’m dying to get one of those tote bags. Maybe I could mail you one of mine and you could mail me one of yours. I love that the book cover’s on it and everything.

Susan: I do. I actually have one. I’ve been dragging it around with me everywhere. There actually is a way for readers to get one. If they buy a signed book from one of the independent bookstores that has it, it comes with a tote bag. They can find information, I think it’s on my blog or my website. I’ll make sure that it’s up there prominently displayed. They can pick their indie bookstore of choice and get a cool tote bag as well.

Zibby: Awesome. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? You’ve written fifty-plus books. How do you do it? What’s the secret? What’s your general advice for them?

Susan: I’m convinced that every other writer except me has the secret. I wish that I had an easy formula for this. I’m here to tell you it’s not easy. If it was easy, a lot more of us would do it. I will say that everybody has a story. Everybody has a story. Everybody has a voice. The people who succeed, you have to define that for yourself. What is it? Is it just getting your story out? Is it getting your story published in a big way or a small way? This is commercial publishing. It’s big publishers. All the writer has to do is write. Somebody else does all that. In order to start that process, first of all, anybody who wants to write is in luck because you don’t have to be a certain age to do it. I started very, very young. I know writers who didn’t start writing until they retired from a job. You can start at any point in your life. The key for me is, number one, start. Number two, finish what you start. I know many, many writers who write seventeen glorious pages. Then they get distracted and it kind of peters out. You have to remind yourself to write, if not every day, on a regular schedule. When I first started, I was a mom. I was a teacher. I wrote during my lunch hour. I stayed up late at night. I tried to juggle that. Somehow, I wrote one or two books a year that way. My youth, I guess, my frisky youth.

A writer needs to practice her craft. Some people say your apprenticeship is a million words, which is about ten books. In my case, I sold the third book that I wrote. Be prepared to have some practice books. Study your craft. The way that I studied my craft is not only I practiced it every day, but I accessed the wisdom of other writers and other writing teachers. I have my two favorites right here. I’m never far from them. I will share them so people can — you’re going to go online and find this one probably from a second bookseller because I don’t know if it’s in print. It’s called Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. It was published by a small press. This was my bible when I was learning the craft of writing a novel. Then this one is called The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It’s actually a manual for screenwriters, which sounds weird, but everything that he says in here relates to the journey of a book.

Between those two, when I would get stuck in a story and not know where the story should go and how the journey should be shaped, I would always go back to matters of craft. There’s inspiration and there’s talent. Nobody can give you that, but there is craft just like in any profession. There are certain steps that you can take and things that you can learn. Hopefully if you read The Lost and Found Bookshop — here’s a matter of craft. This is a quick, quick lesson. Pay attention to what Natalie wears in most of the key scenes. It’s subtle. You probably don’t focus on it, but you find that the way she dresses, and I find this with women that I know in real life, reflects what she’s trying to be and who she’s trying to be and where she’s trying to go in life. In the very first scene, she’s very buttoned down and corporate looking and trying to be very professional. The look that she adopts in scene after scene, she tries to emulate her mother and look like her mother. That doesn’t work. By the end, she kind of looks like us. She’s in her yoga pants.

Zibby: I got out of my workout pants for this, just so you know.

Susan: Thank you. By the end, she’s comfortable in her own skin, in her own identity, instead of trying to fit into a life that didn’t fit her. One thing that I did as I was revising the book, I realized that her evolution as a character was not sharp enough. I went back to matters of craft. I remembered some of these lessons. I thought, how do I show this in a subtle way without hitting the reader over the head with it? Maybe some readers will notice it. Some won’t. That’s a typical matter of craft. I didn’t make it up. I brought my creativity to it, I hope. That’s just a quick little lesson that I remember from the book. It’s something that you develop by studying your craft.

Zibby: Amazing. Give us a preview of your next book?

Susan: I would love to because I’m supposed to be finishing it probably this week, but I’d much rather do podcasts. My working title, and by working title it means the title I’m using that I hope the publisher will keep, is American Princess. Weirdly, I started it all before white privilege became a really big, prominent issue in today’s world. I was already writing about this woman who is, she discovers that she’s afflicted with white privilege and decides to make a huge change in her life because of it. It’s called American Princess. It takes place in greater Washington, DC. It’s been amazing to write. Before the pandemic, right before in February of this year, I made a research trip to Vietnam. It was a life-changing, magical trip that I made with a number of fellow travelers who I haven’t seen since because we got home and everything shut down. That will be out next summer, 2021. This one is out now. The other thing I wanted to give a shout-out to my publisher for, they created probably the nicest digital book club kit for this book. You can find it on my website. It has the coolest things. It has some trivia cards about bookstores. It has a coloring page. It has a recipe. It’s very cool. If you have a book club or you want to adopt something for your book club, I encourage people to check that out too.

Zibby: I think I might just print them out for my kids now.

Susan: Good. Very cute.

Zibby: Thank you so much for doing this. Congratulations on finishing your first Instagram Live. You made it.

Susan: Oh, my god, this was fun. This was way more fun. I don’t even want to work now.

Zibby: Me neither. I’m kidding. This was great. Thank you for sharing your virtual book tour, making this a stop. I really appreciate it. Congratulations on your book. I’m going to go online and now find a way to get myself one of those tote bags.

Susan: You are so welcome. Thank you again. I hope everybody stays safe. Wear your mask. Don’t touch your face. Read a book.

Zibby: Bye, Susan. Thank you.