Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guest Author: Susan McBride

Susan McBride, author of The Cougar Club, has been kind enough to stop by Reading with Tequila to tell us about writing what you know and making it up as you go along.

Write What You Know. Or Not.
by Susan McBride

I know lawyers who pen engaging legal thrillers and professors whose plots unfold in the halls of academia. And there are countless journalists typing tales of reporters uncovering mayhem around the globe. They’re all accomplished graduates of the School of Write What You Know, while I’ve always felt more like a dropout.

Consider that I kicked off my career by committing made-up murders, yet I’ve never killed anyone. I had little—if anything—in common with brooding Detective Maggie Ryan, the protagonist of my first two small press mysteries. I do share a few traits with Andy Kendricks, my amateur sleuth who debuted in BLUE BLOOD, the first in my Debutante Dropout series for HarperCollins. For one, Andy lives in Dallas, and I lived in Dallas. She’s female and 30-ish, and I’m female and remember being 30-ish. Andy’s most comfy in jeans and tees, like me. But that’s where the similarities end. She grew up in lofty Highland Park, her mother a blue-blooded socialite. I moved around a lot as a kid, and my down-to-earth mom doesn’t own Chanel. Andy also has the misfortune of chronically stumbling over dead bodies while I’ve managed to avoid doing so even once (thank God).

Maybe I have a bad attitude about this “write what you know” deal. For me, writing fiction was always a license to create from scratch, to let my imagination take me somewhere I’d never been before. I carefully fudged what I lacked in experience, and I kept mental files of second-hand stories. I must’ve done all right depicting the Big D social scene, as I earned the (vague) reputation as a “debutante” author, which led to my doing a young adult series for Random House about—you guessed it—debutantes.

In fact, my first editor for THE DEBS books assumed I was a bona fide Texas deb and featured that tidbit in sales and marketing material (even though I’d professed early on that I wasn’t). Wow, I thought, how cool that people believed I must’ve lived my stories to have written them. So when my mystery editor at HarperCollins approached me to do a chick lit book about Cougars (the martini-drinking, stiletto-shod critters, not the furry four-legged kind), I enthusiastically replied, “Of course, I’ll do it!” At the time, I was about to marry a man nine years younger, so I was well acquainted with the Cougar scene, right? Er, no, not really. Still, I didn’t panic. I’d been through this “write what you don’t know” deal before.

At least I had slightly more experience with Cougar-dom than deb-dom, plus I kept up with Madonna’s latest boy-toys, knew all the deets about Demi and Ashton, and discerned that animal print = Cougar chic. I researched local Cougar haunts and the hierarchy of the She-Cat World (i.e., twenty-somethings who date younger guys are Kittens, thirty-somethings are Pumas, forty-somethings Cougars, fifty-somethings Jaguars, and beyond that you’re a Saber-Toothed Tiger). Meow!

The first draft of THE COUGAR CLUB leaned way too heavily on the “women on the prowl” angle. It described three friends at 45—Kat, Carla, and Elise—who threw caution to the wind in order to feel alive and whose goal was creating a mighty Cougar empire. Ugh. Just ugh. But once I got that out of my system, I discovered what I truly wanted THE COUGAR CLUB to be: the story of childhood pals who come back together as their lives hit bumps in the road, who support one another, and who follow their hearts.

With friendship at the forefront, the story quickly fell into place. And finally, finally, I was writing about something I understood all too well: never giving up on life despite all the curveballs it may throw you and feeling good about being over-forty despite the fact that our society doesn’t exactly embrace getting older. That’s not to say that THE COUGAR CLUB is only for women of a certain age. I’m tickled pink to hear from younger readers—like the fabulous Jennifer of Reading with Tequila!—who’ve enjoyed every juicy bit of love and hope and heartache in the book.

Maybe THE COUGAR CLUB isn’t exactly modeled after my life, but it reflects my go-for-it attitude. Like Kat, Carla, and Elise, I believe that true friendship never dies, the only way to live is real, and you’re never too old to follow your dreams. If those aren’t Universal Truths among women, they should be. That I know for sure.

About the Author

Susan McBride is the author of THE COUGAR CLUB (HarperCollins), selected by Target Stores as a Bookmarked Breakout Title, named a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Booksellers Association, and on MORE Magazine’s list of “Books We’re Buzzing About.” She’s hard at work on her next novel about a magical LITTLE BLACK DRESS and its effect on the lives of two sisters. Since Susan has never owned a magic dress (that she’s aware of), she’s going to have to make it all up. Visit her web site at for more scoop.

About the Book

They are middle-aged, hear them roar. And so they do, this trio of 40-something careerists and lifelong BFFs—Kat, an out-of-work and out-of-love New York advertising exec; Carla, a St. Louis anchorwoman who's protecting her turf from an invading bimbo; and Elise, a successful dermatologist wife and mom who's undone by her empty nest and empty sex life. Kat's abrupt job loss sends her running home to St. Louis, which triggers a reunion of the three friends and prompts their rediscovery of each other and the awakening of their inner cougars. In the process, the gals rifle through a slew of good-looking young hunks in the search for love and meaningful employment.

Reading with Tequila's review of The Cougar Club


  1. Sound interesting. I like the cover.

  2. Fabulous post! Susan, I'd never heard of the "hierarchy of the She-Cat World"--and I love the names: Kittens, Pumas, Cougars, etc. You know how much I adored The Cougar Club...can't wait to read Little Black Dress, too!!

  3. Great post--funny and entertaining! Thanks for sharing....