NWS Author Next Door Spotlight: Susan Newhof

Susan NewhofSusan Newhof –an author, consultant and teacher, who has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She is also passionate about animals and helping people communicate effectively.

Newhof was born and raised in Grand Rapids, MI and remembers writing poems and stories as soon as she could hold a pencil. After sampling three colleges and various college majors for two decades, she graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in English and moved to Washington, DC to work in the national press office of the American Red Cross under Elizabeth Dole, who had just become the organization’s president.

She also worked for a Washington, D.C. firm and taught presentation and media interview skills to the leadership of Fortune 500s, research firms and national associations.

Love and family drew Newhof back to West Michigan in the mid-1990s. Newhof and her husband, Paul Collins, live in a 130-year-old house in Montague, Michigan, which was the inspiration for her first novel, Spirits & Wine. She writes and works as a communication consultant to foundations and non-profit organizations, teaches writing classes and coaches clients to help them develop effective interview and presentation skills. She brings to each project a Midwest sense of humor, her love of the earth and all living things, and a passion to help people and organizations communicate clearly.

Several years ago, her concern for animal welfare issues moved her to become a vegetarian and animal advocate. She and Paul volunteer with Pound Buddies Animal Shelter and Adoption Center in Muskegon, helping find permanent homes for cats and dogs in transition.

“I love life in our small town; walking to our local bookstore, the Book Nook and Java Shop; tapping our maple trees and tending to our flock of little hens,” shares the author.

How did you become a writer?
I have been writing since I learned to put letters together to make words. Even at six or seven years old, I wrote little songs and plays and poems. They weren’t very good, but it was the beginning of my love affair with words. And I got better. In my 20s, I started pitching stories to magazines and newspapers – often with no success, but enough response to encourage me to continue. There was never a question of whether or not I would write. I wake up writing. Words are always rolling around in my head. The question was whether or not I could make a living at it.

I was hired and fired as editor of a weekly newspaper. (Take heart, new writers. It happens.) I worked for three glorious years as a writer and editor for Michigan Natural Resources Magazine, and that led to work in public relations. When I moved from Washington, DC back to Michigan, I did freelance public relations and communicationwork, which morphed into a focus on writing for clients and pursuing my own literary projects. Over the decades, I also waited tables, worked in retail, made desserts for a restaurant, refinished furniture, was a dismal secretary, did seasonal work in a greenhouse, ran an art education center and raised a dairy goat – all of which made me a more compassionate human being and a better writer.

How do you write? What is your process?
I write every day. While I’d like to say I write during a certain time of day or for a specific number of hours each day, I am not as disciplined as I’d like to be. Ok, that’s an understatement. But daily writing has helped me fine-tune my skills over the years and to have plenty of opportunity to play with words – which I love. My best writing is when I don’t worry about editing. I just write, get the words out of my head, let them flow, and then go back and edit later. I love doing all kinds of writing, from a basic news release to long fiction, annual reports and travel writing to speeches for clients. It is the most satisfying, fun work I know. I am so fortunate to love what I do.

Who are your favorite authors?
There are many, but currently Jodi Picoult, Mardi Link, Ray Bradbury, Elisabeth Tova Bailey and poets Mary Oliver and Billy Collins

What authors have inspired you?
Any writer whose work is honest, compelling and not violent inspires me. This spring I’m teaching a continuing education writing class with 18 students, and every one of them has inspired me to try new things, look deeper, be funnier, listen harder, push away fear and keep writing.

What books are on your bedside table?
Beside the Inland Sea by Gretchen and Doug Paprocki and Eat, Pray, Love

What writing projects do you have planned next?
I am writing a book about Applewood, the Charles Stewart Mott family estate in Flint Michigan. It is owned by the Ruth Mott Foundation, and it will be 100 years old in 2016. I keep working away at a memoir called Chicken Love about raising our little flock of city hens. And I’m playing around with an idea for another novel.

What advice do you have for young writers?
It’s the same advice Diane Rehm gave me years ago…just keep writing.

Latest book information
Susan Newhof, Michigan's Town and Country InnsThe 5th edition of my book Michigan’s Town & Country Inns was released in August. It’s an armchair tour of 55 inns and B&Bs in Michigan, with history stories, innkeeper profiles, recipes, local lore, lots of photos and all the practical information you need to choose a great place to stay for business or pleasure. Newhof began the series in the mid-1980s when B&Bs were just beginning to open in Michigan. The book retails for $23 in softcover and is available from bookstores and online (Amazon, etc.).

Spirits & Wine was launched in hardcover in 2011 and will be released in paperback this August. Hardcover is $24. It’s available in bookstores, online and as aSusan Newhof, Spirits and Winen e-book. Both books are published by the University of Michigan Press.