I had the pleasure of interviewing author S.A. Williams (Susan A. Williams). Williams is the author of “Anna’s Secret Legacy” and her latest novel, the sequel “Mackenzie’s Secret” www.mackenziessecretnovel.com.
Susan was educated in London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels and Rome. Her international background has provided an unusual cultural fluency which flourishes in her novels. After a youth spent in the great capitals of Europe, she returned to her native New York graduating from Syracuse University.
She earned her post-graduate credentials in Global Marketing and Management, Entrepreneurship and The CEO Leadership Program from Wharton — University of Pennsylvania and in Global Marketing and Strategic Management from Harvard Business School.
Her interests and background in business led to her founding of a well-recognized media-buying company out of the Philadelphia region after working in radio and network TV. Noted for her production of radio and TV commercials, she was also singled out by Billboard Magazine for her voice-over talent. In 2007, she was invited to be the keynote speaker to the American Bankers Association on “The Changing Landscape of Media.”
Member of the Screen Actors Guild, Williams earned bronze, silver and gold medals from The London Academy of Dramatic Arts, and has worked on the sets of such notable films as The Age of Innocence, Philadelphia, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, How Do You Know, Rocky Balboa, and others. She resides in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “back story”?
My father was a corporate executive for an American company headquartered in Brussels. My parents sent me to a boarding school for one year while they were in the process of moving from Madrid to Brussels. Like my lead protagonist in my novel Mackenzie, I felt this overwhelming despair and loneliness at having to attend this school until I met my three roommates.
The back story for this novel begins with growing up in Madrid, Brussels, Rome, Paris and London before starting Syracuse University. Although my novel “Mackenzie’s Secret” is fiction, I did draw on a lot of stories from the fun that we had then.
At only 13 years old, I went to the Peace March to Chartres (not being politically cognizant at that age, I went because I wanted to meet boys). I had my roommate fake me a note. It was an interesting time. Generally we were not allowed off campus. Having been sequestered from a lot of world events, I thought it would be a fun escape. The only newspaper was the Le Monde, which the nuns had only one copy of, and one black and white TV in the nuns’ lounge.
I was the youngest at the school and was quickly drawn into the fold by the older girls, many who come from South American countries for finishing school. I lived rather vicariously through their escapades, and yes, we would draw straws to see who raided the kitchen. These stories are in the book among others.
Why did you start writing?
I decided to write my first novel “Anna’s Secret Legacy” shortly after 9/11. I was the CEO and president of a boutique media buying company that I had been running for 13 years, after working in radio and TV. To some degree after 9/11, I was traumatized. My brother escaped the World Trade Center, and I remember that I raced on the New Jersey Turnpike to get to him. I was thankful that he was alive. What a horrific day.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
In a sense, I think I have “shaken things up” my entire life by being fearless, living in Europe basically independently at a young age, successfully working in the very male dominated radio and TV advertising business, and then changing paths later in my career, to follow my dream to become a novelist.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I have had many mentors and people in my life who were very instrumental in encouraging me to write “Anna’s Secret Legacy” and “Mackenzie’s Secret.”
It all started when a girlfriend told me that I should write a story about my life and that I should go to a place called Rancho La Puerta for a writer’s conference. I went and found myself in one of the most glorious spas in the world.
As I walked along the lavender path to my little casita that evening, I found myself in the delightful company of the resort’s owner and founder Deborah Szekely. We started to exchange stories about our travels and ended up in a three hour discussion on a bench under the glorious stars. At the end of our discussion, Deborah strongly encouraged me to write about my experiences. Her enthusiasm and encouragement motivated me to start writing.
Shortly thereafter, I produced the DVD teaser for “Mackenzie’s Secret.” After making the teaser, I flew to LA and met with my friend, Emmy award-winning actress and director Melanie Mayron.
At that lunch, Melanie brought another friend of hers, Caitlin Adams who was the script coach for Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt. She loved my DVD and first chapters, but it was her opinion that I should go back to the discovery of a molecular secret in WWII. At which point I said, “Gee that kind of pre-dates me don’t you think?”
Feeling a bit discouraged, I flew home and started researching WWII. After more than a hundred thousand pages of research, I connected all the dots to formulate a story that was historically accurate and scientifically plausible, and of course, we have to have a love story. Therefore, I would consider Melanie as one of my mentors along with Deborah Szekely.
I also would like to acknowledge Gerry Lenfest as one of the key mentors to me.
Of course, my biggest mentor in my life was my incredible father who passed away many years ago. He was always there to give me his wise counsel.
How are you going to shake things up next?
My next dream is to take on Hollywood. I hope to soon take “Mackenzie’s Secret” to the screen, adapted as a mini-series. I am in talks with several studios at the moment, so fingers crossed.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
“Never give up.” While I was writing Anna’s Secret Legacy, I produced another DVD teaser. During that time, I would see the late Ralph Roberts, founder of Comcast, at many functions in Philadelphia. He invited me to his office several times to discuss the project and to watch the DVD. He also became a mentor and encouraged me to never give up.
“Believe that anything is possible.” When I first started in the radio business, I was charged with securing advertisers for a new radio station that launched. I had no experience in the industry, but my naivety (and the yellow pages) empowered me to secure a huge beer company advertiser with a cold call. My boss was amazed that I was able to secure the much sought after account that a big NY media buying agency couldn’t close.
“It’s never too late to follow your dream.” My mentors encouraged me to follow my goals and dreams and to not be discouraged by obstacles on my path to reaching them.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
My interest in the WWII era was piqued by reading “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson, which helped me immensely in preparation for my first novel “Anna’s Secret Legacy.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to have a private lunch with Bill and Melinda Gates. They are the top business minds of the world, but also the most compassionate philanthropists. I would love to sit down with the couple to discuss how to balance these two worlds.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Originally published at medium.com