Robyn: Suzanne, Iím delighted to have you here with us today. Iím fascinated by some of what Iíve been reading about you and am looking forward to getting to know you better.
Suzanne, I was intrigued to find out that you are a teacher and a writer. Do you still continue to teach or are you writing full time? If youíre still teaching, what level do you teach at and what subjects are you teaching?
Suzanne: I do still teach part-time in a high school literary arts department. My students are writers themselves, so I get to teach what I know bestówriting and reading. As a YA author, I think itís important to be around real teenagers.
Robyn: Sounds like great Ďresearchí working with high school students. When I speak to Young Adult writers, I always wonder if you draw on your own life experiences as a young person when you write, or do your children and/or the students you teach influence your writing?
Suzanne: In some ways I probably do, but I was a teenager a very long time ago. Mostly, I draw on the feelings we all haveóthe desire to change who we are, the sense that we donít fit in, the longing to be something better. These are human themes, but they become YA when you have a young protagonist. I love writing for and about teenagers because all of life is before them. The choices they are making now will affect who they are in ten years. Itís the most exciting time in life; itís also scariest in some ways, too.
Robyn: Could you tell me what you learned through experience as an author that you wish someone had told you when you were one of the aspiring authors?
Suzanne: Someone just asked me this question the other day. I am still learning, trust me. I guess the important thing is that I spent SO much time pursuing a career in YA fiction, and I always wondered if I was wasting my time and energy. Itís tough to be a writer, but itís especially difficult when you havenít published anything yet. To anybody who is serious about getting published, have faith and visualize your big dream coming true.
Robyn: Iíve discovered that as much as I love music, I really do my best work in a quiet, music-free environment. What type of atmosphere are you most creative in, where you are able to be most productive?
Suzanne: I love to work early in the mornings when no one else is up yet, and I have to have quiet, too. Some of my students listen to their iPods while they work, but I canít do that. For the new book, Somebody Everybody Listens To, I made a playlist, which I listened to constantlyóafter Iíd finished working for the day.
Robyn: Now you sound like meólisten to music after the work of the day is done. Iíve heard some authors say when their characters wonít talk they break out the chocolate. What do you do, or break out, when the characters wonít talk to you? Is there anything in particular that you do to prompt them?
Suzanne: I have to have my Diet Coke. I donít drink it all day long, mind you. But if Iím working in the early morning hours, I need a little caffeine.
Robyn: Iím with you on a little caffeine to get moving in the morning. When writing, have you ever asked your husband for advice on a scene if you felt stuck? If so, what was his advice?
Suzanne: I used to ask him all the time until I had an agent and an editor. Now I stick with them when it comes to advice. Itís like that old sayingó"Too many cooks in the kitchen." My husband is grateful, trust me.
Robyn: Suzanne, I was touched by your life story. I was particularly overcome by emotion when I read about your motherís death from ovarian cancer. This hit close to home since my grandmother died from the same disease. On your website, you share some of how you incorporated the death of your mother into Artichokeís Heart. As you continue to write other books, do you still incorporate some of your life (or other peopleís experiences) into your writing or do you work more from your imagination?
Suzanne: I like to make my stories feel like theyíre about real people, and maybe there are threads of truth here and there, but characters and stories always take on a shape of their own, especially once Iíve been working and thinking about them for a while.
Robyn: In your opinion, what are some of the most important attributes an author can possess?
Suzanne: I like Nora Robertsí writing philosophy best: "Ass in chair."
Robyn: Thatís probably a really great writing philosophy! Suzanne, Iíd like to move to the lighter side of our interview. I am going to ask you a few questions that are more personal, lighthearted and whimsical. Iím asking everyone to tell us how adept or how challenged they are in the kitchen. Weíre also wondering if you have any culinary disasters lurking in your past that we might enjoy hearing about?
Suzanne: Once I tried to make my own stock, you know, for soups. The house smelled terrible. My husband said, "I love you, but whatever that is, Iím not eating it."
Robyn: Thatís so funny! I admire your attempt to make homemade stock when they sell it in nice big cans at the store. I read that you are a very organized person. It makes me wonder, does it take company coming over for you to get the house cleaned as youíd like it to always be, or is house cleaning in your daily/weekly routine?
Suzanne: If my house is out of order, I feel out of order. The problem is I have this crazy notion that my house will be completely organized and then I can sit down and enjoy it. But if you have kids (I do) and you like order (I do), you will never get to the sitting down part. Iím working on that. In fact, doing this interview has forced me to sit down!
Robyn: What were your favorite and least favorite classes in high school? Why?
Suzanne: I loved my art class because I had this wonderful teacher, but I hated math. I still hate math.
Robyn: What is something you find it hard to make it through the day without?
Suzanne: Chocolate and Diet Coke.
Robyn: What do you think is the best invention since "sliced bread"?
Suzanne: Swiffer and the Dyson vacuum. See, thereís that organization thing again.
Robyn: Suzanne, our time together is quickly drawing to a close. Before we go, can you give us a little hint at what we will be seeing from you this year?
Suzanne: I have a new book coming out in May of 2010 called Somebody Everybody Listens To. Itís the story of Retta Jones, a small town girl who wants to make her big-time country music dreams come true.
Robyn: Sounds like a wonderful story and a theme that resonates with young and old alike. Canít wait to read it!
From everyone here at OUAR, we want to thank you for taking time out of your writing chair and onto our interview couch. Itís been such a pleasure to get to know you better. Best wishes on your upcoming books. And, please come visit with us again!