The day has come! It’s finally time to kick off The “Lucky” Ones interview series featuring creative types who are both passionate and bold. Confused? Start here. Otherwise, let’s waste no time introducing the first interviewee, author Suzanne Supplee.
Who is she? A little background: Suzanne is the author of three young adult fiction novels—Somebody Everybody Listens To, Artichoke’s Heart, and When Irish Guys Are Smiling. Born in the small town of Columbia, Tennessee, she grew up with a love for writing that eventually manifested itself into landing a book deal with Penguin and getting a blurb from Dolly Parton—but not without a few heartbreaks and setbacks along the way. Before Suzanne became a published author, rejection letters provided plenty of frustration, and several manuscripts ended up permanently in her desk drawer.
In true hard-working Capricorn fashion, however, Suzanne determinedly continued to write, and her 4:30 a.m. daily writing sessions finally paid off in the form of her author status. Her novels, geared toward teen and pre-teen girls, are both humorous and heartfelt. Her protagonists make you want to be their friend. It makes sense, then, that Suzanne is also a high school Creative Writing teacher—her heart is young.
One last thing: Suzanne is also the mother of three—Flannery, Elsbeth, and me. Yup, this author is my mama, and I got over calling her by her first name for the sake of a good bio. Without further ado, my interview with Suzanne Supplee!
When did you first realize that you wanted to write? How did you come to that realization?
I think I always wanted to write. Or at the very least, I wanted to be heard. Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, says people write because they were not heard as children, and I think this applied to me then. I think it still applies to me now at times. Just the way some people are better in person, I am better in writing.
Who are your favorite authors, both current and classic?
I have a brand new favorite. Recently, I read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. It’s simple and quiet and brilliant. Just the sort of novel I love. Of course, my all-time favorite is Flannery O’Connor, and I love Rick Bragg’s essays in Southern Living. John Irving, Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson, Barbara Kingsolver are all fantastic. I always hate this question because there are too many to name. Fannie Flagg! She’s like an old friend, though I’ve never met her. Ayn Rand and Joan Didion and Anne Tyler and John Updike. John Updike! I’m just sick that he’s dead. And Joyce Carol Oates and Sherman Alexie and Garth Stein. Sobbed when I read [Stein's] The Art of Racing in the Rain. This question is exhausting me, so I’ll stop now.
No, wait! Tessa Hadley and Hemingway and Steinbeck and Rebecca Wells and Elizabeth Strout.
What is it like writing a novel, sending it off, and receiving pages of edits and notes from your editor? Is it ever discouraging or overwhelming? How do you handle it?
It’s like giving birth then putting the infant, along with the placenta, in a Fed Ex box and mailing it to New York.
What motivates you to keep working on your craft during the days when it’s hard to keep going?
I love my characters and I love my setting. If I don’t love my main character and my setting, I won’t keep writing. If I didn’t love my family and my house, I wouldn’t come home. Whatever you’re working on should feel like a good home, a place you want to return to again and again, even if things aren’t always running smoothly there.
What is your view on “writer’s block”?
Go wash your mouth out with soap, young lady.
What is something most people don’t know about writing and publishing young adult fiction?
It’s just as challenging and significant as writing for adults. Are children any less important than teens? Are babies less important than toddlers? No. The notion that young adult books are somehow inferior to adult books is ridiculous.
You’re also a high school fiction teacher. (Did you know that?!) I’ve told you many times I’d like to be your student. For some reason, though, you never give me any homework. Anyway, how do you inspire your students? How do they inspire you?
I make them work hard. Most people don’t realize this, but high school students really do like to work hard, and they want to be challenged. I just treat them like real writers because that’s what they are. I share with them whatever it is I’m struggling with as a writer. I try to be kind. And, truthfully, I’m just as passionate about their work as I am about my own. I suppose this is what it’s like to be an agent or an editor.
Have you ever faced the fear of failure? How do you deal with it?
I faced it five minutes ago. I face it every second. I believe that people who are too confident and sure of themselves are full of shit, phonies. But like Dory says in Nemo, “just keep swimming.” Just keep swimming
What is the craziest/weirdest/coolest form of inspiration you’ve had?
Years ago I went to Ireland by myself. It was the trip of a lifetime. I remember driving to Galway and stopping at this castle along the way. I thought to myself, I want to write about this place. I want to set a book here. You know what’s crazy? Some thirteen years later, I did just that.
What is the most rewarding part about writing books? Is it seeing the finished product, or something else?
It’s the work itself. It’s the feeling you have after a good writing session, the same feeling you get when you’re reading a great book and you don’t want to put it down. It’s sitting at your desk and typing as fast as you can because you don’t want to lose the idea. It’s having the characters literally tug you out of bed, sometimes at four in the morning, and you go with them willingly because you like them so much. It’s making yourself laugh or cry with a scene, maybe both. It’s finishing a first draft and putting it away for a while then missing it like crazy. It’s staring at someone you don’t know because they remind you of a character from your novel. It’s going to a party and wishing you were at your desk writing.
What is it like writing for young girls? What’s your favorite part about meeting your readers?
They’re so young! I honestly forget that. I write from the adolescent place inside my own head, and this part of me always felt so grown up, even when I wasn’t.
What can you tell us about your next project?
It’s for boys. Or, I should say the protagonist is a boy. Obviously, girls can read it, too. And there’s another book under contract with Penguin which I won’t talk about just yet.
Recommend a book (or several books!) for writers and aspiring writers.
Thanks, momma (er, Suzanne) for being my very first interview subject. It’s no wonder I want to write my own novel some day. Check out her website or her Facebook page and say hi! Comments and questions here, of course, are welcome and encouraged.
Passionate? Creative? Interested in being interviewed for The “Lucky” Ones series? Shoot me an email at wittycassiehere (at) gmail (dot) com.