Interview with Award-Winning Author Suzanne Weyn
Get to know Suzanne…
Suzanne Weyn grew up as a beach baby on Long Island, New York. She is the oldest of four and a graduate of Nassau Community College and SUNY Binghamton. She holds a Masters in Teaching Adolescents from Pace University and has taught at New York University and City College of New York.
Suzanne is the author of the young adult novels, The Invisible World: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials, Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic (Booklist, starred review), Reincarnation, Diamond Secret, The Night Dance, The Crimson Thread and South Beach Sizzle with Diana Gonzalez (Quills Award nomination).
Her novel The Bar Code Tattoo, a Scholastic Point Thriller, was named by the American Library Association as an ‘05 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Nominated by the Nevada Library Association as an ‘07 Best Young Adult Book. It continues to appear on high school and middle school reading lists. The German translation of The Bar Code Tattoo was short-listed for the prestigious jugenliteraturpreis. The sequels are The Bar Code Rebellion (2006) and The Bar Code Prophecy (2012).
Her environmental-thriller, Empty was named a “Bank Street 2011 Best Book for Children and Young Adults.”
Suzanne has contributed three short novels—Beaten, Recruited, and Hard Hit– to the “Surviving Southside” series which was named an ALA 2012 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. She is also the author of a horse series for younger readers, the six-book “Wildwood Stables.” Her new novel Faces of the Dead about the French Revolution, but with some scary, unexpected twists, will be out the end of August 2014. For more information, visit her website.
What is the most vivid or realistic dream you’ve ever had?
Years ago I had a frightening dream and I woke up thinking. “Oh, it was just a dream. Thank God!” Then I went into my bedroom and the creature that had been in the first dream was in my room! That was when I REALLY woke up. It had been a dream within a dream. Scary!
If you could make something in life go away, what would it be?
If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?
Jeopardy. I could play that endlessly.
What’s your favorite zoo animal?
The big cats.
What dead person would you least want to be haunted by?
Sister Marion Patrick my seventh grade teacher.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen?
What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever been to?
The Popover House. Unlimited popovers. Bliss!
What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen someone do?
Hit their child.
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?
I stepped into a second story room that had no floor because there was construction going on. The next think I knew I was lying on the ground on the first floor .
If you were a cartoon, who would you be?
Betty in the Archie Comics. I kind of look like her and have her personality.
What’s your motto in life?
Just keep going.
Do you believe in UFOs?
Yes. I saw one when I was about 10. For years I doubted myself because one minute it was there and the next minute it was gone, but then I read about warp speed and stealth cloaking, which have been proven to be real. I have never otherwise seen anything that wasn’t actually there.
Define the worst day ever.
Working on a production line in a factory. I did that for one day when I was seventeen and didn’t go back.
If you were a road sign, what would you be?
People Working—because I work a lot.
If you were to attend a costume party, who would you be?
Twice I’ve gone to costume parties dressed as a bird. Once as a bird of paradise and more recently as a black bird. I like feathers and freedom.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
I was on a sailboat watching a seagull swooping around.
What food item would you remove from the market altogether?
GMOs—genetically modified organisms. Anything produced by the company Monsanto.
What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?
I’d rather not say.
If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? Why?
I do, in fact have a tattoo around my left ankle. It’s a vine which doesn’t exactly connect at the end. I didn’t close the circle because I think there should always be room for growth. On the vine leaves are two different flowers which represent my two daughters. One of them has an October birthday and the other is in December so I used the flowers which represent those months. For the leaves I brought the tattoo artist one of my very favorite childhood books. It’s a big fat Golden Book called The Family Treasury of Poetry. It’s illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund and is full of decorative filigree as well as charming and dramatic drawings. As a girl, her illustrations so fired my imagination that I’m sure it’s part of why I’m a writer today. The tattoo artist was very talented and I love my tattoo. (PS: Don’t get a tattoo around your ankle as I did. It’s all bone there and so hurts like crazy!)
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
That never happens. Someone once said “There is no finished creative work, only abandoned work.” I don’t think any creative person no matter what the medium truly knows if a work is all that it could be. Thankfully deadlines force us to stop. Without a deadline I’d never stop tinkering.
What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?
I love movies and I’m a visual person anyway. My stories are movies in my head that I simply try to capture on paper. Sometimes I cast them with a mix of actors and real people I know. That helps me remember what the characters look like and how they sound. I don’t want all my characters to sound like me. When I’m really in the writing zone and things are flowing, the story unfolds and the characters speak. I’m just a reporter.
When was the first time you realized that you wanted to write books?
I always liked to write. I wrote two stories when I was eight that I still have: The Racing Raisin (the story of a raisin who falls from a plate and rolls around having all sorts of adventures) and Lady Luck’s Triumph (about Lady Luck a fairy who is scorned until she has a great stroke of luck which saves all the other fairies.) After college I got a job as an editor and started fixing other people’s books. Finally I said, “Hey, I could do that.” So I did.
When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?
I worked as an editor for ten years but office life wasn’t really for me. There are lots of difficult things about being a writer: the isolation; the uncertainty, both creative and financial; the extreme competition. But the freedom to be outside on a beautiful day or, later, to be home with my daughters when they were young has made it all worthwhile. I was in my early thirties and had written one book (The Makeover Club) when I took the big leap into full time writing. I’ve never regretted it.
If any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
People who work in the arts tend to have a heightened sense of beauty, which is a great gift. Their lows are lower but their ups are higher. Most people are creative in one way or another but not everyone expresses it through art.
Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?
I write for young people, so sexuality and language come under some restraints. I don’t mind this too much because it’s appropriate. Sometimes I struggle with this in dialog especially when writing at the upper ends of young adult literature because I want my characters to sound authentic. I find ways around it. I’ll write, “He cursed at her,” rather than show it in dialog. My publisher is mostly Scholastic Inc. They’re conservative in some ways because their books are in the schools, but in other ways, they’ve allowed me a lot of conceptual freedom, so I appreciate that.
Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?
Travel and seeing new things gets me going.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in writing?
Shut off the critic in your head that says you can’t do it. Tell it to shut up. Just write. Allot an amount of time to write every day and don’t allow yourself to stop until that time is up. (Promise yourself a treat at the end if you stick with it. I bribe and trick myself into writing all the time.)
How would you define creativity?
Looking at something and seeing it with a different perspective than most people bring to it.
Who do you consider a literary genius?
I just read Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. It was pretty great. I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood (Handmaiden’s Tale) too.
How did you pick your writing genre?
I love kids and teens. Not because they’re cute or angels. Often they’re not. I love them for their energy and openness. I love the rebel in them.
What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you write today?
My childhood was fun because I lived in a neighborhood with loads of kids. We were allowed to run free in ways that kids aren’t allowed anymore. We had adventures. My parents told us stories about their childhoods and my mother told us the plots of The Twilight Zone rather than letting us stay up to see it. (Past our bedtimes.) Stories were everywhere in my house.
Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?
All of them. They’re like children, you love them the same.
Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?
I hope my writing is always becoming more real, more daring, and more effective. I think it has grown in those ways.
When do you feel the most energized?
At night. It’s so inconvenient.
Does your writing reflect your personality?
Writing is the ultimate expression of my personality. Friends have told me that when I’m not around that if he or she reads one of my books it’s like having a visit with me. They say my ways of looking at the world are all over my books. I like that.
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