Wednesday, September 8, 2010

GRAFFITI WALL: Susan Kaye Quinn, author of LIFE, LIBERTY, and PURSUIT

The Graffiti Wall is so pleased to welcome a genially wonderful author to share her splats on the Wall. She's not only an amazing writer and mother, but she's worked for NASA, GE, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. She recently shared her debut YA novel with me for review. Be sure to check that out. AND...

SCROLL below and ENTER for a chance to win her debut YA novel!! 
Susan Kaye Quinn

Tell us a little about yourself?

Mom of three boys, ex-engineer and rocket scientist, local elected official (school board), author. I’m all of those, usually a little bit each day, although I spend most of my time taking care of my 7, 9 and 11 year olds and writing whenever I can.

What is the main reason you began writing?

I wrote a lot when I was young, but left all that behind to do serious things like get degrees and work for NASA. I rediscovered my childhood love of writing in the last few years, drawn back into it to write for my niece and my kids. Although, really, I write for me.

What first attracted you to middle grade literature? Young adult literature?

Ever since I started reading books to my boys, I was drawn to the idea of writing stories for them. But with three boys under five years old, there wasn’t time for sleeping, much less writing. Now that my boys are older, and my niece has ventured into teenage-hood, it feels natural to write middle grade and young adult. After all, that’s most of what I read these days!

Some writers eat chocolate; others drink coffee. Do you have any quirks or rituals you perform to prepare yourself to write?

I ship the boys off to school, take my lovely green teapot and microwave some water. When the tea’s had exactly two minutes to steep to caffeinated perfection, I pour a cup and sit down to write. During the summer, I grab whatever minutes are available in a frantic attempt to get words on the page, grabbing a Diet Coke from the fridge to keep my eyes propped open. I much prefer school time.

Ooh, the good'ole trying-to-trick-the-eyelids skit. I've try it myself. 

What does your writing space look like? Are you a wandering writer? Do you stroll from space to space, finding inspiration everywhere?

My writing space is a disorganized mess, piled high with papers and what not. But now that you mention it, I do wander around the house, trying to escape the hum of the computer, the thrumming of the dryer, or that jangling noise that the refrigerator sometimes belches out.

I read a great post on your blog, Ink Spells, about the Twelve Tips for Reluctant Readers. What do you think is the most influential way to encourage young readers to pick up a book instead of the iPod, xBox, or DS?

Reading in front of children and constantly putting good books in their hands are the two best ways to get kids to read. My oldest reads the newspaper because he watched me do it every day for years. I count reading to children as a part of reading in front of them – kids will do just about anything to get you to spend time with them, including tolerating that paper book thing you insist on reading. Eventually, they’ll get caught up in the story – they can’t help it. Stories are like air for kids; they need them to exist and grow.

Any favorite authors or books you'd like to share that have helped you along your journey to publication?

For MG, I love the writing styles of Westerfeld and Riordan. They are insanely popular, but they have a muscular, spare writing style that I think works really well for middle grade. For craft, Williams’ book Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace is an amazing book and has had a huge influence on me.

From your experience, what are the three most important aspects of writing that a writer must hone in order to 'get noticed'?

Story, Craft, and Voice. The most important among these is Story. I’m reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass right now, and he talks about both published and unpublished writers needing to focus on writing a story that commands attention. Does your story grip people, make them want to stop others cold on the street, clutching your novel and saying, You MUST read this!  Of course not every story you write will be that story. But if you are constantly striving for ways to better your craft, find your true voice, and tell the story that moves your heart, you will be heading in the right direction.

I totally agree. I have that book, and I think it's amazing. 

Now, my favorite part: your newly released BOOK!! Life, Liberty, and Pursuit is your debut YA novel. The story is about two young people, Eliza and David, who meet on a cruise ship. What was your motivation for choosing that setting?

Cruise ships are inherently romantic, but for this story it gave the crucial circumstance where these two serious young people could be thrown together by happenstance and then torn apart after a mere four days together. We’ve all had a special time where we lived outside our normal experience – a vacation, or a trip – and then had to return to normal life. This story is about the struggle Eliza and David have when that brief vacation changes their lives.

Some of this story is based on my best friend’s experience of meeting her now-husband on a vacation with my family when we were sixteen. It was love-at-first-sight for them as well, and I was always intrigued how my friend came back from that trip a changed person.

(First Chapter Excerpt found HERE.)

You and I originally met while visiting each other's blogs and on YAlitchat, an online writing community. We were discussing middle grade literature; but I love the story of how a publisher found you and the YA manuscript you hadn't thought about publishing. Tell the readers about that.

I had written this story for my niece, one of a couple novels I wrote just for fun as I was learning the craft. At that point, I wasn’t sure I would ever try to publish, much less publish that particular story. But my beta for the story, who loved it, eventually went on to work for this brand-spanking-new publishing company, Omnific Publishing. The Omnific people had seen some of my other stories online and invited me to submit to them once they opened their doors for business. My friend wasn’t involved in the acquisitions process (that was a separate thing), but she did end up being my editor – which was awesome! I blogged about the whole process, Adventures in Publishing, if your readers would like to know more.

And sequels for the book?

Probably not. Although there is much more that could happen in the lives of these two, their epic love story has been told.

Can you give us a sneak peek into what you're working on now?

I’m polishing up my middle grade science fiction novel about a girl whose helps her clone caretaker flee the Peace Police and struggles to find her sanctuary in a world where clones are slaves. After that’s flung out into the world of querying, I hope to finish up the draft of my new young adult paranormal novel. That one’s about a girl who doesn’t read minds, in a world where everyone else does. She struggles to pass for normal, but develops an ability that drags her into a dangerous new world. And next up, I’ve promised to write another middle grade novel for my boys. I have some fun ideas creeping around the edges of my mind for that one, but it needs to get in line behind my other WIPs.

Thank you, Susan, for spending this time with us. Please visit Susan's Website for more information about herself and to purchase her book. Feel free to follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog - Ink Spells

Don't forget to come back next month when I announce my eerie Paranormal-Freaks Writing Contest where Susan is offering up a 30 page critique!!


  1. This was a really interesting post. Susan's background is unbelievable. I love how she says that we need to put good books into kids' hands in order to keep them reading. Thanks for an awesome post!


  2. Great interview! Loved getting to learn more about Susan!

  3. Great interview. I loved the authors she picked as good middle grade writers. Good luck with your book.

  4. I met and hung out with Susan at the LA SCBWI conference last month. She is awesome. Naturally I bought her book, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Soon. I love a good romance.

  5. Susan rocks! Thanks Sheri, great interview.

  6. @Adventures - putting books in our kids hands is how it all starts. Love that, too.

    @Stina - you hung out with Susan. So cool. I'll get there someday. ";-)

  7. Good to see your interview, Susan. Thanks to Sheri for spreading the word!

  8. ROCKET FREAKING SCIENTIST??? Are ya kidding me? Wowza.

  9. Awesome interview Sheri! Good luck with the book Susan!!! =D

  10. I had no idea Susan had such an interesting background....Wow! I've had a sneak peak at her mg fantasy and it's great!

  11. hi miss sheri and miss susan! that was a really good interview. i like what she said about moms reading stuff to their kids. my mom read to us from when we were real little. when she died my big brother alex did it and now all of us are real good readers and love books. my writing place is pretty messy too mostly cause i gotta share out the computer with 4 messy brothers and one stuff all over the place sister. ugh! i go at my room lots with a pencil and paper and write there cause its lots more quiet. i like that she talked about books that could help you be a better writer. i just got one called writing magic creating stories that fly and its by gail carson levine. its got really good stuff in it. its for more young people like me. im 10 and gonna be 11 in october. :) thanks for doing such a neat interview.
    ...smiles from lenny

  12. LOVE Susan! And some of these answers I didn't know about her. :o) Thanks for sharing, ladies! And it's great to "meet" you, Sarah!


  13. Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting! :)

    @Candyland LOL! I have a business card that says "Rocket Scientist and Author." Most people think I'm kidding. :)

    @Lenny I'm so glad your brothers gave you that gift of reading! They (and you) sound pretty awesome. I hadn't heard of Gail Carson Levine's book on writing, but I did get a chance to meet her over the summer at a conference - she was an amazing speaker as well. I'll have to check it out! (p.s. I'm glad you can get some peace and quiet in your room!)

  14. Susan, thank you for joining us. This was a great success!! Looking forward to finding the winner of a copy of your book!

  15. I just had to drop by and tell you sorry for calling you SARAH, Sheri! For some reason that's the name that stuck in my head when I linked from Susan's blog to here. So sorry! And it's great to find your place here. Very cool. (Unlike me and my name skillz.) lol :o)

  16. OMG I LOVED your explanation of children need stories like air, and how they will even give up their x-boxes for some time with their parents if a story is involved. It's a strange wonderful miraculous truth, isn't it?

    I'm not signing up for the contest because I already decided to buy Life, Liberty and Pursuit as my first foray into e-books. I'm excited! Just waiting to get the current stack of library books finished and out the door.

  17. @Margo I'm so excited you're foraying into e-books, and it's extra special that my book will be the first! Thanks!! :)


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