AUTHOR Q&A

INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN HEYBOER O'KEEFE

Susan has published many picture books and several novels. You can visit her website here.

What drove/inspired you to get started?

I have never not written, and began as soon as I could hold a pencil. It's like wondering what inspires me to breathe. I have to do it.

Do you have any specialized training?

I have a B.A. in literature and an M.A. in creative writing. The degrees helped me to articulate what I wanted to do and to see myself as a professional. But I don't think either one in itself is necessary. For some people, they can be a hindrance.

Has this been something you've always wanted to do?

Always, always, always.

Have there been any obstacles along the way?

Life! Everything is an obstacle and an advantage at the same time. The key is learning to see everything as an advantage, which gets pretty hard as most advantages can only be recognized with hindsight. Success can distract me from the work. Failure, coupled with persistence, can make me a better writer.

How did you land that very first book deal?

The first book deal was stupid blind luck: The very first draft of my very first picture book was bought by the second publisher who saw it.

Did you have any misconceptions in the beginning about the whole book process?

My misconception was that the next book sale (and the dozens after that) would be "automatic" ––so I quit my job, expecting to support myself. I didn't have another trade book publication for ten years, which was truly disheartening.

What's the most important thing you'd like others to get out of your work?

I'd like readers to get hope and encouragement from my work and, depending on the piece, maybe some laughs, too. Above all, I want readers to close the book knowing that life is ultimately good.

Do you have an agent? If yes, how do you think having one has helped you? If you don't have an agent, would you consider getting one?

I didn't have an agent for fifteen of my sixteen books and have had one for just this past year. I think that the right agent can not only break a writer out, but challenge the writer to bring his or her work up to a higher level.

Describe your relationship with your editors.
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They have all been extraordinarily wonderful, supportive, creative people, with the book's best interest at heart.

What books do you have in the works now?

My first middle grade novel is coming out in Spring 2004 from Roaring Brook Press, DEATH BY EGGPLANT, a comedy that appeals to anyone who has ever had a secret ambition and longed to fulfill their dream. A sequel to ONE HUNGRY MONSTER is coming from Little, Brown. It's brilliantly titled MORE HUNGRY MONSTERS and will have the same illustrator, the fabulous Lynn Munsinger. I also have two picture books coming from Boyds Mills Press: CHRISTMAS GIFTS, illustrated by Jennifer Emory, and BABY DAY, illustrated by Robin Spowart, who did the wonderful illustrations on our Bank Street Best Book Selection LOVE ME, LOVE YOU, also from Boyds Mills Press.

What's the best thing about publishing a book?

There are several "best" things. One is that it's validation in the world's eyes. You're not just one more crackpot. You're a crackpot with a publishable book in you. Also, hearing how a book has touched a reader is simply one of the most incredible experiences there is for any writer. It's especially powerful for someone like me who's so shy in person and talks so little--that connection can't be beat.

What's the worst?

The fear of the blank page. The huge stack of rejection slips. Starting from scratch all over again with every book. The blindness to my own faults as a writer. The fear of never writing again. The list goes on and on! But you do it anyway.

Any last words of encouragement for beginners?

Don't give up. This is an easy platitude, and everyone says it, no matter what the field. I'm saying it as someone who really understands. Don't give up. And be open to change. Maybe you're not the next Dr. Seuss or Margaret Wise Brown. But if you really must do this thing, there's a place in the writing world for you. Discover where that place is and be open-minded to it.