Summer Blog Blast Tour: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Susan Beth Pfeffer has had a prolific writing career as a children and young adult author. She’s been writing since 1970 and has over sixty books to her credit. She transcends generations with her timeless stories and reaches a new generation of fans with the release of Life As We Knew It.
The following are some awards to her credit:
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, 1979, and Oklahoma Library Association Sequoyah Young Adult Book Award, 1980, both for Kid Power; South Carolina Library Association Young Adult Book Awards, 1983, for About David, and 1990, for The Year without Michael; Parents’ Choice Award, 1983, for Courage, Dana; American Library Association (ALA) Best Books for Young Adults citation, 1993, for Family of Strangers; inclusion among 100 Best Books for Young Adults, 1969-1994, ALA Young Adult Services, for The Year without Michael; honorary doctorate from Mount St. Mary College; Andre Norton Award for Best Young-Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy nomination, Hal Clement Award nomination, Quill Award nomination, and nominations for five state awards, all 2007, all for Life as We Knew It.
Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008.
The following is an interview with Ms. Pfeffer that we conducted via email.
You have an impressive writing career, how do you keep current?
I don’t worry about current (at least not too much). I think no matter what changes there are in the lives of kids and teenagers, the emotions stay the same. I can’t imagine a time when teenage girls won’t fight with their mothers or teenage boys won’t resent having to take care of their younger sisters.
As long as the emotions ring true, the story should be believable to the readers.
I read one of your earlier works: Kid Power and thoroughly enjoyed it, where do you get the ideas for your stories? Could you describe your writing process?
I don’t always remember where my ideas come from, but as it happens, Kid Power came to me when I was mowing the lawn and wishing some neighborhood kid would offer to do the job. Life As We Knew It was inspired by my watching the movie Meteor one lazy afternoon.
Ideas, to me, are like birds singing. Birds sing all the time, but you have to be in the right mood to hear them. If your mind is on grocery lists or what to wear, the birds could be chirping to Beethoven, and you wouldn’t notice.
My writing process always starts with a situation, a what if. What if a kid decides to get odd jobs to earn money? What if the world is coming to an end? Then I start figuring out who the main characters are, and further develop the plot. I love the pre-writing part of writing, and I work out most, if not all, of the dead ends before I ever sit down at the computer and start the actual book.
You wrote a number of books prior to Life As We Knew It. Yet it seems like a lot of readers (including myself) discovered you upon reading LAWKI, and it has garnered tremendous praise from many people. Did you expect the response LAWKI received, or was it completely unexpected?
The entire experience with Life As We Knew It, and now with the dead & the gone, has been beyond anything I ever could have imagined. I was extremely involved with LAWKI, and I was sure people would respond to it, but I never dreamed it would do as well as it has.
The internet has added so much to the experience. Thanks to Google and other search engines, I get to read people’s blogs when they discuss LAWKI. And thanks to my own blog (firstname.lastname@example.org), I can share what’s happening with me with anyone who might be interested.
How much research did you do for Life As We Knew It?
Not heaps and tons. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that the moon controls the tides, and gravity is something I understand, so the idea of the disasters that would follow a shift in the moon’s orbit immediately appealed to me.
I did talk to my brother about possibilities. He suggested the destruction of the off shore oil rigs, and he mentioned a dormant volcano outside of Montreal. But I think most of the This Terrible Thing Followed By That Terrible Thing came from my imagination.
Why write for children and teens? What are some challenges/differences in writing for teens vs. writing for children?
When I was in seventh grade, I read books aimed for kids my age that I knew were terrible (and yet, I read them). I decided at age twelve that I could do better, so I was always interested in writing for that age level (and when I wrote my first book, Just Morgan, I was twenty, so I wasn’t all that much older).
The difference between writing for kids and writing for teens (as far as I’m concerned) is subject matter. I would never write books as dark as LAWKI/d&g for younger children.
What do you like best about writing for teens and children? Any plans for adult novels?
I love writing about families, and books for teens and children allow me to explore lots of different family stories. I really like seeing how families deal with unusual and difficult situations.
I also have a very short attention span (although LAWKI and d&g are pretty long). And finally, there’s my vocabulary level, which died a natural death somewhere in the middle of fifth grade.
The few times I’ve tried adult novels, I’ve failed. Maybe it’s that vocabulary thing.
Some authors are very reluctant to discuss their work(s)-in-progress, but not you. How/why did you decide to blog about your ideas for future books so openly?
When I’m trying to figure a book out, I’ll talk about it with some (if not all) of my friends and family. I’m never shy about asking for help with a plotting problem.
So it seemed perfectly natural to me to talk about possible books on my blog, and to be open to the suggestions and opinions of the people who read the blog.
I have no idea if Harcourt is going to want a third book after LAWKI/d&g; they certainly haven’t told me that they will. I ended up writing one that I decided was all wrong as a third book, and now I’m trying to decide amongst many different plot ideas, which way to go.
Any advice for other writers in regard to longevity as a writer?
My parents taught me many things, through words and through example, but one of the most important was to love the work you choose.
Being a freelance writer is a very tricky thing. There’s no stablility, no security. When things go well, you think they’re going to go well forever. When things go badly, you think they’re going to go badly forever. I’ve written books that I thought were wonderful, that got mediocre reviews and went nowhere. And I’ve written books that I wasn’t so crazy about, that did really well. It’s totally unpredictable.
But I’ve always loved the work and I’ve always loved the freedom of being self-employed.
So my advice is only to love what you do, regardless of what it is.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a writer?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a cowgirl, but in retrospect, that probably wouldn’t have worked out too well. After that, I favored Queen Of England (or Queen Of Anyplace; I’m not fussy), but there were no job offers.
At various points in my life, I considered being a therapist (it’s that interest in families). And I think I would have enjoyed working at foundations, evaluating grant proposals, things like that.
Lawyering runs in the family, so maybe I would have ended up doing that.
But I really would have made a great queen.
So if a meteor were to hit the moon, how would you react?
Before I wrote LAWKI, I would have found it interesting. I like astronomy.
Now, I’d be torn between laughter, panic, and irrational guilt.
Is your pantry fully stocked with canned goods? Any canned goods recipes you can share with us?
I’m actually a stockpiler by nature, but mostly I have cat food and paper towels stored away.
I do open a good can of soup though.
If you knew tomorrow would be the end of book publishing as we know it, what books would you go out and buy right now?
I have so many books right now that I keep meaning to read, that I probably wouldn’t buy any.
Besides, if book publishing as we know it dies tomorrow, so does my income. What little money I have, I’d be better off spending on canned goods!
Thank you Sue for agreeing to do the interview with us and for all the great books!
Susan Beth Pfeffer’s next book the dead and gone is scheduled for release on June 1, 2008.
Don’t forget to check out the other great interviews today:
Ben Towle at Chasing Ray
Sean Qualls at Fuse Number 8
Susane Colasanti at Bildungsroman
Robin Brande at Hip Writer Mama
D.L. Garfinkle at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
Jennifer Lynn Barnes at Writing and Ruminating