Interview: Suzanne Supplee
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Current Song: Operation Petticoat score music
Author Suzanne Supplee has seen two of her novels hit the shelves so far this year. January brought When Irish Guys Are Smiling, in Penguin's Students Across the Seven Seas (S.A.S.S.) line, and June revealed Artichoke's Heart, in which a young woman struggles with her weight and other things happening in her home, school, workplace, and town. After sharing Artichoke (and virtual chocolate) with me, Suzanne answered questions for me and for her readers. Here are the results of our discussion dessert, in which we offer plenty of food for thought.
Artichoke's Heart covers about six months in the life of fifteen-turned-sixteen-year-old Rosemary - and there are a lot of things going on in her life. Did you attempt to balance the storylines and outline all of the events in advance?
I'm not big on doing formal outlines. It's sort of like reading the instructions before putting something together. I'm not big on that either. But, once I get started, I am constantly outlining the story in my head, and if I get stuck, I'll create an outline on paper to nudge me along.
While detailing Rosemary's weight loss, were you cautious or wary of readers who might try to copycat her attempts?
I have three daughters, so I am very aware of the hefty responsibility that comes with writing. So, I'll say it here: Do NOT eat tainted mayo or tainted anything, for that matter. Rosemary realized this was insane and later regretted such a crazy method for weight loss. As for the Pounds Away diet, I don't believe in these kinds of diets either, not for the long-term anyway. While I do feel that YA authors have a certain amount of responsibility for what we write, I also believe we must stay true to our characters and try to be as honest and authentic as possible. It's a tricky balance, I suppose.
Was Heavenly Hair inspired by a real salon?
No. It's the hair salon I would've owned IF I'd gone to beauty school and IF I'd stayed in my hometown! And, I would've hired people like Miss Bertha and Richard to help me run it, too!
When and why did you choose to incorporate her mother's illness?
I'd just finished the first draft of Artichoke's Heart when my own mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We were all stunned by this news because my mother had always been healthy. She'd never smoked, didn't drink alcohol, and had all the usual medical check-ups, etc. Plus, my maternal grandmother was 94. We just expected my mom to repeat that pattern of longevity, but things didn't work out that way. She died six months after her diagnosis. In addition to what I was experiencing personally, I also felt that Artichoke's Heart needed something more, that I had to juxtapose Rosemary's struggle somehow, and cancer seemed a logical choice.
I am so sorry for your loss. I bet she would have been proud of your accomplishments and your books.
Throughout the story, Rosemary finds some unlikely sources of support: popular Kay-Kay, handsome Kyle, even a counselor. Who are your greatest supporters?
My family is very supportive of my writing, and I have a core group of friends who've helped me celebrate all the baby steps along the way.
Rosemary lives in a town where everyone knows everyone. Have you ever lived in such a place?
Me too. Do you prefer small towns, big cities, or someplace in-between the two?
Maybe it's the writer in me, but I could see myself in any of those places.
When she was younger, some of Rosemary's classmates nicknamed her Artichoke based on her ensemble and her appearance. The taunting has followed her into high school. Were you ever the victim of name-calling?
Yes and no. I think we're all teased or taunted in some way at one time or another, and I've certainly experienced this, but not to the degree that Rosemary suffers it in the book.
At what point in the writing process did you title the chapters?
Normally, I don't title a chapter until after it's written. I do the work and then try to see what strikes me title-wise.
What are your ten all-time favorite books?
Ten? Only ten?
Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe
Revolution From Within by Gloria Steinem
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Visit Suzanne's website.