Thanks to the wonders of the internet, readers and bloggers may communicate with authors without ever meeting or speaking in person. Susane Colasanti and I have been chatting back and forth in email for the past few months, and I was delighted when she joined the Summer Blog Blast Tour. The SBBT is all about connecting authors with readers, and Susane's books are all about connecting readers with characters. She employs two narrators in her first novel, When It Happens, and three in her new release, Take Me There. Her narrators speak in first person and the stories often show the same scenes and events from different points of view. As a kid, Susane regarded books as her best friends. Now, perhaps her books and characters will become friends of yours.
Welcome to our conversation.
Little Willow: Hey Susane!
Susane: Hey, Little Willow! I'm stoked to be here.
For the viewers at home that are reading along . . . Care to sound out (type out!) your name phonetically?
Yes, that C with a lot of Italian after it can be complicated! My first name looks tricky, but it's actually pronounced "Suzanne." When pronouncing my last name, you have two choices. The Italian way (which you can bust out with loudly while making a good pesto sauce) is "cole-uh-SAHN-tee." However, I use the less interesting pronunciation, which is "kahl-uh-SAN-tee."
Hmm. After reading this over, I completely understand if you still don't know how to say my last name. That's cool.
What are the benefits of writing from multiple perspectives and both genders? The difficulties?
When I was a teen, I mostly read adult novels. I discovered Stephen King when I was thirteen and became a fan. At that time, the selection of young adult novels was very different from what it is now. I wish I had all of the incredible teen novels to choose from that teens have now! When I did read teen novels, they were almost always told from the girl's perspective. I was dying to know what the boy was thinking, what he talked about with his friends, and what he was doing during scenes that didn't include him. I promised myself that if I ever wrote a young adult novel, I would write it from both of the main characters' perspectives.
What's awesome about writing from both perspectives is that the reader can discover a completely new dimension of the story. I like writing two or even three sides of the same scene to show how differently the characters involved experienced it. I can also reveal the reasons behind a character's dialogue or action that we would probably never know without hearing their side of the story. There's a huge difference between actions and words versus thoughts and emotions. The only way to know someone for sure is to have access to their soul.
Even though we all share universal characteristics as part of the human experience, girls and boys are different on some fundamental levels. When I write boy dialogue, it tends to be choppier and less emotional than girl dialogue. When they're speaking, girls tend to analyze and obsess more over issues that boys might not naturally talk about. So one benefit of writing also from a boy's perspective is that you wouldn't necessarily know how he actually feels just from what he says, but once we know what he's really thinking we understand the depth of his character.
With a book like Take Me There, the hardest part of writing from three different perspectives was making sure that all of the details from each scene corresponded in all three versions. A clear timeline was key. I had a throng (albeit an organized throng) of Post-It notes stuck to my wall during the last draft, trying to keep the order of events straight.
While When It Happens follows the romantic relationship between a girl and a boy for an entire school year, Take Me There showcases a week in the lives of three friends.
I've always been fascinated with time. I love exploring ways to examine someone's life in detail over a smaller space of time, or more broadly over a larger time period. The advantage of When It Happens taking place over a year is that we can see how Sara and Tobey change and grow in ways we wouldn't see during a smaller time frame. The week shown in Take Me There is a week in these characters' lives when a lot of serious stuff goes down, so both books ended up being about the same length.
Do you share traits with any of your characters? (I noticed that Take Me There's supporting character Tatyana wrote lyrics on her shoes, which I think you mentioned doing...)
Totally! I wrote all over my sneakers in middle school and high school. This was back in the 80's, so it was common to wear those white Keds (but not at all common to write all over them - I was a weird kid). In eighth grade, I wrote the lyrics to a Paul Simon song on one sneaker. No one knew what it meant because no one knew who Paul Simon was. I also remember getting a new pair of Keds when I was a senior. Then I gave my boyfriend one to write all over and I wrote all over the other one.
Sara in When It Happens is the character I identify with the most. Writing my first book was a semi-autobiographical experience in a lot of ways, and Sara's personality and mannerisms are examples of that. We're both organization freaks, into archival scrapbooking, and we like the same music.
If they're interesting and relevant enough, I sometimes incorporate my own experiences into my writing. The obsession Nicole had with recording her dreams in her dream journal totally happened to me. Like Nicole, I had to stop writing about my dreams because the more I wrote, the longer and more detailed my dreams became. The whole process was eventually too exhausting to keep up with.
At what point did you title your stories?
The titles of both books were ultimately changed. When It Happens was originally called Trust. Its plot was a bit different in the first draft. Instead of breaking up with Dave and then going out with Tobey, Sara originally started seeing Tobey behind Dave's back. When that plot point (and a few others) changed, the title didn't make as much sense anymore. Also, we didn't feel like it was the strongest choice for a title.
The original title of Take Me There was My Way Home. The main theme was home: Finding your way to a place that feels safe, being with a person who feels like home, and your actual home as an extension of who you are. While the theme of home still shapes the book, the marketing department felt that the title needed to be more attention-grabbing, so I agreed to change it.
Would you ever write a sequel to either story, or otherwise connect your existing characters in future books?
That's the most frequent question readers ask me! And I'd love to write a sequel to When It Happens. But here's the thing. The characters in young adult novels are almost always in high school. I don't know if I'm even allowed to write a sequel with Sara and Tobey in college. Which is kind of strange, because I would have loved to read about college kids when I was in high school! So if it works out down the line, a sequel might be possible.
As for my characters appearing in other books, one character from Take Me There is featured in my third book. But I'm not telling who!
The photographs on your book covers hide the faces of the characters. Did you have any input in your book jackets? Did the same person design both covers?
The cover of Take Me There was designed by the fabulous Sam Kim. I absolutely love the windows and natural light on the cover. He did an incredible job. He followed the format of the When It Happens cover (not designed by Sam), with a boy and girl whose faces are hidden and the title set within a separate design element. Having both covers share a similar appearance was done for packaging purposes, even though the books are unrelated.
Viking was great about letting me provide feedback about the When It Happens cover. I saw an early mock-up and was able to suggest some changes (e.g. Tobey was originally wearing white sneakers, but he would never wear those, so I suggested they be changed to black Converse). I was also given the opportunity to share my thoughts about the Take Me There cover.
When It Happens includes a re-enactment of a scene from Say Anything . . . What movie scene would you re-enact, if given the chance?
Oooh! Love this! There is, of course, the awesome scene when they're screaming in the rain from Garden State, but then I would have to get drenched. So maybe not that one.
I'm actually going to visit the town where The Station Agent was filmed as research for my fourth book. I plan to walk the right of way, just like Joe and Fin did in the movie. Which is so full-circle, since I used to walk the train tracks when I was growing up in New Jersey (although back then I was imitating Stand By Me).
If the reenactment involves actual actors from the film, then I would definitely pick the love montage from crazy/beautiful so I could have some intimate time with Jay Hernandez. Not to take away from my first loves, Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal. But that was a good montage.
Both books reference Garden State as well as eighties movies and various styles of music. What are your comfort movies? What do you listen to when you're writing?
It's pretty easy to tell which movies and music I like from reading my books! I carry the music that I grew up with in my heart, so I wanted to share it in When It Happens. Tobey is into 80's music, so the songs that I listened to over and over as a teen influenced most of the scenes in the book. I wanted readers to visualize the scenes like they were watching a movie, so the soundtrack of the book is very important. I've also created a playlist on iTunes, a link to which you can find on the When It Happens page of my website.
Most of the music I listen to while writing today is the same music I listened to when I was in high school. So there's a lot of the Cure, R.E.M., James Taylor, Paul Simon, Sting, and Fleetwood Mac happening around here. But I love some musicians from this decade, too. I listen to John Mayer almost every day because I think his lyrics and style reflect the tone of my writing, so his music enhances my work.
I'm one of those people who like to watch their favorite movies over and over. So I've seen Garden State, Election, Moonlight Mile, The Station Agent, and The Good Girl a crazy number of times. Watching an amazing film always puts me in the place of warm fuzzies.
Are you working on anything presently?
Yes, I just finished my third book and I'll have my fourth done this year, also. Last summer, I was going back and forth between drafts of both books, conflicted about which one I should complete as my third. I decided to go with the book that incorporates a larger timeline, so we can follow the main character over several years of her life.
Now that I'm writing full-time, I can hopefully have my future books published a year apart from each other. I'm also working on some ideas for a series.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Dude! This question is not an easy one to answer. So I'm going to divide my answers into two categories. But I have to say that my absolute favorite book in the whole world is The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery. Although it's categorized as a children's book, I think it should be read again as a teen and again as an adult, to absorb the full scope of what the book can teach us.
Top Ten Young Adult Books
10. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
9. Trying Hard to Hear You by Sandra Scoppettone
8. Forever by Judy Blume
7. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
6. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
5. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
4. The Late Great Me by Sandra Scoppettone
3. Girl by Blake Nelson
2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Top Ten Adult Books
10. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
9. We Are Still Married by Garrison Keillor
8. Story of My Life by Jay McInerney
7. The Class by Erich Segal
6. Plan B by Jonathan Tropper
5. Animal Husbandry by Laura Zigman
4. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
3. Election by Tom Perrotta
2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
1. The Pact by Jodi Picoult
Thank you again for dropping by!
Of course! Your blog is amazing and I'm honored to be a part of the fun.
Visit Susane's website and her blog, where you may enter a contest to win copies of her books.
Related Booklist: Multiple Narrators
Today's SBBT Stops
Ben Towle at Chasing Ray
Sean Qualls at Fuse #8
Susane Colasanti at Bildungsroman
Robin Brande at HipWriterMama
Susan Beth Pfeffer at The YA YA YAs
Debby Garfinkle at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
Jennifer Lynn Barnes at Writing & Ruminating
View the entire SBBT 2008 calendar.