Suzanne Lieurance is not only a successful full-time freelance children’s writer, she coaches’ students in the skills of writing for children. Suzanne’s experience and wealth of knowledge is quite evident when you sit in on one of her numerous tele-classes. The electronic airwaves of the internet and telephone lines spark with her energetic and inspiring teachings. Her students are kept active in their writing through weekly assignments, critique sessions and tele-classes. Get ready to immerse yourself in learning more about Suzanne through her interview and visiting her websites. I’m sure you will be motivated to become the best writer you can be through Suzanne’s expertise.
Donna McDine: What inspires you to write?
Donna McDine: What inspires you to write?
Suzanne Lieurance: Gosh. No one has ever asked me that question. I guess anything and everything inspires me to write because I just HAVE to write. I can’t NOT write. And you never know what will turn up in my stories. Once I had chocolate raspberry coffee and cranberry orange muffins when I was visiting a friend. A little while later, I wrote a story that I sold to a coffee company to put on their coffee can labels and the main character was addicted to chocolate raspberry coffee and cranberry orange muffins. My friends say nothing is safe around me. Anything they say or do can turn up in one of my stories. When my sons were little they inspired me to write, and that’s how I started writing for children. They were always saying something or doing something that made for a cute story. One time I wrote a story with two brothers, but then I decided the story didn’t really need two boys, so I cut out one of them. My younger son read the revised version of the story and said, “Gosh, Mom. You killed off your own son. Why’d you take me out of the story?”
DMc: When and why did you form Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club through your organization The National Writing for Children Center?
SL: I created the National Writing For Children Center about a year ago. I did this because I wanted to have a way for teachers, parents, authors, and illustrators to connect since they all play such vital roles in the literacy of children. At the NWFCC we offer weekly tips for parents and teachers, as well as author and illustrator interviews, book reviews, and other information about children’s writing and publishing. Many of our tips encourage teachers to use trade books in the classroom. Our tips for parents often give them new ways to enjoy reading, writing, and speaking with their children. I created the Children's Writers' Coaching Club because I noticed that many people who tried to write for children had no idea of the “tricks of the trade” so to speak. Often their manuscripts were rejected by publishers not because the writing or the story weren’t good, but because some rule of thumb for children’s writing was not followed. For example, the writer changed viewpoints throughout the story, or told the story completely in narrative, often from the viewpoint of an adult. I wanted a way for children’s writers to learn these rules and practice them on a weekly basis, as well as get to network with other children’s writers, and learn from a variety of children’s writers who are already successfully published. We’re able to offer all of these opportunities to members of the coaching club.
DMc: How do you balance your freelance writing career with your writers’ coaching responsibilities?
SL: It’s getting tougher and tougher because I seem to have more coaching clients and more coaching opportunities than ever before, which leaves me with less time for writing. But generally, I coach clients in the morning, then write for a few hours. At 2:00 central time every weekday afternoon, I host an internet radio show about children’s books called Book Bites for Kids. After the show is finished each day, I usually go back to writing for another hour or so. A couple of nights a week I facilitate tele-classes for writers.DMc: Please describe your emotions when one of your students achieves their first publishing credit. Especially if it derives from an assignment from CWCC.SL: When one of the coaching club members gets that first publishing credit I am elated, but not surprised. I can just tell when one of the club members is writing material that is good and very marketable. So it doesn’t surprise me when they make that first sale - or any sale thereafter! As a coach and a writing instructor, it’s my job to help writers learn to create material that sells. I love doing that!
DMc: Please describe your creative process. Do you work with an outline or is it a stream of writing directly from your thoughts (or in some writers’ cases your sub-conscious mind while sleeping)?
SL: I write from an outline. In fact, usually I try to create a very detailed outline (with chapter titles and everything) for the book I’m working on. That way, once the outline is complete, it’s much easier to write the book. I go back and fill in the outline. But there are always some fun surprises that pop up along the way. I also spend a lot of time getting to know my characters before I start writing. That way, I know what a character would do or say when something unexpected comes up in the story.
DMc: How many hours do you devote to writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
SL: Since I’m a fulltime freelance writer and writing coach, I write or coach all day, 5 days a week (and sometimes on weekends). Generally, I prefer to have a year to write a middle grade novel or nonfiction book. But I write short stories, test passages, Readers Theater scripts, and other materials much faster. I also do many story adaptations on assignment and I usually have a month or so to complete those.
DMc: What was the biggest obstacle for you to overcome with your first published book?
SL: Actually, I was asked to write my first book. It was a children’s guide to Kansas City. I was the regional advisor for the Kansas chapter of the SCBWI at the time. The publisher called me and asked if I knew a writer who could write Kidding Around Kansas City for them. Of course I said, “Sure. Me!” But since I was also teaching fulltime then, plus going to graduate school, and I had two teenage sons at home, I asked Lisa Harkrader, who was my co-regional advisor, to coauthor the book. We had so much fun working on it together. Later, we got to do book signings and TV and radio interviews together. We had a blast! However, I have had my share of rejections and I still get rejected. But I don’t look at rejections as obstacles. I tend to think that every rejection takes me one step closer to an acceptance.
DMc: Please share with us your current writing project.
SL: Right now I’m finishing up another historical novel for Enslow Publishers’ historical adventure series. This one is about a young boy who lived in the Japanese-American internment camps in World War II.
DMc: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
SL: Two things - 1) get to know your characters really, really well before you start writing, and 2) read, read, read the kinds of things you want to write.
DMc: How do you spend your time when you are not writing or coaching?
SL: I love to read, read, read. I also love to cook, travel, and listen to music and go to movies. I love to combine ALL of those activities as much as possible. Go on vacation to some exotic locale, listen to music, see a movie or two, read a good book (on the beach, since most of the exotic vacation locales involve a beach, at least for me they do). Usually, I don't get to cook on vacation, but I do get to eat. Yum!
Visit the National Writing for Children Center at http://www.writingforchildrencenter.com/ and http://www.suzannelieurance.com/ to learn more about the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club and Book Bites for Kids, Lieurance’s talk show about children’s books on blogtalkradio.com. Sign up for The Morning Nudge, free words of inspiration and motivation to help you get a little writing done every day at http://www.workingwriterscoach.com/. Leave a comment at any of these sites and mention you read this interview and you will receive the link to this free audio -Picture Book Roundup: A Look at Some Popular Picture Books and What Makes Them So Special.