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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Author Interview with SueAnn Jackson Land

SueAnn Jackson Land is an author who lives in Sudbury, Ontario. She has been published in The Globe & Mail, The Outer Banks Sentinel, on Soul's Code (a webzine) and was featured recently on Authors on Show.
This is the pitch: 
When the rage of living settles down and age relieves us of blame - then we are ready to look in the mirror. After everything we encounter as human beings, after every trial and joy, everything we have chosen this lifetime for - we eventually answer to the human being staring back at us from the mirror. I have suffered at the hands of others, child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, suicides in three generations of my family. I have also suffered at my own hands, addiction, obesity, depression. Along with the memoirs that talk about "what they did to me" I wanted to write one that said, "These are the people who helped me. These are the memories that I had to go back and revise because I was wrong. These are the things I could not change and here are the things that I could. This is how I found peace." Ultimately, this book is about survival and the grace that time offers us to change our perceptions and move on.

Tell us about The Truth About Whales in a few sentences.

The Truth About Whales is a memoir and it was written with the purpose of helping survivors of suicide, specifically family members of people who have completed suicide.

How did you come to write this particular book?

Three members of my family completed suicide: my grandmother, my mother and my seventeen year old son.  I started the book to explain my history to myself, to write down all of the research, notes and questions I had about my family’s story.  So it began as a journal of sorts.  When I finished it, 20 some odd years later – I realized that I had told the best story I have, my own.

If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?

My gramam, Anna Fizel Geshan, is my favorite character in the book.  She was mean, volatile and unpredictable.  She was also soft, squishy and taught me what it was to value family. 

Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?

The book moves in and out of many geographic areas.  I am originally from North Carolina, grew up in Pennsylvania; did “geographic cures” to North Dakota, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and Sudbury, Ontario (Canada).

How can people buy your book?

The book is available on and on Lulu, as well. 

What qualities make a successful writer?

I have learned so much about what it takes to put together a book.  I thought I would have “the book” and Oprah would just magically find me.  Wrong!  I think self-confidence, persistence and networking are some of the qualities you need to be a successful writer.  You also need a great network of people who believe in what you are trying to accomplish and are willing to help you push through the days when you wonder exactly what it was you were thinking to begin this process at all!

How do you set about writing a piece?

I wish that I had the discipline to write every day, but I do not.  I write when I am moved to write.  Having sat down many times with the “I need to find a way to do this every day” I found myself with a lot of stuff even I didn’t want to read.  When people affect me, I write. When memories are painful or I find some nugget of information about my family, I write.  When I have no other choice – I write.

Beginning writers make many mistakes; what do you think is the most harmful?

Thinking that they are hack writers or that they don’t have the talent to “make it” as a writer.  That’s why it took me so long to finish my book.  I went into the “lit crit” circles and was completely underestimating my writing ability and my right to have something good for SueAnn happen.

To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?

I think the attitude of “that’s the editor’s problem” is mistaken.  Getting published, or even to be seen by an agent, is like finding a needle in a haystack.  So if you are coming to a professional without something that is presentable; well, it’s like going to a company fundraiser naked.  You want to look your best, but there is the problem of the dangling participle.

How much revision of your MS do you do before you send it off?

I read through it once.  I sleep on it for a couple of days and read through it again.  I usually send it to a friend to have a gander (because I miss things) – then I hit “send.”

To what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?

I think that readers have niche markets that interest them.  Not everyone wants to read the same thing.  The sad part about genre is that it limits readers at the same time.  If I read “romance” on the description, I immediately think “Harlequin” and turn my head.  I read a classic “romance” novel this year as a favor to a friend and it turned out to be one of the best books I read all year.

How do you know where to begin any given story?

Having written a memoir – of course the story begins with “I.”

What sort of displacement activities keep you from actually writing?

Authonomy (sad, but true)… I find myself reviewing so many manuscripts that any writing time I have budgeted is forfeited.  Having said that, if I hadn’t gotten on Authonomy and started meeting other writers, I would still be thinking that I had the “it” book and waiting by the phone for Oprah to call.

Do you have support, either from family and friends or a writing group?

I have been a part of a writing group for eleven years.  We are friends who came together out of a love for music and have emailed the details of our lives, every day.  It is amazing to me how many “writers” there are out there who have no desire to be published.  They write because it is their art and how they express themselves.

Is presentation of the MS as important as most agents and publishers suggest?

Honestly, I have almost no experience with presenting my book proposal.  I got aggravated at the process early on and self-published.  I am certain is it extremely important because of the sheer volume of the manuscript on-line.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Twenty years.  I am currently working on my second book and I certainly hope that it doesn’t take me another twenty.

Who or what inspires you?

Human beings, the human condition inspires me.  How we respond to one another emotionally, the spiritual search for why we chose this lifetime – I could write another twenty books about how much I love watching human beings discover their purpose here, how we touch one another’s lives.

If there’s a single aspect to writing that really frustrates you, what is it?

Having to critique someone else’s writing frustrates me.  I want to get out my red-pencil and mark up the text.  I lack the courage to say, “Hey… really… your manuscript could be so good if…you stopped using those ellipses and finished the quote with the quotations outside of the punctuation.”  That, and reading so many serial vampire killer stories.  Of course, I’m of the smarmy Stuart Smalley emotional variety, so…

Is there any aspect of writing that you really enjoy?

Self-disclosure – I am a flasher of the emotional variety.  I want people to know that I’m searching, the same way that they are – and what answers I manage to find.

Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?

I think that writers have a desire to express their perceptions of the world, of their lives.  My writing came from the inability to tell the secrets that were happening all around me.  Writing gave me a voice and an ally.  I believe that our brains and abilities are limited only by our ignorance.  If we don’t know it, if we don’t seek it, if we don’t discover it within ourselves – how are we to ever have something naturally?  Even savants have to play the instrument or put the pen to paper, right?

What single piece of advice would you give to writers still hoping to be published?

Don’t give up.

What are you writing now?

I’m writing, “After All” which is a memoir, go figure. It’s about the women who raised me and the chosen family that gave me the love I sought after.

Do you have a website or a blog that readers can visit?

I have a Facebook fan page for The Truth About Whales

and I have a blog as well, but I am not great about keeping the blog up to date.

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

I would love a beach house in Nags Head, North Carolina with a view of the Atlantic.

Where do you actually write?

I attempt to write in my living room in Sudbury, Ontario with the television blaring.  We live in a two-bedroom apartment and it doesn’t allow for office space, really.  The best writing times are Sunday morning before anyone is up and breakfast isn’t even an option, yet.

Stuart – thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you about The Truth About Whales.  I admire your effort in helping authors get the word out about their books and wish you luck on your next book!  I’m looking forward to reading it.

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