The Benefit of Personal Experience with Author Susan B. Lovejoy
Interview With Author Susan B. Lovejoy
How long have you known that you wanted to be author?
I have been writing as far back as I can remember in childhood and have always wanted to be an author. I started writing poetry and short stories in grammar school and found writing to be a great equalizer in life, especially through my angst ridden teen years. I recently found a story written in barely legible pencil that I had written when I was in high school, over 50 years ago. One of these days I’ll try to figure out what I wrote!
The truth is, I always wanted to be an author and write a book that would make a difference in the world, but for many reasons it did not happen until now.
Once you recognized your dream, did you immediately start working toward your goal of publishing a book or did you take the time to first hone your skills and reflect on your progress?
I was so excited about writing, that I sent out many many queries and dealt with an overwhelming number of rejections, because I needed to hone my skills better. But, the experience of being rejected was useful in itself, as I got many wonderful hand written notes from editors encouraging me to continue writing. As a mother, I signed up for college and took all the basic Composition and Literature courses I could find. Later, I enrolled in a correspondence course at the Institute of Children’s Literature, taking the course Writing for Children and Teenagers. Writing has been a lifelong learning experience for me.
In what ways do you think that your personal experiences have influenced your craft as a writer?
In every way conceivable. They say you should write what you know, and what better material do you have than the life you’ve lived? My mantra has always been that every experience, good or bad, has made me the person I am today. The culmination of all those life lessons is what I need to share as a writer. At the tender age of sixty eight, I still feel like a sponge absorbing information all around me.
Are there any particular events in your life that have felt like turning points in your writing journey?
There were many because I’ve lived a long life, so far. The births of my children were the greatest joys I ever experienced, so I wrote about motherhood and raising children. The death of my first husband Ronnie, who died at twenty eight in a car accident, was my deepest heartbreak. Many of the poems and stories from that era were my epitaphs to him and our life together. All those emotional experiences made me look at life through a different set of lenses as I processed them through my writing.
The final turning point for me was during Covid quarantine, when I couldn’t see my family in person. I kept wondering what would happen if I died alone in a hospital room, unable to speak to my grandchildren ever again? That was the impetus to write Love, Gramma. I needed to leave a gift for my grandkids to remind them that I loved them and would always be there for them. I thought of all the kids who didn’t have a grandmother and thought maybe it could be helpful to them, as well, so I published it on Amazon.
Have you ever found yourself to be especially impacted by an experience in your life to the point that you felt as if you needed to write about it?
All the time. My best outlet for emotions has always been to write, even as a child. I have folders and boxes full of my poetry and writing that date back to junior high, at least. I have always needed to write, there was never a time in my life when I didn’t. Even when life got in the way, which it often did, I would be constructing stories or poems in my head as I drove to work or cleaned the house. So many times my kids would say to me, “Ma, you’re not listening!” They were right.
To what degree would you say that your personal and life experiences impact your writing?
I am a double Aquarian, so my ability to tune in to the world and all its possibilities is pretty strong. I have been told I’m an Empath, which is good and bad. Good because you can feel the emotion of those around you, bad because you absorb emotions that are negative as well as positive. The mother/grandmother in me wants to protect everyone else from the bad experiences in life, so there’s a lot of that in my writing.
You just released a new book of advice called Love, Gramma. How important was it for you to find your own voice within that work?
It was magical for me, because I didn’t have to find my voice at all, it was there from the beginning. I wrote it as if I was sitting down with a grandchild, face to face, having a frank discussion. My grandchildren are mostly teens, so we have some pretty interesting discussions when they are with me. When I get the cousins together for a Gramma day, they know that those times are their safe space to talk about whatever is on their minds, no judgement. So, my voice in writing the book was a natural evolution. It was the easiest prose I have ever written, to the point where I kept thinking of more things I wanted to add and thought it would never be finished. I finally had to say done so that I could publish it.
According to your website (https://susanblovejoy.com) Love, Gramma provides wisdom specifically “about how to maneuver those tough years to adulthood.” When crafting the book, did you try to include tangible advice based on personal experience or did you instead focus on the bigger ideas letting the influence of your life’s journey become a more abstract presence?
That’s a really good question! I believe I used both approaches. In most instances, I found myself speaking in very generic terms of concepts for their guidance. I peppered the book with tangible advice based on real-life experiences, with examples from my own life, or that of someone else I knew. My goal was always to be as frank as possible and pull no punches, because I believe growing up safely is serious business, especially in today’s world.
Could you give us a little sneak peak of your advice-giving skills by offering some words of wisdom to writers who might be considering sharing the lessons they have learned with the world? (In other words, what might have helped you when you were creating Love, Gramma?)
The first piece of advice I would give to an aspiring writer is to record any ideas they have to enhance their stories. Sometimes if I am driving and a great idea comes to me, I call my home phone and leave myself a message so that later I can retrieve it and not lose it. If you have great dreams that could help your stories, record those in a notebook as soon as you wake up, because the emotional impact will lessen as the day goes on. Keep story ideas, possible titles, great characters, and research you’ve done in a ‘future stories’ file. You never know which idea or dream will end up being the ticket to a best seller!
The best advice I ever got was to ‘write what you know’. You’ve decided to share your life lessons in a book. Well, you lived it, so you know the feelings, sights, smells, and the sounds of it. Blend your personal experiences into your story; use some of those characters you’ve been observing in your daily life, write about that olds cutlass that caught your eye on the road, develop characters based on people and pets you’ve known into your stories. Don’t be afraid to dive head first into the book in order to truly connect with your audience.
Don’t be so enamoured of your own words that you aren’t willing to change them for the sake of your book. We all have pet expressions or descriptions that we use frequently in our writing. But, sometimes when I read what I wrote, I realize that the expression or sentiment does not fit in that particular part of the story. So, I might tuck it away to see if it will fit somewhere else later on, or just save it for another piece of work. It was a lesson I learned when my first essay was published in an ezine, and I had to accept the editor knew better than I. She was right.
Finally, you might find it useful to use an outline to keep your ideas organized and your process flowing smoothly. It should be flexible, so that it can change as you go along, because you might decide to change chapter order or split a chapter into two if you find the material is leaning that way. My style is to create a basic outline with specific notes of what I want to include in each chapter, then copy it to my story file. I write the actual text above that outline, deleting each section of the outline as I complete it. That way I can look at the outline to see if I’ve included everything that was intended to into that chapter. Every writer has their own system, you just have to find one that works best for you. But, no matter what you decide to use as a system, being organized and having a plan of action is always helpful.
Susan B. Lovejoy
“I have had many exciting work opportunities, ranging from Administrator at Dean College, Town Treasurer/Collector in Mendon, Tobacco Control Agent for a five-board BOH collaborative managing a state DPH grant, and Business Product Analyst for Senior Systems, a software company. My post-retirement job was as a substitute teacher at an elementary school, which was one of my favorites! I went back to my maiden name in 2006.
My writing credits include: poetry published in Young America Sings National Anthology (1971), Country Woman Magazine, Scribe & Quill, Family Friends Poems, and Fear, Worry, Anxiety anthology; a short story that won Honorable Mention in the Inscriptions Dorothy Parker Writer’s Block Contest; and essays in Realtor Magazine, and The Rose & Thorn. Love, Gramma is my first book, published March 2021, and I have two series in Kindle Vella waiting to go live.”