I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors, Susane Colasanti. Her latest book Something Like Fate is coming out on May 4 and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Enjoy the interview…
Your characters seem so real and they are so easy to relate to. How do you develop your characters? Do you map out each one ahead of time or do you let them grow as you write?
My characters definitely evolve as the story unfolds. They tend to reveal more of themselves with time. Sometimes they even take over and move the story in an unexpected direction, which is always fun. But I begin every book with a pretty in-depth understanding of each character. For each book, I have a corresponding notebook with all sorts of information. That’s where I record everything I know about my characters, including lots of details that never make it into the book. This way, I can keep track of everything as I make new discoveries.
In a few of your books, you also write from the viewpoint of a male. How did you prepare to do this and was it difficult to get inside the head of a teenage boy?
Although there are lots of differences between boys and girls, we all share the same fundamental wants and needs. For example, we all want to find someone to love. Focusing on our similarities makes it easier to understand the motivation of my boy characters, so I work from this vantage point rather than focusing on our differences. That said, boy dialogue tends to be very different than girl dialogue. When I write boy dialogue, it’s often choppier and less emotional. Boys usually don’t like sharing their feelings the way girls do. I spent a lot of time talking to my students when I was a teacher. I listened carefully to my students then and I still listen carefully when I overhear conversations now. Spying has definitely helped me understand boys!
Are any of your books based on things that have happened to you in real life?
Absolutely. When It Happens is autobiographical in a lot of ways. It was inspired by my own experiences during senior year. I like to take real-life experiences and integrate them into my books if they’re interesting or funny. There’s this scene in Take Me There where one boy is digging through his massive binder trying to find his extra credit assignment for a class. The first person to hand in the extra credit is the only one who gets it. He’s flipping wildly through all these papers looking for it. An avalanche of papers crashes on the floor and papers scatter everywhere. He’s on the floor looking when this total slacker boy saunters in, slowly takes a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket, and drops it on the teacher’s desk. It’s the extra credit assignment. And just as he does this, dude on the floor is like, “I found it!” That totally happened in my class. Right away it was obvious that I had to go home and somehow work it into my draft.
When you come up with a story idea, do you outline your story or just jump right in to the writing process?
I begin every new book with a chapter outline. These chapter outlines are very flexible. As I’m writing the first draft, the outline grows. New scenes are added and ones that don’t work out as expected are changed or deleted. Then as I’m revising, the chapter outline changes based on what my editors would like me to do with the story. Every author is different – some don’t outline at all – but I feel that an outline is necessary to keep a clear timeline of events and make sure that the elements of the story are balanced.
What advice do you have for those who want to pursue writing?
Read. Read every day. The more you read, the better your writing will become. I developed an understanding of story structure just by reading thousands of books. Over time, you absorb so many skills this way. Of course, it’s also important to write a story you want to tell. If you feel passionate about what you’re writing, you will never give up.
One thing we have in common is a serious LOVE of John Mayer. How does music play into your writing?
Music is such a powerful way to color a scene. Just as music enhances our lives, it can enhance a story. When I’m writing, I picture each scene like a movie scene, complete with soundtrack. I love selecting music that adds intensity to the action and dialogue. Usually I pick music I enjoy, but not always. Sometimes I use music that isn’t my favorite because that’s what my character listens to. There’s a scene in Waiting for You when Marisa and Nash are in his room listening to Arcade Fire. In this scene, Marisa is discovering more about Nash’s love for robotics. Then they have an uncomfortable conversation. Arcade Fire was the prefect sound for this scene, sort of all frenetic and strange with electronic undertones as Marisa navigates the minefield of the conversation. Radiohead would have also worked.
For the most part, I include the music that has been an important part of my life. John Mayer sings my life and, in turn, the lives of my main characters. When It Happens contains tons of musical references, particularly stuff by The Cure and R.E.M. Those songs totally relate to the story. I also love giving shout-outs to groups that are now considered obscure, to open my readers up to a whole new sound for them. It’s so much fun getting email from people who’ve read When It Happens and are now Cure fans because of it. That rocks.
Tell us a little bit about your newest book, Something Like Fate, coming out on May 4.
Something Like Fate is about a girl, Lani, who falls in love with her best friend’s boyfriend. This is a classic plot that never gets old. However, I add layers to the story by incorporating a few other themes, like the concept of fate. Lani and her best friend, Erin, believe that fate is a force that helps shape our lives. They wonder how much control we have over our lives given that the Unknown can swoop in at any time and unexpectedly change our lives forever. Just like my other books, it’s a story about soul mates who are destined to be together.
Thank you so much, Susane for taking the time to answer my questions!