Monday, August 24, 2009

A Chat with Author Susan K. Marlow

Susan K. Marlow is the author of the Circle C Adventures, a six-book series of historical fiction for middle-grade readers and up, about “horses, adventure, and the Old West.” Susan never planned to be a writer, though. As a child, she wrote stories to entertain her little sister, but dreamed of being an astronaut. Unfortunately, poor eyesight prohibited her from shooting for the stars, so she turned her sights to the sea as a marine biologist. After one scuba-diving venture, Susan realized she didn’t like that much water between her and the surface. She then decided to follow her parents’ advice to become a teacher. She taught in Christian schools before homeschooling her own children. Susan’s natural enjoyment of writing stories, however, pursued her into adulthood. At the urging of friends, Susan submitted Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home to publishers. The book eventually found a home with Kregel Publications and came out in 2005. Now that her kids are grown, Susan teaches writing workshops for kids, speaks to school children about creative writing, and helps homeschool her grandchildren.

Although we’ve yet to meet face-to-face, I consider Susan a very dear friend. She has mentored me about editing, prompted me to establish Aim for Perfection Editing, and answered my myriad of questions regarding the publishing process. We are both homeschoolers, too, and Susan has blessed me with much encouragement in that area as well. She’s a treasure!

Q: Susan, your website bio says you started writing stories when you were about ten years old. What did you do with those stories?
A: I saved some of them, but most I threw away when I “grew up” and entered high school. I consider that to be one of my more foolish decisions. I wish I’d kept them. I do have one outer space story, The Stars Know the Way, hand-copied into a blank, hardbound book my grandfather found in the town dump and gave me (this was in the days before easy-to-buy journals).

Q: Did your parents or teachers encourage you to pursue creative writing?
A: My parents did not. Neither did my teachers. I believe that in order to be encouraged in your writing you have to SHARE your writing. I did not. I was too shy. My little sister read them and loved them, but I didn’t offer them to my parents for feedback. And…I would have died a thousand deaths before letting a teacher read them.

Q: What kinds of stories did you write about when you were a kid?
A: Outer space stories mostly. My fourth-grade teacher introduced me to astronomy and I was hooked. My first story was Up to Mars. I can’t remember what it was about. Other outer space stories included Stowaway to the Red Planet, Marra’s Promise, The Stars Know the Way, and Once Around the Galaxy (unfinished). I started a mystery story once, but couldn’t think of a good mystery. I also wrote Castaway Island (this one has been typed into my blog “Suzy’s Stories” if you want a good laugh). As a teen, I wrote Star Trek stories (being a diehard, first-generation Trekkie). The difference with my Star Trek stories is that I included kids in the stories. Always. I’m just a kid at heart, myself.

Q: The Andrea Carter (Circle C Adventures) books are set in 1880s California. Do you have a passion for that particular time period?
A: I love the Old West, but the 1880 date was chosen because I wanted my stories set near the Sierra Nevada range. The closest place I could find was Fresno, and it wasn’t founded until 1872. So I chose the date based on the town. I also chose California because it was considered the Old West but it was also sophisticated (San Francisco). This gave me options of ranch settings and city settings.

Q: What inspired the creation of 12-year-old Andrea (“Andi”)?
A: Along with Star Trek and other outer space shows, I loved to watch old western TV shows. As a kid and young teen during the 60s, I felt the shows would be greatly improved if they included a kid or two as a regular (which they never did). So I made up my own “kid” characters. And I of course made Andi in my “own image”—who I would have wanted to be! J

Q: Do any of Andi’s adventures stem from your own experiences?
A: Not usually. But I’ve drawn on real people to get my imagination going. For example, the Mexican immigrant family with whom Andi stays with in Long Ride Home is loosely based on friends I made while teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to the Hispanic community. The surprise of discovering an unknown older sister who returns home with her three little children in Family Secret came about from a story a friend told me. Her son left home at 15 and never came back or contacted them since. Their daughter, 15 years younger, has never met him. I added the twist that Andi had never even been told about her older, runaway sister. I imagined what it must feel like to be betrayed in this manner and how she might learn to forgive and accept new family members. In Trouble with Treasure, the idea of keeping a rattlesnake’s rattle as a souvenir was sparked by an incident when I was on a trail ride. We met up with a rattlesnake. The guide cut off the rattle and I kept it—blood and all—in the pocket of my white jeans (I still have it).

Q: Not only are you an accomplished author, but you are also a veteran homeschooler. Was Andi homeschooled?
A: No. Although homeschooling was the norm during Colonial days, by 1880 most children went to school. I think Andi wishes she were homeschooled. She doesn’t like sitting still in school for so long, sometimes with a mean, strict schoolmaster (Dangerous Decision).

Q: Were your kids school-aged when you wrote the first book?
A: My older kids were teens and not interested in what I was writing. My little kids were preschoolers. My youngest was 13 when the first book finally was published. Although he’s too old to enjoy the books now, he did agree to be “Cory” (Andi’s friend) for a cover possibility. So the boy on the cover of the new book, Trouble with Treasure, is my son Ryan at age 14 (he’s 18 now).

Q: Was it required reading for them?
A: I read Long Ride Home and Dangerous Decision to my little boys when they grew older, before I submitted the stories. And the kids at my homeschool co-op enjoyed them later on, still before publication. I never even thought about publishing them at that time!

Q: You currently teach your grandkids certain subjects. Are the Circle C books on their reading list?
A: I taught my younger grandsons to read last fall, using the ABCs of ACE. The Circle C books are beyond their reading level. My oldest grandson, Nathan (age 10), has not only read (and loved) books 1-4, but has also read the manuscript versions of books 5 and 6. He likes book 5 best. (Rattlesnakes, gold-panning, bank robbers, guns, and mountain lions. What’s not to like?)

Q: Tell me about your writing workbook.
A: Reach for the Stars is a writing workbook geared for homeschoolers. The easiest way to describe it is to give you the blurb:
“This 144-page workbook for budding young authors includes sections on creating characters, how to “show –don’t tell” their feelings, beginnings that “hook” the reader, creating scenes, plotting stories, and much more! Students can work at their own pace and on their own. Reach for the Stars also works great in homeschool co-ops and in classrooms. Includes a parent/teacher guide with hints for expanding the lessons. Grades 3-8.”

Q: Is it part of your grandchildren’s curriculum?
A: Yes! I’m giving a copy of the book to my daughter for Nathan. Writing is so important, but so many homeschoolers don’t feel up to the challenge. I offered to look at his work. The writing workbook is a good way to introduce writing in a fun way, and little or no parent-directed teaching is needed.

Q: Where can the workbook be purchased?
A: Either from the publisher, Media Angels, from The Old Schoolhouse Store, or from my website. Kids can also sign up for a free writing E-zine that offers writing prompts for kids and hints and helps for parents.

Q: So, what’s next for Andrea?
A: With the series nearing completion, I’m not really sure. There’s always the possibility that the publisher will decide to continue the series at a later date.

Q: As this series comes to a close, do you have new characters entertaining your imagination?
What can we hope to see from you in the future?

A: Although the Circle C Adventures for older kids is closing, Kregel has accepted my idea to write a series for younger readers (ages 6-8), based on the characters from the older series. I’ve tentatively called it The Adventures of Andi and Taffy (Taffy is Andi’s horse), and the first and third books are written. These are early chapter books, which usually include a grade 2 reading level and black and white illustrations in each chapter. I’m having a lot of fun coming up with these.

Jodi: Thank you so much for sharing with us, Susan! We look forward to Andi’s next adventure!
Susan: It was great chatting with you. I loved your questions. Thank you!

Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure is due out in February 2010. The sixth and final installment, Andrea Carter and the Price of Truth is scheduled for release in September 2010. To read more about Susan and her Circle C Adventures books, check out her website. You can also join the Circle C Adventure Fan Club on Facebook.


Tiany said...

Great interview! I love Susan and her books! She is a treasure!

Susan Marlow . . . said...

Jodi, I just got a Google alert for this posting and wow! Thanks a bunch. It looks so . . . so . . . . official. You do nice work, girl!

Jodi Whisenhunt said...

Thanks for the compliment, Susan! It's easy to produce nice work when I have great subject matter :) Love ya!

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