Kid Lit Reviews welcomes Sue LaNeve, author of the middle grade novel SPANKY: a Soldier’s Son, which will be reviewed tomorrow. Ms. LaNeve is a graduate of The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program and is currently writing while boating in warm climates. Sounds like the perfect mixture for success. Please welcome Sue LaNeve.
Author Sue LaNeve
SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son will be reviewed tomorrow, click HERE.
What inspired you to write Spanky?
I wish I could tell you which came first, the story or the realization of what inspired me. That’s the case with most of my stories—I have an idea to write something, only to finish a draft and suddenly get slapped in the face by a huge epiphany. “Oh, so THAT’S what this story is about.”
I had a character in my head by the name of Spanky. As a kid, I was the younger and definitely less attractive of two girls, growing up in a neighborhood of 14 boys. I’d like to say I didn’t care about that, but at the time, it mattered. A lot. Let’s just say I knew what bullying was like first hand on a daily basis. Spanky does as well.
Then, a number of years ago, a relative told me I had been a disappointment to my dad who had recently died. I didn’t believe it, but some small part of my subconscious did. At the end of the first draft of Spanky, I realized why Spanky needed to make his dad proud.
Spanky eventually became part of my creative thesis at The Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). While working on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, renowned children’s writer and VCFA faculty member M.T. Anderson lectured on the politics of Dr. Seuss. After hearing him speak, I knew I wanted to impact children with certain aspects of politics—not to influence their beliefs, but to encourage their curiosity, their desire to seek answers to difficult political questions. Is war good or bad? Are our enemies good or bad people? Should we be in Afghanistan? I wanted to convey that there are no easy answers, nothing black and white. I’ve been told I did this well in Spanky’s story. There are no right or wrong answers.
I also had the encouragement of a fellow writer and veteran who had just returned from Afghanistan. Now an award winning author, Trent Reedy repeatedly reminded me that Spanky was an important story, that there were so few books that speak to military children of Spanky’s age and to persevere on this project. My research and interviews confirmed just how important this story is. When I hear the reaction of military children to reading Spanky, I’m so thankful I did.
What is your writing background and how did you learn to write specifically for children?
I finally realized what I wanted to be when I grew up at midlife. After graduating college with a belly full of self-doubt, and taking many Ys in the road toward becoming a Psychologist, I found myself in sales and marketing. I enjoyed the writing part of my work the most. Later as a stay-at-home mom, I wrote my first manuscript titled, LIFE BEYOND BON BONS, A STAY AT HOME MOM’S GUIDE TO SANITY. I was so inexperienced I sent it to only one publisher who rejected it in a two-page letter, immediately ending my writing career. I had no clue how lucky I’d been to have received that letter or how high on the hierarchy of rejections I’d received.
After nursing my wounds, I took a creative writing course. The teacher recommended me to an education publisher who produced journals that contained mini-vocational biographies to help students decide what they wanted to be when they grew up. And for the next few years, I interviewed, wrote and successfully published dozens of biographies. It nourished the fiction writer in me, allowing me to live vicariously through all of these other “characters.” Simultaneously, I became a technical writer and produced everything from scientific standards to marketing communications and instruction manuals.
I wrote a rhyming picture book for my first grandson and the bug to learn how to write for children bit me in a big way. I joined the SCBWI, took the Institution of Children’s Literature Course, went to workshops and conferences but found myself wanting more. With the recommendation of a mentor, I researched, applied to and was accepted into the best MFA program in Kid Lit. That expensive decision proved to be worth every nickel.
The Vermont College of Fine Arts changed my life. It changed how I saw myself and how I saw my writing. It surrounded me with a community of some of the best kid’s writers in the world, elevating my abilities and most importantly, helping me to believe that I was a WRITER. My knowledge of writing for children deepened in a way I could not have done on my own.
What is the best thing about writing for kids, as opposed to adults?
In certain ways, writing for kids and adults is similar—title, plot, characters, setting, subtext, etc. But writing for children is much more challenging. We must understand how language, detail and voice change radically, depending on the age of the reader. It looks easy, but kid lit is the most difficult and yet joyous writing I’ve ever done. The best thing about it is hearing from a child whose life you’ve affected. In the case of Spanky, it was the letter from the little girl who said, “It feels real because I know how Spanky feels with his father gone. Thank you, Miss Sue, for writing this book.”
Describe the place you do most of your writing.
In my old life, you’d find me in all of the usual writerly places—coffee shops, libraries and bookstores—exchanging and absorbing creative energy from all the other laptoppers. Or you’d find me at home in my comfy office.
In my current life, however, I’m a full-time cruiser aboard the M/V Freebird, a 48’ Kadey Krogen Trawler. I tend to sit at our dining table or up in the pilot house. I’d love to be able to write outside on deck, but the glare makes it impossible.
What a great alternative to RVing around the country. What is the hardest aspect of getting a book from inspiration to publication?
Perseverance when all signs tell you to quit.
Your book is finished and published. Now what is your biggest worry?
My biggest worry is that I’m depriving SPANKY of the attention he deserves. A huge percentage of marketing is up to the author. Aboard ship, it is hard to book readings or signings or school visits etc. I could fantasize about going from port to port, promoting my book. But weather and boat-maintenance surprises disrupt any kind of schedule. I’m also one of two captains on board and one of two crew members. J It’s a full-time job.
Some would envy you. What would you tell an aspiring writer who asked you how to become an author?
I would tell that writer to read, read, and read some more. Studying for an MFA at VCFA required that I read at least 20 books a month and write critical papers from this reading. I suddenly learned how to read like a writer, seeing all aspects of craft as well as viewing an author’s technique, voice, style, and detail in its best and worst forms. I evaluated what worked and what didn’t work and in so doing, elevated my own writing.
You would make a heck of a book reviewer. What is the most important aspect of a story and why?
This is a tough question and I venture to guess that if you ask a dozen writers the same question, you’ll end up with as many answers. As writers, we hope our readers will open our book, dive in, and lose (and perhaps find) themselves within. We hope they will enter our fictive dream and not want to exit. When I read, voice engages me. Voice not only elevates dialogue, it helps to define setting and profoundly affects how we see character, description, and all of the other facets of story. In fact, one editor friend said, “I can help a writer improve plot, dialogue and other technical aspects of their work. But if a story is lacking a distinctive voice, I can’t teach it.”
What is next? Is there another children’s book on the way?
If you saw my computer files, you’d laugh at how many stories I have “in the works.” One of my faculty advisers said, “Sue, I don’t care which you choose to work on. Just finish one of them!” One day, I’d like to write the sequel to Spanky, when Dad returns home from the war. But for now, I’m trying to finish a story about a little girl named Katie who is coming of age in 1968, a very interesting time in history.
Is there anything you would like to say, or anything I have not covered that you would like to mention?
Military children have told me that Spanky made them feel better about themselves because he felt so many of the things they feel, feelings they weren’t sure they were even allowed to feel. April honors Military Children and if you would like to donate a copy of SPANKY: A Soldier’s Son to a military child, please visit my website, www.myclimbingtree.com. I am going to be speaking at McDill Air Force Base where I will give your donated book away with your message inscribed inside.
Thank you Sue for an informative interview. Sue LaNeve’s middle grade novel, SPANKY: A Soldier’s Son will be reviewed here tomorrow. You can click over to the interview HERE. To order SPANKY: A Soldier’s Son it is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
To learn more about Sue or keep up on her travels, use the following links:
Sue’s Writing Blog: www.myclimbingtree.com
Sue Travel Blog: www.freebirditude.com
- The Next Big Thing Blog Tour! (quirkandquill.com)
- New Film School at Vermont College of Fine Arts Appoints Prominent Independent Filmmakers to Growing Faculty (vtdigger.org)