Today I’m very excited to share an interview with Susane Colasanti about her most recent book So Much Closer which came out May 3, 2011. (I was lucky enough to see Susane read from it twice earlier this summer and let me tell you, she is a great reader.) I loved the book and all of its New York details and I’m thrilled she was able to take some time to talk to me about the book and her writing.
Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Susane Colasanti (SC): My story is an unusual one. I was a high school science teacher (Earth Science and Physics) for 10 years before I became a full-time author. I knew I wanted to be a science teacher when I was 12. When I was about 16, I started thinking about writing children’s books. But then I was like, Wait, I’m already going to be a teacher. I didn’t get the memo that you could do more than one thing.
When It Happens was inspired by my own experiences during senior year of high school. That book was burning to be written. I remember asking a creative writing professor in college about the YA genre (but I’ve never taken a creative writing class). He said it was an expanding area, which motivated me. So I began writing the first draft of When It Happens in grad school. The book was published ten years later. I was still teaching when it came out. I really loved teaching. Teens are my people and I loved working with them.
But teaching and writing at the same time was beyond exhausting. I resigned from teaching four years ago to become a full-time author – a dream that I wasn’t expecting to become reality. That’s the power of creative visualization. The fact that I was able to switch careers from one job I loved to another that I love even more proves that you don’t have to limit yourself creatively. You can be everything you are.
MP: When you introduce yourself at signings you mention that you write about soul mates. Did you always know you wanted to write these kinds of books? What attracted you to this niche?
SC: I absolutely knew I would be writing about soul mates. Soul mates have always fascinated me! That instant connection you can have with someone, feeling like you’ve known them forever instead of five minutes, immediately understanding that you’re both on the same wavelength…it’s a powerful phenomenon. Soul mates are real. And I think we all have more than one. I’ve met two so far. Since the definition of “soul mate” tends to vary, I should clarify mine. A soul mate is someone who inspires you to be a better version of yourself. They get you in a way no one else does. They support you and love you for who you are, flaws and all. I believe that we’re all looking for a soul mate. Writing about this dynamic is my way of reaching out to everyone who is still searching.
MP: What was the inspiration for So Much Closer?
SC: Several readers have told me that So Much Closer feels like a love letter to New York City. I totally agree. The second I moved to New York 15 years ago, I knew I was home. The energy here is so amazing. Writing this book was my way of sharing that energy with my readers. I had so much fun including my fave New York places and things in the book. The relationship between Brooke and Scott was inspired by similar feelings I had for a boy (okay, a few boys) back in high school. Even though this one boy didn’t know me at all, I felt an overwhelming connection to him. It wasn’t just about physical desire. It was like I could see the potential of us. I could see how amazing we’d be together if he only knew I existed. But I was too shy to tell him how I felt. Brooke telling Scott how she feels was my way of creating the confidence I wish I’d had. While my books are inspired by my own experiences, they’re also inspired by the experiences I didn’t have.
MP: New York City has a lot going on and you include many wonderful details in So Much Closer as Brooke explores her neighborhood. How did you decide what to include in your story? How did you decide where to move Brooke once she got to New York?
Deciding which details to include was easy. I basically found a way to incorporate some of the things I love most about this city. The High Line, water towers, Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, Joe the Art of Coffee, rooftops, Crumbs, sweet apartments, Hudson River Park and the Zen garden are all real parts of this city that I adore. And I loved having Brooke move to the West Village. I’m very fortunate that I get to live in my dream neighborhood and I wanted to share the magic of the West Village with my readers.
There’s a motto I have about New York City: big city, small world. I cannot even tell you the number of times serendipity has turned what seems completely impossible into typical occurrences. Stuff like running into someone I haven’t seen since third grade who doesn’t even live here. One day I was taking the subway at a time I normally never do and an old friend I hadn’t seen in years walked right into my car. The Physics TA I was crushing on in college lives like two blocks from me now. So many of these non-coincidences happen all the time. It’s like the energy somehow brings people together. It’s amazing what you notice when you look up.
Observing these non-coincidences over the years inspired me to have Brooke and Scott live in the same neighborhood. It’s not surprising at all that Scott’s family moved close to where Brooke’s dad was already living. Given the way this small world works, I’m surprised they’re not so much closer (corny alert!).
MP: Before becoming a writer you worked as a teacher. Did that experience factor into writing So Much Closer?
SC: My teacher life influences all of my books. Certain details I remember from school are used to create more realistic scenes. Realistic fiction is my thing. I want my books to feel as real as possible. Using parts of the real world in my fictional world is one way I try to achieve that.
MP: This book includes a few references to Office Space and The Office prompting Brooke to wonder about boys and their fascination with office-based humor?
SC: Dude. The Office is my show. Whenever I feel sad, all I have to do is watch an ep of The Office and I’m smiling again. Two words: Jam forever. Office Space is one of my fave movies. There is no limit to how many times I can watch it. My workspace is filled with accessories from The Office and Office Space. I have a Dunder Mifflin mousepad, a Dunder Mifflin stress ball, The Office door sign from the opening credits, the daily desk calendar, and Pam’s drawing of the building as a magnet. I am so hardcore that I even have the vintage red Swingline stapler from Office Space on my desk. Plus, I have a World’s Best Boss keychain and mug. The whole World’s Best Boss thing is an inside joke I have with myself. The joke is that I’m my boss. So I get a kick out of talking about my boss like, “My boss is being so strict right now. She’s making me pull a 16-hour day.” Or, “My boss is awesome! She’s totally letting me leave early.” I find this World’s Best Boss joke to be hilarious. No one else does.
MP: John has a lot of amazing graphic tees. Do you have your own collection of tees? If so, do you have a favorite one?
SC: Hi, I’m Susane and I’m addicted to graphic tees. Seriously. I have over 100 of them. My preferred ensemble consists of Rocket Dog sneakers, flared jeans, and a fitted, soft graphic tee. My fave ones are old-school. I have one with this 80s game called Simon. There’s one with an empty school desk that says, “Bueller. Bueller. Bueller.” My Reading Rainbow one is pretty hot. Some of my most cherished tees are the weirdest, like this one with giraffes that says, “Giraffes do exist.” And one with a drawing of a girl peering above a steering wheel that says, “I can’t drive.” Both cute and true.
MP: Brooke is an accomplished origami artist. I love origami so I have to ask: do you make origami yourself? How did you know this would be Brooke’s thing?
SC: Brooke tells us that she first learned origami when her 7th grade science teacher taught her how to make an origami cup. That’s exactly what happened to me. I even gave my teacher a shout-out (although her name has since changed) because she was one of those incredible teachers who inspired others to become teachers. I’m still in touch with her, which is incredible. But it’s weird to call her by her first name. Now I totally get why my old students have such a hard time calling me Susane! Anyway – ramble much? – as I was developing Brooke’s character, her fascination with origami just came to me. I find that when I’m working on character development, the characters take on a life of their own at some point and tell me who they are. Brooke told me she was into origami. We have that in common. I’m not as good as Brooke, but I can rock a crane something fierce.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
SC: Right now I’m polishing my sixth novel, which will be out in 2012. I’m still waiting to hear the exact pub date, so please stay tuned! I should also be able to share the cover soon.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
SC: Read. Read all the time. The more you read, the better your writing will become. I learned how to write by reading. There’s so much you absorb as you read that you’re not even aware of – sentence structure, grammatical nuances, and larger aspects like the craft of designing a story arc. Books are like musical compositions. Each one has its own rhythm, a unique sound resulting from its structure. I’ve learned so much about pacing, word flow, and technique just by reading thousands of books. And I’m learning more every day.