Susan Beth Pfeffer: Writer’s Wisdom
February 7, 2017
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For my Journalism I Interview project I had the honor to interview the esteemed author, Susan Beth Pfeffer. Ms. Pfeffer has had an impressive career and has written 60+ books throughout it. I chose to interview Ms. Pfeffer because I personally love her Life As We Knew It series, and I thoroughly enjoy reading her books. Interviewing her was a world-expanding experience, and I enjoyed reading her generous, insightful answers. Overall, Ms. Pfeffer has had an extraordinary career, and I am so thankful to have been granted the opportunity to interview her.
Q: What inspired you to become an author?
A: I’ve always loved making things up and telling stories. I remember making a story out of the placements of letters in the alphabet and giving numbers characters. I wrote what I regarded as my first novel when I was in first grade. I also came from a family of readers. There were always books in the house.
But what was equally important was my father and his career. He was a constitutional lawyer specializing in church/state relations. When I was in first grade, his first book was published. It was a long book, so I can never remember a time when he wasn’t writing. And since my mother, a secretary, typed the manuscript for him, there probably wasn’t a time I can remember when I didn’t hear the sound of a typewriter (they make nice clicky sounds in case you’ve never seen or heard one in action).
So being a writer wasn’t something exotic or unnatural to me. It was what my father did and what I had a gift for. My parents, big brother, friends and teachers all encouraged me and I never seriously wanted to do anything else with my life.
Q: I read a little of your blog, and read that you are now in retirement. Now, two years later from that final blog post, how do you feel not writing anymore books or blog posts?
A: It turns out I really like being retired. I’ve thought about a handful of book ideas, even tried writing one or two, but didn’t particularly enjoy the process, so I stopped. I figure at this point in my life, unless I’m absolutely loving the work, there’s no point doing it. That leaves me open for absolutely loving a book idea and being willing to do the work, in case that ever happens.
I really enjoyed writing my blog and I took a lot of pride in it. There are times when I think there’s something I’d like to share with the people who used to read my blog, but nothing really important has happened to me professionally in the past couple of years. And I really like Twitter. So when I feel the need to communicate, I use that.
Q: What would you say is the book you are most impressed with that you have written?
A: Probably a combination of The Dead And The Gone, because Alex, the main character is so different from me, and This World We Live In, because there were so many different characters to juggle, and I had to assume some people had read Life As We Knew It but not The Dead And The Gone, and some people had read The Dead And The Gone but not Life As We Knew It, and it was a sequel to both. You’d be surprised how tricky that is (I know I was!).
Q: What inspired you to write, the Life As We Knew It series or any other of your novels? Was there anything occurring on in your life or in the world that inspired them?
A: Life As We Knew It came to me after watching the movie Meteor on TV one Saturday afternoon. It got me thinking about what it would be like to be a teenager living through a worldwide catastrophe. I’m a sucker for disaster movies, but they always seem to be about heroic people doing heroic stuff, and I’m an exceedingly non-heroic person who really likes clean laundry. So I wanted to write about a normal person with normal needs and desires living through this horrific experience.
The other three books in the series came about because I had so much fun with the whole set up, and really loved my characters and wanted to see what would happen to them next.
There’s truly no better reason for writing.
Q: Did you experience any rejection when first trying to publish your novels? If so, how did that motivate you in the future?
A: As it happens, I wrote my first novel that got published (Just Morgan) my last semester in college and it was accepted by the first and only publisher that saw it.
After that, it took me two years to get my next book accepted, and there’ve been several other bad streaks in my career. Life As We Knew It followed a bad streak, and it was rejected by quite a number of publishers (I never asked my agent for an exact counting but I know it was a lot).
Rejection never motivates me. It’s a part of my professional experience so I’ve learned to live with it. But it’s success that has motivated me in the past, because I really like it.
Q: How did you feel when your novel, Life As We Knew It reached the NY Times children’s books bestseller list? Was that your biggest accomplishment in your writing career?
A: Being a New York Times Best Selling Author made me crazy happy. It was an achievement I had only dreamed of in the past. But I don’t think of it as the biggest accomplishment in my writing career.
Instead, I think the fact that I had that career, that in spite of the ups and downs, I never had to do anything else professionally, is a truly remarkable accomplishment.
So many people dream of being writers. Many of them are talented, quite possibly more talented than me. But it takes so much more than talent. It takes the ability to see a job through to completion. It takes the strength to get through the bad times and the awareness that the good times can’t be counted on to last forever (I’ve had to learn and relearn that more times than I care to count). It takes the support of the people whose opinions you respect and whose love you cherish. And it takes an immense amount of luck.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life. I try always to remember that, to give thanks 365 days a year and not just on Thanksgiving. But I also take a great deal of pride in my career. I can’t imagine having done anything else and I’m glad I never had to.