Tag Archives: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Random Q&A: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of 75 YA books. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Her latest book, the dead & the gone, is a companion book/sequel to Life as We Knew It, a novel that explored what happens to one family when a meteor hits the moon and wreaks havoc with the tides, the crops, and the weather on Earth

1) What is your typical writing day like?

I wrote my first book, Just Morgan, when I was a senior in college, and I decided the best way of getting the work done was to write five pages a day. So I did, every day. I didn’t care if I was in the middle of a sentence; five pages was what I was supposed to write, no more, no less.

When I graduated college and sold the book, I decided to double the total, so I wrote ten pages a day. My chapters used to all be ten pages long, just so I wouldn’t have to write a word extra. I still don’t know how I managed it.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to write a chapter a day, and the chapters got to be longer. Then occasionally, I’d write two chapters a day.

Now I just write as much as I feel like. Neither Life As We Knew It or the dead & the gone were written with chapters (they’re put in after I finish the first draft). If I’m enjoying the work, I write and write and write.

2) What is the part of the writing process you hate, and what coping mechanisms do you employ to get through it?

I’ve never really developed a fondness for revising manuscripts after the copy editors have left their trail of little notes. My primary coping mechanism is whining and cursing (not necessarily in that order).

3) One of the number one things writers hate to do is revise, and they’re looking for an “easy answer.” That said, what is your revision process like?

My revision process is very dependent on the quality of my editors. I have minimal critical skills when it comes to my own work, so I need an editorial eye to tell me what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been very fortunate with the editors I’ve worked with. My current editor at Harcourt is fabulous, intelligent and tactful.

I do vast amounts of pre-writing, and work through the problems before I hit the computer. I generally send a polished first draft to my editor, who then polishes it some more. But I rarely have to change anything big.

4) Authors talk about “the call.” Usually, it has to deal with getting an agent or getting published or getting an accolade. What was the best “call” you ever received in terms of your writing, and how did it go down?

I’ve never thought of it as a “call,” but I still remember with great pleasure, standing on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, reading an extremely favorable  review of Just Morgan in the Sunday NY Times Book Review section.

Lest you worry that I peaked at twenty-two, my experiences with LAWKI and d&g have been so extraordinary that I grin all the time. Except when I’m dealing with copy editing. Then I grin and whine and curse (not necessarily in that order).

5) You said that when the dead & the gone came out, you’d have a really big party. Still plan on doing that? Have the clowns been ordered?

No clowns (clowns scare me), but I have ordered the party favors. I’m having a Sunday brunch on June 1. I’m calling it the Cheap And Easy 75th Book Party, which should give you some idea of the formality of the event.

Fore more Susan, visit her blog.

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5 Writing Randoms: Why YA?

1) I write young adult fiction because I answered a classified ad. Penguin’s subdivision, Dutton Children, ran an ad that read in June 2005:

Dutton Children’s Books…is actively seeking writers who would like to entertain teenagers with novels inspired by topical events and feature stories. The editors at Dutton will supply the seed of an idea, and then you have the freedom to make it your own. Experienced writers (journalists, published novelists) are preferred, but the most important qualifications are strong voice, distinct characters, and good pacing.

I answered the ad and was signed in August 2005. Before I was signed, I was shopping a mystery for adults that received a lot of encouraging rejections.*

2) I continue to write young adult fiction because I love young adult and teen books more than the books written for my own age group.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a new Janet Evanovich or Susan Elizabeth Phillips as much as the next gal, but I also love a new Laurie Halse Anderson or Susan Beth Pfeffer, too.

3) There are a lot of perks when you’re a young adult writer. I can watch MTV without recrimination. I can debate the finer points of America’s Next Top Model in the name of research. I can freely admit I’ve seen High School Musical AND High School Musical 2.

4) I feel no embarrassment popping a squat in the young adult section at any and all bookstores. My contemporaries may be going to the check-out with the latest Jodi Picoult or John Grisham in hand, but I happily bury myself behind a pile of fantasy books, love stories, and historicals by the likes of Stephenie Meyer, Meg Cabot, and Libba Bray.

5) I’m in a critique group with no other young adult writers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Two write romantic suspense, one writes mystery, and the other writes women’s fiction. They keep me on my toes, since a story is a story. The formulas for romantic suspense, mystery, women’s fiction, and young adult are surprisingly similar.

*”Encouraging” rejections do exist. Instead of “This isn’t right for us at this time [so scram**],” I would receive “While this story has strong elements, it isn’t right for us at this time. Please send any other stories you may be working on.”

**I embellished a little bit. No one’s ever said “so scram,” per se. However, the worst rejection I ever got had the words “you lost your spark by Chapter Four.” In other words, “so scram.”

~S.C.

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