Author interview – Susan Ross

Susan Ross Headshot

Susan Ross is the author of a new novel for middle grade readers, Searching for Lottie. It’s a mystery based on her family’s past, but the main character is a contemporary 12-year-old girl, working on a family research project for school. Charlie’s curiosity and excitement come through for the reader, while at the same time shining a new light on the Holocaust. I was interested to find out how Susan Ross managed to weave such a satisfying novel from such a difficult history.

GC: I know your current novel for young people, Kiki and Jacques, has been selected as a kids’ companion book to Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, for WestportREADS 2019. Both books deal with people displaced by historical events beyond their control. Searching for Lottie has a similar theme. Is this a topic that you feel drawn to?

S51XEsTyGkvL._SY346_R: Searching for Lottie and Kiki and Jacques: A Refugee Story both involve refugee families and touch upon important and timely issues for kids. Kiki and Jacques was inspired by the arrival of large numbers of Somali refugees to my childhood hometown in Maine.  I related in a visceral way to the challenges facing children starting life in a new and different place. When I met and interviewed Somali teenagers while writing the book, I was inspired and uplifted by their determination and optimism. Searching for Lottie is a story I’ve always wanted to explore. My middle name, Lotte (the German spelling of Lottie) was given in memory of a lovely young cousin who was lost in the Holocaust. I grew up looking at her photograph and wondering what her life might have been. In researching the book, I was struck by the notion that although the historical events have receded further and further into the past, family stories are nevertheless more accessible than ever to kids — made closer by the astonishing resources on the internet and also because kids have the ability to ask questions and ponder issues that were honestly just too painful for our generation to pursue.

GC: How much of your novel reflects the facts of your family’s story, and how much did you have to change the narrative appeal to young readers?

SR: Nearly every event in Searching for Lottie was inspired by our family’s history and stories. Early in the book, Charlie’s mom warns that Lottie’s fate will be sad and suggests that Charlie pick a different relative to research for her school project. Charlie immediately replies that she is twelve and old enough to know the truth. My son looked at my mother’s life as part of a similar assignment in middle school. I could see how much it meant to him to learn more about our family’s history. I did the research for Searching for Lottie along with my characters to see if I could find out what had become of the “real” Lottie and ultimately discovered her tragic fate. Because this is a work of children’s fiction, however, I was glad to be able to give Lottie’s story a more hopeful ending. There are also plenty of engaging kid-focused subplots in this book — Charlie has a crush on a fellow member of the orchestra and messes up her audition in grand fashion. Portraying a 12-year-old who is coming to grips with a legacy of loss and resilience was the greatest challenge in writing Searching for Lottie — and also its greatest reward.

GC: Setting your novel in an almost contemporary (2010) setting means that Charlie has a very different background from Lottie, the person she’s trying to find. Which aspects of their lives did you choose to enable a sense of connection between them?

SR: Charlie relates closely to Lottie through their mutual love of music. Charlie hopes to make her grandmother proud and live up to Lottie’s legacy by making First Chair in the school orchestra, but through the course of the book she discovers that her true passion is teaching music, rather than performing. Charlie also realizes that she looks a great deal like Lottie. On my website, there’s a photo of the “real” Lottie, and as a child, I was struck by how much we looked alike. I similarly wondered whether I needed to somehow fulfill the life that Lottie had tragically lost. In the book, Charlie ultimately learns that the best way to honor Lottie’s memory is by following her own true path.

GC: Although some of the characters are based on real people, the book is a work of fiction. How did you decide on the plot itself, with the twists and turns that make it such a page-turner?

SR: To be honest, the story nearly wrote itself since almost every plot twist was inspired in some fashion by our family history. I am not one of those writers who outline! I find it much more interesting to discover where a plot will lead. I decided to reveal the answer to the final part of the mystery in the epilogue, which takes readers back to Lottie’s historical period. That means that although Charlie never actually solves one final element of the mystery — the reader is able to discover what happened.

GC: How do you feel about the book now that it’s finished? Will your next book deal with a similar theme, or have you said all you need to on the topic?

SR: I am beyond delighted to see this book out in the world. I hope I’ve both written a book that kids can easily relate to and also in some fashion succeeded in bringing Lottie’s legacy to life. My next book is a middle grade mystery about a boy in the 1920’s from a lobster fishing family in Maine whose dream is to fly. Like all my books, though, it’s also about a child finding his true path and facing the challenges of growing up.

Susan has posted photographs and background materials on her website. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, and she will be appearing to talk about her books at a Westport Library event taking place at the Westport Women’s Club on Saturday, May 4th from 3-4pm. More information here.


Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – February update: part 2

And here, as promised, is the second part of my February update. There was simply so much to include, that I thought I’d give you a little breathing space. First up: the Bridgeport Library offers a free monthly memoir writing … Continue reading

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – February update: part 1

First, thanks to everyone who showed up yesterday for our 5th anniversary meeting in spite of dire warnings about the weather. And congratulations to member Alison McBain who came First  in the Connecticut Press Club’s Communications Contest for her editing … Continue reading

Author interview: Debbie Levison

I met Debbie Levison at a talk she was giving to the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. Her debut book, The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice, is a true crime story, and seemed like an unusual … Continue reading

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – January update

I’m going to keep the intro short this month, since there’s a lot of ground to cover. Wednesday saw another great meeting, with old hands and new faces, and many successes to report. And here’s what’s coming up in the writing world of Fairfield County and environs:

This Saturday, January 19, Brian Hoover will be leading his monthly memoir writing workshop from 10:30-12:00, in the Bridgeport History Center, located in the main branch of the Bridgeport Public Library. Free.

The Connecticut Press Club is wrapping up submissions for this year’s contest. Anyone who lives or works in Connecticut is eligible to enter work published in 2018. Fees: $25 for the first entry and $15 for each additional entry. Deadline: midnight EST, January 22.

The Moth Mainstage comes to the Westport Playhouse on Friday, January 25, at 7:30PM for a one-night-only performance. Five storytellers, including Westport Continue reading

Author interview: Marilyn Simon Rothstein

044-MarilynRothsteinAuthorPortrait_14x11crop-more-retouchedI met Marilyn Simon Rothstein at the Saugatuck StoryFest in Westport, CT, and bought her first book, Lift and Separate, because she made me laugh. That novel, by the way, hit the number 1 slot on Amazon’s list of Satirical Fiction last week!

Her novels are filled with humor, as well as romance, pathos and a host of other emotions. The first book made me want to read the sequel, Husbands and Other Sharp Objects, another satisfying read. Marilyn has had a career in advertising, and became a published author relatively late in the game, so naturally I had questions for her.

GC: When did you decide to write a novel, and what made you choose this genre?

MSR liftMSR: I realized that I wanted to write a novel as soon as I began reading novels. As a child, I would go to the library in Queens, New York, and haul home ten books at a time–that was the limit. I owned an advertising agency for over twenty-five years before I turned to writing fiction full time. I enjoy stories about families and friendships so I found a natural path to Lift and Separate.

GC: Your books are full of humor, but also include some sad events. How do you keep the balance between the two? It seemed to be effortless. Was it?

MSR: I was an overly emotional kid so it’s not difficult for me to work myself up into a tizzy.

GC: While you were writing, did you have a critique group, or a trusted reader to comment on the work?

MSR sharpMSR: I have been in the same writer’s workshop for over ten years. Going to that workshop is a highlight of each week. Before joining the workshop, I attended conferences for writers. I liked residential programs because I lived in a hotel and left my children at home with my husband. Conferences at colleges were nice because I salivate at the thought of endless cafeteria food.

GC: How long did it take from the day you signed with the agent to the date you held a copy of your book in your hand?

MSR: It was quick—and happy. I signed in June 2015. Lift and Separate was released in December 2016. Husbands And Other Sharp Objects was published in March 2018.

 GC: What surprised you most about working with a publisher?

MSR: My books are published by Lake Union, which is owned by Amazon. Because I had no experience with publishing a book, it was a tremendous learning experience, like learning a new business. I was delighted to find dedicated, talented and responsive editors who cared deeply about my novels.

GC: You have been doing a lot of author talks. What do you find to be universal?

MSR: Everywhere I go, I find women who enjoy friendships, love books, want to have a wonderful time and laugh.

GC: And, finally, what’s next?

MSR: Currently, I am writing a third novel with all new characters. Here are five things in my work in progress: a fat shaming mother, an overweight daughter, a Lyft driver, a vibrator and a plate of brownies. (GC: As I said, she makes me laugh…)


You can follow Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.









Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – December update

Our final meeting of the year was surprisingly well attended, considering how close it was to Christmas. Maybe people were taking a break from the seasonal rush. In any event, we covered a lot of ground, with authors asking each … Continue reading

Author interview: Clare Pernice

I ran into Clare Pernice at Goldenberry, a shop in Wilton, not too far from here, that stocks British products. No surprise there, because we’re both British-born, and we were looking for a few seasonal treats. But I noticed her … Continue reading

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous: November update

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are all set to begin writing again. I always think NaNoWriMo was invented by some guys who didn’t have to cook for their family in November. And how come they never noticed it’s a short month? Oh, well.

Undeterred by these minor setbacks, a hardy group of us gathered at the Pequot Library (our hosts this month and next) in spite of the fact that they were getting ready for their famous Black Friday/Saturday book sale. It’s on tomorrow, Saturday, November 24, from 9-5, and includes DVDs, CDs and Vinyl, as well as books.FCWS

Also happening tomorrow, November 24, The Fairfield County Writers’ Studio (above) is offering their space from 10-5pm for anyone who wants a quiet place to write. They’re Continue reading

Author interview: Leslie Connor

leslie cI’ve long been an admirer of Leslie Connor, an award-winning middle-grade author whose characters have always stayed with me after reading the last page of the book. Her latest, The Truth According to Mason Buttle, is no exception. It’s a finalist in the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and I think deserves to win. (I’m prejudiced because I loved it.) The results will be announced on Wednesday, November 14, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The character of Mason is unique in juvenile fiction, as far as I know, and yet he’s someone recognizable to all of us. Read on to find out more.

GC:  You’ve written many middle-grade novels. For this one, which came first – the character, Mason Buttle, or the plot idea?

LC: My stories generally start with a situation—an element of nonfiction, such as a news report, or an event I have observed or read about. My imagination does a lot of work on that seed idea, bending it this way and that. If it’s a story-worthy idea, a character shows up—usually in my ear—and I go from there. In truth, that character has often already been kicking around the attic of my brain for quite a while. I’ve heard it said that character is plot. I have to agree; I never know either plot or character completely until I bring them together.

indexGC: You’ve captured Mason’s voice in an extraordinary and highly readable way. Do you know someone with these kind of learning difficulties, and characteristics (honesty, emotional synesthesia) or did Mason appear fully-formed from your imagination?

LC: Thank you! Mason is definitely a composite. I’ve always been able to pick out the kid in a classroom who is having a different experience from their peers. I know about some learning disabilities firsthand, but synesthesia was new to me. When I saw Mason Buttle in my mind’s eye, I knew what he was experiencing but I had to do some research to diagnose him.

GC: How would you characterize the main themes of the book? What would you like young people to take away from it?

LC: This question is difficult for me to answer. I’m not thinking about themes when I’m writing. For me, the most prevalent character traits (always tied to theme, right?) that emerged here are: self-reliance and honesty. Takeaways from this read might include empathy, compassion, and an increased sense of self-worth.

GC:  For writers interested in writing for middle-grade – what makes an MG book different from a chapter book, YA novel, or an adult novel, for that matter?

LC: Writers are creative beings and lines are blurred, when it comes to formats. For instance, we see novels in verse and graphic novels for both the YA and MG audiences. So what separates them? For me, the single most important determinant of genre lies in the level of self and social awareness of the main character—no matter the age, no matter the topic.

GC: Your last two books have had a boy as the main protagonist. Are you planning anything with a girl as the featured character?

LC: Yes! I was surprised to be writing from a young male point of view, but the characters came to me an authentic way, and so far, I haven’t heard that they don’t work! (I chalk that up to having grown up between two brothers and having raised two sons.) My latest book (under contract) features a female protagonist, and in fact, there are very few males in this new story.

YOu can find Leslie on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and Instagram.

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