Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Carole P. Roman, author of Oh Susannah: It's in the Bag (An Oh Susannah Story)
FQ: While you've written numerous books, Oh Susannah: It's in the Bag is your first foray into young reader fiction. What was the impetus for venturing into this new, for you, genre? Was it something you have always wanted to try? Or did you see a strong need for good stories for young readers?
ROMAN: When I started writing, I targeted my grandchildren as a reading audience. I read with them frequently - I think it's a result of life mirroring art. My oldest grandson and I started reading early reader chapter books. Bianca Schulz from The Children's Book Review also suggested I write a chapter book. I didn't think I could do it. I was used to my series. However, Susannah popped into my head - actually, her mother did, and said you have to write this story.
FQ: Breakfast is certainly crazy in Susannah's house. It made for a fun, and funny, scene. Did you base this on breakfast at your house?
ROMAN: I was a working mother, but I had a strong partnership with my husband and a wonderful support system with my parents, grandmother, and brothers. I was never overwhelmed. I was super organized, but that didn't mean I didn't see my friends struggle. Susannah's story was based on a working mother buddy of mine, who had three kids down with illness and was being pulled in all directions. It made me wonder what message are we teaching our daughters? That you have to be able to 'do' it all? Many men will 'farm out' things like car repair, or the lawn. Some women work, come home, help the kids with homework, do laundry, shop...you name it. We place inhumane standards on our shoulders.
FQ: The dreaded red pen...Susannah gets a math test back with a big red circle on it. We've all been there! The way you built up the scene, with the students taking the test, and then Susannah lowering her head, as if to hide, certainly helped highlight the stress and panic that Susannah was feeling. Was this a hard chapter to write?
ROMAN: No - but it was very real for me. I have been in that seat. I think I had learning difficulties that were never diagnosed, causing me to duck my head and hide. Since my son, and some of my grandkids have been labeled LD, it stands to reason. Back then, you were not paying attention, or not performing to your capabilities. Since I didn't learn to tie my shoes until I was in my late teens, or tell time until I was in my twenties, I think something bigger was going on. However, like I tell my kids, those challenges only made me stronger and my success sweeter.
FQ: The "Dream Bus" scene was quite imaginative. Where did the idea for this bus ride come from?
ROMAN: There is a commercial on television right now where a woman is being annoyed by her demanding boss at the foot of her bed. She keeps reminding her of work she has to do. The bus sort of grew from that. When we are worried, it morphs sometimes into monstrous thoughts that invade our sleep.
FQ: There's a bit of a cliffhanger in this story as we still don't know what will happen at Lola's sleepover...would you give our readers a sneak peek at that party?
ROMAN: Susannah has to overcome her fears, or face losing Lola's friendship. She learns that everybody has fears, and fears are driven by what we don't know. Once we can explain something, usually whatever is scaring us loses it power.
FQ: Have you planned out the whole Oh Susannah series yet? How many books are you planning? Have you written others in the series yet or are they still ideas floating around in your head, waiting to come to life?
ROMAN: I never plan - they happen as they go. Susannah will have more adventures. I'm just waiting for her to tell me where. I have put out a lovely Oh Susannah coloring book with Mateya Arkova's beautiful and detailed illustrations.
FQ: Susannah keeps trying to figure out her mother's superpower. What would your children - or grandchildren - say is your superpower?
ROMAN: I know my kids would say that I am a rock. Nothing shakes my resolve and I meet every deadline, and believe me, we've had a lot. I think my kids respect my ability to transform myself into what we need at the moment and get the job done. I wear many diverse hats. My grandkids adore me- lol. I'm not quite sure why - I think I keep reinventing myself to whatever they need at the moment. They are the center of my world.
FQ: The parents in the story are always busy, busy, busy and they've lost track of what is so important. It takes their daughter's statement, "you are always too busy," to make them realize their mistake. This is so true in today's world. What would you suggest parents do to try and slow down when life demands so much?
ROMAN: YES!!!! Delegate where you can, and sometimes the answer has to be 'no.' Think about priorities in life. What did you want years ago and where has it gone? We get caught in the grind to get ahead and sometimes it direction has to be reevaluated. Time is the most precious commodity- once it's gone you can't ever get it back!
FQ: I like the symbolism you used in the story, with Susannah hiding her problems inside the school bag - and how that school bag eventually couldn't take any more problems. Would you talk a little about the stress school children are under today and how "we" (parents, family and friends) can help them deal with the issues?
ROMAN: We are all cramming so much in our day. We have distractions, the phone, television, devices. Sometimes something as simple as reading a book and discussing it is enough to get to know what's going on in your kid's head. Sometimes we have to think- do we need to go to every activity? How about a stay at home day and cook together, or do a project, plant a tree. Talk, but more importantly...listen to what your kids are saying.
FQ: How would you compare your experience writing this early reader fiction book to writing a non-fiction self-help book. Were the experiences very different?
ROMAN: There is research when I do non-fiction. For the culture books I spent a lot of time speaking to people. I will admit, the historicals come from what I knew. I read history all the time. I was a history teacher a long time ago.
When I write fiction, the story speaks to me. I may have an idea, but the characters take over and the story evolves from them. Sometimes I feel like a conduit. My son says that is the subconscious speaking. Maybe it is, I'm not sure.
Susannah started with a different name and different journey. I had no idea when I started, that was where it was going, or even that there would be a book 2. I wrote the first Susannah in half an hour, the second book took an hour more. When a story wants to be told, it fights to get out.
To learn more about Oh Susannah: It's in the Bag (An Oh Susannah Story) please read the review.