Posted on January 25, 2019 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Sometimes writers put a little bit (or a lot) of themselves in their characters.
Author Susanna Lancaster has, it seemed, taken the opposite approach and channeled the spirit of her debut novel’s heroine, in a way.
The Growing Rock is a young-adult historical fiction book that began as a short story inspired by Lancaster’s grandmother's memories and evolved into a novel while she attended graduate school.
The tale of Caroline, a fourteen-year-old girl living in Tennessee during the Great Depression, met with forty rejection letters before it was accepted for publication.
All that time waiting for an acceptance, combined with the lengthy revision and editing processes, was certainly a challenge for someone who had considered herself a writer since age seven.
But like Caroline, Lancaster kept her chin up during tough times and persevered.
Now, with The Growing Rock successfully launched and well received, Lancaster took some time away from her works in progress — she can’t reveal more about them now — to look back on her first published novel.
SADYE: What did you go through, mentally, during the time when The Growing Rock was being rejected?
SUSANNA: During the writing of The Growing Rock and the several years following it, I struggled off and on with anxiety and depression.
I was hard on myself for not getting my work accepted. Like many people, this anxiety caused me to cope in unhealthy ways, including an eating disorder. ...
Over time, though, I slowly realized that I would never succeed with this, or anything else for that matter, if I kept being so unkind to myself.
I got help for the eating disorder, and I began to see that many goals, especially big goals like publishing a book, don’t happen overnight.
I didn’t want rejections to overshadow my love for writing. I worked on writing new pieces instead of fretting about publication as much.
Ironically, even though the worry had been so destructive, the hope that the book would be published and cherished by others brought an equal amount of joy to my life.
In the story, the main character, Caroline, goes through hardship and disappointments, and working on the piece reminded me not to give up.
The hope that things would get better — the hope that I would be published — encouraged me to slow down and take care of myself.
It kept me from giving up.
SADYE: You’re extremely encouraging to writers of all skills and ambitions on your website; what drives that?
SUSANNA: Even though my past struggles — the anxiety, depression, and eating disorder — have been a tremendous battle for me, I know they have helped me be more understanding.
In addition to writing, I teach college English full-time, and I see students all the time who are anxious and hard on themselves, and I can relate so well to them.
I hear students and other writers put themselves down and say things such as “I’m not a good writer,” or “I’ll never make an A on this paper,” or “No one is ever going to want my story.”
I hear these things and remember feeling exactly like this. So many people simply just need encouragement; a supportive comment or saying “I’ve been there” sometimes means the world and lets that person know he/she isn’t alone.
If I can encourage just one person and let that person know that his or her story does matter, it feels like I went through harder times for a reason.
SADYE: Did your grandmother whose stories helped inspire The Growing Rock have a chance to read it?
SUSANNA: She finished it not too long ago and loved it! I felt very proud when she realized that the stories she told me as a child helped lay the foundation for the book.
My parents also provided some excellent feedback and read the manuscript multiple times. My father is a librarian and history genius, and he helped with the research of the time period quite a bit.
He stopped me many times and said “Caroline wouldn’t have spoken like this,” and it helped me make the dialogue more realistic for the era.
SADYE: Besides your initial push for publication, what has been the toughest part about writing?
SUSANNA: I think the hardest part is just sitting down and writing.
It’s difficult on some days to find time to write and to get anything accomplished.
It’s also frustrating because it feels like whenever I’m excited about something and have a good idea, I’m not able to go write.
Inspiration loves to strike when I’m busy!
SADYE: What has been an especially memorable moment from your events to publicize The Growing Rock?
SUSANNA: My favorite event that I’ve done would have to be the 2018 Ripley Tomato Festival.
This was so much fun because in the book, Caroline and her family attend the Tomato Festival every year.
Though the event didn’t begin until the ’80s, I took the creative liberty and imagined what it could have been like in the 1930s.
The Tomato Festival and Bisbee Show scenes were some of the most challenging to write, but some of my favorites at the same time.
When I was at the festival selling and signing books, I constantly imagined these scenes.
I watched the Tomato Queen Pageant and thought of Blanche gloating over winning.
I thought of poor Caroline and how she hates tomatoes, her excitement when she gets to ride on the Ferris wheel with her crush, Peter, and, of course, the great loss she feels by her older brother George no longer being there.
I looked at the adorable children around me and could see Phoebe among them in her too-small red dress.
That July day was extremely hot — at least 100 degrees — and we all kept fanning ourselves and drinking liquids. I suffered a heat stroke and ended up leaving earlier than planned.
While that part wasn’t fun, it put everything into perspective more clearly for me.
I could imagine how hard life was in the 1930s with no air conditioning and how hard it was for people to work in fields and chop cotton.
The story came alive for me in a way it never had before.
Despite the heat, I got chill bumps a couple of times because I felt Caroline there with me.
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Categories: Author Interview