Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Heather Hartt-Sussman

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Ten Questions with Heather Hartt-Sussman

Open Book: Toronto speaks with Heather Hartt-Sussman about her latest book, Nana’s Getting Married, reading and writing.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Nana’s Getting Married.

Heather Hartt-Sussman:

Nana’s Getting Married is a story about love, and how we sometimes mistake possession for love. In the story a little boy’s grandma begins dating and that’s when everything starts to change. She becomes distracted. She starts doing silly things, like humming silly love songs and burning her bread in the toaster because she is busy daydreaming about her boyfriend. She even starts taking jazzercise classes and wearing makeup! Her grandson is outraged, and feels utterly betrayed. The truth is, she never stopped loving her darling grandson, there just happens to be someone else in her life now.

As baby boomers age, grandparents are becoming less traditional, and we can’t really expect them to sit home and knit. They are vibrant for longer and may be learning kickboxing, kayaking or even (heaven forbid) remarrying!

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

HH:

I wrote this for the child whose parent remarries. However, having it be the boy’s mother hit too close to home and would have sounded preachy, as in “it’s tough when mommy goes out on dates and doesn’t act like a mommy should, isn’t it?” The NANA character allowed me to inject some humor into the situation because it’s even more wonky when your granny starts dating! So having Nana being the one dating allowed the sense of loss to be one step removed and made room for some funny moments as well.

The adult who may read the book to a child was also on my mind when writing the book. Sometimes we feel we are expected to fulfill a mandate as mom, dad, aunt or grandmother. There are unspoken rules. You don’t forget birthdays, you don’t break promises, and sometimes there is the unspoken expectation that you don’t CHANGE! But these days, grandmas do date. They do remarry. They have second and third and even fourth chapters in their lives if they are lucky. I kind of wanted to set Nana free! Just because she loves Bob, doesn’t mean she doesn’t still completely and utterly adore her grandson.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

HH:

The ideal writing environment for me is to be well rested, sitting at my desk with earplugs in my ears, listening to the rhythm and repetition of my own breath. That, or, similarly seated, I play a rotation of songs over and over and over – classical or New Age. Most important is Do Not Disturb. That goes for my husband and kids, as well as the postman needing a signature, the neighbor who wants to chat, my dog or any other thing that could possibly require my attention. There’s always something. But when I’m writing I lose my focus very easily, so less is more.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

HH:

Nana’s Getting Married is the first work of fiction that I have had published. Prior to this, I worked at a variety of entertainment news publications, including “The Hollywood Reporter,” where I published numerous articles on the business side of the entertainment industry, and TV GUIDE in French Canada, where I had a column called “Heather Hartt in Hollywood” for a number of years. But in terms of children’s books, this is the first, with two more on the way over the course of the next two years, including a sequel to Nana’s Getting Married, and, no, Nana does NOT get pregnant.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

HH:

Crazy as it sounds, it was the advent the Canadian magazine ZOOMER put out by Canadian Moses Znaimer that validated the need for a discussion about people over 40 as PEOPLE not just somebody’s grandparent or somebody’s parent, that helped me reconcile the need to address NANA’s needs. Even though I wrote this piece quite a number of years ago, when I first saw this magazine, I thought: ‘finally, health, fashion and beauty news that pertains to people over 40!’ This gave me some validation to go ahead with Nana and run with her! I could let her be wacky instead of prim; passionate instead of merely coy. I wanted her to be a life force. I wanted her to be allowed, despite her grandson’s objections, to do things her way.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

HH:

Can you really reduce the bounty that is Canadian Literature to three books? I read three books per week so it’s just not in me to choose three all told. It seems unfair.

I’ll break it down: Three Canadian Classics? Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery, The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler are what spring to mind but that list feels like required reading.

Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye is my favorite and I’d put in Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, as well as Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient if I wanted to say, “LOOK WHAT WE CAN DO!”

But now I feel that I am being unfaithful to Alice Munro, Farley Mowat, Leonard Cohen and Robertson Davies to name a few, not to mention some of Canada’s newer writers like my friend Lori Lansens, whose book The Girls was simply terrific.

And then there’s kids lit. Don’t get me started. You asked the wrong person. To me, it’s like you just asked me which of my children I like better.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

HH:

I am a prolific reader. I always have two or three books on the go, and I read with my children. My 8-year-old son Jack and I just finished the third installment in the Wimpy Kidseries, which we both loved. And, I am reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, about a Syrian born man and his Muslim family living in New Orleans during Katrina in a post 9/11 world.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

HH:

Never give up.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

HH:

Never give up.

OBT:

What is your next project?

HH:

As I mentioned I sold a book to Tundra due out next year called Noni Says No. Genevieve Cote is doing the art for that, and I have written the sequel to Nana’s Getting Married, with Georgia Graham doing the art for that, which is due out in 2012. My goal is to publish one picture book a year and I also want to focus on a middle grade novel I started once upon a time called The Adventures of the Baron von Something (and his Cousin the Baroness von So-And-So). Also, in my dream of dreams NANA will live on and there will be a third in the series, which would make up the NANA trilogy.


Heather Hartt-Sussman, born in Montreal, graduated from Brandeis University and attended the Sorbonne. She has been a copywriter for BCP in Montreal, a reporter for the Hollywood Reporter, editor-in-chief of international news for TV Guide in French Canada, columnist of the popular “Heather Hartt in Hollywood,” and host of E! Entertainment Television’s The Gossip Show. Nana’s Getting Married is her first book. Heather Hartt-Sussman lives in Toronto with her husband, sons Scotty and Jack, and the family dog. Please visit www.heatherhartt.com for more information.

For more information on Nana’s Getting Married, please visit the Tundra Books website. Tundra Books website.


Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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