Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Susin Nielsen

Share |
Ten Questions with Susin Nielsen

Susin Nielsen is a Gemini Award-winner who has penned sixteen episodes of the hit television show Degrassi Junior High and four books in the Degrassi book series. Since then, she has received two Canadian Screenwriters awards, has written and story-edited many TV series, including Ready or Not, Madison and Edgemont. Nielsen is the co-creator and showrunner of the critically acclaimed series Robson Arms and has also published three children’s books, one of which won a Mr. Christie’s Silver Medal Award. Word Nerd (Tundra Books) is a fantastic book for young adults about coming into one's own.

OB:

Tell us about your novel, Word Nerd.

SN:

It’s the story of Ambrose, a 12-year-old self-described "friendless nerd," who moves around a lot with his single parent, overprotective mother. To top things off he has a peanut allergy and is a bully magnet. He winds up befriending their upstairs neighbor Cosmo, who’s 25 and recently got out of jail for committing a string of b and e’s to support a drug habit. The two of them wind up joining the local Scrabble Club together – each with their own motives – and through the course of the book they each find friendship and acceptance and, in Ambrose’s case, a place he can finally call home.

OB:

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

SN:

Well, I knew I was writing a YA book, but no, I didn’t have a specific readership in mind. It was just the story I wanted to tell, and Ambrose really wanted to be heard!

OB:

How did you research Word Nerd?

SN:

I had quite a lot of fun. I love Scrabble myself, but I’m a “kitchen player,” and not a pro by any means. So I met with Val Gallant, who runs the Vancouver Scrabble Club out here, and she a) turned me on to a great non-fiction book called Word Freak by Stephan Fatsis, about the world of competitive Scrabble, and b) let me come to her club meetings and a tournament they held while I was writing the book. I also saw a documentary about competitive Scrabble quite a few years ago. I don’t remember what it was called. At Val’s club I loved watching the games unfold but I never dared to play because they were all too good, even the beginners.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

SN:

Hmm. Unlike my TV work, which I do almost exclusively at my desk in my home office, I notice with my books that I like to move around the house. I need dead quiet, no music, radio, etc. I start out in my office, then I take a break and go to the gym, then I move into the family room and lie on the couch with the computer on my lap (this inevitably results in a nap), then I wind up in the living room in an arm chair for the final burst of energy of the day (but I don’t really write more than a few hours a day).

OB:

What was your first publication?

SN:

My very first publication was Shane: A Degrassi Novel, I believe in the late ‘80’s. I had been writing for Degrassi Junior High and they asked if I’d like to take a crack at one of their novel series. I really enjoyed the process and wound up writing 3 more. I’ve always wanted to introduce myself to Margaret Atwood as the author of “Shane,” “Snake,” “Melanie” and “Wheels.”

OB:

What are you reading right now?

SN:

I am reading an absolutely wonderful book by a fellow Canadian, called The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. I met him at the Winnipeg Authors’ Fest, then again in Vancouver, and I was nervous to read his book because I thought it would be just too depressing. But it isn’t. Despite its setting and the atrocities being committed, it is first and foremost a book about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, trying to live their daily lives. It is exquisite.

In the YA vein I’m reading Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine, to my son. I’m finding it challenging because she is such a magnificent writer (it’s also told in first person like Word Nerd) that I grapple with intense feelings of jealousy as I read. Seriously though, it is an incredible book.

OB:

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

SN:

Oh, I love this question!! Adult books:

1) Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, because when it was the first CanLit book I read, after many that were bleak and depressing (albeit well-written), that made me realize Canadian writers could have a sense of humor, too.
2) DeNiro’s Game by Rawi Hage. This does not even take place in Canada, but Hage is Lebanese-Canadian, and it’s a great book, and it shows that our writers are as multi-cultural as our nation.
3) Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards, because even though it is bleak and depressing, it just blew me away.

Young adult books:

1) The Alice, I Think series by Susan Juby, just because it is so damned funny.
2) Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; again it isn’t set in Canada, but he is an incredible talent, it’s a beautiful book, and for same reasons as number 2 above, Canadians don’t just have to write about Canada.
3) Well, Word Nerd, of course!

OB:

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

SN:

That it’s not just about writing; it’s also about rewriting.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

SN:

My most recent favorite memory happened just last week at the Vancouver Authors Fest. Sheree Fitch and I did a reading together, and one young girl put up her hand and told us she was an avid reader, and that once she was done her books, the characters became her imaginary friends. She had over a thousand imaginary friends, and Ambrose and Minn (from Sheree’s book, The Gravesavers,) were about to become the latest two. We were delighted, and told her so. Her teacher e mailed me later to tell us the girl was autistic, and that our positive response had meant the world to her.

OB:

What is your next project?

SN:

I’m working on another first-person story, this time from a girl’s perspective. The tentative title is, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom.






Praise for Susin Nielsen’s Hank and Fergus:
“A funny tale about friendship, as well as a compassionate look at a child who feels different...”
- School Library Journal


Read more about Word Nerd at the Tundra Books website.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad