Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Susin Nielsen

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On Writing, with Susin Nielsen

Susin Nielsen is an author, screenwriter and Gemini Award-winner. She talks to Open Book about her latest novel Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom (Tundra Books).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom.

Susin Nielsen:

In short, it's a story about a 12-year-old girl coping in the aftermath of her parents' divorce. Violet Gustafsson's dad has a new improved wife, new improved kids (in Violet's mind anyway), and a new, improved lifestyle - while her mom struggles to get by and dates a string of inappropriate men. When she hooks up with a guy named Dudley Wiener, Violet and her best friend decide to take matters into their own hands, and find the perfect match for her mom. Yes, you guessed it: George Clooney.

Divorce is so common-place these days that I sometimes think it's easy to forget about the huge impact it has on kids (unless you're living through it, of course). So while it's not a new subject, I definitely think Violet brings a fresh spin to things - she is ANGRY. She is acting out. And I should point out, there is plenty of humor in the book!


OBT:

What was your first publication?

SN:

My first ever publication was Shane - A Degrassi Novel, many years ago. I was a writer on the original Degrassi series, and the producers offered me the opportunity to write one of the books. I leapt at it. I wound up writing four in the series, and vowed I would one day write an original YA book.


OBT:

How does writing for a television show differ from writing a novel?

SN:

Writing television is much more structured. You write beat sheets, multiple outlines (scene-by-scene breakdowns), then eventually write the script. You write to act breaks, to a very specific time. I love it. But what I love about writing books is, it's so much more liberating. I know some authors write outlines, but I don't; I just start writing. I don't have to worry about a specific page count. Although I do try to have good pacing, like I would in a TV script, and some of my chapter endings are definitely like scenes before commercial breaks - I'm hoping to keep you wanting to come back for more!


OBT:

Which Canadian writers inspire you and why?

SN:

Christopher Paul Curtis. His novel, Bud - Not Buddy was so beautiful. And it gave me the confidence to write Word Nerd - to know I could try my book in the first person, and also have a lot of humor in spite of some sad subject matter.

Susan Juby. I've had the pleasure of adapting her hilarious trilogy, Alice, I Think into a TV series - I loved those books - I loved her deeply flawed, self-centered heroine - she made me realize you can have your protagonist do some pretty unlikable things (like Violet), and your readers can still, hopefully, root for them.


OBT:

How does the Canadian cultural experience influence your writing?

SN:

That is a very tough question to answer. My books are firmly rooted in Vancouver ... I've been told by more than one person that they found that refreshing, because apparently some YA authors have been asked to place their novels in fictional American towns, with the idea they'd sell more. Tundra never ever asked that of me, thank heavens - I would have been horrified! Sense of place is important to me. I have a French Canadian character in Dear George Clooney. Beyond that, it's hard to say - I certainly never think consciously of "Canadian cultural experience" while writing.


OBT:

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

SN:

Keep writing. I started when I was a pre-teen. If you're meant to be a writer, you will have to write. It won't just be a want, it will be a need. Take writing courses from people you admire. Research publishing houses before you send letters of inquiry. Show them you're familiar with their list of titles.


OBT:

What is your next project?

SN:

I'm working on a new YA novel right now. It's a little too early to talk about it, but it's also set in Vancouver, with a couple of cross-over characters (as happens in Dear George Clooney as well). It's also first-person, back to a boy protagonist.


Gemini Award-winner SUSIN NIELSEN has written sixteen episodes of the hit television show Degrassi Junior High and four of the books in the Degrassi series. She is the co-creator and showrunner of the critically acclaimed television series Robson Arms. She also adapted Susan Juby's Alice, I Think into a TV series. Susin Nielsen lives in Vancouver with her husband, Goran, son, Oskar, and Sam the cat.

For more information, please visit Susin Nielsen’s website, www.susinnielsen.com

For more information about Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom please visit Susin's website and the Tundra website.

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

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