Suzanne Supplee was first recognized as a talented children’s author with her works Artichoke’s Heart and When Irish Guys are Smiling. When Dolly Parton read Supplee’s latest young adult novel, Somebody Everybody Listens To, she said, “Reading about Retta Lee Jones’s journey to Nashville was a lot like reading my own diary, except she had prettier boots.”
This month, Supplee graciously took time to talk to Southern Lit Review about her role as an author and the path that led to her publishing success.
In Somebody Everybody Listens To, Retta Lee Jones represents the dreamer in all of us. But, unlike most dreamers, she actually pursues her dreams – against all odds. Does her story relate to your desire to be a writer? If so, how did you find courage to seek publication?
Absolutely! I think for most writers, real writers, writing isn’t really a choice. Sounds cliché, I know, but I have to write. And if I go too long without writing, I’m depressed and anxious and irritable. Seeking publication is just a natural next step. For all you writers out there, just remember this: Somebody is going to publish a book. Lots of people, actually. Why shouldn’t you be among them?
Throughout the book, you include biographical information about successful country music artists. You also provide details about Retta’s feelings while performing publicly. Out of curiosity, are you a singer/musician? Have you ever performed onstage?My minor in college was theatre, and I loved it. It was also great to be in plays and hear that dialogue spoken, invaluable training for a future writer. Yes, I have performed on stage, and I can carry a tune, provided there’s a nearby bucket.
How did you end up working for the Country Music Association?
A friend of a friend set up the interview. At the time I didn’t really care much for country music, although I didn’t mention this during my interview, of course. And once I got the job, I had to give myself a crash course in the songs and artists. To be honest, I didn’t even know who Reba McEntire was, and I grew up in Tennessee. Shameful, I know! Now I love country music, and I listen to it all the time. I love the old stuff and most of the new stuff, and my children like it, too. My eight year old goes to sleep listening to Dolly Parton every night.
With that position, you must have met many famous entertainers and songwriters. What was your most memorable experience with a country music artist?
My most memorable experience was having the absolute pleasure of interviewing Roger Miller for an article. It was over the phone, but still! He wrote Sixteen Tons and so many other famous hits. Plus, he wrote the music and lyrics for the Tony award-winning Broadway musical “Big River.” He was so nice and generous with his time and funny. When I called him that day, he said, “Hold on a minute. I gotta get Life magazine off the other line.” He was kidding, of course, but at the time I thought he was serious. This still makes me smile.
When the article came out, I was pleased with it, and so hoping Mr. Miller would be, too. One day the receptionist buzzed my office and said, “Roger Miller’s on the line for you.” I thought this was some sort of joke because I never expected to hear from him again. But it was Roger Miller, and he was calling me this time to say how much he liked the article. He said, “No matter what, always keep writing.” And so I did.
You’ve mentioned you wanted to write children’s books. That led you to craft stories for the young adult audience. What’s the best thing about writing for teens? Do you find that many of your novels cross-over to adult readers? If so, have you met families who read the books together, as a sort of pseudo-book club?
I think the best part about writing for teens is that they’re selective and honest. As a writer this keeps you on your toes, and I’m constantly questioning how a teen reader might view something. Plus, you get to write about what I think of as the most exciting time in life—when all the big stuff (career, marriage, and family) is stretched out before you. Every decision you make can ultimately affect how your future unfolds. So scary, yet exciting!
I do hear from a lot of adult YA readers, too. More and more, it seems that adults are reading YA, which is so important, especially if you’re a parent. And, yes, I’ve met many of the families who’ve read my books together. Always so nice to see them in person!
You have a clean, clear-cut writing style that many writers strive to achieve. Has your background as a teacher helped you with your craft? If so, how.
Wow. Thanks for saying that. Teaching is great on many levels, especially if you are a YA writer. Teaching also allows me to read for a living, which means that I’m constantly exposed to a wide variety of material, and my students and I dissect these works, explore what makes them great. We look at dialogue and symbol and theme and syntax, and narrative drive, etc. I think the more you study other people’s writing, the more you improve your own skills.
Just for fun, do your children read your books? How do they feel about having an author as a mother?
I always refer to my oldest daughter as Editor #1. She is the first to read and/or hear about what I’m working on. When I used to pick her up from school (she’s 20 now), I would hand her a new chapter and have her read it during our long commute home. If she was excited and wanted to know more, I knew I could move on to the next chapter. If she was sort of blah, I knew I had more work to do.
My other daughters are eight and ten, so they aren’t quite ready for my novels yet. My protagonists are a bit too old for them. However, they are very proud of what I do, thrilled every time they spot one of my books. Earlier this summer we were in the library, and my youngest daughter came running across the room, all excited and breathless. She dragged me to the YA section and pointed to their “new release” shelf, and there it was—Somebody Everybody Listens To. It was a proud moment for all of us.
Learn more by visiting Suzanne Supplee’s website.