Friday, May 1, 2009

Party: Susan Fine Interview + Contest

Interview with Susan Fine, author of Initiation

By: Lauren

1) You worked at an all-boys school in the past. Are there any specific stories, items, or people who influenced INITIATION?

I did work at an all-boys school, teaching English to 5th-12th graders. I also worked at two girls' schools and two co-ed schools. That collective teaching experience, and, of course, the years in a boys' school, helped me to understand some of the unique features of schools and boys' schools. In writing the book, I was eager to make it fiction and not based on the particular school where I was fortunate to teach for a number of years.

I did learn a lot about boys, though, and that education was undoubtedly part of what enabled me to write the book. I also did research, reading such books as REAL BOYS and RAISING CAIN (nonfiction) and revisiting such novels as THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, LORD OF THE FLIES, A SEPARATE PEACE, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, and PREP. I also talked with people in school and read lots of articles about schools and about adolescent boys.

2) The main character, Mauricio, is a minority. What made you decide to make him Latino?

I think it's probably worth being more specific about his background: he's half Cuban and half French. He feels like an outsider at his new school and that partially comes from his being Latino. It also comes from being middle class in a place where lots of kids seem to have a lot of money. I picture him as having fairly light skin and that appealed to me, because he feels deeply like an outsider and kids pick up on his being Latino because of his name, but it's not likely that anyone would guess his ethnicity from what he looks like or how he talks. He identifies himself as a New Yorker, too.

Making him Latino and light-skinned provided an opportunity to highlight how easy it is to feel like an outsider in some settings, whether people detect where your parents are from or not. There are various scenes in which you see the naive and cruel way in which the kids treat each other. The boys are constantly sorting out the pecking order, and I wanted to show that and how someone like Mauricio would fit in (or not) in such a system and setting.Also, his father is from a wealthy Cuban family that lost everything when Castro came to power, and I liked the opportunity there to show the father's character, someone who once had a lavish lifestyle with lots of privileges, who lost it all, but seems content with his life as a middle class professor in America.

The father doesn't occupy a lot of space in the novel, but making him Cuban and from a formerly upper class Cuban family reflected gave me certain opportunities.There's also a moment in the novel when Mauricio is with this girl whom he is desperate to be with -- he's crazily in love and lust with her -- and he tries to remind himself, in this clumsy and ninth grade kind of way, that he's French and Spanish and speaks both of these languages and that's got to be sexy -- yet all that does him little good, and he's quite a bumbler in this scene.

3) Mauricio is a middle class freshman, going to a prep school. Are you allowed to reveal his reasons for going to St. Stephen's?

Sure! He and his parents want a great school for him (although questions surface in the novel regarding reputation vs reality), and he applies to various schools in NYC, including some of the public test schools. He falls in love with St. Stephen's when he visits the school and becomes determined to go there. While some private schools can feel very moneyed, every student isn't rich, and some of the schools give a lot of money in financial aid.

Do these schools tend to have a large middle class? No -- usually not, although there are private schools that are exceptions to this. It's probably best to read the novel to learn more about the allure of the school for him, but I will say that fancy, moneyed worlds often appeal to lots of folks, right? Think about the popularity of the OC and Gossip Girl. Mauricio's no exception -- but the novel does reveal his ambivalence.

4) I'm a writer, and I've been able to finish two actual stories so far, so I'm very curious about how much authors write before getting a book published. So before writing INITIATION, how many previous unpublished manuscripts did you write?

I wrote a chapter book for younger readers (ages 7-9 years, more or less) that my agent wasn't able to sell. I'm still interested in trying to get it out into the world, but for now I'm working on another YA novel. Probably, though, for me it wasn't so much a question of writing manuscripts that weren't published but more a question of the more general writing I did before getting published. I wrote my first book when I was about seven. I still have it, and, frankly, it's not good!

It's fun to look at now, though. I showed it to my son's second grade class this year and basically used it to reveal what wasn't working and how to make a story work better. I also took a lot of writing classes, both in college and in grad school, focusing on short stories and essays. Prior to INITIATION, I did a nonfiction book for young adults with a co-author, ZEN IN THE ART OF THE SAT, which came out in 2005 and is still available.

I doubt there's any set amount of writing that has to be done before getting published; that has to differ author to author. What stands out to me about people who get published are their tenacity and their willingness to rewrite and revise. I am also a huge believer that in order to write you have to read and read and read and think about language and all of its possibilities a lot. One of the books that helped me a lot to understand how stories work is Jerry Cleaver's IMMEDIATE FICTION. I used this book a lot while writing INITIATION, and I often go back to it when I feel stuck with new fiction projects.

5) If you had to pick a song to go with the overall themes or story lines of INITIATION, what would you pick and why?

Oh dear -- this question is big trouble for me! This is when I need Josh Schwartz, the creator of the OC, who did such a brilliant job with picking music for that show. I have no idea! Josh Schwartz -- are you out there? What do you think? Please read my novel and let me know how to answer this question!


Comment on this post by May 15th to win a signed copy of Initiation

Open to: U.S. and Canada Only!


Liyana said...

Cool! Would love to win this. :D

harmonybookreviews said...

This is the first time I've heard about this but I'd love to win it!

Diana Dang said...

Initiation looks like a great read!

deltay said...

Yes! Josh Schwartz is awesome. :)

Ooh, Zen in the Art of SAT... I think I might've seen that before.

Great interview, Initiation looks awesome.

Ann Diana Dinh, said...

Count me in!


Jenna said...

Sounds good! I really love the cover.


Katie said...

Great interview! Can't wait to read this one!

Amber said...

Great interview and the book sounds good! Please enter me!


Lauren said...

Awesome interview! I would love to win this book. :)

Ashley said...

Awesome interview! This looks like a great read, I would love to win it.


Thanks :)

WhatBriReads said...

Looks like a good book, please enter me! :)


Summer said...

Great interview! Susan sounds like a fine woman! (get it? hahahahaha) Can't wait to read the book.

Insert Book Title said...

Want it!

Great interview and thanks for hosting such a good contest!

Genevieve said...

Nice interview! Please enter me in the contest. : )


Shooting Stars Mag said...

Thanks for all the nice words everyone. Best of luck in the contest and I'm glad to hear that you liked the interview. Susan is great, and I definitely hope to pick up a copy of this book sometime in the near future!

What a Girl Reads said...

Wow, working at an all-boys school seems pretty intense!
Great interview.

sosarora_11 @

bridget3420 said...

I'd love to win this.


Renee G said...

Would love to read this.

MJ said...

I'd love this!


tetewa said...

I'd like to be included, count me in!

Luvdaylilies said...

Wow, sounds like a good read!
Please enter meto win & Good Luck to all=)
Luvdaylilies at bellsouth dot net

Karen Kincy said...

Please enter me, too!

karenkincy [at] hotmail [dot] com

NotNessie said...

Great interview!


Kaitlyn said...

Nice interview. :]

Paradox said...

Enter me please! This book looks really good!

paradoxrevealed (at) aim (dot) com

AmandaSue said...

Sounds like a good book, I added it to my reading list :) Thanks for the chance.

Belinda M said...

I would like to read this. Please enter me in the giveaway

"Canadian Contests, Freebies, Coupons, Deals, Games and Fun:"

Readingjunky said...

Great interview! I'm interested in reading this one. Love the simplistic cover design, too.

Nora said...

This sounds great, I'd love to read it!


robin_titan said...

This sounds really good! I love reading books w/ Latino protagonists, since I'm Latino hehe it's easier to relate :)

Jessica Kennedy said...

Sounds like an interesting read! Great contest!

bookreviewsbyjess @ gmail . com

Laina said...

I love the cover of this, it's cute. :)

Anita Yancey said...

Sounds good. Love to read it. Please enter me, and thanks.


PopinFresh said...

This book sounds great. I'd love to be entered as well.

~ Popin

gaby317 said...

Count me in, please! I had gone to Phillips Exeter Academy from the Philippines and on partial scholarship - major culture shock! I like these stories about private school, identity and belonging and this sounds great!

gaby317nyc AT gmail DOT com

Kitten22 said...

This looks great! Please enter me!


FOKXXY said...

Please enter me.


Book Lady said...

I'd love this book!

Wanda said...

I enjoyed reading about Mauricio, the main character. It really made me want to read the book

Holly said...

Looks great!