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Check out the Sweet on Books Interview with

Susan Lubner

Author of The Upside of Ordinary, Noises at Night
and several other entertaining children's books!

The Upside of Ordinary is so timely with the popularity of reality television, but did a specific show or event inspire the story?
Yes. One morning several years ago I was in the kitchen and I heard a lot of “bleeping” coming from the TV in the next room. I went in to check out what my two daughters were watching and saw a very contentious (and appalling!) scene on the TV. I had never seen a reality show like the one unfolding before me…I was familiar with American Idol and Cake Boss…but nothing like this! It seemed that some people were willing to do just about anything for an opportunity to be famous. I wondered…how far would a person go for fame?

What’s next for Jermaine and her family? Will you feature them in another novel?
I don’t have plans for a second novel featuring Jermaine, but I’m not opposed to the idea either. I suppose if my editor suggested it I would give it serious consideration!

How did you come up with the unique characters and unusual vocations that are featured in The Upside of Ordinary?
While the characters in my story are fictional some are “salted” with bits of truth. There is a person in my life that happens to be very organized—similar to Jermaine’s dad in the story, but my character is a very much exaggerated version of this real life friend. My aunt did own a balloon business but the storyline and characters here were completely made up. Several years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a real-life “pickle lady”, who runs a small, local pickle business. We had such a nice conversation about pickle making, I knew that one day I would have a pickle maker in one of my stories. So, very often the people in my life or those that I cross paths with, even briefly, will become “seeds” for characters that I will develop and fictionalize for my stories.

How is your writing process different when working on a middle grade novel versus a picture book? Do you prefer one versus the other?
While both picture books and novels are similar in the sense that they both need strong characters, story arc, tension, a climax, and other common, important elements, the writing process and techniques are very different. When writing a picture book the word count is very limited, you have to consider page turn and the “marriage” of art and text… will the illustrations enhance and help move the story forward? Adverbs and adjectives are generally not used in picture books unless they are necessary to the plot of the story. Also because picture books are for a younger audience/reader the storylines are much simpler (though not at all SIMPLE to write!) Sentences are shorter in picture books and word choice is extremely important because of the limited word count. Writing a novel involves developing many characters, a more complicated main plot, subplots, lots of dialogue and of course there are chapters in a novel each one building on the other toward the climax of the story. For me, because the writing process is so different, I can’t say that I prefer writing one over the other.

What made you want to be a writer?
My love of books and the fact that from the time I was very young I enjoyed writing.

How do you get your ideas?
A lot of my ideas come from personal experiences including places I visit, people I meet, bits of conversations I hear. A place or a person may spark an idea for a setting or a character and often a simple plot line will develop from there.

Do you do any research?
Yes! One of my picture books A Horse’s Tale: A Colonial Williamsburg Adventure takes place in …well…Colonial Williamsburg! So I did a lot of research about what it was like to live in colonial America. The depiction of Colonial Williamsburg was important and street names and buildings all had to be very accurate. There was also a good amount of research for my new middle grade novel The Upside of Ordinary. The mother is a pickle maker so I met with Susan Jones. Susan and her husband own a pickle company, Root Cellar Preserves. We met several times and emailed many times after that. There is a lot to learn about the pickle business! I also had a few other questions I needed answered for other important scenes in the book that involved referencing road maps, the owner of a balloon company, and a lawyer!

Where do you prefer to do your writing? What time of day?
I use a laptop so I can pretty much write anywhere but I prefer my office or my den, both are comfortable and very sunny.

What time of day?
I like to get started early in the morning …the earlier the better.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read! Join a writers group, and if you are writing for children join SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Learn as much as you can about the industry and only write because you LOVE to write not just because you want to be published.

What would you be if you weren't a writer?
Something that involves creativity, and/or working with books…an editor maybe or a bookseller?

If you could have lunch with any writer whom would you choose? Why?
This is a tough one…so many to choose from…Marla Frazee…she is wildly talented and some of her books are very funny, it would be an inspiring and very fun lunch!


Read or write?    How about: read at night, write all day!

Call or text?    Call

Fly or drive?    I guess it depends on where I was going…I don’t love to fly but I will if I have to!

Beach or ski?    Beach

Time travel back or time travel forward?    Back

E-book or traditional book?    Traditional


Children's book:    Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

Song:    This changes so often that I don’t have a favorite.

Sports Team:    Red Sox

Travel destination:    South Africa and Greece…too close to call

Superhero:    Superman

Magic power:    Disappearing

Reality television show:    Housewives of Beverly Hills (NJ, NY, etc… oh this is so embarrassing…!)

We are Sweet on Books, so we have to ask – what is your favorite sweet treat?

Anything chocolate!

Susan Lubner has written three picture books. Noises at Night, which she wrote with author, Beth Raisner Glass, was named a 2006 Today Show Best Pick for Young Children. This is Susan's first novel. She lives in Southborough, Massachusetts.