by Lucy Zhang, US East Blogger jaBlog!
Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of more than seventy books, including The Last Survivor series, a four book science-fiction series that details the aftermath of the collision of an asteroid into the moon, resulting in an apocalyptic future for humanity. I read the first three books, Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and This World We Live In, in middle school. I more recently finished the fourth book, The Shade of the Moon, which was published in 2013. The books incorporate both a scientific, dystopic quality and poignant moments that highlight humanity at its worst and best. I had the honour of interviewing her.
Why did you choose the genre science fiction for the majority of your works?
Actually, most of my books aren’t science fiction. I’ve written books for all ages, from picture books through YA. If there’s one theme I return to (and it’s not in all my books), it’s families dealing with unusual situations. That’s how I thought of Life As We Knew It–a family problem novel. I didn’t even realize it was science fiction until it got nominated for a couple of sci-fi awards (which it didn’t win).
A lot of young writers assume that writing fiction doesn’t require much research. How much research did your books require?
It varied. I didn’t do all that much for Life As We Knew It. I understood a bit about catastrophic weather events, and I knew that the moon controlled the tides, and I was aware of flu epidemics and that volcanic eruptions can effect life thousands of miles away. The rest I pretty much made up. I did more research for The Dead And The Gone because I don’t speak Spanish and I’m not Roman Catholic. I’d go back and forth from writing to Google and back again.
How were you able to create such realistic, dynamic, and contrasting characters that cover such a wide spectrum of emotions?
I just tried to imagine how someone would feel and act and speak in the situations I plopped them in. I figure if it’s not believable to me, it won’t be to the readers.
Have you grown attached to any of your characters in particular? Has this ever posed as a problem?
Over the years, I’ve grown attached to a number of my characters. I really loved Kevin in The Dead And The Gone, and when it came time for him to meet his fate, I was very upset and asked myself if I could change it. But I couldn’t.
The funny thing was when I got my first copy of the book, I reread it, and I didn’t realize until right before it happened that that was the scene where it happened. And I got upset all over again.
Do you have a literary crush?
Not specifically. But I’m a total sucker for a kind of character I call the less loved child. They show up all over the place. They’re mostly men, and they tend to be bitter and sexy. Heathcliff would be a good example, although I can’t say I have a crush on him.
What book would you recommend that every young writer read and why?
I can’t think of any one book. Different books speak to different people. And while you can learn a lot from books, young writers can also learn from movies and TV and theater. I used to watch movies from the 1930s-50s (think of them as Turner Classic Movies) all the time when I was in high school, and without knowing it, I learned a lot about plotting and structure and character and dialogue without realizing I was learning anything at all.
Assuming that you have experienced writer’s block, when has been your greatest case of writer’s block? How did you get over it?
Quite a number of years ago, I began to do prewriting, and I found it’s the best system for me. I think a lot about the book before I ever begin writing it, and I’ll know the beginning and pretty much the ending, and maybe about half of the middle before I sit down to write.
With Life As We Knew It, the prewriting took about three weeks, and the actual writing a couple of months. I love prewriting. It’s my favourite part of the process. I get to play with the characters and the situations and solve the problems before they arise in the writing. As a result, I almost never have writer’s block. I don’t get stumped, because I’ve mostly worked things out. On days when I flat-out don’t want to work, I take the day off. I work fast, so deadlines are rarely a problem.
Do you have a favourite movie that has been adapted from a book?
I stink at favourites. I never have a favourite color or food or movie or anything. And I don’t read a lot of fiction. So my guess is no, I don’t have one.
Any last words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Have fun. I’ve loved my life as a writer, and I think it’s the best job in the world, but there’s no security and a lot of bad times. So if the writing itself isn’t fun, there’s not a heck of a lot of reason to do it!