Susan Sage talks with Book Glow about the writing of A Mentor and Her Muse. The novel is available from Open Books Direct.
BG: Describe the book in one sentence.
SS: A frustrated writer absconds with her teenage muse on a summer road trip.
BG: What led you to write it?
SS: I wanted to show how the muse is as essential in the creative process for women as it is for men. Also, I wondered about a few issues: What would happen to a fragile relationship between a middle-aged white woman and a teenage black girl if they took a long road trip together? Could the relationship survive? How would they be treated along the road?
BG: How long did it take to write?
SS: Around five years. The initial draft took about a year.
BG: Do you prefer writing one genre over another?
SS: I recently read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, a novel written in the form of a poem. I would love to write one using the same method, or perhaps combine poetry and prose.
BG: Is there anything autobiographical in the novel?
SS: I worked at a school comprised almost entirely of at-risk students in the Flint area. One of my students—a gifted young writer—provided the initial impetus for the teenage girl, Taezha’s character. As is true for many other writers, my characters are always a composite of people I’ve known. Maggie, the other main character, is like me in some respects, but not others. Maggie’s sister, Caroline, was a teacher who grew up in Detroit in the 1960s. She was modelled—to some degree—after one of my two sisters who recently passed away. Probably the most autobiographical segments are Maggie’s flashbacks about growing up in Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, being witness to the racial tension of that time period, as well as the one in the present climate.
BG: What book most influenced your life?
SS: It’s hard to choose just one! The one that comes most to mind is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Although it’s been many years since I read it, the characters were written about so vividly that sometimes I’ve almost believed they were people I’ve known. I’ve always loved character-driven novels, especially from the South.
BG: Where do you write?
SS: I’m an insomniac and while writing hasn’t cured my insomnia, it’s always been a constructive way to get my mind to focus. I feel better after I’ve written. Also, because I love to read poetry and fiction—I love to write it! I think many authors are readers who are so excited that they simply have to write. I’m no exception.
BG: Any advice for novice writers?
SS: Never try to publish your work before it is ready. Take all the time you need to become accomplished. Get feedback from others and develop a thick skin. Enjoy the journey! It’s truly one of discovery of both self and the world. When you become aware of the vast number of writers in the world, don’t let it discourage you. We’re all unique, therefore so is the way you process and filter life’s myriad experiences. All that being said: be humble.
BG: Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
SS: There aren’t enough hours in any given day!
BG: What’s next?
SS: I’m working on notes for my next novel about twins, specifically how a remaining twin copes with life after the untimely death of her twin sister. I’m also putting together a book of poetry and short-story collection.