Susan writes "wholesome books for kids"-- specifically the Circle C Adventure series set in the Old West. My daughter and I are looking forward to meeting her in person at the upcoming WHO homeschool convention in June. In the meantime, I emailed Susan and asked if I could interview her for my blog. She graciously agreed. Here are the questions I asked her, along with her answers.
My 13-year-old "horse crazy" daughter absolutely loves your books! How did you come up with the idea for a series of stories about a "tween-age" girl and her horse in the late 1880s?
I started writing stories when I was about ten years old. I was greatly influenced by what I read and by what I watched during those impressionable years (the '60s). I watched two types of shows, mostly: space shows (like Star Trek) and westerns (like Bonanza). When I wrote my own stories, I always tossed kids (specifically--myself!) into these established "universes." I felt the stories could be greatly improved by adding characters my own age (at the time). This carried over into my adult life, when I was still writing stories with kids as the main characters (since I've had a hard time shedding my twelve-year-old 'persona'). When people started urging me to submit my stories for actual publication, I knew the stories I wrote about outer space would probably not fly. However, historical stories—especially if I included horses—would be more likely to find an audience. So the "tween-age" girl and her horse is pretty close to what I would have liked to be and do if I'd lived in the late 1800s.Are there other people you know in real life similar to your characters, from which you draw for your stories?
A few Circle C characters are drawn from real life:
- Nila Garduño, the Mexican woman who cares for Andi in Long Ride Home, is based on a dear Hispanic friend, whom I taught English for five years. She told me about her childhood in a poor village in Mexico. I even used her real name for the story.
- A recent picture of my grandfather turned up, and he looks just as I imagined my Chad character should look. Chad is named for my oldest son, and acts a lot like him, as well.
- Andi's friend, Cory Blake, is drawn from my youngest son, Ryan. He's on the cover of the new book, Trouble with Treasure.
Purely by accident! Book covers make me nervous. I've seen some terrible ones. My daughter won't even read a book if she doesn't like the cover. So I sent my publisher a picture of a homeschooled girl I knew, only to give the designers some idea of what Andi might look like. I expected them to take the picture and draw a scene for the cover. Instead, they used the picture for Long Ride Home. That was the biggest surprise of my life!What kind of research have you done to learn about the Old West?
Ever since then, I've been sending Kregel pictures for the covers. The kids featured on the covers are homeschooled students. The little Chinese girl on San Francisco Smugglers is the adopted daughter of a homeschooling friend from Pennsylvania, whom I have never met!
You mean besides watching Bonanza, The Big Valley, Roy Rogers, The Rifleman, and Rawhide? Seriously, one of my first research books about the Old West was the book, The Good Old Days, They Were Terrible! This book gave me the "rest of the story"--the parts Hollywood left out. I've read a number of other books since, like Daughters of the West, Everyday Life in the 1800s, and biographies of actual people--like the missionary who rescued the little Chinese slave girls, for San Francisco Smugglers. The Internet has been invaluable, as well, but I try not to believe everything there. However, it's a good place to begin. From the Internet, I found "primary sources" like More San Francisco Memoirs--1852-1899, which is a collection of writings from folks who visited the City in the late 1800s. I got a flavor for how they talked, what was sold in the streets, and what people did. The problem is: I can get so caught up on reading this fascinating true-life history, that I put off actually writing my book.Do you have horses?
I don't have horses right now. However, my daughter, Kristel, had a horse when she was eleven. Panda was a pet rather than a horse for all the 4-H stuff like showing and competing. Kristel braided her mane and tail, hung out on her back, rode her in the field across the street, and just had fun with her. To learn about our ups and downs with Panda, go here.I read on your website that you homeschooled your children. How many children do you have? Are they grown now?
My husband and I have four children--33, 32, 20, and 17. I did homeschool them, and now our oldest, Kristel, homeschools her six children. I wrote my Circle C Adventures when the kids went to bed, after a long day of homeschooling two teenagers and caring for two pre-schoolers, besides. I'm very glad there was no Facebook or blogging back in the 90s, or I don't think my books would have been written. I would have been doing what everybody else is doing these days for relaxation--social networking. I tried never to be on the computer during the day, because I didn't want my children to grow up seeing their mother in front of a computer screen. It just reminded me of those stereotyped stories about moms devoted to soap operas and glued to the TV while their kids ran wild.We have the first 4 books in the series. I understand the 5th book is now out? And the 6th is in the works?
Book 5 is not out quite yet. Andrea Carter and the Trouble witih Treasure is due to be released next February, 2010. Here's a one-line summary of Andi's newest adventure: Andi's dreams of treasure turn into a life-or-death struggle when she and her friends seek gold in the Sierra Nevada.
I love doing contests and giving away fun prizes. For Treasure, I have found real gold flakes on e-bay, and I'm thinking of contests to hold so I can give little vials of gold away, along with copies of the new book. Folks can learn all about my contests and upcoming events by going to my website, www.susankmarlow.com, and signing up for my e-zine. I've given away two books and some gold already, although the winners have to wait until the book comes out to actually hold their prizes in their hands.
Book 6, Andrea Carter and the Price of Truth, has been contracted, but I don't know its release date yet. Here is a summary of that book: Andi's eyewitness testimony places a beloved citizen of Fresno at the scene of a crime. Will the price of truth be too high if it means losing Taffy forever?
We are looking forward to meeting you at the WHO homeschool convention in Puyallup, Washington, in June. Will you be at any other conferences this year?
I'm excited about having a booth at the WHO (Washington Homeschool Organization) convention, June 19-20. They placed me in "prime real estate" at Booth # 102--right as you come in the main entrance of the Exhibition Hall! If anyone would like their copies of Circle C Adventures authographed, bring them to my booth and I'll be happy to sign them. There will be a "Guess the Number of Horses" in a jar contest to win a prize, free bookmarks, free postcards for Trouble with Treasure, random drawings to win the new book, and just a lot of fun for all.Where can people buy your books?
In addition to the WHO convention, I will be attending the WATCH conference August 7-8, with the Salt Shaker Bookstore. I will be there both days, signing books and offering contests, as well. The WATCH conference is at Eastside Foursquare Church in Bothell, WA.
Folks can pick up the books at any Christian bookstore. If the title you want is not on the shelf, the store can order it. It's also available from any on-line bookstore, like Amazon and CBD. My Circle C Adventures is featured in the CBD Kids 2009 print catalog, and they offer a great "set" price, as well!As a special surprise, Susan has even offered a free Circle C book as a giveaway right here on Roads to Learning! Check back on Friday, May 29, for my regular weekly giveaway post for details on how you could win!
Thanks so much, Susan, for being my guest today!