Susan Colon, the former senior writer for O, The Oprah Magazine, reveals her true writing talent in her newest, beautiful novel Beach Glass. Easily seen as the female Nicholas Sparks, her new take on romance, adventure, and growing up, will give you a brand new perspective in just a few chapters. I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview her, and here’s what she had to say about her experiences writing this book, and what it means to her. Check it out!
Suzan Colón, author of Beach Glass (Bell Bridge)
How did you start up on the idea for this book? Was there any particular person or event in your own life that has inspired you to write?
Beach Glass was triggered by doing The Artist’s Way course by Julia Cameron. It makes me do crazy things like write the draft of a novel in eight weeks. The surf culture theme came from a weekend I spent at surfer hangouts in New Jersey. I love surf style, surf lingo, and the way surfers follow good waves all over the world. That’s what they live for. Also, surfers tend as a rule to be hot. Nothing bad about that!
As for what inspired me to write in the first place, I touched on this briefly in the memoir of my family, Cherries in Winter. When I was a kid, the TV broke and we didn’t have the money to get it fixed. Mom said, “Go to the library and get a stack of books.” I read obsessively and began writing, too.
How has writing this book been different from your experience writing for O, The Oprah Magazine? Writing your young adult novels?
Those are two of the best experiences I’ve had as a writer. I was a huge fan of Smallville and was basically paid to write fan fiction before there was a term for that. Working for Oprah…doesn’t even require further elaboration. It’s working for Oprah. I mean, as a writer, you’ve arrived. Beach Glass got the best of both of those worlds: My Smallville novels were as much romance as YA—all three of them had a love story at the heart. And at Oprah, the question was always, “What is the reader getting out of this?” meaning, don’t write for yourself; write for the reader. Give her emotional value. That’s how writing this book was actually the same as both of those previous experiences.
Your work reminds me of a female Nicholas Sparks. Was he an influence?
First of all, wow! That’s a description I can really live with, thank you! The thing I’ve always loved about Sparks’ books are their tendency toward emotional heft. He’s not a light writer. He can really put you through the wringer, but he gives you glimpses of light coming at the end of the tunnel.
There is a plot point in Beach Glass that’s like this. I won’t reveal what it is and I hope no one else does, and it’s nothing freaky or abhorrent, but to be blunt it scared off a bunch of agents and about 13 publishers. They said they loved the writing, the characters, everything but this one part, and they told me to change it. The only agent who got why I did it immediately was Louise Fury, now of The Bent Agency. As publishers were pressuring us, she said, “Don’t change it.” Deb Smith at Bell Bridge was the only editor brave enough to say, “We understand it, let’s work with it.”
What has the writing process been like? What are some of the challenges and some of the successes you have had
Writing is like being in one of the less frightening, more heartwarming episodes of The Twilight Zone. I leave reality for five or so hours, come back, and there’s this story in front of me. I’m like, Whoa, where did I go? The biggest challenge is one of health. Nora Roberts explained her incredibly prolific writing process as “Ass in chair,” and she’s right, there’s no other way to get novels written. But the fact is that sitting for long periods of time is very unhealthy. My biggest challenge is getting up hourly and moving around. That’s why I’m creating Take A Yoga Break, a series of yoga-based movements for people who sit a lot that can be done any time, anywhere, any fitness level.
What is the publishing process like? What are some of the challenges and some of the successes you have had?
There’s a lot of talk about how publishing is changing. On one hand it can be harder than ever to get published. Bookstores are becoming scarce, publishers are working with less staff, advances are small and so then are agents’ percentages. On the other hand it’s easier than ever to get published. You can work with smaller, online publishers, like I did with Bell Bridge – they’ve been fantastic. You can self-publish. You can write fan fiction and be picked up by one of the Big Five for zillions! You never know.
The most important thing is to write a good story. That’s what readers want and love. Write a good story and the rest will take care of itself.
What are your favorite romantic elements of the book?
Unpredictability. Beach Glass is not about perfect love. There are some exciting fictional aspects that fit into the romance category, like the incredible fantasy setting of half the book. Then there are the quotidian problems, like money. That’s when you find out what real love is about. There are lingering feelings, too, that happen in real life. That’s what I was aiming for – a real life feeling in a work of fiction.
Who are some of your inspirations and favorite authors?
Favorite authors include JoJo Moyes, Paula McLain, Ellen Sussman, Caroline Leavitt, Maeve Binchy. Inspiration comes from regular people I see outside on the train, at the bagel shop, in the bookstore.
How has your view of femininity changed through writing this book?
Femininity, or feminism? Or are the two mutually exclusive? Some beta readers—a minority, I assure you—objected to the heroine, Katy, wanting so badly to get married at the start of the book. But not one regular reader has called that out. Katy wants to get married for love, not to be taken care of. We all want someone to love and for someone to love us. Meanwhile, as Katy attains this love, she’s living her life. In finding the courage to love, she finds the courage to live her own dreams.
How has your view of writing changed through writing this book?
It made me let go of perfectionism. Trying to write the perfect love story felt like a dress that’s pretty but doesn’t fit. Writing a love story about imperfect people who happen to love beautifully and well… It’s not perfect. I don’t know anyone who is. I love real people and things.
What do you want your readers to really take away from your book after reading it?
One of the early readers described Beach Glass’s PR campaign as the “Read It and Weep” tour because every single person says, “Get your tissues ready.” The book makes people cry. It’s not like I set out to make the nation’s mascara run, but what that means is that the book has moved people. This is the highest honor a writer can receive, when people say a book touched them so deeply.
Who is your target audience and why?
Anyone who loves a good, if realistic and unconventional, love story. Anyone who wants to say what some readers have said: “That’s not what I expected, but damn, that was a good read.”
Are there any other elements you would like to touch on?
To writers, I say, don’t let anything stop you from writing. You’ll find a way to do the job you were meant to do. To readers, I say, thank you, because without you, what I do would be meaningless. Readers are the most important people in the world.