Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Susan L. Read Interview - Mermaid Tears


Photo Content from Susan L. Read

Susan L. Read was born and raised in New Zealand, where she lived until she was 43. During that time she was an Elementary School teacher and Principal, a writer (with several of her poems being published in anthologies), and an avid reader of any books she could get her hands on. She had close personal relationships with three dogs (Sheba, Sheena, and Gemma), a bird (J.T.), eleven goats (Picard, Spock, Katie, Buttons, Betty, Starlight, Penelope, Lily, Peter, Fudge, and Chocolate), two goldfish (John and Glen), and twenty three mice (who all had names but there were too many to remember).

Susan moved to Massachusetts six days after 9/11. She left New Zealand on the first flight after airspace reopened. Since then she has been a wife, an educator, a dog rescuer, a reader, and a writer. She lives in Massachusetts, where she has a close personal relationship with her spoiled rescue dogs.

        
  


Most rewarding experience since being published?
MERMAID TEARS is not due to be published until the end of this month (August 31) but it has been very rewarding to read and hear feedback from those who have read it so far. The essential themes and messages I hoped to communicate in this book seem to have been received. This has me feeling that my message will be received by my target audience – middle grade readers.

Current and future projects.
MERMAID TEARS is the first of what will be a series of books set in the fictional Michaels Middle School in Massachusetts. Each book will explore a different aspect of mental health in young people. I am currently working on Book 2.

Greatest thing you learned in school?
School was not always a positive experience for me. I drew upon events in my own school years to help shape the character of Sarah in MERMAID TEARS. However, one positive thing does stand out. In High School I had a teacher, Mr. Clifton Buck, who seemed to believe in my abilities as a writer. He had me working on the school newspaper and made very positive and encouraging comments on written assignments. This was the beginning of a realization that writing was not just something I enjoyed but it also offered me a great way to sort through my own feelings and difficulties.

When you started MERMAID TEARS, and how that came about?
Just over two years ago I attended the annual Massachusetts Reading Association conference. One of the sessions I was particularly excited about attending was one led by the author Lynda Mullaly Hunt, whose work I have long admired. During this session participants were invited to join in a brief writing exercise (with the idea that it was an activity we could then take back to our schools and use with our students). We dipped our hands into a bag and pulled out an object, which was to be the motivation or theme of our writing. After writing for several minutes, we were asked who would like to share? My object was a piece of sea glass, a mermaid tear, and when I read my piece aloud Lynda was incredibly positive about it. She said I should use this and make it into a book. I did. And the piece I wrote that day became page 189 of MERMAID TEARS.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I want my readers to think about whether this book is a window or a mirror for them. If it is a window, looking out at something which is not part of their life experience, I hope it will help them to develop a sense of understanding about their peers who are victims of bullying or who are experiencing mental health issues. I hope they will be encouraged to think of ways in which they could help, like the characters of Michelle and Giuseppe in the story. If it is a mirror, reflecting an aspect of their own life back to them, I hope they will realize they are not alone, and that help is available. I hope they will realize that once they take that first, and possibly most difficult, step of asking for help things can be quite different for them going forward.

What part of your Sarah did you enjoy writing the most?
I really enjoyed developing the wholeness of the character. Sarah is a three-dimensional character and is more than just her mental illness. Her interests include many of my own; geocaching, writing, reading, collecting beach treasures, and many more. As a teacher I always told my students that you write your best work when you write what you know. I feel as though Sarah is a great example of this.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
There are so many possibilities, but one that stands out is Mr. Falker, from THANK YOU, MR. FALKER by Patricia Polacco. Mr. Douglas, in MERMAID TEARS, is a real person. So is Mr. Falker. They clearly share a passion for reaching students with a variety of special needs. I think it would be wonderful to listen in on their conversation as they shared with each other stories of students they had made a difference to over the years.

Favorite event of childhood?
Early in MERMAID TEARS Sarah’s grandmother lives some distance away in another town. Sarah enjoys visiting her, picking fresh strawberries from her garden, and playing with her family of ceramic ducks (I now have this duck family in my china cabinet). This is another part of the character of Sarah which is modeled on my own life. Back in those days, long before seatbelts were required in cars in New Zealand, my brothers and I would travel with our parents to visit my grandmother, enjoy the day with her, then sleep in the back of the station wagon with the seat down during the two-hour drive home. After some years my grandmother decided to move to our town. Sarah’s grandmother moved to a new house. My grandmother organized for her house to be put on the back of a truck and moved to our town. That is a special memory! My brothers and I were allowed to go to school late that day so we could witness this special event for our family.

TEN RANDOM THINGS ABOUT ME
  • My personal fascination with mermaids began as a little girl when I got a tiny plastic mermaid toy in a cereal box. I still have her, as well as all the members of her underwater band, some 55 years later!
  • Although there are mermaids in all the rooms of my home here in Massachusetts, the highest concentration is in my office where I do most of my writing. They inspire me.
  • I am passionate about rescuing dogs. I currently share my life with Princess Poppy Anne, a rescued chihuahua, and Princess Jessie Priscilla, a rescued beagle mix.
  • Like Sarah’s grandmother, I drive a MINI Cooper called Tardis.
  • As well as reading and writing, I enjoy a variety of handcrafts. Sarah’s grandmother taught her to knit and crochet. My grandmother taught me those same skills.
  • I became an American citizen on May 28, 2009.
  • In New Zealand Girl Scouts are called Girl Guides. I was a Girl Guide and was the first in my town to gain the highest award in Guiding – the Queen’s Guide Award.
  • Like Sarah, I have a love of soft toys. I have a very large collection! I also still have all my childhood dolls who rest comfortably in the bed I slept in when I was a baby.
  • After dogs, my favorite animal is the giraffe.
  • Since I was a little girl, I have loved the music of Glen Campbell. I was fortunate enough to see him live in concert twice. Once when he visited New Zealand, and again during his farewell tour.
Something everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Since coming to live in Massachusetts in 2001 I have met many people who tell me they have never travelled beyond New England. In fact, many have never left Massachusetts. I think it is important to travel at least once in your life. It doesn’t have to be anything like a world trip. But to move beyond what is familiar to you opens up so many opportunities for learning and personal growth. With this in mind I have a personal goal to travel to as many states as possible once I retire. I plan to convert a van to a living space and set off to learn as much as I can about this country and about myself. I am sure this will be reflected in future books!

Happiest childhood memory?
The day we brought our family dog home for the first time. She was a golden Labrador puppy. We named her Sheba. On the trip home she sat on Mom’s lap in the front seat while Dad drove. My brothers and I sat in the back. It was a long drive, and after a while we discovered that if we were quiet and ducked down in our seats Sheba would pop her head over the front bench seat. After we had squealed with delight, we would wait a few minutes and repeat this game of hide and seek. That day was over 50 years ago, but it has stayed with me not just because we were bringing our new family member home, but also because of the fun we had playing this game with her.

First job?
In New Zealand a school year is a calendar year. In January 1978, at the age of 19, I began my teaching career in my small hometown. The following year I moved to Auckland where I would teach for the following 20 years. During this time, I was fortunate to teach a very diverse student body. I learned a lot from all of them.

Last birthday?
Three friends and I got together for a mermaid themed gathering. The friend who was the hostess had gone to a lot of trouble to bring the mermaid theme into the event, and we had a great time relaxing, drinking iced coffee, and eating mermaid cupcakes.

Travel anywhere?
Right now, I would love to be able to travel to New Zealand to visit my family. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, planned trips for the past two summers have been put on hold. So, a trip home is top of my list.

Greatest adventure?
I think the greatest adventure in my life to date was coming to live in Massachusetts from New Zealand. I was 43, principal of an elementary school, and very settled in my life. The adventure began with the long-awaited arrival of my visa to enter the USA. Knowing it was going to be in my hands on a particular day I had booked my flight. I was due to fly out on September 11, 2001. We all know how the world changed forever on that day, so it was another 6 days before air-space reopened and I was finally able to come here to begin that great adventure.

Favorite book as a child?
C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series was definitely my favorite. I don’t even know how many sets of these books I have owned over the years. They always wear out from over-use!

Favorite Quotes/scenes from MERMAID TEARS:
I think my favorite scenes from MERMAID TEARS are the ones set in Dennis, Massachusetts. Sarah stays with her family in a cottage there, visits a favorite store, eats at two favorite restaurants, and spends time at Mayflower Beach. These scenes are set in real places where I have spent many happy hours myself. The beach is particularly important to Sarah. “Once we arrive in the parking lot, I know that I have hours of peace ahead of me. Hours where I can be me and not have to worry about what anyone else thinks. Hours where it doesn’t matter if I can’t sit still. I can just get up and go for a long walk, and no-one will question me. Hours where it doesn’t matter if I can’t concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes. I can jump from one activity to the next without having to give an explanation to anyone. Hours where it doesn’t matter if my thoughts are racing or if I think I am the ugliest person on the planet. I don’t have to talk to anyone. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. I can lose myself here. Perhaps the person I find at the end of the day will be a better version of me.” (Pages 69-70)

Scenes which feature Mr. Douglas are also favorites. As I have already said, there is a real Mr. Douglas who I had the privilege of working with for several years. I saw firsthand his passion for teaching, and his constant desire to make a difference in the lives of his students. The descriptions of him and his classroom in Chapter Nine are true to life, and a picture of the real Mr. Douglas can be viewed on my website. On page 141 Sarah describes birthday lunches, a tradition in Mr. Douglas’ homeroom. This is something which ‘the real’ Mr. Douglas does. He makes each student feel very special on their special day. Those who have summer birthdays can pick a day to celebrate. Sarah’s birthday lunch is the beginning of things changing for the better in her life. “Mr. Douglas, can we just have you and me for lunch, please? I have a big problem, and I need to ask you if you can help me.” (Page 143) Finding a trusted adult to ask for help isn’t easy for students, but it is essential for progress to be made. While there are messages in this book for students, there are also some for parents and teachers. Mr. Douglas models well how adults can create a relationship with students which will enable them to reach out if they need help.

Finally, the ending is a favorite. SPOILER ALERT: Sarah isn’t cured, but with all the support systems which have been put in place she can see a way forward. “I used to wish I was normal, but now I realize there’s no such thing. I know that some people are still going to judge me and others who have a mental illness. Or a physical illness. Or live in a different place. Or have different colored skin. Or any one of those millions of ways we can be different from each other.” (Page 240)

There's no such thing as normal.

Sarah has always been a hard-working student, even if she has felt her grades don't reflect her efforts. She is a good friend, a kind daughter, and she loves being creative. But lately she is struggling with school and friendships, and nothing brings her much joy. Her family doesn't seem to understand what's happening, and neither does Sarah. Everyone keeps telling her to do better, and Sarah is trying her hardest, but when her first year of middle school begins, what was supposed to be a fresh start turns into a disaster that quickly spirals out of control. Sarah, who can't understand why she is feeling this way, begins to seriously wonder if the world would be better off if she was no longer alive. Sarah has always felt a connection with mermaids, and she now wishes she was a mermaid herself, so she could just slip under the ocean and swim away, disappearing from everyone's lives forever.

Finally, Sarah reaches her breaking point, and in desperation, seeks help from a trusted teacher. Everyone in Sarah's life reaches in to pull her from her own drowning emotions, and with the help of her family, friends, teachers, and mental health professionals, Sarah learns there is a name for what she is feeling. She develops tools, not only for coping, but for thriving. In learning about her condition and gaining the support she needs for managing it, she begins the long journey back to her life.

Rewarding, memorable, and deeply evocative, this gorgeously written story about a girl who learns to navigate the choppy and scary waters of her mental health, is nothing short of remarkable.


You can purchase Mermaid Tears at the following Retailers:
        

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SUSAN L. READ for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Mermaid Tears by Susan L. Read.

*JBN is not responsible for Lost or Damaged Books in your Nerdy Mail Box*
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3 comments:

  1. I would like to trade places with a U.S. President. It doesn't matter with which one as they all had their issues of the day.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think I'd trade places with Katherine Applegate

    ReplyDelete