Interview: Suzanne van Rooyen, author

Today I’m interviewing Suzanne van Rooyen, whose LGBT YA, The Other Me, came out on 19 December. Suzanne is originally from South Africa but ended up in Finland after a short stay in Perth, Australia.

Suzanne van RooyenFirst and foremost: why did you leave Australia? Was it something I said?!

Haha, probably not 😉 South Africans are often told that moving to Australia is like a home away from home. It isn’t and I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock. I was also living in Perth, which might not be the nicest city in Australia. While there were some things I absolutely loved about Australia – like living a five-minute walk from the beach, the size of the ravens and waking up to a chorus of cockatoos – ultimately, the heat (so much hotter than I’d ever experienced in SA!) and the lack of job opportunities for my then-boyfriend-now-husband made the move to Finland all the more appealing.

The Other Me is your first contemporary release after a series of science fiction works. Can you tell us about it?

With pleasure! I blog over at YAtopia and one of my fellow bloggers and authors there, Lisa Burstein, made a comment once about how in writing the author needs to open a vein and bleed a little. This had a huge impact on me and ever since then, those words niggled and gnawed until I eventually quit my zombie WIP and started writing a far more personal story. Inspired by my high school experiences at a Catholic all-girls school in South Africa, that novel became The Other Me. This is the story of fifteen-year-old Treasa, who thinks she’s an alien – the kind from outer-space with embarrassing tentacles – because she can’t come up with a better explanation for why she feels so out of place at her school or in her own skin. It takes falling for an emotionally scarred boy with baggage of his own for Treasa to understand, and accept, who she truly is.

You’ve said that the story is incredibly personal to you. Do you think that made it harder or easier to write?

In some ways easier because the emotions were real and the situations were largely inspired by my own experiences (I honestly went through a stage believing I must be from Mars because I felt so weird and ostracized by my peers) – not always my direct experiences, but experiences friends and family members had. This also made it harder because I needed to maintain the distance between fact and fiction while still tapping into that emotional well. I’d never really believed authors could cry while writing – I mean, just change the story so it’s not so sad, or how can it affect them when they know what’s coming? But I cried while writing The Other Me and in places I didn’t expect it, where the characters ambushed me with their own emotions and reactions to the situations I placed them in. While this story may have started out inspired by personal experience, it took on a life of its own, becoming Treasa’s and Gabriel’s story, and no one else’s.

OtherMeFSDoes it affect how you feel about the idea of people you know reading it? (My debut hasn’t been released yet and I’m quite frankly terrified!)

Oh yes, I’m terrified of people reading it and miscontruing fiction for fact. I’m also really excited because this book is different and it doesn’t mince its words. Treasa has an important story to tell, and so does Gabriel. As afraid as I am about how people might react to me, the author, I’m more excited to see how people might connect and relate to my characters. Ultimately, this is a story that needed telling and I have no control over readers’ reactions. I’m trying to be Zen about it. *munches all the cookies and eyes the red wine longingly*

What is your next project? If it’s a secret I promise not to tell anyone. *shifty eyes*

My next to-be-published work is a quirky YA science fiction novel called I Heart Robot, which will be released from Month9Books in 2015.

My current WIP is set in the I Heart Robot universe, but across the Atlantic, and is all about cyborgs instead of androids.

You’re also the publicity manager for Entranced Publishing. What’s the single biggest piece of advice you’d give to a new author?

I’ve been asked this a lot recently and I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer it considering I still feel like a ‘new’ author myself. Perhaps the best advice I can give others is the type of advice I wish people had given me when I first entered the industry:

Be authentic and be sincere especially in online social media. The cultivated persona will only take you so far.

Persevere and have patience. Publishing is a waiting game: waiting to hear from agents, to hear from editors, for a book release, for reviews, for the shiny new idea… It all takes patience.

Dream big but set realistic goals. Chances are your first book deal won’t be six figures and go straight to film. That doesn’t mean you can’t dream about that one day being a reality, but in the mean time set attainable goals to avoid disappointment and disillusionment.

When in doubt, keep writing. As Ray Bradbury said, “You fail only if you stop writing.”

Quick! Choose! Science fiction or fantasy? Small press or traditional? The West Wing or Game of Thrones? Coffee or tea?

Gah! You’re seriously making me choose between all the things I love!?

Fantasy – it’ll always be my first love and first choice for reading

Small press – my experiences so far have been wonderful

Game of Thrones – only because of the dragons!

Coffee – because there’s just no starting the day without it

Suzanne is an author and peanut-butter addict from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing you can find her teaching dance and music to middle-schoolers or playing in the snow with her shiba inu. She is rep’d by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.

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