Thursday, April 15, 2010

Interview with Susan Beth Pfeffer

Susan Beth Pfeffer, author of The Last Survivors series, has been kind enough to stop by Reading with Tequila to answer some questions.

Award-winning author Susan Beth Pfeffer knows she's lucky — she found what she wanted to do at an early age, and she's never done anything else. Born in New York City in 1948, Pfeffer grew up in the city and its nearby suburbs and spent summers in the Catskill Mountains. At the age of six, when her father wrote and published a book on constitutional law, Pfeffer decided she, too, wanted to be a writer; that year, she wrote her first story about the love between an Oreo cookie and a pair of scissors. Her first published work took a little bit longer: she wrote the young adult novel Just Morgan during her final semester at New York University, and published it the following year.

Since then, Susan Beth Pfeffer has been a full-time writer for young people. She has won numerous awards and citations for her work, which ranges from picture books to middle-grade and young-adult novels and includes both contemporary and historical fiction. Pfeffer has also written a book for adults on writing for children. When she is not working, she enjoys watching movies, both new and old, and collecting movie memorabilia, reading biographies and histories, and eating foods that are bad for her. She lives in Middletown, New York, with her two cats, Alexander and Emily.

Reading with Tequila: You've written a series of post-apocalyptic novels. Are you someone who is awed by the possibility of an apocalypse, or someone who fears one?

Susan: I've never given any serious thought to an apocalypse. I don't even know how to spell it.

I did grow up in the era where we were taught how to cover our eyes and sit under a desk and wait out an atomic bomb, so I've always had an awareness the world could vanish in the blink of an eye (although with my eyes closed, I guess it would be the blink of someone else's eyes). And I do remember (all too vividly) my big brother's explanation of atomic mutations and all the scary creatures that would evolve.

But I think I'm wicked if I throw out a plastic bag, rather than putting it in recycling. "Take that, younger generation!" I say, which presupposes my belief that there will be a younger generation for quite some time to come.

RWT: How would you prepare if you knew the apocalypse was imminent?

Susan: I am totally unprepared. I don't even have a working flashlight (as I discovered, to my regret, when there was a five hour blackout the other evening).

I have plenty of body fat, so I won't starve to death for a while (and I'll be delighted to finally lose the weight). Beyond that, a massive amount of 100 calorie snacks, and a genuine ability to entertain myself, I'm a goner.

RWT: In the Last Survivor series, many disasters occur because a meteor hits the moon. Of all the possibilities you wrote about, which one do you fear the most?

Susan: Not knowing what's happened to people you love. The loss of communication.

Maybe because I have a vivid imagination, I'm much worse off not knowing something than knowing something bad.

Although I do get cranky if I don't eat lunch by 1 PM. And I'm very fond of sunlight.

RWT: What modern convenience would you miss most in the event of the apocalypse? What would you be happy without?

Susan: I'd miss the internet. What a fabulous time killer that is, not to mention an easy and pleasurable way of staying in touch with people.

I guess if I absolutely had to, I could live without a microwave (although I don't know what I'd do with my two boxes of microwave 100 calorie popcorn packets). When I didn't have electricity the other night, I took some challah I had in the freezer and made French toast for supper.

I cooked by candlelight, due to the lack of working flashlight in my life.

RWT: Post-apocalyptic/dystopian books are generating a lot of attention these days. Why do you they appeal to people so much?

Susan: I think it's always fun to place yourself in the worst possible imaginary situation and try to see how you'd survive.

I also think we live in a society that likes Bigger and Bigger. It can be Bigger and Better or Bigger and Worser, just as long as it's Bigger.

When I came up with the idea for Life As We Knew It, I thought of it as a combination of a family problem novel and a disaster story. I've written lots of family problem novels, and to me LAWKI was a natural continuation of those books, with the problem being worldwide, rather than simply limited to one family or even one neighborhood.

There are things I can write and things I can't. I'm not an adventure story writer. I'm, at best, limited in my ability to write action scenes.

But what I can do is explore family dynamics. Miranda doesn't do anything bold and daring and brave. But she fights with her mother and celebrates holidays and goes skating on the pond.

She fights to stay alive, but just as importantly, she fights to stay herself. Which makes her reasonably easy to identify with.

The same is true of Alex in the dead & the gone, the companion volume to Life As We Knew It. And it remains true in This World We Live In, the third and final book, where Miranda and Alex's paths cross.

Things happen in all three books. But the feelings and the conflicts aren't that different from what any person could feel. It's just the circumstances that are out of the ordinary.

RWT: You've had a long writing career. What's the most important thing you've learned in the past 40 years that you think every writer needs to know?

Susan: My career has had many ups and many downs. It's been a roller coaster, rather than a straight and smooth ride.

My guess is most careers are like that. Even the most successful ones have got to have times when they're a little less successful. You can't have up without some down as a contrast.

The lesson I keep having to teach myself is that the ups don't last forever and neither do the downs. Unexpected good things and unexpected bad things happen all the time.

Celebrating the good is fine, and worrying about the bad is reasonable. Just be prepared for the things you can't prepare for!

RWT: I know that you realized you wanted to be a writer at a very early age. Was there anything you ever thought about doing instead?

Susan: When I was very young (before I knew how to read and write), I gave serious thought to being a cowgirl. I had a cowgirl outfit I found quite fetching.

And even after I decided I wanted to be a writer, I was willing to be discovered by a movie producer. I used to walk home from running errands and imagine some producer walking down the street, offering me a starring role in his latest motion picture.

I was probably 10 or 11 when I gave up on that one. Ever since then, it's been writer or Queen Of England, as far as I'm concerned.

The good thing about being a writer is I don't have to marry Prince Charles to achieve my I attempt to take up some craft, but I’m very haphazard about my efforts.

RWT: Can you tell us something about Susan Beth Pfeffer that not a lot of people know? A hidden talent or funny hobby maybe?

Susan: I'd love to have a hidden talent. I used to crochet granny squares, but I doubt that counts.

I used to enter obscure culinary items in the local county fair. Chutney and popovers and things like that. I'm not much of a cook, but there wasn't a lot of competition.

Once I entered chocolate cream pie and came in second in a field of one. In spite of my being the only one to enter, the judge refused to give my pie a blue ribbon. She said it was unworthy.

I guess my hidden talent is my genial good nature. Because I didn't take the chocolate cream pie and ram it into her judgmental face.

Instead, I took my pie and my red ribbon home with me. I ate the pie, and not in 100 calorie increments either!

Susan Beth Pfeffer's Blog

Reading with Tequila's review of This World We Live In

 About the Book

It's been a year since a meteor collided with the moon, catastrophically altering the earth’s climate. For Miranda Evans life as she knew it no longer exists. Her friends and neighbors are dead, the landscape is frozen, and food is increasingly scarce.

The struggle to survive intensifies when Miranda’s father and stepmother arrive with a baby and three strangers in tow. One of the newcomers is Alex Morales, and as Miranda’s complicated feelings for him turn to love, his plans for his future thwart their relationship. Then a devastating tornado hits the town of Howell, and Miranda makes a decision that will change their lives forever.


  1. I love this author's wit; she sounds like somebody I'd love to have a cup of tea with. :-) I really need to get my hands on this series.

  2. That was one of the most entertaining author interviews I've read in a while! I just bought Life As We Knew It yesterday and can't wait to read it :)

  3. I loved this interview!! Amazing!

  4. yeah, great interview and Susan is a very nice person!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this interview! I'm sure Susan Beth Pfeffer's books are great. I'll have to check them out!

  6. Thank you for this interview! She's a new author to me. Her books sound interesting! I'll have to check them out!*_*