Date: April 14, 2022
What do you want people to know about you? Describe yourself in 6 words.
Suzanne: Okay, writer, creative seeker, freelancer. I’m Suzanne. Yeah, that’s me.
Tell us your name, your business name or industry, location and description. Why are you in this field? How did you get here?
Suzanne: Oh gosh, well, it’s a long story that I will try to condense as much as I can for everyone. But I wrote my first book when I was nine years old through a library program and it was about my cat and his adventures around the world. I was so lucky. Our little library program put our books off to a publisher and we got our books back. And so that was kind of my first at such a young age and in high school I worked for the school paper. I went on to journalism school and so it was sort of this thing from a very young age, like I just sort of came out with a lot of thoughts and a lot of ideas and had an ability to write them down and people seem to think that I communicated well, so I sort of continued on that path. It’s interesting when I first went to journalism school, I was really sort of hoping to be on tv doing like an MTV VJ kind of gig and when I got exposed to sort of the world of investigative journalism, politics, environmental issues, I thought well I think that’s where I really want to go. And so I sort of weaved my way through the industry, working at different magazines, in different publications, working on newsletters, like kind of wherever people would take me. But one thing that was so interesting is in particular the magazine world, which is sort of where I landed. As you get more and more accomplished, you become less and less of a writer and you’re sort of editing other people, you’re doing all the other kind of busy administrative work that takes place at a magazine. And so I ended up having just kind of leaving that world and started fresh as a freelance writer, which there is no handbook to teach you how to do it. You have to really kind of hustle and you meet people and you kind of make connections and show people how you can write. And you know, all of that led me in 2016 to a chance meeting with an agent who connected me with Erin Brockovich and just wrote a book with her which was a very intense and an exciting project. There’s been many sorts of books and articles in between all that time. The sort of main themes are kind of like how to be a writer, how to kind of get my words out there and how to, you know, really bring awareness to issues that are sometimes hard and complex for people to understand. And I sort of have this way of breaking them down, making them more digestible. I love talking with people and hearing their stories and interviewing them. So it’s been a kind of wonderful ride and journey and I feel very grateful for it.
- What was your single biggest challenge in running your business or working in your industry throughout the pandemic?
Suzanne: Yeah, I mean there’s so many things, but I think um you know, Erin and I, our book was released in August 2020 which was like smack dab in the pandemic or actually a little bit before, but it really impacted. The pandemic has impacted the publishing industry tremendously. A lot of books were put on hold or sort of put off indefinitely. Luckily our book did come out, but book tours are supposed to be in person and of course that was not happening. What was interesting is, because I’m a co writer, I wasn’t really expecting to go on a book tour and in fact, because of the pandemic I ended up on all these zoom calls like the Texas Book Festival, you know, different book stores throughout the country. Erin was so generous and had me with her through all of that. And so, I don’t know that I would have, the publisher certainly wouldn’t have shelled out that money for me to be there. And so it was great that on zoom I was sort of able to join in. The other piece that was so interesting in my work with Erin is that we work with communities. She gets thousands of letters every month from different communities who are dealing with all kinds of different toxic issues. I wasn’t able to go in person and so in January of this year we launched this newsletter to kind of create a community space to try to find a place online where we could talk about these stories that you know, sometimes end up in their local paper, sometimes not, but a lot of them are not making sort of national headlines and it’s a place to kind of call out the bad players. We had Solutions September where we interviewed a lot of folks who are working on solutions, which is really inspiring. So we really just try as best we can to stay connected in such a time where we’re all sort of being asked to stay home and not be as connected. You know, I think it’s so important to think about different ways to remain connected and to reconnect, especially during a time when people were actually staying at home quarantining and travel was halted among other things.
Tell us the name of your book. Tell us a little bit more about it.
Suzanne: Well, the book is called “Superman’s Not Coming” and it’s really about what Erin has been doing for the last 20 years since the movie came out. So the movie was based on one town, Hinkley California, that had this toxic groundwater contamination from PG&E. It turns out that one chemical is actually all over the country in all kinds of different towns and it’s not regulated. We looked at a bunch of other chemicals that are similar, that are also potentially in groundwater and really just looked at the different communities fighting. We talked about the Flint crisis and not just looking at the water issues, but really the local politics that played a part into getting Flint to where it was. Which I think is so important and at the end of the day, there’s also a real call to get involved and get curious about where your water comes from? Who are the businesses in your community? Are they polluting? We have this sort of sense that someone is taking care of things, the EPA or the government that businesses operate on the up and up. And the truth is this is where the book comes from, “Superman’s Not Coming,” there is not necessarily the best intentions always at play when it comes to these environmental disasters. And so it’s really up to us as citizens to get involved, get to know our neighbors, get to a city council meeting, and be interested and concerned and help those that are suffering that are needing help in different communities.
I know you probably have a lot of things going on and you’re still standing kind of like that Elton john song. So I would love to know Suzanne, where does your resilience come from? And how do you tap into it?
Suzanne: Thank you such a great question. I think writers, it’s sort of baked into our job description to be resilient folks, where there is not this easy beautiful path to becoming published and doors don’t open so easily. So, I think sort of forging that career has certainly given me a lot of tools to sort of stay resilient. Stay the course, take a no with a smile, and keep going! I also think being a woman, I just have to say, we talked about my friend Megan and I in journalism school. Our class was the first class that had more women than men in the journalism school and I found that to be really strange in the year 2000. That was the first time there was slightly more women than men and a lot of our professors were still men, and they were great teachers, but journalism for a long time was an old boys club. Just to break into that world, as a woman, to be a professional, to deal with all of these issues, to write about things that are important to women. Now we sort of take those things for granted, but I sort of watched some of those issues come up and be more able to talk about it. So I think some of that resilience, just being a woman and sort of standing in that confidence and saying, “Yeah, my words matter as much as the next person,” that I think it gives you something. I also have to say I worked from home for the last 10 years, and so when this started and everybody started working from home, I was really kind of giving out advice to a lot of people. Like here’s how to get a lunch together, when it feels like there’s nothing in the fridge, like here’s how to make a zoom call, make a date with a friend so that you’re having people to interact with, because it is a special kind of job to be a freelance writer working from home. My husband can attest that some days he comes home and I’m like, I need to talk to someone, it’s been a long day. I think there’s just a certain resilience in sort of forging that path that’s kind of different than other folks and that I haven’t been in an office environment in such a long time and I have to kind of create my own deadlines and have to create my own sort of career of where I want to go next.
I’m just curious to know throughout your very successful, impressive career, were there any mistakes that you made that you want to prevent others from making?
Suzanne: Of course we all make mistakes all the time. To find just one or you know just one? No. I think, one thing, just to talk about that resilience piece again too was just nos are part of the industry and it’s part of being a writer is that there’s going to be editors who don’t like your work or who have a lot of feedback that you don’t agree with and that’s ok. That’s part of the work and just continuing on your career as best you can and just trying to find a door that is open I think is so important. In terms of the mistakes, I think, when I was younger, I always tried to have a certain professionalism and of course when you’re younger you don’t always respect authority in the same ways that you do as you’re older. I’m now looking at sort of younger folks and I’m like, wow, like I am an authority, You should be emailing me back in a timely manner or whatever it is. And so, you know, I think like there are certain values in any industry that, make sure you are getting your foot in the door by being someone who can respond to emails on time, to be polite with people, to be curious about people. I’ve had editors seem like they’re having a bad day, sort of yelling at me and what I realized, one of the best things you can do is say, “Hey, are you okay? I’m not if this is about me or about you?” Just relating to people as other people and not as sort of these authority figures. I think that’s something that I sort of had to learn as I went along. I sometimes felt like these editors were these sort of untouchable people and the truth is, we’re all people that brush our teeth and eat breakfast and take care of our kids and all that kind of stuff. Finding that kind of human connection has really been helpful I think throughout my career and sort of not judging others or judging myself, you know, on those bad days that we all have.
I would love for you to suggest a book, song of course or program for our listeners.
Suzanne: Well, I’m a writer, so I’m an avid reader. So I feel like I have so many things that I love to recommend, but two huge influences on me: one is Julia Cameron, who I studied with in New York City. She wrote a book called “The Artist Way” and it’s all about recovering your creative self and I took a class with her. It’s one of those six weeks, one hour a week, kind of classe around the artist way this topic. I wrote my first book several years later that became published and so she was just a huge mentor and wonderful spirit. She’s really, if you ever get the chance, she’s still alive, she’s one of those living legends. If you can ever take a class with her, I highly recommend it. The other book quickly that I love is a book from Cal Newport and it’s called “So Good, They Can’t Ignore You.” And the quote, it’s a quote from Steve Martin, who is a comedian and SnL comedian that many of us know, and he was once asked “How did you like forge this career?” You know, he was kind of a different comedian at that time and he said “Well be so good that they can’t ignore you.” And that whole book is really about figuring out how to be in your craft, how to build skills, how to build relationships with others. I think that’s such an important skill, particularly in the creative arts. Whether you’re a writer or a dancer or a visual artist that, you know, keep going, keep toning, honing in on your craft and learn as much as you can. Put out the best work that you can, and that really will help you in your career.