I have the best little writers’ group on the island and we’re celebrating the debut novel of one of our members. Suzanne Selfors is having a gala launch for her novel, To Catch A Mermaid, an exuberant adventure for young readers. If you’re in the area, stop by the Eagle Harbor Book Company on Sunday, September 9 at 3:00pm. Wear your Viking helmet!
Never has the term “homegrown” been more fitting. Everything about debut author Suzanne Selfors is homegrown, from her Bainbridge Island childhood to her spectacular organic garden, which surrounds the historic house built by her pioneer ancestors. On a storybook farm, filled with blooming flowers and orchards, heirloom tomatoes, free-ranging chickens, ducks and bunnies, Suzanne might seem as though she inhabits a Disney movie.
However, like many writers, she has her dark-and-twisty side, too. This is evident in her first novel, To Catch a Mermaid, a rollicking fantasy adventure with an irresistible balance of humor, the sort that’s broad enough to appeal to kids and sly enough to please their parents. Suzanne’s books also feature the sort of pathos and danger that brings to mind Roald Dahl at his very best. Maybe it’s that Nordic sensibility–Suzanne’s ancestors came from Norway and settled on Bainbridge in the 19th century.
Although she has homegrown roots, Suzanne also has a first class education. She studied at Bennington College in Vermont and graduated from Occidental College in Pasadena, California. She earned a Master’s in communications from UW, married a pilot and moved into a house on the island that has been in her family for generations.
Suzanne’s favorite library memory is of the day she found a stray dog hanging around outside the library door–an adorable cockapoo. “We ended up adopting her and she was the family dog through most of my childhood. We always joked that she was the very best thing we ever checked out from the library.”
Today, one of her favorite features of the library is the books on tape, which she listens to on long walks. “Right now I’m listening to StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli,” she reports. And of course, the library is the ideal place for this busy mother of two to get some writing done. “I use the back tables all the time. Plug in my laptop and escape from the distractions of my house. I get tons of work done.”
Note that she calls writing work. Over the years, I’ve encountered many emerging and aspiring writers. Hundreds, really. But of those hundreds, very few understand the work involved in the process and then make the journey to being published. Like Dorothy’s journey through Oz, there are all kinds of pitfalls along the way. The first time I met Suzanne, she was an emerging writer just finishing her first full-length novel. Almost immediately, I knew she would one day join the ranks of the published. She had the smarts, creativity, drive and stick-to-it-iveness that it takes to launch and sustain a writing career. And the talent.
Behind every “overnight success” is a plan that might be years in the making. Suzanne joined the first-ever novel-writing class offered by Field’s End through the library. Instructor Michael Collins, an acclaimed writer based in Bellingham, was her teacher and mentor in the class.
Suzanne’s writing quickly gained the attention of one of the top literary agents in New York City. Michael Bourret of the Jane Dystel Agency responded to the unpublished manuscript with the kind of enthusiasm a writer dreams of: “When I first read To Catch a Mermaid, I was blown away,” he says. “It’s rare to find a novel that feels like a classic the first time you read it, but that’s exactly [the way this story] reads. It reminded me so much of books and authors I’d loved from my childhood, like Mary Rodgers’s Freaky Friday or the novels of Roald Dahl, and I could imagine children for decades falling in love with this timeless story.”
Michael was not alone in his enthusiasm. The book was sold at auction–something that is exceedingly rare for a first novel–and landed with Little, Brown. Michael has high hopes for To Catch a Mermaid, certain of its broad appeal, “which feels both nostalgic and modern.”
In addition to writing an incredibly strong novel, Suzanne followed it up with not one but two encores–a second middle-grade fantasy novel for Little, Brown and a young adult literary comedy for Bloomsbury. The author’s professionalism and creativity were a huge plus for this agent. “Suzanne, as an author, is a dream,” Michael comments. “She writes from the heart, and has a burning desire to tell stories (and not just for children). She will have a long, successful career writing many kinds of books, and I’m really honored to be a part of her world.”
He has no idea. I wonder how Michael, a native Brooklynite, would fit in with the duck pond and henhouses?
Way to go, Suz! You’re living the dream!
How to Read Like a Grown-upSuzanne Selfors’s All-Time Favorite Books
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake