Susan Schoenberger is the award-winning author of A pivotal year and The virtues of oxygen. With a linotypist as her grandfather, she has ink in her blood and worked as a journalist and editor for many years, especially for The Hartford Current and The Baltimore sun. She is currently the Director of Communications at Hartford Seminary, a graduate school specializing in interfaith dialogue. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband Kevin. They have three grown children and a small dog named Leo.
We chat with author Susan Schoenberger about her latest release Responsibility for love, plus writing, book recommendations and more!
Hi Suzanne! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
During the day, I am a full-time communications director for a small doctoral school. When I don’t do that, I pursue my career as a fiction writer. I can also kayak, read, bake chocolate chip cookies, or walk my little dog monster, Leo.
Quick flash tour! Tell us about the first book you remember reading, the one that made you want to be an author and that you can’t stop thinking about!
It would be Harriet spies on it by Louise Fitzhugh. I read it probably 15 times when I was in elementary school. Harriet’s voice was so unique and the humor so impassive. I liked everything about this book. It made me want to write so that I could give other people this kind of experience.
When was the first time you discovered your love of writing?
I majored in English in college, but never took a creative writing course. I started writing short stories for fun in my twenties, but didn’t submit them anywhere. In my thirties, I finally had an idea for a novel, and I worked on it for years, but this one remains unpublished. In my forties, I went back to the news to work my craft, and then I wrote a novel based on one of these stories. My first novel wasn’t published until I was 49 years old. So it was basically the trip of a lifetime.
Your latest novel, Responsibility for love, released on July 20e 2021! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Everyone loves the wrong person.
What can readers expect?
They can expect a love story told from four different points of view, two women and two men. It’s set in Hartford, Connecticut, in the 1980s, and one of the main characters works in the insurance industry. So, there are a lot of references to responsibility and risk, which are also prevalent when someone falls in love.
Where does the inspiration for Responsibility for love comes from?
It started out as a challenge for me to write male characters that were really three-dimensional. In the first version, the action focused on the character of Douglas, but this attempt was rather dismal. When I tried again, Douglas was still there but took a back seat.
Can you tell us about the challenges you encountered while writing and how you were able to overcome them?
In my non-fiction life, I’m someone who keeps a long to-do list and describes everything. But when it comes to fiction, there are no straight lines. I usually write two or three full-length versions of a novel that are almost completely rejected. Eventually, the characters start to freeze and the story falls into place. This one was no different.
Are there any favorite moments or characters that you really enjoyed writing about or exploring?
One of my male characters, Fitz, was such a joy to write. He is a sensitive, overweight man who assumes that the object of his affection, Margaret, will not love him because of his weight. Over the course of the novel he develops an eating disorder, and some of my early readers have commented on how much his journey resonated with them.
What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I got is that writers have very little control over the publishing process other than the manuscript, so all you can do is focus on that. The worst advice was to rewrite my first novel, A pivotal year, in a month-by-month format. I rejected this advice, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts.
What’s the next step for you?
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very productive during the pandemic, but I started a novel centered around a hyperpolyglot, or someone who speaks an extraordinary number of languages. We will see where it goes.
Finally, do you have any book recommendations for our readers?
I would highly recommend Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It’s pretty funny and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018. Anything from Lauren Groff or Donna Tartt or Marilynne Robinson. I also loved Americhana by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
You can find Susan on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as on its website.