Interview: Susane Colasanti, YA Author, “All I Need”

I love YA. Anyone who’s ever said hello to me, seen my bursting bookshelves or gone to a book signing where I’m the oldest one there without a tween in tow, knows that.

Two years ago, I went to one such book signing and met Susane Colasanti. We’d been Internet friends since 2008, when I mustered up the courage to email her (to me, published authors are like rock stars. Cooler, even). Her novels have everything I like: smart female protagonists, cute love stories, believable plots. In 2010, I’d reviewed Susane’s fourth book and interviewed her for my former blog. I’d told her I was coming to this event, but as I stood in line, I worried. Would she know who I was? Would she think I was cool?

I shyly approached, cupcake in hand. Her eyes lit up. “Are you Lauren?” I nodded. “Come here!” I got a hug, an autograph and a 20-minute chat.

All I Need, Susane’s seventh novel, was released May 21. Some of her books I’ve liked better than others. This one, with its alternating perspectives and lovely long-distance romance, might be my favorite. Susane’s busier than ever these days, but she took some time to talk with me about ’80s music, New York apartments and making the life you want.

Cover of All I Need by Susane Colasanti
Image: susanecolasanti.com

Your latest book, All I Need, is distinctive in two ways: one, it has alternating boy-girl perspectives (which you haven’t done in several books) and two, your boy is in college. Why did you make these decisions for this story?

Can I just tell you how happy I am to finally have a main boy character in college? I’ve wanted to write about characters in college forever. The world of teen fiction kind of dictates that characters have to be in high school. The oldest you can usually get away with is the summer after high school. When I was a teen, I would have loved to read about characters in college. I was dying to know what being in college was really like. I’m thrilled that All I Need will give readers insight into the college world through Seth’s eyes.
Writing All I Need (along with When It Happens and Take Me There) from both a girl’s and boy’s perspective is a technique I originally intended to use in all of my books. This decision again speaks to the kind of books I would have loved to read as a teen. The teen section didn’t even exist back in the day. There was only a smattering of teen novels available. Almost every book I read was told exclusively from the main girl’s perspective. I was dying to know about the boy’s point of view. Did he like the girl? What was he really thinking? What did his room look like? What did he talk about with his friends? Writing from both points of view allows me to reveal all of those Boy Secrets I so desperately wanted to know back then.

More and more adults are openly reading YA. With so many great books out there, what about All I Need will appeal to readers who are way out of their teens?

This book is a sweet summer romance about soul mates and serendipity. The one thing I probably love most about reading teen novels is the sense of nostalgia that comes rushing back. Even if it’s nostalgia for times I’ve never experienced. The wishing, the longing, the hope that one day life will get better”¦ everyone can relate to those universal themes, no matter what age they are. I should also note that I’m old-school. Including references from the ’80s is always fun for me. My grownup readers hopefully find those references entertaining as well.

The character of Seth is really into ’80s music. (As a child of the ’80s, this made me happy.) Many of your books have a “soundtrack” (for example, When It Happens had The Cure and R.E.M., Waiting for You had John Mayer). Do you decide on a band or genre at the beginning of your writing process, or does it happen as you’re writing the book?

Developing playlists for each of my books (which you can find on my website and Spotify) tends to happen during the writing process. Each book has a distinct emotional aura to which certain songs speak. Whether they are featured in the book or evoke the overall feel of the story, each song is strongly related to the book’s content, themes, and energy. That said, I knew that When It Happens would be heavily influenced by ’80s music. The story was inspired by my own experiences during senior year of high school. So including the music I was obsessed with in high school (and played on repeat while I was writing the book) seemed inevitable.

You recently bought an apartment in New York City – congratulations! You basically liveblogged the process for your readers. What was your motivation behind that?

My main motto is this: Dream big. I’m all about dreaming big and then turning those dreams into reality. High school was the worst time of my life. The one thing that kept me motivated to never give up was the hope that one day I would be living a happy life. Not just a happy life. My ideal life. The life I’d always wanted to live, where I could be the best version of myself and radiate positive energy. My purpose in life is to reach out to teens and help them feel less alone. I want to motivate teens to take steps now to start manifesting their heart’s desires. Sharing some of the ways in which my big dreams have become reality on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter is my way of hopefully motivating others to do the same. I had 73 cents in my bank account at one point in college. If I could go from 73 cents to owning an apartment in downtown Manhattan, anyone can turn their big dreams into reality.

Your first book, When It Happens, was published in 2006. Has your writing process changed since then and if so, how?

I was still a high school science teacher in 2006. Resigning in 2007 to become a full-time author was not an easy decision. But I love that I can reach many more teens as an author than I could as a teacher. Oh, and I don’t have to wake up at 4:45 anymore. Bonus! My writing schedule was crazy when I was a teacher. How did I write my first two books while I was teaching? I was exhausted all the time. Writing was mostly restricted to weekends, breaks, and summers. Now I have a mostly set schedule of writing five days a week. Although my writing schedule is more streamlined now, my writing process is pretty much the same. I like to know my characters extremely well before I start writing a first draft. They gradually reveal more of themselves as I develop a chapter outline for the new book. By the time I finish the chapter outline (which is flexible and changes as I write the first draft and revise), my characters feel like BFFs. Writing a first draft has always been the hardest part of the writing process for me. That will probably never change!

One of the things I like best about your books is how you don’t write the same protagonist over and over again, but they’re all likable and relatable. You’ve also written from male and female perspectives. How do you come up with main characters?

My characters enjoy introducing themselves to me before I even ask who they are. I usually know who my main characters will be one or two books down the line. This can make focusing on the current book I’m writing difficult at times. Jotting down notes about those future characters while I’m working on the current book helps to keep me focused”¦ and helps me to remember my ideas when I start writing that new chapter outline a year or so later.

Which of your heroines is the most like you as a teenager, and why?

Sara from When It Happens is very much like me. That book was inspired by my own experiences. First novels are sometimes the most autobiographical. The first novel is where everything you’ve been carrying around in your brain/soul/notebooks up until then comes pouring out. Noelle from Keep Holding On is also a lot like my teen self. That book focuses on the consequences of bullying. I was bullied relentlessly in junior high and high school. Several of Noelle’s experiences were inspired by my actual experiences in high school. Her home life is pretty much identical to the one I had growing up.

As an author, what is your biggest challenge and how do you deal with it?

My biggest challenge is to not tell the same story over and over. My books are all about soul mates. I want each of my books to be a fresh, meaningful experience to which readers can relate. Oh, and something embarrassing? Is that I sometimes forget which names I’ve used in previous books. So another challenge is to not repeat names. Dude. I knew I should have started a names list from the beginning”¦

Any advice for aspiring authors (writing, publishing, etc.)?

Read. Read all the time. The more you read, the better your writing will become.

All I Need is out now, and of course everyone should buy it. But for those who’d like to read more, which of your past books would you recommend most and why?

Hmm! I would recommend that interested readers visit my website to read synopses of my books. Hopefully one (or more) will speak to them.

All I Need is now available in print and ebook (Amazon, Barnes & Noble).
For more about Susane, visit her blog or susanecolasanti.com.
NOTE: I received an advance review copy of All I Need with no obligation to review.

Published by

The Unprofessional Critic

Lauren Whalen is a freelance writer living in Chicago. She reviews plays for Chicago Theater Beat (http://www.chicagotheaterbeat.com) and talks about movies on The Film Yap (http://www.thefilmyap.com). Lauren's young adult novel is represented by Chalberg & Sussman Literary Agency. Say hi to her at maybeimamazed02(at)gmail(dot)com. (Photo by Greg Inda)

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