I could not be more delighted to be hosting Ellen Sussman today. Her third novel, The Paradise Guest House, released yesterday. Ellen’s last novel, French Lessons, was a New York Times bestseller, and this one is even better. Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review, says of it, “Two survivors of Bali’s terrorist bombing find love and spiritual rebirth on an island whose inhabitants believe in reincarnation in Sussman’s touching panorama of paradise… [celebrating] lovers, quiet healing, and the sweetness of the island and its people.” Ellen is also a fine writing teacher, a vicious poker player, and a lovely friend! Enjoy her post, and do check out The Paradise Guest House. – Meg
I think we all have had someone in the past tell us we’re not very intelligent or creative or attractive. My parents told me that I was the smart one and my brother was the nice one. (really.) My high school creative writing teacher told me to never write another poem in my life. (really.) My high school guidance counselor told me that I’d never escape my roots.
Let me explain that one. My parents were first generation Americans, born right after their parents arrived from Russia. My parents didn’t speak English until they went to school. They grew up in the Bronx and in Trenton, NJ, both pretty poor. My father is one of those guys who made the American dream work for him. He bought a bus, started a bus company and made money. But when I went to high school in Princeton, having grown up in Trenton, I saw real money for the first time. That guidance counselor was a wealthy preppy, just like most of the students. When he said I’d never escape my roots, he meant that I couldn’t become a writer because I didn’t come from the right kind of world.
When we sit down to write, I think all of us hear the voices of our past that tell us we suck, that we can’t write and shouldn’t try. I tell my writing students that we should push those voices out of our heads and somehow find the gumption to believe in ourselves. We can write that book.
But I think I do it a little differently than that. When I sit down to write I hear the voice of that guidance counselor. And I tell him: you’re wrong, Mr G. There were no books in my house growing up and my parents weren’t college educated and yet: I’m a writer. I did it. I like a challenge. And I had to prove you wrong. – Ellen