On Sunday, I had the privilege of interviewing Susie Garber of Kew Gardens Hills. Several years ago I attended one of Susie’s writing workshops and she helped me work on an article I was writing, which eventually was published in the Jewish Press. For this interview, the teacher came to the student!
Susie and I have a lot in common in our love of writing. We both started writing as children. The only difference is that now Susie has two published novels, another book, and many articles in a variety of publications.
Susie started writing in the fourth grade, when she wrote a poem for a school assignment. She found that she enjoyed writing and her father encouraged her by buying her a writing notebook, and she filled it. Over the years she wrote and wrote. When she was in fifth grade she wrote a book. “I wanted to be the first 10-year-old to publish a novel.” She knew that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up.
Throughout her school years she continued writing and finally had an article published in Horizon Magazine. After that, she continued submitting articles to them and to other journals. Finally, she wrote a book for teachers on how to teach writing. She submitted her manuscript to a number of publishers and received numerous rejections. Finally she sent her book to Scholastic publishers, which didn’t publish it, but told her instead to write a book on developing characters. That’s how her book, Memorable Characters . . . Magnificent Stories, was published in 2002 by Scholastic. This book for teachers featured pictures of her Bais Yaakov students. She wanted the book to be true to its origins, which was her work with Bais Yaakov of Queens’ students and teachers. Her editor accommodated her and the book retains its Jewish flavor.
I asked Susie how her first novel, Denver Dreams, came about. She said that she focused on the theme of friendship. She loosely wove her college experience into a story about a girl named Lily attending seminary in Denver with secrets to hide. She sent it to a variety of Jewish publishers and once again received many rejections. This led her to one of the mantras that she teaches her students: “Don’t give up!” Another thing she tells them is that “writing is rewriting.” And something I heard her say in the class I attended: “Just write.”
Finally, one editor sent a rejection letter but included a number of corrections, which Susie found very helpful. She revised the book. And revised and revised. One of the suggestions was to take the story out of New York. So when Susie went on a business trip with her husband to Denver, she liked the city so much that she decided to use it as the backdrop to her book. She continued sending it to publishers and still got rejection letters but finally one of the publishers suggested sending it to Jerusalem Publications, a small publishing house in Yerushalayim, and they accepted it. It was her ninth revision!
Now her new book, Befriend, a sequel to Denver Dreams, is scheduled to be in bookstores on March 15. Befriend continues the saga of her first character, Lily. It is many years later and Lily’s daughter, Tehilla, is now going back to Denver to seminary. She has secrets of her own and friendships to forge.
Susie’s target audience when she wrote Denver Dreams was women, but high-school girls have read it and told her that it had an impact on their lives. To think that something she wrote had an impact on others means a lot to her.
One thing that came across in our interview was Susie’s humility. She clearly recognizes this as a gift Hashem gave her, and even though she worked very hard, she realizes that it is all from Him.
Befriend is also geared for women and young adults. Susie tries to be inspiring and give good messages. Both books deal with issues that women go through and how they deal with them and ultimately solve problems and move forward with their lives.
Creating characters is one of Susie’s most enjoyable parts of writing. “The characters are a combination of people you know mixed in with a lot of imagination.” In the creative process, Susie sees her characters and plot evolving. It is like a “movie in your mind.”
Susie is the writing consultant at Bais Yaakov of Queens and the literary coach at Shulamith Elementary in Woodmere. She also teaches English literature at Tichon Meir Moshe High School, writing workshop at Nefesh Academy, and creative writing at Stella K. Abraham High School. She presents workshops for teachers and teaches writing classes for Hofstra University continuing education as well as private writing classes for women in her home. Susie loves to share something she loves with everyone. She teaches kids from ages six to adults well into their senior years. She also writes a column for Hamodia and Queens Jewish Link. She is planning to offer a fiction-writing class this summer, and she’s so inspiring that I may try my hand at it.
I asked Susie if it’s important for students to read the classics and she said, “Reading is the key to writing, and reading good literature helps you become a good writer.” Teaching our kids good writing skills is important because “they will need writing skills for any job.”
Besides being available in Jewish bookstores, Befriend can be purchased online from Amazon or directly from the publisher, Targum Press. Susie is also available to give “book talks” in schools or for women’s organizations. She can be reached at email@example.com.