Q&A With Sue Fliess

In From Here to There by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Christiane Engel, Here and There are so similar they’re practically twins. But they can never play together because Here is always here and There is always there, so they become pen pals and write to each other all the time. One day, There gets an idea that could change the distance between them forever.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Sue to chat about From Here to There, the editorial process, and finding that creative spark.

Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A: As with so many parts of my children’s book career, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), as well as the influence of other authors and illustrators, played a big part in this book. I was at the SCBWI NY conference in 2015, watching Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s presentation on all of her amazing books. As she was showing us her books, I thought to myself, I wish I could write something as clever! Her books are so surprising and clever! At one point she was using a pointer to explain a piece of art from one of her books and said, “You’ll notice what I did from here…to there” as she moved the pointer. And just like that, I started typing a draft of the story on my phone. I don’t know how much more of Laura’s talk I heard (sorry, Laura!), but I thank her for the initial spark! People ask me all the time where I get my ideas from, and it’s so hard to answer. I always tell people that I am always listening, always open to what could be the next story. And in this case, that holds true.

Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: If there is an ‘easiest’ part, will someone please tell me what that is? I would say there are really hard parts and not-as-painful parts. The hardest part for me is trusting that I won’t run out of ideas—that the next idea will present itself. Another hard part is having what you think is an amazing idea, then not being able to execute that idea with the right words. Or knowing there is a story in there somewhere, finally sifting through it all and finding it, only to be unable to write a satisfying ending. It takes a lot of hard work to make it look easy. But I absolutely love every part of the process and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

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Q: What makes your book stand out?

A: To tell you the truth, when I wrote it, even though I absolutely loved the idea and thought it was maybe the most clever thing I’d written, I was skeptical it would find a home. (My initial thought was that it would make a great Pixar animated short kind of like ‘Day and Night’). Among my own portfolio of books, it’s like nothing I’ve ever written. It’s a multi-layered concept book. First, it’s illustrating actual words as characters. And then those characters represent physical—yet abstract—locations. And on top of that, there is wordplay. It was kind of a head-trip to write. I knew it would take just the right editor to want to make it a book, and just the right illustrator (Christiane Engel) to pull off these illustrations. She did such a great job with a difficult task. I’m so glad it found the right home!

Q: What are your hopes for this book?

A: I have many hopes for this book. On a tactical level, I hope it helps teachers and educators explain to their students about the spelling of the words here and there, and the concept of here and there as locations. In addition, I hope it brings back letter writing as a form of communication. Maybe bringing back the idea of having a pen pal. So much is done on email and text these days. I got a good ‘old-fashioned’ letter the other day and I squealed inside. It shows the recipient that the person took undistracted time out of their busy day to think about me, write a letter, put it in an envelope, and mail it. It’s heartwarming to know someone has made an effort on your behalf. I hope kids get the wordplay and enjoy finding those instances in the text. Finally, on a story level, I hope it helps bridge the distance between people and families that cannot always be together—whether they are separated by military assignments, divorce, travel, schooling, financial reasons, or something else. Maybe in some small way it can help them know that even when they are physically apart, they are together in their hearts.

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Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?

A: This book was cathartic for me. The original story ended much like the story that is printed. But that’s not the ending I submitted. My critique group thought my first ending may be too sad, so I changed it to have a happier ending. But after working on it with my editor, we simplified the text even more, which streamlined the whole story and gave it more focus on letter writing. Then she suggested an ending similar to how I’d originally ended it, to give it more appeal to people who can’t be together all the time. I was so happy to go back to my original ending! It was in the process of going back and revisiting that other ending, that I was able to revise and come up with that sweet last line of the book—which, in my humble opinion, really brings the story home. If it weren’t for my editor asking me questions and pushing me, the story would not have had the same impact.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: I’m always working on multiple projects. Some get stalled to promote new releases or revise manuscripts under contract, but I would say that typically I have at least two ideas I’m noodling on at a time. It’s helpful to me to work this way because if I’m not feeling the love for one story one day, I’ll work on the other. Currently I have three picture books I’m working on and a middle grade novel.

 

Thanks, Sue. Ready to get reading and writing? To find out more about From Here to There, plus download a free postcard template, check out our website.

 

 

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Q&A With Sue Fliess