Lesson Plans Of Her OwnPublished: April 1, 2014
English’s Suzanne Greenberg saw her new novel Lesson Plans named as one of the Library Journal’s Spring Picks in February in anticipation of its May publication by the Pasadena-based Prospect Park Books. Plans also was praised as “witty and insightful” in a recent Reader’s Digest article titled “7 Great Books from Small Presses that are Worth Your Time.”
“I’m really excited about Lesson Plans and its publication this spring,” said the member of the university since 1995. “It was such a boost when Reader’s Digest chose Lesson Plans as one of their favorite new books from independent presses. And, as a Library Journal Spring Pick, it will reach librarians all over the country. This is a novel for adults that revolves around home schooling in Southern California. It depicts the struggles families have in deciding how their children will be raised. It takes a sometimes funny look at the choices parents make on behalf of their children.”
Humor has always played a role in her writing. “I really like humor,” she said. “It is a natural element in my writing and I use it even in serious situations because there are serious moments when you find yourself laughing. It is just the way life is. This doesn’t mean the novel is a comedy. There is an underlying seriousness where characters are in danger. There are scary parts and sad sections but alongside both is humor.”
Prospect Park Books is a California publisher of both print and digital books focusing on fiction, humor, cooking/food and regional titles. ”I feel really happy about Lesson Plans, finding a home with Prospect Park Books,” said Greenberg. “It has been a long process. There were many “near hits” along the way. I feel lucky that I found a great agent who believed in the novel.”
Greenberg explains she wrote Lesson Plans without taking a stand for or against home schooling.
“I don’t, in fact, really have a strong opinion about home schooling. It’s just intriguing and works as the background for a cast of characters,” she said. “The main characters are David who home-schools three daughters while his wife works as a successful attorney. Beth, separated from her husband, Keith, home-schools her 7-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who has allergies, some of which are life-threatening, and which cause her to miss lots of school. Beth stumbles into home schooling. Then there are Winter and Patterson with their twin boys. Patterson has a religious impulse to home school his kids. These parents meet in different ways and conflict ensues. “
When Greenberg first became interested in the home-schooling sub-culture, she discovered a paradox.
“Despite its insular reputation, the world of home schooling seemed paradoxically really social to me,” she said. “Since the kids don’t go to school, they meet up with other families at special events. Home schooling is not about being at home for these families. There is a variety of reasons why families home school. I found it interesting to spend time with characters who were with their kids all day without that separation of school.”
As a winner of the 2003 Drue Heinz Literature Prize for Speed-Walk and Other Stories (a $15,000 prize accompanied the recognition—the collection came out in paperback in 2013) Greenberg is a successful short story writer. “I enjoyed the chance to write a longer plot,” she explained. “I felt freer when I didn’t have to wrap it up in 20 pages. A lot of writers end up having to make cuts. I have the opposite problem. I had to force myself to expand.”
Another challenge was making drama out of the domestic front. “You have all the elements of war when you are with kids all the time,” she laughed. “These may not be grand dramas but they are no less serious for that. These are the small dramas of getting kids out of bed on time. There is the drama of going back to work after having kids. There is plenty of conflict.”
The mother of three saw her self-mage as a parent change after writing Lesson Plans. “I never saw myself as the kind of parent who is always right,” she said. “I always have been impressed by confident parents who seem to know what to do. They know the right pre-school and high school and college for their kids. They know how to discipline. As it is, I parent primarily by instinct. But being a parent gave me all the right settings for the book, whether that meant playgrounds, ice skating rinks, parks, zoos or aquariums.”
Greenberg enjoyed setting her novel locally. “I placed the story in the neighborhoods where I live and spend time, such as Belmont Heights and Los Altos,” she said. “There are scenes in Sunset Beach and Laguna Beach and even Irvine. It is a very Southern California novel complete with Santa Ana winds. All I had to do was look out the window and use my imagination.”
Greenberg received her B.A. in English from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland.
Greenberg warned aspiring novelists to be ready for rejection.
“There was nothing about the publishing process that was easy,” she recalled. “You may think you are prepared for rejection but you are not. There will be more than you think. You need the right person with the right manuscript on the right desk at the right moment. There are so many factors including serendipity. What is needed is what your grandmother may have called stick-to-it-iveness. You need keep writing and, when it comes to publishing, to persevere.”