Author Susan Coll Faces Her Fears

Today we welcome Susan Coll,who lives in Washington DC and is the author of four novels. Her latest, Beach Week, takes aim at overzealous (fine, nutty) suburban parents, who are trying to control a summertime rite of passage for high school seniors. Susan’s previous book, Acceptance, was made into a Lifetime movie starring Joan Cusack. She is a three-time Beach Week survivor. Please visit Susan’s website for more information and to read her blog.

Susan, welcome!

Confessions of a Social Mediaphobe

Let me stipulate, first, that I am not a technophobe! I love my gadgetry, am as annoying a blackberry addict as they come, and am proud to be considered the family tech support geek—my kids have even called me from college on occasion to remotely diagnosis their computer woes. My secret fantasy life involves wearing a black t-shirt, adopting a certain imperious attitude, and pretending to work the genius bar at an Apple Store. I’m on-line virtually every minute of my wakeful day, and I have a Facebook page, a blog, a fan page and twitter account that was set up for me by a hopeful book publicist, which I’m afraid to use. Actually using any of these networking tools gives me pause; hitting the “publish” button on a blog post, or even commenting on a friend’s Facebook status, produces far more anxiety in me than hitting the send button on a new novel.

The absurdity of this dawned on me during a recent Q&A for Beach Week. Beach Week is a comedy about how a certain suburban high school right of passage that involves a senior trip to the beach throws one family into chaos, and puts pressure on an already fraying marriage. In the opening chapter, I have a line about how the wife wishes she could go to beach week, herself. She means this both in a sort of longing, middle-age-malaise, wishing-for-something-more kind of way, as well as in an if-she-could-only-go-back-in-time kind of way. It was one of those sentences that wrote itself, one of those rare soulful moments of novel writing that turned into a nice, easy riff, as the protagonist turns nostalgic for all things beachy—sand castles and jellyfish and crabs served with Old Bay seasoning. It helped establish her character, and beyond that, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought.

“Were you a Beach Week chaperone?” the interviewer asked.

“God, no!” I replied, laughing.

“Did you want to be one?” she continued.

“No,” I replied, still amused by the seeming randomness of the question.

“Aren’t you worried that someone will read the book and think this is you?” she asked.

I said that I wasn’t, but heard myself becoming weirdly defensive. I’ve written a social satire, I wanted to say, not a memoir. Ask me about the parenting rituals of highly educated, affluent, suburban parents. It’s about bad parenting. It’s sociology with a plot. That’s what I wanted to talk about!

Of all of the many things that keep me up at night as a novelist (the crap shoot of reviews, sales figures, the abrupt end to this beloved, still fledgling career) that readers might psychoanalyze me has never been among my fears, which I suppose is kind of strange given that I tend to write about family life in terms that must sound very close to the bone. Yet because I’m always careful to protect my family, and have never published anything that I haven’t asked them to vet, first, this is not among the things I fret about.

But this brief exchange with the interviewer got me thinking about my timidity as a blogger, and my FEAR OF FACEBOOK, which I’m slowly forcing myself to conquer. Although I coax myself to post something on average of once a week, (and as I type this, I realize it’s now been closer to three weeks since my last post) it always feels daunting, even if it needn’t be more than a couple of paragraphs. And it’s not about the time or the work involved—I have far less problem cranking out a chapter of a novel than coming up with a five-sentence blog post. Why is it that I can write in a pretty edgy way about love and marriage and family, and in Beach Week even toss in a little sex and porn, and yet to blog about new DC parking regulations (yes, I’m blogging about parking!) feels weirdly personal? It’s simply about the line between fact and fiction, I suppose. One medium is about me, the other is simply stuff I’ve made up about people who do not actually exist. As egotistical as novel writing is, at its very core, it’s not personal. Facebook, twitter, blogging—that’s all me, raw and unplugged. And while I enjoy, enormously, the delightful facebook posts my friends create (good status updates are an underappreciated art form, a poetry of sorts) it’s not a forum in which I’m well versed, myself.

I’m working hard at this—unlike people who describe themselves as Facebook addicts, who are trying, like they’re in rehab, to log off, I’m forcing myself to log on.  And I keep resolving to be a more prolific blogger. It’s a form of communication that is here to stay, and it’s a useful exercise, one that is slowly helping me tone a new writing muscle. Next time I write on your Facebook wall, please know it wasn’t on a whim. More deliberation may have gone into my giving you the thumbs up that photo of your cute dog, than on the plot of my next book.

7 Replies to “Author Susan Coll Faces Her Fears”

  1. Susan, first of all, I’m really looking forward to reading BEACH WEEK. My time as the parent of a teenage girl was very special, frightening, but special. Some days I miss it. Mostly I don’t. 🙂

    I can’t do all the social media either. I know you present the case for needing to in your profession and I’m sure that’s true. For me, blogging is about the limit for what I want to do. I have friends who use Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else exists out there, but for me, texting is a challenge. I love blogging though. And it is a little slice of my life presented in a public way. Well, I didn’t mean to run on and on. Best of luck to you with this new book!

  2. I really enjoyed this post, Susan! Congrats on Beach Week and thank you very much for appearing here at the Ball.

  3. Hey thanks for the warm welcome! And always nice to know I’m not alone on this, although since writing this essay I’ve become a touch bolder. I’ve wcwn posted two facebook comments in the last 24 hours! Maybe this public confessional was cathartic…

  4. Susan, I can completely relate to your post. My first book is coming out in a month, so of course, I’ve done all the requisite establishing of an online presence: website, Facebook, blog. Problem is, my last blog post was in March! Like you, I think to myself, “I can write an entire novel, but I can’t crank out 250 words once a month? What’s wrong with me?” And when I do manage to write a post, I find it most comfortable if I’m reviewing a book or making a list–anything but talking about myself. I mean, there’s a reason we write fiction, right? I’m glad to hear it’s not only me, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading Beach Week!

  5. Thanks for stopping by the ball. I strongly dislike FB myself, but not because I don’t want to update…because there is so much going on there I get sensory overload. Also, every time I figure out how it works, they change it! I feel your FB pain.

  6. Susan,

    I found myself nodding vigorously with your post. My first novel is coming out next spring and while I’ve enjoyed writing personal essays, I’m learning that it truly takes different muscles to post FB updates. Your post got me thinking that FB updates from my novel’s characters might be interesting… “had a great time evading Nazi capture in Paris sewer today”. Yikes. Good thing they didnt have to worry about regular FB updates in the 1940’s.

    Looking forward to reading Beach Week.


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