Saturday, February 25, 2017

0 Susin Nielsen, author of OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST, on writing with joy in your heart

We're thrilled to have Susin Nielsen join us to chat about her latest novel OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST.

Susin, what was your inspiration for writing OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST?

I don’t know why I started toying with the ideas of guilt, and shame, and blame. I notice I like to sometimes dig into behavior and situations that I’ve tended to look at in a very black-and-white way, because of course nothing in life is ever black and white, and I think it’s a novelist’s job to explore the grays. Also, I wanted to try my hand at a novel with slightly older characters, and attempt a realistic portrayal of first love. I’ve never forgotten Judy Blume’s “Forever,” which did that really well. It was important for me to depict a positive and consensual first-sex experience too, because I’m not sure it happens very often in YA fiction, yet it’s a part of life for many young people.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

This was the hardest book I’ve written to date. I’m not sure why. It was the first time I’d written under a two-book deal, this one being the second “unwritten” project, and I felt the psychological pressure in ways I didn’t expect. I got a load of editorial feedback on my first sh*tty draft. I remember I immediately dove into the second draft with a vengeance, which on the one hand was a good thing – no rest for the weary – but I wrote it with this really angry attitude (not at anyone in particular, certainly not my editors! If I was angry with anyone, it was with myself). Like, “I’m gonna wrestle this effing thing to the ground.”

And you know what? That was not a good headspace from which to write. The book did get better … but for the third draft, I wrote with joy in my heart. I reminded myself every day how truly blessed I was to be able to do this, and get paid for it no less. And that joy shone through. I finally felt I’d truly cracked it. So I learned to try to always write with joy. (It does not work all the time!).

What advice would you pass on to other writers?

It’s been said before by many smarter writers, but I really do believe it: Put your bum in the seat. Treat it like a job (or a part-time job if you have another job to pay the bills!). Writing is not about waiting for the muse to strike. Also, read.

What are you working on now?

I’m just waiting for editorial notes on the first draft of a new middle-grade novel, the working title is No Fixed Address.


Optimists Die First
by Susin Nielsen
Wendy Lamb Books
Released 2/21/2017

Award-winning author Susin Nielsen has written a laugh-out-loud and heartrending novel for fans of Robyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means and Cammie McGovern’s Say What You Will.

Beware: Life ahead.

Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is anything but wild. A former crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula shut herself off from the world after a family tragedy. She sees danger in all the ordinary things, like crossing the street, a bug bite, or a germy handshake. She knows: life is out to get you.

The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class with a small group of fellow misfits. Then a new boy, Jacob, appears at school and in her therapy group. He seems so normal and confident, though he has a prosthetic arm; and soon he teams up with Petula on a hilarious project, gradually inspiring her to let go of some of her fears. But as the two grow closer, a hidden truth behind why he’s in the group could derail them, unless Petula takes a huge risk. . .

Purchase Optimists Die First at Amazon
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View Optimists Die First on Goodreads


Susin got her start feeding cast and crew on the popular television series, Degrassi Junior High. They hated her food, but they saw a spark in her writing. Nielsen went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit TV show. Since then, Nielsen has written for over 20 Canadian TV series. Her first young adult novel, Word Nerd, was published in 2008 to critical acclaim. It won multiple Young Readers’ Choice Awards, as did her second novel, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom. Her third novel, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, was published in August 2012. It went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award, the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year Award, and a number of Young Readers’ Choice Awards. Author Wally Lamb named it his top YA pick for 2012 in his “First Annual Wally Awards,” and recently Rolling Stone magazine put it at #27 in their list of “Top 40 Best YA Novels.”

Her books have been translated into multiple languages. Susin’s new novel, We Are All Made of Molecules, will be published in Canada, the US and the UK in Spring of 2015. She lives in Vancouver with her family and two naughty cats.


Have you had a chance to read OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST yet? Do you ever feel like you're trying to wrestle a draft to the ground? Are you treating your writing like a job? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,
Emily, Jocelyn, Anisaa, Sam, Martina, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, and Lori Ann

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