Today I am interviewing author Suki Wessling!  Suki is a writer of widely published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.  She has worked as a college English teacher, small press publisher, graphic designer, and journalist.  Since becoming a reluctant homeschooler when her younger child was in kindergarten, Suki has been writing about homeschooling and gifted children, with an emphasis on serving the emotional and academic needs of unusual learners.  Her book, From School to Homeschool, was published by Great Potential Press in 2012 and serves as an introduction to homeschooling for parents seeking alternative educational approaches for their children.  Suki wrote her second book, Hanna, Homeschooler because her child wanted to read a chapter book that wasn’t about school.  Her latest book, Homeschool with Confidence, is a goal-setting guide for teens.  Read more about her books at www.SukiWessling.com.  Suki teaches writing, literature, and education classes for children and adults in person and online at Athena’s Advanced Academy.

 

Thank you for chatting with me today, Suki!

Thanks for inviting me!

 

Before we get farther into the interview, could you tell me a little about yourself?

I grew up in a small town in Michigan, daughter of two PhDs. I was a straight-A student….but I hated school! I ended up dropping out of high school to attend a special program at the University of Michigan, then went on to get degrees from Stanford and University of Michigan. I moved to Santa Cruz, CA, to live with my husband, who has a graduate degree from Stanford, and for us, intellectual life has always been very important. This explains what I used to say: “I like school!”

It wasn’t until my second child challenged me to rethink things that I realized that in fact, you can be a good student who doesn’t like “school.” I loved learning, but I didn’t feel inspired and challenged when I was at school. Once I started homeschooling because my younger child had behavioral difficulties in the classroom, I came to realize what I was: a homeschooler!

I got very involved in my homeschool community and ended up helping to start a still-thriving homeschool co-op. Eventually my second child came home, too. He just graduated as a homeschooler and will be attending UC Berkeley this fall.

I love learning, but I feel that the emphasis on one-size-fits-all is a relic of a time when humans didn’t know better. We know better now. Let’s act on that knowledge.

 

How many stories or works do you have published to your name?  This could include works published under another pen name, if necessary.

My writing life is split in half: pre-kids and post-kids. Pre-kids I had numerous short stories and poems published in literary journals and anthologies. I had a few very close calls at getting a novel published, but I ended up abandoning that pursuit for a variety of reasons.

My post-kids writing life started when I wrote an article for our local family magazine. I found that I really enjoyed writing for parents about parenting and education, and sort of fell into journalism by accident. I wrote numerous articles for local and national publications on the topics of parenting, health, education, academically gifted children, and homeschooling.

My first published book was called From School to Homeschool and was published by a press that specializes in gifted education and psychology. I had met the publisher at conferences I’d attended, and he was familiar with my work through gifted publications I wrote for. They had published the wonderful homeschooling book, Creative Home Schooling, which had been extremely helpful to me. I had noticed that the homeschool community was seeing more and more families with academically gifted kids leaving the school system, and many had a similar set of questions. The National Association for Gifted Children also published a short book I wrote on homeschooling.

My next book, Hanna, Homeschooler, was inspired by my younger child. One day, standing in front of the chapter book series at our library, my child demanded to know why chapter books were all about school. Hanna was my answer to that.

My newest book, Homeschool with Confidence, is based on goal-setting work that I’ve done with my own children and with my students at Athena’s Advanced Academy, an online learning community for homeschoolers. Again, I realized that all the goal-setting books out there were very geared toward school kids, and I wanted to create something to fill that hole.

 

What is the approximate reader age range for your books?

From School to Homeschool is for adults. Hanna, Homeschooler is for ages 5-10, though younger and older children have reported enjoying it, too. Homeschool with Confidence is for pre-teens and teens, though I let people decide for themselves what age that really means!

 

Are you self-published or traditionally published?  What made you choose this publishing route?

Both of my most recent books were self-published. I had run a small poetry press in my pre-kid days, and I realized that I had all the skills to do it myself so I might as well do so. That’s been a fun part of the process, too. We’re big on DIY in our house.

The thing about homeschool books is that traditional publishers just don’t understand the market. They don’t know how to price things for homeschoolers (as cheap as possible!), how to reach homeschoolers, even how to define homeschoolers. So I don’t think it’s surprising that so many homeschool books are published by small presses or self-published. It’s an unusual market (one that I love and am part of!).

 

To you, what is the most difficult part of the writing/publication process?

The business side, no doubt. I love all the creative stuff, which includes everything from the writing to the editing to the layout, the design…even creating the marketing is fun. But the business end just doesn’t interest me, and I know I’m pretty bad at it!

That said, I prefer doing the business side myself to dealing with the publishing industry with niche books. I just don’t think that they have a handle on how to reach niche readers. Authors go through a lot of misery trying to get publishers to take their books, then find that their book is tossed out there like an unwanted orphan! If I had a more mainstream manuscript, I might go back to working with the industry, but for my homeschool books, I think self-publishing is a better choice.

 

In general, there are two kinds of writers.  There is the writer who believes their characters have minds of their own and can hijack their story.  Then, there is the writer who believes their characters must behave as they are written.  Which of these writers are you?

Ah, the former! That’s what I’m like as a parent, too. From birth, I considered my kids their own people. I was going to help them grow up healthy and teach them about making reasoned choices, but I was never going to be able to mold them into the people I wanted them to be. Same with my characters. They walk onto the page, and though I know that I can add/subtract details that will help define them, they are usually pretty demanding that I give them space to be themselves.

 

What is your favorite social media outlet for reading readers and engaging with your target audience?  Which network do you find most helpful for growing your audience?

I mostly use Facebook and my blog to connect with adults. I also have a blog for kids, KidsLearn, where I write about ideas I have about learning for a youth audience. I love to interact with kids, but I find that it’s best to try to interact with the youngest ones in person. I did a young homeschooler’s radio show once—I’d love to do more things like that. I have a Goodreads page but I haven’t done much with it, I have to admit.

 

How old were you when you first started writing?  When did you realize this was definitely something you had a passion for?

I was an avid reader from a very young age—I can’t actually remember learning to read. The first fiction I saved was a dystopian novel I wrote on purple notebook paper in the third grade. I was ahead of my time! Who knew dystopian fiction would be all the rage when I was 40? I guess I always knew I wanted to be a writer after that, though I’ve always had other pursuits, too.

 

Other than writing, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

I am an avid musician. I sang for years in classical choral groups, and more recently I perform (sing and play guitar) jazz in a duo with a percussionist (another homeschooling mom—you can listen to us online here!). I love to cook and that’s been a huge part of our homeschooling. I walk a lot—we live with redwood trees in our backyard and the ocean a mile away the other direction, so we have lots of nature around. My teaching isn’t a hobby since I (usually!) get paid, but it’s an important part of my creative and intellectual life.

 

Who are some of your writing inspirations?  Can you give me a favorite quote that keeps you motivated?

I would have to say that in children’s writing, hands-down, the writer who inspired me most was Beverly Cleary. Ramona was the only girl in kids’ fiction who seemed at all real to me. Of course, I was growing up before the explosion of great kidlit that kids have to choose from these days. Back then, my other favorite books were all classics like Anne of Green Gables or Frances Hodgson Burnett books.

I’m not big on collecting quotes, but my 14-year-old asked me for one not long ago when he was making me a gift in clay studio, and I quoted the 80’s cult film Buckaroo Banzai: “Wherever you go, there you are.” You have to make the most of wherever you find yourself. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, only you can change that.

 

Say you’re talking to someone new to homeschooling.  How would you describe it in order to interest them in the concept?

I let them know that each and every homeschool is unique. Unlike schools, which are more alike than they are different, each homeschool is born of the unique personalities of the kids, the parents, the family unit, and the community it’s taking place in. This means it isn’t for everyone: Some people really do prefer their food packaged, their entertainment predictable, and their clothing unexceptional. Those of us who end up loving homeschooling tend to have something a bit unusual inside. It’s not that we’d look different to the casual observer (well, ok, here in Santa Cruz many of us do look different to the casual observer!), but that we have something inside us that makes us willing to strike out on our own.

I don’t believe that homeschooling is the approach for everyone, but I believe it’s an important option that we offer in modern education.

 

What would you say has been your most memorable moment in your writing career thus far?

There have been so many—I’m not sure I could pick one. What I think of is the people: All the really fascinating adults and teens I’ve interviewed as a journalist, all the thoughtful and concerned parents I’ve worked with, the funny, smart, inspiring kids I’ve written with and read to. For me, writing is all about communication. Those moments when I feel like I’m connecting with other people are the most special to me.

 

Thank you for being with us today, Suki!  I wish you the best on all your future writing endeavors!

Thanks! This has been really fun. I really enjoy your website and I’m honored to be part of it.

 

If you’d like to know more about Suki and her published books, I highly encourage you to visit her website.

If you have read this book, leave a comment to let our visitors know what you thought of it too!

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