Born and raised in Grand Haven (Michigan- USA), Suzanne now lives in Japan (Tokushima Prefecture) with her husband and twins. Here she arrived in 1988 to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, which places native speakers into English classrooms in Japanese public schools.
SUZANNE - As a child, I loved reading. I read all the time. I remember reading at family gatherings, which was probably considered rude and antisocial, but no one stopped me. I lived in a small, conservative town in Michigan, yet because of books, my world was large.
SUZANNE - No one in my family told tales much, but my mother took my brother and me to the library from a very young age. Also, my mother always read to me before I went to bed. I believe that I owe my love of books to her.
SUZANNE - I like to think of myself as a novelist. I'm most passionate about writing fiction for young adults and adults, but I do enjoy other forms. I think that writing for children is very difficult.
SUZANNE - In Japan, conformity is valued. I've heard over and over that Japan is a homogenous country, and it seems to me that the needs of minorities are often ignored. This can make things difficult for us, because our family is quite diverse. My son, especially, sometimes feels that he doesn't fit in, although he was born and is being raised in Japan, and has never lived anywhere else. I don't fit in either, but for me, my outsider status gives me a certain amount of freedom, which I like. No one expects me to fit in, so why bother trying?
SUZANNE -Like the father in the story, my husband is a very busy high school baseball coach. My son asked me to write a story about playing baseball with his father, and Playing for Papa was the result. He wasn't overly thrilled with it at first, because it's mostly about a boy wanting to play baseball with his absent father, not about actually playing. Also, I was driven to write about a bicultural family much like my own so that my kids could find themselves in a book. There are very few books in Japanese about non-Japanese people in Japan. The United States is very diverse, but most picture books published in Japan seem to presuppose that everyone is the same, everyone has the same experiences and abilities. I can't think of a single Japanese picture book that features a child with a disability, or a child from another culture. And yet I know many children in Japan who have disabilties, and I know many children who have at least one foreign parent. At first, I thought a family like mine was too marginal, or too unusual to appeal to readers from different kinds of families, but then I started to read Allen Say's books. His family was also quite multicultural, and quite unusual, and yet his stories touch many people.Finally, the Japanese have a reputation for being xenophobic, yet imagine if they were exposed to diversity from a young age - if only in picture books.
SUZANNE - Japanese fathers tend to be very busy, which puts a lot of pressure on mothers. My own husband works seven days a week, sometimes twelve hours a day. Sometimes Japanese men live apart from their families, because it's too much of a hassle to move kids from school to school after a job transfer. I spent a lot of time with my father, and I think most American kids spend more time with their fathers than Japanese kids do. I think that a lot of Japanese men become estranged from their children, because they never see them. That's a huge difference. Japanese kids also spend a lot more time studying than American kids do. Academics are very important from a young age. I feel kind of sorry for them. I think it was Rudolf Steiner who said that play is children's work, and I agree. I'm always very happy when my children play imaginatively, or when they are outside in the fresh air using their bodies, but my Japanese husband frets that they aren't studying enough.
SUZANNE -Yes. In the United States, there is a saying: "It's not whether you win or lose that matters, but how well you play the game." I think that good sportmanship is more important than winning. And I think that the love and support of a family can always make us feel better at the worst of times.
SUZANNE - Japan is one of the most literate countries in the world, if not the most literate. Kids love to read here. There are lots of libraries and bookstores. Manga (Japanese comics) are very popular, but kids also read a lot of novels in original Japanese and in translation. Americans are notorious for not publishing and/or reading books in translation, but Japanese adults have access to many books from around the world. So although Japanese books tend not to show diversity, translations often provide a window to other cultures.
SUZANNE - There seem to be quite a few young adult books featuring disabled characters these days, which is heartening. And there are also some books "explaining" disablities, but there are very few children's books featuring kids with disabilies in more or less normal situations. I think many people don't like to think about disability because it seems depressing, or because they are afraid of disablity. But ignorance breeds contempt.
SUZANNE- I think that if children - and adults - are regularly exposed to people with disabilties in books, movies, TV shows and real life, they will be more accepting and tolerant of those who are different. But I think they need to be exposed to people with diverse backgrounds engaged in ordinary activities. These days, there are a lot of Middle Eastern terrorists in American movies and on TV. Americans need to see more movies about ordinary Middle Easterners doing ordinary things.
KABILIANA - Suzanne you are mother of two children one with special needs. Special children need special parents, do you think that being creative and in your case, being a writer helped you in rising your children ?
SUZANNE - I think that writing about my feelings and experiences raising a child with special needs has helped me to make sense of them. From reading novels, we can develop empathy for people who are different from us. Writing from the point of view of a disabled character or a bicultural character, also helps me to empathize with my children. I think it's also good for them to see me writing. My daughter is just learning to write, but she often draws picture stories, where she is the heroine in a wheelchair. By example, I think I have taught them a way to express themselves.
SUZANNE - I think that if a person really wants to write, she will find the time. You can write anywhere. There's a lot of waiting time in motherhood - waiting for kids to finish soccer practice, waiting for dance lessons to be over, waiting for the pot to boil - and you can use those ten or fifteen minutes to dash off a page. The other great thing about motherhood is that it provides a lot of material. My children are my greatest muses.
SUZANNE - Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham ,Child of Dandelions by Shenaaz Nanji, Ghosts for Breakfast by Todd Terasaki.
SUZANNE - Yes, definitely! I've got some stories cooking.
SUZANNE - Interesting, surprising, challenging, perplexing, fun.