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Interview with Susan Berger, Author of Jamie’s Dream

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Susan Berger is the author of Jamie's Dream, a children's picture book on which she collaborated with her son. I was happy to have a recent opportunity to talk with her about her new book, about writing, and where you can buy a dream. 

Did you always want to be a writer?

No. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Then I wanted to be a nurse. (I was reading the Cherry Ames, Girl Nurse Series) Then I wanted to be a reporter. (I was reading the Beverly Gray, Girl Reporter series.) In my defense, I did not want to be everything I read. I never wanted to be an inventor (Tom Swift Series) or a detective (Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys) In my daydreams I wanted to be queen of the world so I could end all hunger and give all the orphans good homes. Then I wanted to be an actress. By this time, I was 12 and knew myself for a fickle person since I wanted to be so many things.

I did not want to be a writer. I knew I was a writer. I won my first writing prize at St. Cyprians School in Cape Town, South Africa in 1955. It was a very nice story about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. It began, "Far away in the land of Holidays, where no mortal child has ever been, lived the Easter Bunny…." I wish I could remember the rest of it.

In 8th grade, in Westport Connecticut, I had a poem published in an anthology of high school poetry. I suppose I wrote some more after that, but it must have been schoolwork. By the time I was in 9th grade, all my extracurricular activity was acting.
When I started to write again in 1992, the first story I worked on was Jamie's Dream with my son Christopher.

Tell us about your recent release. What was your inspiration for it?

I was attending the 1992 Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. They gave out an exercise. "Write about a saying as if it were real." (e.g., "There is a skeleton in my closet.") I chose "Buy a Dream". I came home and discussed it with Christopher. I asked him "Where would you go to buy a dream?" He gave me that LOOK that children give grownups when grownups are being particularly stupid. "Dream's R Us, of course" he answered.

And so our collaboration began. Chris was nine, but he was going to a school where writing was highly valued. His school mornings began with 20 minutes of creative writing. Then they read their work aloud. They critiqued each other, just as they did in my adult writer's group. He was a great partner. Over the next 12 years, Jamie was sent out many times. It was rewritten at least 16 times. Then Guardian Angel said they wanted to publish it. The joy of that moment is equaled only by the moment I first saw Kim Sponaugle's Illustrations.

What are you working on now?

This week I worked on Disasters Happen: Earthquake which will be published by Guardian Angel in 2008. It is a non-fiction book for the science series. It is aimed at first-third graders. (What causes earthquakes? Can we predict them? Where do they happen? How do we prepare for them? What to do during a quake? What happens afterwards.)

I am also working on a storybook called Brittany's Wall, (Needs a better title.) and a mid-grade chapter book called Tasha the Magnificent. Brittany is going into its 8th rewrite. Tasha is going into its 9th rewrite. I have contacted the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for a new critique group for Tasha. I find re-writing to be both drudgery and magic. When I finish a story, I am always convinced that I have written the best story I am capable of writing. It is amazing to see how much better it can become.

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

It is not your business to question your talent. It is your business to show up at the page. (Okay, it's short, but it's great advice.)

Do you have a website or blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?

http://jamiesdream.com links to my live journal and to mine and Christopher's IMDB.com pages. I am looking forward to making another website where I can list other books as they come out and link to other authors.

What is the IMDB?

It is the internet movie data base (http://imdb.com) It is a wonderful site. You can look up any movie or TV show and see the full cast and credits. You can also look up any actor and (hopefully) see what movies and TV shows they have done. I say hopefully because I cannot seem to get my Hannah Montana Episode added. I don't have a large Movie and TV resume. Most of my professional work is theatre.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers?

Andrea says to Melina in The Magic Violin, "I'll tell you what's magic – believing in yourself. That's magic!" Jamie says in Jamie's Dream, "But mom, you said I could do anything I believed I could do." I think Andrea and Jamie's mom give very good advice. May you always find the magic.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.