Sue Gano is a Pacific Northwest writer who enjoyed her career as a social worker but loves writing much, much more. She is a memoirist whose gritty, gutsy work has been published in Voice Catcher Journal, Six Hens Magazine and the upcoming April issue of the Pithead Chapel Journal. Sue’s writing often explores the sometimes painful parent/child relationship and how that tenuous connection shapes us as adults. She is most proud of her work with women and children, helping them towards breaking negative cycles in their own lives as well. Sue has several long term projects on her writing shelf, they include a collection of personal essays and a book about her mother who ran away from home when she was fifteen and joined the circus, eventually marrying the elephant trainer.
Sue has studied creative non-fiction at the Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon. A self-proclaimed Anglophile of the highest order, she does her best thinking paddling a kayak on the peaceful Willamette River. Sue is new to Twitter. Help her get started @SueGanoWriter.
----------interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
WOW: Super excited to have you here today Sue - thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down and chat! I enjoyed your essay as well as the opportunity to learn more about your writing.
When you aren’t communing with nature, where do you write? What does your space look like?
Sue: After being a city girl all my life I moved out to a rural area about ten years ago. My “office” currently is the dining room and when I am seated at the table, I am surrounded on two sides by big windows that look out at a variety of different trees and our deck where my potted plants lure hummingbirds and butterflies. It is very peaceful and inspiring. There is no way I could write at the library or a coffee house. I am too curious about people and their behaviors (it comes from being a social worker.) My mind starts to wander and I start wondering ‘What kind of breakfast sandwich did that man order’ or ‘Where did she get those shoes?’
WOW: Thank you for your honesty - it's sounds like your space is absolutely perfect for you!
In reading your bio, I have to say that your mother sounds absolutely fascinating; please tell us how family has played a role in inspiring and encouraging your writing as a memoirist? What advice would you give to others who might be a bit timid about memoir because of the reaction of friends and family?
Sue: If my mother were alive today and I brought up the conversation we had in the hospital room where she told me I was a delight as a baby, she would most likely brush me off, admitting or denying she had said that. If she knew that I had written an essay about it and that the essay placed in a writing contest and was published, well I’m not so sure she would be very happy about that, but I portrayed her in my essay as I saw her, not as she saw herself.
Memoir is about your truth, your memories, your experience emotionally and physically to an event. If you sit at a table with five of your family members and you all begin to talk about the time Uncle Willie lost his balance and knocked over the Christmas tree, everyone is going to have a different take on the event. Some might say he had been drinking too much egg nog, another might say he didn’t really knock the tree over, it was just slightly crooked for the rest of the night. But how did you, the writer feel about it? Did you think it was funny or scary? Did you worry that maybe Santa wouldn’t want to leave presents under a crooked Christmas tree? As a writer, it is all about you and what you took from the experience. It belongs to you.
WOW: That is a great way of putting it "I portrayed her as I saw her, not as she saw herself." I love that!
What advice would you give to other writers toying with the idea of submitting their work to a writing contest?
Sue: Move outside your comfort zone!!! It’s fun. This was the first time I entered a writing contest, and for me it felt very much like submitting your work to a literary journal or magazine. You put together that perfect piece of writing, format it as requested and hit the send button, yes the dreaded send button. You then wait and check your computer sometimes way too many times a day for a decision. Your contest essay will be judged, just as an editor judges whether or not your work fits into their publication.
A friend told me about the WOW! Nonfiction Essay contest and after reading many of the essays on the website, I instantly felt this was a great place to enter my first contest. I look forward to entering again sometime in the future.
WOW: Thank you for submitting and encouraging others.Speaking of the future, what’s next for you? What are your writing goals for 2018 and beyond?
Sue: Writing goals! Arggghhhhhhh! My external and internal struggle! My main goal for 2018 is to continue to submit well-crafted personal essays with the hope that they will find their way into print.
For a long term project, I have been working on a memoir that focuses on a three year period in my adult life when I began working with a mental health therapst to address childhood trauma. The relationship that grew between myself and my therapist allowed me to dig deep within me, deal with past experiences and put them in their proper place so that I could live a rich and fulfilling life. As my therapist said during our last session together “Your past experiences will always be a part of you, but you don’t have to be defined by them any longer.” That was very freeing.
My other long term project is a book about my mother (who else?) She ran away from home in 1938 at the age of fifteen, joined a circus that had been through town and married the elephant trainer. She never contacted her family again nor did she ever tell us about this period in her life. After she died I did some research and discovered she had a huge family back in Indiana. I went back there and met Aunts, Uncles and a whole slew of cousins. They were very sweet people. Yes, my mama was a crazy lady!!!!!
WOW: We could fill another interview with questions I have about your mother and the circus, but I have a feeling we will be doing that in the future. Add me to the list of people wanting to read your upcoming book!
Was it difficult coming up with a title for your essay? How did "The Rule Breaker" come about?
Sue: Usually I have such a difficult time coming up with titles for my essays. I write furiously to get the words out, revise and edit and edit and edit and then once it is just the way I like it and I am ready to submit, I realize I don’t have a title. Lately I have started to write down on paper key words, emotions, descriptors that make up my essays. Then I play with those words, moving them around, putting them together until, almost subconsciously, I come up with the title that is the perfect fit. That is how I got the title The Rule Breaker.
Sometimes, something comes out of left field and a memory gets jarred loose from its cozy spot in my brain. That is exactly what happened with The Rule Breaker. For some unknown reason I was reminded of the conversation I had with my mother while we sat in my father’s hospital room, essentially waiting for him to die. I recalled the intimate setting; the dimly lit room closed off from the world, the sounds of my father’s labored breathing and my mother’s smacking of her lips. Mostly, I remembered the physical feeling of her sitting next to me and the awareness that the moment was unusual in my life experiences with her. It somehow gave me the courage to break the rules, ask questions about our relationship, be willing to suffer the consequences which I ultimately did.
WOW: Well Sue, it was difficult to limit this interview to just a few questions - you're a great guest! I could sit and chat with you all day. Curious though if you've given any thought to the title of your book about your mother; you'll have to keep in touch and let us know!
Thank you for your insight and inspiration and congratulations again as one of the runners up in the WOW! Women on Writing Essay Contest!
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