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May 6, 2013

Ellen Sussman: Going for It

Posted by tom

Ellen Sussman, whose latest novel is THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE, was never encouraged by her parents to be a writer; they had other ideas in mind. But they did remind her constantly that she could do anything and told her to “go for it.” The confidence that they instilled in her helped her through some very tough times during the early stages of her writing career. Now, every time a new book of hers is released, Ellen always thinks about her mother, who sadly passed away before any of her work was published.

I did not grow up in a house filled with books. I wasn’t encouraged to be a writer by my mother. Truthfully, she thought the whole idea was kind of crazy. She thought I was so good at arguing with her and everyone else when I was a kid that I should become a lawyer.

But I decided to become a writer when I was six and never ever veered from that crazy course.

Where did the idea come from?

I’m not sure. I loved reading and I wanted to write stories like the ones I read. And so I did it, for years and years. I have a pile of rejection letters that’s 12 inches deep. And I still kept at it.

Here’s where my mother’s influence comes in. My parents weren’t college educated; they weren’t intellectuals. Sports were big in my house. In fact, they focused more on my possible career as a tennis player than they did on my interest in writing. But there was one message that was delivered forcefully almost every day of my life: Ellen can do anything.

My parents thought I was smart and could take care of myself. They knew that I was interested in things that didn’t capture their own imaginations. Their message: Go for it.

And somehow they made me believe that I could do anything. In my 20s, when writerly fame and fortune didn’t fall into my lap as I had dreamed, I just worked harder. I never faltered. I was made to believe: Ellen can do anything. And I hung to that belief, even in the darkest of times.

My mother died before any of my work was published. Every time a new novel comes out, I think of her. I so wish I could place my book into her proud hands. I didn’t have a mom who edited my work or shared favorite novels with me. But I had a mom who made me believe in myself. That’s the true stuff of which writers are made.