YEM Author Interview: Susan L. Reed chats about writing a book that touches on mental health

Susan L. Reed is the author of Mermaid Tears. Mermaid Tears helps young readers understand struggles with their mental health and provide essential resources to help them—and there’s no such thing as normal. The book follows Sarah who is a hard-working student, a good friend, a kind daughter, and a creative soul. YEM was able to speak with Susan about her writing inspirations, how long it took to write Mermaid Tears, and what the writing process for Mermaid Tears looked like.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first realize that writing was something you wanted to do?

Susan L. Reed: I have always loved books, and writing for my own pleasure, from a young age but being a middle school librarian I wanted to branch out to publishing at the middle grade level.

YEM: Mermaid Tears touches on mental health and struggles that can come along with it. What made you decide that it would be about that?

Susan: Middle school is a tough age. There are so many pressures on kids, and because of my profession I wanted to reach out and help those who are struggling, especially in areas I do not see well covered in middle grade fiction.

YEM: Is writing a book on a topic such as mental health something that you knew you wanted to do or did it just happen organically?

Susan: Writing on the topic of mental health has always been a desire, especially since after over 40 years as an educator I see an increasing number of kids struggling in this area.

YEM: Who are some of your writing inspirations?

Susan: Authors for kids that I really enjoy are Peter Brown and his Wild Robot books, Victoria J. Coe, Elly Swartz, and Jarrett Lerner. My favorite author for adults is Robert B. Parker. Several of the covers for his books were created by Andrea Ho, who also created the cover for Mermaid Tears.

YEM: Do you have a book that made you fall in love with literature?

Susan: The book that made me fall in love with literature as a child was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. My teacher read it aloud to the class, and I loved it so much I read the other books in the series immediately afterwards. I have since reread them many many times.

YEM: How long did it take to write Mermaid Tears

Susan: Writing Mermaid Tears took over four years, which included about eighteen months working with my amazing editor, Jennifer Rees. Jennifer has years of experience working with Scholastic authors.


YEM: What advice do you have for those who also want to become writers?

Susan: Surround yourself with the best editors and learn from them. Always be open to their suggestions, and be willing to learn.

YEM: What is the message you would like your readers to take away from Mermaid Tears?

Susan: “There is no such thing as normal.”

YEM: What does your writing process look like?

Susan: To create the first draft of the story I outline main events for each chapter on post-it notes which I stick to a board. This helps me to build the flow of the story. I can move events around as necessary, as well as adding and deleting when I come up with new ideas. From here the first draft goes to the editor, and based on their input I begin to make changes.

YEM: What was it like writing for the character of Sarah?

Susan: In many ways Sarah is me, so it was a somewhat healing and therapeutic experience creating her character. I could feel her pain because it was my own pain. I wish the writer I am now had been able to help the child I was then, so I really hope this book will help other kids in pain.

YEM: In your opinion, how do younger people struggle differently with mental health than older people?

Susan: There are so many pressures on young people to be like their peers that it is difficult to feel different, to not understand why, and to want to be ‘normal”. Young people often also have much greater difficulty reaching out to someone they feel they can trust for help.

YEM: Do you have a line or a scene in Mermaid Tears that is your favorite?

Susan: The Epilogue is what I hope people will take away from Sarah’s story. To truly believe that “normal” has no meaning. To be able to embrace ourselves for who we truly are. To accept others in the same way. This is what makes the Epilogue my favorite part of the story.

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