Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Special Author Interview & Book Review with Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar, Author of Little Miss Teacher


Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar is the debut author of Little Miss Teacher, a novel about a young woman growing up and learning her way through her first year of teaching. The author gave me the time to answer a few questions I had for her and I hope you enjoy the interview; and after reading the interview, please check out my review of her first novel.

Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar is currently on a blog tour, hosted by Chick Lit Plus (CLP) Blog Tours. Than you so much to both Ms. Sachar and CLP for offering me the opportunity to read, review and interview Ms. Sachar and Little Miss Teacher. For previous blogs and her next stop, please visit her page at Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours.
           
Q. As a high school English teacher, yourself, how autobiographical is Little Miss Teacher?

COS: I believe that all writers provide insight into their lives and personalities through their writing.  From my title and content, it's pretty obvious that I looked to my career and experiences for some of my inspiration.  I'm well acquainted with life inside a high school, and that's part of the reason I gave Candace the job of a teacher; I knew I could make it realistic, and I've read several chick lit books about young women starting out in various careers.  We've read about fashionistas and nannies, so why not write about a young teacher?  Everyone has some idea of teachers, since we've all had them, but Candace's story isn't just for teachers; in some ways she's an Everywoman, struggling to find herself as she begins her "adult" life.  I definitely based a few of Candace's classroom adventures upon some of my own as a new teacher (including that first memorable scene... THAT was awkward!).  Still, though, Candace is not Cassandra, and I haven't modeled any single character on a real person. This is something I had to tell some of my students who read the book:  It's a work of fiction!            

Q. Who (or what) have been some of your influences on your path to becoming a teacher? A writer? Do you prefer one craft over the other or do you think you will always do both?

COS: Even before I learned to write, I was a writer.  My mother and I created these fabulous little books; I would draw the pictures and tell her how the story went, and she would scribe my words.  I have her to thank for helping me develop my talent and passion in both reading and writing.  I have folders full of early writing attempts: poems, short stories, a few ill-fated one-act plays, and several beginnings of novels.  I knew I would write a book someday, and I have always thought of myself as a writer, even when life is busy and I don't take the time to write.  When I'm not writing, I mull over ideas for my next project.  As for teaching, I never really expected it.  During my senior year of college I finally realized that I had no real plan for a career after graduation.  Many other English majors have been drawn to teaching for the same reason as I was:  love of the subject.  My friend Joe, who was an English education major, suggested that I turn to teaching.  I graduated with my degree in English and spent the next year gaining teacher certification.  For someone who never saw herself as a teacher, my profession has fit me beautifully, and I have thrived working with teenagers.  I'm currently pursuing my doctorate in education, so I see myself teaching for a long time.  I use my summers off to focus on my writing.  I can't say that I prefer one over the other:  I am both a writer and a teacher.   

Q.  I read that you also published a mystery book for middle school readers called The Hidden Diary. What made you take the leap to women’s fiction or chick lit? Do you have a preference for one genre or another?

 COS: I love mysteries and young adult literature, but I love my chick lit as well.  I actually haven't published The Hidden Diary yet, but it's ready for publication.  Since it's only available as an eBook, I've held back on releasing it, as I'm not sure that the age group does much reading at way (I've been meaning to research this as soon as I have time!).  I feel comfortable in both genres; I like reading and writing both.  Although many authors stick with one age group, sometimes I'm in the mood for one kind of writing over the other.  If there's an interest from the public, I'd love to spend another year in the classroom with Candace as a more experienced teacher, but my current project is a collection of scary short stories for middle grade readers.     

Q. As a teacher, you play an instrumental role in the lives of adolescents who are transitioning into the next stage of development. Little Miss Teacher plays on this theme of struggle and growth as well as its main character, Candace, who is also going through a transitional time in her life. What type of advice do you have for students and/or readers? Would you want your students read your book?

 COS: My advice for students and readers is to allow yourself to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it.  Too many of us walk around wearing masks, hiding our feelings and pretending that everything is fine when it's not.  It's okay to cry, it's okay to mess up, and it's okay to get help.  Look at Megan (in Little Miss Teacher):  by not dealing with her problem, it got totally out of hand.  As for students reading my novel... it feels a little funny, like they're seeing me in my swimming suit or something!  I didn't tell my students about publishing Little Miss Teacher, but they found out anyway, of course!  Due to the adult nature of parts of the novel, I would feel a little awkward about recommending that students read it, but I am proud of the book as a realistic depiction of a young woman's life. 

Q. I read on Smashwords that you enjoy many extracurriculars – in addition to your family, pets and two careers. How do you find time for it all?

COS: I am really good at time management!  I try to multi-task; I make to-do lists and grade papers while I'm waiting at the doctor's office or during my daughter's soccer practice.  When I'm on the elliptical machine or exercise bike, I do my school reading.  Still, though, I allow myself time to just relax.

Q. What do you love most about being a teacher? Least?

COS: I love seeing students blossom as writers.  So many students hate writing and/or think they're bad at it; I try to change their perceptions.  There's nothing like seeing students discover that they have the ability to write.  Teachers love their jobs because it's an amazing feeling to impact students and help them find the potential within themselves to succeed.  I'm not so crazy about grading papers... the stacks are endless! 

Q. What do you love most about being a novelist? Least?

COS: I love the creative process.  I start with a kernel of an idea and watch it grow into something so much bigger.  I really started caring about Candace as I wrote about her, even though (obviously) I knew she wasn't real.  She became real to me, and I hurt with her when she was rejected; I felt proud of her when she succeeded.  My least favorite part about writing is the publishing process.  All those rejection letters start to sting after a while, which is why I finally decided to publish Little Miss Teacher as an eBook.  I was sick of having a finished manuscript, a book I was proud of and wanted to share, simply on my hard drive with no one to read it.   

Q: Do you have a certain routine to your writing? A daily schedule? A favorite room, laptop, table, writing tool or anything else?
COS: When I'm focusing on a project, I force myself to write five pages at least every other day.  The pages might be great, or they might be terrible, but they'll get done, and that's the method that helped me finish my two novels.  I believe heavily in the revision process; the book you read is vastly different (and much better) than the one I completed almost four summers ago.  I can write anywhere- in fact, Little Miss Teacher traveled to New Orleans and Tucson with me, since I didn't want a vacation from it when I took my vacations.  I wrote part of the book in my grandmother's living room while she watched TV.  I always write on a laptop; when inspiration strikes me, I'll jot down ideas on little scraps of paper, but I always type my "real" writing.

Q. If you could “teach” wannabe writers out there one thing, what would it be?

COS: Just do it- just write.  It doesn't matter if it's terrible; you can always revise it later.  I've heard so many people say, "I should write a book," but they never do it.  Whether or not you get published, I think that the creation itself is worth it.  If you never even try, how will you know what you can accomplish?   

Q. What is something that most people wouldn't necessarily know about you (that you would be willing to share here, of course!)?

COS:  I was published for the first time when I was in high school.  My 12th grade English teacher recommended that I submit an essay I wrote for his class to a literary magazine called Merlyn's Pen.

Thank you so much to Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar for taking the time to stop by Lip Gloss and Literature, answer my questions and allow me to review her fantastic debut. If you would like to learn more about the author, her book or anything else, please visit her on Facebook page.


And now, for my review of her debut novel, Little Miss Teacher.


Little Miss Teacher by Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar


Little Miss Teacher was a really enjoyable debut that gave readers an inside glimpse into the first year of teaching through the eyes of Candace Turner. What I loved most about this story was the change over time and growth. In the first chapter a student proclaims to Miss Turner, "I can see through your blouse", horrifying Candace; and by the story's end Candace is able to stand her ground when, in the library, a young African American student, boldly accuses her of being a racist for asking her to adhere to the rules of the library. The transformation of character and the growth Candace shows is quite admirable to watch and look back on.

Candace’s first year in teaching is nothing short of a nine-month long roller coaster ride in education. Candace meets and goes on a date with a seemingly suave male teacher, who turns out to be a little too smooth for her liking. Luckily nothing too serious happens and it just becomes one of her lessons learned. She’s given the opportunity (and responsibility) of going on a business trip to New Orleans to learn about a new teaching program being implemented at other schools, where she must attend conferences and speeches, take notes and then present the material back to her own school administrators upon her return. Her teacher friend and confidant convinces Candace to chaperone her first prom, where she is the only adult there who gets all dressed up in a shiny new dress, circa Prom 2010. After prom, and to Candace’s embarrassment, she learns just how quickly social networking and photography can damage your self-image when a student posts their picture from the dance on Facebook. Candace deals with many self-image issues, naturally, being the teacher of so many teenagers, but one particular issue comes as a shock when best friend and roommate confesses to a serious eating disorder. Later, Candace must also deal with the heartache and pain of losing her dream crush, Charlie.  It’s definitely a school year to remember.

Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar provided a very detailed description of every character and each scene. As a reader, I felt like I was right alongside Candace, starting out as a teacher at a high school and just beginning to enter the real world of work, love and friendship. I thought it was really smart, fitting and cute how the author set up each chapter as a “Lesson” learned and then proceeded to detail one event or situation after another. The story, overall, read very true to life. It makes one wonder about the divide between fact and fiction. I would love to read another book by Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar. She definitely did her homework in writing this book!
3 STARS

3 comments:

  1. Great Q&A! I might just have to check out one of her books! Her writing advice is really helpful.

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  2. Great Q&A and advice from Cassandra! Thanks for the review Cathy!

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  3. Thanks, Cathy, for the review! _Little Miss Teacher_ is available as an eBook from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Smashwords!

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