Susan Woods Golder Educator, Children's Author, Poet
Interested in learning more? Here are some questions I’ve been asked during school visits and book signings.
How long have you been a writer? I have always loved to write. When I was in 3rd grade, I wrote a story in which I used some onomatopoeia. I don’t think I even knew what onomatopoeia was, but somehow it made its way into my story. Did you ever hear of that? My teacher really liked that I used words to suggest sounds, like the “boom and crack” of the thunder as a storm began and the “splish-splash” of my boots hitting the puddles afterwards. Later that year, my teacher asked me to write a poem as a gift from our class to the principal who was retiring. I guess I’ve kind of felt like a poet ever since. I love the beauty and the power of words.
Is Once Around the Lake the first thing you’ve published? No, it’s not. Over the years, I’ve published many articles related to my work in education, and, a few years ago, I wrote a chapter for a book about school scheduling. Once Around the Lake is my first children’s book, though. It’s been so much fun to take a “small moment” (just one day on a lake in Maine) and capture the magic of that moment for young listeners and early readers.
What’s your favorite kind of writing? I love to write poetry. Trying to “catch” a moment or an experience with words that are “just right” is challenging and fun. When I was writing Once Around the Lake, I often awoke in the middle of the night with a “just right” word to use in my story. One 3:00 a.m. inspiration I had was the adjective to describe my illustrator’s art … that word was “splashy.” When you read the book, you’ll understand why that was the best description of his pictures! Sometimes, I sit with my journal or at my computer for hours working on words that are clear, precise, beautiful or just plain fun. Did you notice that Odie always has a pad and pen with him? Good writers are never without their tools!
When you write, what is your favorite subject? Nature and our connection to it is often a focus for my writing. One of my favorite naturalists is John Muir. He says, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” I couldn’t have said it better than that! When I go on aimless walks through the woods or quiet paddles, I am filled with wonder and driven to write.
Odie and Max’s adventure in Once Around the Lake invites children to get out and play and to discover the inspiring lessons that nature provides. To do that, we have to slow down and just take in our surroundings, kind of like the turtles do in the story!
Our teachers always tell us we have to revise and edit. Do you?
I sure do! My little 30 page children’s story was a year’s worth of work. Some of that time was devoted to organizing and arranging the book. Most of my work, though, involved choosing words, developing the rhythm and rhyme, and making lots of changes to improve the story, or paint visual pictures with my words. I was very lucky to work with Dan Traynor. He is the artist who drew all the illustrations for my book. He also likes to revise until he finds the “just right picture” to delight readers.
Once Around the Lake is written in rhyme. Do you always write in rhyme?
Many people have asked me why I chose to write this story in rhyme. There are a couple of reasons. First, I like the challenge of creating rhythm and rhyme. It’s difficult, but rewarding when the stanzas come together with the right blend of syllables. Have you learned about that yet? Speaking of stress, writing in rhyme can also cause the writer a lot of stress!
My second reason for choosing rhyme for this story is that it takes place mostly on water where Odie and Max canoe. Have you ever paddled a canoe? To me, there is a beautiful rhythm in paddling around a quiet lake and I wanted to suggest that peaceful and rhythmic mood for my readers and listeners.
Finally, the story chose to pour itself out in rhyme. After I wrote the first stanza, there was no turning back. I knew it was meant to be in rhyme. Sometimes, I have to just let my pen flow and not think too hard. Try that sometime! Close your eyes and think of a topic and then just free-write for five minutes. Don’t stop. Just let the words pour out. You’ll be amazed at what you can do!
Do you have a favorite author? I have several favorite authors. I studied literature in college so I could go on and on about my favorite authors and poets. I absolutely love Robert Frost’s poetry. He is one of my muses! Did you notice the word “muse” at the end of Once Around the Lake? Did you know that a muse is someone who inspires you? Who is Odie’s muse? Why?
Where do your ideas come from? Everywhere! Most often, though, my ideas come when I let my mind be still. Many times, that happens when I’m in the middle of the lake in my kayak or on the top of a mountain that I’ve hiked. I also get lots of ideas for my children’s work by watching my grandchildren in action. Children are such keen observers. When I see them pause to wonder about a butterfly landing on a flower or a moose print in the mud, I think, "Hmm ... can we capture the magic of this moment in words?"
Do you ever get bombarded with ideas as you do simple things like walking down the street or sitting on a playground swing? I do and that’s why I always try to have a notepad with me to “capture” the moment. Simple moments are great opportunities for writers!
What’s your favorite part of working with children? I love everything about working with children. I always wanted to be a teacher and I chose to be a teacher who could surround herself with the beauty of language and literature everyday. Over the course of my career, I taught middle school and high school students. Later, I taught teachers and helped schools figure out ways to include writing in all their grades and programs. My favorite part of working with children is helping them grow as readers and writers. When I visit elementary classrooms, my goal is for children to experience good writing and gain confidence in their own ability to write. Most importantly, I want them to have fun as they practice and develop their skills.