PALABRAS: Suzan Colón, Yoga Instructor and Author of 'Beach Glass,' Is Fearlessly Creative
This article is part of "Palabras," the Latin Post Latino Author Series.
Suzan Colón, yoga instructor and author of inspirational memoir "Cherries in Winter," is a Manhattan girl through and through. Yet, her writing takes readers to myriad places.
Raised by a single mother in New York's classic neighborhoods, she grew up on the Upper East Side (not the rich part) and the Upper West Side (before it became upper class), as well as the Bronx. Colón was a latchkey kid who arrived home hours before her mother. Afternoons were filled with homework and television, but a pivotal moment in her life came when the television broke and there was no money to fix the TV. This unwittingly set her toward a future in writing.
"We were living paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes not even," Colón told Latin Post. "Sometimes it was pay the phone bill or buy food, and we'd always buy food, of course. There was no money to fix the TV, and certainly not enough to get a new one. I asked my mother, 'Well what am I supposed to do until you get home from work?' and she said, 'Go to the library, get a card, and take out a bunch of books.'"
That thought had occurred to Colón, after all at that age she liked books, but she didn't love books. She didn't fall in love with books or discover love for the written word until her television broke. As a tall gangly child with buckteeth, thick glasses, and a shy and awkward nature, reading gave her company. She wasn't particularly outgoing or sporty, but she did have a burgeoning fascination for reading.
"I discovered what reading could do -- transport me," said Colón. "Certain writers, through the written word, could either take me to another world or help me understand my own. They could entertain me, educate me, and give me a backbone. It was incredible what could be done with the written word. It was around that time a friend of my mother got us a new TV as a gift, and I was relatively uninterested."
The author ferociously devoured books like "Jaws." However, she never read "Babysitters Club," "Nancy Drew" or any books deemed too "goody two-shoes"; her mind was set on dangerous things. Yet, when it came to her own early attempts at writing (a children story about a teddy bear with a pet goldfish) stories would go unwritten because typing was far too difficult. Instead, she opted to follow in the footsteps of her father, who was a cartoonist, and pursue a career in art.
"Writing was basically done through assignments in school, and I enjoyed it but I still didn't think of it as something I could or should do," said Colón. "I still thought that I should focus on art, so I went to art school. However, art school has a funny way of kicking the desire to be an artist right out of you if you couldn't survive critique and I couldn't. So I went to business school. At the time, that was the equivalent of going to technical school, where you would learn how to type shorthand. It basically prepared you to be someone's receptionist of secretary, but I did learn how to type really fast."
As a student at Fordham University, Colón acquired an internship at the publication Star Hits, gaining the opportunity to interview icons of that time: Billy Idol, Duran Duran and Tears for Fear. Colón was one of the first American journalists to interview the U.K. group Wham! Eventually, she was appointed Associate Editor, and made the decision to leave Fordham.
Colón's associations with the pop music magazine and the music industry led to an opportunity to write an unauthorized biography for the musical group RATT, a heavy metal band that was successful during the late 80s. Although she only received a small fee for the book, she was published, albeit under a different name.
Approximately 10 years later, "Smallville" debuted on TV and become a hit show. A friend of hers who worked at DC asked her if she was interested in writing a YA novel based on the series.
"Although it was a small fee, I was being paid to write fan fiction," said the author. "You could get a script and novelize it or you could come up with an idea and it got approved. Based on the one original concept, they let me do two more concepts. I created new characters, and I knew enough about the existing characters from my comic book background to keep the integrity intact. That was one of the best times in my career."
Although those books were praised, she didn't have the confidence to choose novel writing as her chosen career, so she stuck with magazines. She continued with writing, ventured into technology, and she was hired on Oprah Magazine.
Then the recession hit. Banks were failing, financial institutions were collapsing, and it was terrifying. The magazine industry was hit hard. As one of the last people hired at Oprah Magazine, she was one of the first people to be let go, although they kept her on in a freelance capacity. Nonetheless, the market was suddenly flooded with freelancers, and she knew that she wasn't going to get a full time job in that climate. That economic downturn led to an exploration of her family history and the development of her memoir, "Cherries in Winter."
"I suppose I could have gone back to school and learned how to become an accountant or hairdresser, but I don't think I would have be very good at that," said Colón, who is also licensed yoga instructor and recently created an app called Take a Yoga Break. "I was talking to my mother about meal planning. There was no more expensive take out; I had to watch every penny. My mother said, 'You should find your grandmother's recipe files, she has all those great recipes from the depression era and the World War II era.' So, I found these recipes, and I started making them with my mother ... and she began telling me the family history. As I listened to it, I heard in the microcosm of our story, the macrocosm of everybody's story because everybody has in their family heritage, or hard times.
"Everybody has been through much worse than what we'd been experiencing during the great recession, which was pretty bad. I was very frightened about the future, and I needed someone to tell me everything would be all right, but nobody, nothing was saying that except my family history because we had been through worse and come out okay ... and possibly stronger and more resilient. I thought, that's what everyone needs to hear. It was a combination of recession therapy with comfort food."
Five months after finishing her book, she had an agent; two months after that, her book went to auction and Random House won.
"Cherries in Winter" is an emotional book, featuring the struggles and triumphs of her family members. It was an altogether draining book to write, and for that reason, she wanted the following book to be light and fun. Then, idea for "Beach Glass," her latest novel, came to her after a visit to the Jersey Shore.
The ending for the romantic novel "Beach Glass" was shocking to many, because the author had done the unspeakable -she'd killed off the hero. Agents and publishers alike were resistant to the ending, and just one publisher was brave enough to publish the title, explaining that she could keep the ending if she could justify it.
While many enjoyed the bittersweet end, it was met with some dissatisfaction. Shockingly, the author did what many writers might not have done ...she changed the ending, writing a 'special fan wish fulfillment addition of 'Beach Glass' with the alternate ending that everyone wanted.
Colón explained, "When multiple people tell you the same thing and their not in cahoots ...not just your mother, but publishers, agents and fans tell you this plot point is not working, you should consider it. I still like the original version, but I also like the alternate ending."
During the interview, the certified yoga instructor shared that yoga can bring her closer to a writing project. After spending time on the yoga mat, ideas come to her because she's no longer worrying, no longer thinking and no longer trying to be a writer. She's just her.
"I know to be a more effective writer I have to get away from the computer," said Colón. "Some people like to take a walk, some people like preparing dinner ... chopping meditatively, it can happen for me when I'm drawing ... I can get lost in the technical aspect of drawing, but yoga is something I can do on autopilot and that really frees my mind up. All of a sudden it's like someone showed me what I needed in front of my face ... and then I have to jump up and run to my computer. It's so reliable that I often keep a notebook next to my yoga mat."