Sue LaNeve


Today, Sue LaNeve, author of Spanky: A Soldier’s Son joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author!  It wasn’t until after she was out of high school that she found out people considered her popular!  In addition to being an author, Sue is a ship’s captain. We’ll let Sue tell you the rest of her story.

How did you get started writing?

Tough question. Kind of like catching a soap bubble.  When I was growing up, the notion that I could ever become a writer, let alone the author of an award-winning book, seemed idyllic, unreachable. I used to play within my imagination, creating a zillion scenarios in my head. I just never committed those “stories” to paper. 

Do kids still exchange notes that say, “Do you like, love, hate. . . (followed by a list of names)?” We did and often. The anticipation of the answers was fun, but they also made me wonder. What if so and so is telling someone’s secret? Or what if that person ends up liking me but I don’t like them back? What if the teacher reads the note (and the answers) to the class?

What if. . .fictional stories would suffocate without those words to inspire them.  Those what if moments and memories bring my stories to life.

Growing up, I guess you could say I had a writer’s heart but not a writer’s identity.  I’ve found articles I wrote for a summer camp newspaper as well as some personal journals. After college, I wrote proposals and grants and all kinds of other boring things. My first manuscript was a how-to book for stay-at-home moms. Still, I didn’t see myself as a writer. After completing a creative writing course, an educational publishing company hired me to write biographies for schools. I produced dozens of them. I also began to write children’s stories. By then, my brain acknowledged I was writing. But it took becoming part of the writing community to convince my heart. (Well, that, and a Master’s Degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the prestigious Vermont College of Fine Arts. I still pinch myself that they accepted me.) So now when someone asks me what I do, I’m able to say, “I am a writer,” and not feel like a total fraud.  

Who influenced you?

I had many teachers and mentors, including famous children’s book authors who coached me. But my greatest influence was not a real-life person. My inspiration came from within the stories I read. They included characters I despised or with whom I truly connected, story endings that made me sad that I’d reached THE END, setting descriptions that painted pictures in my mind, making me want to reread them before moving on, aha moments stories silently affected in me. My influences also included forgettable, one-dimensional characters, plots that seemed to go nowhere, boring, laughable words. Both influences clarified what I hopefully would or would not repeat in my writing.

Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?

No. I’ve been asked this often and have thought about it many times. Here’s what happens. As soon as I pick a favorite book, an hour later, I think, “Wait. What about . . .I loved that more.”  There are so many extraordinary books containing amazing characters in places I love to be taken and about themes that interest me. Picking one would be like going to an enormous penny candy store with millions of containers holding colorful treats, but having only one cent to spend.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?

Read. Read. Read. Read. Decide what you like and what you don’t prefer. Keep a journal. You’ll refer to it later, I promise. Become a spy or a detective and observe people and places. Look for interesting details. Eavesdrop on conversations to hear voices and the way people actually speak. If a blank page/screen tries to convince you that you have nothing to say, start with that sentence.  Close your eyes and type or write “I have nothing to say and here’s why.” Or “Today, I will only write one sentence. Just one.  One detail about a character. I’ll write about the shoes she’s wearing and why she picked them. ” Doing this will remove the block and likely reveal something you’ll want to use. I promise.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I live on a boat. When we are in cruising mode, I cannot write—there are too many interesting or necessary distractions. So I like to write when we are at anchor or in port. I love writing retreats, or writing in libraries and coffee shops—there’s something about the group energy that inspires me.

What else would you like to tell us?

I am also a Merchant Marine Captain who lives aboard a trawler, M/V Freebird, currently docked in St. Petersburg, FL. I’ve been skipper or navigator, traveling from the west coast of Florida, around the bottom of the state through the Keys and all the way up to New York harbor. I’ve grown to love this life so much, I doubt I’ll ever want to live on land again. People always ask, “Why haven’t you written the epic sea adventure?” I guess I’m just waiting for the perfect, what if question to inspire me. I definitely have some exciting memories.

Sue, thank you very much for spending six minutes with LitPick! You are the first Merchant Marine Captain who is an author that we have had the pleasure to interview!

Teachers Common Core Guide to SPANKY: A SOLDIER’S SON:


Spanky: A Soldier's Son won the Military Writers Society of America Bronze Medal for Children's Books KIRKUS REVIEWS: An endearing novel; may inspire young readers to find the hero in themselves. Spanky McDougal, a spirited middle schooler, must overcome bullies and self-doubt in LaNeve’s debut novel. For a middle schooler, Spanky McDougal has a lot on his plate. He just moved to Florida and started a new school where he must contend with bullies and crushes. The hardest part is that his dad is about to be shipped off to war. With his mother unable to cope, Spanky must learn to help her. But he’s still a kid, and he’s mired in a kid’s tribulations. Mack, an overgrown bully, makes Spanky’s life miserable; Jazz, a beautiful classmate, captures his heart; and Dar, a dorky know-it-all, is his only real friend. To top it off, Spanky volunteered to help out on the annual camping trip, an ordeal in itself. LaNeve’s coming-of-age tale strikes a wonderful confidence-building tone for young readers. Spanky’s distinct, honest voice engenders empathy. Best of all, LaNeve doesn’t shy away from dealing with complex issues like war, bullying and depression. The compelling Spanky has one major flaw that many kids will completely understand: Every time he has a chance to prove himself, he freezes. He can’t stand up to Mack and can’t save his teacher when she collapses, even though he knows CPR. But the mysterious and magical substitute teacher Ms. Badu just may have the power to help not only Spanky, but Mack too. The novel comes to a tense conclusion during the camping trip; Spanky might finally get the chance to prove his worth to everyone and himself. LaNeve leaves her young readers with an important message: It’s better to talk about your problems and get help than let them overwhelm you



Academy Women’s OWLS Symposium invited author

Military Writers Society of America Bronze Award:

Summer reading list:


Sue LaNeve

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