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2012 Twenty Questions Interviews : Susan Hornfeld

20 Questions Interview
with Susan Hornfeld

Writer and Storyteller


1. What's your name?

Susan Mason Hornfeld.

2. Where are you from?

I was born in Atlantic City New Jersey, but now live in Michigan.(I still consider myself a Jersey Girl.)

3. Who are you today?

I am exactly who I am supposed to be, a person who is no longer working to live, but living to work.

4. What do you do? (Elevator speech)

I write. I get up in the morning filled with the answers to the questions I asked my subconscious to work on overnight. Because I am older, I feel some urgency to get my thoughts down before they desert me. Though I do some consulting, I resent it. Though it is important work, it interferes with my real job, writing. When I am not writing I read, overhaul tired rooms in my house, hang out with my dog and shop. I used to shop malls, but now I haunt recycle centers for the thrill of repurposing someone else's abandoned junk.

5. What's your story (how did you get here)?

I worked on the school paper, feature page, never news which I judged to be too dry. I was a good writer, so good that a high school teacher was convinced that I plagiarized an assignment. Luckily the newspaper faculty advisor was the head of the department and rescued me from every writer's nightmare. I won the English award in high school, but never really wrote in any concentrated way until this year. It always scared me to read that writers are compelled to write, because it made me feel that I wasn't a real writer. I don't subscribe to that now.

6. Why is creativity and writing important to you?

I have found my voice. I wrote journals for years and spent eight months working on a novel. But telling stories is just part of what makes me, me. I collect diaries of women living in the 19th century because I'm interested in knowing the minutia that made up their lives. I want to do the same for women looking back to my time. My stories are just days in the life of a totally ordinary woman.

7. When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?

I was always called a "creative." My school district was considered "underprivileged" and so some of us were asked to participate in a multi-year program that would now be called a School for the Arts. I thrived. It was the only place at school where I felt like I belonged; surrounded by other people who never worried about running out of creative ideas.

8. How did you embrace it?

I wrung every single drop of creative play I could from the experience. The curriculum called for every student to experience all aspects of artistic expression at least once. When called upon to act as narrator on stage for a play we had written I froze, forgetting even the words that I had written myself. Yep, I was a behind the scenes type of girl.

9. How did that feel?

Sometimes it felt like that choice made me invisible. I collaborated on writing the class song with a musician who composed the music while I wrote the words. Since only one of us could lead the class in the song at graduation, Laura was chosen. It would have been fun to conduct 700 students and the band, but I couldn't have done it. So I sat in the audience, with approximately 10 people knowing I had written the words, and wishing I had a little, "Front of the house" in me.

10. Where has your journey taken you?

Because I wasn't doing what I think I was meant to do all along, I just fell into my first career; moving from job to job, higher and higher. But, I advanced in mental health administration because I was creative. Free of the narrow margins that confined most people I was a strong problem solver, creator of innovative projects, and just generally more fun than most mental health professionals. When I founded my own agency I accomplished dozens of fantastic things that I could never have done inside the system. One day I woke up and realized that it wasn't fun anymore and within a few months, I was out.

11. What challenges have you faced?

Have you noticed that creative people bore easily? Well, that was me. Unless I was on some white knuckle Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, life was a snooze. So I dreamed up projects that were hard to get funded, hard to implement, and challenging from start to finish. But mind-numbing boredom crept in ten minutes after the task was complete. I'm afraid as the top dog in the agency I ended more than one meeting with a sigh and one word: "boring."

12. What worked for you?

I used my creativity in other ways. I did grant applications that were almost always funded (33 million over my career). When people asked me how I did it I told them three things: follow directions, answer the questions and tell one hell of a story. The passion that I felt for the homeless, addicted, mentally ill people we served, spilled out onto the three pages you were permitted to tell the story. I was a story teller, after all.

13. What didn't work for you?

The parameters of the stories I told were limited. No fairies in homeless service creation. I became tired of the reality and spent three years working on a fairy tale book for my niece, in my spare time. She was nearly an adult by the time I finished. That wasn't working for me. Thinking back, I heard myself saying that I doubted that I had the discipline for writing a novel. I have blossomed writing short pieces, so it's entirely possible that I was right.

14. What three tips can you share with those starting on a similar path?

Don't wait. Don't listen to the statistics, and don't ever, ever, ever bury your creative spark to fit in.

15. What are you working on now?

I had trouble with the discipline of writing with no deadlines, none, nunca, neit. I just couldn't settle into a structured writing schedule. So I came up with the idea of doing a blog, (I did not know how) tied to Mary Engelbreit's Page-a-Day Calendar; Life is Sweet. The anxiety I feel about writing every day, the fear of falling behind gives me the push to just do it. I don't know what's next, but I do know that my writing is improving and I know more about myself than I ever thought would have guessed. I would like to send out the "Daughters of Ends Gate" a modern fairy tale, but I can't seem to make it happen. It is a beautiful little self-published book that I should probably set up on some e-books site, but (again) I don't know how. For now I have decided to just keep writing and worry about what to do with it all later. How's that for a fuzzy plan?

16. What's coming up for you in the next year?

Well, I will be doing Mary Engelbreit every single day until December. I asked her office for permission to use the illustrations in the calendar and to my surprise her assistant called me. He said they talked for two straight weeks about how to collaborate with me, but just couldn't work it out. I was floored. So I think I will send her a selection of pieces and see if I can tempt her to do a little book using her illustrations, my words. I have a novel in the works, but time is ticking away. As far as taking the next step, perhaps I will find a promoter who can help me get out of my own way. I am thrilled to be invited to be a guest author on Creativity Portal. It feels like I am, once again, surrounded by people who are just like me. That is rare.

17. What else do you desire/dream to do?

I would love to write travel articles. I have what my Dad calls,"Your Grandmother's wanderlust." It's true. I can't think of any place I wouldn't want to see. I think I could get a unusual take on it. It would be rewarding to invite people into a real armchair experience through little stories that most people miss on twelve day tours. I want to bring home the little gems that make travel special and that TV travel can never replicate.

18. How will you make that happen?

Hmmm. Good question. Sure could use some ideas. If I understood technology better, I think I might have a chance, but education in social media would be a first step.

19. What question would you like to be asked (or are just itching to answer) that's not on this list?

That's easy. I wish someone in the know would ask me, "What can I do to help you become a published writer?" The answer, which would come without thinking about it at all would be, "Teach me."

20. What's your Web site and blog addresses?

My site is not surprisingly called: My daily journal at that site is: Mary Engelbreit's Princess of Quite a Lot.