SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Children’s book author Susan Lubner has lived in Southborough for 17 years, but she grew up in Bangor, Maine, not far from fellow writer Steven King.
Bangor is the setting of Lubner’s first middle-grade novel, The Upside of Ordinary. The story is told by eleven-year-old Jermaine, who dreams of becoming a famous Hollywood star and decides that the best way to get there is to make a reality show about her family.
The book, which is out now, has already earned critical praise. "This debut novel offers an amusing lesson on the downside of reality television," writes Kirkus Review.
Lubner started writing for children 18 years ago, and published her first story in Spider Magazine seven years ago. In addition to The Upside of Ordinary, she has also written or co-written three picture books.
Lubner sat down with the Daily Voice this week to discuss her most recent work. Note: This interview has been edited for length.
DV: Why did you choose to aim your book at this particular age group?
SL: I think when you’re this age—it’s really geared toward 8-12 year olds—you have a lot of ideas. It’s a really creative time for some kids. I think mostly the voice of Jermaine was just that age. The story line came from the character I had in my mind, and she happened to be eleven years old.
DV: How do you get into the mindset of writing from such a young point of view?
SL: She’s not really based on anybody in particular. However, I do get inspiration by being around my own children, who are not eleven, but who were at one time eleven. I also think our eleven-year-old selves don’t leave us entirely, so we have the benefit of reaching back on some memories of what it was like to be enthusiastic, when you’re a little naive of somethings and your expectations are a little more innocent.
DV: Where did you get the idea for a story about reality TV?
SL: I was inspired to write this story because our culture today seems to be obsessed with fame. I do watch reality TV too; I’m not so much fascinated with the people who watch it. But there are some pretty outrageous shows out there, and I’m just assuming that people are participating because they’re looking for fame and they want to be on TV. And I’m fascinated by the lengths that people will go to just to be on TV.
Honestly, one day I was in the kitchen cooking breakfast for my kids and there’s the ‘bleep bleep bleep’ on TV and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is this stuff?’
Sometimes, with all this crowded fascination with fame, I—as a mom and just as somebody who enjoys the small things in life—was inspired to write the story because I think we can sometimes get distracted by what’s really nice about our own simple lives.
DV: What’s your favorite reality show?
SL: I like Cupcake Wars and the cooking shows, and—once in a while—the Real Housewives of New Jersey.
But you should really be reading.