Susan Orlean

How did you become a writer?

I began writing -- that is, telling stories in written form -- when I was a kid, and never stopped. I began publishing when I got out of college, having lucked into a writing job at a small magazine in Portland, Oregon. Then I learned on the job. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)

My high school English teacher, John Heaps, made me believe I could write, and made me love reading and writing even more than I already did. Reading great fiction (Faulkner, Hemingway, Joyce) and great non-fiction (Wolfe, Didion, McPhee) made me dream of what writing at its best could be. My editors -- too many to name here -- have been great teachers, too, and I've learned something from all of them.

When and where do you write?

I write whenever I have a deadline looming, but my best time is mid- to late afternoon. I write wherever I need to be, but my favorite writing place is a little studio I built for myself about two hundred yards from my house. It's private and quiet and cozy and there are not that many distractions.  

What are you working on now?

I'm in the stage that's the most invisible to the observer: I'm thinking of new ideas. So I'm not writing or researching, but I'm percolating. I want to fall in love with a few story ideas and perhaps a new book idea.  

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I've been stuck, of course, but never experienced what would be called "writer's block." I have found myself confused about what I'm trying to say, and I've found myself tongue-tied because I don't really know my subject well enough yet, but I've never felt phobic or "blocked" when it came to actually writing.  

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write as much as you can; read as much as you can. Think before you write. Feel passionate about your subject or about the process of writing. Work hard. Have fun.  

Susan Orlean is the bestselling author of eight books, including My Kind of Place; The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup;  Saturday Night; and Lazy Little Loafers. In 1999, she published The Orchid Thief, a narrative about orchid poachers in Florida, which was made into the Oscar-wining movie, "Adaptation," written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, a sweeping account of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and a Notable book of 2011.

Orlean has written for Vogue, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Smithsonian, and has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1992. She has covered a wide range of subjects – from umbrella inventors to origami artists to skater Tonya Harding – and she has often written about animals, including show dogs, racing pigeons, animal actors, oxen, donkeys, mules, and backyard chickens. She graduated with honors from the University of Michigan and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003. In 2012 she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Michigan. She lives in upstate New York and Los Angeles with one dog, three cats, eight chickens, four turkeys, four guinea fowl, twelve Black Angus cattle, three ducks, and her husband and son.