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“Lesson Plans” Is Latest Offering From English’s Greenberg

Published: June 17, 2013

English’s Suzanne Greenberg recently signed a contract for the 2014 publication of her latest novel Lesson Plans by the Pasadena-based Prospect Park Books.

Her novel about adults dealing with the challenges of homeschooling offers a change of pace from Greenberg’s previous two novels aimed at children, Abigail Iris: The One and Only and Abigail Iris: The Pet Project, written in collaboration with English’s Lisa Glatt.

“They were fun to do, and I’m proud of them both, but this is meant for adult audiences,” said Greenberg, a member of the university since 1995. The novel, set in modern-day Long Beach, follows several families as they come together over the issue of homeschooling.

Prospect Park Books is a California publisher of both print and digital books focusing on fiction, humor, cooking/food and regional titles. “I feel really happy about Lesson Plans finding a home with Prospect Park Books,” said Greenberg. “It has been a long process. There were many near hits and rejections along the way. I feel lucky that I found a great agent who believed in the novel.”

Greenberg explains she wrote Lesson Plans without taking a stand for or against home schooling.

“I don’t have a good or bad opinion about homeschooling. It’s just intriguing and works as the background for a cast of characters,” she said. “The main characters are David, who homeschools three daughters while his wife works as a successful attorney. Beth, separated from her husband, Keith, home-schools her 7-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who has allergies, some of which are life-threatening, and which cause her to miss lots of school. Beth stumbles into home schooling. Then there are Winter and Patterson with their twin boys. Patterson has a religious impulse to homeschool his kids. These parents meet in different ways and conflict ensues. “

The book is no autobiography, says the mother of three. “I don’t have it in me to homeschool our kids,” she laughed. “It’s a lot of work. Yet, all our kids asked to be homeschooled at one time or another. Some days it seemed a lot better to them than actually going to school.”

Greenberg had fun with the Abigail Iris series and enjoyed collaboration with Glatt.

“Writing the novel was a lonelier process,” she said. “I miss the camaraderie with Lisa as a friend and colleague. But I have written for adults most of my life. It was writing for kids that was the departure for me. I feel comfortable writing for adults again. But it still means writing alone.”

When Greenberg first became interested in the homeschooling sub-culture, she discovered a paradox she tries to portray in Lesson Plans. “Despite its insular reputation, the world of homeschooling seemed paradoxically really social to me,” she said. “Since the kids don’t go to school, they meet up with other families at special events. Homeschooling is not about being at home at all for these families. There is a variety of reasons why families homeschool. I found it interesting to spend time with characters who were with their kids all day without that separation of school.”

Homeschooling challenges Greenberg’s people with issues above and beyond education. “The spouse of one character does not know their child is being homeschooled. Another finds homeschooling her child gives her a sense of purpose,” she explained. “She realizes the decision was as much about her as it was about her daughter and she can’t figure out how to separate the two.”

Suzanne Greenberg
Suzanne Greenberg

Idealism looms large in the lives of Lesson Plans. “These are people with their own sense of integrity,” she explained. “They have something to believe in, misguided though it can be at times. They are trying hard, even if they make mistakes.”

Greenberg’s own parenting experience helps her to relate to her characters. “Sometimes when I say goodbye to our kids in the morning, I find myself asking, ‘What will happen to them out there?’ I have no control over ‘out there.’ Like most parents, I want our kids to have great childhoods and to have the best opportunities. But I have never felt that confidence in my decisions that ideal parents are supposed to have. I constantly ask myself about what elementary school, what middle school and what high schools are best for them. Am I too involved? Not involved enough? But I accept that for me that sense of doubt is part of being a parent.”

Greenberg won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for 2003 from the University of Pittsburgh for Speed-Walk and Other Stories. A $15,000 prize accompanied the recognition. She received her B.A. in English from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland.

She feels the new novel will add to her classroom credibility. “After all, I do teach creative writing,” she said. “I try to teach that it is important to be active in the field. I feel writing makes me a better educator. I am engaged in the same work I am asking my students to do.”

It is the element of the unexpected that keeps Greenberg coming back to her laptop. “For me, the most fun about writing fiction is that I don’t know what will happen next,” she said. “That is what keeps me interested in the writing and, I hope, the readers interested in the story. Will they feel sorry for the characters? Worried? Will they be excited about what will happen next? That’s what’s fun for me.”

–Richard Manly