Fletcher, Susan 1951–
Fletcher, Susan 1951–
(Susan Clemens Fletcher)
Born May 28, 1951, in Pasadena, CA; daughter of Leland (an engineer) and Reba (a teacher) Clemens; mar-
Writer. Campbell-Mithun (advertising agency), Minneapolis, MN, and Denver, CO, media buyer, 1974-77, advertising copywriter, 1977-79; Portland Community College, Portland, OR, lecturer, 1988-90; Vermont College, Montpelier, instructor in M.F.A. program in writing for children, 2000-04.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (Northwest chapter), Authors Guild, Phi Beta Kappa.
Oregon Book Award, 1990, Young Adults' Choice, International Reading Association (IRA), 1991, Young Readers' Choice nomination, Pacific Northwest Library Association, 1992, and South Carolina Young-Adult Book Award nomination, 1992-93, all for Dragon's Milk; International Youth Library Selection, 1992, for The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia; Outstanding Book designation, World Book Encyclopedia Annual Supplement, 1993, Oregon Book Award finalist, 1994, Best Books for Young Adults, American Library Association (ALA), and IRA Young Adults' Choice, both 1995, Sequoyah Award nomination, 1995-96, and Texas Lone Star Reading List inclusion, 1996-97, all for Flight of the Dragon Kyn; Best Books designation, School Library Journal, and Blue Ribbon award, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, both 1998, Children's Literature Choice listee, 1999, Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice nomination, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nomination, both 1999-2000, and ALA Notable Books for Older Readers and Best Books for Young Adults designations, and Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council on the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, all for Shadow Spinner; Sequoyah Award nomination, 1998-99, for Sign of the Dove; Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year designation, Spur Award finalist, Western Writers of America, Willa Literary Award finalist, Women Writing in the West, Children's Literature Choice selection, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher Master List inclusion, all 2002, all for Walk across the Sea; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age designation, CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book designation, Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice designation, and ALA Best Book for Young Adults designation, all 2007, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher Master List inclusion, all 2007-08, all for Alphabet of Dreams.
The Haunting Possibility (mystery), Crosswinds Press (New York, NY), 1988.
The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1991.
Shadow Spinner, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
Walk across the Sea, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.
Alphabet of Dreams, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2006.
Dragon's Milk, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
Flight of the Dragon Kyn (prequel to Dragon's Milk), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1993.
Sign of the Dove, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.
Dadblamed Union Army Cow (picture book), illustrated by Kimberly Bulken Root, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Ms., Woman's Day, Family Circle, and Mademoiselle.
Shadow Spinner and Walk across the Sea were adapted as audiobooks by Recorded Books, 1999 and 2002 respectively. Alphabet of Dreams was adapted as audiobooks by Listening Library, 2006.
Novelist Susan Fletcher is the author of historical and fantasy fiction for young readers, including a popular trilogy that includes the books Dragon's Milk, Flight of the Dragon Kyn, and Sign of the Dove. With a medieval setting inspired by pictures of the Welsh countryside from where Fletcher traces her roots, the "Dragon Chronicles" saga features an imaginative, dragon-centered plot that has won the author praise from reviewers and readers alike. Calling Flight of the Dragon Kyn "a joy to read," Booklist contributor Deborah Abbott added that in the novel "Fletcher pens some of the best yarns around."
In addition to her fantasy trilogy, Fletcher has also produced the award-winning standalone novels Shadow Spinner and Alphabet of Dreams, two books that contain elements of both historical fiction and magical realism. She has also penned the historical novel Walk across the Sea, as well as a picture book titled Dadblamed Union Army Cow. Based on a true story in which a Union soldier is followed into war by his family's cow, Dadblamed Union Army Cow was praised by Booklist critic Debbie Carton as a "well-constructed … read aloud." Praising Fletcher's narrative style, a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the homespun tale "engages the reader and captures just the right tone without caricaturizing or sensationalizing" the wartime event.
Born in Pasadena, California, in 1951, Fletcher and her family moved to Ohio when she was seven years old. She had dreamed of being a writer ever since she entered the third grade. "Back then my name was Susan Clemens," she once explained to SATA. "One day my teacher told us about a famous author named Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, [and] whose daughter's name was Susan. It was fate, I thought. I decided not to become the daughter of a famous author (which is impossible to arrange), but to become a famous author myself (which is difficult enough)."
Returning to California in sixth grade, Fletcher graduated from high school in 1969, having spent her senior year as fiction editor of her school's literary magazine. She enrolled at the University of California at Santa Barbara and earned her bachelor's degree in English. She then moved to Michigan, where she earned her master's degree in English from the University of Michigan. After a move to Colorado, Fletcher got a job with a local advertising agency and met her soon-to-be husband, Jerry, whom she married in 1977. Moving again, this time to Minneapolis, Minnesota, she put her writing talent to work creating copy for radio advertisements, work she enjoyed and was good at. After her husband's job relocated the couple to Portland, Oregon, Fletcher planned to look for a similar position, but those plans changed when she discovered that she and her husband would soon be having a child. Magazine writing became her new focus—it was something Fletcher could do from home—and from there it was a short step to becoming a children's-book writer.
Fletcher's first novel for young readers, 1988's The Haunting Possibility, was inspired by Oregon's Lake Oswego area and the practice of draining the lake each winter to allow dock repairs to be made. Learning the nuances of characterization and plotting as she went, Fletcher completed the manuscript and sent it to almost twenty publishers before it was accepted. She quickly involved herself in a local group of children's writers, meeting several editors and gaining constructive criticism of her work in the process.
"While I was sending out The Haunting Possibility, an idea began to tease at the edges of my mind," Fletcher wrote in an essay published in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), discussing the inspiration for her "Dragon Chronicles" trilogy. As she recalled, her town librarian "directed me to some really fine fantasy novels for children, and I began to be drawn to that genre." Working in the fantasy genre also allowed Fletcher to address the portrayal of female protagonists in typical fairy tales. "The typical fairy-tale heroine would sit around being beautiful, singing nicely, and being kind to birds and animals until her boyfriend—The Prince—came along and solved all her problems for her," the author explained. That type of character was not one Fletcher cared to perpetuate, and in her next novel she "decided to write a story about a girl who had the courage to solve her own problems." Thinking back to her own early teens, Fletcher hit upon the one task that had required extraordinary amounts of courage, fortitude, bravery, patience, and just plain hard work: babysitting the notorious La Rue kids, four unruly boys who lived on Fletcher's street when she was young.
Published in 1989 as the first installment in the "Dragon" trilogy, Dragon's Milk is a baby-sitting adventure that takes place in the fantasy kingdom of Elythia. Kaeldra, the protagonist, is an adopted child whose emerald-green eyes identify her as a descendent of the dragon-sayers, humans who are able to communicate with the fire-breathers telepathically. When her younger sister, Lyf, becomes ill with a fever and can only be made well again by drinking dragon's milk, Kaeldra must search for a dragon. She finds one and agrees to babysit for its three offspring, called draclings, in exchange for the milk. The mother dragon goes out to find food, planning to return to her brood in a short while; when she is killed, Kaeldra is left to protect the draclings from men who want to destroy them.
Critics found Dragon's Milk entertaining and imaginative. Focusing on the novel's blend of action, suspense, magic, and romance, they also noted Fletcher's clever and convincing portrayal of the young dragons. "The three draclings, each with an individual personality, are endearing in the clumsy way of young animals," noted School Library Journal contributor Susan M. Harding, the critic concluding that, "with its satisfying heroine, [Dragon's Milk] is a thoroughly enjoyable story."
The saga of the dragons continues in Sign of the Dove, as the last of the dragon's eggs begins to hatch. Kaeldra's younger sister Lyf has by now been cured with dragons' milk, and her eyes have turned as green as those of her adopted sister as a result. Other less-visible changes to Lyf have also occurred, and the young teen is now being sought, along with other green-eyes, by those who would use her power to call dragons forth for evil. While taking flight with Kaeldra, Kaeldra's husband Jeorg, and three dragon hatchlings, Lyf soon finds herself alone and in charge of the draclings, which get stronger and more curious with each passing day. Although not enthusiastic about her role as protector as was her sister, Lyf attempts to save the baby dragons from enemies who would kill them for their hearts, which are rumored to possess healing powers. Booklist contributor Sally Estes praised Sign of the Dove as "a rousing story filled with well-realized dragon lore."
Because of the transformation of its heroine, Sign of the Dove served as a personal statement for its author. In 1989 Fletcher had been diagnosed with cancer, and she fought the disease for a year before receiving a clean bill of health. While she found it impossible to write about her feelings as she confronted the possibility of losing the battle against cancer, her feelings found their way into her novel. "During the time when I was writing Sign of the Dove," Fletcher recalled in SAAS, "I heard a Jewish couple speaking about the people who helped the German Jews during the Holocaust…. Suddenly, I realized that the book I was writing was about rescuers—people who help those who are in trouble, at risk to themselves and with no expectation of gain. On some level, it was about the people who helped me." Sign of the Dove "is dedicated to them—my rescuers," the novelist explained.
The background to both Dragon's Milk and Sign of the Dove is laid out in Flight of the Dragon Kyn. In this novel, fifteen-year-old Kara, who has a natural gift for calling birds down from the sky, is called before King Orrik and asked to channel her power into bringing certain dragons to ground. Birds and dragons are rumored to be close relatives, and these particular dragons have been laying waste to the kingdom of Kragland. They are now held responsible for the deaths of both the father and brother of the king's future wife, Princess Signy. Aided by Skava, a wild gyrfalcon, Kara sets out on her quest, realizing too late that she is calling the dragons to their death in an ambush planned by the king. Also, by helping King Orrik, Kara gets on the wrong side of the king's brother Rog, who has designs of his own on the kingdom. Fleeing to the hills, the teen takes refuge with a dragon "kyn," or family, and helps the group find a home far from human unkindness.
Calling Flight of the Dragon Kyn "a solid fantasy in a medieval … setting," Kathryn Jennings added in a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review that the novel contains enough "drama, romance, and knavery to keep genre fans happy." Joyce W. Yen agreed in her Voice of Youth Advocates appraisal, praising Fletcher's incorporation of "a budding romance, an inner struggle, and a power struggle" into her "intriguing" tale. One of the novel's main characters required Fletcher to do her homework; in preparation for writing Flight of the Dragon Kyn, the novelist volunteered at a local zoo and learned the habits of birds of prey: their sleeping patterns, what they eat, their social behaviors.
Thus she was able to fully realize a character that School Library Journal contributor Margaret A. Chang cited among the book's "most engaging": the gyrfalcon Skava.
In addition to her "Dragon" fantasy novels, Fletcher has written several other books with teen appeal. In The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia, Aurora MacKenzie tries every trick under the sun to get Tanja, her nineteen-year-old au pair, fired and sent packing back to Germany, thus opening the way for Aurora and her mother to spend more quality time together, away from her mother's new husband and new baby. Praised by Booklist contributor Deborah Abbott for highlighting the emotions of stepchildren "pushed out by new family members and having to cope with the dynamics of a changed situation," The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia is similar to Dragon's Milk and Sign of the Dove in that its roots are in Fletcher's own experience. As she would later note in SAAS: "Bits of [my daughter Kelly's]… life sometimes make their way into my books. After reading parts of The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia, Kelly protested, ‘Mom, you plagiarized my life!’"
In Shadow Spinner Fletcher provides an explanation for the amazing wealth of tales amassed by famous Persian storyteller Shahrazad in 1,001 Arabian Nights. In Fletcher's imaginative novel, a crippled orphan named Marjan, handmaiden to the princess Shahrazad, becomes the source for many of the tales used by the princess to postpone her death. Noting that the story is a fictional take on a traditional tale, Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns asserted that "Fletcher puts her own spin on the source material, telling a tale in which the pace is consistent, the characters interesting, and the plot impelling." Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman had particular praise for Fletcher's preface to each of the book's chapters, "about how we find ourselves in our stories, how sharing stories brings strangers together." Patricia A. Dollisch, writing in School Library Journal, declared that "there are no weak spots in the telling of this tale. Even the minor characters make real impressions." While the "voices are clear and the dialogue works beautifully," Dollisch added of Shadow Spinner that "it is the structure that really makes this book sing."
Fletcher spins another magical story in Alphabet of Dreams. Again setting her story in Persia, she introduces fourteen-year-old Mitra and her five-year-old brother Babak, a boy able to see the future in his dreams. Disguised as beggars, the siblings are actually the children of a king who hope to find their family. When Babak's gift is discovered by Melchoir, a Zoroastrian priest, Mitra and her brother must join with Melchoir and his fellow priests Balthazaar and Gaspar on a journey that leads them from their home in Rhagae to a mysterious destination. Led by the stars and by the predictions of the ever-more-sickly Babak, the rag-tag band ultimately finds itself at the crib of a tiny baby born in a stable in Bethlehem. In Publishers Weekly a contributor dubbed Alphabet of Dreams a "richly imagined novel" enriched by a "feisty and honorable" heroine and Fletcher's "lush and often poetic language." Acknowledging the story's Biblical origins, GraceAnne A. DeCandido wrote in School Library Journal that "the rhythms of desert life form one intriguing dimension" to the author's tale. While Kliatt reviewer Donna Scanlon maintained that the author's "elegantly simple language" might challenge some readers, "the story itself," as well as its "well rounded and well drawn" characters, "will draw them in." "A fine weaver of historical fiction," Fletcher "creates a fully realized world for her characters and builds a plot full of suspense and anguish," concluded School Library Journal contributor Connie C. Rockman in a review of Alphabet of Dreams.
Fletcher turns again to historical fiction by turning back the clock to the 1880s in Walk across the Sea. Set in Crescent City, California, and based on a true story, the novel focuses on the treatment of Chinese immigrant laborers, who are shunned due to their religion and eventually run out of town due to fears that they will take scarce jobs away from Caucasian workers. In her novel, Fletcher shows that the bravery of one young teen, fifteen-year-old Eliza Jane McCully, can change the mood of the prejudiced townspeople of her coastal community when she returns the kindness of a young Chinese artist, Wah Chung, after he saves her from being drowned. Calling Walk across the Sea an "emotionally tumultuous novel," a Kirkus Reviews writer added that the novel is made especially vivid due to Fletcher's incorporation of "carefully researched detail." In Publishers Weekly a reviewer described the novel as an "eye-opening" work in which Eliza's "wryly humorous voice emerges as the novel's greatest strength," and School Library Journal contributor William McLoughlin concluded that Fletcher's "deft analysis of racial discrimination makes the book even more powerful."
Although Fletcher writes her books for young readers from an office inside her Oregon home, she has traveled as far away as Iran and flown as high as a dragon to research her stories. As the author once explained, her novels are created in several stages. First comes research, followed by a first, sometimes very rough, draft. "I allow myself to write really badly at first if I need too," the author admitted in SAAS. Several other drafts may follow until the words "sound right." Fletcher also benefits from her editor and critique group. However, as she once explained in SATA, "my own inner ear is the final test."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 25, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998, pp. 95-116.
Booklist, November 1, 1989, review of Dragon's Milk, p. 547; December 15, 1991, Deborah Abbott, review of The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia, pp. 764-765; January 15, 1994, Deborah Abbott, review of Flight of the Dragon Kyn, p. 931; May 1, 1996, Sally Estes, review of Sign of the Dove, p. 1506; June 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Shadow Spinner, p. 1746; November 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Walk across the Sea, p. 476; September 1, 2006, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Alphabet of Dreams, p. 109; July 1, 2007, Debbie Carton, review of Dadblamed Union Army Cow, p. 64.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1991, review of The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia, p. 10; January, 1994, Kathryn Jennings, review of Flight of the Dragon Kyn, p. 153; July, 1998, review of Shadow Spinner, p. 394; January, 2007, Laura Baas, review of Alphabet of Dreams, p. 212.
Horn Book, September-October, 1996, Ann A. Flowers, review of Sign of the Dove, p. 595; July, 1998, Mary M. Burns, review of Shadow Spinner, p. 488.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1993, review of Flight of the Dragon Kyn, p. 1239; May 1, 1998, review of Shadow Spinner, p. 657; October 15, 2001, review of Walk across the Sea, p. 1482; August 1, 2006, review of Alphabet of Dreams, p. 785; June 15, 2007, review of Dadblamed Union Army Cow.
Kliatt, July, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of Walk across the Sea, p. 20; September, 2006, Susan Allison, review of Alphabet of Dreams, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, August 16, 1991, review of The Stuttgart Nanny Mafia, p. 58; November 5, 2001, review of Walk across the Sea, p. 69; October 30, 2006, review of Alphabet of Dreams, p. 63.
School Library Journal, November, 1989, Susan M. Harding, review of Dragon's Milk, pp. 107-108; November, 1993, Margaret A. Chang, review of Flight of the Dragon Kyn, p. 108; May, 1996, review of Sign of the Dove, p. 112; June, 1998, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of Shadow Spinner, p. 145; November, 2001, William McLoughlin, review of Walk across the Sea, p. 154; November, 2006, Connie C. Rockman, review of Alphabet of Dreams, p. 135.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1994, Joyce W. Yen, review of Flight of the Dragon Kyn, p. 380; August, 1996, review of Sign of the Dove, p. 168; June, 2002, review of Walk across the Sea, p. 117; February, 2007, Cheryl French, review of Alphabet of Dreams, p. 524.
Susan Fletcher Home Page,http://susancfletcher.com (July 28, 2007).