I am so excited to have my first author returning to our Sundays With Writers series. Suzanne Redfearn happened to be the first writer I ever reached out to for our interview series after I read her incredibly fast-paced thriller, Hush Little Baby. Today she joins me again with a very different book from her first that made me think a lot about what it would like to be a child star and the challenges a parent would face in her new novel, No Ordinary Life.
I am a big fan of Suzanne Redfearn and this book does not disappoint!
In this quick page-turner, a single mother’s daughter is discovered after a YouTube video goes viral of her singing and dancing, at the tender age of four. She is immediately picked up for commercial work and then auditions & wins a lead role in a television show. Going from having nothing to having everything, you follow this mother as she juggles the demands of being a stage mom, the intrusive media, and protecting her children from Hollywood & her ex who just wants the biggest piece of the financial pie.
Redfearn effectively utilizes other famous stars and their stories to craft a compelling piece on the many pitfalls of growing up a child star and the rarity of survival in the industry.
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Suzanne as she shares more behind her latest book!
You are our first author that I have gotten to interview twice in our Sundays With Writers series and I am so honored to feature your latest book, No Ordinary Life It was actually your interview that kicked off the whole series, if you can believe it! I really enjoyed your fast-paced thriller, Hush Little Baby so I was expecting another thriller again, but you took a completely different route and share the story of a child who has been discovered and begins a Hollywood career. What was it about this topic that interested you that you would want to write an entire book about it?
Wow, that is so amazing. I love that I was your first author for the series. Thank you for inviting me back. I actually had no idea this topic would be as interesting as it was. I knew my publisher wanted me to write another story about a mother protecting her children, and I was standing in line at the grocery store when I saw a headline that read, “Zac Efron Enters Rehab Again.” My daughter was a huge High School Musical fan when she was young, so I felt like I had watched Zac Efron grow up, and to know he was suffering and that his suffering was made public made me feel horrible for him and his parents. The idea Child Star popped in my head. At that point I wasn’t certain what the story was going to be, but I liked the idea of exploring what goes on behind the glitz and glamour that causes so many young actors’ to suffer such tragic setbacks and downfalls.
You have said that you have drawn a lot of inspiration from the childhood careers of Jodie Foster and Shirley Temple. What was it about these two child stars in particular that interested you in helping shape Molly?
I believe certain stars are destined for greatness. They have the “it” factor. Both Jodie Foster and Shirley Temple had it in spades. They were extraordinarily precocious, and the moment the spotlight found them, they were certain to soar to superstardom. I needed Molly to be like that, her star a runaway train that would make it nearly impossible for her mom to control.
YouTube was the avenue of discovery for Molly although it was a video posted by someone else that actually got her discovered. Do you think that this violates our privacy rights if someone has not agreed to have it socially shared? Would you be upset if someone posted a video of your child without permission?
It is a complicated question. I do feel our children need to be protected and yet trying to control videos being posted on social media seems like an impossible task. Molly’s dance was an innocent street performance and did not show her doing anything unseemly. What happened was more a result of how Faye dealt with the sudden notoriety rather than the notoriety itself. I suppose if the posting of a video resulted in direct damage to someone, the person who posted it should be liable, but I don’t think that was the case with Molly. And yes, I would be upset if someone posted a video of my child without my permission. It does seem like a violation. So I don’t know. Good question, one that would be a good topic for debate.
There is a pretty dramatic airport scene in this book where Molly is tired and throwing a tantrum while the mother is being engulfed in paparazzi in this difficult parenting moment. Did you bring your own parenting struggles in to shape this difficult mom moment? Has this changed your viewpoint at all on celebrity magazines and their tactics of reporting or did you already have strong feelings about that?
That is my favorite scene in the book. Thank you for asking about it. I love the airport scene. As a mom, it was the scene that affected me the most. I was once in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond when my daughter had a meltdown because I wouldn’t buy her a toy she desperately wanted. For twenty minutes I stood there while she screamed and tantrumed with people walking by with either sympathetic expressions or judgmental frowns. It was the worst feeling, and to imagine something like that happening while dozens of photographers documented it, knowing it was going to be plastered in every tabloid and shown on every celebrity gossip show in the world made my heart split in two with sympathy for Faye. It was the pinnacle moment in the story that illustrated how out of control Faye’s life had become.
Do you think you would let your child pursue a career in Hollywood after doing this research for your book? Did reading more of their struggles and their parent’s struggles make you more sympathetic to the challenges of their work?
I would not, but after writing this story, I am also not one to cast stones. It is easy for me to say I would not put my child in that world when I live in a nice house with a secure future, my children well provided for. I understand why Faye did what she did. I am not certain it was the right decision, but I am sympathetic to it. This is one story, and though it is based in part on stories I read of former young actors, it is fiction. Many former young actors have gone on to live successful, trouble-free lives and look back on their years in the spotlight with gratitude and fondness.
If we are interested in reading more about child stars and their families, what were some of your favorite reads or documentaries so we can check them out too?
My favorite autobiography was by Melissa Francis (youngest Ingall on Little House on the Prarie). Her book was called Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter and it was a heart wrenching about what fame did to her family. Also Justin Bieber’s mom wrote an autobiography titled, Nowhere but Up, and it is a frank look at her life and Justin Bieber’s rocket ride to superstardom and how a child can be swept up into the dangerous world of celebrity and a parent left struggling to hold on. There is also a movie about Shirley Temple’s life, Child Star that was fascinating.
The Coogan Law requires that fifteen percent of a minor’s earnings be set aside in a trust until they are eighteen so a child star can end up with little or no money. Do you think that the current set-up is fair and do you think the family is entitled to a portion of those earnings after researching this topic and what a juggle it is for the entire family?
Unfortunately the law has loopholes, and many young actors still find themselves with nothing or very little when they become adults. I think the laws in regard to child performers definitely need to be reexamined and parents need to be held accountable for making sure a child’s earnings are protected. A family should be compensated for the work they do in regards to helping a child actor be successful, but it needs to be a minor percentage not the majority.
Many readers may be unaware that you actually have a background as an architect. Are you still working in architecture and how has that career background helped you as a writer?
I still love architecture, but writing has become full-time work for me. I find the two processes remarkably similar, and I find my architecture training really influences my writing. In architecture when I begin a project, I start with an inkling of an idea then set to work researching the site, the clients, the surroundings, and the history around it, then I throw as many ideas as come to me down on paper and see what comes of it, waiting for the “terroir” (a wine making term that means the specific characteristics of a vineyard) to determine what the project wants to be—the sculpture hidden within the stone so to speak. Writing is the same. I start with the germ of an idea—celebrity and what it does to a person and the people around them—then I research everything I can about the subject, going wherever the idea takes me and not censoring myself at all, trusting that every path will lead me closer to the story. Then I write, write, write—pages and pages of notes, passages, dialog, chapters, plotlines—until the characters begin to emerge and the story begins to tell itself, the single right story that wants to be told.
Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)
My favorite all-time book is The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.