Interview with Author Sue Macy on the Women Who Inspire Her and Finding Her Own Grit

I’ve always been a big fan of Sue Macy’s books about strong women, especially her sports titles. With multiple starred reviews, her new picture book biography, MISS MARY REPORTING: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber, is inspiring, informative, and entertaining. Imagine a time when women weren’t even allowed to sit in the press boxes at sporting events! 

Here’s what Sue Macy said about the inspiring women she writes about and finding her own grit . . .

Sue, what inspired you to write about Mary Garber?
As someone who’s written about sports quite a bit, I kept coming across Mary Garber’s name and byline. I filed it away, literally, by photocopying some of her articles, and figuratively, in the abstract list of people I might like to explore. When one of my editors took me out to lunch to discuss book ideas, I mentioned Mary and found myself getting increasingly excited when I spoke about her. That’s how I can tell I should write a book—if I start talking faster and realize I need to convince somebody how great the story could be. Fortunately, my editor, Sylvie Frank, was as excited about Mary as I was. Within six weeks of our lunch I had signed a contract, which is a record in my experience.

I admire Mary’s dedication in following her passion and relate to her because I’ve been doing that in my second career as a nonfiction author. (My first career was as an editor in educational publishing.) Mary found a way to be a sportswriter when very few women were doing that, and she was fearless in doing what she had to do to get the story.

I also admire her humanity, how she had no compunction about reporting on sports at segregated African-American schools, even though her newspaper didn’t usually cover them. And how she thought telling the story of the losers in a sports contest was as important as writing about the winners. Of course she was right, but our culture today is so focused on winning that it seems like a revolutionary concept.

Have the women you write about inspired you to do something or changed you in any significant way?
My first book, A Whole New Ball Game, was about the women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the women’s league from the World War II era. I spent over a decade getting to know the players before writing the book—I wrote several articles about them first. And they have proven to be great role models.

I still go to their reunions every year. I have watched them age with dignity and seen the challenges they faced at each stage of their lives. They’re about 25 years older than me, so it’s been an ongoing lesson about challenges I may face. Plus they’ve been my greatest supporters. When I completed a triathlon 10 years ago my inbox was flooded with congratulation e-mails from them. When my book, Wheels of Change, was a finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award in 2012, one of the players surprised me by flying to Dallas to see me receive my plaque. When my father passed away, I got piles of wonderful sympathy cards.

Every woman I’ve written about has had an effect on me in some way, but these women have truly changed my life. Every time I write another book, I think about how their initial encouragement started me on this path.

Describe a situation as an author when you had to dig deep and find your grit to overcome an obstacle or tackle something that was difficult?
A few years ago I got the opportunity to write a middle grade biography about Sally Ride. As someone who had greatly admired Sally, America’s first woman to travel in space, and who was shocked when she died of pancreatic cancer at age 61, I was honored to tell her story. I could relate to her because we were close in age—I knew firsthand the times in which she lived. And I was excited that she had been a champion tennis player in high school and college, since writing about sports and athletes is my specialty.

But Sally was a physicist and I never took physics. I was worried about trying to explain concepts I didn’t understand. So I called Nancy Finton, a former colleague from Scholastic who is a science writer and had even worked with Sally on two projects. Nancy was very encouraging and agreed to read my manuscript and pay special attention to the science I was trying to explain. She ended up asking me to clarify a few things, but it turns out I got most of it right.

When you write nonfiction, you often have to explain things you might not know much about, and it’s definitely an unsettling feeling. When that happens to me, I read as much as I can about the topic, try my best to explain it, and make sure I have someone read what I wrote who knows more about the topic than me.

Sue in a vintage Studebaker!

Sue in a vintage Studebaker!

What are you are working on now and what’s next?
In 2017 I’ll have two new books out. I’m just finishing a young adult book for National Geographic titled Motor Girls, about the intrepid women who defied expectations and conquered the automobile in the early twentieth century, through World War I. It’s a follow-up to Wheels of Change, which was about the impact of the bicycle on women’s lives in the 1890s.

And I’ve written a nonfiction picture book about Gertrude Ederle’s swim across the English Channel in 1926, which is being illustrated by Matt Collins. It’s our third book together for Holiday House. In a way it’s a return to my roots. One of the first sports stories I wrote was a play about Ederle’s swim for Scholastic Action, a reading magazine, back in the 1980s. As a swimmer, I find her achievement inspiring. She was the first woman and the fastest person to swim the Channel at the time.