Using humor to connect to readers · Suzanne Roberts

By Tim Hauserman · 

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Award-winning author Suzanne Roberts teaches at Sierra Nevada College and Lake Tahoe Community College.

In “Almost Somewhere,” an award-winning memoir about hiking the John Muir Trail, Suzanne Roberts tells the story about how she joined two other fresh-out-of-college women on a challenging 210-mile hike from Mount Whitney to Yosemite Valley. Back then, Suzanne was the boy-crazy, unsure what she wants to do with her life, member of the trio.

Twenty years later, Roberts lives in South Lake Tahoe and is an English professor at two Lake Tahoe colleges and is working on several books to follow up her success with “Almost Somewhere.” She also writes unique and funny travel articles, and is an important part of the Tahoe literary community.

If you read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, you should read “Almost Somewhere.” While it is also about women using a hiking trail to repair their lives, I found Robert’s book to be more humorous and without all that pesky heroin. Since publishing the book, Roberts has kept busy on the North Shore being a teacher and mentor for the Master of Fine Arts Program at Sierra Nevada College. She also teaches at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe.

“I really love teaching and I believe you can teach writing. Ninety percent of it is hard work and 10 percent talent. Because anyone can work hard, anyone can achieve,” said Roberts.

Roberts has no problem being the butt of her own joke. Whether it is her description of bumbling her way down the John Muir trail, or just being a bad tourist in her amazing travel pieces, she likes to poke fun at the absurdity of humans thinking we have our act together. She says that she knows that while we always think our way of doing things is the only way, it usually isn’t.

“Travel helps us to realize what we believe and can help change our minds and our pre-conceived stereotypes,” said Roberts. She says that there is no normal. What works is different in every place and time.

Roberts is working on a travel memoir, and she says it’s been a difficult process. The challenge has been to not think about the reader while she is writing, but to just focus on what she wants to write.

“In order to write honestly, you have to explore the mistakes you’ve made. You have to face it. It’s hard. But part of me thinks it’s OK to have an unlikeable narrator. That is how you get to the true story. People are complicated. I love my younger self because she got me where I am today,” said Roberts.

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Community of writers
While Roberts says that she enjoys teaching in the school setting, she also believes that it is important to help writers throughout the Tahoe region to become part of a writing community. She has organized several get-togethers between writers on the North and South shores, including one a few years back where I met Jess Bechtelheimer, who would become the illustrator for my book “Gertrude’s Tahoe Adventures in Time.”

Roberts is part of a trio of local women writers known as the Wordy Girls who are planning a writing and publishing retreat for women entitled “Writing and Publishing a Memoir” at the St. Mary’s Art Center in Virginia City on Sept. 11. It will be led by Roberts and Bona Fide Press publisher Kim Wyatt.

Roberts is also on the steering committee for Word Wave, a new writing event scheduled from Oct. 9 to 11 at Valhalla near Camp Richardson. It will include Native American storytellers, songwriters, playwrights, memoirists and fiction writers. At the conference, Roberts will teach travel writing and hold a panel on environmental humor. While environmental humor might sound like an oxymoron, Roberts feels if you want people to care about what you are talking about, you need to make it funny and interesting enough for them to want to hear it.

One of the reasons that Roberts says that she reaches out and tries to bring the Tahoe writing community together is she knows that writing is a lonely business, she says.

“I feel when I talk to my students we are not just talking about the writing, but also about the writing life. The insecurities we all feel. The apprehension and loneliness we all feel. It is important to have the perspective that we are not alone,” she says.

My favorite essay by Roberts is entitled “The Love Test,” which was published in “Best Women’s Travel Writing.” It’s about how she decided her now husband was the right man for her.

She was on a sea kayaking trip with her then boyfriend when they were caught in their tent in the middle of a horrific thunderstorm. While the lightning was striking loudly nearby, Roberts suddenly had the urge to go to the bathroom … No. 2. When she told her boyfriend of the predicament he told her: “You can poop in my hat.”

Fortunately, the feeling passed and his hat was saved, but the positive impression on her was made, and ever since I read that story I have believed that the true level of ones’ devotion can be determined by whether they would give up their hat for you.

 

For information on Word Wave, visit tahoewordwave.com.

 

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Tim Hauserman
Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, as well as “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and the children’s book “Gertrude’s Tahoe Adventures in Time.” Most of the year he writes on a variety of topics, but you will find him in the winter teaching cross-country skiing and running the Strider Gliders program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. He has lived in Tahoe since he was a wee lad and loves to be outdoors road and mountain biking, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking and cross-country skiing.