Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Susan Meissner - Weaving the Faith Thread into Her Stories


Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of  A Fall of Marigolds as well as The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Books in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.

Welcome back today, Susan. What do you consider the best resources for historical research?

People are still the best resource for historical research. Eye-witness accounts simply have no parallel. I think it’s because a person can give you all the sensory details of a historical event. A book can tell you what happened, but it can’t tell what how it felt when it happened. And you can’t ask a book a question. When I can’t talk to an eye-witness, I rely on memoirs, autobiographies, interviews, and biographies. Scholarly works are the third best resource. 

What or who inspires you to continue in your writing each day?

I am inspired by the Almighty Deadline. I’m not kidding. I am very glad I have been fortunate to have
one imposed on me for every book I’ve written except the first, WHY THE SKY IS BLUE, and this one, A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, because I, like so many authors, excel at procrastination. Writers are the only people I know who willingly look for ways not to do what they love to do. Since I wrote A FALL OF MARIGOLDS with an eye to the general market I knew I had to finish it first before my agent could shop it around. I set myself a deadline for that one, which I am happy to say I met.

What do you find most challenging about the business of being an author?

Well, the most challenging part is right there in your question. It’s the business part that challenges me. I don’t consider this part of my life a business. It’s my art, my itch, my passion, my hobby, my distraction, my form of creative expression, my gifting from God. And yet what I write is sold in the marketplace, which everyone knows, is business. Approaching my writing from a business standpoint is always a bit of a letdown for me. I secretly wish the books would just do amazingly well all on their own without any businessing (I just made up that word!) on my part. But that’s not the way it works. And I have had to come to terms with that. I try to find ways to market my books that I really enjoy. Like doing fun interviews with cool blogs like Novel PASTimes!

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

A view of Liberty from the Ellis Island
Hospital ward.
My next book is set entirely in England, mostly during The London Blitz. My main character starts out as a young, aspiring bridal gown designer evacuated to the countryside with her seven-year-old sister in the summer of 1940. Though only fifteen, Emmy is on the eve of being made an apprentice to a renowned costumer and she resents her single mother’s decision to send her away. She sneaks back to London – with her sister in tow – several months later but the two become separated when the Luftwaffe begins its terrible and deadly attack on the East End on the first night of the Blitz. War has a way of separating from us what we most value, and often shows how little we realized that value. I have always found the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside – some for the entire duration of the war – utterly compelling. How hard it must have been for those parents and their children. I went on a research trip to the U.K. in the fall of 2013 and I spoke with many individuals who were children during the war; some were separated from their parents, some were bombed out of their homes, some slept night after night in underground Tube stations, some watched in fascination as children from the city came to their towns and villages to live with them. All of them remembered what it was like to imagine what an orange might be like because they could not recall ever having seen one. This book explores issues of loss and longing, but also the bonds of sisters, and always, the power of love.

This is your first general market novel after having written more than a dozen books for the inspirational market. Why the switch?

I got my start in the inspirational market and am immensely grateful for that experience. Every published novelist wants to connect with her ideal reader. We don’t all like the same genres and we don’t all like the same style and voice. I believe a great many of my ideal readers shop in the general marketplace because that’s where I shop. My favorite authors — among them Kate Morton, Geraldine Brooks, Lisa See, Jamie Ford, and Diane Setterfield — are all general marketplace authors. Add to this that my faith threads are always subtle rather than obvious, then the move to the general market place seems like a great way for me to connect with more readers. My approach to faith in my writing is one that I liken to the subtlety of God’s presence and influence in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. The faith thread in the Book of Esther is as subtle as it can be – God is never even mentioned – and yet the story is powerfully told and the virtues of loyalty, trust, hope, and courage are obvious. I have never thought of myself as writer of Christian fiction but rather a Christian who writes fiction.

What will readers already familiar with your style find different about A Fall of Marigolds?

I would say any difference between my last book and this one is minimal. The takeaway of A Fall of Marigolds is heavily influenced by the idea of sacrificial love – as great a theme as any –  as well as the decision we all must make as to whether we believe all of life is random or that there is purpose and design and therefore a Designer. There may be lines of dialogue that will raise an eyebrow. I use the word “damn” once or twice, for the mere reason that it was the word that worked best. I have never thought of my books as inspirational in nature, even when I was first starting out. I have not sought to point people to my theological positions or anyone else’s. I merely and only want to tell stories that compel my readers to ponder anew what they love, fear, or long for; what they are willing to die for, live for, hope for. I don’t put messages in my books. At least I never want any book of mine to sound like it is message-driven. But I do want my books to make you want to sit down and talk bout the story with someone because you were moved or changed by it.

Where can readers connect with you?

You can find me at www.susanmeissner.com and on Facebook at my Author page, Susan Meissner, and on Twitter at SusanMeissner. I blog at susanmeissner.com. I also send out a newsletter via email four times a year. You can sign up for it on my website. I love connecting with readers! You are the reason I write.

Susan is giving away a copy of her latest novel,  A Fall of Marigolds, in the drawing this week.

To be entered in this week’s drawings, please do the following:

1) Answer Susan’s question.

2) Leave your email addy in the form of name[at]domain[dot]com.

3) Leave your answer in the comments before 8:30 a.m. ET. Thank you!

Susan Meissner’s question for you:  The scarf in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS became an heirloom passed down through several generations of women. Do you have an heirloom that has been in your family for many years? Or do you plan to pass something on to your children that you hope will, in time, become an heirloom?



8 comments:

Susan P said...

There are heirlooms in my house, mostly quilts. No jewelry or furniture or clothing. I do have china/dishes from my grandmother that I hope to pass down.
Thanks for sharing with us, Susan! I loved reading your responses.
lattebooks at hotmail dot com

Kathleen Rouser said...

Hi Susan, do you ever wonder about the stories
behind the quilts? I love old china. I just bought
some vintage pieces at an antique store on
vacation. Your heirlooms sound great!

Anonymous said...

Hello. Thanks for this review. the book story sounds really interesting. I would love to read it. I don't really have much in heirlooms. Wish I did. The only thing I have that belonged to my grandmother is a letter to her from a close family friend who was serving in WW ll and never made it home. He was one of my sister's boyfriends. I have an old iron from my mother. And, her Bible. I also have my daddy's Bible. my folks never had much except 8 children and a home full of love and laughter. They also had 3 fires during all of their married lives. And, my mother was only 15 and daddy 21 when they married in 1921. too many older ones than me that got anything else like pillow cases made by my grandmother for mother, and some crocheted pieces by mother. I do have a few pieces of a set of dishes and a cookie jar that is very old, but is my husbands side.(my kids step-dad.) Hoping to be a winner this week.
Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

Kathleen Rouser said...

Maxie,

Sounds like you have some lovely heirlooms in just
your memories of a happy family and how precious
it is that you have your parents' Bibles to pass on.
Thank you for sharing.

Kathleen Rouser said...

So glad to have had you at NovelPASTimes this
week, Susan Meissner. You shared so much
wonderful information about your writing and your stories. Thank you!

Susan Meissner said...

It was my pleasure!

Merry said...

I love old things and wish I had more heirlooms from my family. I have old photos, glassware and jewelry from my grandparents. My sister is the keeper of some of their quilts.
worthy2bpraised at gmail dot com

Cindy Thomson said...

I have several things, and after my dad passed away I gathered some of his things to remember him by. Long ago he gave me something I treasure, the little Smith & Corona typewriter his father used to write to my dad when he was in WWII. I used to use it. You have to push really hard on the keys. I think my oldest son will treasure it someday.