Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Fall of Marigolds, named by BookList’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she's not working on a novel, Susan writes small group curriculum for her San Diego church. Visit Susan on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at www.facebook.com/susan.meissner. Connect with Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We’re glad you’re here. Have you learned anything new that’s helped you currently with your writing journey that you could share with us?
I think I am more a believer than ever that if you aspire to write great fiction, you need to read great fiction. Lots of it. You should be reading the best of the best that is out there. And then spending some time considering what it is about these great writers that resonates with you so that you can learn how to be that kind of writer. I used to think it was okay to read what I call empty-calorie-fiction if you wanted a break or for the mindless entertainment you think you can get from an easy read. You know the kind. The prose isn’t that stellar but hey it’s just for fun? No more of those for me. Life is too short to read books that don’t enthrall me.
Tell us about your latest novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life.
Like many of my other novels, Secrets of a Charmed Life is historical fiction framed by a contemporary tale that links to a story in the past. An American college student named Kendra, who is studying abroad at Oxford, interviews Blitz survivor Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets she has kept all her life – beginning with who she really is. The story then takes the reader to England in 1940. An unprecedented war against London’s civilian population is about to take place and half a million children are evacuated to foster homes in the countryside. Fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, but Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. The sisters’ lives are forever changed when—acting at cross purposes—they secretly return to London on the first day of the Blitz.
What spawned the idea for this story? What do you feel boosts your creativity?
The story began first as an image in my head of a teenage girl on the brink of adulthood sketching wedding dresses in the tiny bedroom she shares with a younger half-sister. I could see Emmy in my mind’s eye imagining a life far different from the one she is living. She wants a happily-ever-after life and for her, that charmed existence begins with a wedding dress worn on the day a girl’s childhood dreams come true. I decided to set her in London at the start of the war because I knew that even for a young woman not yet sixteen, war is a crucible. It is a tester of dreams and desires and determination. I knew the London Blitz was an opposition that would bring out the very best and the very worst in Emmy, as war so often does. My creative juices start to rumble whenever I see an ordinary person with everyday but compelling desires thrust into an extraordinary situation that will bring out the best – and worst – in that person. This book is that kind of story.
Who is your favorite character in your latest novel? And why? Do you see yourself at all in this character?
This is always a difficult question! Emmy’s mother is probably my favorite character and it kills me that I can’t tell you why. It would totally spoil the story. Let’s just say sometimes the person whose view the story gets its voice doesn’t see everything, even when she thinks she does. I see myself less in Emmy’s mother than any other character. Her flaws aren’t like mine, but neither are her strengths. It’s those very understated, good qualities she has that I admire most about her.
As an inspirational author, how do you feel your faith and/or ethical values come through in your writing?
More tomorrow from author, Susan Meissner. Readers, don’t forget to enter our Rafflecopter drawing below for your chance to win a copy of Susan Meissner's latest novel, Secret of a Charmed Life. Just click the button and answer Susan’s question. The drawing will be open until 12:00 a.m. Friday morning. Thanks for stopping by!a Rafflecopter giveaway