Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Susan Meissner--Voices of the Past Meet the Present


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 susanlmeissner@gmail.com.

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!

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21 comments:

Cheryl Barker said...

I think The Book Thief is my favorite WW2 novel thus far. Amazing story and the author did a great job of taking me to another place and another time. Can't wait to read Susan's latest!

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand which gave me an insight into the spirit and psyche of the hero, Louis Zamperini. It was an extraordinary and compelling tale of survival during imprisonment in a Japanese concentration camp. I can't wait to read about this story of another country in WW II and the young woman whose life was changed.

Susan Meissner said...

I loved The Book Thief, Cheryl. Also Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Stones from the River, Sarah's Key and Sigmund Brouwer's Thief of Glory. Still need to read Unbroken but I loved the movie...

Chelsea McDermott said...

I loved the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I haven't read The Book Thief or Unbroken but loved both movies and should add those books to my wishlist. Looking forward to reading Susan's new book!

JulieSurfaceJohnson said...

The most recent WWII book I enjoyed was Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I loved it for the intricacy of the plot and just plain great storytelling. I'm looking forward to reading Susan's new book!

The Matt family said...

Sarah's Key stayed with me for a long time. The characters were amazing.

Amy C said...

So far, The Butterfly and the Violin is my favorite WW2 book. It's amazing!

Terri Wangard said...

Saving Amelia by Cathy Gohlke is amazing. So is Lost Loves of World War II Collection: Three Novels of Mysteries Unsolved Since World War II, by Bruce Judisch, Sharon Smith.

Deanna Stevens said...

The Butterfly and the Violin was my favorite..

Sharon Timmer said...

Toss up between The Butterfly and The Violin & Saving Amelie - they both were amazing stories set during the war during the Nazi era & made you feel like you were right there

traveler said...

My favorite World War 11 novel is The House at Tyneford. Memorable, profound and emotional. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Kathleen Rouser said...

So good to hear from so many of you, today! Thanks
for your comments and book recommendations,
Cheryl, Anonymous, Chelsea, Julie, Matt family,
Amy C, Terri, Deanna and Sharon!

A WW2 book I enjoyed recently was For Such a Time,
by Kate Breslin. It was a retelling of Esther set in
a Nazi concentration camp. Great characterization!

Kathleen Rouser said...

And Traveler . . . thank you, also.

Sm said...

I can't think of a WWII novellh
Scars I have read a lot of Civil War novels. I guess it would have to be The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom. Sm. wileygreen1( at)yahoo(dot)com.

Jackie Smith said...

Saw the movie, Unbroken....loved it. Guess The Hiding Place will always be a fave of mine.
Love your books, Susan and can't wait to read this one!
jacsmi75 at gmail dot com

bn100 said...

haven't read many, so no fav

Kelly said...

That's a hard question! I really enjoyed reading Unbroken a few months ago. If you are looking for fiction - I love the Thoene's WWII books.

Susan Meissner said...

These are some GREAT books you gals are sharing. Even though I mentioned it above, if you haven't read Sigmund Brouwer's Thief of Glory, pick it up! I had no idea what the Dutch civilians living in the Dutch West Indies went through in WW2. The story is so compelling.

Pamela Nastase said...

Probably Vienna Prelude by Brock and Bodie Theone because it was my first Christan WWII novel and was so incredibly well written.

Merry said...

I've listened to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on an audio book four times, loved it! The characters, the history of a place I'd never heard of before... all were wonderful and came to life.

SpreadinJoy said...

This is a fascinating period & even more so for me that I was able to travel this past year from London to Paris, Luxembourg and across Germany on the Rhine to Prague -- Thoene's books, Judith Pella's saga of 3 sisters, Ken Follett's Century Trilogy, Cara Putman's Shadowed by Grace (a story of Monuments Men in Italy), and the Book Thief, have all molded my knowledge of the war along with some movie counterparts -- Did you see the Imitation Game? & I loved the Monuments Men! Still have several of these others mentioned on my "To Read Later" list including Unbroken, War Brides, Girls of Atomic City, For Such As Time, Me. Churchill's Secretary, Butterfly and the Violin, Rosenberg's Auschwitz Escape & now Susan's Secrets of a Charmed Life.
juliadp at UW dot edu