I'm happy to have Susan on my blog with this book which won Publisher Weekly's Best Books of 2008 in fiction. And you readers will have the opportunity to win one of three Advanced Readers Copies of this book.
Susan, why do you write the kind of books you do?
I write the kind of books that I like most to read; a bit literary but not so deep and distant that they don’t seem real to life. I like books that have a faith thread that is subtle and deeply imbedded in the story’s theme such that a believer can hear the voice of God all over the pages and someone on the search for God will hear His whisper.
I like that description. That's how I perceive my spiritual threads, too. Besides when you came to know the Lord, what is the happiest day in your life?
It is so hard to pick just one day that stands out over all the others. Each of the four days my children were born were indescribably wonderful, the day I married my soul-mate was perfect, and the day I got my first book contract was over-the-top splendid. I am amazed by God’s goodness to me.
How has being published changed your life?
Surprisingly, being published has taught me that that’s just one thing that can happen to you when you are a writer. It doesn’t define you as a writer and it doesn’t complete you as a writer. When your dream of being published is realized, it’s funny, you simply start dreaming a new dream. You create new goals for yourself. You hope for new things. You also find that you still struggle with envy and doubt and frustration – the same as you did before. Everything you brought to the table before you were published, you still have after. It’s all about perspective and trust, as is just about everything that happens to us outside our control.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and it is phenomenal. It is about a white journalist and two African-American housekeepers - the help – in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi. It’s exceptionally well written.
What is your current work in progress?
I have just started Lady in Waiting, which is due to my editor later this summer and will release in fall 2010. It’s about a woman at a crossroads in her life and marriage who finds something that once belonged to Lady Jane Grey – the nine-day Queen of England back in the sixteenth century. I like blending stories of the current day with threads of the past. And I’ve always been intrigued by Jane Grey’s story. I can’t wait to really sink my teeth into this one. My next book, White Picket Fences, is just now headed to the printers for a Fall 09 release.
What would be your dream vacation?
A month-long stay in a villa overlooking the Amalfi Highway on Italy’s southern tip! Lots of books to read. No internet or email. Pasta and bread and fresh fruit and veggies all the time. My husband on the chaise next to me, making coffee in a French press. A big yellow dog at our feet. . . Mmmmm.
How do you choose your settings for each book?
I let the story dictate the setting. After I’ve had a chance to get to know the characters’ personalities I ponder which locale will best let me draw on their quirks and habits and layers. It is often the last thing I choose.
If you could spend an evening with one person who is currently alive, who would it be and why?
I have always wanted to spend an evening talking with whoever is president of the United States. In this case, that would be Barack Obama. If I am going to have a conversation that matters it should be with someone who can make a difference. There is so much we need to address as a nation. I am not even sure where I would start. Maybe I would ask him first what kind of world he wants to see his daughters inherit from him and then see where his answer takes us.
What are your hobbies, besides writing and reading?
I love to travel, spend time with my family, listen to music, play the piano, take long walks on the beach, fiddle with photography, mess about in the yard, cook Italian food.
What is your most difficult writing obstacle, and how do you overcome it?
I struggle with confidence and doubt. Like any obstacle that involves self-introspection I have to turn to God and ask Him to help me tune out the noise and listen to what He thinks about me. If He gave me the gift and passion to write, then He means for me to be writing.
What advice would you give to a beginning author?
Spend every spare minute you have sharpening your skill. Read good books, read good books on writing, write every day – even it’s just random thoughts – surround yourself with other writers and learn from them, don’t give in to apathy or frustration. Keep at your gifting. You were meant to share it.
Tell us about the featured book?
The Shape of Mercy is the story of three women, two in contemporary time and one in the past: Lauren is a privileged college student; Abigail is an old woman with a boatload of regrets, and Mercy is a young victim of the Salem Witch Trials. When Abigail commissions Lauren to transcribe Mercy’s diary, Lauren learns the truth about how we rise to snap judgments about other people and how we allow fear and the crowd to dictate who we will love – and why.
Please give us the first page of the book.
I’ve heard the story countless times, how I grasped the delivering doctor’s scrubs as he guided me into the Durough family universe of opportunity and duty. My father likes to say I came out of my mother’s body insistent on being taken seriously, declaring to the doctor who held my slippery limbs that I was no helpless female unable to forge her way through the world of men. I’ve seen the video.
My father had the camcorder rolling when my mother pushed me into waiting hands. Dad’s aim was discreet, thank goodness, because he’ll sometimes show that video when he tells the story. He’s even downloaded it onto his iPod. I’ve seen my open, squalling mouth, heard my mother’s throaty cries and a nearby nurse’s words: “It’s a girl.”
My infant body is a glistening, angry shade of pink, and I am indeed grappling for the doctor’s clothes as if prepared to wrestle him to the floor. My father loves that.
Whispered conversations over the years — which I wasn’t meant to hear — have suggested my father enjoys retelling this story because he needs to reassure himself it’s not the end of the world that God didn’t bless him with a son. Neither was I supposed to hear that my clutching at the doctor’s clothes could just as easily have been a cry of, “Help! I’m falling!” rather than, “Stand aside! I’ve arrived!”
I’ve long wondered if the whispering people are right. About both.
I can hardly wait to read the rest. How can readers find you on the Internet?
I am on the web at http://www.susanmeissner.com/
and at http://susanmeissner.blogspot.com/
and I have a character blog for The Shape of Mercy at http://theshapeofmercy.blogspot.com/.
Thanks for having me, Lena!
It's my pleasure, Susan.
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