Monday, 4 December 2006

Interview with Susan Meissner

My book club recently enjoyed an email interview with Susan Meissner
after reveiwing her book,
A Seahorse in the Thames. I have posted our Q & A's below.

Qu: Which character do you identify with most, and why?

SM: Whenever I write a book in the first person, my main character is probably more like me than any other character in the book. I’ve never known the sorrows that Alexa has but if I did, and
I didn’t have God as my anchor, I would probably be just like her! Her responses to the troubles in her life are mine, were it not for grace at work in my life!

Did this book come from your own personal experiences or from the lives of people close to you?

I am thankful that I’ve not faced even half of the conflicts these people have faced. I have not known the loss of a sibling or the breakup of my parents’ marriage or the ache of loving the wrong man. I had to imagine what that might be like.

What prompted you to write this book?

It was all about the seahorse. When I read about its discovery I thought to myself, “Now that’s a metaphor for a story!’ Finding beauty in an unexpected place!”

What was your favourite part of this story?

I don’t consider myself a writer of romance, but I have to admit I like the part when Stephen kisses Alexa and she is overcome. Tears form in her eyes and he wipes them away with his thumb., fingering the wetness like it is silk. Yeah. That makes me feel happy inside.

What made you write about finding glimmers of hope as you put it at the end of the book?

Well, life sometimes doesn’t offer much more than glimmers and they’re easy to miss. And if we miss them, all we see is the stuff that makes us sad. And that’s not a pleasant thought. So it just seems to me that a reminder that we sometimes have to kneel down to look for little joys is a good thing.

What are some of the glimmers you have come across in your own life? When did you realize that faith in God is better than anything?

There was a time in the early 90s when my husband was out of work and it looked like there was no end in sight. Month after month of searching and praying was yielding nothing. I had to find my joys in little things like a gentle Christmas Eve snowfall, the prayers of my children and birdsong. My faith became my everything when I was 13 and I realized God was as good as He is big and wise.

How long does it take you to write a book and what is your usual process?

I outline and plot my stories before I write one word, so I usually have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen. And since my kids are either teenagers or out of the nest, I have the house to myself weekdays. Makes for fabulously quiet writing time. I can usually finish a book in about 6 to 8 weeks.

Where in general do you obtain you ideas from?

Most of my ideas come from a snippet of something I will read in the newspaper or magazine, like when I read about the seahorse in the Thames or the sudden return of a woman kidnapped when
she was a child (which was the idea behind my second novel, A Window to the World. I guess my ideas come from real life. I watch life being lived and take notes.

Were any of the character's experiences in the book based on your personal experience?

No, hallelujah, they were not!

Rebecca's situation was interesting - was her situation based on someone that you know or have heard about, or did the story just evolve with the book? It brought home to me how much of a responsibility we have to be a positive influence in the lives of the people we touch, no matter who they are.

I have known people who've suffered severe head trauma and who emerged from their injuries with personality changes. And the effects on their families were also very notable. Injuries that severe, that leave a person changed and forever dependent, take a huge toll on the family unit.

Did you leave the ending hanging about what happened to Stephen so that you can write a sequel?

I left it hanging because that is the essence of the story: it is truly a glistening shimmer of hope. If I were to tell you outright that Stephen survives, you would be robbed of that sense of hope and expectation. Does he survive? Well, what do you think? How brightly does your hope for him shine? I think he lives!

The book focused on the main character - Alexia and the situation’s she found herself in & the thoughts she had. The other characters had very interesting and deep stories to tell but we only got snippets of them. Do you think that the book could have had more depth to it, if you told more of their story & not deviate from your premise by so doing?

You ask a very interesting question! I set out to write this book from a single point of view, Alexa’s. I wanted the reader to see the people in
her life the way she sees them. To get inside the other people’s heads I would have changed the view from first person to third or I would have had to alternate chapters between first person points of view. I am reading Lisa Samson’s “Straight Up” right now and she alternates between the first person points of view of two characters and a third person point of view for a third character. It’s very effective for her story, but I don’t picture it working for Seahorse. It feels like this is the only way it could have been told.

Did you have the seahorse story in your mind first and then develop the characters around that or was it around the other way?

I had the seahorse motif first and I just tried to think up a tale that would fit the idea that things of beauty are sometimes lurking in dark corners.

What does a normal writing day look like for you?

When I’m in write mode I start about 9 a.m. and keep at it until 3 or 4 p.m. or until my teenage sons come home from school. Right now, I am in research and planning mode for the book that is due on March 1. I plan to start on it next Monday. Yikes!!

Did you always want to be an author?

I have always loved writing, ever since I was a little girl. I didn’t dream of being an author because it seemed too big a dream. To me, an author was someone who was published, and that just seemed too big to hope for. I have since learned to dream bigger! I am soooo glad God didn’t pay any attention to the shape of my dreams, that He paved the way for me to be published despite my near-sightedness.

How long does it take you to write a book from first ideas to finished product?

Most of the time it takes about six to eight weeks of five-days-a-week writing. But I plot before I begin writing. I interview my characters and wait until I feel fairly familiar with each of them before I begin.

I loved the theme of looking to find something beautiful in the midst of things which are not, I know that this has been true for me in my own life. Where did your inspiration for the book come from?

It really did come from reading a tiny newspaper article about a seahorse being found in the Thames by a London fisherman. It just struck me that this event made international news. A seahorse was the last thing that fisherman expected to find that morning. Sometimes the blessings of God are in shadow. We have to look close, bend down and squint. But they are there.

In the story of Clement, the fisherman almost misses the seahorse as he is not expecting to find anything of beauty in the river. Do you think we often miss that glimpse of splendor?

I do. I know I do. I am learning not to miss it, but it is a process. We’ve been conditioned, I think, to expect loveliness to be obvious. Sometimes loveliness is falling in love with a man with a brain tumor. You wouldn’t think that to be lovely unless you looked at the situation with different eyes.

What books might we be able to look forward to in the near future?

I have ideas swimming in my head for many more books! One in particular, was just fleshed out last month when I wrote the last word of Blue Heart Blessed; a book about a woman who opens a second-hand wedding dress shop with the intention of selling her own, unused wedding dress — her groom left her at the altar! But every time someone tries to buy it, she talks them out of it. Poor thing. It’s part chick-lit, part soul lit. It’s a fun read. It comes out in Jan 2008!

I like the way the main character, Alexa analyses the others’ actions and reactions to the various situations that unfolds in the story. Do you ‘ study’ people you know in order to come up with such believable personalities?

I have lived in a small town the last 12 years and have been able to live up close to many different personality types. When you live in a small town, you don’t have to study too hard to get a glimpse of the breadth and depth of the human quilt. I will be moving from the rural Midwest to southern California in January and I will miss that. I imagine I will be drawing from my Midwest experience for years to come!

Please share with us some of your spiritual journey.

I was raised Catholic and feel that my upbringing prepared me for a deep relationship with Christ. I committed my heart and mind to Jesus when I was 13 and I eventually left the Catholic Church, but I am glad I have known God since my earliest childhood memories. My husband Bob is a scholar of the Word and a pastor so I have grown in my faith by leaps and bounds because of the influence of this man, my best friend. We’ve lived overseas and in different parts of the US and have been involved with many different kinds of churches, but the bottom line is, Jesus is Lord. That’s all that matters.

Have you been published in the secular market? Why Christian fiction?

I haven’t been published in the secular market aside from newspaper articles — I was a managing editor of a local newspaper for a number of years. I chose to write for the Christian market because it seemed to fit me best. Someday I’d like to write a book for the secular market but that still honours God. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Symbolism plays a large part in your stories – please explain your reasons for your use of it.

I like symbolism because it is like art. It is subtle and
inventive and when the reader gets it, they feel like they’ve been let in on an amazing secret. It is so much more impacting than just telling someone something.

What are you reading now or who are some favourite authors?

I read a wide variety of authors. I like Lisa Samson and Siri Mitchell on the CBA side. I have also enjoyed books by Jane Hamilton, Sena Jeter Naslund, Ursula Hegy, Anita Shreve and Barbara Kingsolver.

I note you are a guardian ad litem – what does that entail?

I have actually given that responsibility up because it entailed so much of my time. I was involved with children in my county who were in need of an advocate in the courtroom. Many of them were truant, some were living in troubled homes, some were being neglected. My work with them included visiting them in their homes or foster homes, working with social services and other agencies to find the best solution for their predicaments and writing recommendations to the court. It was very rewarding, equally frustrating and of course, time-consuming. I gave it up when my writing vyed for these kids’ attention. They deserve someone who is single-minded.

If you were casting actors for a movie of “Seahorse”, who would you choose?

What a fun question! Let’s see. . . . I don’t know of any sets of twins, so the actress playing Alexa would have to play Priscilla, too — ala Parent Trap. . . Perhaps Brittany Murphy for Alexa and Priscilla, Natalie Portman for Rebecca, Diane Keaton for their mother, and maybe Josh Hartnett for Stephen!

Thanks for sharing with us Susan - it has been delightful! We look forward to reading your future books.

Read my review of A Seahorse in the Thames

Read my review of
Widows & Orphans

Check out Susan's other books:

Why The Sky Is Blue The Remedy For Regret In All Deep Places A Window to the World


Mom2Evie&Reagan said...

Excellent interview, Rel! I have read all of Susan's books and have loved every one of them. Can't wait for "Blue Heart Blessed"!


donna fleisher said...

Now this is cool. Two of my favorite friends talking about two of my favorite subjects: our Lord and the stories He gives us to read and write. Susan, you're a delight! Keep up the hard work, and may all those great ideas keep you busy for years to come.

Thanks, Rel!!! : )

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