Here are your random numbers:
Timestamp: 2009-04-22 18:28:45 UTC
Congrats to Beverlydru! Email me your info and I'll get it in the mail to you!
I will long treasure the memory of the Christian Book Expo and the opportunity to be around so many authors. Meeting the names on my bookshelves was a thrill in itself. But the opportunity to sit down and talk with them and get a glimpse behind the scenes of their writing was an indescribable privilege. These folks have such a spiritual depth and a driving desire that their words present God's truth. Having received disparaging and even disdainful remarks from friends who say they don't read fiction books (implying, if not outright declaring, greater spiritual maturity to be found in non-fiction), I must say that I have learned some great lessons from these fiction authors' books. (And after all, Jesus spoke in parables, which would be considered fiction, right?!) But I digress.
Today I share with you the heart of Susan Meissner. Susan's book The Shape of Mercy (which I reviewed here) won the ECPA Book of the Year Award at the Expo. (It has also been nominated for a RITA award by the Romance Writers of America, in the category Novel with Strong Romantic Elements; winner to be announced July 18, 2009.) It was wonderful to sit down and talk with her.
Congratulations on your award!
“Thank you. I was very surprised. I was in a field of wonderful writers. Anyone really could have won, and all of our writing is different enough that it could have appealed to the panel of judges in any number of ways, so yes, I was surprised and pleased. . .it’s affirmation for me, which is one of my love languages. It will help me remain confident that I have a gift and I’m meant to use it – because I do struggle with confidence. . . This helps me feel that I have something that God has given me to do and I am meant to use it and I’m using it in the way He wants me to.
Tell me about the book. It was a good book. I don't know if I would say I enjoyed it, because some books are tough to read because they’re hard and gritty. There were some sad and hard things in it. The Salem Witch Trials took me back to my junior year in high school; I hadn't thought about them in years. What made you come up with this storyline or idea?
I had actually forgotten that I was in a play when I was 13; I played the role of a young girl accused of witchcraft. It was a one-act play called To Burn a Witch and it was set in England. This other young girl and some of our friends were placed in this cell and we knew we were going to die. And I got it in my head that if I started screaming and railing and that one of the other girls was bewitching me that I might be let go, so that’s what my character did. I screamed, and everyone in the front row jumped, and they led me away to safety, while the others were led away to be burned. And it was the whole idea that you can sway the crowd with just a word, and if they want to believe it, they will.
I've never forgotten what it felt like to be the accused and then the accuser. But I hadn't thought about it in years. Then a couple of years ago I read an article about a woman wanting to exonerate her great-times-8-grandmother who had been accused of witchcraft but her name had never been expunged, and she wanted to clear her name. So when I read that, I remembered the play and reading The Crucible in high school, and it all came together.
The idea for the diary came as I was thinking “How can I make it real? How can I take our present day notions back in time? That's what Arthur Miller did with The Crucible - it wasn’t about the Salem Witch Trials; it was about McCarthyism. It was about everyone accusing everyone else of being a Communist. [In The Shape of Mercy] this young college student from an affluent family is tired of the presuppositions people make about rich people. She thinks she’s above all that, that she sees people for who they are. As she’s transcribing the diary, she realizes she does make presuppositions and she does rise to snap judgments and she does believe the worst about people because that’s easier.
As I said in my review, it reminds me of GroupThink.
Exactly. And it's all motivated by fear – when someone is afraid – like Chicken Little and The Sky is Falling!; he was able to use his fear to sway all the others.
You've written quite a few books, haven't you?
This is my tenth book.
Have you always wanted to write?
I can’t remember when I didn’t want to write. So that’s why I think it was a gifting from God. It was just an innate thing that kept blossoming in different places. I wrote little poems and stories in elementary school. And I had a really great English teacher in high school and he was really instrumental; he saw that I had potential and he kept finding ways to draw it out and encourage me. He kept writing comments on my papers to affirm me. I dedicated my first book – he’s in the acknowledgements. I see him now; I live back where I went to high school and we go out for coffee. It’s wonderful to see him because he was pivotal as far as my confidence to even try this. When you write, it’s an expressive art form, and it invites criticism; it invites reaction -- it’s putting yourself out there. But I feel like I’m wired for it. and I’m restless when I’m not writing.
So do you have the voices in your head?!
I do. Not so much the voices but the images of things that I'm picturing, the conversations that I'm picturing, a home, someone’s dress, or seeing someone in the airport and wanting to follow them to where they’re going, feeling like they're a walking character – what do they sound like when they talk on the phone? Do they fidget when they sit down? Are they a coffee drinker or a tea drinker? It's probably slightly annoying and unnerving. Most writers have highly developed observation skills and that's why we see a story where there is no story because we've trained our minds to see beyond what's there.
How do you prepare? Do you journal and "listen" to your characters before writing?
I ask my characters a list of questions. Like, "what are you afraid of?" Knowing what I'm going to put them through, what would they be afraid of, and what fear could I use to drive my plot? Who do they admire? What is their favorite food? It might not even show up in the plot. And sometimes I give them my own characteristics. I really love Wheat Thins with peanut butter and raisins on them. I gave that to one of my characters. I need to know my characters before I write about them. I could write a story about my sister because I know her. So I need to know my characters like that.
What is your next project?
I have a book coming out in October called White Picket Fences. It's about a contemporary family with the iconic perfect life from the outside – the white picket fence life: good jobs, parents who love each other, a boy, a girl, a dog, a minivan. They’ve even convinced themselves everything is fine. But one of the kids has some powerful and painful memories and no one wants to talk about it because to do so would be to admit they don’t have the perfect life.
And that is all I'm going to share from the interview about that book right now! I'm going to save the rest for this fall when the book is coming out! Just wanted to whet your appetite a bit!!
Thanks so much, Susan!
Susan has a beautiful website and two blogs. Edgewise is her blog containing her posts on Mondays and Fridays regarding "topics such as literature, writing, culture, and lots of etcetera." The Shape of Mercy blog is a place where the characters in the book live on as though time hasn't stopped. Join Lauren, Clarissa, Abigail, Esperanza and Mercy as they post on Mondays and/or Fridays.
Fresh from the Expo, I have a copy of The Shape of Mercy, signed by Susan and with the ECPA Book of the Year seal on it for one of you! Just leave a comment on this post by noon tomorrow (Wednesday, April 22) and I will draw a winner. Continental US residents only, please!
View blog reactions