Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Susan is an award winning newspaper columnist, pastor’s wife, and high school journalism instructor, as well as the author of the much loved novels, Why the Sky is Blue, A Window to the World, and A Remedy for Regret.
She lives in rural Minnesota with her husband, Bob and their four children.
Focus: Susan thank you for joining us! Before you were a novelist, you were the editor of your local newspaper. How do you think that position prepared you for writing the books you write today?
Susan Meissner: What writing real stuff (as opposed to fiction) did for me more than anything else was open my eyes to the depth, width and intricacy of the human quilt. By that I mean that just like a quilt is made of lots of little pieces, the world is a big place full of lots of different kinds of people. Typing up obituaries in my earliest reporting days gave me a very keen sense of how each life is different, how each life contributes and how each life leaves an imprint of his or her life behind them when they die. Good stories are all about ordinary people. Of course, some good stories are about extraordinary people, but I think the bulk of fiction is about people just like you or me or your next-door neighbor or your first-grade teacher or the kid in school who always got chosen last.
Focus: You’ve written three breathtaking novels, Why the Sky is Blue, A Window to the World, and The Remedy for Regret, with two more scheduled for release very soon. Is there one book, amongst those you’ve written, that is truly the book of your heart?
Susan Meissner: I don’t know that I will ever write the book of my heart, because I believe that will ultimately be my life story, which I like to think is only half-over! Every book I write feels like a sharing of that story, albeit in pieces, so maybe in essence I am writing it every time I start a new manuscript. I can tell you that everything I have learned about who God is and what He is like shows up my books, almost without forethought. I think that’s because when you are a fiction writer, your worldview bleeds out of you every time you tell a story. The five books that I have written, two of which have not yet been published, are all very special to me because of that; they reveal who I am and how I think.
Focus: You’ve said that you wrote your debut novel, Why the Sky is Blue, in response to a challenge you received to “measure (your) concern for pregnant women carrying children they did not plan to conceive.” Can you tell us a little more about the circumstances surrounding that challenge, and describe how writing Why the Sky is Blue affected you?
Susan Meissner: I was editor of a small town newspaper and I had to write the weekly editorial and my own column. Every now and then, one or the other would be written from my pro-life view that all human life is precious, irreplaceable and sacred to God. A subscriber who did not share my view in the same way, always came into the office afterward to challenge me when I wrote a piece about the sanctity of human life. This person was convinced people like me care only about the unborn child and not the woman who carries that child, who is also a person created by God and worthy of compassion, and that I hadn’t a clue what it was like to be pregnant when you didn’t want to be, didn’t plan to be, or worse, as the result of sexual assault.
I decided to take up the challenge of mentally stepping into those shoes. I wanted to imagine what it might be like to be in that predicament. I wanted to imagine the heartache, the doubts, the fear, the anger, and the anguish of giving birth to a child you will not keep. I had hoped that by writing it I would come out on the other side still believing that ending the life of an unborn child is never the best thing to do. I cried when I wrote it. I had loved my own unborn children, was awed by their subsequent births, and cannot imagine my life now without them in it. So, yes, it affected me deeply. I now have the compassion I perhaps lacked before. And I came out on the other end the way I hoped I would.
Focus: I cried so many times I lost count as I read Why the Sky is Blue. How did you capture so accurately the emotions of things you had not experienced? Or were there portions of the book you did write from personal experience?
Susan Meissner: I thank God that the only part of Why the Sky is Blue that actually happened to me is giving birth while nurses scurried around trying to find a net to catch the baby in! I had a nurse actually tell me when my daughter was being born not to push as my daughter’s head began emerging from my body. The rest of Claire’s experience was wrung out my head as I pondered my convictions about life. I could not have written the book had I not ever been pregnant and given birth. There is not an experience in the world like it. And after all, that is really what the book is about, not the attack itself.
Focus: The story of how this first book came to be published is both inspiring and unusual. Would you share a bit about that publication journey? What was your first thought when you were offered a contract for this book?
Susan Meissner: I owe everything that has happened to me as a professional novelist to a God who loves like no other. When I finished Why the Sky is Blue, all I had to get it into the hands of a publisher was Sally Stuart’s Market Guide, ten years’ of Writer Digest issues and good intentions. I didn’t go to any conferences, which was dumb. I should have. But I told myself I couldn’t afford it. I sent out my queries to the pub houses that still accepted non-agented newbies’ pleas to be read, and I queried agents, too. I placed proposals on Writers Edge and First Edition. Nothing happened.
When my First Edition subscription ran out, I almost didn’t renew it. On impulse one afternoon, I did. It was a totally spontaneous act. I hadn’t even prayed about whether or not to renew it. A couple months later I was moaning to God about how I wanted someone to give me a chance but it sure didn’t look like anyone would.
As I sat there contemplating the injustice of no one wanting to read my stuff, I had one of those pitiful surrender scenes. “Okay, God! Have it Your way! Do with it what You will. I am tired of stressing about this. It’s your book.” Well, God is a pretty good agent. When I really gave him the book (and my dreams for the book), He went to work. A week later a manuscript editor at Harvest House saw my proposal on First Edition. It was the very last one she looked at that day. She read my proposal, liked it, and emailed me right then to ask to see the whole manuscript. The rest, as they say, is history!
Focus: In A Window to the World, your second novel, you address the issue of kidnapping and how it wounds people who know and love the victim. What kind of reader responses have you received to this book? Are there any you’d like to share with us?
Susan Meissner: Reader responses have been wonderful and humbling. One reader wrote to me and said: “The words in your book have begun a healing I didn't think was possible. I suffered a childhood experience I do not wish to bring up, that has affected many aspects of my life and personality from way back then all the way to now. Your book helped me to understand this a little bit.” Wow, wow, wow.
And another said that A Window to the World helped her understand that “sometimes you are so involved in your circumstances that you can’t really see the truth. You see what you want to see, or you see the lies Satan has put there. I think I need to take a step back and eliminate all the lies and see what the truth is that I am left with.” I am in awe.
Focus: I have wondered, and I know a number of readers/reviewers have wondered as well, if you plan to write a sequel to A Window to the World. Will Megan, Jen, Charlie, and David be featured in one of your future books? And if not, who do you imagine Megan marrying?
Susan Meissner: I am still trying to come with a plot I really like for a sequel and am very open to input from readers. Drop me a note by clicking the e-mail the author button on this page, and give me your ideas. I will acknowledge you before the Father and on the Acknowledgement page if you come up with a winning idea. I want something that will ring true and not turn these characters’ lives into a melodrama :)
Focus: One of the most poignant scenes I have ever read in a book is the graveyard scene you included in your latest book, The Remedy for Regret. How hard was that scene for you to write? Did you find it difficult to put the emotions and the sense of God into words the way you saw and felt them in your heart?
Susan Meissner: Okay, well, just thinking about kneeling at the grave of my mother, especially trying to imagine growing up without her, was an incredibly emotional experience. It really wasn’t that hard to write because I am a daughter and I have a mother. If you have the skill and experience to imagine something, you really can just close your eyes and you are there. That’s kind of all I had to do. I wrote that scene once and didn’t change anything about it when I read through the completed manuscript for rewrites. If it had been a scene about a mute guy who works at a bowling alley frequented by drug addicts I probably would have rewritten it a dozen times.
Focus: Strong, wise, older women are present in each of your stories. We meet Rosemary In Why the Sky is Blue, Adele in A Window to the World, and Corinthia in The Remedy for Regret. Do you have a Rosemary, Adele, or Corinthia in your own life? And if so, what formative influence has she had on you?
Susan Meissner: Actually I don’t have that kind of person in my life. I wish I did. More importantly, I wish I could someday be that kind of woman to someone. It almost seems too much to hope for; those women are such godly gals who probably never hang up on telemarketers or sneak into their kids’ Halloween candy or pretend they don’t see that needy person at church who is looking to vent to someone for a couple hours. As you can see, I have some work to do. . .I think I write these strong women into my stories as a way of challenging myself to become who they are.
Focus: Another common thread in your books is that each of your main characters wrestles with one great “what if” question about loss. For Kate in Why the Sky is Blue, it is, ‘What if we’d kept my sister?’ For Megan in A Window to the World, it is, ‘What if I hadn’t lost my best friend?’ And for Tess in The Remedy for Regret, it is, ‘What if I hadn’t killed my mother?’ As you’ve wrestled through these question of loss with your characters, what one truth have you found that is most healing, or most important?
Susan Meissner: Everybody asks the “What ifs.” I think that’s why God goes to such great lengths to reveal his multi-faceted character within the pages of Scripture. Because we are so apt to say, “Oh, if only. . . .” when trials fall upon us, especially a trial of loss. For me, in writing about loss, the most important thing I have rediscovered is that the most wonderful “if” sentence in all the world goes like this: If God is for us, who can be against us? There is no loss that compares with what we will always still have, if we have God.
Focus: As we mentioned earlier, you’ve got two new novels coming out in the very near future. Can you give us a brief synopsis of In All Deep Places, and A Seahorse in the Thames, and tell us what you love most about each of these stories?
Susan Meissner: In All Deep Places is essentially a book about the universal longing we all have to be where God is. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts. It is a part of who we are. In this book, a writer comes to his childhood home to take care of some family matters and while there, he mentally travels back to his childhood and to the relationships he developed with the kids who lived in the troubled house next door. What I like about this book is that it makes me lift my chin and look to the sky — and to what awaits. Earth is not our home, we’re just a-passing through. . .Look for this one in January 2006.
A Seahorse in the Thames, which I just finished last week is about learning to look for beauty in places where you least expect to find it. This book isn’t really about a seahorse or the Thames River, but it is about bending down when you catch a glimpse of something lovely and not pretending you didn’t see it there. The story is about a woman whose sister, a mentally-challenged, vulnerable adult, runs away from her group home. In her search for her sister, Alexa discovers lots of other things, including traces of loveliness in very unexpected places. Harvest House will release this one in July of 2006.
Focus: What do you feel is the greatest message with which God has entrusted you, and why have you chosen fiction as the medium for that message?
Susan Meissner: The message is that God is lovingly sufficient for any need, any task, any longing. The medium for the message was chosen for me. Honestly. I write stories because I simply must. It’s a God thing.
Focus: Where would you like to see yourself—in your writing career and in life—five years from now, and what do you hope readers will be saying about your work then?
Susan Meissner: In five years I hope I am still writing fiction and that I am getting better at it with every new book that comes out. I confess that I’d also like to see my books up front in Barnes and Noble by then, too. Like when you come in the front door and you get a whiff of coffee and there in front of you, with that wonderful aroma swirling about you, is the table with those lovely new fiction releases? Yeah. I’d like to be there.
Focus: Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Susan Meissner: I absolutely treasure every email and letter I get from readers. Your feedback is essential to me. Honestly. You are the reason I write!