Saturday, October 16, 2010

Special Guest Saturday: Interview with Susan Meissner!

Susan, thank you so much for being with us today! What a treat. You write such poignant fiction as is proven in The Shape of Mercy, where do you come up with your ideas?

These last few years I have been intrigued by events in human history, like the Salem Witch Trials, and the Warsaw Ghetto during WW II, Lady Jane Grey, and the idea that there are things about us that don’t change from century to century, such as the things we hold most precious and the things we fear the most. When I identify something in the past that has story value to the present, I just start stretching the idea to see how a present-day situation could be influenced by a unforgettable moment in the past. Usually when I come across a poignant or pivotal moment in history, there is something about it that speaks to us right now.

You have taught on writing a novel in just 30 days, would you care to give us a brief glimpse into your work with that?

I have found that if you are on very intimate terms with your novel’s plot and cast of characters you are well-equipped to start writing and enjoy some awesome momentum that - at least for me – allows me to write fast. 10 pages a day. Sometimes it's best to approach a big project with little, organized steps. I think of it as learning to produce 1½ pages an hour or 10 pages a day or one nicely-worded paragraph every five minutes. Before I begin the novel, I get the plot cemented in my head. I make sure I know what felt need I am going to address, and which reader sympathies I am going to appeal to. Then I make a character sketch of each cast member. The first character I develop is the one who is going be driving the plot, usually the protagonist. When I can deeply visualize all my characters, I usually do a better and faster job of creating action and dialogue for them. I give them hobbies, likes and dislikes, quirks, habits, talents, etc. Then I spend some time on their internal characteristics, especially the ones that will figure into the story arc. When I’ve decided on these details ahead of time, I find that I can usually write 10 pages a day for 30 days and not hit upon very many road blocks. Usually.

What inspires you in your writing life?

I guess you could say life inspires my writing life. I am wired to communicate, so as I observe life happening around me, I itch to say something about it, and the form of communication that scratches that itch best is writing. There is a world of truth out there that needs telling.

We all wish we could step back in time at one point or another, has there been any moments like that in your career that you wish you could go back and have a do over?

I can honestly say I can’t imagine doing anything differently and feeling okay with the unknown results. If I could go back and rewrite my own history, how would I know the results would be ones I would love or even like? With regard to my writing, if I did have the power to go back and take a different road, it would lead me to a place where I wouldn’t meet the same people I’ve met on this path. The friends I have made the past seven years I have been writing novels are so incredibly dear to me. I can’t imagine not knowing them or having them in my life to the extent I do now.

What advice do you have for the beginning/ struggling novelist?

First, surround yourself with other writers and begin to get some feedback from people whose opinion matters to you. Join the American Christian Fiction Writers ( ) and learn all that you can from the questions and answers that are posted to the main loop and in the forums and online chats. Novel-writing is a solitary pursuit so it’s wise to stay in community with other writers so that you can learn from them and grow as a writer.

When you have your novel finished or nearly finished, attend a writer’s conference so that you can share your concept one-on-one with editors and agents. There are many conferences to choose from. My favorite ones are the The Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference (held every year the week before Palm Sunday) and The American Christian Writer’s Conference, held every third week of September. Both of these conferences are top-notch events, loaded with workshops to supercharge your writing. You can also sign up for 15 minutes of face-time with editors and agents at these conferences.

Subscribe to Writers’ Digest or another writing magazine that offers timely advice, interviews, and skill-building articles.

Keep writing, even when it seems like you are just swimming laps in a pool when no one is watching. Every Olympic medalist in swimming started out swimming laps in a pool when no one was watching.

How long did you write before getting “the call” and how did you make your writing available for the publishers?

I waited to post my proposal to an online site until my first book was finished. And while I waited to see if it would attract any interest I started researching for my second. I was found by my first publisher online, but the lion’s share of new writers are discovered at writers conferences during those 15-minute consultations with agents and editors. I definitely suggest you make your writing available for publishers to peruse after you’ve made it the best you possibly can. Have it finished, have it critiqued, have it edited. The competition is pretty stiff. You need to do all you can to have your project shine brighter than the thousands of other book ideas out there.

Of your books, does one stand out as being the “story of your heart” or a particularly moving one that has really stuck with you?

That answer changes every year when a new book comes out! Right now, Lady in Waiting seems the most personal and dear to me. It’s the newest and the closest to my heart. I suppose that might change in the fall of 2011 when A Sound Among the Trees is released!

Thanks so much for stopping by! I know I am very excited for your coming release, Lady in Waiting. Can you share a bit more about that before you go?

Lady in Waiting dovetails the historical account of 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey with a fictional woman named Jane whose husband becomes disillusioned with their marriage and walks out. Both women appear to be victims of other people’s decisions, but things aren’t always what they seem.

Lady Jane Grey was pushed to England’s throne in 1553 by power-hungry people who wanted a lot more than just a Protestant in power. Her story is one that shows the darker side of sixteenth-century politics. Lady Jane Grey is often remembered for being a pawn in doomed bid for power, bereft of choice and in the end a Protestant martyr, but she actually made significant life choices that impacted her fate as much as the choices that were made for her did.

My modern-day Jane, who finds an ancient ring that she believes belonged to Lady Jane Grey, sees parallels in her life and Lady Jane’s, especially when it comes to finding the courage to make a tough decision rather than defer. Through contemporary Jane, who is the collective “us” in the story, I want to convey that we can’t always choose our circumstances but we can always choose how we will respond to them.

We here at the Alley wish you the best Susan and look forward to more books from you in the future!

Thanks for having me!

Thank you for being here Susan, what a treat and honor! You can connect with Susan online here at her:



Wendy Paine Miller said...

I normally stay of the Internet on Sat. but I saw you were interviewing Susan. Casey, great interview.

Susan, I like the idea of knowing the reader sympathies you aim to appeal to. So much goes into the pre-writing stages.

I hope you're still blogging b/c you write cool posts.

Worth checking out.
~ Wendy

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Excellent interview and what thought provoking answers. I'm curious as to what sites there are that allows you to post your proposals online for publishers to look at? I didn't know there was such a thing.

So did you sell your first manuscript? From the online site? Amazing...and a testimony to your great writing!

Thanks for joining The Writer's Alley today!

Casey said...

A treat to have you here Susan! Thanks so much for doing the interview, very informative and helpful. Thank you!

Amber Holcomb said...

I just had to stop by and say that I LOVED The Shape of Mercy! "Poignant" is just the right word for it. :)

Happy Saturday to everyone! :D


Kav said...

Great interview. And very timely as I'm heading to the bookstore after work and now I have a new-to-me author to look up!

Pepper said...

Lady Jane Grey's story? Wow. Did you find paralleling two stories more challenging than a more typical novel? I'm writing a series where there is a historical subplot which parallels the contemp main plot, and I was just curious.

Also, the covers of your novels are so lovely.
Thank you for the inspiring post. I love your idea of 10 solid pages a day.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Wonderful interview. I love you mentioning the fact that plotting speeds up your writing. I love your 30-day method although I would have to save that for another season as the only way I could get 8 hours to write is to take it from sleep.

Sarah Forgrave said...

What an interesting blend of contemporary and historical in your books! And like Sherrinda, I'm fascinated by the fact that you garnered interest by posting your material on a website.

Thanks for visiting here today!

Renee Ann said...

I've so enjoyed Susan's books! Thanks for doing this interview, Casey!

Susan Meissner said...

Wendy: Always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks for the nice words about the blog. I treat my blog like a desert cactus sometimes - sorry about that. I will try to do better!

Sherrinda: (Cool name, BTW) The proposal for my first book was found on what is now called by an editor at Harvest House before I knew very much about how to sell a manuscript. It is one way of getting exposure, but attending conferences where editors and agents are in attendance is usually the better way. The nice thing about posting online is it forces you to want to produce a top notch proposal.

Casey,Amber,Kavm Julia, Sarah and Renee: Thanks!

Pepper: Sometimes the dovetailing part comes easy and sometimes I have to pound it out of me. This one was both, actually. Modern-day Jane's story was harder to forge, probably because she was someone I made up and Lady Jane, thankfully, was real.I usually let the historical story inspire and birth the modern day story.