Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Special Interview with Award Winning Author Susan Meissner (and Giveaway!)

Today we're participating in a blog tour for a new book by award-winning novelist Susan Meissner who’s here with us today to talk about her newest book from Penguin NAL. A Fall of Marigolds is a part historical novel, part contemporary novel set on Ellis Island in 1911 and in Manhattan a hundred years later. Make sure you read to the end of the post so that you can find out how to get in on a drawing for a fabulous gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card.

Susan, tell us where the idea for A Fall of Marigolds came from.

I’ve long been a history junkie, especially with regard to historical events that involve ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. A couple years ago I viewed a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the section of Ellis Island that no one really has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are falling into ruins, a sad predicament the documentary aptly addresses. The images of the rooms where the sick of a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. I knew there were a thousand stories pressed into those walls, stories of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life. But unless they could be cured of whatever disease they’d arrived with, they would never set foot on America’s shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate in-between place – it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story

What is the story about, in a nutshell?


The book is about two women who never meet as they are separated by a century. One woman, Taryn, is a 9/11 widow and single mother who is about to mark the tenth anniversary of her husband’s passing. The other is a nurse, Clara, who witnessed the death of the man she loved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Manhattan in 1911.In her sorrow, Clara imposes on herself an exile of sorts; she takes a post at the hospital on Ellis Island so that she can hover in an in-between place while she wrestles with her grief. She meets an immigrant who wears the scarf of the wife he lost crossing the Atlantic, a scarf patterned in marigolds. The scarf becomes emblematic of the beauty and risk inherent in loving people, and it eventually finds it way to Taryn one hundred years later on the morning a plane crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.

This is your first general market novel after having written more than a dozen books for the inspirational market. Why the switch?


I got my start in the inspirational market and am immensely grateful for that experience. Every published novelist wants to connect with her ideal reader. We don’t all like the same genres and we don’t all like the same style and voice. I believe a great many of my ideal readers shop in the general marketplace because that’s where I shop. My favorite authors — among them Kate Morton, Geraldine Brooks, Lisa See, Jamie Ford, and Diane Setterfield — are all general marketplace authors. Add to this that my faith threads are always subtle rather than obvious, then the move to the general market place seems like a great way for me to connect with more readers. My approach to faith in my writing is one that I liken to the subtlety of God’s presence and influence in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. The faith thread in the Book of Esther is as subtle as it can be – God is never even mentioned – and yet the story is powerfully told and the virtues of loyalty, trust, hope, and courage are obvious. I have never thought of myself as writer of Christian fiction but rather a Christian who writes fiction.

Your last few novels have had historical components interwoven within a contemporary story. Why do you prefer that kind of story construction?


I think living in Europe for five years awakened my love for history. It’s like it was always there but my time spent overseas just woke it up. When I think back to the subjects I did well in and that came easy to me in high school and college, it was always English and history, never math or science. I appreciate the artistry of math and the complexity of science, but neither subject comes easy to me.  History has the word “story” in it. That’s what it is. It’s the story of everyone and everything. How could I not love it?  Study history and you learn very quickly what we value as people; what we love, what we fear, what we hate, what we are willing die for. History shows us where we’ve been and usually has lessons for us to help us chart where we’re going.

Why a scarf of marigolds? What is their significance?



Marigolds aren’t like most other flowers. They aren’t beautiful and fragrant. You don’t see them in bridal bouquets or prom corsages or funeral sprays. They don’t come in gentle colors like pink and lavender and baby blue. Marigolds are hearty, pungent and brassy. They are able to bloom in the autumn months, well past the point when many other flowers can’t. In that respect, I see marigolds as being symbolic of the strength of the human spirit to risk loving again after loss. Because, face it. We live in a messy world. Yet it’s the only one we’ve got. We either love here or we don’t. The title of the book has a sort of double-meaning. Both the historical and contemporary story take place primarily in the autumn. Secondarily, when Clara sees the scarf for the first time, dangling from an immigrant’s shoulders as he enters the hospital building, she sees the floral pattern in the threads, notes how similar they are to the flames she saw in the fire that changed everything for her, and she describes the cascading blooms woven into the scarf as “a fall of marigolds.” 

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

My next book is set entirely in England, mostly during The London Blitz. My main character starts out as a young, aspiring bridal gown designer evacuated to the countryside with her seven-year-old sister in the summer of 1940. Though only fifteen, Emmy is on the eve of being made an apprentice to a renowned costumer and she resents her single mother’s decision to send her away. She sneaks back to London – with her sister in tow – several months later but the two become separated when the Luftwaffe begins its terrible and deadly attack on the East End on the first night of the Blitz. War has a way of separating from us what we most value, and often shows how little we realized that value. I have always found the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside – some for the entire duration of the war – utterly compelling. How hard it must have been for those parents and their children. I went on a research trip to the U.K. in the fall of 2013 and I spoke with many individuals who were children during the war; some were separated from their parents, some were bombed out of their homes, some slept night after night in underground Tube stations, some watched in fascination as children from the city came to their towns and villages to live with them. This book explores issues of loss and longing, but also the bonds of sisters, and always, the power of love.

Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of fifteen books, including The Shape of Mercy,
named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.

Writer's Alley friends! Read a little bit further for a way to win Susan's latest release and put your name in the hat for a whole bunch more. :-))

As part of the release of A Fall of Marigolds and this blog tour, Susan is giving to one lucky winner a gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card, a copy of the book, the DVD Forgotten Ellis Island, and a beautiful re-purposed infinity scarf patterned in marigolds and made from a vintage Indian sari. To be eligible, just leave a comment here between today and midnight Eastern on Friday, February 21. If you would like to see a list of the other participating blogs on this tour, just click here. Feel free to visit those blogs and increase your chances of winning by posting one comment on those blogs as well. One comment per blog will be eligible.
Additionally, there will be one winner of a signed copy of A Fall of Marigolds from among those who comment on this blog. Just leave a comment by midnight Eastern on Friday, Feb. 28 and you’re in the running for the grand prize as well as a signed copy of the book. Good luck!

35 comments:

Glynis said...

Seeing that Susan has a new book out just made my day yesterday! Love the structure of her books with a seamless weaving of historical and contemporary story lines and I can't wait to read this one! Thanks for a great interview :)

Pepper said...

Oh my goodness, Susan, I am in love with this book already!!! Partially because of the compelling nature of the story and partially due to the fact that I'm drawn to Edwardian era novels.
I can't wait to find this!!

What beautiful symobilism and deep meaning? I'm a lover of history too and it was awakened when I traveled to England.

Btw, do you start off a story with an idea (the hospital and what happened) or with characters, usually? Just curious - I imagine it might be different for different books.

Casey said...

Glynis, I'm right there with you! I love Susan's books and how she mixes present with the past so beautifully. Thanks for stopping by today!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Susan, your newest books sounds wonderful! I"m going to be looking for it. :) I've loved the other books I've read by you.

I'd love to know, how do you make your stories so unique? I've marveled at how you craft each story with unique twists and perspectives. :)

Elaine Stock said...

Thanks for making Susan's Giveaway possible. I'd love to win. My grandfather had 2 siblings sent back to Europe from Ellis Island because they were "deaf mutes" and weren't permitted to step foot on American soil. Sad, but true.

estock(at)fairpoint(dot)net

Susan Meissner said...

Thanks for all your lovely comments, everyone!

Pepper: I usually start with just a wisp of an idea and it comes to me when I am not looking for it! I saw those haunting photos of Ellis Island today and they just whispered story story story. Here's a site with lots of these compelling photos:
http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=5356

Susan Meissner said...

Jeanne: I have no idea how I do what I do! Seriously. I guess the best way to describe is I chase every rabbit on every rabbit trail. I imagine how many different ways a person could get to be where they are at and just as many ways to get them out of the mess. I am always asking WHY? Why are they here? Why does it matter? Why do they want what they? WHY questions always lead to character motivation, as much a driver of plot as anything I can think of!

Susan Meissner said...

Above, I meant to write, "why do they want what they WANT?"

Pamela Nastase said...

I can't wait to read this book since I love her other books. And I wouldn't mind winning ;)

Patty said...

Sounds very interesting, the weaving of the two stories separated by 100 years together. I am not familiar with Susan's writing, and would love to read this book.

pattymh2000(at)yahoo(dot)com

Pattie said...

This book is going to put Susan on the map--even though I've been trying to increase her readership one friend at a time :) It's so good I'm trying to stretch out the reading of it as long as I can...and if I win the book, the winning book will go to my sister :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Can't wait to read this one! I love the Edwardian period and the cover is gorgeous.

I've just started my first Kate Morton novel and I can see why you like her so much! I'm falling in love with her beautiful descriptions, such a vacation for the mind.

Great interview, Susan!

Bluebelle said...

I'm so glad You did this interview, Susan! I've never read your books before, but I want to now! And what an awesome giveaway! :)

Which period excited you more to write about: the Ellis Island period or WW2? I love stories set in the latter, so I'm just curious. :)

Carol Clevenger said...

Susan, I enjoy your books very much. You gave me one years ago at a time it really touched me. Thanks for all your great work.

Susan Meissner said...

Thanks again, everyone! Bluebelle,I have found both are fascinating periods, but there is something about the WW2 era that is like a magnet for me. I think it might be because this was a time when everyone everywhere was touched by what was happening around them, and the fact that there was so much at stake, and soooo many brave people stepped forward at great personal risk.

Bluebelle said...

That's an excellent description! It was a period when you couldn't hide. You had to choose a side and live with the consequences of your choice. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Oh, Susan! I remember talking with you about this book at ACFW.... Now I'm even more convinced I will love it! What beautiful symbolism! I'm a big advocate of subtle Christian themes reaching through a secular story-reaching a market very often out of the reach of Christian Fiction authors. The message can break through and sow a seed in an unlikely place. Cheers to another Christian who writes fiction. I'm looking forward to reading your story and seeing it take off in ABA! Thanks for joining us on the Alley! A pleasure.

Susan Meissner said...

Thanks,Amy, for your affirming words!! It was so cool to be here.

Jackie Smith said...

I love Susan's books....have read all of them (I think). I am anxious to read this one...a big THANKS for the giveaway.
jacsmi75 at gmail dot com

Jackie Smith said...

I love Susan's books....have read all of them (I think). I am anxious to read this one...a big THANKS for the giveaway.
jacsmi75 at gmail dot com

bn100 said...

Nice interview

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an incredibly interesting story. 1. Marigolds have always been a favorite of mine, because they survive the hottest draught and even the cooler summers. They add a bright spot to any landscape, while chasing away the mosquitos. 2. Ellis Island has a personal link to so many people, and most are unaware of it. It has limitless stories to be told. 3. I love a good story with historical background. 4. I'm always looking for books by authors I haven't read before.
michj0447@gmail.com

Anna Pry said...

I think the history and stories about Ellis Island are fascinating
Pryfamily5@gmail.com

Rita said...

Sounds like a good read.

Kit3247(at)aol(dot)com

Lisa Brown said...

Appealing cover; story line sounds great, I hope I can get a chance to read it. Thank you for the opportunity to win :)
jslbrown_03(at)yahoo(dot)com

Mocha with Linda said...

This is Susan's best novel yet, and I've loved her previous ones.

Exciting giveaway!

Julie Valerie said...

I don't need to win the prize package - let a reader win it. I'm a book blogger also on the Susan Meissner Blog Tour and wanted to pop in to say hello to the folks at The Writer's Alley. Hi folks! From one book blogger to another: Hope you're having a great day. (Love your blog!) - Julie

Lane Hill House said...

My very absolute favorite is the two-Jane story and Lucy should have a follow-up! She was sturdy-steady and a dear friend in Lady in Waiting. My ancestors came through Ellis Island. I am second-generation American born. I would love to win A Fall of Marigolds and your prize basket gifts! Thank you. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]net

Andrea said...

What a great story! I have always be fascinated with Ellis Island.

andrea2russia@hotmail.com

Prayer of Hope said...

this is amazing! I can't wait to read it. Just reading your telling of the inspiration behind it is wonderful!!

Susan said...

Would love to win. Thanks.

Karla Akins said...

I can hardly wait to read this book. It looks extremely compelling. Thanks for a great interview and pics!

Carol L. said...

I love when the past and present are linked together This sounds like an amazing read and it's now on my TRL.
Thanks for the opportunity.
Carol L
Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

Debbie G. said...

This sounds like a great book to read! I found the interview fascinating and now I really want to read the book even more! :) Thank you for the chance to win.

debbie(underscore)griffith(at)hotmail(dot)com

Britney Adams said...

What a compelling interview and wonderful giveaway! A Fall of Marigolds sounds like an amazing story! Thank you so much for the chance to be a winner!

texaggs2000 at gmail dot com