To celebrate the release of her new novel Stars Over Sunset Boulevard (which hit stores in January), we sat down with Susan and asked her questions about her new novel, her writing process, and what she has coming up next. We are thrilled to have Susan on the blog today and loved getting to know more about her – plus, we have a special giveaway for one lucky reader!
Thank you so much for sitting down with Karen’s Korner for a Q&A session. What was your inspiration for Stars Over Sunset Boulevard? How do you come up with your ideas for books?
I have an idea file on my computer for historical nuggets I come across electronically and a drawer in my desk for the ones I find in the newspaper or in a magazine, and for jotted notes. Sometimes the idea, like the itch to write a story that takes place on the 1939 movie set of Gone with the Wind, is one that suggests itself to me out of my own life experience. I’ve always loved this movie, and have probably seen it twenty times. Taking inflation into consideration, it is still the highest-grossing movie ever produced. The why of that intrigued me and led me to pursue the making of this film as a backdrop for a novel.
What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline and do you write every day?
Once I have that historical event or setting in mind and done the research on it, I decide who to give it to. I brainstorm to figure out who the main characters are going to be, what they want and why they want it, which is the heart of every novel no matter who is writing it. Then I see how I can make the historical setting and the characters’ desires work together in both good and bad ways. And by bad ways, I mean the setting needs to provide a source of tension. I write only on writing days, which are distinct from plotting and research days. On writing days, my quota is 2,000 words. I usually need about four or five months’ worth of writing days to get to my 100,000 words for the finished novel.
What has been the best compliment you’ve received about any of your books so far?
I suppose the highest affirmation I’ve gotten is when a reader so identifies with my characters and the storyline and the thematic takeaway that he or she feels changed inside or looks at a time in history in a whole new way.
I love the cover of all your books but especially Stars Over Sunset Boulevard! Who designed it and how many different ones did you go through until you found the right one?
I am so very fortunate to have had such talented artists at my publishing houses. My last three novels are under Penguin’s Berkley/NAL label and were all designed in-house and, from what I hear, these artists actually read the manuscripts to get a feel for the book’s mood and aesthetic. I am asked for my conceptual ideas at the beginning of the process but then they run with it and I don’t see the result until they have come up with the one they like best. When I get sent that image, if there’s something about it that doesn’t feel quite right I send my thoughts and, if my editor agrees with me, it goes back to the drawing board. It also goes back to the drawing board if marketing comes up with an idea to give the cover more market appeal. You can still see the original cover idea for Stars Over Sunset Boulevard on Goodreads.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Freelance writing is a fairly solitary endeavor so if you’re just starting out it makes sense to gain community with other writers from whom you can learn and grow in your skills. Join a writer’s group, online or local, where you can get feedback on your writing that is objective and constructive. Having your mom or best friend read your work is helpful to a point. It is hard for someone who loves you to be completely objective. And keep writing, even when it seems like you are just swimming laps in a pool when no one is watching. Even Michael Phelps started out doing laps in a pool when no one was watching.
If you didn’t write books, what would you do for a living?
I like the idea of owning a little bookshop that also has a coffee bar. I can see it on a sweet little street in one of San Diego’s beach towns, like Del Mar or Cardiff-by-the-Sea. I haven’t the faintest idea how to make a small business successful, however, so I plan to keep writing books and just patronize shops like that!
With an author as a mother, do your children love to read? What were some of their favorite books growing up and what are some of their favorites now?
I am so happy to say that they do, all four of them. They are all adults and out of the nest but they still love and buy and read books. Their favorite books when they were little were anything by Dr. Seuss or P.D. Eastman and the Berenstain Bears books. When they were older they loved the Harry Potter books. Our daughter was a Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. M. Montgomery and Babysitters Club fan. My grown sons all have differing tastes now. Son #1 likes philosophy, Son #2 history and the arts, and Son #3 theology, sociology and matters related to law and justice. Our daughter still loves literary fiction and reads both classic and contemporary novels with a literary bent.
If you’re allowed to tell us, what can your readers expect next? Are you currently working on anything new?
I am in revisions or the book I am writing next, which is tentatively titled A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN. One of its key settings is the HMS Queen Mary during one of its many GI war brides crossings. The Queen is such a perfect place to set a story, because she has such a marvelous past. She started out as a luxury liner, was made a troop carrier during the war, and has been a floating hotel here in California since the early ‘70s. She is also fabled to be haunted by numerous ghosts, a detail I simply cannot ignore. This story thematically, though, is about three war brides – one French, one British and one German woman pretending to be a Belgian war bride – who meet on the Queen Mary in 1946. The current-day character, Brette, has the family gift of being able to see ghosts and she very much wishes she couldn’t. She also doesn’t want to pass along that hereditary gift to a child but her husband is anxious to start their family. All of these characters will face a bridge they need to cross where the other side is hidden from their view. The concept of a bridge across the ocean – which seems impossible — speaks to how difficult it is to go from one place to another when you can’t see what awaits you. This book will release in 2017.
About the Author:
Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Fall of Marigolds, named by Booklist’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. She is also a RITA finalist, and Christy Award winner.
A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she’s not working on a novel, she writes small group curriculum for her San Diego church. She is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.
Connect with Susan:
About Stars Over Sunset Boulevard:
When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take the reader on a journey to the past.
It’s 1938 and Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Los Angeles after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, landing a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.
What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.
To celebrate the release, Susan and her team have graciously provided Karen’s Korner with a copy of her new book for a giveaway! Enter via the Rafflecopter below (US entries only:)
a Rafflecopter giveaway