Recently we had the pleasure of talking with Susan Meissner, author of A Fall of Marigolds, Secrets of a Charmed Life, and many more. The interview was recorded and can be played in the player below. Also included is a transcription so you can follow along. Enjoy!
Announcer: Welcome! You’re listening to an exclusive author interview brought to you by christianaudio.com.
Victoria Morgan: Hello and welcome to the conversation. I’m Victoria Morgan interviewing for christianaudio. Our guest today is Susan Meissner and she is absolutely a “stunning storyteller” … so aptly described by the Publisher’s Weekly. Susan is a multi-published author, speaker, and she also leads a writing workshop. Her novels include A Fall of Marigolds that was named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014, and Secrets of a Charmed Life, which is a 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Both of those are available, and are favorites, on christianaudio.com. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four. Susan, thank you for joining us.
Susan Meissner: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Victoria Morgan: Susan, we invited you because our listeners are curious. We want to know about your seemingly limitless undercurrent of creativity. In both Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Fall of Marigolds, your characters – Clara, Taryn, Kendra, Emmy – well, they develop as history does. You richly weave those cultures and time periods, landscapes, war, history, politics, all into a much broader story, and it just draws us in. So, history must be a passion of yours. Can you share that passion with us?
Susan Meissner: Oh, sure. I’d be happy to. Actually, I’ve realized later in life how much I love history. I was actually an education major in college, and I have no regrets about that, but I’m just finding out that the more I age, the more I value the paths that have gone before us. And I think if I could go back, I actually would major in history. Literature … I think I’m already in love with that, but the study of history, I think, requires a discipline study because we go into bookstores all the time to buy literature to read for entertainment. But to really study history, I think it takes time and effort. And I’m finding that with history we discover not just what happened in the past. That’s kind of incidental. What we really discover is what we love and hate and fear and admire and what we value, what we don’t value. It all shows up in the pages of history. And I feel like you get to learn something interesting and perhaps, informative that you didn’t know before, when you combine history in a novel.
Victoria Morgan: Absolutely! Absolutely! Sadly, that’s often ignored, but not in your books. In fact, in your books, it’s so intricately woven that we can’t have a story without the history behind it — and it’s beautiful. Susan, in Secrets of a Charmed Life, there is the wedding dress.
In Fall of Marigolds, there is the fabric store. Your other books like Stars Over Sunset Boulevard contain this underlying theme of fabric and dresses. And it seems like you’re weaving relationships a lot like those fabrics, designing the colors as you go. It’s a lot like stepping back and discovering the unique pattern that God has woven for us. So, what is it that draws you to fabrics and wedding dresses and such? Is there a personal story behind that?
Susan Meissner: Well, I absolutely love that question because it shows that you’ve piqued in on my brain. And I think for a lot of readers and listeners, some of the metaphors that we authors try and weave (laughs) into the story might get lost, because metaphor is very, very subtle. And I probably put far more metaphor into my stories than I need to. I just feel like, for me, as the author I enjoy that much more when I’m writing if I feel like there is symbolism going on at the subtle level. And so, that was kind of a purposeful thing on my part. Every bolt of fabric, it’s just like a story, it’s like blank page, like a blank canvas for an artist. I love how fabric and clothing pieces … we attached meaning to those things.
A wedding dress is not just a dress, and then we hand them to our daughters or granddaughters. And hats and scarves and other things that were basically just worn to either keep warm, or perhaps to look nice, those things had meaning after they’ve been worn by somebody, become kind of part of that somebody’s persona. And textiles, if they’re cared for, they can survive generations. And so you can have a wedding dress or a scarf, for example, and have it show up again a hundred years later if it’s been cared for.
Victoria Morgan: The turning points in A Fall of Marigolds and Secrets of a Charmed Life primarily revolve around the loss of a loved one. Have you ever had to face that in your own life?
Susan Meissner: I’ve lost people that I’ve loved. Most people who’ve lived any amount of time on the planet have. I can’t say that I have experience the depth of loss that my characters have. I have not lost a spouse or a parent or a child, and I would imagine that kind of sorrow is a little more deeply felt than perhaps the loss of a friend. But I think if you live any time at all on the planet, then you’re going to experience that kind of loss. Every good story that you listen to or read is about a character who wants something, and they have to overcome some sort of obstacle to get it, and death is always a very formidable obstacle and it’s always a place where I can, unfortunately, begin a story. I don’t like to use death to my advantage. It’s just that through the loss of a loved one we see our characters. Even in your own person, you see the depth of your character when you experience loss like that.
Victoria Morgan: Absolutely! We see that in Clara and in Taryn. I think that they bring comfort to your readers, comfort to your listeners who may be suffering a great loss. Just seeing what they’re going through, experiencing it, and on the audiobook, even hearing it firsthand.
Susan Meissner: I think the fact that a reader or a listener can find comfort in what I’ve portrayed for them, which is fiction, is always surprising and humbling to me. I feel like I don’t really aspire to bring comfort. I’m glad that perhaps I do. That’s amazing that I could even do that. But I do aspire to have the reader or listener wonder or muse on something that they haven’t had to muse on before. I feel like that makes the book more memorable when it awakens in you, maybe some deeper thoughts. And I usually have some sort of thematic element in my stories, that helps guide me as the writer, but it’s also an underlying theme that I hope a reader or a listener will pick up on. I mean, I hope that they do, because it makes the book memorable then.
So, for example, in A Fall of Marigolds, the theme of that book is, “Love makes the weight of the world bearable”. We live on a broken planet, and it’s love that makes the heaviness sometimes of life bearable. Love is what you get to keep after loss. And when you lose somebody you love, you may have lost the physical presence of that person but all the love you had for them, you get to keep that, and it’s worth it. It’s worth loving, and perhaps losing somebody, than not having loved at all. Not loving at all to protect your heart from loss, you would live a life of pretense, and that’s just not how we’re wired to live.
Victoria Morgan: And that brings me to my next question, relationship – the loss, the gain, obviously important to you. Without relationship, we crumble. Can you unpack that theme for us just a little bit? You already have … but just help us to understand you better as a person.
Susan Meissner: I feel like relationships are kind of what sets us apart from the other parts of creation. We are like God in this sense. God is a god of relationship. He’s in relationship with the Son and the Spirit, and so to be created in His image is to be created with that kind of a uniqueness that, really, I don’t think the other animal kingdoms have that kind of spiritual element to their world. I mean, if you watch the movie, Castaway, you can see that the character Chuck Noland, he cannot survive on that island without somebody to talk to. And that’s why he makes a friend of that volleyball and gives that volleyball a name because he can tell that he’s going to lose his sanity if he’s not in relationship with something. And I think that movie is very telling, it gives us a peek into why relationships are so important.
And family relationships are the most complex, the most dynamic of relationships that we have. I tend to use those in my books, because, well, they’re rife with story possibility and potential. And our best selves, I think, come out in our deepest relationships. I think we are more honest and transparent with the people that know us and love us best, and we are able to rise to actually great heights of courage when we are in relationship with people who make our lives complete. And so, you see the best and the worst come out in people in these deepest relationships, and that makes actually a great place for our story.
Victoria Morgan: Absolutely! And the Bible calls us to relationship, not only with God, but especially with other people. Last question, your books take us to places that most of us, or many of us, have never been. Certainly to most time periods we’ve never been. And many of us have never taken the time to study the history of that time period. But I want to know what fascinates you about traveling. What compels you to write about these foreign landscapes?
Susan Meissner: I grew up in San Diego, which is a great place to grow up, but I never traveled anywhere during my growing up years. And the first time I went any farther than Los Angeles was when I got married, and my husband and I moved away. He went into the Air Force and that was my first real experience in another culture other than Southern California. And what I have found in my travels is that the world over, whether you travel geographically or you travel back in time, you find that cultures and societies, they shift, but the human spirit doesn’t really morph that much. You still find people loving and caring and going through life experiences, whether it’s in a foreign land right now, or in a time period that’s far back in history.
And when you expose yourself to different cultures, different time periods, different lands, you see more and more of God’s creativity. And as a writer, I love having that connection because I, in a very small, small way, create something out of nothing, which is exactly what God did. When I open up a blank document and start a new book, all of my books are fiction, so I’m writing stories that could be real, but they are not. And so, I feel like I have a little bit of the freedom that God had in creation when I’m writing a story, starting with nothing and creating something. And the more I expose myself to the vast creativity of God in creation, the more I feel like I can be as creative as I can be with the story.
Victoria Morgan: Well, we certainly have enjoyed your creativity over the years, both in book and on audiobook. How many novels have you written? Dozens!
Susan Meissner: I’ve written eighteen on my own, and I co-authored with Mindy Starns Clark three books on the Amish, they’re set in Amish country with her. And so, I guess altogether that would be twenty-one.
Victoria Morgan: Terrific! Well, if we want to visit your website or your blog, or perhaps inquire about your writers’ workshop, where would we go?
Susan Meissner: Well, my website is super easy to remember, it’s just susanmeissner.com, and on my website I do have a blog in case the listeners are interested in learning more about me. I teach my writing workshop by invitation. So sometimes you might see my name pop up on a faculty for a writers’ workshop, or a writers’ convention of some sort. And every now and then I’ll teach a bit at Mount Hermon Writers Conference in California and some other places, too. I do love giving back to other writers. I feel like when I was learning how to write, I had people informing me along the way, and so it’s helpful to me, I think, to give back that way. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter, just my name Susan Meissner. That’s my handle on Twitter, and it’s also my author page on Facebook.
Victoria Morgan: Susan, it has been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to call in.
Susan Meissner: Thank you so much for having me.
Victoria Morgan: You can enjoy Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Fall of Marigolds now on audiobook by going to christianaudio.com. I’m Victoria Morgan. Thanks for listening.
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