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Read on, and discover some of today's most appealing Christian novelists, their latest books, and their words of wisdom and imagination. Enjoy!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Susan Meissner and Free Books!

Just before the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 descends on the known world, a tobacco farmer becomes partner and heir to his uncle’s funeral home and he moves his family from the peaceful Pennsylvania countryside to Philadelphia, one of the hardest hit American cities.

Before we meet today's author, I want to announce that the winner of the e-copy of Loving Treasures, by Gail Gaymer Martin, is:


Congratulations! We'll get your book right out to you. I encourage readers to keep commenting and/or subscribe at right (above my list of books) in order to participate in future book give-aways! Subscribers are entered a second time when they comment.

And now let's chat with novelist Susan Meissner, author of As Bright as Heaven (Berkley Publishing, February 2018), historical fiction set in two time periods, 1918 and 1925, with no contemporary layer.

Susan says, "It’s the first book of mine in ten years that isn’t a blend of the past and the current day. But this is the right architecture for this novel. I would never want to force a story construction on a book just to fit a pattern. My next book with Berkley will be a blend again of historical and contemporary time periods, but this book is strictly historical."

Susan Meissner a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Bridge Across the Ocean, Secrets of a Charmed Life (a 2015 Goodreads Choice award finalist) and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014. Susan is grateful and humbled to also be RITA finalist and Christy Award and Carol Award winner.

A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. She's a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. She 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.

Please tell us one random thing we might not know about you.

I have a new puppy, a yellow English Lab, named Winston – after Sir Winston Churchill, of course – who fills my non-writing moments (actually, it’s every moment) with wonder and delight and constant vigilance. Puppies not only chew everything, they eat everything. As I was typing this I had to rescue a doormat from being consumed. Seriously.

Oh, yes. I remember. It's wonderful watching all of those adorable puppy clips on Facebook, and I've loved all of my dogs to death, but those early adventures can be pretty messy!

Please tell us a bit more about the plot of As Bright as Heaven.

The Spanish Flu of 1918 claimed a staggering fifty million lives worldwide, and yet until I began researching to write this novel, I had not known the extent of this pandemic’s reach, nor its impact.

This is a book, then, about the preciousness of life; about how beautiful and fragile we humans are, and yet how resilient we stand in the face of crushing loss. The Spanish Flu was more than just a moment in time; it was the individual stories of countless mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers all over the world. I wanted to imagine what one of those stories might’ve been, and explore all the nuances of this idea that we only get one life – just the one – so we endeavor to make it as wonderful as we can with the time we are given.

Exactly. So often moments in world history (and Biblical history) are addressed in a few sentences or verses which distance us from the devastation of the individual experience. It helps to focus more closely on specific stories.

What is it about your lead characters that will make your readers care about them?

There are four point-of-view characters – a mother and her three daughters – who narrate the story in alternating chapters. I think it is the daughters’ innocence, as well as their individual personalities and ages – fifteen, thirteen, and seven – that account for the most empathetic moments in the telling because even though they have a mother and father who love them very much, their parents cannot shield them from what is happening in their city and in the world. The daughters’ perspectives on the flu and its impact are what I feel give this story its weight, along with the mother’s desire to protect her girls from harm while still grieving the loss of an infant son.

These four characters are just like us, really; they live in an imperfect world that is wonderful and yet is filled with forces that are often greater than we are.

Share with us a quote you like from a book other than yours. Why do you like it?

There are a great many quotes that I love from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, but this one is among my top three favorites. Albus Dumbledore says it to Harry in The Chamber of Secrets:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

I love it because it is so simply true. We are never in complete control of our circumstances, but we can always decide what we will do in them.

What is the last novel you read that you would recommend?

I actually read Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours before it released, so it’s been a few months, but it is still the book that is most memorable to me now after many weeks of reading other books. It’s a blend of both history and contemporary story threads and it deals with one of those events in the past that ought not to be forgotten. Lisa is a masterful storyteller, and she found a way to weave a tale that incorporates the incredibly awful things that a certain children’s home did in the 1930s to provide people who had money and wanted kids but couldn’t have them with sons and daughters to adopt. Not always an easy read, but the best books do usually tend to wound us a little in the reading.

And hasn't the book done well! My goodness. I haven't yet read it, but your recommendation has pushed it up on my list.

What are you working on now?

The story I am writing right now is still a work in progress, but I can share the basics: It’s about a teenage girl, born in the Midwest, whose parents had emigrated to the US from Germany years before. Elise is an American citizen, but her parents are merely legal residents. After America enters WW2, Elise’s father, an unsuspecting and loyal-to-America chemist, is nevertheless declared an enemy alien primarily because his brother serves in the German army and his father had been a decorated WW1 hero. He is interned for the duration of the war. The family can only be reunited if Elise, her mother, and brother volunteer to be interned as well, which is what they do. It’s a book about identity, really. Are you who people say you are, even if they don’t know you, or do you get to decide who you are, even if no one around you affirms it? Most of us have heard about the internment during WW2 of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast but few of us know German-Americans were interned, too.

Such a good point. Even as I read your description, I thought of Stewart Ikeda's excellent novel, What the Scarecrow Said, which did look very empathetically at the internment of Japanese-Americans. I have to say I never gave much thought to the fact that the same happened with German-Americans.

Where else can readers find you online?

I am here on my website: www.susanmeissner.com and on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at Facebook. My Instagram handle is @soozmeissner.

The book can be purchased online via the following button:

Finally, what question would you like to ask my readers?

What do you like best about reading historical fiction, and how important is historical accuracy to you? Do you think it’s ever okay for a historical novelist to bend the truth?

Thank you, Susan, for visiting and telling us about yourself and your book. Readers, Susan has offered to give away a signed copy of her novel. To enter, leave a comment and your email below in answer to Susan's question, above. "Please enter me" won't get you entered. Remember that subscribers are entered an additional time in each drawing. The drawing is done by email, so leave your email address, like so: trish[at]trishperry[dot]com.

Many commenters are left out of the drawing because they forget to include a way for me to notify them of their win (their email).

Also readers, I'd love it if you'd connect with me on Facebook. Just click on my name at the right of today's post title.

Remember, if you'd like information on additional new releases, check out Christian Book Heaven, a new email newsletter for Christian book deals in whatever genres you select. You can subscribe here: ChristianBookHeaven

Annoying legal disclaimer: drawings void where prohibited; open only to U.S. residents; the odds of winning depend upon the number of participants. See full disclaimer, as well as my Disclosure of Material Connection HERE


Melanie Backus said...

In including historical facts in a book, I certainly think they need to be accurate. History is there for us to reflect on and we can learn from it. Thank you for sharing this post and for this great opportunity to be a winner. mauback55 at gmail dot com

Jackie Smith said...

Love Susan's books; have read them all so am anxious to read her newest! I love historical fiction and think all facts should be accurate!
I subscribe via E mail.
Thanks for your giveaway!
jacsmi75 at gmail dot com

Paula said...

I love historicals for the information that they give. I love learning new things about old things. I think authors should try to be true to history. But there have been authors who do take a little license with some facts but they say so in the afterword. They may be small things that aren’t critical to historical accounts but they are critical to make sense of the story. I’ve also read how authors decided to change their story to fit historical accounts. I just enjoy Historical Christian Fiction.

Linda said...

I love learning about historical facts that are new to me. I absolutely loved Before We Were Yours for that very reason. I'm reading one of Susan's books now. Thank you for an opportunity to win. lhanberry1(at)gmail(dot)com

Paula said...

Oops forgot the emailaddy again . paulams49ATsbcglobalDOTnet

Library Lady said...

As far as I'm concerned, History must be told for what it was, the truth. Authors should leave the historical part alone and if they need to bend something in their story-line, let it be a part of the character or what is going on in their life.
Janet E.

Esther Searcy said...

I love historical fiction as I love to connect with that time period and understand how people struggled in those circumstances with their faith and how I could maybe apply some of that strength and strategy into my everyday trials and circumstances.

Lori91301 said...

I would love to win this book because of the subject and author. I'm intrigued. I had no idea so many people died during that flu. Wow. I wasn't a good history student - oh I did what I needed to do, but it didn't sink in. History was taught very dryly. I've learned more about world history through novels than I ever did in school. Saying that, I think authors need to stick to true historical facts and leave the fiction to the story line characters. Thank you for this opportunity.
lorigeorge at hotmail . com

Cathy said...

I am a blog follower and always enjoy the interviews. I have read some of Susan's books and greatly enjoyed them. I do like historical and think it is very important that they be as accurate as possible, with some slight and somewhat secondary tweaking allowed, to make a story fit. I do genealogy and have read quite a bit about the Spanish Flu Epidemic. Actually, my G-Grandfather was a doctor then, and he succumbed. He had bundled up and gone across the street to check on a patient, with same flu/illness he had, and he came back home, went to bed, and shortly passed. Very sad family story, as had every family. Thanks! dobeworld at sbcglobal dot net

Cheryl Barker said...

Susan, I can't wait to read your book and am hoping for a win here! :) I love historical fiction because it takes me to a time and a place I've never been before. I especially love when it touches on a slice of history I didn't even know about or have not read another book about. I think it's okay for the author to bend the truth a little if it's included in an author note.

ckbarker at gmail dot com

Gail H. said...

I like historical fiction to have the history part right. I’ve learned so much and enjoy reading the authors notes about how they went about researching and what they found. The Mayflower Bride is one example I’ve recently read. I’ve also enjoyed reading Biblical fiction but want it to be scriptural correct.

Holly Magnuson said...

I love historical fiction with the contemporary timelines, "Shape of Mercy" got me hooked big time!

I like when authors stay reasonably true to the historical facts on the "big" things, for example, saying D Day didn't happen would be a "big" thing. But I think they need to take some liberties to develop an engaging story, characters that were there and what they did/said etc. I'm good with that.

Thanks Trish for another great interview!


Jan Hall said...

I prefer that historical fiction be accurate if possible. Now is a perfect time for a book about the flu. fishingjanATaolDOTcom

Dianne Casey said...

I think historical fiction should be as accurate as can be in historical facts. However, the story can is up to the author. Looking forward to reading about the flu epidemic of 1918.

Arletta Boulton said...

I don't mind if the location is fictional - like a small town set in France during WWI that doesn't actually exist but is a mix of a couple of towns. But I need other facts to be as they were. I don't want to be reading and shaking my head over things everyone knows wouldn't have been said or wouldn't have happened at that time.


Susan Meissner said...

Thanks for all the great comments so far! (I have to admit; I want historical accuracy in the books I read so I strive for the same in the books I write!)

MJSH said...

I enjoy the historical fiction best when the historical details are accurate.


Jasmine A. said...

I love historical fiction because I love history and I enjoy how fiction can bring faces to boring dates and a story to events so far removed from our lives today. It makes it real.

I am a stickler for accuracy and I read a lot of history so I often catch those little things like a lady wearing the wrong undergarments hundreds of years before they were invented. On the other hand, I know that sometimes an author has to rearrange facts etc. to make it fit the story. I'm OK with that as long as the author puts a note in the book explaining what they changed and why.

Thank you so much for this neat interview!

Jasmine A.

Carla said...

I love historical fiction because I have learned so much about history that I never knew.
I am OK with rearranging a few dates/facts to fit the story - but please have a note explaining the rationale.
I've loved Susan Meissner's books for a long time...

Lauren said...

I like reading historical fiction because it brings facts and distant events to life. I always remember more about that time in history - and perk up whenever I hear something new about it - if I've read fiction about it. And there's just nothing like a good story.

Trish Perry said...

As Lori said above, while my college history courses were taught well, my high school history classes were dry as dirt. So I love learning about history through historical fiction. I also need accuracy--if I ever read something in a historical novel that I recognize as inaccurate, it throws the rest of the book into question for me. Dialogue, fine. Fictional individuals who exist mostly to tell the story, no problem. But not historic facts--I want to learn real history through my historical novels.

And Susan's novels are absolutely excellent, in my opinion.



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