Monday, September 24, 2012

Guest Interview with Susan Meissner, author of the Girl in the Glass

It’s a pleasure having award-winning novelist Susan Meissner here with us today to talk about her newest book from WaterBrook Press, The Girl in the Glass, a part-contemporary, part historical novel set in Florence, Italy 
1. Susan, tell us where the idea for this story came from.
For our 25th wedding anniversary a few years ago my husband and I took a much-anticipated eight-day Mediterranean cruise. One of the ports of call on the Italy side was close enough to Florence to hop on a bus and spend the day there. When I stepped onto Florentine pavement I fell head over heels in love. There is something magical about Florence that I didn’t see in Rome, or even Paris if you can believe that. The artistic genius that meets your eye no matter which direction you turn is unparalleled. The beauty created by mere mortals during the Italian Renaissance is jaw-dropping. It was the perfect place to bring a disillusioned present-day character who needs to re-invent her life. That’s what Renaissance means: rebirth. I went back a couple years later with my mom, daughter, sisters and nieces and knew I just had to set a story there and somehow involve the infamous Medici family.

2. I know exactly how you felt!  We only had a day there and it was enchanting from morning until evening. So what is the story about, in a nutshell?
Meg Pomeroy is a disenchanted travel book editor unsure of her father's love, still smarting from a broken engagement, and whose normally cautious mother is suddenly dating a much younger man. Her perspective on everything that matters is skewed. She escapes to Florence, Italy, on a long-promised trip, believing her father will meet her there. True to form, he’s a no-show, but the trip allows her to connect with Lorenzo DiSantis, a writer she’s met only via Skype and e-mail, and Sofia Borelli, a tour guide and aspiring writer who claims she’s one of the last Medici, and that a sixteenth-century Medici granddaughter, Nora Orsini, speaks to her through Florence’s amazing statues and paintings. When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives are indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what it has to be?

3. I loved how you interwove the past and present struggles of Meg and Nora and Sofia. One of hte things I was so impressed by in Florence were the highly educated tour guides so Sofia is really true to form. The Girl in the Glass refers to a painting that the heroine of your novel, Meg, loves. Describe the painting and what it stands for.
Because this story is set in Florence, against the backdrop of the most stunning art that can be seen today, I wanted there to be a current day painting that connected my main character, Meg, with this amazing city. The painting Meg loves features a little Florentine girl mimicking a statue whose marbled hand is extended toward her. The painting hung in her maternal grandmother’s house; a place where Meg felt loved and safe. Meg hasn’t seen the painting since she was a little girl. When her grandmother died, everything in the house was sold or parceled out to other family members. Meg knows the statue in the much-loved painting is real, that it is somewhere in Florence, and that it is likewise beckoning her to come. Since she doesn’t know where the painting is, she is set on finding the statue itself. In a way, the lost painting represents Meg’s perceived loss of her family when her parents divorced and everything stable in Meg’s life turned upside down.

4. Yes, that painting and Meg's hope to find it really deepened the story for me. Nicely done! In its review of The Girl in The Glass, Publishers Weekly said that this book is like taking a trip to Florence. What kind of research is involved in creating that kind of experience? Why do you think readers love to take those kinds of journeys in a novel?
The best kind of research is that which lets me usher the reader right into the time and place I want to take them, without them feeling anything — no motion sickness, if you will. So I need to know everything, not just facts and figures but even the subtle nuances of a time period. It means a lot of reading and note-taking. I usually end up collecting more data than I can possibly use, but I don’t always know what I’ll need until I am into the story, and the characters start talking and reacting and deciding. I think readers like the thrill of being somewhere they couldn’t visit any other way than through the pages of a book. Novels let us experience the lives of other people without having to make any of their mistakes. And we can also share their joys. And their victories. And the lessons they learned in the crucible of life.

5. Novels are also like maps helping us make our way in a new place and lessening some of the anxiety or fear of the unknown. One important plot in The Girl in the Glass deals with Meg’s disappointment in her parents’ divorce and her father’s behavior in the years following the divorce.  What inspired this particular thematic exploration of disappointment with parental expectations?
My parents have been happily married for over fifty years so I had to research this aspect for the novel. I like to think of myself as a hungry observer; I tend to watch people, study them, to learn from them. I have seen a lot of people who grew up in homes where their parents had divorced and I’ve seen the effects of that severing. Some have never gotten over it. Childhood life-changers tend to stay with us. And the family, especially the parents, are the child’s universe. When you upset that you upset quite a bit.

6. As a mental health professional, I'd say you are a superb observer of the human spirit. Your stories always ring true in the relationship department as well as everywhere else! Your last few novels have had important historical components in the storytelling. Some of the history of the famous Medici family is included in the novel. What was the most fascinating thing about the Medicis and how do your reconcile their infamous behavior with their unquestionable contribution to the world of art?
The Medici family both appalls and fascinates me. On the whole they were shrewd, conniving, opportunistic, unfaithful, vengeful, murdering rulers, who of all things, loved art and beauty. Michelangelo, DaVinci, Donatello, and so many other Italian Renaissance artists, wouldn’t have had patrons if it weren’t for the Medici family. They wouldn’t have the financial backing and opportunities to create all that they did. I don’t know if we would have the statue of David or Brunelleschi’s Dome or Botticelli’s Primavera were it not for the Medici family. They made Florence beautiful and yet most of them were addicted to leading un-commendable lives. That is astounding to me. They weren’t — taken as a whole — admirable people, and yet look at the legacy of beauty they made possible. I like to think that demonstrates there is hope for all of us to be able to see beauty in spite of living with much disappointment. You don’t have to look hard to find ugliness on Earth, but beauty is there. Don’t close your eyes to it.


7. Your words remind me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's words "Earth is crammed with heaven. Every common bush afire with God. Only he who sees it takes off his shoes." The Medici's didn't see it but they opened the doors for the rest of us to see it. One of your point-of-view characters is a little known Medici family member named Nora Orsini. Tell us about her. Why did you choose her?
Nora Orsini was the daughter of Isabella de’Medici and the granddaughter of Cosimo I. In the Girl in the Glass, Nora’s short chapters precede every current-day chapter, as she tells her story on the eve of her arranged marriage. Very little is known about Nora Orsini, so I had the glorious freedom to speculate, which is the reason I chose her. I wanted the literary license to imagine beyond what history tells us. There is, however, plenty that is known about her mother, Isabella Medici. Nora did not lead the happiest of lives. I wanted to suppose that the beauty of her city offered solace to her, and that if it were indeed possible for Sofa, the tour guide that Meg meets, to hear Nora’s voice speaking to her from within the masterpieces, she would speak of how the beauty that surrounded her kept her from disappearing into bitterness.
As always, you did a fabulous job, Susan. Where can our listeners connect with you online or learn more about The Girl in the Glass, and your other books?
You can find me at www.susanmeissner.com and on Facebook at my Author page, and on Twitter @SusanMeissner. I blog at susanmeissner.blogspot.com. I also send out a newsletter via email four times a year. You can sign up for it on my website. I love connecting with readers! You are the reason I write.

Participate in a great giveaway to win this beautiful piece of artwork from Florence or a basket full of Italian yummies...


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Next Best Thing- I'm tagged

I’ve been tagged! Some wonderful authors have generously found a way to share their readers by introducing them to new authors. It's called The Next Big Thing in which authors answer 10 questions they hope will help one of their books become just that. I'm not sure about the next big thing...I once wrote a book about not confusing fame with fulfillment - but I am grateful to Sandra Byrd author of terrific historical novels (a favorite is To Die For) set in England. She was tagged by author Debra Brown who also owns the English Historical Fiction Authors site and Nancy Bilyeau for passing the goodness along. So here are my ten answers.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

Releasing April 2013
1. What is your working title of the book?
One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?
Most of my novels are based on the lives of historical women and this woman, Dorothea Dix, engaged me as she was an early reformer for mental health, something I've been involved with myself for many, many years. This quote of Dorothea's is also an inspiring thought:
 "In a world where there is so much to be done. 
I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do." 
~Dorothea Dix 1802-1887.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Historical Fiction. Some people call books based on actual people "biographical fiction" but to me the story is more than biographical though I read several biographies of Dorothea before writing this novel.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What fun! Catherine Zeta-Jones - to play Dorothea. She was said to be a raving beauty from all accounts and at the same time charming, tough, winsome, and able to work with legislators from all 32 states to get reforms passed. She must have also been smart, right? And Dorothea was quite tall and graceful as well.

Emily Blunt - to play Anne Heath, Dorothea's best friend

Liam Nelson - to play Samuel Howe, legislator and mentor to Dorothea

Glen Close - to play Madam Dix, Dorothea's grandmother whom Dorothea tried so hard to please

Tom Cruise - to play William Channing, Federal Street pastor who was charismatic and also not very tall

Colin Firth - to play President Millard Fillmore, confidant of Dorothea

Elizabeth and William Rathbone were English friends, Quakers and reformers as well who were so important in Dorothea's life. I'd like an actual couple to play them but I'll have to think about who that might be. Brad and Angelina?

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Turning a childhood of tragedy into a reformer's heart, Dorothea Dix hopes to bring relief to those suffering from mental illness forgotten in almshouses and debtor's prisons; but she meets her greatest challenge in the halls of congress where her idea for national reform is challenged by railroad magnates, homesteaders, land grand colleges and proponents of slavery and where her fight for "the least of these" brings a crisis of her own soul.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book will be published in April, 2013 by WaterBrook Presss, a division of Random House. My literary agency is Hartline Literary Services in Pittsburgh.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Six months and then another two months in revision work. I'm still making tweaks and will until they tell me it's gone to print!

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Mozart's Sister, Caleb's Crossing, The Shape of Mercy. All are based on the lives of actual people who are novelized to give us a way of not just seeing what and when they did something but possible scenarios of why and how they might have felt.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've always been interested in the biographies of early reformers such as Jane Adams and I read of Dorothea while I was still in middle school I'm sure. After I became a clinical social worker and later the director of a mental health clinic, providing quality services to the mentally ill were paramount in my professional life. My second career of writing became blended with Dorothea's story through a friend who was a former superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital, Dr. Dean Brooks. He urged me to tell Dorothea's story as a novel and when he read the first draft said he'd known of her all his life but had actually met her for the first time in my book.

I was also inspired at this time to explore the history of mental health treatment as we face so many challenges today in meeting the needs of the mentally ill. I hope the book might pique the interest of a young reformer to take on the task of relieving the suffering of others.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Regina Music Box
Copyright © 2012 The Meekins Antique Regina Music Box
I was blown away by how many things this one woman accomplished! She opened a school for girls at the age of fifteen. She wrote best-selling books that earned royalties her entire life. She didn't get involved in mental health reform until she was nearly forty and then even though she'd been sickly through much of her life, she traveled all over the country on stagecoaches assessing the condition of the mentally ill. She wrote legislation for the states even though she wasn't allowed to testify at hearings because she was a woman! She was also an animal lover and like so many of us who are, I think they brought her much relief to the frustrations of her chosen work. Music boxes and kaleidoscopes were also special and she would give many of them to patients in jails and hospitals to bring comfort to the mentally ill. She was very generous and as the famous psychiatrist Karl Menninger once noted: "Generous people are rarely mentally ill." A good thing to remember!

Please visit these fine authors I’m tagging to learn if their next book might be the Next Big Thing!  Keep in mind, they may not have their post up yet about their upcoming book, so just poke around and check back to see when their "Next Best Thing" post is up. It's a great way to learn about new authors and you just might discover your "Next Best Author!"... or rather not cause that's me right?

Marjorie Thelen
Susan Meissner
Lisa Tawn Bergren
Nancy Rue
Erin Healy
Liz Johnson

If you are new here, I would love to hear how you found me. Check out all the places just off to the left side over there and see all the places to connect online. Thanks for taking the time....
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