Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Q&A: SUSAN MEISSNER, PT 1


Today and tomorrow, we talk with novelist Susan Meissner. She is an award-winning newspaper columnist, pastor’s wife, and high school journalism instructor who enjoys writing contemporary fiction from a Christian worldview. This October, she kicks off a new mystery series with Widows and Orphans (Harvest House), featuring lawyer Rachael Flynn:

When her ultra-ministry-minded brother confesses to murder, lawyer Rachael Flynn begs him to let her represent him. As she works on the case, she begins to suspect he knows who the real killer is but is unable to get him to cooperate with her. What is he hiding?

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PART ONE.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
I spend part of my life in "writing mode" and part of it in "thinking mode." When I'm in the zone, I write about 3,000 words a day -- not because I must, but because my personal quirk is that I am volcanic when I'm writing. The lava thing is great in that I can write a 80-000-word novel in a relatively short amount of time, but I'm always mindful that lava is hot and smoky and tends to harden if it just sits.

I'm also an outliner, a plotter, a character-sketcher, and that's what I do when I'm in "thinking mode," which is where I wander before I even start the book. When I'm done writing for the day -- and I do make myself stop whether I want to or not -- I mentally take my characters into the next scene while I live out the rest of my day, seemingly devoted solely to my family. That way, when I sit down to the thing the next day, I've already planned out in my head what's going to work and what won't.

ARE YOU AN "OUTLINE" OR "MAKE IT UP AS YOU GO" WRITER?
Oops. I kinda already answered that in the first question. Actually, to be honest, I am both. Yes, I outline. Yes, I make it up as I go. The outline changes as I write. It's like Mapquesting a route to Disneyland from my rural nowhere town here in Minnesota. I can start out heading west on 1-80, like the map says, but if I take a detour and decide to check out a ghost town in Forgotten, Nebraska, well, I can do that. I may get to Anaheim a few days later, but I will eventually get there. The outline for me is just a map to where I'm headed. It's not a prescription that I must follow or perish.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ANYONE SAID ABOUT YOUR BOOKS?
Trite as it may sound, when I get an email from someone who says they've learned something amazing about God's character that they never quite understood before, that gets me everytime. One woman told me reading my book Why the Sky is Blue changed her life. Hearing that changed mine.

WHAT IS THE WORST THING ANYONE SAID ABOUT YOUR BOOKS?
That I don't always provide the "they lived happily ever after" ending. It's true. I don't. But hey, that is how life is sometimes. Actually, it's that way most of the time. We can live happily, but that "ever after" thing is a myth. Hard times come. Yes, they usually pass. But sometime down the road, they return. That is how it is in a fallen world that needs Jesus.

HOW MANY BOOKS DO YOU READ A MONTH?
When I'm in write mode, maybe one or two. I hate that. But when I get the manuscript done, I head to my TBR stack (it's usually 10-15 deep) and I read one or two a week. Sometimes more. But all the laundry and stuff I let go while I was writing begs for my attention, too. So many books, so little time ...

AS A READER, WHAT MAKES A BOOK INTRIGUING TO YOU? (WHAT DOES A BOOK NEED FOR YOU TO PICK IT UP?)
Character development is what I look for in a book, whether it's literary or commercial. I want to read about people who matter to me. Writers who can create fictional people I actually care about are masters of the game. I aspire to be that kind of writer. Plot matters too, but to me, plot is the characters. And since we're being honest here, I must say that for me to pick up a book to read its back cover, it needs to have an intriguing cover. I judge a book by its cover all the time. We all do.

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Come back tomorrow for the second half of our Q&A with author Susan Meissner. In the meantime, visit her online at SusanlMeissner.com. You may also sign up for her newsletter, or read this interview with the author conducted by her publisher, Harvest House Publishers.

Related link: Q&A: SUSAN MEISSNER, PT 2

More mystery/suspense authors:
Q&A: COLLEEN COBLE (Fire Dancer)
FIRST Day, Aug 1: FULL TILT by Creston Mapes
Q&A: ALTON GANSKY (Director's Cut)
Q&A: WANDA DYSON (Abduction)
Q&A: T.L. HINES (Waking Lazarus)

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