Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Susan Meissner Interview - As Bright as Heaven

Photo Content from Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner is the critically-acclaimed author of 20 novels. Her engaging stories feature memorable characters facing unique and complex circumstances, often against a backdrop of historical significance. A multi-award winning author, her books have earned starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and BookList.

She was born and raised in San Diego, California, but spent some of her adult life living in Minnesota as well as in England and Germany, before returning home to southern California in 2007.

Susan attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Prior to her writing career, she was a managing editor of a weekly newspaper in southwestern Minnesota.

She enjoys teaching workshops on writing, spending time with her family, reading great books and traveling. Susan makes her home in the San Diego area with her husband Bob, a pastor and chaplain in the Air Force Reserves. They are the parents of four adult children.


What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
Even though I am comfortable with public speaking and attending big book events and meeting people, I’m a bona fide introvert who is happy when the mega event is over and I can retreat into a quiet corner with a glass of wine and a novel and maybe have just one other person sitting there beside me who sits there and lets me read.

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?

Looking back, I’d say what shaped me the most is learning – discovering – what I was already wired to do, and that is write. High school especially showed me what I was good at and what I loved, and likewise it showed me what I wasn’t so good at and would likely not enjoy as a life pursuit. It’s good to know what you love to do and are wired to do, because you can skip out on meaningless jobs that can’t ever satisfy you.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I am having a nervous fit right now trying to come up with my favorite all-time book ever. It’s like trying to choose my favorite breath of oxygen. If I go way back to the books that I read as a young girl and which still echo in my heart and head, I’d say my favorite is The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. It’s a book about a Native American girl who, according to legend, spent eighteen years alone on island far off the coast of California after her tribe left the island and unknowingly she was forgotten behind. It is a beautifully written story about the resiliency of the human spirit. Just writing about it now makes me want to read it again.

My favorite book outside my genre is any Inspector Gamache mystery by Louise Penny. Any one of them. I love them.

Are there authors that you’re excited to engage/work with?
I am so honored to have as friends and colleagues so many brilliant writer friends, including Lisa Wingate, Pam Jenoff, Greer McAllister, Chris Bohjalian, Jamie Ford, and Ariel Lawhon. They are masterful writers of historical fiction and just being in the same room with them makes me happy.

For those who are unfamiliar with your novel; AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN, how would you introduce it?
This novel is set in Philadelphia, primarily during the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 – a virus that claimed a staggering 50 millions lives worldwide, twelve thousand of them of whom were Philadelphians. It’s a story about life, though, rather than death, and what makes our existence rich and beautiful and meaningful. It’s because we all will one day die that life is precious and exquisite. We are each only given one life. Just the one. It matters to us how spend it and who we spend it with.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Pauline?
I can’t say that I’ve ever had the relationship with Death that I gave Pauline. Her experience with the loss of an infant child is also one I’ve thankfully never had first hand knowledge of. Pondering what it might be like to find yourself in a wholly unexpected camaraderie with the great enemy of life known as Death was intriguing to me every time I sat down to write one of her chapters. It was when I was spending time with Pauline that I first imagined that the space between this life and the next is thinner than we think.

Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
Those who witnessed and/or survived the Spanish Flu pandemic have all passed, so what we are left with a century later is, I believe, the responsibility of giving this defining moment in our global history the recognition due its victims and survivors. I think we can learn much from what happened in the past, but only when we look at it, listen to it, feel the force and echoes of its impact.

What part of Evelyn, Maggie and Willa did you enjoy writing the most?
I am the middle daughter of three and I know how different my sisters and I are from each other even though we have the same parents and were raised in the same house. When I decided on the personalities of Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa, I knew I wanted to make them as distinct as my sisters and I are. I enjoyed clothing them, if you will, with their peculiarities – Evelyn seeks knowledge, Maggie is driven to fix whatever is broken, and Willa just wants happiness, regardless of what it costs her – and then looking for ways to expose those peculiarities in the story.

Do you have a favorite quote that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire you?
Here is my current favorite by Jodi Picoult: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
The novel I am working on now is about a teenage girl, born in Iowa, whose parents emigrated to the US from Germany in the late 1920s. Elise and her little brother are American citizens, but their parents aren’t, even though they’ve been legal residents in the US for sixteen years when America enters WW2. In 1943, Elise’s father, an unsuspecting and loyal-to-America chemist is declared an enemy alien and he is interned for the duration of the war. His family can only be reunited with him 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.

  • 1. “You think you have a view of what's waiting for you just up the road, but then something happens, and you find out pretty quick you were looking at the wrong road.”
  • 2. “Death doesn't ever look at shoulds, though, does it? Death looks at nothing. It just does what it’s meant to do.”
  • 3. “Home isn't a safe place where everything stays the same; it's a place where you are safe and loved despite nothing staying the same.”
  • 4. “Everyone has a past, and everyone's past matters.”
  • 5. “Life is wonderful and beautiful but oh, how hard it can be.”
  • 6. “[Evie] says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible.”
  • 7. We are like butterflies, delicate and wonderful, here on earth for only a brilliant moment and then away we fly…If we were made of stone or iron, we would be impervious to disease and injury and disaster, but then we could not give love and receive love, could we? We’d be unable to feel anything at all, and surely incapable of spreading our wings and flying.”
  • 8. “You want to fix what hurts the moment it starts hurting, but this time you’re going to have to embrace the slowness of healing. You’ll never be able to live with this part of your story until you realize you must make peace with what happened to you and your part in it. And that takes time.”
  • 9. “The train is coming toward us now, whistling and huffing as we stand on the platform. I grab Evie’s hand and I remind her that I want to sit by the window. I want to watch the outside zip past like it’s trying to catch us and take us back to where we used to be.”
  • 10. “He kisses me in the embalming room with a dead man at our side and I begin to believe he may be right about parts of our stories being incredibly beautiful.”
What book are you reading now?
I am nearly finished with Chanel Cleeton‘s brand new novel, Next Year in Havana. It is a dual time periods tale about a contemporary American woman of Cuban descent who travels to Havana to fulfill the wish of a beloved grandmother who asked that her ashes be taken back home to Cuba. Cleeton draws on her own Cuban background to tell the story, and her flair for detail will have you feeling like you’re right there in Havana for both storylines. And the cover is absolutely beautiful.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
I require coffee.

Who was your first boyfriend?
Eighth grade. His name was Ron. I actually liked his best friend but I was apparently invisible to that boy. Ron, though, saw me. I think I was his girlfriend for all of three months.

Tell me about your first kiss.

It was ew. I wasn’t ready for it and it was sloppy and saliva-y and I can’t remember the boy’s name who gave it to me. I think I was in seventh-grade. It put me off kisses for a whole year.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
The 50’s seem so very cool but I wouldn’t actually want to trade places with anyone. Still, if I was forced to, I’d pick the 195os.

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I was four years old when I had this nightmare and I still remember it. My older sister and I were being attacked by alligators. I hate them still. They are evil.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I could have been nicer to the girl in fifth grade whom everyone picked on. She didn’t deserve the taunts and jeers and teasing. No kid ever does. I didn’t participate in the meanness but I saw it happen day after day and did and said nothing. If I could go back, I’d stand up for her.

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world, not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.


“A story of one family’s heartbreak and hope. Strong [and] resilient, Meissner’s characters step off the page and into history.” —Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

“A family saga, coming-of-age tale, and riveting historical fiction all in one. A must read!” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale

“A thoughtful examination of life…somber, gripping, and illuminated with hope.” —Kate Quinn, USA Today bestselling author of The Alice Network

“Traces of Little Women in the trials and fortitude of the Bright women. An affirmation of the power of love and duty.” —Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Summer Before the War

“A fascinating historical novel and a beautifully written story of love, loss, and family. A gorgeous, unforgettable book.” —Jillian Cantor, author of Margot and The Lost Letter

You can purchase As Bright as Heaven at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SUSAN MEISSNER for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner..