Category: writing

Once Upon A River…

In March, a new book of mine was released into the wild and I set off to introduce it to book lovers by traveling a bit, and then I returned home to the new book I’m writing and the unruly task of having to unwrite about 25,000 words of it (which I had discovered through the insightful eyes of my agent and editor had to go). So while I’ve been neglecting the blog, and while there have been no posts on Friday where I share what I have been reading, I have in fact been reading in between book travels and travails. And I’ve been looking forward to creating some margin in my week where I can at last get back to the conversation here. I apologize for the long hiatus, and I think I remember how to do this…

I finished Diane Setterfield’s latest, an amazing book entitled ONCE UPON A RIVER, while on book tour and have been looking at its spine on my To-Be-Talked-About pile for weeks now. It was such a good book; everything that I loved about Diane’s seminal work for me, THE THIRTEENTH TALE, I found in this book. What a delight it was to rediscover why I love her writing so.

ONCE UPON A RIVER is a story of love between parent and child, and the agony of loss and the absolute delight of hope and how we navigate our journeys through both. It is set in England and the river in the title refers to the Thames; that long winding rope of water that is more than just a frame for London postcard pictures of Parliament and Westminster Abby. Setterfield’s voice comes through rich and true in the prose; it is absolutely delicious. I fell in love with that voice with THE THIRTEENTH TALE, so much so that I read that book two more times, which I never do (because so many books, so little time). I continue to mention it as among my favorite reads all these years later. For whatever reason, I did not bond with Setterfield‘s novel that followed TTT – Bellman and Black – and I had been so looking forward to it too (probably too much) – but I know that not all books are going to impact us the same way, and not all writers will either, each time we read them. I love what M. L. Stedman, the author of THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS said about Setterfield’s newest: “Setterfield‘s masterful storytelling draws you in to a beguiling tale, full of twists and turns like the river at its heart, and just as rich and intriguing. It lowers you into its steps and carries you along in its vividly evoked world.“

Here’s the inside scoop from the publisher: “A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science? Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.”

Reading a Diane Setterfield book makes me want to be a better writer, makes me want to spend more time on every page I write. Highly recommend, folks, and I promise I’ll be back more often…



A visit with Julie Cantrell

Today I am so happy to welcome to the blog New York Times bestselling author Julie Cantrell so that we can chat about her new book, The Feathered Bone. Julie is not only a gifted wordsmith, she is a genuinely kind soul and a lover of humanity. Do read to the end of our interview so that you can get in on the giveaway of a copy of this emotionally gripping novel.

TFBJulie has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. She has contributed to more than a dozen books in addition to her two children’s books and award-winning novels. Her debut novel,  Into the Free, which I LOVED received the Christy Award for Book of the Year (2013) as well as the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. It also was selected as a Best Read of the year by LifeWay, USA TODAY, and many book clubs.

The Feathered Bone opens in the pre-Katrina glow of New Orleans. Amanda Salassi is anxious about chaperoning her daughter’s sixth grade field trip to the Big Easy during Halloween. And then her worst fears come true. Her daughter’s best friend, Sarah, disappears amid the magic and revelry—gone, without a trace. Set amidst the murky parishes of rural Louisiana and told through the eyes of two women who confront the darkest corners of humanity with quiet and unbreakable faith, this novel is Julie Cantrell’s master portrait of love in a fallen world. Here, then, is our conversation:

You address many issues in THE FEATHERED BONE that are not easy to talk about: human trafficking, teen suicide, and domestic violence. What have you learned personally by writing about such difficult topics?

I have learned the importance of talking openly about these issues. It’s true, they are difficult to examine. It’s not pretty stuff. But by ignoring the reality of what is happening around us, we are—in a sense—allowing it to happen.

It’s time we examine the impact our choices have on others, particularly how our choices affect the most vulnerable among us. We tend to convince ourselves that when we act as a group (a business, a political party, a government, a society, etc.) we are not personally responsible for those actions. We remove our own accountability. We convince ourselves we can’t change things because we use terms like They and Them instead of We and Us.

We need to take personal responsibility for the behaviors of our businesses, our churches, our communities, and our government. If not us, who?

How did you come up with this very interesting title and what does it mean?

While brainstorming the story, my publisher and I were discussing the various ways women can become enslaved in life.  Research led us to an article about featherbone corsets. It’s a fascinating story that is woven into the book.

To sum it up, corsets were once made of very rigid materials like steel rods, wooden reeds, and whale bones. But this restrained women’s movement too much, and they frequently broke. In 1883, a savvy Michigan businessman discovered a feather-duster factory in Chicago. He decided to use discarded feather bones to make corsets. These were less costly than the traditional steels, and they allowed women to bend without the bindings breaking.

In the book, the featherbone represents the resilient strength of something that can bend without breaking, and the corsets are used to examine the lengths women will reach in order to feel of worth to a man.

Throughout history, we have allowed ourselves to become “slaves” in a sense. We go as far as contorting our bodies and worse, our minds. We bind our feet and train our waists; we have face lifts and breast implants and develop eating disorders. We dye our hair and spend excessive amounts of money on clothing and jewelry and make-up. And worst of all, we absorb lies about our true purpose in life—all so men will consider us worthy of their attention and affection.

I realize this can affect both men and women, but culturally, women are usually the ones taking such extreme steps. As a woman, I want everyone, men and women both, to believe we are of worth exactly as God created us, without having to lose our true selves in order to gain human acceptance.

Human trafficking has been brought to the forefront of national attention in recent years. Why did you choose to write about this topic and did it bother you to delve into something so dark?

JulieCantrell2Well, you’re right. It is dark, and in fact, it has become such a buzzword I was hesitant to explore the topic. But no matter how much I fought against this story, it insisted on finding its way to the page.

What I’ve learned is that it could happen to any of us. To any of our children. People enter into prostitution in many different ways and for different reasons. And it is a very hard world to escape.

But I don’t like to feed the fear. Instead, I write so that we can conquer those fears. Ultimately, it’s a hope-filled story about forgiveness, resiliency, faith, and love.

What did your research for this novel reveal to you about human trafficking?

In talking to the women and children from the sex trade, I’ve learned that everyone just wants to feel loved and safe in the world. The large majority of these people have been victimized, and we have to take an honest look at who is victimizing them. It’s not just the pimps and the pushers. It’s also the Johns who pay for pleasure and the Joes and Janes who sit home in their living rooms watching porn, convincing themselves it is harmless.

Everyone who takes part in victimizing another person should be held accountable.  As well as all of us who walk past the situation pretending it isn’t happening.

In recent years, thanks to the hard work of law enforcement agencies, non-profit organizations, and ministries, we are finally taking a more appropriate response and targeting the people who are profiting from this market. The last step is to quell the demand.

You weave your faith into your writing, but it’s done in a way that examines the spiritual journey from all angles without bias. How does your personal faith impact your worldview?

As a person of faith, I believe we are loved, each and every one of us. But as life hurts us, we begin to believe a very big lie—that we are not loved. This either hardens us or makes us desperately seek love from unhealthy sources, leading us to hurt ourselves and others.

If we have a solid belief that we are loved by God, we are free. We are only separated from this love by our own choices or our own reactions to the choices of others. Realizing this and opening ourselves once again to God’s love is the essence of what some people call a spiritual awakening, enlightenment, or (in Christian terms) being born again (or saved).

I have explored this a bit in all three of my novels. In THE FEATHERED BONE, Sarah, goes through horrific experiences when she is kidnapped and trafficked. But she is able to journal her way through the captivity by examining the lies the captor wants her to believe versus the truth she knows in her heart. She comes very close to separating herself from the truth, from God’s love for her, but in the end, she holds tightly to the core beliefs her parents instilled in her and that’s how she is able to fight her way back to freedom and to the light.

What’s the takeaway message you want readers to carry when they close THE FEATHERED BONE?

Whether someone is Christian or not, the answer to all of our problems is as simple as Jesus said it was: Love God. Love others. Love ourselves.

The first (Love God) is the part many in our modern culture have forgotten. We make false Gods of our money, status, ego, business, entertainment, sex, porn, drugs, alcohol, appearance, material obsessions, and even our religion or our family. We end up becoming separated from God, from love, because we try to fill that crucial need with other things that will never satisfy our spiritual requirements. These substitutes may numb the pain, but that “high” is not sustainable. Only genuine love (God) fills that hole in a way that brings true peace and contentment.

The second (Love Others) is the part that many men in particular tend to forget, especially in our culture where men are conditioned to be strong and unemotional, shutting down their ability to feel empathy and compassion for others. How many little boys are told not to cry? To be tough? To “man up”? Sadly, this tends to make them turn cold and destructive to the people who love them because the only acceptable emotion they were encouraged to express was anger. They end up believing the lie that behaving this way is the manly thing to do. It stunts their emotional and spiritual development, separates them from God and, thus, blocks their hearts from love.

And the third part (Love Ourselves) is the part many women in particular tend to forget. We are taught to love everyone but ourselves. But we’ve each been given only ONE soul to carry through this world—our own. And we are most responsible for moving THAT soul toward a peaceful eternity with God. Many women feel selfish or mean if we put ourselves on the list, but if we do not set healthy boundaries to protect our own souls, we are at risk of becoming spiritually wounded and therefore becoming separated from God. From love. From our true purpose in this life.

Again, these gender lines are fluid, so I speak only in generalities. Many a woman’s heart has become hardened, and many a man has lived a selfless and spiritual existence.  But culturally, these are the roles we have historically been conditioned to fill, and in this particular book, I examine these patterns.

In the end, it all comes down to one infinite and universal love.  I call that love, God.

THANK YOU, Julie, for being my guest today! If you want to stay connected to Julie, dear reader, here are places you can find her:






And now for the giveaway of a copy of The Feathered Bone. In a comment below, just include one thought about why you’d like to get your hands on this book! The winner (US/CAN only) will be randomly chosen from all those who comment by 5 p.m. Pacific on Monday, March 21. Good luck and happy reading!

Beware of zombie nouns!

I thought I knew everything there was to know about nouns but just this weekend I was introduced to the concept of zombie nouns. Nouns that are zombies! Nouns that suck the life out of real words! You know you want to know more about this. Take the five minutes to watch this TED talk. You will thank me later. Just promise me you won’t conceptualize your reaction in the comments section. Just speak it plain. Agree or disagree? Dead or not dead?

The last time I will read this book…

The new book takes place on the set of Gone With the Wind in 1939.

The new book takes place on the set of Gone With the Wind in 1939.

After many long months researching, then writing, then revising, then editing STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD, the galleys are here at my house, which means this will be the last time I read this book that I love so much. After this last pass with the pages, I will sign off on it, as will my editor and the production staff and the next thing you know, the book will be printed and the warehouse will be waiting for the turn of the calendar page to start shipping it off in January. I seriously doubt I will ever read it again.

Does that surprise you?

I was talking to a friend the other day and I told her that I don’t read my books after they are published and she was amazed. Why not? she said. I could only shrug and say that I don’t really know other than I’ve already read the book a dozen times by its release date, and that it’s hard to read it after publication and be totally okay with it. I am thinking there would be too many little things I would do differently, change up, change back. Change.

Once you release a printed book into the wild, it really does feel like it’s now out of your hands. An electronic file can be amended now and then; if I really wanted to change something in the one book I have on Kindle Direct Publishing, I could. But that just seems weird to me; to be continually revising a printed novel that has already been released into its own time and space. A work of non-fiction, like a textbook or a how-to or self-help, can and most likely should be revised, as the pertinent facts and figures change. But a story is a story.  Wouldn’t it be odd if Ernest Hemingway could somehow revise A FAREWELL TO ARMS from beyond the grave? If he could, and he did, I’d read it and probably be irked. Because it wouldn’t be the story I read way back when he first released it.SOSB_type_4

Were I to read a book of mine after the ink is dry I might love it less, promote it less ardently, worry more over what I could have done, should have done. It’s been said that a poet never finishes a poem. There’s just comes a point when he or she must abandon it.  It’s the same with novels, especially when you are on a contracted deadline. The day comes when you just have to say, “It’s done.”

I think it’s probably wise that we authors don’t routinely read our books after publication; at least I think I am in the majority here. I would love to hear what fellow authors think and do.  I don’t know what there is to be gained by re-reading one, unless I couldn’t remember its details. But that has never happened to me.

So what do you all think? Fellow writers, what do you do? Readers, what is your take on this? I would love to hear from you!

It’s National Handwriting Day!

handwritten-letterI am presently spending every second in the Cave of Wonders (that’s an euphemism for the Dreaded Deadline Abyss) but I can’t let this day go by completely without mentioning that it’s National Handwriting Day.

While society probably doesn’t need National Middle Child’s Day or National Polka Dot Day or National Doughnuts for Dinner Day, we unfortunately need this one because a few years back, public schools collectively decided kids don’t need to learn how to write in cursive; a decision I still have to pinch myself over. It’s a bad dream, right?

A couple days ago I posted a link on Facebook to a great article that appeared in the New York Times on what those same kids are losing out on by NOT learning how to write in cursive. I’ve heard that apparently teachers aren’t given enough time to teach penmanship and how to write a signature that doesn’t look like your cat wrote it and the finer details of learning how to write in longhand on an actual piece of paper.  Cursive handwriting was eliminated as a subject without much thought – as far as I can tell – as to the implications down the road. It’s a very telling article that if you haven’t read already, you will want to.

What do you think of the demise of cursive handwriting? I would really like to know. If you are a school teacher, I’d especially like to know. Thoughts?

What a decade!


Ten years ago, I went from having a dream to living it. From the time I was a teenager, I had dreamed of writing novels, but surprisingly what I wanted to do most became the most easy thing to put off doing. The list of reasons was endless. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know enough. I was too busy raising kids. And then I was too busy at the newspaper where I was editor. It took the death of my Papa, my dad’s dad and every kid’s dream of grandpa, to shake me up enough to stop making excuses. He died in 2002 at the age 0f 84. I was 42. My life felt half-over because it was. I didn’t want to come to the end of my days having never even tried to write a novel.  I wrote Why the Sky is Blue in 2002, searched for a publisher for a year, got picked up by Harvest House Publishers in 2003, and in 2004 – ten years ago – my first book was published. I have been writing them ever since.

This book about a mother and her two daughters (the first being a much-loved, wanted child, and the second, the surprise result of a brutal assault), sadly didn’t stay in print as the years went by. Since it was published before the true advent of e-books, when it disappeared from the marketplace, it ceased to exist outside of personal libraries and secondhand bookstores.

But two days ago, this sleeping book was resurrected.  For the first time in its ten-year history it became available as an e-book exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle Select, with a beautiful new cover. (I loved the original cover by the way, but it was not mine to continue using, only the words inside still belong to me).Why the Sky is Blue sm final

I knew from the get-go people would wonder why I chose Kindle Select. I did this for a couple reasons, the key one being discoverability. Kindle Select will allow me to host special promotions from time to tome that will highly increase my visibility in the netherworld of indie-published e-books. I am hoping that having Why the Sky is Blue for a great price on a very visible platform, including Kindle Unlimited, will mean more readers will discover me and my other novels.

And the cool thing is, anyone with a smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer can read a Kindle book because the Kindle app is free.  You can get the Kindle app for your iPhone or iPad in seconds! I may choose at a later date to dis-enroll the book from this program and publish to all the other formats, which is another benefit. I am not locked into it. My hope is I will gain many, many new readers by using Kindle Select at this time for this book.

I made very few changes in the book as I prepared the old file for its new life as an e-book. Reading this book again for this first time in probably nine years was sentimental, and I was reminded how scary and wonderful it was to attempt to weave 80,000 words of story together.  Coming across quotes like these was nostalgic in all kinds of good ways.

“Sometimes asking God for a reason for something is like asking Him why the sky is blue. There is a complex, scientific reason for it, Claire, but most children, including you, are content with knowing it is blue because it is. If we understood everything about everything, we would have no need for faith.”

I hope you will avail yourself of the opportunity to read it again or read it for the first time.  Perhaps you remember reading it way back when and can tell me what it was about it that made you want to keep hanging out with me! Because I am so glad you did. THANK YOU, thank you for being a part of my writing life. You really are the reason I love to tell a story…

Blog Tour: The Writing Process

Welcome to the Writing Process blog tour! I’ve been handed the baton from my fellow novelist, screenplay writer and scrabble-across-the-miles pal Rene Gutteridge. You can read her answers to these same questions at her blog right here. Read to the end to see which gifted writers I have tagged so that you can keep traveling along the tour.

Who are you?

I’m Susan Meissner, a novelist with a hankering for history. I am also a wife to a great guy named Bob and we’re the parents of four amazing young adults. When I am not thinking up trouble to put characters into, I write small group curriculum for my local church and I also volunteer at an amazing non-profit called Words Alive – a fabulous organization whose mission is to reach at-risk kids and give them opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading.

What are you working on?

SecretsofaCharmedLife_coverrevealI am putting the finishing touches on my next release with Penguin/NAL. SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE is a novel set in England primarily during World War II. The story revolves around a fifteen-year-old aspiring dress designer and her little sister, their evacuation to the countryside, and then what happens when they sneak back to London on the very day the Blitz begins. It’s a story about sister-love, mothers and daughters, regrets and war, devotion and forgiveness. The cover is absolutely stunning.

How does your work differ from others of your genre?

I like to weave a contemporary story with a historical. My novels are dual- and sometimes triple-time period stories. I like finding something that connects the different time periods together, whether it’s s diary or a ring or a house or even just a common dream or desire.

Why do you write what you do?

I write what I like to read. Some of my favorite authors write with multiple time periods and/or multiple points of view. Kate Morton, Khaled Hosseini, Geraldine Brooks are three of my all-time faves, as well as Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, Sarah Jio’s Blackberry Winter, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

How does your writing process work?

I like to do my research up front and I also plot the story as much as I can before I write a word. I don’t produce an ironclad outline, but I do like to have a 4 to 5 page synopsis of how I think the story is going to play out. Sometimes I will even write the last scene first. I don’t always follow the storyline that I envision when I begin on page 1 – that’s the loveliest part of the intuitive process of writing – but having a stated destination to head toward helps keep me writing every day and seriously reduces the number of walls I might run up against.

I usually write from nine in the morning until I have 2,000 words – when I am in writing mode. Sometimes I will hit that number by 1 p.m. and then I can do other writing-related things. Sometimes it’s 5 or 6 p.m. before I get the word count in. I love those days when the words just flow like a happy river!

Each new day I read what I wrote the day before to get back into the scene and I make only slight corrections, but I don’t get into the editing mode until the book is done. If I edited fully as I went along I would never get anywhere. It usually takes me three months to research a book and five to six months to write it.

You can stay on the Writing Process blog tour by heading over to the blog of my artistic and talented friend Leeana Tankersley author of BREATHING ROOM on MONDAY. (We writers need our weekends, too!) plus, one mystery guest. Check back on Monday for the reveal.

Have a lovely weekend!


Why the Sky is Still Blue

Me, ten years ago in the summer of 2004, when the first copies of Why the Sky is Blue arrived on my doorstep.

Me, ten years ago in the summer of 2004, when the first copies of Why the Sky is Blue arrived on my doorstep.

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2004, something big happened that changed the course of my life career-wise. My first novel, Why the Sky is Blue, was released by Harvest House Publishers. Up to that point I’d been a newspaper editor, even though I was in my forties and had dreamed of writing a novel since high school.

The euphoria of those early days of my life as a novelist (finally!)  are still fresh on my mind a decade later. I remember getting the email from an editorial assistant at Harvest House that one of the fiction editors had seen my proposal and wanted to see the full manuscript. I remember Nick Harrison emailing me around Labor Day of 2003, introducing himself to me and telling me he was going to be reading the manuscript for Why the Sky is Blue that weekend.  I remember the day he told me he was taking the book to the publishing committee and the day he told me that pubco said yes, and that I would be offered a two-book contract. I remember the heady moment when I did an Amazon search and found my name listed as an author before the book ever came out. And I remember this moment pictured above, when the street copies arrived on my doorstep and I opened the boxes and held the book in my hands for the first time.

I had never taken a writing class beyond high school, I hadn’t majored in writing in college, and I didn’t have an agent. Not then anyway. So much has changed since that day ten years ago. I do have an agent now, and I’ve not only taken some writing workshops, I have taught many. I’ve 16 books to my name and can’t see stopping. It’s been a wonderful, scary, thrilling, frustrating, humbling, affirming career-change. There’s nothing else I’d rather do with my work-day.


WHY THE SKY IS BLUE was the book that started it all ten years ago…

Why the Sky is Blue was printed before the advent of ebooks and sadly went out of print before the advent of ebooks. There are a few print copies floating around but the book by and large is out of circulation and has been for quite awhile. I am happy to say that I’ve had the rights reverted to me and I am in the process of shaping up the very old Word doc that is this book and preparing it for a re-release later this year. A beautiful new e “cover” has been designed for it and I’m going through the sentences line by line, tightening up the prose here and there to make it the best I can without messing with the integrity of the original paragraphs. I will keep you informed of the progress and I hope to announce a soon-to-be-released date for the electronic version of Why the Sky is Blue very soon. In the meantime, raise a glass, grab some cake or a cookie or a carrot stick, and let’s toast to the ten-year-anniversary of a little novel that started something big.

And thanks for being alongside me on this journey. I wouldn’t have wanted to travel it without you…

A little music for Monday

I am at the amazingly beautiful conference grounds at Mt. Hermon in the foothills of Santa Cruz, teaching at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. As I sit here in the coffee shop, a fire is snapping happily, a barista is knocking spent grounds into the trash – releasing the heady scent of crushed espresso beans into the air — and a handful of other writers are either tapping away at their laptops as I am, or talking about writing, or books, or life as a wordsmith.  Yesterday on Palm Sunday, we had a worship service in the auditorium and this video was played. With the beauty of California Redwoods and dogwoods in bloom and a brilliant sun all around us, it was a deeply sensorial experience. I offer it here for you and hope that you will plug in your earphones or play it on stereo speakers so that you can hear how wonderful the acoustics are (and the words!) Enjoy —

Words that hit the head on the nail

a-hellenic-sculptureI am beginning one of those weeks where I have too much to do and not enough me so I am taking the easy way out this morning and offering you a link to someone else’s words; partly because I am hyperventilating as I approach a deadline and partly because it’s just funny stuff I think you will like.

It’s a list of words that actually describe themselves. Such as a noun is a person, place or thing, right? Well guess what the word “noun” is? It’s a thing, peeps. Get it?

Perhaps I am too much of a word junkie to see that this list may not make anyone else smile other than word junkies. I’d like to know what you non-addicts think.

If there are any out there who read my blog…

One last bit of advice, straight from the list: ” OBFUSCATORY: Do you want to be straightforward and easy to understand? Then don’t use this obfuscatory word.”

Here’s the link. Read and enjoy. If indeed you want to… And share with me any words you would had to the list, like maybe “orange?”

Happy Monday…