Linda’s Book Obsession Interviews Susan Meissner, Author of The Last Year of the War
- Why did you become a writer? What motivates or inspires you to write?
I’ve discovered that many writers, myself included, don’t realize they want to be a writer, they just realize they already are one. They are restless communicators who must understand life by writing about it. I’ve been writing since I learned how to hold a pencil. My mom says I wrote my first poem when I was four. I actually didn’t write it, I spoke it – I didn’t know how to write yet – but I was already forming artistic sentences in my head. Writing is an art gift, I think. Some people God gifts with the ability to paint, it’s in their DNA. I think writing is in mine. I am motivated by hearing the real life stories of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
- How did you go about researching for your book?
The book The Train to Crystal Cityby Jan Jarboe Russell opened my eyes to this little-known facet of WWII history, that German-Americans were also interned by the U.S. during the war. From there, I followed the trails of information wherever I could find a trail to follow. I corresponded with the children of interned parents, read memoirs of those interned, studied the maps and stories and photos that organizations like the German American Internee Coalition have gathered so that this history doesn’t disappear as its living witnesses take their last breaths.
- What would you like readers to take away after reading THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR?
Much of what happened to fictional Elise and her family actually happened to real German-American families. Whenever we are exposed to events of the past, we have the opportunity to consider what those events mean to us. It is so easy to make snap judgments about people we don’t know. It takes more time and effort to be kind and respectful and wise than it does to be afraid and prejudicial and hasty, but it’s worth the effort, I think. Especially when we’re talking about how we treat other people. If there is to be a takeaway, a renewed sense that people are people before they are nationally or ethnically or racially anything else would be nice.
- What does an average day look like for you?
On writing days, I try to wrangle 1500 good words onto the page. Sometimes (on a great day), I am done by noon. Other days, I am still at it at dinner time. Non-writing days are usually used for research or social media requests or handling the day to day business life of a freelance writer.
- What are your hobbies or things you do in your downtime?
I love to travel, spend time with my family, listen to music, play the piano, take long walks on the beach, fiddle with photography, mess about in the yard, cook Italian food.
- What can you tell us about any new writing projects that you’re working on?
The book I am just starting to write for release probably in late 2020 is set in San Francisco in the early twentieth century. The lives of three women are going to converge because of the machinations of one man, and the story will feature a certain 1906 earthquake. The story is most likely going to begin with the discovery of a body, many years later.
- What are some of your favorite books?
Some longtime favorites are Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, Geraldine Brook’s The People of the Book, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and anything by Kate Morton, including The Secret Keeper, The Forgotten Garden, and The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
- What advice can you give to someone that wants to be a writer?
Spend every spare minute you have sharpening your skill. Read good books, read good books on writing, write every day – even if it’s just random thoughts – surround yourself with other writers and learn from them, don’t give in to apathy or frustration. Keep at your gifting. You were meant to share it.