Thursday, October 16, 2008

Interview with Susan Meissner

I am delighted to have my friend Susan Meissner join us today. Her latest book is The Shape of Mercy. I gave away two copies last week. But if you'd still like a copy, leave a comment today and I'll give away my Advanced Reader Copy. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Susan graciously agreed to participate in an interview. Without further ado, here we go!

The Shape of Mercy tells the story of three women from different times. What concept ties their stories together?

All three women are the only daughters of influential fathers. They also faced life choices that were rather defining moments for them. Mercy Hayworth writes a diary in 1692, during the height of the Salem Witch Trials. College student Lauren, the daughter of affluent parents transcribes it in contemporary time at the request of 83-year-old Abigail Boyles, who carries a boatload of regret. As Lauren transcribes the diary within the pages of the book, she discovers the degree to which people so easily make snap judgments and get swept away by the crowd mentality.

I hadn't thought about the fact they were all daughters of influential men. It was painful to read Lauren's struggles, in part because I think it is so easy to judge even subconsciously. At least it is for me. What did you learn while writing her story?

I learned that I am guilty of the same weakness, We have to train ourselves to see people like God sees people. Having that kind of vision takes incredible discipline because our nature is not to see things like He does. I saw myself often in Lauren as the story revealed how she truly didn’t want to judge people but she did. She just did. We all do. We see a homeless man begging on the streets and we make all kinds of assumptions about how he got there and what he would do if we reached out to help him. We see a pregnant teenager or an obese child or a woman wearing diamonds and Jimmy Choos and we assume the teenager has no morals, the child has no restraint and the woman is wealthy and therefore has no worries. We believe these things because the crowd tells us it’s so. Jumping to conclusions seems to permeate culture, regardless of the generation. Whatever the crowd says, we too easily believe. We need to fix our eyes on God, not the crowd.

Ouch! Great points, Susan. I think that's why the book pricked my heart. I often find that the books I write grow out of something I've experienced or that God is teaching me at that moment. Is either true for you with this book?

I’ve always been awed by people who would choose death over turning their backs on God. People who know about the Salem Witch Trials probably know that innocent people were executed but what they may not know is that every one of the accused could’ve saved themselves if they’d just confessed. They would have been driven from the village and lived the rest of their lives as outcasts, but they would’ve lived. The magistrates only executed the convicted ones who refused to confess. These men and women were incredibly brave.

What attracted you to the Salem Witch Trials, such a little known time period?

When I was in junior high, I was in play called To Burn a Witch. I played the role of an innocent woman accused of witchcraft who sits in a cell with other innocent young women from her village. When my character realizes she can save herself by pretending to be bewitched, she begins to scream that one of the other girls in her cell – a friend, actually – is tormenting her. My character is led away to freedom and the woman she accused falsely is led away to her execution. I had forgotten being in that play until I read a newspaper article a couple years ago about a woman who was petitioning a Massachusetts court to exonerate her great-times-eight grandmother. This ancestor of hers was accused and convicted of witchcraft during the Salem trials, was released when the hysteria ended, but whose name was never cleared. I was reminded of how it felt, even just as an actress, to be accused of being something I was not - and the far worse feeling of accusing someone I knew was innocent. These people who died in 1692 Salem were all innocent. They all died refusing to confess they were in league with Satan. They held onto truth to the point of death. That, to me, is incredibly inspiring

Wow! Sounds very impactful, and the pain that must have reminaed in that family to seek clearing a distant relative after all that time! What are you working on next?

I just finished a manuscript for WaterBrook called “White Picket Fences,” which is a story about a family that seems to have the perfect life. Perfect house, perfect jobs, perfect neighborhood, perfect everything. But the reality is, they live on the same fallen planet as the rest of us and suffer the same flaws. To pretend all is well when all is not is to doom yourself to a life of pretense and disappointment and maybe even despair. We all have our flaws but we also have our strengths – and these shine brightest when we are honest about who we are and Who we must run to for help, healing and hope. I take this family on a little 375-page journey to face their struggles!

If you could take your family anywhere where would you go?

We’ve all been struck with eyes for New Zealand, ever since Peter Jackson brought J R R Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings to life. It would be a great trip!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview, Cara. This book sounds really interesting.

You're right, it is incredibly inspiring...Holding onto truth to the point of death.

God Bless!

Kara S. said...

I love how history gives us such a variety of settings for stories. This one sounds really interesting!

By the way, New Zealand is absolutely gorgeous and well-worth the visit. I spent almost 2 months living there as part of a missions team. Totally awesome. =)

Paula Shene said...

This book sounds very interesting especially your take on how we all tend to judge whether we realize it or not. And how wrong it is to do that.

People with smiles can be dripping with venom or crushed with despair.

God's love is far beyond what we can conceive. Whatever age we as individuals come to the Lord, it is the right age for us.

I was 39 and am glad I experienced all the lows before I got the high because - you're right - even death will not separate me from His love. Better to meet the Lord sooner than to denounce Him and never to see Him at all....


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