Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Susan Meissner Q&A With Book Giveaway!

Today's the release day for Susan Meissner's newest book, Secrets of a Charmed Life, and to celebrate I have a Q&A to share with you...and there's a giveaway for the book at the end of this post. ;)

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Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of seventeen books, including A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.
1. Susan, tell us where the idea for Secrets of a Charmed Life came from.
The story began first as an image in my head of an impoverished girl on the brink of adulthood sketching wedding dresses in the tiny bedroom she shares with a younger half-sister. I could see her in my mind’s eye imagining a life far different from the one she is living. She wants a fairy tale life where love and comfort and happiness are in abundance, and for her, that charmed life begins with a wedding dress worn on that blissful day a girl’s childhood dreams come true. I decided to set her in London at the start of the war because I knew that even for a young woman not yet sixteen, war is a crucible. It is a tester of dreams and desires and determination. I knew the London Blitz was an opposition that would bring out the very best and the very worst in this girl, as war so often does.
2. What is the story about, in a nutshell?
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0451419928/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0451419928&linkCode=as2&tag=chrisbooksrev-20&linkId=GBGCUGCWEVCBWVUBLike many of my other novels, Secrets of a Charmed Life is historical fiction framed by a contemporary layer that links to a story in the past. An American college student named Kendra, who is studying abroad at Oxford, interviews Blitz survivor Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets she has kept all her life – beginning with who she really is. The story then takes the reader to England in 1940. An unprecedented war against London’s civilian population is about to take place and half a million children are evacuated to foster homes in the countryside. Fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, but Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. The sisters’ lives are forever changed when—acting at cross purposes—they secretly return to London on the first day of the Blitz.
3. What drew you to include in your story the evacuation of London’s children?
Prior to researching for this book, I was only minimally aware of what London’s parents did to keep their children safe during World War II. I’d long ago read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and I knew the four children in those stories had been sent out of London into the countryside at the start of the war. But I didn’t know that for tens of thousands of children just like them, that stay in the countryside lasted for the duration of the war. We’re talking five years. How difficult it must have been for the parents and their kids to be separated from each other – with just occasional visits – for half a decade, and during a time of fear, danger, and deprivation. From a storyteller’s standpoint, the emotional pull of this situation is intense. I knew I wanted to explore what this scenario might have been like for two young sisters.
4. Is this a book about sisters, then?
It is that, but it is also a book about mothers and daughters, and other family bonds as they relate to children. The universe of children is rather small – home and family are pretty much their world. They don’t always see how their decisions are impacted by the decision of others, nor do they have much frame of reference for war, which is an especially cruel teacher to a child.
5. What is the significance of Emmy’s wedding dress sketches?
Those bridal gown designs represent Emmy’s na├»ve notions about the happily-ever-after life that she believes begins for a girl on the day she wears a dress emblematic of bliss and perfection. Emmy sees her unwed mother as someone on whom fate has frowned and that she is somewhat to blame for that. Emmy’s vision for her future is to rise above the constraints of her mother’s unlucky life. But those sketches blind her at first to the larger forces at work. And there are always larger forces at work.
6. What were you most surprised by in your research for Secrets of a Charmed Life?
I think many of us who were born after World War II have a limited understanding of what England suffered because there were so many other more shocking situations, like the slaughter of millions of Jews, the occupations of nations like Poland and France, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the storming at the beach at Normandy, and the Bataan Death March, to name just a few. I didn’t realize the magnitude of what London suffered until I took a closer look. The city was never occupied by Hitler’s forces but it was bombed relentlessly. Seven of Christopher Wren’s beautiful churches were destroyed, as were thousands upon thousands of homes. More than sixty thousand civilians were killed in the whole of the British Isles. Those are staggering losses. And yet the British people were and are resilient. Their rallying cry of Keep Calm and Carry On (I truly can’t stand trivializations of this motto!) is truly the hallmark of that resiliency. You can go to London’s East End now and see street after street of 1950’s-era buildings, framed by a quiet horizon of much older buildings that the war did not flatten. London, Coventry and the other bombed cities rebuilt what was destroyed and moved on. The memories of the war aren’t in the streets but in the museums, and in national cemeteries, and sometimes, if you look closely enough, in the faces of those who survived it.

7. What would you especially like readers to take away from Secrets of a Charmed Life?
The title of this book, which I love, is meant to cause the reader to wonder if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily-ever-after written all over it. The title seems to suggest there are hidden truths to being able to have everything you’ve always wanted. But in actuality, and what I hope readers will take away, is that a happy life is not made up of what you have chased and achieved, but rather who you have poured your life into, who has poured their life into yours, and the difference you’ve made in the lives of others. Most of the dreams we pursue don’t have intrinsic worth, but people always do.  It’s not a perfect world, and we can only play our own hand of cards – if you will – but if we play the hand as best we can with love for others as the motivation, I think we can rest content.    

8. What are you working on right now?
My next book is set primarily in Hollywood’s golden age, specifically in 1939 when a treasure trove of timeless movies was released, including the most iconic movie of all time, Gone With The Wind. Two studio secretaries who become friends on the set of this movie forge a tale of love, desire, and survival that hints at the dynamic between the characters Scarlett and Melanie. The contemporary thread features a woman whose vintage clothing shop specializes in updated designs of classic Hollywood fashions. When her version of the infamous Gone With the Wind curtain dress is photographed for a local newspaper, a surprising delivery comes her way that ushers the reader back to old Hollywood and the two studio secretaries who, like Scarlett O’Hara, must decide what they are willing to do to get what they want most. The novel will release in February 2016 and is tentatively titled Stars Over Sunset Boulevard. I’ve always loved the movie Gone With the Wind; the sound track alone can stop me in my tracks. It has been a wonderful experience researching the details of how this film came to be made. Like most unprecedented endeavors, there was plenty of drama!

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Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner! Giveaway is open to the US and Canada. Ends 2/17

How to enter: Sign into the Giveaway Tools form below (it might take a moment to load) and submit each entry you complete. Commenting alone will not get you entered – you must click enter on the form. Happy entering!



Open only to those who can legally enter. Winning entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by Giveaway Tools and announced here as well as emailed and will have up to one week to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Giveaway Tools or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. I am not responsible for any packages lost or damaged in the mail. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

53 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interview. I love the title and what Susan said about it. So often people are out for themselves, thinking that is what makes the "charmed life," be it with fame, fortune, etc. Focusing on God and others is the only true way to have a fulfilled life.

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  2. I love the description of the book. Can't wait to read it.

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  3. I loved that the author has taken research very deep into the subject of her novel and really gained an insight into how families were affected by the war here in the UK- particularly in London

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  4. This book sounds wonderful! I love my sister so I think this book about sisters is perfect. The time period is intriguing.

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  5. This sounds like a good read. Thanks for the giveaway!

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  6. Thanks for this look behind the scenes of A Charmed Life. I loved A Fall of Marigolds and look forward to visiting WWII England with this new book

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  7. I enjoyed the interview with Susan. Susan, thank you for helping us to truly understand the suffering that England endured during the war. May we never forget to pray for our brothers and sister in Christ. I would love to read SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE.

    psalm103and138[at]gmail[dot]com

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  8. I have been eyeing this book, thank you for the chance to win a copy.

    wfnren at aol dot com

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  9. Fascinating plot and gorgeous cover - def a Winning combo!
    Congrats on your new release, Susan :)

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  10. I have been looking forward to this book of Susan's for quite a while & it is on my TBR list - her books are always so worth the wait!

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  11. She is a new author to me and that is always a treat! sonja dot nishimoto at gmail dot com

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  12. What an interesting idea, to tie a contemporary and historical story line together!

    pattymh2000(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  13. After reading Andy Rooney's book I became very interested in how England was effected by the war. This book sounds very interesting.

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  14. I have read quite a few of Susan's book and I'm really looking forward to reading this one, especially after reading the review.

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  15. I've been seeing this book pop up all over the place. The Q&A just intrigued me even more! Can't wait to read it!

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  16. I have been seeing this book and it really sounds like a must read. I added it to my wish list on Amazon.
    amyc

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  17. I won an A.R.C. of the book on Good Reads a while ago. Hadn't heard of the author before that.

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  18. Sounds like a great read! Thanks for the chance to win.

    Staci

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  19. I loved this review and Susan's book looks great ! We all need to be reminded that people should always be first in our lives. Our world is so materialistic and we are easily distracted and that is not what is best for any of us.

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  20. This sound like an interesting book. Thank you for the chance to win it.

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  21. I always know you are going to recommend a terrific read. I didn't even finish the first response before clicking over to Goodreads and adding it to my TBR. Thanks for the chance to win it!

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  22. This book looks great. I have read some of her other books and really enjoyed them. I would love to get a chance to read this one. I love the cover, so pretty. Thank you for the giveaway opportunity.

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  23. I enjoyed the interview with Susan. I found it very interesting! Thanks very much for the opportunity to win! Have a wonderful, blessed day!

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  24. This book looks really good. So does your next one. I am also a GWTW fan.

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  25. Great interview! Can't wait to check out the book.

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  26. I'm very excited about this book. Susan Meissner is one of my favorites.

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  27. Great interview! I love books set during this time period. Sounds very interesting.

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  28. Would love to win the newest book by Susan and am already looking forward to her next one set during Hollywood's Golden Age!

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  29. Sounds like such a great book! Thanks for the interview and for the chance to win!
    Blessings,
    Nicki

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  30. I absolutely love how this sounds..definitely would love to read it.

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  31. If the inside of this book is anything like the outside, I can't wait to read it!
    Janet E.
    von1janet(at)gmail(dot)com

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  32. I've always found the stories of England during WWII captivating. I loved the Gurnesey Literary & Potato Peel Society, it showed what England and her territories went through and their amazing courage.

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  33. Susan is a new author to me and this book sounds great for winter reading.
    marypopmom (at) yahoo (dot) com
    Merry

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  34. Thanks melanie for this interview with Susan. I would love to win her book. It sounds like a good one. It amazes me the way these ideas just seem to be there all of a sudden in their head, But I do love books.
    GOD bless both of you. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

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  35. Thanks for a wonderful interview. Looking forward to reading this book! :)

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  36. This is a new book to me, but it sounds right up my alley. I need a good read!
    Plus, who could resist that cover? It's gorgeous!

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  37. Definitely intrigued by this book. Also by the fact that it has a teenage protagonist, but isn't a YA novel ... This storyline (and her upcoming one about Hollywood's golden era) sound great and it's awesome to see more early 20th century historicals in Christian/Inspirational fic (it's not just prairie romances and westerns anymore)! =)

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  38. I have been reading great things about this book.. definitely on my TBR list :)

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  39. I'm a big fan of Susan's and would love to read this new novel!

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  40. I love the title, and what you've made it mean

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  41. Sounds like an interesting book. Would love to read it. Putting it on my To Read list.

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  42. The book sounds awesome. I would love to read it!

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  43. Definitely want to read this. I find the World War II theme to be very interesting.

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  44. I've been so busy reading books in my bookcase and re-reading e-books, that I missed some of the new books coming out. Thanks for the reminder.

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  45. Love her books! So excited to read this one!

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  46. The cover alone draws me in to want to read the book. Then, I read what the book is about and it is a must read. Learning about that time and children separated from their parents. What sacrifice and pain they endured for the safety of their children. It's something as a mom I can't imagine, yet I would want to make sure my children were safe at the same time. Such an intriguing book and topic.

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  47. I love historical fiction and have enjoyed some of Susan's other books so I can't wait to read this one. Thanks for the chance to win a free copy.

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  48. I love the cover, and the title really does lead you to wonder about secrets. Thanks for the chance to win!

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  49. I read a number of WWII books in 2014 and none of them touched on it's effects on England. I don't believe that I've ever heard of half a million children being evacuated to foster homes - amazing!
    I enjoy learning about historical events through fiction and I know that I would enjoy this book. If I win I will post my review in all the right places.

    This was an interesting interview. Great questions/answers!

    Amanda Geaney

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  50. I am so excited to read this book! Thanks for the giveaway :)

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  51. Wow, this book sounds like it has a lot of fascinating details! I enjoy books around WWII and would be interested to see the research the fictional story is wrapped around.
    ~Amanda

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