You’re More Than Just a Book to Me: Susanna Kearsley Event Recap

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June 12, 2013 by Heidi

Susanna Kearsley at Valley Stream

Susanna Kearsley with Sara Humphreys at the Valley Stream Public Library

I consider myself very fortunate to be near enough to NYC to commute in for book events on a regular basis, but it’s a fairly rare and exciting event when authors choose to visit somewhere out on Long Island.  Thankfully, Sourcebooks had fans vote and was kind enough to send Canadian author Susanna Kearsley to the top 5 stores and bookstores across the nation–and the Valley Stream Public Library was one of those 5!  While I haven’t yet read any of Susanna’s work myself, she does come with this stamp of approval:

Recommended by Angie

‘Nough said?  (This stamp of awesomeness brought to you by Laura in honor of Angie.  Susanna Kearsley is also highly recommended by Holly, Michelle, Amy, and more bookish friends I completely trust!)

You guys, I loved this event!  Because it was such a small setting, us readers really got to chat and connect with Susanna in a way that felt like sitting down with a friend.  Susanna Kearsley’s friend, Long Island author Sara Humphreys, was there to moderate, but given the relaxed atmosphere moderation wasn’t really needed (though it was lovely to have Sara there to chat as well!), we all just jumped in and asked questions whenever it felt natural.  In fact, Susanna stated that she loves visiting schools and libraries so that people have the opportunity to realize that being an author for a living is really an option!

The Writing Process:

  • Susanna is one of those authors whose characters speak to her, and she lets them surprise her on a regular basis.  For example, her newly released Firebird wasn’t planned, but she couldn’t get the characters out of her head.  
  • She’s a total pantser.  In fact, she never worked with a deadline until she sold The Shadowy Horses +1, and then she had to deal with the stress of what that +1 was going to be.  Now she’s gone back to writing a book before selling it.
  • Because she writes historical fiction, she does have major events she wants to hit in that history, but everything from point A to point B is a bit of a mystery till she gets there.
  • She likes to write books that stand on their own because she feels that this makes it so much easier on the reader not to have to read things in a certain order to understand what’s going on.  I love this!
  • She studied political science at University, which largely manifests in the political maneuverings that occur in her books.
  • Susanna usually pulls her titles from poems (The Shadowy Horses is from Yeats).  When the paperback copy of The Winter Sea came out in Great Britain, they insisted on changing the title because they were convinced a book with the word ‘winter’ in the title wouldn’t sell in the summer.
  • She doesn’t read a lot of reviews, but she does look at her star count.  She’s very much of the opinion that once a book is published it’s the readers’ book, and up to them to decide how they feel about it.
  • She kickstarted her career with Mariana, which was published after she won a contest with it.  In fact, it sounds like she’s sold every book she’s ever written, which is pretty damn successful! 

Research:

  • She only spent 11 days in Scotland for The Winter Sea
  • She went back to Scotland and to St. Petersburg for Firebird.  She travels with her editorial mom, who is wonderful, and doesn’t mind hanging out when Susanna spends half an hour taking notes/pictures on the sidewalk.
  • She doesn’t like to write about places she hasn’t personally traveled to, and most often lets the historical events that inspire her determine her setting.

Family History:

  • Her family hails from Long Island back to colonial times, and she wants to write a story set here (please do!).
  • Her mother’s family history was easy to trace because they came from money…up until one of the sons had an upstairs-downstairs romance that ended up with the maid pregnant and her forefather disinherited.
  • She had 5 ancestors on the Mayflower.
  • One of her forefathers fought the first duel on American soil.
  • Susanna uses a lot of her family names in her books, like Kerry (which I’ve likely misspelled) in The Winter Sea.

Susanna Kearsley books

If you could go back to any time in history, when would you go?

Susanna said she’d either like to go to the early 1800’s to track down her family, or she was extremely fond of the early-mid 1700’s.  She stated that the clothing in that period was surprisingly not that bad, and that there were a lot of women of independent thought and action in that time.  She pointed out that any time you go back to a period of rational thought, you’re likely to find people you relate to.  I think this is a fantastic observation, and something I never thought about as a reason I connect well with a lot of historical fiction.

Susanna also described having this gorgeous 1700’s period dress made by a woman who produces stuff for the History Channel.  It really sounded much better than a corset.

Do you read while you write, and if so, what?

I asked this question, because I always love to know what authors are reading.  Susanna doesn’t read historical fiction at all while she’s writing, but tends to read romance or mystery instead (she likes puzzle mysteries more than the darker serial killer type stuff that has been popular as of late).  Though she’s met and is friendly with Diana Gabaldon, she’s only read 3/4 of Outlander and will never finish it.  I think we all know by now that this made me laugh as I emphatically disliked Outlander, in fact, my first reaction when I read the blurb for The Winter Sea was “It sounds like a good version of Outlander!”  We shall see.

That was pretty much it!  Susanna hung out for some time letting all of us get our books signed (see my lovely new stack above–I love these covers!).  I was so happy to see some young enthusiastic readers there, particularly one boy who I would guess was around 14-15 and obviously a huge fan.  Again, I just have to stress that she was so lovely and personable.  If you ever have the chance to see her in person, I really recommend you take it.  I found her both fascinating and humorous, and am certainly convinced that I am going to love her work.

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13 comments »

  1. Kyle says:

    I’ve been meaning to read The Winter Sea for a while now; it seems exactly like the kind of book I would love. I have it in my classroom…maybe I will finally get around to it this summer!

    • Heidi says:

      Oh, I hope you do, Kyle! I think I’m actually going to read The Shadowy Horses first on Kearsley’s recommendation, but that’s because she doesn’t feel it’s as strong as The Winter Sea. That’s the one everyone I know loves.

  2. Thanks for this recap! I really enjoyed the whole evening, too.

    Just wanted to clarify: Much as I’d love to have Diana Gabaldon consider me a friend, we’re really more like business acquaintances, as we’ve only met at conferences. I do think she’s wonderful, though, both as a writer and a person, and I admire her more than I can say, and any time I spend in her company is always enjoyable.

    The reason I never finished Outlander wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it (I was), but because Diana’s writing voice is SO unique and strong, and the world of that novel was so intricately drawn, that when I realized I’d be writing about Jacobites, too (even though mine were of an earlier generation) I deliberately stopped reading Outlander (and have avoided it since) so the world of my own books could form without being too influenced by what she’d already written.

    I needed to “see” my own people and landscapes, if that makes sense. But I did read the last page of the book, just to make sure that Jamie and Claire got their HEA :-)

    • Heidi says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the recap, Susanna!

      I totally understanding not reading work that you feel might influence your own in some way. I personally didn’t enjoy Outlander, but it wasn’t because of the setting or history, which I thought were done well, I just didn’t feel attached to the characters. It’s become a bit of a joke with me and the many friends of mine who DO love it.

  3. Angie says:

    Oh, I would love to meet her someday. This sounds like it was such a lovely event. But you know what’s second best? My beautiful signed copy arriving yesterday!! You are the best, Heidi. *hugs*

    • Heidi says:

      Yay! I’m so glad it made it safely to you. It seemed like good timing since I was mailing you stuff anyway. 😛

  4. Bonnie says:

    Fantastic recap! I really love Susanna Kearsley’s work (at least the two that I’ve read: Mariana and The Rose Garden). The Shadowy Horses is sitting on my shelf waiting for me to get around to it. Hope you love her books! :)

    • Heidi says:

      Oooh, I think I’m actually going to read The Shadowy Horses first, Bonnie! I’m glad to hear you’re another lover of her work though. With so many people being big fans of her I can’t imagine going wrong.

  5. Holly says:

    Wow, her family history seems too eventual to be true. I love meeting authors of books I love, especially if they are warm and personable. Again, color me jealous!

    • Heidi says:

      Her family history is crazy, isn’t it? I suppose we all have a pretty crazy family history out there somewhere if we were able to track it. I hope that you do get to see her sometime, though this was her first book tour, so it’s not a frequent thing. She was lovely!

  6. Chachic says:

    Hahaha the Angie button is being put to good use! Sounds like this was a lovely event, I think it’s great that it was pretty cozy. You were lucky that you got to attend it. :) Again, thank you so much for getting me a signed copy of The Winter Sea. I can’t wait to read it. I agree with you, the covers for Susanna’s books are just beautiful.

    • Heidi says:

      It IS! I freaking love the Angie button. 😛

      And of course! I really hope we both like The Winter Sea as much as all of our friends have. I think they’re so gorgeous, I love having physical copies.

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