Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

1930s

Sparkling Vintage Reads: A Trail of Crumbs by Susie Finkbeiner (with Giveaway!)

UPDATE: We have our winner! Newsletter subscriber J. Kihn has won a copy of A Trail of Crumbs. (J., I’ve sent you an e-mail requesting your mailing address.) Thanks, everyone! Watch for more giveaways and goodies, plus news on the sequel to You’re the Cream in My Coffee and other publishing projects, coming soon. JLL

The circumstances of the Great Depression of the 1930s weren’t pretty, but they sure make for good stories.I’ve just finished reading A Trail of Crumbs by Michigan author Susie Finkbeiner, and found myself very moved by it.  Here’s the five-star review I posted on Amazon:

Susie Finkbeiner

Before launching my Susie Finkbeiner-fandom by reading her earlier book, A Cup of Dust, my knowledge of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl had been pretty much limited to a high-school reading of The Grapes of Wrath. A Cup of Dust made this harrowing period of American history more real for me through the eyes of a young girl, Pearl Spence. (I even interviewed Susie about A Cup of Dust: read the interview here.)

A Trail of Crumbs picks up Pearl’s story where A Cup of Dust leaves off. A heartbreaking tragedy launches Pearl’s family on a journey to live near relatives in 1930s Michigan, where Pearl must adjust to new people and situations, along with the more ordinary challenges of growing up. Susie Finkbeiner’s lyrical descriptions and heartfelt portrayals transported me to an era that seems very different from our own, and yet so similar in some ways. The characters are well drawn and believable, especially Pearl. Through all of her difficulties, there are bright spots, such as her lively Aunt Carrie, and the teacher who introduces her to Frank L. Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I loved seeing how caring adults can have a positive impact in the life of a child through such small but thoughtful gestures, even as other adults make poor and destructive choices.

I’m eager to read much more from Susie Finkbeiner. Find out more about this talented author at susiefinkbeiner.com.

I’ll be giving away one softcover copy of A Trail of Crumbs to someone in the Sparkling Vintage newsletter community! To join, simply enter your e-mail in the sidebar to the right of the blog. If you’re already a subscriber and you’d like to enter the drawing, just let me know in the comments below. I’ll draw the winner at random on Friday, April 7, 2017. 🙂
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Down to Business: To rouge or not to rouge?

Photoplay-cover-flapper-applying-lipstick-1920s-221x300“To rouge or not to rouge–is it even a question nowadays? When the daughter of the most exclusive* family paints her face for her afternoon walk as did the soubrette** of former years to counteract the glare of strong footlights, one can hardly blame the business woman–often overtired and wan–for doing likewise. Yet the girl of office or shop who uses her rouge pot without conscience, her powder puff without mercy, and her charcoal pencil without discretion, and who plasters her lips with a vermilion cupid’s bow, is oftenest the one who is heard complaining because she ‘never gets a raise.’ The wise business woman will distrust the appeal of over-artificiality and if she coaxes a tinge of color into pale cheeks and touches a shiny nose with a film of powder, will know when to stop. Perhaps the best description of the competent business woman has been given by Fannie Heaslip Lea: ‘Neatly dressed, smoothly coiffed, closely hatted, as neutral as a mail-order catalogue, as harmless as her own clacking typewriter, as controlled as an electric bulb–and just about as warming.’ ” (From The Complete Book of Etiquette by Hallie Erminie Rives, 1934).

*”Exclusive” used to be a compliment in those pre-“everybody-must-be-the-same” days. Today, “inclusive” is the sought-after adjective. Interestingly, to be called “discriminating” in the olden days was also a compliment, meaning you had refined taste and good judgment. Today, the meaning of the word has shifted to something negative” “judgmental,” or worse, the ridiculous non-word that grates the ear: “judgy.”

**”Soubrette”: a coquettish maid or frivolous young women in comedies, or an actress who plays such a part (per Merriam-Webster)

Sparkling Vintage Reads: An Interview with Susie Finkbeiner

susie finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner

When I met Susie Finkbeiner at the 2013 ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference, I immediately felt that little “click” that happens when you meet a kindred spirit. (We laughed at each other’s jokes–always a very good sign!) Since then, we’ve grown better acquainted on social media, and I admired her novels, Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile. Now Susie’s brand-new novel is releasing this week! Set in the 1930s, it seemed like a perfect choice to feature here on A Sparkling Vintage Life.

a cup of dustA Cup of Dust tells the story of ten-year-old Pearl as she and her family struggle through hard times during the Dust Bowl. The last thing they need is more trouble, but that’s exactly what they get when a mysterious stranger rolls into town, bent on revenge for something that happened long ago. Join Pearl as she unfolds the mystery that where you come from isn’t who you are.

At the end of the week I’ll be giving away 2 free signed copies of A Cup of Dust…get a chance to win one simply by leaving a comment below or on my Facebook author page. Meanwhile, here’s a chat I had with Susie. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her better, and so will you!

Jennifer: Welcome, Susie. First, the basics. Where are you from and all that good stuff?

Susie Finkbeiner: I live with my husband and three kids in the beauty of West Michigan. We’re close enough to the Big Lake that we often drive over in the summer for a picnic dinner and to watch the sunset. I don’t know that I’d want to live anywhere else.

We don’t have any pets. For now. I’d love a dog, but we don’t have space for all of us in our house, let alone a fuzzy friend. Maybe someday. I believe Christmas might mean fish for the kids. Sigh. We’ll see. For now I count our neighborhood turkeys, squirrels, and skunks as my pets. Not bad for city living.

JLL: Tell us briefly about your writing journey and how you got started as an author.

SF: My writing career didn’t happen over night. Not at all. In fact, my first novel, Paint Chips, was published after decades of writing, submitting, rejections, and a few published tidbits. Fun fact: before I became a novelist I had a full length play published.
It’s taken a good long time for me to get where I am now in my writing. I don’t regret my pre-published years at all. I’m grateful for them. They strengthened me as a writer and as a person. Failure is good for the soul.

JLL: How did you get inspired to write A Cup of Dust?

SF: Twenty years ago I read The Grapes of Wrath. Ever since, I’ve been intrigued by the Dust Bowl Era. I knew I’d eventually write the story. I was just waiting for the right time.

JLL: Why did you choose to set your story in the 1930s?

SF: The 1930s were a time of trial and great growth. It tested the strength, character, and faith of those who lived through it. I love the stories my grandma told me of her life growing up in the 30s. I know I’ll revisit the Depression Era in future novels.

JLL: Tell us about your research process for A Cup of Dust.

SF: I’ve been researching the Dust Bowl on and off for twenty years. No joke. I read books, watched documentaries, wrote countless short stories set in that era. The first play I ever wrote and produced was set in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Dust Bowl.

I guess the best way to define my research process for this and other novels is that I have this curiosity which must be quenched. That is what inspires the stories I write.

JLL: Did writing A Cup of Dust reflect your own life and/or faith journey?

SF: Yes. It sure does reflect a bit of my life and faith. I don’t want to say too much, though, for fear of spoilers!

JLL: What 3 people have had the greatest influence on your writing, and why?

SF: First is my husband, Jeff. He encourages me, does the dishes as I type, reads what I write, believes in me even when it’s unreasonable.
Second is my agent, Ann. She doesn’t let me whine. She tells me the truth in kindness. She puts up with my neurotic little self.
Third is George, my college literature professor. He told me years ago that he thought I had a novel in me. I didn’t believe him at first. I’m glad he saw potential in me (even though I was a punk 18 year old).

JLL: Are there any particular challenges you’re facing in your writing life?

SF: Oh, that old jerk the inner voice. Pops up when I least need discouragement. It takes prayer and good friends to chase that critic away.

JLL: How do you stay spiritually grounded?

SF: You know, this is a great question. It’s easy to get all floaty, right? I happen to have a great church and great community. I hear sermons weekly which inspire, convict, and encourage me. I leave feeling spurred on to doing good works. Those good works are often done sitting at my desk or at Starbucks, clicking away at a story.
I also have an incredible community. Some are writers, some are not. But I have friends who pray for and with me, who speak the truth in love, who share life-giving words.
The whole “hermit author” thing isn’t good for my soul. I thrive on being part of a family, a body. My hope is that I give to them as much as they give to me.
JLL: What reading material is next to your favorite reading spot?
SF: Okay, first off I need to tell you that my favorite place to read is in my van. It’s comfy, I can easily stay warm or cool depending on the weather, I’m able to adjust my seat. Perfect. And I’m currently reading West for the Black Hills by Peter Leavell (an Idahoan, I believe).

JLL: Yes, he is! Big Peter Leavell fan here, as well. What’s on your music playlist?

SF: Debussy. Always Debussy. I also like to listen to movie soundtracks such as from Schindler’s List, Last of the Mohicans, True Grit (the more recent one), Legends of the Fall. Otherwise, I have an eclectic taste in music. It’s all according to my mood.

JLL: Are there any can’t-miss blogs, podcasts, vlogs, etc., that you’d recommend?

SF: For writers I recommend the Breathe Writers Conference blog. There are posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday full of inspiration and encouragement. I also catch the Vlog Brothers posts. This is John Green and his brother Hank. I typically tune in for John’s segments. He’s a geek and I love that.

JLL: What do you do for fun?

SF: It depends on what company I’m keeping. By myself? I like to read. Sometimes I paint my nails and watch TV or documentaries. With my family? We like to hike and visit zoos, go to the beach and swim (when it’s warm enough). With my husband? We like to play cards or Scrabble. With friends? Get coffee and browse the shelves of a bookstore.
I’m not so exciting, but I have a fun life full of belly-busting laughter.

JLL: What’s the next project coming up from Susie Finkbeiner?

SF: I’m working on a sequel to A Cup of Dust. After that I might play around, writing a memoir (a funny one) while I research the Vietnam War for another project. Then I’ll work on more projects I have on my list of future novels to write.
Thanks, Susie! Everyone, you can learn more about Susie by visiting her website or connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter. And enter for a chance to win a signed copy of A Cup of Dust just by leaving a comment below. 2 winners will be drawn at random on October 30.
 (Giveaway powered by Rafflecopter.)
Edited to add: I’ve just posted my review of A Cup of Dust on Amazon. You can read it here.

Sparkling Vintage Book Review: On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman

on shifting sandWhile engrossed in Allison Pittman’s latest novel, On Shifting Sand, I continually found myself heading to the kitchen for a tall, cool glass of water to slake my thirst. Yes, it’s been a dry, hot summer here in Idaho, I told myself, but what gives? Then I realized that the cause of my thirst was Allison’s vivid, you-are-there descriptions of daily life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

“We feel thirst everywhere,” she writes in protagonist Nola’s viewpoint, “–our parched throats, of course, and the corners of our mouths. It seems, sometimes, that we are drying up from within. Our lungs rasp with every breath, our bones threaten to snap themselves to powder. There is not enough water to drink, to wash, to bathe. We are never quenched. we are never clean.”

Gaaack! Pass the pitcher!

Of course, I’d heard about the Dust Bowl (or Dirty Thirties, as they’re sometimes called). I’d read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath along with millions of other American high-schoolers over the years. But On Shifting Sand gave me my first glimpse in up-close detail what it was like to live through it, day by day. My ancestors experienced the Great Depression in other contexts, but not the dust storms that plagued the Great Plains. No wonder so many “Okies” packed up and left–for most of them, there was literally no other alternative. The storms took away their homes, their livelihoods, and even people they loved.

As I read On Shifting Sand, the descriptions of storms kept me riveted, almost as if the weather was a character unto itself.

This was important, because I found it hard, if not impossible, to warm up to Nola, a pastor’s wife in a small Oklahoma town. While I sympathized with the near-impossibility of keeping a clean and healthy home in the constant dust storms, and to feed her children on practically no income, her constant complaining and chronic dissatisfaction with her lot in life wore on my nerves. When a drifter comes to town and she makes terrible choices to try to make herself feel better . . . well, at that point, many good Christian readers may have closed the book.

And that’s too bad. Because Nola’s story has much to teach us about ourselves.

You see, when we’re not vigilant–and sometimes even when we are–sin comes upon us like those dust storms. It seeps into every crack and crevice of our lives, no matter how hard we try to keep it out, to scrub it away. Only the Living Water, Jesus Christ, has the power to wash it away, quench our thirst and make us clean again.

That, I believe, is the point of the story. Nola grew up in a home without love, and went looking for love in all the wrong places, as the old song goes. To escape an unhappy home life, she made a hasty marriage. (The title hearkens to Jesus’s parable about the foolish man who built his house on sand,
“and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”) Now she’s restless, unhappy, and critical toward her husband, her two children, and the people of her town. When the handsome drifter–an old friend of her husband–comes to her home, her poor choices make everything infinitely worse. (In keeping with Christian publishing standards, we aren’t offered graphic details of what happens–needless to say, the picture’s clear enough.)

Ultimately, On Shifting Sand is a story of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. You may have to slog through some dust and dirt to get there, but it’s worth it.

Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

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