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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.
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