Sunday, 25 August 2019

I Interviews

Interview: Susie Finkbeiner

Finkbeiner Susie smCan you provide a brief description of your new novel, All Manner of Things?

All Manner of Things is a story about loss and reconciliation, tradition and cultural change, anxiety and trust. But most of all, it’s a story about how a family clings to hope, even in the midst of grief.

All Manner of Things covers some volatile times in American history, including the Vietnam War and the 1960s. Why did you decide to focus on this time period?

I grew up hearing stories about the sixties from my parents. Whenever we listened to the radio in the car it was the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. We didn’t have cable, so we were left watching reruns of Leave It to Beaver or Donna Reed. Early on I developed a fascination with the era, only fed by my dad’s stories of his time serving in Vietnam.

After writing a series set in part of my grandparents’ era (the Great Depression), I decided it was time to discover a story set in the years of my parents’ youth. I would have been remiss to write about the sixties without including the Vietnam War, race riots, and the massive social change that marked the decade. However, I’m happy to say that I only make a passing mention of hippies in the story because, as my mother says, they weren’t everywhere back then.

What type of research was required to effectively write this story?

One advantage I had when researching the 1960s is that Baby Boomers like to talk about their experiences. I had the great honor of interviewing a handful of generous folks who were more than happy to tell me their stories. Not only did they offer great insights into the era, they also gave me encouragement to keep going with this project.

Another boon for my research was the vast availability of newscasts, television programs, and musical performances on YouTube. The sixties was a fully televised decade and I reaped all the benefits. I was able to watch Walter Cronkite report on the Saturn V launch and Jimi Hendrix light his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Finally, my parents were champs, answering whatever questions I had for them. My mom filled me in on hairstyles, clothing, parties, and what it was like to be a reasonable teen in a most unreasonable time. My dad wrote up his memoirs of serving as a Navy Seabee in Vietnam. For their input, I am so grateful.

In All Manner of Things, you introduce the Jacobson family, who are struggling through some very difficult times. Can you provide readers with a glimpse into their lives?

The Jacobsons are a typical, lower middle class family living in a small West Michigan town. At the beginning of the book we find a family of four, a mother and her three children. They’ve lived without their father, Frank, for several years after he abandoned them. Although they encounter difficulty, they remain a strong family unit, fiercely loyal to one another.

This is the kind of family that I love, both in real life and fiction.

Do you have a favorite character?

Oh goodness gracious! How can I choose? When I first started writing the story, Annie was my favorite because I relate with her deeply. But then, as I wrote Mike, Joel, Gloria, and Bernie, my loyalties shifted. While Annie is still very special, they’ve all made their way into my heart. What started as Annie’s story evolved into the Jacobson family’s story. I love them all.

All Manner of Things is set in a fictional town in West Michigan. Why did you choose this setting?

I’m a proud Michigander, and some my fondest childhood memories are of vacationing in Ludington, a small down on the shores of Lake Michigan. We’d camp at the state park, swim among the wild waves of the Big Lake, and eat ice cream at the House of Flavors.

When I decided on setting for this story, West Michigan seemed like the perfect place. I wanted to feature the unique Dutch community, the stunning landscape, and the Midwestern values of faith and family. While it’s set in the 1960s, there’s just a passing reference or two of hippies. That was an intentional choice. It was more important to me that I represent the era as my parents experienced it as teen Michiganders.

There are a number of lessons that can be learned from your novel. Can you expand on a couple of these lessons?

When I was a kid, I was stunned when my mom told me about the “Duck and Cover” drills they’d practice in school in case of nuclear attack. Now, a mother myself, I am stunned that my children have their own version, called “Lock Down” drills. It would be so easy for me to “duck and cover” or “lock down” emotionally, just thinking of the threats of danger in this world.

However, shutting down and shutting my eyes would keep me from experiencing and witnessing all the beauty this world affords. I could possibly miss so much of God’s glory if I hide away, fearing what could happen.

Mike encourages Annie not to duck and cover but instead to keep her eyes open. After I wrote that scene, I sat back in my chair, knowing that I was being encouraged by the Spirit to stop allowing fear to blind me. Is the world scary? Sure. Do horrible things happen? Of course. But if we hide under our arms, eyes squeezed shut, we’ll miss so much good that God has for us.

Jesus offers us an abundant life. It sure would be a shame if we missed out because we were hiding.

All Manner of Things Book CoverAll Manner of Things offers a message of hope. Can you expand upon how this theme is portrayed in your book?

I’ve realized recently that my novels hinge on hope. I believe the reason for this is my absolute reliance on the hope I have in Christ. I couldn’t go a single day without it.

In All Manner of Things hope is a lifeline during an uncertain time. Not only is the nation in a complex and deadly military conflict, but the Jacobsons find themselves sending one of their own to serve in the midst of the danger. As I imagined Gloria dropping Mike off before he “ships off”, I considered how a mother does such a thing.

Hope.

Hope is the only way. Because she has hope that she will see him again. And that hope becomes greater than fear.

Ultimately, it’s hope that keeps us going even in the middle of the worst times. Hope that tomorrow could be better than today, that God can be taken at his word, and that we have more to live for that stretches beyond this current existence. It’s the hope of the space Christ is preparing for us in heaven that keeps us breathing and serving and loving.

Who would you say is your target audience?

As I wrote All Manner of Things I couldn’t help but imagine the folks who would spend their time reading the Jacobsons’ story. And when I did, I saw readers who don’t shy away from an emotional book, people who enjoy being welcomed into a fictional family that feels real. I pictured people, hungry for a novel that points to the ways God works in and among his created image bearers.

What are you working on next?

For my next book, I’m sticking with the 1960s to tell the story of Betty Sweet and her grandson, Hugo. It’s a novel about the magic of story and wonder. It’s a joy to write and I’m so excited for my readers to meet Betty and Hugo.

How can readers connect with you?

One of the very best things about this writing life is meeting readers! I’d love to connect with you at my website (susiefinkbeiner.com), Facebook (@SusieFinkbeiner), Twitter (@SusieFinkbeiner) or my personal favorite, Instagram (@susie_finkbeiner).

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