Message From The Author
by Laurie Davie
After writing dozens of delightful historical novels Susan Wiggs has entered the contemporary arena. The result? Her new novel, THE YOU I NEVER KNEW, may be her best book yetwhich is saying quite a lot, given the crisp writing, vivid imagery, and wicked wit that have graced such previous bestsellers as The Lightkeeper, The Drifter, The Charm School, The Horsemasters Daughter, and the latest in her Great Chicago Fire series, The Mistress.
THE YOU I NEVER KNEW tells the story of Michelle Turner, daughter of the dashing movie starand absent fatherGavin Slade (think Robert Redford), and single mom of 16-year-old Cody, whos having a tough time with adolescence. Michelle returns home to Montana after a 16-year absence to help her father through a major health crisis. While there, she meets up with her first loveand, unbeknownst to him, Codys fatherSam McPhee, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks whos now a local doctor. Its a gripping, beautiful, intensely satisfying story, giving us the sense that as adults, we can go home again, resolve childhood traumas and find lost love.
As Susan puts it, Michelles journey is about going back and starting over, trying to get it right this time. I tried to write about the stubborn tendency of the human heart to hold on against all odds. Michelle learns something she should have known all along: never, ever give up on love.
Though Susan had previously just dipped [her] toe in the water of the contemporary subgenre, her modern voice came easily. The difference between the two, she says, is more a difference in subject than style. Michelle is instantly recognizable. We all know women like her; some of us have even BEEN women like her: late 30s, a single mom with all the attendant issues. In her historicals, on the other hand, the fantasy element is more prominentnot many of us have actually been a captive on a pirate ship, or trapped in the Chicago fire, or rescued by a lighthouse keeper!
One of the best parts of THE YOU I NEVER KNEW is Cody, an absolutely believablein other words, sometimes horrible but ultimately lovableteenager. Susan has a 16-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and says that her advice about Cody was invaluable! She told me what hed wear, what music hed listen to, how hed talkand of course she told me he would look exactly like Heath Ledger (who played Mel Gibsons son in The Patriot.) Other than their age, though, Susan says that Cody and Elizabeth have very little in common. Im blessed by a child who is actually making adolescence look fun and easy, whereas Cody is having a monumentally rough time of it. However, Elizabeth and her friends inspired Cody, absolutelyI just love talking to them about their issues, fears, hopes and dreams. Weve had many long, late nights in the backyard hot tub, engaged in intense conversation.
Besides being a mom, Michelle is also a talented artist, though she hasnt allowed herself to paint from her heart for many years. When Michelle left Montana for the first time, 17 and pregnant with Cody, she turned her back on her father (whose reaction to her pregnancy was less than sympathetic), Sam McPhee, and her art. All these years, she has cramped her talent into making illustrations for the advertising agency where she works. Now, returning to her father, Montana, and Sam, the creative floodgates open again. A sliver of window suddenly fills her eye: Almond-shaped, it framed nothing but the sky, yet her mind transformed what she was seeing. The slender gap in the drapes became a round, ripe, pregnant shape. Or an eye. Or a raindrop. Or a space between two praying hands It was a space that she suddenly wantedneededto fill Michelle grabbed a pencil and began drawing in the half-light, her heart guiding her hand. Something inside her had come unstopped, and it gushed over the paper, and she filled page after page, her hand barely able to match speed with which the images and emotions overtook her.
The emotional experience of paintingMichelles artistic impulses, fears, and inspirationsseems similar, in a way, to the creative process of writing. Susan readily admits that her own writing inspired her portrayal of Michelle. In any creative endeavor, you really put yourself out there nakedfiguratively, unless its some sort of bizarre performance artand there is a lot of soaring emotion and terrible uncertainty that goes along with that.
Unlike Michelle, however, Susan hasnt experienced a block to her imagination: Ideas come at me fast and furiouslysometimes I picture them stacking up like air traffic over OHare, each waiting for Air Traffic Control to invite them to land!
Susans next contemporary novel is PASSING THROUGH PARADISE (Jan. 02), about a troubled childrens book author, her missing-presumed-dead husband, the handyman who comes to fix her crumbling Victorian beach house and his two outrageous kids. Her next historical is the last in the Great Chicago Fire trilogy, THE FIREBRAND (Apr. 01).
When asked for her advice to aspiring writers, the multi-talented Susan replies, Live a rich, fulfilling life, write every day, write about things that matter to you, learn your craft and never stop seeking new heights.
Visit Susans great website, www.susanwiggs.com.
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