Monday, February 24, 2014

A novel you can NOT miss! Plus a giveaway you have to read to believe...

~ A Fall of Marigolds ~

Some authors tell stories, and then other authors pluck you right up by the heart and drop you straight into the middle of their stories. 

Susan Meissner is a plucker. 

Today I’m participating in a blog tour for a new book by award-winning novelist Susan Meissner who’s here to talk about her newest book from Penguin NAL. A Fall of Marigolds is a part historical novel, part contemporary novel set on Ellis Island in 1911 and in Manhattan a hundred years later. And HEY - make SURE you read to the end of the post so that you can find out how to get in on a drawing for a fabulous gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card!! What what!!  :)

Susan Meissner is a friend of mine (I'm soooo honored to say that!!) and the multi-published author of fifteen books, including The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.

Susan, tell us where the idea for A Fall of Marigolds came from.
I’ve long been a history junkie, especially with regard to historical events that involve ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. A couple years ago I viewed a documentary by author and filmmaker Lorie Conway called Forgotten Ellis Island; a hauntingly poignant exposé on the section of Ellis Island no one really has heard much about; its hospital. The two man-made islands that make up the hospital buildings haven’t been used in decades and are falling into ruins, a sad predicament the documentary aptly addresses. The documentary’s images of the rooms where the sick of a hundred nations waited to be made well stayed with me. I knew there were a thousand stories pressed into those walls of immigrants who were just a stone’s throw from a new life in America. They were so close they could almost taste it. But unless they could be cured of whatever disease they’d arrived with, they would never set foot on her shores. Ellis Island hospital was the ultimate in-between place – it lay between what was and what could be. A great place to set a story

What is the story about, in a nutshell?
The book is about two women who never meet as they are separated by a century. One woman, Taryn, is a 9/11 widow and single mother who is about to mark the tenth anniversary of her husband’s passing. The other is a nurse, Clara, who witnessed the tragic death of the man she loved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Manhattan in 1911.In her sorrow, Clara imposes on herself an exile of sorts; she takes a post at the hospital on Ellis Island so that she can hover in an in-between place while she wrestles with her grief. She meets an immigrant who wears the scarf of the wife he lost crossing the Atlantic, a scarf patterned in marigolds. The scarf becomes emblematic of the beauty and risk inherent in loving people, and it eventually finds it way to Taryn one hundred years later on the morning a plane crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The story is about the resiliency of love, and the notion that the weight of the world is made more bearable because of it, even though it exposes us to the risk of loss.

Why a scarf of marigolds? What is their significance?
Marigolds aren’t like most other flowers. They aren’t beautiful and fragrant. You don’t see them in bridal bouquets or prom corsages or funeral sprays. They don’t come in gentle colors like pink and lavender and baby blue. Marigolds are hearty, pungent and brassy. They are able to bloom in the autumn months, well past the point when many other flowers can’t. In that respect, I see marigolds as being symbolic of the strength of the human spirit to risk loving again after loss. Because, face it. We live in a messy world. Yet it’s the only one we’ve got. We either love here or we don’t. The title of the book has a sort of double-meaning. Both the historical and contemporary story take place primarily in the autumn. Secondarily, when Clara sees the scarf for the first time, dangling from an immigrant’s shoulders as he enters the hospital building, she sees the floral pattern in the threads, notes how similar they are to the flames she saw in the fire that changed everything for her, and she describes the cascading blooms woven into the scarf as “a fall of marigolds.”

Your last few novels have had historical components interwoven within a contemporary story. Why do you prefer that kind of story construction?
I think living in Europe for five years awakened my love for history. It’s like it was always there but my time spent overseas just woke it up. When I think back to the subjects I did well in and that came easy to me in high school and college, it was always English and history, never math or science. I appreciate the artistry of math and the complexity of science, but neither subject comes easy to me.  History has the word “story” in it. That’s what it is. It’s the story of everyone and everything. How could I not love it?  Study history and you learn very quickly what we value as people; what we love, what we fear, what we hate, what we are willing die for. History shows us where we’ve been and usually has lessons for us to help us chart where we’re going.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?
My next book is set entirely in England, mostly during The London Blitz. My main character starts out as a young, aspiring bridal gown designer evacuated to the countryside with her seven-year-old sister in the summer of 1940. Though only fifteen, Emmy is on the eve of being made an apprentice to a renowned costumer and she resents her single mother’s decision to send her away. She sneaks back to London – with her sister in tow – several months later but the two become separated when the Luftwaffe begins its terrible and deadly attack on the East End on the first night of the Blitz. War has a way of separating from us what we most value, and often shows how little we realized that value. I have always found the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside – some for the entire duration of the war – utterly compelling. How hard it must have been for those parents and their children. I went on a research trip to the U.K. in the fall of 2013 and I spoke with many individuals who were children during the war; some were separated from their parents, some were bombed out of their homes, some slept night after night in underground Tube stations, some watched in fascination as children from the city came to their towns and villages to live with them. This book explores issues of loss and longing, but also the bonds of sisters, and always, the power of love.

Where can readers connect with you?
You can find me at and on Facebook at my Author page, Susan .Meissner, and on Twitter at SusanMeissner. I blog at I also send out a newsletter via email four times a year. You can sign up for it on my website. I love connecting with readers! You are the reason I write.

As part of the release of A Fall of Marigolds and this blog tour, Susan is giving to one lucky winner a gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card, a copy of the book, the DVD Forgotten Ellis Island, and a beautiful re-purposed infinity scarf patterned in marigolds and made from a vintage Indian sari.

To be eligible, just leave a comment here between today and midnight Eastern on Friday, February 21. 

Additionally, there will be one winner of a signed copy of A Fall of Marigolds from among those who comment on this blog. Just leave a comment by Friday, Feb. 21 and you’re in the running for the grand prize as well as a signed copy of the book. 

Hooray! :)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When all you have is the hope of hope...

What do you do with doubt?

When lies whisper louder than fact. When the doubts don't just blink the lights, they uproot trees and twist and strangle death to the roots. When they grasp like a whirlwind, loose, tight enough to sense, but not feel. When you're squeezed like a vice, you know. This is worse, this whirlwind, feather light, so unyielding and unending, twirling you right dizzy until everything you thought you knew is upside down and you can't even see the rest. 

What do you do with honesty?

When your five year old cries, loud and angry from the backseat of the car - "I wish he hadn't left. He is making my life so hard!" When her sobs turn to regrets. "Maybe I'm the problem. Maybe I should leave." 

What do you do with a broken heart that insists on staying in mosaic mode?

What do you do when you've picked up the pieces so many times, they just slip right through your fingers, and break again on the way down?

What do you do when your strength fades weak and you wonder if the battle is even worth fighting anymore? If there's any hope, any truth, any goodness left in the lie you lived for a decade?

How do you fix someone else's heart when your own is still up for grabs?

You say what I said to that five year old in the back seat. "It's going to be ok. Know how I know?"


"Because God knows."

The silence that followed could have tucked me in that night.  

"He sees the future. He knows what happened, knows what will happen...and we can trust Him because He is good."

More silence, warmer now, like a quilt out of the dryer. Peace soaking into the deep places. Not joy. Not hope. Not yet. 

But there's the hope of hope. 

"God knows you and I didn't want this. He has a plan for us, baby. He knows what we do want."


"And so we just keep telling Him those things and waiting on Him for good."

It's a hard lesson for a five year old to embrace. But she took it and held tight, and her mama did maybe even tighter, words binding together wounds that didn't really come from her own mouth, but somewhere deep within, somewhere close to the residing place of the Holy Spirit. Words not from her own capability, but from Someone else's. Someone good. 

Because what can you do with doubt and honesty and brokenness? 

Nothing. Nothing worth anything. 

Unless you give it over to the one who specializes in Mosaic tiles. Who formed the universe from words, and man from dust, and has no trouble figuring out how to bring beauty from broken. 

The whirlwind whirls, the trees dip and sway, and the doubts still roar and howl. Still makes you wonder, every time, what is true, what is real, what is worth holding onto and is it even worth holding on at all. 

But the truth at the end of the day, that outlives the wind and the fear and the storm, remains the same. 

He is good. 

So we don't have to know what to do. Because He does.