She Reads

At She Reads, we believe that story is the shortest distance to the human heart. So we strive to find those stories that will speak directly to your heart. We look for books that are well written, with a unique premise, that will make you think differently than before you read the book. Each month we select one book (and its author) to profile all month long. Here at CFOM, we will be introducing you to that author each month. We hope you will check out She Reads at to learn more.

This Month's She Reads Selected Author
An Interview with Susan Meissner

Susan MeissnerSusan, what number book is A Sound Among the Trees for you?

This novel is my thirteenth, and the fourth to include a historical/contemporary blend.

How is this one different from the others?

A Sound Among the Trees is set in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in both the current day and during the Civil War, and all the action takes place inside the same house, Holly Oak. The book is told in five parts, starting with the garden, then the parlor, the former slaves’ quarters, the cellar, and then all of Holly Oak itself. I use letters written by a young Southern woman in love with a Northern solider to transport the reader to the past. Current day gossip says this young woman was a Yankee spy and thatA Sound Among the Trees Holly Oak is haunted by her remorseful ghost. This is not a ghost story but a story about how we sometimes allow the past to tether us to fear. And that fear keeps us from moving forward in faith. This is the part of the story that is unique from the others.

How is it alike?

As I did in The Shape of Mercy, I allow the past to tell its story through the written legacy of a young woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice for love. In The Shape of Mercy, I used a diary. In this book, I use letters. Some were sent to a cousin in Maine. Some were never sent. They are buried somewhere inside Holly Oak and my current-day new-bride protagonist, Marielle, is on a quest to find them. And like Lady in Waiting, this book is about the choices we make when it seems like we have none. There is always a choice to be made, even if it’s just how we respond to things outside our control.

You’ve built a fan base in your years of writing. What do you hope your loyal readers take from your books?

All of my books revolve around family relationships. These are the relationships where our best virtues and our worst flaws show up. Whether I am writing about husbands and wives or mothers and daughters or sisters and brothers, I’ve found the family is an amazing laboratory to discover what we value, what we fear, what we are passionate about, and what we are willing to sacrifice everything for. At the heart of every choice we make in a family is the absence or presence of love. I hope readers get the idea that, likewise, love is at the heart of every choice we make in our relationship with God. We make our spiritual choices along that same gradient. God summed all His laws and

expectations of us with just that one word: love. He wants us to love Him and love others. It’s that simple and that amazingly complicated.

How did you get the idea for A Sound Among the Trees?

I’ve always been a quiet devotee of the human element that was the Civil War. I’m not a fan of war, but I am drawn to any backdrop of human drama where the stakes are high, courage and sacrifice go hand-in-hand, and relationships are refined by fire. I’ve watched Ken Burns’s The Civil War on PBS several times over the course of my adult life; it moves me every time I see it.

I modeled Holly Oak after a house in Fredericksburg that sits on Washington Street. I made logistical adjustments, like moving it to another street closer to the river, and since I didn’t go inside this house I had to imagine the interior. I chose Fredericksburg after contemplating many other cities made famous by the battles that took place there. I chose this Northern Virginian town for two reasons. One, it is only fifty miles from the line that separated North from South, and two, the battle that took place there in December of 1862 was unimaginably tragic, and the civilians in Fredericksburg witnessed it all.

What’s up next for you?

I just finished a book called The Girl in the Glass, which will release next year with WaterBrook. Part of it is set in Florence, Italy—one of my favorite places. I have a young travel book editor headed there for lots of compelling reasons. While there, she meets a woman who claims she is the last of the extinct Medici family and that the great paintings and statues of the Italian Renaissance talk to her. This book is about acceptance of things we cannot change and the courage to live with expectation and not resignation. My travel book editor lands in Florence disillusioned with life, and the first thing that happens to her is she meets a woman most people would say is delusional. What do you get when you mix disillusion with delusion on the beautiful streets of Florence, Italy? Stay tuned and I will show you …

Award-winning writer Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Novels of 2008. She is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she's not writing, Susan directs the Small Groups and Connection Ministries program at her San Diego church.


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