Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Author Interview: Susan McBride

Last week I reviewed Susan McBride’s newest novel Little Black Dress. You can read my review here. Today she has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions.

Girls Just Reading (GJR): I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Evie. Was she modeled after anyone in particular or did she exist only in your imagination?

Susan McBride (SM): I’m thrilled you loved Evie. She’s pretty much the bedrock of everyone’s lives in Little Black Dress. I have a sister who is the “free spirited” one, and I was always the “reliable” one. So I’ll confess to that relationship planting the seed of who Evie and Anna would be. However, Evie is not me, and Anna is not my sister. They are distinctly their own people, brought alive by my imagination. Once I heard their voices—particularly Evie’s—I knew exactly who they were. Evie epitomizes quiet strength. Though she’s often overshadowed by her more flamboyant sister, she’s the anchor of the family. Without her, there would have been no story as the entire Evans clan would have come apart at the seams. I think there are a lot of women like Evie out there, who feel taken for granted and not as valuable at times; but who keep so many lives afloat, more than they’ll ever know.

GJR: Did you have a clear idea of what Evie, Antonia and Anna’s journeys would be?

SM: Since so much of the storyline had to come full circle, I did know where their paths had to start and end. But I didn’t know everything in the middle. Since Evie’s viewpoint details the history of her and Anna and the black dress, I could only explore the parts of the journey that were from her perspective. Because Anna never shares all that she’s been through with Evie, that wasn’t something I delved into. So part of me wonders—as Evie wonders—about all the things Anna did after she disappeared on the day of her wedding. As Antonia’s viewpoint carries the modern part of the story, I foresaw a good chunk of her path, too. But a huge part of telling the tale of the little black dress was letting the characters guide me.

GJR: I liked how Toni was determined to find the truth about her family. Her determination served her well in her life. Do you see yourself in Toni? Or to you relate to Evie or Anna more.

SM: I do relate to pieces of Toni’s life as she finds herself unmarried in her 40s, and I didn’t meet my husband until I was 41. I also learned a great deal about my family’s history—and various generational feuds—as I grew older. So in that respect, too, I’m somewhat like Toni. I definitely don’t relate to Anna! There’s so much about her I don’t understand and never will. I am a homebody, like Evie. I am happy staying in one place, spending time with my husband, and doing the things that I love. I don’t yearn to travel and see the world as Anna always did. Evie is someone I could be friends with—and Toni, too. Anna would probably drive me crazy. ;-)

GJR: How did you come up with the idea for this novel?

SM: The idea came in stages once I started thinking about Little Black Dress and how to write it. I’d grown up hearing my mother say that every girl should own at least one little black dress, and so I knew I wanted to tell the tale of a particular black dress and how it tied several women together; but that’s all I had at first. Then I realized what was special about the dress: its ability to fit whatever woman donned it and to give its wearer a glimpse of her future. It wasn’t long after that I saw Evie and Anna, and I understood that the story was about them, their encounter with the dress, and how it changed their lives, as well as the life of Evie’s daughter, Toni. Once all the pieces fit, I envisioned all three in my mind so clearly. I couldn’t wait to tell their story.

GJR: Are you working on a new novel? If so, can you tell us the premise?

SM: Yes, I’m writing another women’s fiction book for HarperCollins/Morrow called Little White Lies, about a woman whose lies catch up with her when a tornado dumps a man from her past smack into her lap (well, into her walnut grove). It’s another chance to dip my toes in the waters of magical realism, and I’m excited about that. I’ve also just finished the first draft of a young adult mystery for Random House/Delacorte called Dead Address. That was definitely an interesting change of pace after Little Black Dress!

GJR: Who are your favorite authors? Why?

SM: There are so many good authors out there. I feel like I’m constantly discovering new voices and falling in love with their books. But several authors I’ve gotten hooked on in the past few years include Sarah Addison Allen and Kate Morton. Morton’s novels combine past and present with a dash of mystery, and I find myself quickly engrossed. My favorite of hers so far is The Forgotten Garden. I love all of SAA’s books because of the sweetness of her stories and the recurring theme that one’s past shouldn’t rule one’s present (or future). I’d highly recommend Garden Spells if you’ve never read her before. Once you do, you’ll be a fan for life. I can’t wait to see what Jamie Ford does to follow-up Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which was fabulous. Ah, so many books, not near enough reading time!

GJR: What is your “stranded on a deserted island” book (the book you would read if you could only read one book for the rest of your life)?

SM: Gone With the Wind. I could read that sucker over and over. It’s just so juicy, and there’s so much to the characters and the storylines. I don’t think I’d ever get bored of it.

GJR: What motivates you to write?

SM: That’s a great question! I’m not really sure, to be honest. There’s just a fire in my belly, and I can’t wait to get to the keyboard every morning. That’s not to say that writing a book is easy. It’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears…and whining to my husband, my mom, and my friends all the way through every deadline! But I couldn’t not write (not for long anyway). So much of who I am is my writing. I don’t know any better way to express myself than through words. I’ve got a million stories I’d like to tell. I only hope I live long enough to tell them all!

GJR: What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

SM: I wouldn’t be the same person, that’s for sure. Hmm, I’d probably be working with an animal rescue group. I’d want to save them all so they know what it is to be loved and to be safe.

GJR: Something different: If you had your own little black dress, would you use it?

SM: You know, I’ve thought about it, and I’m not sure I’d want to wear a magical black dress. It’s enough taking my life day by day. I would be afraid it would show me something awful that I couldn’t avoid. Then again, I’d certainly love having a dress that fit me no matter what size I wore! That part would be nice.

Thanks to Ms. McBride for graciously answering our questions. Stay tuned for a giveaway of her fantastic new novel.
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