I want to thank Samantha at One Title Reviews for requesting this author interview and posting it on her site. She asked great questions and I give some answers you’ve heard before, but I give some new ones, too. I always appreciate the opportunity to get the word out to readers about Wildflower’s story. Let me know what you think!
Susan Gabriel talks about her inspiration for “The Secret Sense of Wildflower” and her life as a writer.
OneTitle: Tell us about yourself.
Susan Gabriel: I’ve been writing fiction for over 15 years. I started out as a professional musician and then became a teacher for at-risk kids, before getting my masters in counseling. I was a licensed psychotherapist in private practice for ten years. I did good work, but one day I realized that if I didn’t follow what was deep in my heart and pursue writing, I would die with regrets.
When I began to write, I started out writing children’s books (ages 10 and up). I think I started with juvenile fiction because writing a novel for adults seemed much more daunting. But that was a good process for me in those early years because I learned to put together a story with a beginning, middle and an end and I learned what engages readers of all ages: a really good story.
OT: Tell us about your book.
SG: “The Secret Sense of Wildflower” is southern gothic fiction, set in the Appalachian mountains in 1941. It’s the story of Louisa May “Wildflower” McAllister whose life has been shaped around the recent death of her beloved father in a sawmill accident. While her mother hardens in her grief, Wildflower and her three sisters must cope with their loss themselves, as well as with the demands of daily survival. Despite these hardships, Wildflower has a resilience that is forged with humor, a love of the land, and an endless supply of questions to God, who she’s not so sure she believes in anymore. When Johnny Monroe, the town’s teenage ne’er-do-well, sets his sights on Wildflower, she must draw on the strength of her relations, both living and dead, to deal with his threat.
OT: What inspired you to write your current book?
SG: ”The Secret Sense of Wildflower” started with a voice, eleven years ago, at four in the morning, a voice that woke me up from a deep sleep. It was the voice of a girl who began to tell me her story: “There are two things I’m afraid of,” she said. “One is dying young. The other is Johnny Monroe.” A day or two before, I had visited the small cemetery located in the southern Appalachian Mountains where many of my family are buried. I spent an afternoon walking among the final resting places of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as ancestors I had never known. It felt like I had accidentally brought one of them home with me, who needed her story told.
For a fiction writer, to get the voice of a character so clearly is really good news. I, however, wanted to go back to sleep. Who wouldn’t, at 4 o’clock in the morning? For a time, I debated whether or not to get up. I ultimately decided that if I didn’t claim this moment, the voice might find someone else to write her story.
Needless to say, I turned on the light, picked up a pen and a pad of paper and began to write the story of Louisa May “Wildflower” McAllister. It took months of listening to her and seeing the scenes of her life play out in my imagination. Then it took years of revising and revisiting the story to polish it and get it ready.
OT: Which character do you feel was the most enjoyable to write?
SG: Of course I loved Wildflower and even miss her now that she and I aren’t spending every day together. But I also loved writing about her sisters. All of them were named after the sisters in Little Women, which was her mother’s favorite book. Aunt Sadie was the old wise woman of the story and was great fun to write, too.
OT:Is there a particular message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
SG: I realized just recently, after I listed all the books I’ve written—8 total, but only 2 have been published so far—that almost all of them are stories of courage and transformation. Like The Secret Sense of Wildflower, these are all stories about people that persevere in spite of difficult things happening to them—people who end up learning something from the experience, usually about themselves, that will help them in the future. All my main characters (female and male) are on some kind of hero’s journey. They’re flawed, as we all are, but they’re seeking better lives. I also have a thing for secrets. Every novel I’ve written has some kind of secret in it that is revealed before the book is over. For Wildflower, it’s the “secret sense.” Do I have secrets I keep myself? You bet. I think all of us do.
OT:Do you have a specific writing style?
SG: I’m a very intuitive writer and follow a creative process that is my own. I don’t follow outlines or follow the paths of other writers. It’s hard to pin me down in terms of genre. Mostly, I write literary fiction. The Secret Sense of Wildflower is considered southern gothic fiction. I grew up in the South and I swore I would never ever write southern fiction. I had enough crazy characters in my gene pool that I didn’t want to spend any time there. But after living in Colorado for three years, I realized I was more Southern than I thought and I felt a renewed bond with my homeland. To me, the thing that makes southern fiction “southern,” is not only that the characters are down to earth and sometimes bigger than life, but also that the land plays a big part in the stories. The landscape is often its own character and plays a central role.
I also write contemporary fiction (that isn’t southern), children’s books and poetry.
OT: Are you currently working on any new projects?
SG: I’m currently working on a book called Temple Secrets. It’s a quirky southern gothic novel set in Savannah about the wealthy (white) Temple family and their black servants. It is a comic novel and is more commercial than literary.
OT:What do you find most challenging about writing?
SG: Just about every writer will tell you that they hate the marketing and self-promotion part. I’m basically a shy person who spends a lot of time by herself writing stories, so trying to find the attention of readers in a tidal wave of new titles is a challenge. I’m not one to toot my own horn, as they say. But I believe in Wildflower’s story and if her story helps only one reader feel more hopeful and have more courage then I’ll shout it from the rooftops if I need to. I know it has helped readers already, so I am committed to “shouting.” We need fiction out there that will help us transform our own lives and take our own hero’s journey.
OT: Do you have any favorite authors?
SG: I’ve had a lot of books that have influenced me as a writer. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck blew me away the first time I read it. I wanted to be able to write like that some day. And, of course, I loved To Kill a Mockingbird. I wish so much that Harper Lee had kept writing. My fantasy is that she did continue but it was under a pen name and someday we’ll discover the connection. As for contemporary authors, I read just about everything Ann Patchett writes, as well as Barbara Kingsolver. I also like Joanne Harris. However, I read very broadly.
OT: Where can we buy your book?
You can buy the book:
Author’s site (autographed)
And any independent bookstore can order it very easily.