A book club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina recently read my novel Trueluck Summer (2016). They got in touch to ask me if I could Zoom or FaceTime into their meeting. Since I was already committed that evening, I invited them to email me any questions they might have about the book. Below are my answers. [Note: If you are on my email list, you will also get this post.]
If you haven’t read the book, here is the description, and you may want to skip the Q&A if you’re concerned about spoilers:
A hopeful grandmother. A sassy young girl. Their audacious summer stunt could change their southern town forever.
Charleston, 1964. Ida Trueluck is still adjusting to life on her own. Moving into her son’s house creates a few family conflicts, but the widow’s saving grace is her whipsmart granddaughter Trudy. Ida makes it her top priority to give the girl a summer she’ll never forget.
When a runaway truck nearly takes her life, Trudy makes fast friends with the boy who saves her. But since Paris is black, the racism they encounter inspires Trudy’s surprising summer mission: to take down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. And she knows she can’t do it without the help of her beloved grandmother can Trudy, Ida, and their friends pull off the impossible?
Trueluck Summer is a Southern historical women’s fiction novel set in a time of great cultural change. If you like courageous characters, heartwarming humor, and inspirational acts, then you’ll love Susan Gabriel’s captivating tale.
Here is the Q & A:
Question: Debbie, a member of our book club, asked if you grew up in the ’60s? If so, how did you experience any of the Civil Rights Movement? Did you grow up in the South and see all of the injustices you tell about in the book?
Answer: Hi Debbie. I did grow up in the 1960s in Knoxville, Tennessee, but in 1964 (when Trueluck Summer takes place), I would have been several years younger than Trudy. Subtle and not-so-subtle injustices were everywhere, I’m sure, but as a kid, I didn’t really notice. It was the air we breathed.
In the late 60s, I invited the only black girl in my elementary school over to my house to play because she seemed lonely. She came (courageous of her), and I remember our next-door neighbor watching us in the backyard from behind her sheer curtains in the shadows. My parents discouraged me from doing that again. I had not specified that the ‘friend’ I was inviting over was black. That was the first time I realized personally that black and white kids weren’t supposed to play together. So, that is something Trudy might have done and did do with her friend, Paris. The seeds of novels are sometimes planted in our childhoods.
It wasn’t until I lived in Charleston from 1980 – 1994 that I became aware of the history of the Civil War (how could you not with Fort Sumter nearby—I even went with one of my daughter’s classes on a field trip there), and the Civil Rights Movement.
For several years we lived in downtown Charleston near Hampton Park and The Citadel. I had black neighbors who, no matter how nice I was, would lower their eyes if I spoke to them or would cross the street to the other sidewalk to avoid passing me, a white woman. So it seemed, in some ways, that the Civil War was still being played out there.
Charleston is an amazing and beautiful city, and I loved living there. In a way, writing a novel set in 1964 with Charleston as a backdrop was a love letter to my time there. It was also my way of imagining some of the healing that I wished for the low country.
Question: Missy asked if the story was close to your own truths? A political father or Trudy figure?
Answer: Thanks, Missy. Trueluck Summer is a story I made up in my imagination. My father was in no way political, a mayor, nor did he write novels in the attic. He was kind of the opposite, a product of his time, and more than a tad racist. As for Trudy, there are parts of her that are like me. Counting freckles was something I might have done as a girl, for instance. But otherwise, she is much braver and more outgoing than me. I was a very shy kid.
Question: From Sarah: I wonder if it was somehow inspired by the removal of the Confederate Flag from the capital in 2015? Did you read about that as it was happening?
Answer: Hi Sarah. I had already written the story a decade before, though it hadn’t been published yet. As I said in the Letter to Readers at the back of the book, initially, the story was from the kid’s point of view, and it languished in a file for several years until that horrible event happened at the historic black church in Charleston in June of 2015. In July of that year, I got inspired to finish it and pulled the story out of the file. I added Ida Trueluck as one of the main characters to help anchor the story. I loved creating Ida. She is like the grandmother I never had. I also really liked the idea of a grandmother and granddaughter being the heroines in a story. The story is fictional, so I never dreamed that historical flag might actually be removed ten years after I initially imagined it.
Other tidbits that seem to interest book clubs I’ve spoken to:
I have written several novels over the last 25 years. Two are a series: The Wildflower Trilogy (Book 1 is The Secret Sense of Wildflower. Book 2 is Lily’s Song. Book 3 is Daisy’s Fortune—the story is set in the Tennessee mountains from 1940- 1980) and the Temple Secrets series. (Book 1 is Temple Secrets. Book 2 is Gullah Secrets. Book 3 is currently being written, making it a trilogy, too. The story takes place in Savannah, GA and a nearby island in the early 2000s)
I always write in the mornings, usually Monday – Friday, for 3 – 4 hours. My ritual is to make a pot of tea before I begin, that I sip while I write. Organic Assam (a black tea) is my favorite.
I live in the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville. I have two grown daughters who live in Knoxville. My oldest daughter loves history and researches my historical novels (or Gullah references) for me.
I am what is called an intuitive writer, as opposed to someone who writes using an outline. I never know where my stories will take me, and they play out in my imagination like I am watching a movie. I write what I see, scene after scene. This is, of course, followed by many months of challenging editing and polishing.
There are generally two types of structures in fiction. Those that are character-driven (which is called literary fiction) and those that are plot-driven (like mysteries, etc.). My books are mainly about the characters and their stories, with enough plot to keep readers turning the pages. Many readers tell me they don’t want to put my books down once they start.
My characters feel real to me, and I’ve heard from readers that they often experience them as real, too. My characters also feel like family to me. I miss them after I finish a book or series. But so far, I have always had more characters show up wanting their stories to be told. I often think how lucky I am to get to write stories for a living!
If you have you read Trueluck Summer, what did you think? Is it a controversial book, even though the setting is 1964? What questions do you have about any of my other books?
Hi sweet readers. My African violets are blooming like crazy right now. I’ve nurtured these plants for decades, carrying them to all the different places I’ve lived.
I often put objects from my personal life in my novels. I even named one of the main characters in Temple Secrets, Violet. In Gullah Secrets she buys a tea shop in Savannah and puts dozens of violets in the front window.
If you’ve read those stories, now you know that I’ve been secretly sending you violets, from my home to yours. xo ♥️
What a crazy and challenging year 2020 has been. I hope you are well and resilient. I am trying to stay grateful and find the beauty in things. Some days are easier than others, but I trust we will get through this difficult time.
Temple Secrets Series: Book 3
As you may know, I didn’t think I would write another book in the Temple Secrets Series. I had planned to start something new. But never say never, as the saying goes. When the pandemic hit, it was the Temple characters that I wanted to spend time with. So, I have been working hard all year on a third book in what will apparently be a trilogy! (Book One is Temple Secrets, Book Two is Gullah Secrets.) This last book of the series is a story full of surprises that I think you will enjoy.
The editing process is long and tedious, but I expect it will be out some time in 2021. Stay tuned!
I am delighted to announce that in addition to versions in paperback, ebook, and audiobook, some of my books are also now available in hardcover. The three books of The Wildflower Trilogy and the two books (so far!) of the Temple Secrets Series are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore can order them. Or on my website.
The hardcover books are gorgeous!
Which are your top three favorite characters from my books? Take the poll here (anonymous) and see how my other readers voted, too.
If your book club reads one of my books, please send me a photo to put on the book club page on my website. I’d love to have your beautiful smiling faces on that page. You can find discussion guides on that page too.
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Thank you so much for reading my books and for recommending them to your friends, families and book clubs. I am forever grateful for your kindness to me and my work and I love hearing that you are enjoying my books.
May your holidays be filled with love, gratitude and good health.
With every good wish,
Today is my birthday, and I thought I would celebrate the day by making a list of things I treasure. These are in no particular order, starting with …
- You! (my sweet readers, family, and friends)
- Good books
- Deep conversations
- The sound of mountain streams
- Shade trees on hot, sunny days
- Connectedness to nature
- The beautiful mountains of North Carolina where I live
- Good stories
- Mystical and mysterious things
- Inspiration from all sources
- Birds at the birdfeeders
- My dogs (and author assistants) Jack and Charlie
- Our planet
- Our country
- Milk chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts
- A good cup of tea with friends
- Change that transforms for the better
- My inner journey of thoughts, feelings, and aha’s
- Nourishing, satisfying foods
- Caring friendships
- Good luck
- Best wishes
- Good reviews
- Feeling satisfied with my work
- A good night’s sleep
- A walk by the river when the leaves are falling
- Leisurely walking through an art museum
- Spending time in libraries and bookstores
- Music that touches me
- Warm soup on a cold day
- A good series on television
- Forests and wildlife
- The privilege to vote
- The chair I sit in to write my novels
- Thoughtful people
- Porch swings
- Creating art in my studio
- A good poem
- Being alive
If you are so moved, I’d love for you to tell us one or more things you treasure.
Stay safe, resilient readers!
Sending you love,
P.S. To those of you who are curious about where I am in my writing process, I have finished a rough draft of the new novel, the final book in the Temple Secrets series. (Book 1 is Temple Secrets. Book 2 is Gullah Secrets.) There are still months of revising and polishing to go. I usually read it through and make changes 5 or 6 times before I finally give it to my first readers, who are a handful of people that provide me with feedback. I make changes again based on their feedback, and then it goes to my editor. All that to say, I’ve made good progress in the last few weeks, and I’ll keep you posted!
You matter to me. My first resilience dispatch was on March 19th, 2020. A national emergency had been declared. A pandemic was upon us. I wanted to do something to help my reader community. As a former counselor turned novelist, I have always believed in resilience. The characters I create in my novels are resilient, and though they go through rough times, they persevere with courage. I wanted to pass that on.
I committed to posting something uplifting on my Facebook Author Page and personal blog every day at 4 pm (Eastern) until we got through the Covid-19 crisis. At that point, I thought I would be creating a daily dispatch for a month or two (at most) until we got this scary pandemic under control. Little did I know.
Over the months, I adapted to the long term, writing an additional 84 dispatches, as well as working on my latest novel (the final book of the Temple Series). I trusted that I would know when it was time to step away and go back to my regular routine.
Lately, it has become harder to come up with fresh content for the dispatches. At the same time, I have been closing in on the first draft of my new novel. Months of revisions will follow—the nitty-gritty work of writing a good story. So, it makes sense to me that this is the time to return to writing books full time.
While this will be my final resilience dispatch, please know that I am not going anywhere. I will continue to post on my Facebook Author Page and blog, just not as frequently–spontaneous instead of scheduled.
In the meantime, thank you for reading. It has been an honor to spend time with you. I have greatly appreciated your numerous comments and the opportunity to get to know you better. You are a great group of folks, and I genuinely care about you.
Stay resilient, sweet readers. We will get through these challenging times and continue on—hopefully with more compassion and courage than we ever had before. Never lose heart. I promise to do the same.
P.S. This is a photograph of the chair that I sit in to write. I have had it for over a decade, and I have written several novels in this very spot.
Read the previous dispatch here.
I will let Mr. Rogers do most of the talking today, except to say that it is the deep part of you that I also like. The part of you that is kind, compassionate, and courageously doing your best.
May we all choose love over hate, peace over war, and justice over greed, and challenge ourselves to put these choices into action every day.
Have a good week! Stay steady. Be well.
What is the most courageous thing you’ve done lately?
Becoming a parent may be the most courageous thing I’ve ever done overall. Or maybe it was becoming a writer. Or maybe it was getting out of bed this morning.
Courage is relative. It depends on the person and the situation. It may even depend on your time of life.
I’ve collected 20 of my favorite quotes about courage—from fictional characters to real people—to give you some things to ponder when thinking about your own courage. Maybe you are braver than you think.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
—Winston S. Churchill
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
—e. e. Cummings
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.“
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
—C. JoyBell C.
“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”
—Emma Donoghue, Room
“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”
“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.
“But sometimes it doesn’t.
“Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.
“That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”
—Veronica Roth (the Divergent series)
“Courage is found in unlikely places.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Courage is grace under pressure.”
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
“At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.”
Do you have a favorite quote?
Please send courage to the brave souls impacted by Hurricane Laura, as well as the people dealing personally with Covid-19.
Be safe. Be kind. Be courageous.
You can read the previous dispatch here.
Although I’ve talked about self-kindness before, I want to circle back to it.
In the 90s, when I was a licensed professional counselor in Charleston, SC, most of the women clients I saw did not think they deserved kindness or gentleness from anyone, and especially not from themselves. This saddened me, given how resilient and amazing they were.
It reminds me of the mother on the plane who in case of emergency is instructed to put the oxygen mask on herself first, in order to save her children. Kindness to ourselves needs to come first, so we can then pass it on.
Since this is a concept that many of us struggle with, what might kindness to yourself look like? Here are some ideas:
Rest when you are tired.
Take a walk.
Seek beauty in nature.
Read a book.
Say “No” when you need to.
Let people help you.
Go easy on the self-criticism.
Have a nice cup of tea.
Enjoy a phone call or a FaceTime chat with a friend.
Listen to your favorite music.
Write in your journal.
Make yourself something nice for dinner.
If the news scares you, take a break, don’t watch it.
Sing in the shower.
Dance while making breakfast.
Smile at yourself in the mirror, and maybe throw yourself a kiss.
Laugh more often.
Do something creative.
Do something silly.
Forgive yourself for being imperfect.
Trust the process.
What would you add to this list? What are one or two things you might like to try this week?
Stay safe. Be gentle with yourself.
Read the previous dispatch here.
Do you ever take naps? Sometimes in the afternoons after a full morning of writing, creative exhaustion sets in. If I don’t have anything else going on, I will lay on my bed for a quick snooze. This feels like such a luxury.
As a girl growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee in the 60s, I would sometimes take naps in the summertime. My parents had an oscillating fan sitting on their bedroom dresser, that would keep me cool as I napped on their bed.
Something about the sound of that fan droning on as it swiveled and tossed the cool, warm air in my direction (we didn’t have air conditioning in those days) was the perfect recipe for an afternoon nap. Even now, I will turn on the overhead fan in my bedroom to try to recreate the effect.
In my novel Trueluck Summer, set in Charleston in 1964, I put an oscillating fan in the Trueluck kitchen. Though my novels aren’t my personal story (that would be way too boring!), they are full of little memories like oscillating fans moving the air around in the summer South.
With the pandemic still a constant concern, now seems a perfect time to allow ourselves a cat-nap every now and again. Our pets are great at demonstrating how to relax. Study their ease, and then maybe this weekend practice imitating them. Take a quick, stress-reducing nap and let me know how it goes.
In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on naps.
With love and zzz’s,
Can you imagine going through a pandemic without reading books? It’s hard for me to even go there.
Reading is a huge part of my everyday life. As I write my novels, I am also reading them. The editing process is reading the story over and over again and making the changes that will make it the best story I possibly can.
When I am not writing, I also read other books–fiction and nonfiction–and articles. I always read before bed, as well. And I read for all of the reasons shown in this cartoon. Not so much the last panel until more recently.
Books are constant companions. As constant as my four-legged family. They are something I count on every day. Touchstones that remind me who I am, and what I am exploring. Every book I read is like a diary entry. They document my journey as an inquisitive, creative person.
What about you? Why do you read? What is your favorite type of book? Feel free to share your thoughts on reading.
Stay safe. Be kind.
Read the previous dispatch here.