Interview With Author Susie Finkbeiner

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I’m Susie Finkbeiner and I live in West Michigan with my husband, three kids, and cat. I’m a novelist who is most intrigued by stories about family life and how those relationships form who we are and who we are becoming. My latest The Nature of Small Birds follows the lives of the Matthews family over three different eras (1975, 1988, and 2013).

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

Several years ago I stumbled across a story about Operation Babylift, in which 3,000 Vietnamese children and babies were airlifted from their home country to be adopted into Western families. The more I dug into researching that lesser known historical event, the more I realized that there was a story there.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity? I

I’m the kind of person who enjoys spending time in wonder. Fortunately for me, this world is full of so many things for me to be in awe of. Nature, the kindness of people, obscure little tidbits of history; all so very inspiring to me. I think that the creative mind is tuned in to find meaning in what’s around us and to turn it into art.

# How do you deal with creative block?

Can I admit that pandemic writing brought with it more than a truckload of creative blocks? I’ve now worked on two novels since Covid hit and I have to say the writing was rough. I learned that I need to have grace with myself in those moments. To get up out of my seat and go for a walk or do a load of laundry. I learned that I couldn’t smash my way through those blocks. Instead, I had to work my way around them, carefully and with a whole lot of kindness for myself.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

I think the biggest mistake that trips me up while writing is believing that a draft must be perfect. It doesn’t. A draft simply needs to be written. There’s always time to edit and fix later. Perfection isn’t as important as getting the job done.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

My greatest tip is to trust the experts. I have the great privilege of working with a publisher that comes up with the titles and covers for me. I have just to sit back and feel grateful that they put their time and effort into giving a name and visual identity to my work. I could never do what they do.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I believe that readers need to have spaces in which it is safe for them to leave a review that reflects their honest feeling and opinion about a book. So, when I read through reader reviews I make a point to never respond to them. Good or bad. It would be inauthentic of me to say that I’m never rattled by a negative review. But, fortunately, I’ve learned to keep chugging along even after reading a less than favorable review. After all, what I write isn’t for everyone. But I always remind myself that it is for someone.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

What an interesting question. One I had to think about for a while before even attempting an answer. I think it can be whittled down to a quote from Mister Rogers that my friend Shawn Smucker reminded me of. It goes, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” Over the past few years I’ve been mindful of the idea of being simple and deep in my creative process. It truly has offered an economy to my creativity and writing that I enjoy quite a lot.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best: The support of my family and dear friends. While I was speeding toward the deadline for The Nature of Small Birds, I was also releasing another novel Stories That Bind Us. I felt like I was spinning every plate in my house and that at any moment they would all come crashing down. And I couldn’t pack up the laptop and head to the coffee shop for some caffeine and quiet. But that was when I got texts of encouragement, when my husband brought me a cup of soup and a plate of crackers. That was when my daughter told me she was proud of me. I am a fortunate woman. I truly am.

The worst: My research led me to dig into the history of the last days of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It was a violent, frightening, desperate time and many are the tragic stories that occurred in those days.

The most surprising: When the writing finally clicked after many false starts. It felt a lot like magic.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

Balance really is important here, isn’t it? For one, I want to serve my readers well by offering them a story that will entertain, encourage, instill hope and empathy. It’s also essential that I write with integrity, being mindful of the art of the novel, shutting out external voices for a time as I craft so as not to be distracted. I think Stephen King was onto something when he advised to, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

I’m a highly emotional person. Pixar destroys me. Videos of puppies becoming friends with ducklings destroy me. Who am I kidding? Folgers commercials even make me cry. I find it impossible to divorce my emotions from my creative work. And I find it important to write evocatively, being careful not lean toward malignant manipulation or exploitation of my characters (or the real life situations their stories are inspired by). Emotion is essential to my writing, but so is restraint.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

Music! I write best and most efficiently while listening to classical music. My favorite albums at the moment are Go a collection of classical guitar pieces by Ryan Apple, Bach Trios by Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer, and Mozart piano concertos featuring Mitsuko Uchida. If I need to crank out the words fast I put on some Debussy and if I need a mood boost I put on a little Jon Batiste.

# What are your plans for future books?

I’m currently working on a book which will release in 2022 called The All American. It’s set in 1952 and involves the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the second wave of The Red Scare.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

I don’t know that there’s much more quirky than a forty-three year old woman playing Fleetwood Mac songs on a ukulele while wearing her Nirvana t-shirt as her cat gives her the stink eye. That’s a little glimpse into my free-spirited little life.


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