A Conversation With Author Susan Wiggs by Melanie Murray
I never read romantic fiction until I was in my mid-20s, which was odd, since I found romantic angles in every movie I ever saw, from Martha Plimpton and Corey Feldman hugging at the end of The Goonies to Eliza Doolittle returning to a demand for slippers in My Fair Lady. And I tended to zero in on great romantic moments in literature, too. By the age of 13 I had committed to memory the pages that contained the more ardent Darcy speeches in my dog-eared copy of Pride & Prejudice.
And then I discovered a handful of books that changed my life, mostly by expanding my little world from one of VHS tapes and worn Austen copies to one that contained girls either hard-working or plain or jilted or hopeful, and the standup—and sometimes ne’er-do-well—heroes who’d do anything to earn their hearts. One of the books I remember is Susan Wiggs’ Miranda, a regency-set story of a woman with amnesia whose only clue to her identity is a locket. I always looked for Susan Wiggs novels after that, and still do.
Her newest book, out this week, is The Apple Orchard, and it pressed all my buttons. First of all, the beginning pages contain a recipe. (Food – ding!) The heroine, Tess, is a slightly neurotic, slightly dissatisfied career woman struggling with what it means to be happy with your lot in life. (Modern day female identity issues – double ding!) There is a dormant mystery, a burgeoning relationship between sisters, and a dreamy, central-casting romantic hero of a banker. (Yes, banker. Ding!)
Susan Wiggs’ stories are always layered and rich, and complex like a great dessert. She is as gracious as she is talented, too, and agreed to answer my questions about The Apple Orchard. So, without further delay, is my interview with Susan. I now think we are friends, and don’t want anybody to tell me otherwise. After all, she helped turn me into a romance reader. Only a good friend could give you such a gift.
Welcome to Shelf Pleasure Susan! And congratulations on The Apple Orchard. I’d write down a little blurb here describing the story, but it’ll sound much better coming from you.
SW: The Apple Orchard is all about sisters, secrets and surprises, with a grand love story thrown in. The plot centers around a hunt for a missing family heirloom, but the heart of the story is about learning to let go, learning to love and discovering the importance of family in shaping who we are truly meant to be.
I was making notes to myself about the elements of the book. At recipes, antiques, reunited sisters, and Nazis, I paused. There’s a lot going on in this story, and yet all the singular parts of the story complement each other seamlessly. How did you manage that?
SW: Oh my gosh, I love that you said that. When I first came up with the story, it was like looking into the deepest, darkest, messiest junk drawer in your house. A hot mess, but everything in there has its place. This book came together in the revising as opposed to in the writing. Props to my writers’ group (authors Sheila Roberts, Anjali Banerjee, Lois Faye Dyer, Elsa Watson and Kate Breslin) for reading each chapter, week after week, as I built the story. And to my editor, who was patient enough to advise me through a multi-layered revision process.
Tess Delaney restores antiques to their proper owners. Have you always been interested in old things, or was this line of work something you researched for The Apple Orchard?
SW: Not really. I tend to develop obsessive interests along with my fictional characters. This might be some kind of mental disorder but I really like it, so I’m keeping it. I’ve written about artists, real estate stagers, nurses, EMTs, you name it, and with each book I write, I delve into the world of the character. I found Tess’s profession completely fascinating.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the unearthing of the story of Tess’s newly discovered grandfather, Magnus. His story was romantic and tragic enough to merit his own book! What are your thoughts about him, and the life he built for himself?
SW: Magnus’s story was my favorite part to write because it seemed so urgent and romantic. Now in his 80s, he’s looking back on the road he’s traveled. I loved writing about his Danish boyhood and exploits as a WWII resistance fighter. He’s a very flawed character, but he’s also very real to me.
SW: I went! He is the guy we all want–good-looking, hard-working, creative, funny and sexy. A talented winemaker. Two adorable but pesky kids. Two funny dogs. What’s not to like? I needed to make him a good match for Tess, who is a redhead with sharp edges and a panic disorder–think Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. He balances her.
One thing I always like to know about my favorite authors is what you read. Do you read only romance authors? Do you go stretches where you can’t read? And what is your favorite book of all time? (I know that’s an impossible question to answer!)
SW: I read anything and everything, starting with the cereal box if there’s no book handy. I read all genres except disturbing, exploitative books involving violence against children or animals. I love a page-turner, I love an emotional ride, I love to read! I’m never more than an arm’s length from a book. My favorite book of all time is probably David Copperfield because I’m a sucker for books about writers. No, it’s The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. No, it’s Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn. Or The Count of Monte Cristo….see, you got me started. But honestly, if I have to choose, I would say Charlotte’s Web by EB White. It’s the best book I can think of. The whole world is in that book–love and faith and death and rebirth and the power of friendship….You can open that timeless book to any page and find truth and enchantment. And humor.
I’d say that The Apple Orchard should be read with a plate of dessert within reach. Are you a sweets eater, do you snack while you write, and what is your favorite apple-based dessert?
SW: I am an equal opportunity eater so I can’t choose. However, the very first apple recipe in The Apple Orchard–which is unusual and deceptively simple, is the kind of yum you never get tired of eating.
My husband made a book trailer about this book, just for fun, did I tell you? It’s here!
*** Contest! ***
Order The Apple Orchard and enter for a chance to win the grand prize trip to Sonoma, California. Click here for more details.
Melanie Murray is an editor and writer living in New Jersey. Her perfect day would be one where she got to read, eat chocolate, and sing show tunes with her daughters. Actually, that’s just a typical day. You can follow her on Twitter @Melanie_Murray.
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