The Scribbler takes great pleasure in having Susan, a widely recognized author, as our featured guest this week. At the time of writing this interview, the good news is that Susan’s novel – Fear of Drowning – has been shortlisted for the best in Fiction of the New Brunswick Book Awards. Congratulations Susan!
The author of eight novels with another only weeks away, she is an accomplished storyteller. We are more than pleased to have her participate in a 4Q Interview and she is sharing an Excerpt from When the Hill Comes Down
“My parents died when I was three weeks old. I have never even seen a picture of them. The house was destroyed and they were killed. Suffocated, they say, when the house collapsed and the mud came in. It sounds crazy, and I don’t talk about it, but I want you to know what happened. People talk about it as if it was a horror movie. People tell the story like I was an extra or a prop. Just an afterthought in the good story it makes when a whole house fills with the rushing flood of an avalanche of mud, rocks, and debris, knocking out windows and collapsing walls. She threw me out. They don’t know for sure it was her, but I like to think it was. I landed on the roof of the veranda and somehow I was still there when they found it on the ground hours later. ‘Wrapped up in a blanket and not even crying,’ my aunt Helen always said. That’s what they base their theory of me being simple on. A baby wide-eyed and not even crying after dropping two storeys must have some damage to his brain. Plus the fact I didn’t talk until I was four years old.
I wanted to tell you the story myself. The damn story seems to be all anyone cares to know about me. You would think after fifteen years it might fade, but instead it just gets better, more farfetched, and more entertaining, apparently, to everyone but me. I would be happy if I never heard the story again. I thought about not telling you and just enjoying knowing one person who doesn’t know the story. But I figured you probably knew it by now anyway and wouldn’t even show up.”
Susan White was born in Moncton NB, moved to Fredericton at age eight and at the age of twelve moved to the Kingston Peninsula. She earned her BA and B Ed at St. Thomas University fulfilling one of her childhood dreams of becoming a teacher. She and her husband Burton raised four children, ran a small farm and Susan taught elementary school for 29 years. She retired in 2009 to follow another dream which was to be a writer.
Susan White’s first book The Year Mrs. Montague Cried was published in 2011. It won the Ann Connor Brimer Excellence in Children’s Literature award in 2012. Three more Y/A novels, Ten Thousand Truths, The Sewing Basket and The Memory Chair followed. The Memory Chair was shortlisted for the Ann Connor Brimer in 2018. Her first adult novel Waiting For Still Water was released in June 2016 and her second adult novel Maple Sugar Pie in 2017. Her Y/A novel Headliner was released in 2018 and was shortlisted for the Mrs. Dunster Fiction NB Book award in 2019. Fear of Drowning was released in 2019 and her latest adult novel When the Hill Came Down will be released soon.
4Q: Let’s talk about Fear of Drowning and the excitement of being shortlisted for Mrs. Dunster’s Fiction Award.
SW: In March I received word that Fear of Drowning was shortlisted for the Mrs. Dunster’s Fiction Award. I was thrilled. I felt the same excitement last year when my book Headliner was shortlisted. The NB Book Awards Gala last year was so much fun. The organizers did a great job with every detail from the amazing cake created by Emma Hyslop and a friend, the interesting questions posed to each shortlisted author, to the great music provided by Good Timing. I was so looking forward to the gala this year but we all know why that has been postponed. I look forward to whenever that night comes. I am very proud to be an New Brunswick author and celebrate all the good work been written in our province.
**Scribbler note: Due to the ongoing pandemic, the awards ceremony has been cancelled and as of the time of this interview, the winners have not been announced. A new date is expected to follow soon.
4Q: Your blog - https://author-susan-white.blogspot.com/ - tells us that your ninth novel is coming close to reality. Can you tell us about it?
SW: When the Hill Came Down is a fictional novel with an ecological slant. In fact, the clay and shale surface of a very steep hill that is clear cut in the mid 1950’s experiences catastrophic failure during a torrential rainstorm and destroys a nearby home killing two of its occupants. In a final act of love a mother throws her three-week-old infant from an upstairs window saving his life as the avalanche of mud and debris comes down. Keefe Williams, the child left behind grows up in the shadow of this terrible tragedy. He is taken in by his aunt and uncle; the very uncle whose lumbering practices many people believe caused the hill to come down.
When the Hill Came Down explores greed, jealousy, love, loyalty and the very fabric of a community full of stories whose threads intertwine. The color, texture and the multi facets of any story, in any community bear scrutiny. Nothing is ever exactly the way it seems.
4Q: Your novel “The Year Mrs. Montague Cried" won the 2010 AWC YA/Juvenile Novel Prize and, after publication by Acorn Press, the 2011 Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children's Literature. Tell us a bit about the story and the awards.
SW: In April 1999 we lost our oldest son Zachary in an automobile accident. I went back to my classroom in
September and experienced many challenges dealing with the day by day of grieving and carrying on. The Year Mrs. Montague Cried is an account of that year weaving my real life experiences with a fictional story of a Taylor Broderson, a nine year old girl in Mrs. Montague’s grade four class who is experiencing challenges in her own family. While watching her teacher grieve Taylor learns much about loss and love preparing her for the difficult days to come.
I took a deferred leave from teaching in 2006-2007 to write this book and submitted it to five publishers receiving five rejections before entering it in the AWC in December 2009. It won first place in August 2010 and the sixth publisher I had submitted to contacted me and two weeks later I signed a contract with Acorn Press. The Year Mrs. Montague Cried was released in 2011 and went on to win the Ann Connor Brimer in 2012.
4Q: I know this might be a tough question but with nine novels published, which one is your favorite? The one you enjoyed writing the most.
SW: I get asked this a lot and always answer that choosing my favorite book is like asking me to choose my favorite child, not an easy or wise task. I love them all. I am probably proudest of The Year Mrs. Montague Cried because of the challenge of writing it, the truth of living it and the reward of seeing it become my first published book. I am also very proud of Fear of Drowning. It went through at least six rewrites and the final draft presented challenges as I attempted to write so many points of view in a back and forth timeline. Having it shortlisted is validating. And I love…
4Q: In your opinion, what makes a great story?
SW: I believe a great story should make you feel a plethora of emotions. I have been accused of making people cry and I take great pride in that. Crying, laughing and feeling a connection to your own experiences and struggle is what a great story should do.
4Q: Your favorite authors or the ones that have influenced you the most?
SW: It seems cliché but my answer is always Lucy Maud Montgomery. As a child I loved the rural setting which offered Anne a place to truly belong. Reading as many of her books as I could get my hands on I began dreaming of being the three things Anne Shirley grew up to be; a teacher, a mother, and an author. As an adult I admire her determination and dedication to her work.
An Excerpt from Fear of Drowning Pg. 10.
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
My first thoughts as I woke early, before pulling back the bedclothes and making myself get up, were layered and somewhat convoluted. What if my grandmother had not sent the telegram?
What if she had never tripped on the bottom step and twisted her ankle? What if I had gone with Mother and Father? That was at the core of all my emotional floundering, which seemed not to have lessened even with the passing of almost nine decades.
I still found myself going back to the crucial questions: What
if they had not gone to San Francisco? What if I had gone with them? My life was forever changed because after receiving the telegram from my grandmother, my father booked train passage for my mother and himself and left me behind.
What if the telegraph had never been invented? If my grandmother had mailed a letter instead and the receipt of it was delayed by even one day, my parents would not have been in San Francisco when the earth moved and sections of the city were levelled.
This was to be a long and tiresome day if I continued to mire
myself in a web of useless thoughts. What if the train Mrs. Price and I caught that day had left the tracks? What if she had taken me home with her? What if I’d not taken employment at the Prince George Hotel?
Possibly my reluctance to share my deepest thoughts with
Clara had more to do with my inability to truly see my life.
Had I, like she said, simply used the cloak of my misery to gird myself from any real introspection? Was getting back to being the darling daughter of Frederick and Claire McDonough my motivation for all the choices I made?
Thank you, Susan, for being our guest this week. Wishing you continued success and recognition for your writing.
For those of you wanting to discover more bout Susan and her novels, please follow this link: