Monday, August 6, 2012

"Missing" - Suzanne Williams

I'd like you to meet Suzanne Williams. She is a native Floridian, wife, and mother. She writes a monthly column on digital photography for the Steve’s Digicams website. She is an author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She also works in graphic design and is a professional proofreader.

Her new book is titled: MISSING. It is comprised of three interconnected short stories. The characters are from the same family but different generations. All have to deal with someone missing in a war.

"Vietnam War"

Seating herself on the front stoop, Adele leaned back between his knees and balanced the photo album in her lap, Stephen's breath blowing gently on her neck.

The photo album opened with a crackle. “This is John and I.” Her finger pointed to a photo of a cute little girl in a plaid dress seated in a red wagon, bouncy curls framing her face. A dark-headed boy tugged the handle.

Who was this? A brother? He inhaled the faint scent of her perfume.

“John and I grew up together.” Adele paused, her voice hesitant. She flipped the page.

Not a brother.

A rock formed in Stephen’s gut. The next two photos must have been taken in high school. Adele and John wore formal attire. Prom? Or Homecoming? On the shoulder of her dress was pinned a huge orchid corsage, and John’s arm wrapped around her shoulders.

In the other photo, they lay in a field of grass looking skyward. Adele held a flower between her fingers and John … Stephen swallowed. John across at her with such tenderness, such … love.

Who had taken that photo? A friend?

Her voice cracked. “When we turned eighteen, we married. It was almost expected.”

Married. He started, stunned, and his heartbeat pounded loudly in his ears. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t tell you. It is still painful. You see, He went to Vietnam and never came home. He is missing.” Her finger stroked along the edge of the page, slowly tracing the curve of his jaw.

Stephen watched spellbound. Her hand pressed flat against John’s chest as if grasping for what wasn’t there, and she trembled.

He gulped. Here was her love for another man. Her husband.

How could this be?

With a sigh, she again turned the page. In this photo, she wore a long, white gown. Her face shone radiant, and John clutched her waist, his face buried in her neck.

Shaking, Stephen moved his gaze to the opposite page where a photograph of two hands displayed shiny gold bands atop a bed of creamy lace.

“I love him,” she said.

His heart sagged.

“I will always love him. I love him like the protector, the best friend, he is. He is so wise, so strong.”

Is. Stephen’s blood swished in his ears.

It all made sense now - her hesitation, her discomfort at the mention of Vietnam, her inability to talk. Here was Adele’s devotion and longing.

His blood ran cold. I love his wife. I kissed his wife.

Once again, she flipped the page, and Stephen flinched. What is it? What do I see?
(used with permission)

You write both fiction and non-fiction. Do you have a preference? Is one easier to write or more fun?
Nonfiction and fiction are two entirely different beasts. I far prefer nonfiction because I’ve done so much of it. In fact, in some ways, writing nonfiction for so many years affected me negatively when I first started writing fiction. There I was used to 1,000 word counts, summarizing, and making exact points, when suddenly I had to keep writing.
“What do you mean it’s not long enough? What do you mean, I can’t say that?”
However, all of that said, writing fiction has challenged me and made me a much better writer in both worlds. I still write a lot of nonfiction-devotionals, blogs, and of course, my monthly digital photography article at Steve’s Digicams, but I’ve been able to take the do’s and don’ts of fiction and apply them to my other writing. I am more creative.
I enjoy writing fiction, seeing where the story will lead, figuring out what a character will and won’t do in a story, and I find the satisfaction of it is far bigger for me (mostly, I think, because it still intimidates me somewhat). I like having a foot in both worlds.
 What is your favorite thing to do that's NOT writing?
Photography. Period. I am a photographer at heart. I can pick up my camera, step out into my garden, and entirely forget the pressures of life, what’s bothering me, or what I have to do next. It cleanses my mind and my soul like nothing else.
This is a collection of somewhat connected short stories. They are connected because each one centers around a person in the same family that lost someone in a war or had them go missing during war. It also spans several generations. What was your inspiration? Are there any parts that are autobiographical?
The idea for this story came to me after watching a program on television about an organization formed by famed nurse Clara Barton following the Civil War. She received so many letters from people wondering if she knew where their loved one was that she felt compelled to do something. I sat there that afternoon staring at the TV continually saying to myself, “What if …” and the whole idea for the second story in the book was born.
Yet as I’ve already said, I am used to the lower word count of nonfiction articles and so what emerged wasn’t long enough on its own for an entire book. I debated then on how to continue until I realized what applied to the Civil War applies to so many others. The sad fact is, soldiers left home and never returned and their loss affects families today.
The characters I created in each story resemble bits and pieces of everything I’ve watched and read to research this topic. Much of it was sobering and often it was very hard to take in. But I felt it was necessary to take the time to understand the mindset of those who served and those who remained. More than anything, I want my characters to be real. Though my stories are fiction, people out there remember what it was like. Ultimately, it is my job to respect that.
The excerpt you provided is very uncomfortable to read. It preys on insecurities and fears in any relationship, but then amps it up to 11. The best part of that to me is that it's not from the point of view of the person who lost someone. Instead, we get a front row seat while trying to figure out exactly how deep the rabbit hole really is. Was it more fun to write from Stephen's point of view here or was there another motive?
This excerpt is a pivotal moment in the book. Stephen, himself a marine returned from service in Vietnam, finds himself face-to-face with the secret Adele has been keeping from him, and as you said, the rabbit hole is really deep. I chose his point of view for this scene because it’s what he remembers here that changes their relationship forever.
I actually didn’t set out to write a love story. In fact, I started out with the character Adele and her missing husband, John. Quickly, I saw that the struggle with her would be how to move on without him. She’d keep hoping for his return, no matter how many years had passed (like so many still do). Yet, just like in the Civil War story, “What if …” and so, Stephen’s character was born.
The war in Vietnam becomes the tying factor between them. It is what they have in common. However, it is also what puts them on two entirely different sides. He yearns to recover from all he experienced there, and she can’t get past what it’s done to her.
I enjoyed writing his side of things. Perhaps because I am a woman and so writing Adele’s point of view came easier whereas “thinking like a man” took more time on my part to do correctly.
Sooo...word has it, that you have a sequel coming out in a few months. Can you give us a little teaser about it?
In the sequel, there are also three stories. In the first story, Doug and Molly Sanders have raised their family, created a beautiful life, have their first grandchild, and have seemingly moved on from what happened during the war until Brigitte’s son turns up on their doorstep and changes things.
In the second story, despite Stephen and Adele’s successful marriage and their lovely daughter, John Davis still hangs between them. A tragedy in their life and the divine move of God begun so many years ago and completed in a girl they don’t know brings things completely into focus.
The third story is a romance. Tad, the Old Man’s son, tells how he met the love of his life, Beth Sanders, and the strange thing that happened afterward.
About the craft:
Do you script your stories out in advance, or just let them fall onto the page to be cleaned up later?
They fall … plop. Well, sort of. I am a professional proofreader, so writing and cleaning up later is foreign to me. I always feel like I have to get it right before I move on, and this has created problems more than once in writing fiction. I’ve learned since to plot things out more, but I don’t rely on that because sometimes the story will change on you midstream.
I tend to write in spurts. Often, I get my best ideas for a scene at about 4 in the morning, when I should be sleeping but my brain won’t shut off. I turn them over in my head until about 6 when I can get up and jot them down before I forget. I do a lot of plotting in my head that way. If I have two scenes that I both want to keep, but need something to tie them together, then I’ll think it out. Again, using the “What if …” scenario. “If he does this, then what happens to her and how does that change this over here.”
What are your thoughts on digital publishing?
I love digital publishing. I would not be an author without it. The fact that I can create the book from start to finish (I do my own graphics, book covers, and compilations) and put it out there without the heartbreak of writing endless queries means a lot to me. I am independent by nature anyway and so doing things on my own comes naturally.
What's the ONE indispensable bit of advice given to you about writing?
Brackets. A writer said when she needs to write anything she is unsure of, she puts brackets there. If the story is set in India and she needs to indicate a specific tree, rather than researching the trees of India for hours and interrupting her writing, she puts [specific tree] there and moves on. This idea works great for small things like trees and larger things like scenes. More than once, I have put down [need scene here] and continued writing.

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