Monday, October 13, 2008

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

I love Susan Meissner books. Her new one just released--The Shape of Mercy--about a modern-day college student, struggling for identity, who transcribes the centuries-old diary of another young woman who was accused and condemned as a witch during the Salem witch trials. The college student discovers amazing things about herself and her world through this intensely personal slice of history.

Susan's beautiful use of language evokes deep emotion from the reader as the triumphant tragedy unfolds. She graciously agreed to do an interview for my blog to celebrate the launch of The Shape of Mercy. Her thoughts are well worth reading. I have TWO copies of the book to give away, so chime in at the end with a comment and contact information in order to get your name in the hat!

1. What inspired you to write a modern-day story that ties into the particular dark moment in American history of the Salem witch trials?

When I was 13, I was in play called To Burn a Witch. I played the role of an innocent woman accused of witchcraft who sits in a cell with other innocent young women from her village. When my character realizes she can save herself by pretending to be bewitched, she begins to scream that one of the other girls in her cell – a friend, actually – is tormenting her. My character is led away to freedom and the woman she accused falsely is led away to her execution. I had forgotten being in that play until I read a newspaper article a couple years ago about a woman who was petitioning a Massachusetts court to exonerate her great-times-eight grandmother. This ancestor of hers was accused and convicted of witchcraft during the Salem trials, was released when the hysteria ended, but whose name was never cleared. I was reminded of how it felt, even as an actress, to be accused of something you were not and the far worse feeling of accusing someone you know is innocent. What happened in Salem hasn’t happened again, not in the same way. But we still let our opinion of someone be swayed by fear and the crowd. We judge people based on little more than our own fears and whatever the crowd says. This is how Hitler brought about the deaths of millions of Jewish people. He used fear and the crown mentality to convince a nation that Jewish people should be annihilated. We have to consider our history and we are shaped by it, especially when that history shows our flaws. That’s how we learn to do better.

2. You deal so poignantly with regrets in the character of Abigail, the elderly owner of the diary. Did you create her based on personal experience or someone you know?

Abigail isn’t a real person, nor have I known the kind of regrets I burdened her with. But if you look around you, if you read the newspapers, watch the news, read biographies; you see that people like Abigail are everywhere. I think we can all imagine – to some degree - what it might be like to decide how you’ll spend your life based on what other people expect of you instead of following your heart. Sometimes we play the If Only game and imagine what our lives would be like if we’d made better choices. But we should also stop and consider what our lives would be like if we’d made worse ones.

3. The young protagonist, Lauren Durough, is anything but downtrodden, yet she struggles to understand her identity for the very reason that she is so privileged. What helped you the most to gain insight into her personality?

I interview my characters before I write a word. Lauren emerged from my imagined conversations with her as someone with the same longings as the person who hasn’t half the material wealth she has. I’ve watched celebrity women, young women like Lauren, allow their fame and fortune to train-wreck them so I knew money and power don’t deliver peace and contentment. Money doesn’t give someone insights the rest of us lack. I just needed to probe the reasons why. Lauren allowed me to do that.

4. I loved Mercy's insights into the nature of evil and the truths of love. You convey a lot of meaning in short, pithy bites. How difficult was it to write her diary entries from both a content standpoint and an author's craft?

Interestingly enough, Mercy’s diary kind of took on a life of its own. I wrote it before I wrote any of Lauren’s story so that I could dovetail Lauren’s journey with what I knew she would encounter in the pages of Mercy’s life. It may sound trite, but I think God showed up when I was crafting Mercy’s journal entries. Whatever wisdom comes across from Mercy’s words came from a place within me I can’t take much credit for. Any insights I’ve gained into the nature of love and its power, has come from God. I had to imagine myself as Mercy when I wrote the diary sections, and that of course, was a little intimidating. I honestly don’t know if I could be as brave as she was. But I’d like to think I’d be as merciful.

More About the Book:

Lauren Durough is a college student longing to break free of family expectations when she stumbles into a project for eighty year old Abigail Boyles—transcribing the journals of Mercy Hayworth, a seventeenth-century victim of the Massachusetts witch trials. Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with the mysterious Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to discovering the candid truth, Lauren must earnestly ask if she is playing the role of helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and recognize who she really is?

In our high-pressure, success-oriented culture, readers will identify with Lauren’s struggle to forge her own identity separate from the plan her family designed for her. Offering intrigue, romance, and heartbreaking drama, this contemporary novel with a historical twist conveys the intense beauty that emerges when we see how our stories affect the lives of others.


From early school-day projects to becoming editor of a local newspaper in Minnesota, Susan Meissner’s love for writing has been apparent her entire life. The Shape of Mercy is her latest novel in a string of books that delve into the deeper issues of life. She is the author of nine novels and lives with her family in San Diego, California. Find out more about her at


CherryBlossomMJ said...

I love this book. It was just fabulous. Definitely on my keeper shelf.

Becky C. said...

I would really love to read this book! It sounds fascinating!

Please enter me in the contest.

Thank you,

Becky C.

Martha A. said...

I had a friend in that same play I think!
i would love to win this book, I love her books!

Bev said...

I really enjoyed this interview. The book sounds really interesting. And like a real attention getter/keeper. I have never read Susan Meissner but can't wait to try to find this book if I don't win.


lisalickel said...

The more blogs and author sites I find, the more I wished I didn't have to do anything but read the web. What a great site, Jill. Thanks for the interviews, too. Listening to the authors make their works come alive. I'd been reading about this book in other places, and didn't really understand it until I read about it more in depth.

Cherie J said...

Would love to read this book. I love the mix of learning about the past in the present.


Stacey said...

Great interview! I've heard nothing but raves about this novel. Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks.


Pamela J said...

I read down through the comments first, something I don't do most of the time and I'd like to add my thoughts to another that said "Listening to the authors makes their works come alive". I'd like to say meeting the authors (and that is what we do with interviews in a way) makes me want to read ALL their books. Wish I could just read all day, each one I have read has been SO GOOD!

Now, on with my original comment...

It is a sad thing that we (I am talking about people in general) let our opinions be swayed by what others say or think. There is too much we are dealing with today that people absolutely WON'T go to the source to find out if it is so. Instead, they turn away from the one hurting by the things being said and believe the accuser. What I like do now, trying to fix this problem, is take the accuser by the hand (so to speak) and say "Let's go talk to them and get this figured out." or something like that. If the accuser backs off, it probably isn't so. Therefore I avoid judging people based on little more than my fears and whatever the crowd says.

There has been so many people upset at other people BECAUSE of what they EXPECTED the other to do.
I call that an unrealistic expectation and now point that out face to face when I see that arise. People make their own choices usually for themselves, not for someone else, but that "someone else" expects their own actions. God made us all different individuals and we each individually answer ultimately to Him.

Perhaps if we lived in the age if the witches, certain churches or Christians would be condemned at the stake because of the Power of Prayer!

This book, offering intrigue, romance, and heartbreaking drama, sounds like something I can definitely identify with and would LOVE a chance to win. Thanks for entering my name in your drawing, Jill! Praise God for His direction in the shaping of this book through you, Susan!
Pam Williams
cepjwms at yahoo dot com

Jill said...

Insightful life observation, Pam, and a good plan of response. Thanks for sharing. I'll be drawing in a few days for the books.


Anonymous said...

The book souns great. I like the cover too.

13rubberducks at gmail dot com

Doreen said...

This was an enjoyable interview! I would love to win this book! purposedrivenlife4you (at) gmail (dot) com

Miralee Ferrell said...

I've been hearing a lot about this book and would so love a copy. Please enter me!
Miralee Ferrell

Jill said...

Congratulations to Becky C. and Miralee Ferrell. You've won a copy of Susan's book! My husband pulled the winners out of the hat this morning. Thanks to everyone for entering. Stay tuned for more giveaways!

Audra Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.