The Course of a life will shift–really shift–many times over the years. But rarely will there be a shift that you can feel gathering in the distance like a storm, rarely will you notice the pressure drop before the skies open.
~ from Sea Creatures
Change is inevitable. But even when you make way for it, you can’t possibly know how things will unfold.
In Susanna Daniel’s second novel, Sea Creatures, Georgia Quillian and her husband Graham, along with their young son, set out for new beginnings when they uproot themselves from Illinois and move into a dated houseboat docked in the bay outside of Miami.
Daniel sets the tone for the novel in the first paragraph when Georgia says, “what worries us most–pedophiles, kidnappers, dog attacks–is least likely to happen, while what is most likely is some unimagined event.” What follows is a quiet, yet powerful, story about relationships and parenting and the risks we take to save ourselves and those we love.
I’m honored to host Susanna Daniel today for a quick Q&A about her book and writing. Drop your name in the comments for a chance to win a copy of Sea Creatures. It’s an easy giveaway for an excellent read. Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, October 29th.
Now welcome, Susanna Daniel!
CC: In Sea Creatures, you return to the small community of stilt houses built off the shores of Miami that was also the setting of your first novel, the award-winning Stiltsville. What is it about this particular place that draws you back again?
SD: It’s funny, because I had in mind that I was not allowed, for some reason, to write again about Stiltsville — so for a time I didn’t. I wrote about people in South Florida, in similar circumstances as those in Sea Creatures, and I held Stiltsville underwater, so to speak, so it couldn’t distract me. But I kept veering to the place, checking in on it in my mind. And the book I was writing wasn’t coalescing.
So one day I told my husband, who is not a fiction writer, that I was frustrated because I couldn’t shake the desire to return to Stiltsvlle — and he was like, “Then why don’t you?” I told him my notion that I wasn’t allowed, and he told me this was–simply put–stupid.
Stiltsville is an island, essentially, and when you have characters placed on an island, something is bound to happen. I also wanted badly to return to Stiltsville to explore the storyline of a character who is introduced very briefly in my first novel, the Hermit. The Hermit lives at Stiltsville full-time — he is modeled after a real person — so his every interaction is fraught with the bit of danger and escapism of living in the middle of the bay.
CC: As I read Sea Creatures, and later wrote these questions, I couldn’t stop thinking about “recklessness,” the way the characters risk their own lives and those of the people they love. I’m speaking mostly of Graham and the danger poised at the edges of his sleeping disorder. But, in some ways, Georgia is reckless herself, ultimately putting her son in harm’s way. Throughout the novel, I sympathized with both Graham and Georgia and worried about their decisions just the same (meaning, readers can’t help but become invested in the characters!). What was your biggest challenge in writing Graham’s and Georgia’s stories?
SD: My biggest challenge was how to convey to readers that Georgia and Graham used to be happy and in love, like any other couple (except for the sleep disorders, of course), and so even as the story opens, there’s already an incredible loss. They are on shaky ground and making the best decisions they can under the circumstances.
Also, I think it’s amazing the risks people will take in a certain situation that they think they never would outside of that situation–Georgia is an anxious mother, but she’s also an adventurous person and wants her son to experience life. In her mind, it’s other people who are being reckless–until, of course, she’s forced to come to terms with her own questionable decisions.
CC: You recently founded the Madison Writers’ Studio with author, Michelle Wildgen, teaching creative writing classes in Madison, WI. You have some great course offerings, from Fiction I to a class called “Novel in a Year.” What inspired you to start the Studio, and what is your long-term vision?
SD: I’ve long wanted to return to teaching in a workshop setting–it’s a passion of mine. I had a hunch Michelle might be feeling the same way. Everywhere I go, people tell me they want to write–novels, stories, memoirs. My good friend Julia Fierro founded the terrific Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop in Brooklyn ten years ago, which inspired me. I looked around for similar offerings in the Madison area, and found nothing. So I thought, Why not? Michelle is the perfect partner. Our first workshops are almost finished, and I couldn’t be happier with how they’ve gone.
Long term, I’d like to open a work space for writers, with a membership program for people looking for a space outside the home to write without distraction.
CC: What are you reading these days?
SD: I’m reading NIGHT FILM and ENON — both exciting books, but in completely different ways.
Susanna Daniel’s debut novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham prize for best debut work published in 2010, and her second novel, Sea Creatures, was named an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick of the Best Books of August, 2013. Susanna is a co-founder, with author Michelle Wildgen, of the Madison Writers’ Studio. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was a Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Her writing has been published in Newsweek, Slate, One Story, Epoch, and elsewhere. Visit her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Remember: drop your name in the comments for a chance to win Sea Creatures!