by Kathryn Gray
Have you ever considered the idea of writing an article, a short story, or the Great American novel?
I believe that for many of us there is a writer inside just dying to come out. For many, however, the idea of putting pen to paper remains just that…an idea. Susie Finkbeiner is a local author who followed her dream, having had her first novel “Paint Chips” published in January 2013, who is eagerly awaiting the release of her second book”My Mother’s Camomile” on February 15 this year. I met with Susie to discuss her path to authorship and the secret of her success.
When I think of the word “author” it conjures up images of a wizened old Ernest Hemingway, a primly dressed Jane Austen, or an eerily smiling Stephen King. The image includes the person in a locked office, hunched over a desk with an overflowing ashtray, pounding out page after page on an old typewriter. As a modern writer, Susie Finkbeiner is able to write practically anywhere her laptop can travel; everything she “pens” can be edited and submitted quickly electronically. You will usually find her daily at a local coffee shop, at which she has earned Gold Card status, researching, blogging, or writing her next book. She is disarming with a heart-shaped face, striking blue eyes, and a welcoming smile.
Susie Finkbeiner has always had a love of reading and writing. She began writing children’s plays and adult drama skits in her spare time for her church while serving as the Children’s Minister. Finkbeiner had one of her plays “Merry Chrismukkah” published in 2006 by Eldridge Plays. The impetus for writing her first book evolved from life experience. Through her work with groups like Better Way Imports and the Michigan Abolitionist Project, Finkbeiner became passionate about the young women caught up in the world of human trafficking.
“I didn’t set out to write a social issue book, “ explains Finkbeiner. The story evolved from being educated about sex trafficking as well as meeting and working with women who had first-hand experience with this modern form of slavery.
“Paint Chips” deals with the issues of abuse, betrayal, abandonment, and ultimately redemption. Her extensive character development gave a face and a voice to the many anonymous victims of this crime; exposing this crime takes place not just in far off lands but many times in the community in which we live.When asked if she wrote her first book to evoke a response from her readers, Finkbeiner shakes her head. “I don’t want people to react; I want to encourage thoughtful response and start a dialogue.”
After being published by WhiteFire Publishing in January 2013, first as an electronic book, then as a paperback , it seemed that Finkbeiner’s love of writing as a hobby was becoming something more.
Finkbeiner’s second novel, “My Mother’s Camomile ,” was born out of the death of her husband’s grandmother. For Finkbeiner, the entire small-town experience of her husband’s grandmother being ill in the hospital, coming home to die, and the rituals of the whole funeral process were a “growing experience.” Unlike the trafficking issue, everyone has to deal with death. Her research into the life and commitment of funeral directors captured her mind.
“These men and women are so caring. They work very hard, in most cases 365 days a year, 24 hours a day on call, to ease the pain of each family’s experience.“ It is not a usual job. Even on a social level people shy away from morticians. They are reminders of the fact that death exists. They see people at their worst, both physically and mentally. Even they see themselves as “different” or “other.”
Finkbeiner is a self-described idealist and an eternal optimist. She explains that it comes from her upbringing and the experiences her own family lived through. Her Christian faith plays a strong role in dealing in subject matter that may be challenging or evoke a negative response.
“I write from a position of what is and what can be. I am training myself to see hope and beauty in what is,” she explains. Her philosophy is much like that of author Luis Alberto Urrea which is to “find God in the muck and mire.”
“You have to look for sweetness in the bitterness. In situations that leave you dry and parched, God will provide an oasis of water; just enough to get you through when you again face the dryness that surrounds you.” Mercy, Finkbeiner believes, is the comic relief that enters no matter what the situation or issue. As with her bright personality, Finkbeiner’s writing does include humor, emotional breaks, and human foibles woven through well-thought out characters.
Susie Finkbeiner is a large supporter of others who enjoy writing. She is a founding member of the Kava Writer’s Collective; a group of writers of various backgrounds, ages, and genres who meet to share works in progress and encourage each other. She also has a blog that she contributes to on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She is the first to admit that her path to getting published was unconventional . After sending manuscripts to many publishers and suffering the multiple rejections that many new authors face, it was her blog that actually attracted WhiteFire Publishing. “I was actually contacted by WhiteFire.” says Finkbeiner, “They have a wonderful staff that helped me immensely.” With two books under her belt Finkbeiner is now better equipped to help others approach a career in writing.
As a modern day writer, Susie Finkbeiner wrote her first novel as a stay-at-home mom with 3 children under the age of six. “I would just write while they were playing. When it was nice out I would take the laptop with me when we went outside to play.” While writing “My Mother’s Camomile” Finkbeiner took on the task of home schooling her children. An admitted coffee snob, she would grind her own beans, make a pot of coffee, feed the kids, and start their school lessons. With the little ones set up with their assignments and projects, Finkbeiner would go to her office to write. With the full support of her husband, Finkbeiner laughs as she describes her writing as a family effort. “My kids are my biggest cheerleaders!” Today’s authors come from many walks of life, some with busy careers, some who can devote large chunks of time to their craft.
When asked if she has advice for others who would like to write, Susie smiles like the Cheshire Cat.
1. Read. Read a ton. Read your genre. “If writers don’t read, our craft becomes flabby. Nobody wants flabby prose. Chubby poetry. Muffin-top essays.
2. Write. Get it out! Write something every day, even if it is just the word “something.”
3. Join a writing community. There are many on-line or in-person.
4. Go to conferences. Network with publishers and other writers.
5. Research the market. Find out who publishes your genre.
Susie Finkbeiner acknowledges that she has grown as a writer exponentially in the past several years. She has also gained valuable insight into the publishing industry. Her confidence is evident in her frank discussion style and her passion to do her best. When asked if the she has another book in the works, Finkbeiner is purposely coy. “I do have a book that was partially written before I started to work on My Mother’s Camomile, but I am not mature enough as a writer to do it justice quite yet.” It is this sense of professionalism and patience that impresses me the most. For Susie Finkbeiner her writing is a continuing journey. From the success of Paint Chips to the anticipated release of My Mother’s Camomile it is clear that writing is no longer a hobby for Susie Finkbeiner, it has become a vocation.