Susan Crandall's compelling Whistling Past the Graveyard had its paperback release on Feb. 4, and is the Target Book Club pick for February. Published in a cloth edition in 2013, it became a Southern Independent Bookseller Bestseller, an Indie Next Pick and gained national critical attention. We spoke recently with the Noblesville-based author.
NUVO: Whistling Past the Graveyard is your tenth novel and the first in the genre of historical fiction. What brought you to this poignant 1963 coming-of-age story about precocious nine-year-old Starla after writing in the genres of women's fiction and romantic suspense?
Crandall: I love reading all genres, but publishing tends to push you forward in the same genre. After nine women's fiction stories, I was ready to branch out into something new. That's when this little girl started talking in my head; she had such a distinct storytelling voice I just couldn't ignore her. All of my books are character driven; Starla and Eula [Whistling's other main character] came first, then I built a story around them. I chose 1963 Mississippi as the setting because it offered the most fertile soil for storytelling conflict for these two.
NUVO: What are the recurring themes throughout your books?
Crandall: I love small towns and they often contribute a character of their own to a book. I grew up in Noblesville when it was a small town, so I have a special understanding. My books explore family, overcoming adversity, and the way the world in which we are cast dictates our lives and how we relate to one another. All of which are important to me personally.
NUVO: What significant discoveries do you make as you research and write?
Crandall: They've all opened my eyes in one way or another, which is one reason I enjoy my job. I think one of the most interesting things was with Whistling. I was a child in that volatile year of 1963. So much of what was happening was beyond me - which truly helped in forming Starla's understanding. It was fascinating to dig deep into the period and compare my child's views with the realities I discovered.
Right now I'm working on a story set in 1923 featuring an aerial barnstorming act. My dad was a private pilot, so I know something about an aviator's passion for flight. As I research I've discovered so much great fodder for a story in this amazing period of change and excitement.
NUVO: It is apparent from your skills as a storyteller you had a history of writing prior to your debut, Back Roads, in 2003.
Crandall: I began co-writing with my sister about nine years before Back Roads. She and I wrote five novels in five different genres. She decided to move on to other things, but I was hooked and Back Roads was my first solo work. I consider those first five novels my "education" in novel writing. I had to learn through experience how to master the craft ... in fact I'm still working at it.
NUVO: How is your writing changing and developing?
Crandall: I almost always delve into an issue (social, medical, emotional) with my book characters, which is part of what makes them relatable to readers. One of my favorite characters in Sleep No More is a teen with Down Syndrome. My research led me to some very inspiring people. I became motivated to find some way to be of more assistance than just shining a light on the subject through my character. I paired up with Best Buddies of Indiana for my book launch, donating to that organization on a per-book-sold-at-the-event basis. Whistling Past the Graveyard portrays many social issues, one of which is domestic abuse. I joined forces with Prevail, a local advocate group for victims of crime and abuse, for that book launch [in 2013]. It's a way to help raise not only money for their causes, but awareness too.
I'm in the very early stages of my next book. We'll have to see what springs forth as I write the story of three displaced people (a WWI veteran pilot, a teenage orphan of German immigrants and a debutant whose family has lost their fortune) who come together in mutual need, but with cross purposes, in an aerial barnstorming act in 1923.