It’s no secret that we adore Susan Meissner around here. We’ve chosen her novels the last three years as book club picks. And we couldn’t resist the opportunity to share her newest, The Girl In The Glass, with you. We know you’ll want to read it, so we’ve got a copy up for grabs. Simply leave a comment on this post and we’ll toss your name in the hat.
I am often asked where I got the idea for a novel I’ve written. Many times I can point to a specific event where the idea sprang to mind; other times I can’t recall that I had anything more work to with than just asking myself the question, “What if…? ”
The idea behind The Girl in The Glass is one of those that grew from the tiniest seed. I guess you could say it began on a sunny afternoon in Florence, Italy, when my tour guide told me she lives in a house that was once owned by Michelangelo — yep, the Michelangelo — and that it seems like a ghost inhabits it. Things happen that can’t really be explained, she said. Noises. Objects that disappear and reappear. Stuff like that.
It was fleeting moment of discussion during lunch and we only had the one day with her and plenty to see, of course, so she didn’t elaborate. She wasn’t suggesting she lives with Michelangelo’s ghost nor even suggesting that ghosts exist. Only that it seems like she lives with one.
Right after lunch, this same tour guide showed us the massive Uffizi, the former offices of the Medici family and now a museum of jaw-dropping art. She carefully pointed out all Medici portraits and told us what each of them had done — or what had been done to them, as the case might have been. The Medicis, if you remember, ruled Florence dynasty-fashion for three hundred years. They were business owners and bankers who ruled like royalty but behaved, for the most part, very badly. They were known for their ruthless shrewdness, self-serving politicking, and they weren’t above a murder or two or using the papacy for their own ends. And yet they financed the Italian Renaissance. We have Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Primavera because of Medici money. They loved beauty and yet were drawn to ugly living. That fascinated me. Add that perspective to the idea that a ghost might be hanging around like Jacob Marley, whispering sage advice to someone who would listen, and I had an idea for a story that began in Florence with “What if? ”
What if a modern-day woman named Meg feels a bit unlucky in love and life? What if she is still smarting from a broken engagement as well as the long-ago effects of her parents divorce? What if she wants more than anything to find a certain statue in Florence depicted in a painting her Italian grandmother had; a painting that disappeared when Nonna died? What if Meg’s habitually unreliable father, who has promised for years to take Meg to Florence, finally arranges the trip, but when Meg arrives, he’s a no-show? What if Meg is a travel book editor who only knows three people in Florence who can help her when her dad’s AWOL? A brother-and-sister writing team she’s only ever talked to on Skype, and an aspiring writer named Sofia whose manuscript pages speak of a Medici princess who whispers to Sofia from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance like a ghost with a cautionary tale?
This story didn’t come all at once, like some stories do. This one came bit by bit as I pored over my photographs and souvenir books of Florence, and as I replayed conversations with the tour guide who told me all about the Medici family and the curious things that happen inside her house. It just got me to thinking…
Someone might read this post or even read the book and think I believe in ghosts. What I believe is that the past has much to teach us. I look at how most of the Medicis lived and I know I am right. How we listen to the past is up to us, I think.
I like listening to the past through the medium of story.
Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. She and her husband make their home in Southern California. Visit Susan at her website: www.susanmeissner.com on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at www.facebook.com/SusanMeissnerAuthor