The Past Always Speaks

Today’s post by the amazing and prolific Susan Meissner | @SusanMeissner

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.

Susan Meissner on a research trip to Florence

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.

Don’t you?

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: on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at



31 Responses to The Past Always Speaks

  1. Patty Melvin October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I have read ALL her books. An awesome writer. I am thrilled she has a new book out. I have never read books that could bring characters to life like hers.

  2. Jayne D. October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    This sounds like a wonderful and interesting
    story. I would love to read it.

  3. Sherry Stoll October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I read Meissner’s book “The Shape of Mercy” and it was wonderful. I would love the opportunity to read another one of her books. Thanks!

  4. Melinda K Taylor October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I love mysteries and the counties of Greece and Italy. I would really like a copy of this book. Thank You

  5. Marge Moulton October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I’ve read several of Susan’s books. Also I knew her when her family lived in MN. She puts you right into her novels the moment you begin reading. She takes you on a trip in her work to places where I cannot go and explore myself. Lots of heart in her work.

  6. Sharon M October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Susan – Sounds like a great read, like the element of mystery! Loved “The Shape of Mercy”. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of your new book.

  7. JanellK October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    New author for me. Book sounds very exciting. Would love to read.

  8. Katherine Jones October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    This book is on my list–sound delicious.

  9. Marianne Barkman October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I would love to be an influencer (reviewer) for Susan. Her books are always deep yet thoroughly interesting! Thanks for the chance to win!

  10. Pattie October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I love Susan and her books–she’s a wonderful writer and storyteller.

  11. Melanie October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I would love to win this book. Susan has been a favorite author of mine for many years

  12. Diana October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    This sounds intriguing. I can’t wait to read it.

  13. Brenda Little October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I enjoy finding new (new to me) authors to read, especially when reviews are high from those who read everything the author publishes. Sounds good!

  14. Carla Torrijos October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    LOVE Meissner! The Shape of Mercy is one of my top favorites. I also loved and cried through A Window to the World. Can’t wait to read the new one!

  15. Cynthia Robertson October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    This novel sounds wonderful – the Medicis were a fascinating (if ruthless) clan – and I adore books that span time.
    I enjoyed Italy too, Susan. It’s a magical place to spend time in – so full of history and art.

  16. Paula Dolin October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    This book sounds really good – definately adding it to my wish list! Thanks again for a chance to win.

  17. Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    That book sounds so cool! I love the story of its origins.

  18. Susan G. October 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds like another great historical,mystery story – my favorite kind of books!
    Thanks once again for the opportunity to win another wonderful read!
    Susan G.

  19. Nicole October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Ooh, this sounds fascinating! Especially since my son studied in Florence and we had the opportunity to go visit him!

  20. Tammi T. October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Have to say, I’m a little envious. I’ve wanted to travel to Italy since I was a 6th grader and did a school report for the country. I have been able to travel a little but never to Italy. That is why I love to read. I love learning about people and places. I’m also guilty of living vicariously through some of the fictional characters in the stories I read. I would love a chance to live vicariously through your character, Meg.

  21. Kandra October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I’m envious too! The next best thing to taking a research trip to Florence would be reading this new book, probably! Thanks for the chance to win!

  22. Marie Lehman October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I want to read this book! I LOVE historical fiction!

  23. Phyllis smith October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I would love to win a free book……I love finding new authors.. It’s also great to see young, talented Sarah Jio as the October featured author. I love her books! Thank you for doing what y’all do @ she reads!

  24. Kathy October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Travel to Italy always intrigued me but I never have made it to this land. I would enjoy a trip there in the contents of this novel. Count me in as a possible winner of this great reading material.

  25. Veronica October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    This book sounds amazing! I look forward to reading it.

  26. Gean Schumacher October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Will definitely be reading this ASAP – would love to win a copy!

  27. Kit October 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I’m excited about Susan’s choice of setting for her new book, as well as the historical aspect. Shape of Mercy & Lady in Waiting each gave me a peek into a fascinating time and place. Always good to be reminded that real people, just like you and me, lived out their lives in those mysterious worlds. Looking forward to it!

  28. Susan L. Anderson October 5, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Very interesting. I think that imagination and what if scenarios are what make good fiction. Belief in ghosts in fiction is harmless. Like you said, look at Jacob Marley. Throw my name in the hat, please.

    Thank you.

  29. Kim October 7, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    The story sounds fascinating! I look forward to reading the book!

  30. Janet Estridge October 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    We have her books in the church library.
    I’m looking forward to reading this book and giving it to the library when I’m finished.
    Thanks for the opportunity to do so.

  31. Caroline October 14, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I love, love Susan Meissner’s books. Incredible and well-written stories.

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