Tag Archives: Susanna Daniel

Summer Shorts 2014: SHARKS AND SEALS by Susanna Daniel

I have a special treat for EDIWTB today.

I am participating in a blog post series called Summer Shorts. In this series, a new short story has been featured every day on a different blog, featuring an audiobook narrator reading the work of one of his or her favorite authors. Readers have listened to a different short story for free each day, and can buy the whole collection from Tantor (with 20 additional bonus tracks) for $9.99 (effective through TOMORROW, June 30; after tomorrow the price goes up to $19.99). Proceeds from the purchases will support ProLiteracy, a literacy outreach and advocacy organization.

Here are all of the posts in this series to date. Yesterday’s post was at Miss Susie’s Readings and Observations.

The blog series moves here to EDIWTB today. I am featuring a narration of Susanna Daniel’s story “Sharks and Seals” by Karen White, a longtime friend of EDIWTB and one of the narrators I interviewed for JIAM last year. I have reviewed two of Daniel’s books – Stiltsville and Sea Creatures. You can listen to the story for free TODAY ONLY here:

I am so excited to be able to feature a Q&A with both the author AND the narrator of this story. It was fascinating to ask the same questions of both the woman who wrote the words and the woman who spoke them. I hope that you enjoy the story and the interview!

First, some background on the story, “Sharks and Seals”. It’s short. Really short. Like 3 minutes short. But so well-written, and memorable. It’s about a girl who is encouraged to join the water polo team in high school by a classmate, Stacia.  They become friends, and she spends time at Stacia’s home, where she learns that some families are very different from her own. When a tragedy befalls Stacia, the main character stays in touch with Stacia’s family, maintaining the relationship that has had such an impact on her and opened her eyes to new possibilities in life.

It’s a short story that really packs a punch, with each phrase – each word, even – contributing to the story without a single extraneous note. Like I said, it’s really short – listen to it. You will finish it before you know it.

Here’s the Q&A with Susanna Daniel and Karen White about “Sharks and Seals”.

Q. What was the inspiration for “Sharks and Seals”?

Susanna: I was asked to write the story for a project called Significant Objects, which pairs garage-sale tchotchkes with short stories about those tchotchkes, then auctions off the pairs for charity. I had a photo of two novelty pens, and from that came my story, which is about love and loss — these are the topics of all my work to date, I think, though I’ve written only rarely about a young adult.

Karen: I’ll let Susanna take that one, but I will say that I was very happy to learn that we’d be able to record contemporary fiction this year for Summer Shorts. I started looking around for short pieces online, and it occurred to me, duh, that I could try to find something by an author I’d already worked with and Susanna came to mind right away. I don’t remember how exactly I searched for it, but I ended up on this page with a photo of a shark and a seal pen and this story. I really loved it so I emailed Susanna and happily, both she and the original publisher were willing to let me record it for the Summer Shorts project.

Q: Susanna, “Sharks and Seals” contains two themes that recur across your work – life on, or in, the water, and communication (or lack thereof) among families. What draws you to these themes? Karen, are you a water lover as well (or has performing Susanna’s work turned you into one?)

Susanna: There might come a time when I give a novel the setting of my daily life — landlocked in the Midwest — but I’m not sure it ever will. The water of the ocean, boats, stilt houses, swimming pools: this is the setting of my childhood, and the backdrop for every fictional world I’ve created to date. Parents and children and spouses and siblings — these are the relationships I find most compelling and consequential, in life and fiction.

Karen: Well, I have to confess that while I love living near the water — walking on the beach and playing in the waves, I am NOT a fan of deep water and I am a pretty terrible swimmer. (Some combination of a bad swim team experience at a young age and reading the novel Jaws when I was 12.) On top of that I recorded Sea Creatures right after we’d moved from CA to NC. I grew up in central NC but now I’m on the coast, and reading the very intense descriptions of Hurricane Andrew kind of freaked me out. So I will definitely be evacuating if there’s any inkling of a big hurricane coming here, and praying that my house can take it!

Q: Parenthood is also a common theme in Susanna’s work. Susanna, why are you drawn to parenthood so frequently in your storytelling? Karen, do you find yourself incorporating your own parenting persona into your performances of Susanna’s work?

Susanna: I think I’m more specifically interested in how the family persona and the individual collide and coincide. In my second novel, Sea Creatures, the narrator, Georgia, has to find agency despite the fact that she’s become overwhelmed by her sometimes conflicting responsibilities to her husband and son. Parenting is one surefire way to put a characters’ weaknesses and strengths on display.

Karen: I think what has always drawn me to acting (and narration, which to me is definitely acting) is that I am fascinated by how other people think. Acting gets me as close as one can get to experiencing how another person thinks. Obviously in narration we’re playing lots of roles, but in a first person narrative like Sea Creatures, I get to live more completely inside the head of the fictional narrator and let that person’s voice take over. So in some ways I let go of my own thought and speech patterns. That said, I think in the best scenarios, I am asked to record a book because when the powers that be read the book (or its description), they think of me and my voice. So I guess what results is some amalgamation of me and the character. I hope I’m not quite as screwed up as most of the mother roles I end up playing (and I have recorded quite a few books about mothers who have issues) but I do think I’m probably a pretty neurotic mom. For instance, I try REALLY hard not to be a helicopter parent, which is one of the things that drives me crazy in the world these days, but in avoidance of it, I probably do a LOT of overthinking. Nobody wants to live inside my head!

Q:  How much interaction do you two have when Karen is preparing to perform one of Susanna’s works? Susanna, do you give any direction about characters, motives, or specific scenes?

Susanna: I’m not an actor and I have no experience with voice work – I leave that to the experts! Of course I answer any questions, like how something is pronounced.

Karen: I just looked up our email exchange and I only asked her two pronunciation questions! In my opinion, when the writing is good, I don’t really need any other input. All the direction is there, and if anyone tries to impose anything on top of that, it often sticks out like it doesn’t belong. Even if Susanna were to share deleted scenes about characters, I’m not sure it would be useful because the reader doesn’t get those scenes. I think it’s like the narration has to fit inside the frame that the book has created and going outside of that frame is at best unnecessary and at worst, a distraction.

Q: What are the challenges of writing and performing a short work like “Sharks and Seals”?

Susanna: My biggest challenge was the word count — I don’t write short, generally. My narrators usually have a lot more room to breathe. It took about ten times as long to whittle down the word count as to write the first draft.

Karen: What I loved about this story was that it was so low key and almost unemotional, and yet I could still feel all this stuff going on underneath. Simple and complex at the same time. For me, the challenge in recording a short story (and this is a really short one) is that there’s no warm-up time, you have to be in it completely from the get go. Also, I’ll confess that starting a book is always the hardest part for me because there’s usually an uncomfortable period while I’m figuring out the tone and pacing. It’s not unusual for me to do a first chapter and then start all over again if I feel like I didn’t get it. I think I recorded this one a few times before I felt like I had it.

Q. Do you think that short fiction is better suited for our digital attention spans than full-length novels? Or is the focused escape of a novel more important now than ever?

Susanna: Digitally or on paper, there’s really no substitute, for me, for a novel’s breadth — short stories can be very intense and artful, and sometimes, as a reader, I find them overpowering. I read more novels than stories, though I think I can learn more from a really smart short story than from anything else.

Karen: YES. Both! In my pleasure reading life, I feel like I’ve been through periods when all I can handle is short stories, and times when I really need that escape into a longer book (and hate it when its over). I will say that it seems like I have recorded more stories for collections this past year. Maybe it is a new trend in audiobooks…

Tomorrow: Summer Shorts 2014 Comes to EDIWTB

Tomorrow (Sunday), Summer Shorts 2014 stops here at EDWITB. I will be featuring a audio short story from Susanna Daniel called “Sharks and Seals”, performed by Karen White, as well as an interview with both Daniel and White about the story and their collaboration. You can listen to the story for free on my blog on Sunday 6/30, so be sure to stop by and give it a try. It’s a really short story – 3 minutes or so – and very memorable. See you tomorrow

June Is Audiobook Month 2014

June is a great month for many reasons, but one of my favorites is that it is Audiobook Month! A whole month to celebrate the wonderful narrators and audio productions of equally wonderful books.

I will be doing a few things here on EDIWTB to mark June is Audiobook Month (JIAM). Last year, I ran a series of three interviews with audiobook narrators. I am lucky to be able to do it again this year. Watch the blog for three Q&A posts with Therese Plummer, Tavia Gilbert, and Patrick Lawlor. I’d like to thank them in advance for taking the time to answer my questions – I have a lot of them!

Summer Shorts June is Audiobook MonthI am also participating in a blog post series called Summer Shorts. In this June series, a new short story is posted every day on a different blog, featuring an audiobook narrator reading the work of one of his or her favorite authors. Readers can listen to a different short story for free each day, and buy the whole collection from Tantor (with 20 additional bonus tracks) for $9.99 (effective through June 30). Proceeds from the purchases will support ProLiteracy, a literacy outreach and advocacy organization.

Here is the full schedule of shorts, as well as the blogs on which they will be available. On June 29, I will be featuring a reading of Susanna Daniel’s Sharks and Seals by Karen White, a longtime friend of EDIWTB and one of the narrators I interviewed for JIAM last year. You can read more about Summer Shorts here. Thanks to Xe Sands and Karen White for organizing Summer Shorts and inviting me to participate!

This month I will also update my Top 10 Best Audiobooks list which I posted last June.

SEA CREATURES by Susanna Daniel

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel is one of those books that makes you feel lonely while reading it. I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just that there is a lot of sadness and isolation in this book that permeates even the experience of reading it.

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
Sea Creatures takes place in Miami, like Daniel’s earlier novel Stiltsville (reviewed here). Georgia and Graham Quillian have moved to Miami from their home in Chicago, along with their three year-old son, Frankie. The family has undergone a lot of stress: Frankie has stopped speaking altogether, and Graham, a parasomniac, was forced to leave Chicago because of some incidents that occurred at night while he was sleepwalking. His extreme sleep issues have put a tremendous strain on the family, but they’ve decided to start over fresh living on an houseboat on a canal outside Georgia’s father and stepmother’s house.

The first half of the book establishes Georgia and Graham in their new home, and explores their past as well as Frankie’s selective mutism, which Georgia has learned to accommodate. As she gets to the heart of why Frankie no longer communicates verbally, Graham becomes increasingly resentful of her enabling Frankie and, as he sees it, continually choosing Frankie over him. Their marriage becomes more and more distant, to the point where he takes a months-long job on a ship studying hurricanes, and Georgia starts working for an older man with his own troubled past with whom she develops a complicated relationship.

Ultimately, Sea Creatures is about parenthood –  sacrifices we make to keep our kids safe and mistakes in judgment that sometimes have ramifications far beyond what we feared. There is a lot else going on in Sea Creatures: a lot of sadness and death, marriages and divorce, and the hugely important roles played by Miami and its distinctive weather and neighborhoods and Graham’s sleep disorder. It’s a sad book, for sure, but it’s also rich and thought-provoking. I found it lonely, I think, because so much of it takes place in Georgia’s mind. She kept so many of her feelings to herself, and bore the burden of many difficult things going on around her. She was frustrating at times – for someone who was so in touch with her son and his needs, she could be oddly lax about things like vaccines and the need for pre-school – and made some choices that were clearly not well-founded. But of course, that’s what propelled the story and made Sea Creatures the engrossing story that it is.

I listened to the audio version of Sea Creatures, which was narrated by the excellent Karen White. (White is a friend of EDIWTB – read her Q&A here.) Karen’s voice matched the tone of the book perfectly – urgent, yet emotionally restrained at the same time (like Georgia). This was a great audiobook. It moved along swiftly and effectively conveyed the growing tension throughout the book. White also did a nice job with some of the smaller characters, creating convincing accents for each and giving them an impact that outmatched the number of pages that they inhabited.

So, if you’re looking for a melancholy, moody read that will also make you want to move to Florida and live on the water (something I’ve never been interested in doing before), give Sea Creatures a try. Just be prepared to feel a little lonely. Incidentally, I think Sea Creatures would make an excellent book club choice – lots to discuss here.

STILTSVILLE by Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville The December EDIWTB book club pick was Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel.

Stiltsville is the chronicle of a marriage – that of Frances and Dennis, a couple who meets in their mid-20s in Miami. Frances is visiting Miami for the weekend, while Dennis is a Floridian with a house in Stiltsville, a community of houses on stilts in Biscayne Bay, outside Miami. Dennis and Frances end up marrying and making a life for themselves in Miami.  Stiltsville isn't an exhaustive diary of their marriage, but is more a series of vignettes and episodes. Frances and Dennis together face a number of challenges – Dennis' professional dissatisfaction, boom and bust times, a hurricane that destroys their stilt house, their daughter's surprise engagement.

Frances is a quiet person - a devoted wife, mother, and friend, but not particularly emotive. I liked her understatement and the slow teasing out of her inner narrative. I didn't mind the lack of a strong plot or the uneven passage of time. Reading Stiltsville is like looking through someone's photo album (back in the day before we chronicled every day on digital cameras) and hearing the backstory behind the pages.

Daniel also made me understand the appeal of Miami. She beautifully conveyed the heat, the lushness, and the dramatic storms that are so characteristic of that city, and the role that Miami played in Frances' life.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. It fit the bill for me – introspective domestic fiction with an interesting setting. I've read a lot of very positive reviews, as well as some that felt that the book was too slow or dull. I didn't find it slow or dull – to me it was a very satisfying read.

Thank you very much to Harper for providing books for EDIWTB readers! And now, let's hear from those readers… What did you think of Stiltsville?

November Book Club:STILTSVILLE by Susanna Daniel

I am excited to announce the November-into-December EDIWTB book club pick: Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel. I've been looking for a while for the right pick, and when I came across this review of Stiltsville on Nomad Reader, I knew I had found it.

From Amazon:

Stiltsville It may be a sign of the times that many stories about marriage unfold on a stage of high emotional drama, where the sparks stop flying and start sparring, for better or worse. There may be catharsis in those kinds of stories, but there's often little joy, which is what makes this quiet and tender debut so disarmingly good. Stiltsville is a story of a marriage that begins with serendipity–that holiest of relationship grails–one warm summer day in Miami. It's 1969 when girl (Frances, the novel's clear-eyed, guileless narrator) meets boy (Dennis, who in Frances's estimation is "careless but lucky") at one of a copse of houses built on stilts in Miami's Biscayne Bay. That such a place existed is incredible now, and in the scenes that reconstruct its peculiar beauty, Susanna Daniel ushers you into an exotic and unpredictable corner of the country. It's a perfect place to fall in love, and Frances and Dennis do, without fanfare or pretense. Theirs is a love that almost instantly becomes constant and real, full of simple happiness that makes it possible to weather the storms that come.

Carrie at Nomad Reader called Stiltsville "the most emotionally engaging novel I've read in quite some time. I often struggle writing reviews for books I adore, and I found nothing to criticize in Stiltsville."

I'm sold. Who else is in?

If you'd like to read Stiltsville with the EDIWTB book club, send me an email at gweiswasser@gmail.com with your name, address, and email. Once the books are mailed out from Harper, I will set a date for the discussion. On that day, I will post a review here, and the conversation will continue in the comments. Harper has generously agreed to send books to 20 EDIWTB readers (THANK YOU HARPER!), so send in your information soon!