Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Local Author Interview: Spider in a Tree by Susan Stinson

Susan Stinson is the author of four novels and a collection of poetry and lyric essays. Spider in a Tree, her latest novel, which is about Northampton in the time of Jonathan Edwards is out October 2, 2013.

Susan is currently Writer in Residence at Forbes Library, the public library in Northampton, where she runs writing rooms, discussion groups and workshops for writers, and curates a Local History/Local Novelists reading series. She is also a freelance writing coach and editor. A passionate speaker, she has given more than 100 readings, lectures, keynotes and workshops at universities, bookstores, cafes, and conferences, including at Amherst, Dartmouth, Smith, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts. Stinson also gives cemetery tours.

She can be found online at:

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Texas, and that stayed a big presence throughout my childhood, since we went every summer to visit my grandparents. My parents moved back into my grandparents’ house. I lived in Wichita, Kansas until I was six, then moved to what is now called Centennial, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.

When did you begin writing?

I won a school contest for writing the best letter about my mother for Mother’s Day when I was in second grade or so. The prize was a gift certificate to a local strip mall, where I bought myself a toy. (I’m debating whether is was a huge plastic snake or a stuffed dog. At any rate, I loved it.) The prize was presented at a ceremony in the school auditorium. Talk about a thrill. So, I started young, and was supported in doing it young.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

I write mostly during the day. I like it when I have a regular routine of writing in the morning, but I’ll sneak in moments if I need to. I’m also a big fan of setting a timer, writing for forty-five minutes, then taking a fifteen minute break.

What is this book about?

It’s about Northampton, Massachusetts in the time of eighteenth century theologian, preacher, and slave owner Jonathan Edwards. It’s a novel of the religious revivals often referred to as the First Great Awakening.

What inspired you to write it?

I live in Northampton, where the book is set, just across from the cemetery where many people from the family and community of Jonathan Edwards are buried. There are markers honoring him there, as well. I was spending a lot of time walking and writing in the beautiful, quiet, leafy cemetery, and became interested in the stories of some of the people buried there.

Who is your favorite character from the book?

That’s a tough one. I really do love them all, even those who others may not. It might be Leah, who was enslaved in the Edwards household from the time she was fourteen, but I also have a soft spot for Rebekah Hawley.

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

Bumpy. I could not be more delighted with a press than I am with Small Beer, where I ended up, though. They are fantastic.

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

I don’t actually think I would.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

It’s available all of the usual places. To get it directly from Small Beer, go here:

There is a lot of information about readings, reviews and events there, too.

To find it at an independent bookstore near you, go here:

Do you have a video trailer to promote your book? If yes, where can readers find it?

I don’t have a video trailer, but readers can see me reading from a few excerpts at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale website:

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

Be good to your writer friends and support their work. Sturdy relationships between writers are enormously sustaining.

What is up next for you?

Not sure, but I’ve been thinking about a novel about Sylvester Graham, the health reformer best known for inspiring the Graham cracker. He lived in Northampton, too.

Is there anything you would like to add?

If readers can make it to western Massachusetts and see this in time. I’d love to have them come to either the book launch/reading at First Churches in Northampton at 7 pm on Wed, Oct 2, or the Jonathan Edwards Walking Tour of Bridge Street cemetery in Northampton that I’m giving at 1 pm on Oct 5. The reading is free, and the cemetery tour costs $5. Tickets are available at Broadside Books or at the book launch.

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