Interview with Susan Carol McCarthy, author of A Place We Knew Well

26 Oct 2015
Tell us a little bit about your new release, A Place We Knew Well.

Not long after September 11, 2001, I began having Armageddon-like nightmares in which I was ten years old and living with my parents again in central Florida. It took me awhile to realize that my subconscious had somehow melded the very scary Cuban Missile Crisis of my childhood with the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Nearly four decades apart, my response to 9/11—shock and outrage, anxiety and fear—sent me back to the inexorable dread we Floridians felt in October 1962. That aching sense of déjà vu inspired the story of Wes Avery, local businessman, loving husband and doting father, trying desperately to hold his family together while, in 13 historic days, the world around them falls apart.

What’s rocking your world this month?

A friend sent me this quote by Salman Rushdie: “Sometimes writing a novel is not unlike having a baby. You’d have to ask a female novelist to compare the pain.” The gestation period for A Place We Knew Well was closer to nine years than nine months. And though birthing a book and birthing a baby are worlds apart, pain wise, I would say that the mix of emotions, when I recently opened my editor’s package and held the “first books off-press” in my arms, was surprisingly similar: shock, pride, utter relief and joy, followed by tears, lack of sleep, and a not inconsiderable sense of “now what?”

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?

If I could, I’d invite Mrs. Gladys Wilson and my mousy-haired fifth grade self. To that shy, insecure little girl hiding behind her ugly cat-eye glasses, I’d say, “You know those feelings that you’re lousy at math and science, that you’re too uncoordinated to ever earn a certificate for President Kennedy’s Physical Fitness, that you truly are a fifth-grade nothing who will never amount to anything? Lighten up. And listen up!” Then I’d turn to Mrs. Wilson and add, “Remember the day you told me you’d entered my poem in a state contest, and it won? Remember how, after that, you stated firmly, unequivocally ‘YOU can WRITE!’ Those three words were alchemy, transforming my little nothing self here from straw into gold. They gave me an identity—I am a WRITER—and created a path that led to a long career of writing many things for many people, plus one nonfiction book and three novels, so far, for myself. They—you—made all the difference. And this little girl and I are forever grateful.”

What’s on your writing desk?

What is the one movie that you can quote the most?

On their first date, my parents went to see Casablanca. Throughout my childhood, my Dad—an incurable romantic–used the film’s dialog as family shorthand. When dinner was ready, he’d stand at the bottom of the steps and call upstairs, “Major Strasser’s been shot!” meaning “round up the usual suspects” and let’s eat! When one of my four brothers appeared to be telling a tall tale, he’d look around the room and ask, “Do you hear the sound of a tinny piano?” Or if we kids were bugging him to do something the following weekend, he’d tease, “I never make plans that far ahead.” When we were bugging our mom, he’d wink at her and say, “We’ll always have The Dells.” (They couldn’t afford a Parisian honeymoon.) My favorite Casablanca quote is also a wedding day memory. Dad, tearing up at the back of the church, took my arm and whispered, “Here’s looking at you, kid. Don’t ever forget how quickly ‘time goes by’.”

If you had to pick one place to vacation for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

Tricky question. The root word for vacation is the Latin vacatio, meaning “leisure, freedom, exemption, free from duty, immunity earned by service.” Sounds terrific. I’ll take two weeks practically anywhere. However, when you toss in “the rest of your life,” that sounds more like retirement, which is not yet on my radar. If you insist I choose “one place” “for the rest of my life,” it would be where I live now in North San Diego County, near the beach, an easy drive to the mountains or the desert, and close to my son and longtime friends.

What’s your favorite quote or scene from A Place We Knew Well?

“How in the world have we come to this? Why now? And why here, on Florida’s front porch?”

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” ~ Dorothy Parker

Susan Carol McCarthy is the author of the new book A Place We Knew Well.

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