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Powell’s Q&A: Susanna Daniel

Describe your latest book.
My second novel, Sea Creatures, spans one summer in the lives of Georgia Quillian, her parasomniac husband, Graham (more on parasomnia later), and their three-year-old son, Frankie, who has recently stopped verbalizing. Like Stiltsville, my first novel, Sea Creatures is set partially at a house built on stilts in the middle of Biscayne Bay, where Georgia works as a personal assistant for a reclusive artist named Charlie Hicks. As Graham's new work and personal limitations pull him away from them, Georgia and Frankie come to depend on Charlie's steadfast attention and Stiltsville's remote beauty. Also, there's a really big hurricane.

Why do you write?
I've said before that I believe writers are, for the most part, hermits at heart. I live with two young children and another adult, my husband, and I adore all of them — but if I didn't hole up in my office and write for hours at a time, how would I justify spending so much time alone with my private obsessions and daydreams?

Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
I've really loved Rome, Friday Night Lights, The Americans. But for me, great shows and most-loved shows are not always the same thing. The two shows I recall most fondly are both artistically uneven, and both were a little heavy on schmaltz — but both are full of smart, passionate writing and very relatable characters: Sex and the City and Judging Amy. The final episode of SATC, which demonstrates how each woman matured in her own particular way, slayed me. And as Judge Amy (as I call her), Amy Brenneman made working motherhood look harried and unsatisfying but also redeemed by small, precious wins.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
My earworms:

From Andre Dubus's pitch-perfect "A Father's Story," an imagined conversation between the Catholic narrator, who has done something for which he cannot forgive himself, and his God:

So, He says, you love her more than you love Me.

I love her more than I love truth.

Then you love in weakness, He says.

As You love me, I say, and I go with an apple or carrot out to the barn.

And the author's dedication from a terrific book for kids called I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry, which gets me every time I read it: "For my parents, who were always the biggest thing in my ocean."

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
The ideal breakfast is an egg and cheese burrito with salsa and avocado and hot sauce, and the best version I've ever tasted was at a dive in the Castro, circa 1999.

In Sea Creatures, Georgia is an insomniac, her husband, Graham, is a parasomniac, and they meet at a sleep clinic. Why did you want to write about sleep disorders?
For two reasons. One is that my own insomnia has waxed and waned since I was 21 years old. I've learned a slew of coping strategies (as has my husband), and at this point my insomnia barely bleeds into my daytime life at all. But still I feel the sulking fear that my manageable insomnia might one day erupt into a full-blown sleep disorder, the way minor drug use can break out into a full-blown addiction, putting at risk my family, my work, and my sanity.

Second, I was inspired by a monologue I heard a few years ago on the Moth Radio Hour on NPR, by a comedian named Mike Birbiglia, who has since starred in a film adaptation of that monologue called Sleepwalk with Me. The monologue is a comic take on a parasomniac's struggle — the night terrors and sleepwalking and even one dramatic event that inspired me to write a similar event into my book. It left me wondering: In all seriousness, what would it be like to be married to a parasomniac? Sea Creatures puts that situation under a microscope.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
About a year after my first novel came out, I was coming around to the fact that I wanted to write an entire novel about a character who was briefly introduced at the tail end of Stiltsville: a man known as the hermit, based on a real person who lived at Stiltsville full-time. At the Miami Book Fair in 2011, a woman who waited in line to have her book signed pulled three photographs out of her purse — all showed a younger version of herself in a bikini with a man on the porch of the real hermit's stilt house. As it turned out, she'd spent much of the 1980s visiting the freewheeling hippie, who left Florida after Hurricane Andrew and went to Brazil to live in another form of semi-solitude. Those photos, and the effort she made to show them to me — this was a big nudge from the universe, and I went on to write Sea Creatures.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I've never met anyone who didn't agree with me that Michelle Wildgen's novels are the real thing: smart, super compelling, and funny. Her first two, You're Not You and But Not for Long are nimble and fast paced, and her third, Bread and Butter, is a witty and atmospheric novel about brotherhood and restaurant culture, which I was fortunate to read in advance of its publication in the spring of 2014. Usually I tell people to start with the first, You're Not You, because then they can feel like they've gotten in on something big from the very start.

Five great preschool books you won't mind reading ad nauseam:
Animalia by Graeme Base
Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins
The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson
The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown
The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen

÷ ÷ ÷

Born and raised in Miami, Susanna Daniel received her MFA at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and was a Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She is the author of Stiltsville and Sea Creatures.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Sea Creatures
    Used Hardcover $7.95
  2. The Circus Ship
    New Hardcover $16.99
  3. The Snail and the Whale
    New Trade Paper $6.99
  4. The Little Island (Dell Picture... Used Trade Paper $3.50
  5. Hooray for Fish With DVD Used Trade Paper $6.95
  6. Animalia
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  7. Bread and Butter Used Hardcover $17.95
  8. But Not for Long
    New Trade Paper $22.00
  9. You're Not You: A Novel New Trade Paper $18.00
  10. I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean
    Used Hardcover $12.95
  11. Selected Stories (Vintage... Used Trade Paper $8.95

Susanna Daniel is the author of Sea Creatures

One Response to "Powell’s Q&A: Susanna Daniel"

    Ashley July 29th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    LOVED Stiltsville and can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Sea Creatures! Perfect summer read!

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