How did you come up for the idea for this story? It’s one that is haunting but so needed to be told?

I read an article a couple of years ago about a woman who was petitioning a Massachusetts court to exonerate her great-times-eight grandmother. This relative of hers convicted of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, was released when the hysteria ended, but whose name was never cleared. Reading the article brought back memories of reading The Crucible in high school and being in a play called “To Burn A Witch” when I was in junior high. The men and women hung in Salem in 1692 were all later declared innocent. They died proclaiming devotion to God and refusing to confess to an allegiance with Satan, even though a confession would have kept them from execution. That is remarkable to me. And there was a story there to be told. Heroism is always story-worthy.

The Shape of Mercy - Was that the original title for this book? If not, what was the working title?

This book was The Shape of Mercy before I had written one word. I am so glad WaterBrook liked it and let me keep it. There’s double meaning behind the title that some people pick up on some don’t. The more obvious meaning is that the virtue we call mercy has a shape and that shape is sacrificial love. This plays itself out in the story in the life and death of Mercy Hayworth, the fictional character I concocted who wrote a diary during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. The more subtle reason for the title is based on the kind of evidence used early in the trials. The people accused of witchcraft were often said to have appeared to those they were victimizing in an ethereal form to torment them. No could see these apparitions or “shapes” except the afflicted, so it was impossible for the accused - who were all later found innocent - to refute. This “spectral evidence” was later outlawed in the courtroom but not until 19 people had been falsely accused and executed. In my story, a young woman claims that the shape of Mercy Hayworth appeared in her room to torture her. It wasn’t true of course, and neither were the many historic un-provable and un-refutable sightings.

This was a heavy topic to write about, what was your preparation like for this book ?

Writing about the Salem Witch Trials wasn’t easy, but there was a wealth of information to turn to so I didn’t struggle for lack of data. Copies of all the original court documents are available on the Internet and I read several books written by gifted historians so I had far more information than I could use in the diary sections of the book. I wrote Mercy’s diary first, before writing a word of Lauren’s story. I knew Lauren would be learning things about herself and how she viewed the world through the pages of the diary, so for me, the diary had to already exist.

Some writers plot out what they are going to write step-by-step and others say they write by the seat-of-their-pants, which style of writing best describes your writing style?

I like to say that I outline by the seat of my pants. I do careful planning upfront and I plot out the chapters with one-sentence summaries. I prepare biographical sketches before I write so that I feel like I know my characters inside and out as we begin. But as the story evolves, these people always surprise me. The one-sentence summaries I start out with are not often what I end up with. I usually make several new outlines during the course of writing. The good thing about these changing outlines, though, is they keep me writing. The outlines give me destinations to shoot for. I don’t usually have any panicked “Now what?” moments.

Was Mercy’s diary real?

No. The events she writes about are real, and many of the people she refers to are people who actually lived.

What emotions rose up in you when you read the diary or accounts similar to your character?

The thing is, Mercy writes about what happens when we let fear and group-think tell us how to look at people. We have to train ourselves to see people the way God sees people. Having that kind of vision takes incredible discipline because our nature is not to see things like He does. Jesus said he had only two expectations of us, Love God, love everyone else. When we love God first and completely, we find the grace, mercy and wisdom to love the rest of the world. To love is to defer. When we can see others needs as more important than our own, we are loving them.

Here’s one of your discussion questions that I wanted to ask you The Shape of Mercy is a story about choices, stigma, and preconceived notions. In the light of these themes, what did you discover about yourself?

I saw myself often in Lauren as the story revealed how she truly didn’t want to judge people but she did. She just did. We all do. We see a homeless man begging on the streets and we make all kinds of assumptions about how he got there and what he would do if we reached out to help him. We see a pregnant teenager or an obese child or a woman wearing diamonds and Jimmy Choos and we assume the teenager has no morals, the child has no restraint and the woman is wealthy and therefore has no worries. We believe these things because the crowd tells us it’s so. Jumping to conclusions seems to permeate culture, regardless of the generation. Whatever the crowd says, we too easily believe.

What was the hardest scene for you to write in The Shape of Mercy? Why?

Even though it is clear from the beginning that Mercy will not escape the hangman’s noose, it was still hard to write those last few entries of her diary. There could be no eleventh-hour rescue for her; I couldn’t even entertain that thought because this was always going to be a story about what we learn when we give everything for love – even our very lives.

What was the easiest? Why?

The easiest was writing about Mercy and John Peter in the chicken coop, when she is gathering eggs for him and it is so obvious they are falling in love with each other.

What was your favorite scene to write in The Shape of Mercy? Why?

It is hard to pick just one, but definitely among my most favorite is the scene when Lauren visits her father in the hospital and she realizes what she has always wanted, she has always had.

Do you have a choice in picking a book cover for your books? The one for The Shape of Mercy is very intriguing. I was just wondering.

I am asked for my ideas on what elements I’d like to see in a cover before the art department starts to work on one. I knew for this book I wanted some kind of image of Mercy or colonial America on the cover to evoke a sense of the past melding with the current day. I love the cover WaterBrook came up with. I knew the moment I saw it, that it was perfect.

Had you always known you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve found that most writers don’t realize they want to be one, they realize they are one. They are restless communicators who must process life by writing about it. I’ve been writing since learning the alphabet. Here I am with my ninth grade English teacher who was an inspiration to me.
If not, how did you start writing books?

The books came later! I was afraid, for many years, that if I wrote a book, no one except my family would want to read it. But there finally came a time – in 2002, actually - when I decided I’d rather live with rejection than regrets. I am so glad I took the risk . . .

Can you give us a sneak peek into what project you are working on now? When do you expect it to be released?

In October, my next book with WaterBrook will hit the shelves. It’s called White Picket Fences and it’s about a family who appears to have the iconic, perfect life: good jobs, beautiful house in the ‘burbs, financial security, two nice kids, and a cocker spaniel. And because they like this perfect image, when there is something ugly to be dealt with, no one wants to address it. To do so would shatter the illusion that everything is fine. But of course, you can only live that way for so long before that kind of delusion will destroy what’s real. I spend 400 pages forcing this family to deal with it. Here I am with my fabulous editor Shannon Marchese.


You have the opportunity to use a time machine and go to any part of history of the world (even your own), where would you go and why?

I would like to get beamed to the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve messed everything up. I’d like to see what the world was like before it was corrupted, when it was still in its perfect, created state.
But I would want some clothes on. . .

IF you had 48 hours to hang out with any two people alive or dead in the history of the world what two people would you pick and what would you do?

Jonah would be a good interview. No one else has been inside a whale and lived to tell about it.

I would also like to chat with Eve and ask her why in the world did she listen to a talking snake? I mean, come on. A snake that talked? Did any of the other animals talk? Didn’t she find that a little weird?
You have just discovered a magic lamp and the genie would like to grant you three wishes. What are your three wishes?

1. Lovely spouses and rewarding careers for my children
2. A quick painless death when my time comes
3. World peace!

You are in a life threatening situation and you need someone to save you. You can pick anyone you desire. (It can be a cartoon character, character from a book, movie etc. the sky is the limit be creative).

Christian Bale as Batman

What are your two favorite places to shop?

Whole Foods & any book store

What movies impacted your life as a kid?

The Sound of Music and Rogers & Hammerstein’s’ Cinderella

What is the last movie you saw in the movie theater?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Did you like it?
I did!

What goodies did you have while watching the movies?


When you were growing up what TV shows were you most passionate about? You know the ones you couldn’t miss each week.

Lost In Space, The Brady Bunch, The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, I Dream of Jeanie, Flipper, The Monkees, and Here Come the Brides (the bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle. . . )

If you didn’t watch TV, what were some of your favorite books read as a child?

All the Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary books

You’ve just won a free breakfast and dinner to the restaurant of your choice, cost is not an issue. Where is your favorite place to have breakfast? What would you order?

Café au lait and a croissant at any quaint sidewalk café in Paris

What is your favorite place for dinner? What would you order?

There’s this really cool restaurant in the piazza in Florence where the statue of Neptune is. That’s my favorite place! I want the penne with porcini mushrooms.

Someone has just created a machine that will change ONE thing about you. First of all would you use the machine? Second of all if you decide to use the machine what would you change? What would that change look like in your life.

I would use it only to change my metabolism back to the way it was when I was twenty and could eat whatever I wanted. I totally promise that I would not become a glutton and eat, like, three pieces of cheesecake at one sitting, if this were to happen. I would just eat one. But it wouldn’t show ANYWHERE on my body afterward. So, it wouldn’t change how I eat (I would still be dainty), just what happens to me when I eat!! I like cooking, baking, serving food, sharing a meal, entertaining with food, watching the Food Network. This constant diligence over fun ingredients like cream and sugar and butter and chocolate is a drag. . .


I love hearing from readers. Come visit me at my website and drop me a note. If you liked The Shape of Mercy, you might want to know that I’ve created a blog that allows the storyline to continue. You can find it HERE: The characters write the posts and it's as if time has not stopped for them. I am enjoying letting Lauren, Abigail and the others live on and continue to speak to me.

Thanks Susan for stopping by today and sharing your family photo and other personal photos with us. I'm excited about the ACFW On-Line Book Club chat. Discussion of The Shape of Mercy will start on April 20th. For those of you that would like to join us you still have time.HERE

I look forward to chatting with you on line soon. Blessings on your writing. Hey everyone Susan is giving away a SIGNED COPY of her book if you leave a comment about the interview below. I will run this contest until right BEFORE we start discussing her book on-line with the ACFW book club (APRIL 19th - Drawing on APRIL 20th).
Until Then
Nora :D

.****DISCLAIMER: Entering the give away is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.Void where prohibited; open only to U.S. residents, odds of winning depend on number of entrants****


  1. Hi both, great interview. I've heard wonderful things about The Shape of Mercy, Susan. I'd love a copy.


    Author of My Hands Came Away Red

  2. Lisa, I can't wait to discuss your book, which was an excellent framed story! White Picket Fences sounds really interesting as well.
    Thanks for inspiring so many...readers and writers!

  3. I am excited to read Susan's book. She is a fabulous writer. ONe another note, this is the cutest blog interview--with all your fun images to go with Susan's answers--way to go!

  4. Thanks for the great interview! I'm dying (not literally, of course) to read this book!!!

    Thanks for opportunity!
    catbry1 at yahoo dot com

  5. A very interesting and unique christian book idea! To be punished by death for practicing witchcraft and all the while claiming God instead of denying Him to maintain their earthly lives. Sounds like a good read! Thanks for this informative interview! Blessings! Kelly

  6. Great interview and the book sounds terrific. I would love a copy of the book.


  7. I'm a big Susan Meissner fan--love her as a friend and love her books! The Shape of Mercy is different than her previous books, with a gripping, heart-rending story and exquisite writing. This dear lady deserves every award she's won!

  8. Susan,

    I loved all your answers. Except for the fact that I can't write, we may have been separated at birth.

    Can't wait to read The Shape of Mercy and White Picket Fence.


  9. This sounds like a great book, as it is a part of history I am not that familiar with. Please add my name to your contest.

    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  10. Great interview! I would love a chance to read this book. It sounds wonderful! Please enter me in the contest. My email address is shryackmom[@]charter[.]net

  11. What a grand interview. I was surprised how much in common we have on the surface. And I relate to her first fear of writing a book. I have been encouraged to write a book since I was in my twenties but fear really attacks me at the idea.

    No need to enter me in the contest as I purchased "Shape of Mercy" right after I read "Blue Heart Blessed." Cannot wait for "White Picket Fences." The premise sounds so intriguing.


  12. I often check out author interviews but don't read the entire thing. This one I read! Thanks to you both for keeping it lively.

    The Shape of Mercy reminds me of our visit to Salem, Massachusetts several years ago. I'd love to see how Susan frames this story. Sign me up, please.

  13. Great interview, very well thought out. The book sounds like a compelling read so could you please add me to your contest? thanks


    mystylee at bigpond dot com

  14. I have not read anything by Susan Meissner yet but I do have several of her books on my wish list and this is one of them. What a compelling interview Nora, you are really gifted! Susan, you are such an interesting lady, I loved your answers. Blessing to both of your ministries!
    cmrobin at bellsouth net

  15. Thanks for all your lovely comments! Blessings back to you all. Nora, thanks for the chat!

  16. Wow, what a great interview, Nora! I'm like Susan, I love Raisnets, too.

  17. Love the interview! Sounds like a great book! Can't wait to read it.

    Gail Mundy

  18. Loved the interview of Susan Meissner. I have tried to win this book, "The Shape of Mercy" several times now (I think this is my 4th time to try to win it!)

    I really relate to what Susan said, "I was afraid, for many years, that if I wrote a book, no one except my family would want to read it. But there finally came a time – in 2002, actually - when I decided I’d rather live with rejection than regrets. I am so glad I took the risk." - -wow, that is soo inspiring! Thank you Susan for sharing a part of yourself with us all.


    lucieluvsca [at] yahoo [dot] com

  19. Great interview! I can't wait to read the book. Please enter me in the contest. Thanks.


    light stone writer [at] mac dot com

  20. The books sounds great! Please sign me up for the contest! I would love a copy!


  21. I enjoyed the interview and would love to be added to your list of names for the giveaway. The book sounds very interesting! Thank you!



  22. Nora,

    Great interview. Yours are always fun to read. I loved her answer about visiting with Jonah.

    Please include me. I really want to read this one.


  23. Terrific interview, ladies! I would LOVE to win a signed copy of this wonderful book. Thanks for the opportunity.


  24. I remember reading The House of Seven Gables when my sister read it when we were younger. Very interesting!

  25. Thanks for introducing me to this wonderful author. I look forward to reading her books.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win one too!


  26. I hope I'm not too late for the contest. I would love to receive a copy of this book.

  27. I need to read this book before I meet you at the conference next month. Thanks for sharing Susan, and I look forward to learning a lot more about you.

  28. I have read all of Susan's books,and totally enjoyed getting to know her better in this interview!

    Thanks for including me in the contest.

  29. Hey Nora:

    Awesome interview as always!! I would love to read Susan's newest book. You know I'm not much into history, but the Salem Witch Trials have always interested me. I would love to get a personal insight into them.

    Oh, please enter me in for the drawing. Thanks -

    Chris Gant

  30. I put all the names in the hat. My daughter picked a name and it's SANDY!!

    CONGRADULATIONS YOU'VE WON a signed copy of The Shape of Mercy.

    Susan Meissner will be contacting you really soon.

    Blessings on your day.

    Nora :D