ELIZABETH MUSSER'S BIO: Elizabeth, a native of
1. You mentioned in your acknowledgments that not only is it important that God provides for our needs, but it's also important about how He provides. I agree with that. It's doubly blessed me in how He provided for my needs. He's such a God of detail! You said that "God has provided in very creative ways for you and your family on the mission field" Can you mention a time God provided in a creative way that deeply touched you and your family?
We moved to
in 1989 at the invitation of a French pastor who asked us to help him start a new church in a part of the city where there was no evangelical witness. We researched the area and decided we needed to move to that part of town, but all the apartments were too expensive for us. (We raise our monthly support which comes from churches and individuals). Then we heard that there were very good loans available for young families wanting to build a house. So we looked at land but again, nothing was possible within our budget. Our second son, Chris, had just been born and my parents were coming over to visit. My father mentioned that a woman who had lived across the street from us when I was a child had recently died and had left me something in her will. She had received my prayer letters from France years earlier, but had later become very senile. Well, I figured she’d left me about $100. France
In the meantime, as we searched for a home, the Lord put on my heart the verse from Psalm 127 “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” So we continued to pray that the Lord would provide a home for us in His way and His time.
|Our House in France|
When my parents arrived in France, my father presented me with a letter from the deceased woman’s lawyer stating that she had left me a very sizeable sum of money—exactly what we needed for a down payment on a little house! So we were able to buy a small house—we were the first missionaries in our mission who did this—and I have many wonderful stories about how the Lord used that house as a tool in our ministry in
He has surprised us with His provision time and time and time again. Wish I had more time to tell you all the stories!
2. Where would you like to see your relationship with reading groups grow? How do you think your goals can be met?
|Reading group in Canterberry|
|Reading Group in Foxtale|
I enjoy interaction with reading groups and am happy to speak to groups by phone, skype or in person. Living overseas, it is harder to organize phone calls because I am 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and often reading groups meet in the evenings, which is the middle of the night for me. So I’d like to figure out ways that I can interact—perhaps by answering a few questions ahead of time. I’d also like for the groups to be aware of all that is available on my website: discussion questions and lots of other information about my novels, updates about our ministry in
I have a recently launched fan page on FaceBook which offers photos and updates about reviews, interviews etc. and interaction with readers: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elizabeth-Musser/149546181768451#!/pages/Elizabeth-Musser/149546181768451
3. Do you learn about your book and yourself from book club meetings? If so what?
|Office where I work in France|
|View of Office from outside|
It is extremely humbling to hear positive comments about my novels from the readers’ perspective. Honestly, I at times get tingles running through me to hear that readers have been touched by my words, moved to laughter and tears, and have even drawn closer to the Lord as they contemplate the message of my stories.
I often hear that readers are also inspired by my life. That too is very humbling and a bit unbelievable to me, and it is clearly God using what I offer Him—in fear and trembling—for His glory. What an answer to my prayers. I love to tell readers that their gifts and talents too can be used in surprising ways to glorify God.
I really enjoy listening to a readers’ perspective on a character, a scene, a theme from a book.
4. Did you learn more about your characters than what you had originally intended? Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to one of your books? Characters? If so, which ones?
Many times as I am in the process of writing a novel, I find my characters doing things that surprise me—as I delve into their personalities. However, I’m careful that they remain true to themselves—so sometimes those surprising actions get edited out. As an author, I need to know a lot more about my characters than I can show in the novel—for instance, their background, their likes and dislikes, their fears, their secrets. Many of these things come out during the course of the novel, but not all. Still I need to know so that it all holds together.
Oh, I love to hear readers’ reactions to my characters! Surprised? Well, yes. In The Swan House, I have a character called Ella Mae—she is an African American who serves as a maid in the 1960s South. I felt I was very honest about the unjust way she was treated by her employers—not unkindly, but condescendingly—and I feared that the society I was describing (elite Atlanta) would not look favorably on my honest appraisal. But quite the contrary, many readers have told me, in tears, that they had an ‘Ella Mae’ in their lives and family and that I described their feelings exactly. Pure love and yet a naïve misunderstanding of racial issues. They were thankful I tackled this issue through my character.
I chuckle too at how vehemently some readers express their disdain for villains in my novels—especially Jean-Claude Gachon and Ali Boudani in my first novel, Two Crosses. But even Spalding Smith in The Sweetest Thing has gotten some very negative reactions (well deserved, I must admit!)
Mostly I hear that my readers find my characters so real and they can identify with them—and this is exactly what I want. I say that although I write inspirational fiction, ultimately what I want to communicate to my readers is the truth—and that is accomplished by creating characters with depth.
5. Has your book club experience - getting feed back from reading groups - helped you in writing future books? If so, how has it helped you?
Yes, I glean information that I can use to help me as I write future novels—hearing what readers like most about my novels. I’m all ears! Mostly, the input I get from reading groups confirms that what I am writing is being well-received by my intended audience and I should continue in my goal of writing what I call ‘entertainment with a soul.’ Probably the comments I most often receive are that my novels deal with real issues and that I depict realistic spiritual struggles in believable ways. Hearing that someone has gained a better perspective on God or been helped through a difficult period in life by my novels makes me feel all the more responsible to communicate God’s wonder and power and my characters’ need for Him in ways that depict truth.
6. Finding Hope Book Club read your book The Swan House and took a field trip to see the house. I was wondering how you came up for the idea for the story? NOTE: I’m answering questions 6 and 7 at the same time below:
7. Were you living in the
area during the turbulent time mentioned in The Swan House? Did you have similar experiences as your main characters? Or did they differ? Please explain. Atlanta
I was two years old when the
plane crash happened in June 1962, so I don’t remember the tragedy. However, I remember standing in the lobby of the Atlanta Memorial Arts building as a young girl and staring up at a stone-engraved list of names of Atlantans who perished in a plane crash. That stone marker with its long list broke my heart for it represented great human suffering. My grandmother had saved all the newspaper clippings and magazine articles about the crash—her next door neighbor was on that plane and my parents were using that neighbor’s car while she was in Orly Europe. Over the years, the tragedy continued to haunt and inspire me. This story begins with that tragic event, but it is also about where I grew up and about so many things that have made me who I am—things I have loved and things I have learned.
|Actual Swan House in Atlanta|
The experiences of a teen from a wealthy background going into the inner city were indeed mine, albeit in the 70s instead of the early 60s. I served spaghetti meals alongside my mother and the real life ‘Miss Abigail’—many people who have read The Swan House recognize ‘Miss Abigail’ and write me to tell of the impact the real-life Miss Abigail (Louise Adamson) had on their lives as they learned from her about living and serving among the needy.
The private school that Mary Swan attends is a very thinly disguised
—the school I attended, and many of the events I describe in the novel happened to me and my friends. I grew up riding horses, playing the flute, going to fancy parties—and seeing the hypocrisy in some of the things around me. Westminster
I was never in love with a ‘Carl’, but in writing the novel, I talked with an African American friend and gleaned ideas of his experiences. As I say in the acknowledgements, he helped me ‘get into’ Carl’s skin.
8. Many of your books are written about the
area which I find fun since I live here but what is the appeal for you? What's your passion for Atlanta ? Atlanta
My parents are native Atlantans. I grew up in
, spent my first 18 years there, and all of my extended family still lives there. It’s the place we come back to on our furloughs from Atlanta . France is in my blood and I find its history fascinating. It is truly a great city, and my parents have given much of their time and resources to some of the great institutions of Atlanta . Atlanta
Because I was raised in a wealthy part of
, many of my stories deal with issues of wealth and faith. Of course, I’ve been in Atlanta for almost 25 years, so I say that I write Southern fiction with a French twist! France
9. You've mentioned that you and your family are on the mission field in France for a few years at a time, then you take a short furlough and come back to the States. I have a friend that's done the same thing but she spends time in
Africa. She finds it easier to go to Africa than to come back to the States. She is overwhelmed by the fast paced living style of the Americans and by there being too many choices at the grocery store. You can't go to the store for milk, there's 2%, skim etc.
How do you feel when you come back to the States? Anything overwhelm you? Something you miss deeply and/or are glad to be reunited with? Are there things about
you adore and embrace when you go back? Do Tell? France
It is well known among missionaries that ‘reverse culture shock’ (i.e. coming home again) is harder than culture shock (moving to a new culture) and we have certainly found this true. When we moved to
France, we knew we’d have a lot of things to get used to, but coming back ‘home’ to the (which we did every two years during the summer) was a shock! We’d changed and adapted to our new culture and many things in the US seemed strange. US
I felt totally overwhelmed by the number of choices I had for everything—I can totally relate to your friend feeling overwhelmed at the grocery store. I couldn’t believe how many different types of salad dressings there were in the
! In US , we made our vinaigrette from scratch daily! And it seemed to me that Americans were always trying to make things bigger and better—that we ‘worshipped’, in a sense, the size of things. In France , houses and cars and people are smaller. The emphasis is on enjoying life—the French get 5 weeks of paid vacation a year—but not on accumulating bigger and better things. There is a saying that goes like this: Americans live to work; the French work to live. I see that as true. I love France , but I do see how there is so much pressure to live a life that is so very fast-paced. Sometimes it seems that in the church, spiritual maturity is equated not with depth and wisdom but with how many committees a person joins. America
That said, I deeply miss friends and family in
and I grieve the weddings, funerals, graduations and even smaller family events that I’ve missed by living overseas. Sometimes that is so very hard. America
I love the American optimism. The French school system (which our sons both attended from kindergarten through twelfth grade) is based on criticism and shame. I appreciate the ‘can do’ spirit of Americans and the sense of adventure and encouragement with which Americans embrace life.
When in the States, I miss French breads and cheeses and long walks on Sunday afternoons with friends. I miss walking everywhere—to the pharmacy, to get bread, to the library in our little village. I miss long, leisurely meals, simple but well prepared—always from scratch—enjoyed around the table with no rush. I miss the simpler church services and the way that most believers are very serious about their faith—it has cost them something and they know it. I miss the history, the old, old history of
Europe and the pure joy of discovering that history by walking around cities and villages which have existed for centuries—a feast for the eyes that doesn’t cost a cent.
1. What are three movies you can watch over and over again?
It’s a Wonderful Life, Gone with the Wind, Notting Hill
2. If you had the chance to hang out with two people (alive or dead) for 48 hours in the history of the world which two would you pick? and What would you do?
I would walk through the ruins of the concentration camps with Corrie Ten Boom and hear her stories again and again and learn from her more about how to hold on to faith in the midst of horror and how to forgive.
I would go with my grandmother back in time to 1930s and watch her as a teen and I would be Dobbs to her—she’d be Perri—(the two protagonists in The Sweetest Thing). I would watch her with all those boys on her front porch and then we’d talk until late at night about love and faith and friendship.
3. Name three of your favorite books of all time.
As a young girl: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
As a teen: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Forever and always: The Holy Bible—because it speaks to me daily
4. A friend of yours has a time machine and is letting you use it! What two events in the history of the world would you like to experience up close and personal?
I would love to peep into the stable in
with the shepherds on the night our Savior was born and I would love to hear Jesus teaching—in person, perhaps as He shared the sermon on the Mount. But especially, I’d love to be able to walk beside Him on those dusty roads and just soak in His presence. Bethlehem
I Loved your book The Sweetest Thing - I think your book speaks to us in this economic down time as all things seem to be shaken. Getting to know the sweetest things in life is important. It's also very important to keep the main thing, the main thing even though things might look grim! Jesus is the same today and always. Something to hang on to! I enjoyed how you showed in your new book that God is creative in how he provides for our needs, not necessarily out wants. The Sweetest Thing is definitely going on my book clubs pick list. Your story touched me deeply, and was fun to read about Atlanta in the 1930's as well. All the best to you in your writing adventures.
I was THRILLED to catch up with at the ICRS conference and learn about your writing adventures and how life is in France. I know that you will be returning to France again soon. I hope to catch up with you on-line! It's a blessing to know you!
The Book Club Network
CONGRATS to Betsy on winning a copy of Elizabeth's new book. Thanks to Bethany house for the Giveaway and THANKS Elizabeth for letting us get to know you better.
Until next time.
Until next time.
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