Interview with author Susan Strecker - Night Blindness
Today I'm welcoming debut author Susan Strecker whose here to chat about her novel Night Blindness that's getting rave reviews. Sit back and enjoy our chat, learn a little about the novelist and a little about the woman, why she started writing and how she's related to NASCAR royalty.
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/7/2014
A future as bright as the stars above the Connecticut shore lay before Jensen Reilly and her high school sweetheart, Ryder, until the terrible events of an October night left Jensen running from her family and her first love. Over the years that followed, Jensen buried her painful past, and now, married to a charismatic artist, she has created a new life far away from the unbearable secret of that night.
Read an Excerpt:
I hadn’t been able to drive at night since Will died. It came on suddenly after his funeral, a dull blurriness, as though swimming through water; the outlines of trees and houses appeared ethereal, dreamlike. Eventually, my parents took me to a pediatric ophthalmologist, who diagnosed me with nyctalopia, night blindness.
And here I was thirteen years later, driving into the sunset on my twenty-ninth birthday. Nic’s party for me had started an hour before, and I was too far from home to get back by myself.
I pulled over. Hadley was working late at Graffiti, and he answered the phone on the seventh ring.
“I’m on Hickox, near Nic’s studio,” I told him.
“Where in the world have you been?” I could hear him locking the door to his gallery. “Nico has a houseful of people waiting for you.”
“I had a modeling job.” The truth was, the session had ended hours ago, and I’d been driving through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Black Canyon, trying to go home and face the crowd of artists Nic had invited over.
Hadley sighed. “He’s going to be blazing mad you’re not there.” Hadley was from South Africa; he was always using words like blazing and bloody.
I looked out at the mountains, a deep rust in the twilight. I always felt small next to them. And all alone in the world. “I’m blind,” I said. “Please?”
“I’m coming. You’ll have the wind in your hair in mere moments, love.”
We left my car at Nic’s gallery, and I sat shotgun in Hadley’s vintage Aston Martin, holding the ocotillo frame he’d made for my birthday. It was empty, just waiting for me to finish my self-portrait. “He probably hasn’t even noticed I’m missing,” I said.
Hadley patted my knee and lit a clove cigarette. Then he pushed his foot on the gas pedal and we were driving ninety miles an hour down those high-desert roads toward my party.
The loft was lit up like a chandelier, and when we walked up the porch steps, I could see the crowd through the window: sculptors and painters, gallery owners from Sedona, studio assistants and a few models who could have been me ten years ago, when Nic was a stranger and I was just a naked girl in his sculpture studio. Except, I thought, looking in at their tanned, pierced bodies, these girls were prettier.
“The world’s come out for your birthday, love.” Hadley was on his tiptoes, peering in the window. The air smelled like sage and creosote, and I wished I could disappear, walk into that cobalt sky and become one of the stars.
“They’re really all Nic’s friends,” I said.
Hadley pushed his horn-rimmed glasses on top of his head. “Well”—he flashed me a smile—“they’re good for ouzo and pot.” He linked his arm through mine. “Come on, Jensen, let’s do this.” And we stepped into the party I’d been dreading for weeks.
“You’re here.” Nic threaded through his disciples, his shirttails untucked, and when he kissed me, his breath smelled like wine. “I was beginning to think you’d finally run away with Hadley.” If Hadley hadn’t been in love with the guy who sold me custom paints and handmade brushes, I probably would have. “I saved you a piece.” Nic held up a slice of almond cake. I wondered if he’d lit the candles and who had blown them out. “And good news.” He nodded to a skinny man across the room with black hair and a seventies collar. “Dante wants you next week.” He took a drag from the joint he was holding. “So eat up.” He pinched my belly. “He likes his girls chubby.” Dante lifted his glass to me. I’d modeled for him before. His studio was freezing. He sculpted only nudes, and I’d told Nic I didn’t want to do that anymore. I didn’t want to model at all. But, it was easier than standing at my easel, trying to finish my terrible self-portraits. “They look haunted,” Nic had told me. And he was right. It was as if my ghost were trying to emerge through a haze of earth.
“Happy birthday.” Whitney, Nic’s assistant, bumped hips with me as if we were friends. “Can I ask you a question?” Can I have sex with your husband? “Would you consider selling it?”
It took me a second to realize she was talking about the Steinway piano I was leaning against. “What? No.”
She fingered a few notes. “Nic”—she blinked her peacock eyelashes at him—“says you haven’t played since you bailed on Juilliard.”
I took a long drag off the joint Nic had handed me, hoping the slow-motion feeling would erase the awkwardness I always felt at these gatherings. “That’s not really true.…” The phone in the kitchen was ringing. I watched Whitney’s beautiful fingers move along the keyboard. Behind her, two girls at the bar were running a spoon through the buttercream icing on my cake. “Yoo hoo.” Hadley danced over in his green leather pants. “Your mama.” He handed me the cordless.
“Hey,” Nic called out to the room, “turn down the fucking music.”
I edged over to the wall and dropped onto the cracked leather sofa. “Jamie?” My parents had already wished me a happy birthday, and my mother never called me twice in one day. “What’s wrong?” I glanced at my watch. It was past midnight on the East Coast.
I patted the space next to me and Hadley plopped down. We were so low on the couch, all we could see were legs and skirts.
“Darling.” Jamie’s voice sounded far away. I saw her in her bedroom in Connecticut, playing with the phone cord, legs crossed, coconut moisturizer on her face. It was just like her to call in the middle of the night to tell me about a trip abroad with her models. “Can you talk?”
“Nic’s having some people over for my birthday. What’s up?”
Nic sat down on the other side of me and ground out his joint in a stoneware bowl I’d made in college, before I’d dropped out to be with him.
“Jensen, sweetheart, something’s happened. I need you to come home.” Jamie was forever telling me to get on the next plane.
“What’s the matter?” Hadley was picking at his fingernail polish.
“We were at Luke’s sixtieth birthday party and—” Someone put on the Beatles’ “Birthday.”
“Uncle Luke is sixty? Didn’t he just turn fifty?” My father’s best friend and I used to joke that we were psychic twins because we shared a birthday.
“Oh, honey, it’s been a long time since you’ve been home.” Hadley rolled his eyes at the phone and took a sip of wine someone had left at the table. But Jamie was right. It’d been almost two years since I’d been back to Colston, and I was suddenly homesick for the popcorn she used to cook on the stove and those old Hepburn movies we watched together. “Anyway, as we were leaving”—she hesitated just long enough for me to wonder if we’d gotten cut off—“Daddy thought he saw Will.”
“Shit.” My skin went cold. “Is he okay?”
“He’d had too much to drink. You know how he and Luke are when they get together. Between the two of them, they emptied a bottle of Chivas. And the valet who brought the car around was built like your brother and had those same soft eyes.” She said that in the wistful way she had of talking about Will.
I tucked my knees to my chin and touched the tarnished heart on my toe ring. “Getting drunk wouldn’t make him see things,” I said, wishing I’d taken the call upstairs, but it was too late now.
“Oh, honey.” She took one of her shivering breaths. “It wasn’t just that. He wasn’t himself tonight. He kept forgetting what he was saying. At first, we thought he was tipsy, but when he wouldn’t stop calling out Will’s name to that boy, we took him to the ER.”
“The ER? What the hell?” I sat up straighter, trying to clear the fuzz from my brain. Hadley quit drinking his wine, and Nic leaned in to listen.
“Jensen.” Jamie plowed over me, like she had a habit of doing. “Your father has a brain tumor.”
A strange spinning sensation hit me, and I felt sick to my stomach.
“Jensen?” she asked. “Are you still there?” I could see my dad, his flyaway wheat-colored hair, how he rubbed his nose against mine and said, “Eskimo kisses, Whobaby, so you’ll always be warm.”
“Is he going to die?”
“We don’t even know if it’s malignant.” Her voice was far away, almost dreamy. I wanted to strangle her for sounding so calm. She was probably giving herself a pedicure while we were talking. “We have the best surgeon, of course. You’ll never believe—”
“How big is it?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Ballpark it for me. Is it the size of an orange? A grape?” Why are tumors always equated to fruit?
“Just come home, honey. We’re meeting Ryder Monday morning. You can ask him about—”
My heart stopped. “Ryder?”
“Ryder Anderson,” she said. “Your brother’s best friend? That’s what I was trying to tell you. He’s a neurosurgeon at Yale now. He’s very good, a prodigy actually, and—”
“That’s crazy.” Hadley was pushing up against me, trying to hear Jamie’s voice, and Nic had his arm around me, patting my back distractedly. I wanted everyone gone, out of my house. I needed quiet. I needed to think. “None of this makes any sense.”
“I’m supposed to leave for a shoot in Brazil next week. I really need you to come home, darling.”
Over the last thirteen years that I’d stayed away, Jamie had said those words a hundred times. But she’d only gotten me there every other year or so. Now I could smell the salt air in the house where I grew up, could see those ancient goalposts my father had built in the backyard, the pictures of Will and me in the foyer, and most of all, I could see my dad standing at the head of the stairs and saying “Whobaby, come up here and give your old man a hug before I keel over from the lack of you.”
“I’ll be there tomorrow,” I told her.
After I hung up, I realized Nic was talking, asking me questions, and Hadley was saying, “Love, I think she needs a drink.”
Finally, I let Nic pull me off the couch and lead me upstairs. He sat me down on our bed and closed the door. The noise dimmed, and I stared at the ceiling, holding my tattered stuffed rabbit, Bear. I touched the space where he was missing a marble eye.
“Hey.” Nic ran his thumb down my spine. “What’d Jamie do now?”
I could smell the party on his breath. “My dad’s sick,” I said. “He has…” A brain tumor. I stared at our wedding photo on the bedside table, me barefoot on the beach in a flimsy, almost see-through dress with some Greek waiter as Nico’s best man.
“Sick sick?” he asked.
“He has…” I bit the inside of my lip. The little shot of pain was an elixir. “A tumor in his brain.” I didn’t look at him. I felt his strong hand on my back, pulling me to him. “They’re meeting the surgeon next week.” Drifting up from the party a Beau Williams song, “Walk Around Heaven,” was playing. One of these mornings won’t be very long. You’ll look for me and I’ll be gone. “I have to go.”
He smoothed my hair, and I fingered the tattooed rope around his bicep. “You don’t want to wait until you find out more? I mean, it could be—”
“It’s a brain tumor, Nico, not the flu.” I pulled away. The sound of laughter floated up the stairs. “You should go back,” I said. “Your friends are down there.” I didn’t want to cry in front of him. “I just need a minute.”
“J.,” he said. “Look at me.”
I didn’t want to. If I did, I might not go home. I might stay in Santa Fe in the strange, artsy world I’d disappeared into ten years before. He tipped my chin up, and there was nowhere else to look. His green eyes turned from the color of sea glass to a shade darker. “You want me to send Hadley up? He can always make you laugh.”
Nic stood. I watched him walk toward the door, that casual stride that said everything would be all right. Before he turned the knob, he said, “Your old man’s a tough cookie. He’ll be okay.”
While I waited for his footsteps to fade, I traced the birthmark on my forearm. I couldn’t decide if it looked like a heart or a football. In my family, they were one and the same. When I was sure Nic was downstairs, I got up and pulled my pewter jewelry box from my top dresser drawer. Sitting on the bed, I tossed aside broken necklaces, earrings with no backs, a baby tooth, woven friendship bracelets, and my acceptance letter to Juilliard. My father’s first Super Bowl ring was tucked in a corner, and I slipped it on my thumb. When I’d asked why he’d given it to me and not Will, he’d said he knew someday Will would have one of his own. At the very bottom was the worn photograph, facedown.
Lying back on the patchwork comforter, I studied the picture. Will, Ryder, and I stood three across on the overhang at Breakneck Lake the summer before Will died. Will and Ryder looked like brothers, their blond hair almost white with sun, their tanned chests newly muscled. Will was pretending to punch Ryder in the arm. I was smiling hard at the camera, the kid sister, the tagalong, my black hair wet and curly, my face so tanned that the freckles were barely noticeable. They were seventeen. They were the world. Ryder was leaning back, looking behind Will’s shoulders at me. We were perfect, the three of us, so happy. Too happy. I should have known what was coming. Turning it over, I read the date. Summer, 1996. I stared at the numbers for a long time. Eight weeks later, Will was dead.
Finally, I put the photograph back in the box next to a foil package of birth-control pills I told Nic I took but rarely did, then stuffed pants, skirts, and shirts into my old leather duffel. I grabbed a bunch of clothes from hangers, avoiding the garment bag pushed to the far wall. Inside, pressed and hidden, was the dress I loved the most: a black vintage sheath I’d worn to Ryder Anderson’s junior prom.
Hi Susan welcome to
The Reading Frenzy
Tell my readers and I about Night Blindness.
Where did the novel
idea come from?
I started writing a
version of Night Blindness when my father was in the end stages of terminal
cancer. He lived in Florida, I lived in Connecticut and his surgeon was in
Maryland. So, I moved to Florida to take
care of him. We spent almost every day together after he was diagnosed, which
was a tremendous gift in the midst of so much sadness. In the very end, he was
hospitalized in Baltimore for a month. I stayed with him, and began writing as
a way to work through my grief.
Susan, being a debut
author, these tumultuous publishing times must take a great deal of courage. So
was your first “journey” easier or more difficult than you envisioned?
I didn’t know what
to expect, so I don’t have a great basis for how difficult or easy I thought
it’d be. After I finished Night Blindness, I didn’t even know I had to query
agents, who would then pitch the manuscript to publishing houses. There are
some things in my life that if I had known how difficult they were going to be,
I might not have done them. Writing and getting published is not one of them.
Although the process was lengthy, I loved it. I spent hours at bookstores going
through my favorite books finding the names of novelists’ agents. Then I’d go
home, google the agent and learn about their submission requirements. All told,
it took a year and a half and sixty-three rejections before I got signed by the
most amazing agent ever, Lisa Gallagher.
I never expected to
make a living out of writing, so I never got discouraged. I have friends in the
industry who got very frustrated that it took so long for me to get signed.
But, it all worked out the way it was supposed to. Lisa was one of the first
agents to contact me when I started sending queries. She wrote to me herself.
Almost every other correspondence I got from other agents was from their
assistants. So that Lisa took the time to reach out to an unknown and unproven
novelist was huge. She sent me a very thoughtful letter in which she detailed
edits she thought would make it a stronger book. I spent months working on them,
and as soon as I sent her back the revamped manuscript, she signed me.
What surprised you
most about the entire process?
Again, since I never
expected to turn my love of writing into a career, I didn’t know what to expect
from both Lisa and Thomas Dunne Books. Two things did surprise me. First- Lisa
sold NIGHT BLINDNESS in ten days. She had told me that although she felt
strongly she could sell it, there were no guarantees. And friends admitted it
wasn’t uncommon for it to take more than six months for an agent to find a
publisher. Also, I had no idea I’d receive so much support from the many
fabulous people at Thomas Dunne. I have a huge team of people who amaze me
every day with their expertise. From the editor-in-chief, to my editor, digital
marketing team, copy editor, jacket cover designers, proof readers and the sales,
marketing and publicity teams. It’s astounding to me how many people are
working with me to make NIGHT BLINDNESS successful. And Lisa is my biggest advocate.
She, herself, is a skilled editor and my best sounding board. I always say the
best way to achieve success is to surround yourself with people who are smarter
than you. I’m definitely in that situation with Thomas Dunne Books and Lisa
Susan your novel is
about the death of the protagonist’s brother. You’ve also survived the tragic
deaths of your brother and father. Was writing about death albeit a different
kind, cathartic or a painful remembrance?
Writing has always been an old friend, a
constant comfort. For certain I write to work through grief and difficult
times. Writing NIGHT BLINDNESS was extremely cathartic, as I began it when my
father was terminally ill. It’s funny that you say the novel is about the death
of Will. To me, it was always about Jensen’s relationship with her dad and how
she paid homage to him when she thought she might lose him. I love that
different people take away different points from the book. That’s part of what
makes writing so fun.
Susan the last thing
I expected to learn about you from your bio was that you ran a multi-venue racetrack
that was owned by your late father that you sold in 2008 to be a full time mom.
What do you miss most about it?
In a way I don’t
miss the racetrack at all because being with my kids is, and has always been,
my top priority. It wasn’t a coincidence that I sold the track when my son was
starting school. My kids traveled with me when they were little, but as soon as
they’d have to stay home to go to school, I sold the track. We live in
Connecticut and the track is in Florida, so it was a long commute. But,
sometimes I miss the busyness of that kind of life. We put on about a thousand
events a year, and I worked with the greatest bunch of people. We had a staff
of about one hundred and fifty, including all the part-time police, paramedics
and drag staff. It was never boring and I got to meet and become friends with
racers from all over the country. My dad was a legend in the racing community
and I never met anyone who didn’t love him. I had a great ten years learning
about the racing industry and hoping I was making my dad proud.
Your dad was the
NASCAR racing great Dick Moroso and you and your brother hung out at the track
with him. Can you share a special memory about that time with us?
My brother, Rob,
drove for my father’s (then) Busch Grand National and Winston Cup teams. So, I grew
up in the transporters and garage areas at NASCAR races. Some of my happiest
memories are of just hanging out with my dad and brother at all the tracks we
went to. They both loved racing, so it was very special to me to be able to
share their passion with them. One of the best nights of all our lives was
October 29th, 1989 when after finishing third in the last race of
the Busch Grand National season, Rob won the year end championship. At the
time, he was the youngest driver ever to win the Busch Grand National
Championship. It was a great night!
Susan now that your
first novel is on the shelves, what if anything will be different about the
My second novel, Scar
Tissue, will be released in 2015. I started writing it while I was querying
agents for Night Blindness. So, I wrote the first draft before I’d met Lisa or
anyone at Thomas Dunne Books. What will be different this time around is that I
have an army of super-talented editors and copyeditors to help make the new
book the best it can be.
What are you working
I’m deep into the first draft of my as yet
unnamed third novel. It’s about a young woman who grew up as the daughter of a
NASCAR team owner, then defects camps to become a journalist who covers drag
Susan thank you so
much for taking the time to answer these questions.
Good luck with the new novel!
Thanks so much for
talking with me! I really appreciate your time.
Are there signings/events listed on your website?
Yes, there is an
Appearances tab on my website. www.susanstrecker.com
SUSAN STRECKER holds a bachelor of arts degree from Drew University and a master's in marriage and family therapy from Southern Connecticut State University. She resides in Essex, Connecticut, with her husband and two children. Night Blindness is her first novel.
Today's GoneReading item is:
“A Book Well Read” 2015 Easel-back Desk Calendar $12.95 Click HERE to buy Remember to use DEBROCKS10 for your 10% disocount