Thursday, July 9, 2015

Interview with author Susan Crandall – The Flying Circus

Please welcome veteran author Susan Crandall to the blog. She's talking about her new release The Flying Circus. But did you know she won a RITA for her first novel Back Roads.

ISBN: 13:9781476772141
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books
Release Date: 07/07/2015
Length:368 pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/Audible/IndieBound

SIBA 2015 Summer Okra Pick
Booklist Summer Reading Pick
Pulpwood Queens Book Club Pick for 2015


From the bestselling and award-winning author of Whistling Past the Graveyard comes an adventure tale about two daredevils and a farm boy who embark on the journey of a lifetime across America’s heartland in the Roaring Twenties.
Set in the rapidly changing world of 1920s America, this is a story of three people from very different backgrounds: Henry “Schuler” Jefferson, son of German immigrants from Midwestern farm country; Cora Rose Haviland, a young woman of privilege whose family has lost their fortune; and Charles “Gil” Gilchrist, an emotionally damaged WWI veteran pilot. Set adrift by life-altering circumstances, they find themselves bound together by need and torn apart by blind obsessions and conflicting goals. Each one holds a secret that, if exposed, would destroy their friendship. But their journey of adventure and self-discovery has a price—and one of them won’t be able to survive it.
Read an Excerpt:

May 1923
Disaster lived by its own rules. Most times it crept up from behind, wiping out everything with a single blow, a bully and a coward. Lightning strikes. Train wrecks. Someone shoots an archduke and starts a bloody war. But disaster had veered from its sneaky, obliterating path with the Schuler family. It had taken them down one finger flick at a time. First baby Marie. Then Ma. Then Peter. Finally, Pa. For the past five years, Henry had been the last Schuler standing.
And now disaster had come for him. For the second time its ugly hands had shoved Henry out of his own life. At least it hadn’t taken him down. Not yet. At least this time he wasn’t a powerless boy. He was an eighteen-year-old man. He could choose. Running was wrong, a coward’s way. And maybe he was—as much of a coward as that bully disaster. But it was either run or die.
Since he’d been orphaned, Henry had been living on a farm with Anders Dahlgren, his wife, and seven daughters. During those years the second eldest, Emmaline, had convinced many folks he was a deceitful, untrustworthy boy. If he had stayed, all anyone would see was his aggressive, hateful German-ness. All anyone would hear were the echoes of Emmaline’s claims. Justice might be blind, but it heard plenty.
The fresh scratches and bruises were even more damning than his heritage or his reputation.
Even Mr. Dahlgren couldn’t save him now. Wouldn’t even try. Not when Henry had betrayed him in the worst way imaginable. That thought just about tore out Henry’s heart.
He walked along the river in step with a heavy-booted chant in his mind: Kill ’im. Kill ’im. Kill Heinrich the Hun—words his schoolmates had hurled like stones at his back during the Great War. Unlike the taunting of grade school, this time the threat was as real as the dirt under his feet. The only thing behind him was a noose.
After a day and a half on deer trails and farm paths, he’d probably traveled far enough no one would recognize him. He crawled out of the bramble beside a covered bridge, crouching like the animal he felt himself becoming—dirty, hungry, desperate—and looked to make sure no one was in sight before he stepped onto the road. The second his feet hit the packed, rutted dirt, he felt naked and defenseless. All animals have to come out sooner or later or they’ll starve to death. Every hunter knew that. Probably every lawman, too.
By midmorning, Henry hadn’t seen a single solitary soul on that road. Maybe his luck was changing. He breathed some easier. The past was done. Finished. Gone. From here on, he’d only look toward the future. Toward Chicago. The Cubs. Yeah, he’d think about the Cubs. Peter, his older brother, had been crazy about the Cubs. He and Henry used to huddle over the weekly paper Pa splurged on, memorizing players and statistics. At first Henry had only done it to be with Peter. Before long, he, too, was standing on the front porch waiting for Pa to arrive with the paper.
He spent some time thinking about what Cubs Park—it had been called Weeghman Park when he and Peter had started following the Cubs—would look like. It could seat fifteen thousand people. He’d never been in a town with fifteen thousand souls all totaled. He was trying to imagine that many people all in one place at one time—the jostle of bodies packed shoulder to shoulder, the swirl of smells coming off that many different sorts of folks, the noise—when he heard the clatter of tack and the roll of a wagon behind him.
As the plodding hooves and rumbling wheels got closer, Henry’s skin drew up prickly and his privates tried to crawl up into his belly. His feet wanted to light out. A new chant filled his head. Steady. Steady. They don’t know me . . . don’t know me . . . don’t know me . . . don’t know me.
The road was barely wide enough for a pair of mules to walk side by side, so he moved to the weeds for the wagon to pass. Three steps in, he flushed out a rabbit, sending it skittering across the road and his heart nearly shooting out of his mouth.
As the mule team pulled past, he moved his lips into a strawboard smile. A little boy with red hair under a beat-up straw hat looked down, smiled, and waved. He was missing his two front teeth. Something in that kid’s earnest smile made Henry feel as if he’d lost something he’d never get back. What, exactly, he couldn’t say since he’d lost most everything that meant anything by the time he was twelve.
He raised a hand and kept that mock smile on his face, thinking innocent thoughts, hoping they’d shine through his eyes.
He braced for recognition; waited for the man to look at him, stand, and glare down, pointing a damning finger of accusation. But the boy’s pa stayed put on that creaky wagon bench, slump-shouldered with his hat pulled low. He didn’t even glance Henry’s way. Every line of the man’s posture reminded Henry of his pa, completely used up by life. Henry felt a stab of pity for the kid and hoped to high heaven his life took an easier road than Henry’s had. He continued to put one shaky foot in front of the other until the wagon and the dust it kicked up rolled out of sight. Then the dry heaves grabbed him. He bent over and braced his hands on his knees until they passed.
How was he going to live a life on the run if he threw up every time a stranger approached? He had to convince himself of his innocence before he could convince anyone else.
After a while he came to a little town that either didn’t matter enough to name, or nobody had bothered to post a sign to let folks know what it was. It sat on a straight shot of road and had about a dozen houses, most of them peeling and tired. T’s of utility poles ran down the right side of the unpaved street, draping lines to the buildings like Chautauqua banners. The brick sidewalk started at a two room school that reminded him of the one he and Peter had gone to, with tall windows and a bell tower over the double front door (damn few happy memories there). After that was a feed store, a white-painted church (services at nine o’clock and six thirty on Sunday, seven o’clock on Wednesday evenings), Castetter’s Grocery and Variety, a brick-andlimestone bank, and a grain elevator.
Best to just walk right through, not too fast. Meet people’s eyes. The visible bruise at his temple would probably draw attention. His fingers went there, prodded the soreness. If asked, he’d just pile on another lie.
Back when disaster ended his first life, Henry had picked a fake name to dodge those mealymouthed, do-gooder welfare folks who would have sent him to the County Home—a hulking brick place filled with orphans, kids whose families couldn’t afford to feed them, and thrown-away old people. A nice patriotic-sounding American name that wouldn’t draw the suspicious looks his German name did: Henry Jefferson. But Anders Dahlgren had come to take him in, fully aware that Henry was a Schuler. Now that the law was after him, Henry Jefferson was who he would be.
There weren’t many people around this nameless town. A couple of kids played marbles in the dirt. A horse-drawn delivery wagon sat in front of Castetter’s. A woman rocked on a front porch, shelling early peas into the apron on her lap. Two babies crawled around her feet. She looked as tired as Henry felt and didn’t give him a second glance. When he passed the feedstore, an old guy wearing overalls was leaning in the doorway. He eyed Henry long enough that the urge to run washed over him, but he put one foot steadily in front of the other. He even managed an I’ve-got-nothing-tohide wave. At first the man only stared. Then he gave a slow nod. Henry kept going, counting his steps until the sidewalk stopped as abruptly as it began.
The scenery rolled back into farmland and the town disappeared. The hours came and went, step after step, thirst, hunger. He welcomed the exhaustion and numbness, it made it easier to forget the horror of what he’d left behind. He kept himself going by listening to the regular rhythm of his pants legs rubbing against each other.
The sun had slipped into late afternoon when his feet decided to stop. He blinked, somewhat surprised to find himself in the middle of a crossroad. A crow cawed overhead, a harsh, unwelcoming sound. A single dove sat on the wire strung from pole to pole alongside the road, its mournful hoo-ah hoo-hoo-hoo making him feel more alone than he ever had in his life.
He wished he knew how far he’d gone. But this Indiana road was the same as all of the others he’d crossed, marked by more horse hooves and wagon wheels than automobile tires, passing through a rotating kaleidoscope of woods tangled with grapevine, fields sprouting green shoots of corn, and grassy pastures dotted with spring clover and livestock. This was the only landscape he’d ever known. From the newspapers he knew Chicago was crowded and noisy, full of mobsters and speakeasies. He reckoned he’d just have to get used to the idea of a world filled with brick and stone, noise and people. He was really going to miss green meeting blue on every horizon.
As he stood there sluggishly debating whether to continue west or turn north, a muted buzz vibrated the air. A mechanical buzz. And it was approaching. Too deep for an automobile. Closing in too fast to be a tractor. His curiosity kept him from diving for the weeds and hiding. It got louder, stealing deep into Henry’s bones. When he set eyes on the airplane overhead, something fluttered to life in his chest. It was a beauty for sure; stacked wings and throaty roar against the blue sky. He’d only seen airplanes in pictures, and those pictures hadn’t been able to fill his heart with the raw power of that thrumming motor.
His mechanic’s hands itched to tinker with those valves and pistons.
Suddenly, the plane rolled to its right and made a U-turn, heading back the way it had come. He stood there wishing it would turn around again.
And then it did.
Well, if I’d known there was a wish to be granted, I’d have made better use.
The plane skimmed low over the far side of the broad cow pasture on Henry’s right.
Then he noticed something else. Below the plane. Matching its speed.
He shaded his eyes and squinted. A motorcycle tore along at breakneck speed, bouncing on the rough ground, looking as if it were bucking to throw off the rider, who was leaning forward over the handlebars.
A tree row stood about two hundred yards ahead of the motorcycle and the plane. Who would blink first?
The plane stayed lower than the treetops, edging just ahead of the motorcycle.
The motorcycle did not let up.
Even if the plane pulled up now, it looked to be too late.
“No, no, no, no, no!” Henry jumped over the water-filled ditch, vaulted over the wire fence. He felt caught in a dream, his body moving unnaturally slowly, the pasture growing wider as he ran.
Just when he thought the plane was going to hit the trees, it pulled up with a mighty roar, nose nearly straight up in the air.
The motorcycle disappeared into the tree line. The crashing sound rolled across the field. The engine whined high, as if the wheels had left the ground.
The plane’s drone moved away.
Henry ran faster. He ducked and swatted through trees and scrub where the motorcycle had left a trail of broken branches and flattened weeds. It was on its side, front wheel bent, handlebar plowed deep in the mud beside a large pond.
The rider?
There! Facedown in the water.
Henry splashed into the pond, praying it wasn’t deep; he could keep himself from drowning, but that was about it. The water dragged on his clothes. Each step in the muddy bottom was harder to pull free than the last. Once chest deep, he stretched his reach, but fell short.
The rider’s head jerked up. Sputtering, he flailed.
Henry lunged forward to grab the collar of the leather jacket, but missed.
“Hold still!” He took another step and slipped under as the bottom fell away under his feet. When he bobbed back up, an elbow caught him in the eye. A foot landed a kick on his right thigh.
“Stop moving! I’ll ggg—” Water splashed into Henry’s open mouth and shot down his gullet. He coughed and grabbed blindly for the rider.
He dodged an arm and managed to get one of his own wrapped around the man’s waist and half swam, half drowned, back to where he could set his feet on the bottom. The body beneath the leather jacket felt more like a fourteen-year-old than a man.
Now that he was towing a thrashing body, Henry’s feet sank deeper into the bottom.
The choking, gasping kid kept fighting and Henry almost lost his grip.
“I have you!” Henry pulled one foot from the mud and nearly went under again.
He shifted his grip to the collar of the leather jacket. His chances of staying on his feet were better dragging a floating body, even if it was flopping like a banked bass. He leaned away and pulled the boy behind him, one sucking step at a time.
By the time they reached the edge of the pond, the floundering stopped. The boy gasped for air. Henry’s legs were lead. He let go of the jacket and fell to the ground himself, muscles burning, heart ready to explode. He lay on his back sucking air into his starved lungs, listening to the kid cough and wheeze.
A couple of minutes later, Henry was still getting his breath when a curious cow stepped close and looked down at him. A long string of drool hung from her lips. Henry put up a hand and swatted her away, realizing too late that if he startled her, her next step could be in the center of his chest.
The cow didn’t move, but the drool let go and landed in a slimy plop on Henry’s forehead. He swiped at it, but the snotty stuff just smeared.
The cow blinked her huge brown eyes and mooed. Henry was pretty sure she was laughing at him.
“Oh, shut up, Tilda.” The rider’s voice was gaspy and graveled from coughing.
Henry took the kid’s ability to speak—and his sense of humor—as good news. “You know this cow?”
“She’s a”—he coughed and spat—“a troublemaker.” The boy pushed himself to sitting.
“Careful! Something might be broken.”
“Nah.” The boy was still breathing hard as he rotated wrists and bent elbows and knees to make sure. “Just got the wind knocked out.” He pulled off his gloves and swiped some of the mud from his cheek before reaching for the buckle on his leather helmet.
“Sure you’re okay?” Henry’s own eye throbbed. He figured it for a shiner.
The cow walked between them and stepped into the pond. Henry dodged, but her flitting tail caught his cheek. “You’ve got a real sassy attitude there, Tilda.”
The kid laughed, then started coughing again.
There was a whir as the plane, now on the ground, bumped along the rough pasture coming toward them. The propeller and engine sounded different from when it was airborne. Henry looked through the trees, eyes and heart drawn to the machine. The plane swung sideways before the engine shut off. It took a second for the propeller to come to a jerky stop.
Henry got up and went to get a better look. He might never see an airplane again. A clump of green leaves stuck in the tail skid. That pilot couldn’t have cut it any closer.
“Dear God, is he okay?” the pilot shouted. He was out of the plane by the time Henry reached the wingtip. The man’s leather helmet was in one hand and his goggles hung around his neck. His face was sooty. He looked like a reverse raccoon.
“Says he is.” Henry heard the pilot thrash through the trees behind him, but kept his eyes on the plane, listening to the pops and clicks as it began to cool. The upper wing had a wider span than the lower; the two were tied together with wood poles and a whole lot of wires and turnbuckles. The entire plane looked as if it were held together by wires running in all sorts of angles, above the wing, between the wings, between the body and the tail. The purpose of the half-circle hoops under the tips of the bottom wings was a mystery.
He reached out slowly, laying his fingertips reverently on the gray fabric of the wing.
“Damned idiot!” the pilot shouted. “You could have gotten yourself killed!”
“Pretty smart talk from a fella who’d rather crash his plane than lose a race!”
That voice sounded even younger than Henry had thought.
“You’re the one who crashed—” The pilot’s words cut off. “Ho-ly hell.”
Henry turned. The kid had pulled off the leather helmet and was standing with hands on hips. Not a kid. A girl . . . with a long, brown braid . . . wearing trousers and lace-up knee boots . . . racing like the devil on a motorcycle.
“What?” she asked, raising her chin. “Embarrassed to be beaten by a woman?”
“The one whose machine ends up mangled after a tie is the loser,” the pilot said. “And a fool to boot.”
“You both look like idiots to me,” Henry said as he walked toward them, wringing the water out of the hem of his shirt, his shoes squishing.
“If I had either one of those machines, I sure wouldn’t treat them like that.”
They both turned to Henry and said, “Well, you don’t.”
Henry stopped short.
“Sure you’re not hurt?” The pilot sounded more disrespectful than worried, which rubbed Henry the wrong way.
“Yes, I’m sure! Too bad the motorcycle didn’t fare as well.” Her voice slid down a steep hill from defensive to sad. “My brother wouldn’t like it.”
“You have a brother who lets you get out on that thing and do dangerous stunts like this?” The pilot had a point.
“I said he wouldn’t like it. He’s dead.” “If his judgment was anything like yours, he was probably killed on that motorbike.”
Henry cringed. Who talks to a girl like that?
“His was worse actually.” A whole lot of I-dare-you was in her voice. “Signed up and got killed by German mustard gas.”
German. Familiar guilty dread crept over Henry. Would the stink from that word ever leave him?
The pilot sucked in a breath as if he’d been gut-punched. After a few seconds he said, “Sorry. I’m an ass.”
It got quiet again.
While those two stood and stared at one another, Henry went to check the motorcycle.
HENDERSON was written in gold letters across the rectangular gas tank. He wasn’t familiar enough with motorcycles to tell if it was an expensive model. The front fork looked okay, hard as that was to believe. The front wheel was tweaked too far to rotate, its fender twisted. The chain drive remained in place, even though the guard had been ripped half off and would flap like a broken wing once the motorcycle got moving.
He reached down and grabbed the handlebars. When he pulled to right the cycle, his feet slipped in the mud and he landed on his backside.
Tilda mooed loudly, making sure the pilot and the girl looked Henry’s way. That cow was really itching to turn into a side of beef.
“Now who looks like an idiot?” the girl said.
The pilot walked toward Henry and gave him a hand up. “Charles Gilchrist. Call me Gil.”
“Henry S—Jefferson.”
“What’s the S stand for?”
Stupid. “Sam-uel.” All the way with the red, white, and blue.
Gil turned toward the girl, his voice sounding the slightest bit apologetic. “And you?”
“Cora Haviland—of the New York Havilands.” The way she said her name made Henry think he should have heard of her family—as if she were a Carnegie, Ford, or Rockefeller. Henry didn’t know anything about society, so he glanced at Gil. He didn’t look as if her name meant anything to him either.
She nodded toward the cow. “You’ve met Tilda.”
Henry swiped his forehead again and felt the slime. “Unfortunately.”
He and Gil got the motorcycle up on its wheels. It was like wrestling a boar hog. No wonder he’d fallen on his ass.
Cora took it out of gear. Gil lifted the bent wheel and they rolled the cycle on its rear tire to the tree line and leaned it up against a trunk. That’s when Henry realized the flat-bottomed, U-shaped piece of metal on the ground near the tree row must have been a stand that could be rolled under the rear wheel to hold the cycle upright. He went over and picked it up. He didn’t see how it could be repaired, but hooked it under the seat anyway, so it stayed with the motorcycle.
“Not sure how you’re going to get it home,” Gil said.
“Is it far?” Henry asked.
“A mile or so. But we can’t just go dragging it up the lane.” She shot a challenging look at them, as if she was daring them to argue about the we part. “Mother thinks it’s long gone.”
If her mother didn’t know about the motorcycle, how did Cora explain dressing like that?
Gil didn’t look confused at all. He just raised a brow. “Quite the rebel, are you?”
“Flyboy, you have no idea.”

Hi Susan, welcome to The Reading Frenzy.
Tell my readers about The Flying Circus
I’m quite happy to join you at The Reading Frenzy and appreciate the invitation!
THE FLYING CIRCUS is set in 1923, when the country was wild about aviation and a time of great change in the fabric of our society.  It’s about three very unlikely companions, Gil, an emotionally-damaged WWI veteran pilot with a Jenny biplane; Cora, a now-penniless debutant with a non-conformist daredevil inside; and eighteen year old Henry, the son of German immigrants and all too familiar with the German-hate spawned by the Great War.
This trio comes together (along with their mutt sidekick, Mercury) form a daredevil barnstorming act that crisscrosses the heartland, rubbing elbows with bootleggers and tycoons, farmers and flappers.  While mutual need binds the three wanderers together, the secrets they each hold ultimately threatens to tear them apart.
Adventure, love, loss and betrayal all have a part to play. And the death defying journey these three daredevils embark upon teaches them that the truth is the most dangerous thing of all.

Susan I have a soft spot for historical novels.
You’ve written both contemporary and historical.
Do you have a favorite?
I always have to chuckle when I think of the first time I saw WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD referred to as an historical—I thought, “Hey, I remember 1963, how can that be historical?” And yet, it is. So now I’m adjusting to life as an antique.
Historical and contemporary novels each present unique challenges and opportunities in storytelling. I can’t say I prefer writing one over the other—not trying to dodge the commitment, I love both, just as I like reading both. Obviously, not being a history scholar, historical books require much more research, which I enjoy immensely—all part of that “learning and growing” thing I’ve committed myself to (even as an antique).  I enjoy working with various time periods. No matter what the setting or story, I jump in up to my eyebrows so the writing experience is very similar for both. I do hope my readers will come along on this journey with me no matter what the time period. I always strive to deliver an entertaining story and engaging characters; which is key to me as a reader as well.

Susan according to your bio your first book won the RITA for best First Book. Congratulations!
How did that affect book number two, or did it?
Thank you! That was a pretty spectacular moment.
I’m not sure it had any effect on book two, because the lead time between when Warner Books purchased BACK ROADS and when it was published was long; eighteen months. So by the time the RITA© was awarded, book two was in the can and on its way to publication. I’d like to think it helped more readers find book #2 (THE ROAD HOME) but there’s really no way to quantify that.

You have published 11 books now.
Tell us what
s the biggest challenge for you as an established author today?
I think the biggest challenge is striving to achieve that next level (not necessarily in popularity—not that I don’t want to be popular with readers, I do, I do, I do!—but in the depth and quality of my work) and still manage to produce a book often enough that my readers don’t forget me. I truly love “wallowing” in my work (see above comment above about up to my eyebrows). I don’t like to rush the development of a story. I don’t outline, and I do very little plotting prior to the writing process. Most of my preparation is research and in-depth character development, so the story truly grows organically as I write. To do that well, I can’t rush.

Susan it says on your website that before you took the plunge into becoming a published novelist you co-wrote books with your sister that were not published.
Have you ever thought about ever publishing them?
Of course. And it isn’t that we didn’t try to find a publisher way back when. But, as I’ve learned and grown as a writer, it’s become clear that in order for those books to be published, they need a lot more work. And right now, I’m having so much fun creating new characters and stories that I haven’t taken the time to revisit those old novels. Perhaps someday!

You moved from a small Indiana town to Chicago and then back to your hometown.
Does it matter where an author lives?
Only in the sense that a writer needs to live in an environment that nurtures their individual creativity. And that is as varied as there are people writing stories. In the end, it’s all about the finished work, not about where the author sat when he/she was writing it.
I usually write outdoors when weather permits (which baffles my New York agent and editors) because it somehow lets me feel more connected to my story—or is it disconnected from my normal life? I’m not sure which.

Susan youre a pretty socially connected author.
Because you love to chat on Facebook or because it
s a necessary evil?
My family would howl if they heard “social” and me in the same sentence!
I do enjoy my social media connections because they allow me share more of the reading and writing experience with others. I learn about books I MUST read, as well as get to chat about my own novels. It’s a “specific” social outlet, one connected to reading and writing. I could talk about those things all day long.

Whats the nicest thing a reader could say about you?
That I took them on a journey that connected with them, or made them look at the world differently. Also, I love it when they tell me I kept them up past their bedtime reading.

Susan thanks for answering these questions.
Are you touring with this release?
And thank you again for inviting me!
Yes, the tour starts the day the book is released, July 7. I’ll be visiting booksellers and readers for just over two weeks. You can find my tour schedule on my website, 
While you’re on my website you can nose around and find some great bonus material for THE FLYING CIRCUS, as well as a few secrets about my other ten titles, such as my “snack of the book” and my original titles.

 Connect with Susan - Website - Facebook - Twitter

MEET SUSAN:Susan Crandall is a critically acclaimed author of women’s fiction, romance, and suspense. She has written several award-winning novels including her first book,Back Roads, which won the RITA award for best first book, as well as Whistling Past the Graveyard, which won the SIBA 2014 Book Award for Fiction. Susan lives in Noblesville, Indiana, with her family.

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  1. LOL I love that, "adjusting to life as an antique!"

    I guess it really depends on the readers right? Considering I'm a child of the 80's and that is considered retro I totally hear the author. ;)

    Wonderful interview!!

    1. Yeah that is great Ali, you must be about my daughter's age, she was born in 1980
      Thanks for stopping by

  2. Oh my gosh. THat sounds amazing!! I need to read more from this era. Might have to start with this one :D

  3. Ooo I love the Roaring Twenties and this sounds wonderful. I am so glad you shared because it wasn't even on my radar. Oh I wonder if it is on audio. *scurries off to check*