Susie Finkbeiner has been and always will be a library person. She visited the Capital Area District Library as a youngster — usually riding the bus to the downtown branch — and visits the Gaines Township branch of Kent District Library two or three times a week with her family.
Now she gets to visit libraries around the state as winner of a 2020 Michigan Notable
Book award for her novel “All Manner of Things,” published by Grand Rapids-based Revell,
a division of Baker Publishing Group.
“There are certain awards and accolades that I never thought possible as a writer in the inspirational market, so it was a great honor to be recognized by the Library of Michigan,” said Finkbeiner, who lives in Wyoming and grew up in Lansing.
“All Manner of Things” is set in the fictional West Michigan town of Fort Colson in 1967. Annie Jacobson and her family must contend with her brother Mike being deployed in Vietnam; while he’s gone they have a reunion with their father, who has been gone for 13 years. It’s a tale about grief and hope and how those seemingly contrasting things can live together.
“West Michigan in the 1960s was very different from other places,” Finkbeiner said. “There weren’t hippies and the sexual revolution. It was still a stronghold of idealism in the midst of so much upheaval with the war and demonstrations going on. I set the novel in Michigan because I’m a proud Michigander.”
Finkbeiner’s writing career started in the snippets of time between washing bottles and changing diapers for her daughter, now 13, and twin sons, 12. Her first novel, “Paint Chips,” was released in 2013 with WhiteFire Publishing, and soon after her second, “My Mother’s Chamomile” was published.
“Both of those were a risk for a small Christian publisher because they were not romances and instead were on harder subjects,” said Finkbeiner. “But they got the attention of Kregel Publications, which picked up ‘A Cup of Dust.’”
Kregel released “A Cup of Dust” in 2015 and sequels “A Trail of Crumbs” and “A Song of Home” in 2017. All three follow the life of Pearl Spence in Dust Bowl Oklahoma and her move to Michigan as Pearl realizes what home really is.
“Writing has been a very strange journey, not at all how I would have expected it to be,” said Finkbeiner. “You watch a movie about a writer, and they get a book contract, and all of a sudden everything changes. They have money, they write in a cabin,
they get a movie contract.”
She describes her career as a “slow burn,” with her readership growing over time.
“Writing is when I feel most like myself, when I know I don’t have to impress anyone because it’s just me and the page,” she said. “It’s a way of processing, of figuring out the world. But it’s strange I do it through fiction, writing fictional characters delving into and confronting something emotionally and relationally.”
Her main writing companion is coffee. “I usually write when the kids are in school. I like to sit at the table and look out my window at the birdfeeder, though sometimes I work at Baker Book House when the scenes aren’t so intense. It’s nice to have a change of scenery and someone to make coffee for me,” she said with a laugh.
Her advice for new writers is about rejection: “Rejection is not the end of things; it’s a step you’re going through. It’s painful and it stinks, but it will build you into a stronger person in the long run.”
For this Notable Book winner, being published wasn’t the dream. “The dream is getting to write even if it’s an hour a week or doing one book in a whole life. Publication is nice and enables you to write, but getting that big contract can’t be your only reason to write. Write for the joy of it.”
Her second novel with Revell, “Stories That Bind Us,” was released in June and a third novel is due July 15, this one set around the events of April 1975 when the U.S. government airlifted 3,000 Vietnamese children to the United States, Canada and Australia for adoption.
“There was so much going on in our world in 1975. I was immersing myself in day-to-day events to inform what my characters were going through,” Finkbeiner said. “One of the nice things about writing mid-20th century fiction is that everything is online. And people are alive who remember that time.”
For information on Michigan Notable Books and rescheduled author appearances, visit michigan.gov/libraryofmichigan or author websites.
Several other West Michigan authors won 2020 Michigan Notable Book awards:
- Erin Bartels, author of “We Hope for Better Things” (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group), lives in Lansing.
- Abra Berens, author of “Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables” (Chronicle Books), lives
in Three Oaks in southwest Michigan.
- Pamela Cameron, author of “Sport: Ship Dog of the Great Lakes” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press), lives in Kalamazoo.
- Brian G. Gilmore, author of “Come See About Me, Marvin” (Wayne State University Press), teaches social justice law at Michigan State University.