Susan Speranza joins us this week to talk about her latest novel, Ice Out
Author Name: Susan Speranza
Book Title: Ice Out
Book Genre: Literary fiction/Magical Realism/Women’s fiction
Release Date: May 24, 2022
Welcome, Susan! Please tell us about ICE OUT.
Ice Out is a powerful tale of one woman’s journey from grief to acceptance and forgiveness after a tragic accident shatters her near-perfect life.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I have seen many people’s lives turn on a dime. What was a perfect, happy, fulfilling life changed in an instant, and those people found themselves in circumstances they never dreamed of. They then acted in ways they never anticipated. I have always been interested in such events, how it changes people, how people react. This is what I wanted to explore in Ice Out. I also wanted to explore the process of grieving and the idea of forgiveness.
Years ago there was a ferry accident in the English Channel. Many of the men got out, many of the women were left behind. It was thought that it took some physical strength to escape the underwater ferry and make it to the surface. I wondered why many of these men in their rush to the surface didn’t help the others. Did they leave behind friends, partners, spouses? When I began crafting this story, I thought of this incident and wondered, could you forgive your significant other for leaving you behind in a life or death situation? Should you? What would make someone do this? I used a snowmobiling accident because I live in Vermont, and as a snowmobiler myself I have seen some of these dedicated snowmobilers do crazy things. It’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents! All of this inspired the story.
When structuring this story, I used a somewhat non-linear form. The action moves from the present to the past and back again over and over as the story advances. Since the concept of time in Ice Out is very important, this framework aptly accentuates it.
However, this prevents the reader from knowing the full extent of what is going on, until the end, and even then, I leave it up to the reader to decide what really happened. This technique was inspired by a movie called Jacob’s Ladder. In the film, it is very effective as I believe it adds to the dramatic moment at the end when the viewer must decide what has happened – was this a dream, an hallucination or did it all really happen?
What drew you to this cross-genre of magical realism matched with literary suspense fiction?
I’ve always been attracted to fairy tales, fantasy, and allegory. These are wonderful devices a writer can employ to tell a dramatic and meaningful story. In many ways, Ice Out has a fairy tale-like quality to it. In the more realistic first part, which is Francesca’s story, she doesn’t seem quite real, neither does her “perfect” life.
What’s your favorite part about writing/being an author? What do you find challenging?
I’ve never thought about this. Perhaps because being an “author” is not something I one day chose to be. It is simply something I am and always was, even as a child. In the same way I am a certain height, have a certain eye color, a certain sound of voice. Even as a child, I was attune to the drama of life, saw in it the comedy and tragedy of human existence. This might issue from my never-ending wonder and dismay at life, and the fact that all of this exists, that I exist. My writings are a reflection of my experience of having lived in the world. What I do find challenging is reaching readers who understand and share this vision.
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read ICE OUT?
People read books for many reasons, for entertainment, for knowledge, to escape their own lives. But many of us seek out books and stories to find someone whose vision of the world broadens ours, and who can articulate what we can only feel. This makes us seem less alone to say, after reading a story, “Yes, I see what you see, I know what you know.” Ice Out will not resonant with everyone – no book ever does. But for those who are willing to look beneath the surface of the narrative and to contemplate life, death and reality in a metaphysical way, this book is for them.
What about the writing/editing/publishing process has been the most surprising to you so far?
What has most astounded me is how twenty people can proofread a manuscript and still not find that typo! The publishing process is always stressful because every publisher and every author proceeds with the assumption there is a market for the book about to launch. But truly no agent, publisher or author can really predict which book will click with the public and which will not. To me, success as a published author (which is different from success as an author) is akin to buying a lottery ticket. You have to be in it to win it, but it is largely luck that brings success. Theodor Geisel is one of many examples. His first book was rejected by 30 – 43 publishers (by his own varying account). One day, he was walking down a New York City street with the manuscript in hand (he claimed he was going to burn it) when he bumped into an old acquaintance who worked for a publishing company. The rest is history. I often wonder, what if he chose to walk down another street? The world would never have known Dr. Seuss.
Any words of wisdom you give your pre-published writer self (or to a new writer)?
The advice given new writers is write what you know and write with your audience in mind. To the first, I say that don’t take this literally – we know things in many different ways. You don’t need to write a story about a woman growing up in Brooklyn with divorced parents, because you are a woman who grew up in Brooklyn with divorced parents. Rather, write a story about someone stranded in a desert in Africa. You “know” this because this is how you felt growing up in the desert of the urban landscape when your parents’ divorce made you feel abandoned.
And to the second adage, I say in order for you to find your audience – people with whom your work will resonant, you must first write for yourself, otherwise your works will come across as superficial and inauthentic.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
My “other” but equally important life is as a breeder and exhibitor of champion Pekingese. I have equal passion for my dogs and my life in dogs as I have for my writing. On some level the two are connected. To be a breeder is to see the whole of life unfold in a short span in one’s living room. From the joys of a planned breeding, to the disappointment of a false pregnancy, to the thrill of a litter’s birth to the devastating loss of a puppy or litter or even worse, the mother, to the joy of training new pups to the sadness at the death of a faithful old companion who gave so much during his or her short stay here – all of this is life in its entirety, sped up and repeated over and over, eliciting the constant wonder and questions that inform all my writing – why are we here? What will happen to us? What is this all about?
Are you working on a new project? Please tell us about it.
I am obsessed with the larger questions of life, my next book will explore these questions. I’m hoping to make the form more experimental – in the tradition of Italo Calvino, for example. Not sure when it will be available, but in the meantime, readers can avail themselves of my previous novel, The Tale of Lucia Grandi, the Early Years.
Where can readers find you?
Thank you, Susan! Ice Out is available everywhere.
Francesca Bodin has a near-perfect life as an accomplished music teacher and professional flautist living in the country with her husband, Ben and their four-year old daughter, Addie. This ends suddenly when a snowmobiling accident traps the three of them in a frozen lake. Ben gets out, leaving her and Addie to die.
Francesca believes she sees their dog pull Addie from the lake and drag her into the nearby woods. Desperate to help her daughter, she struggles to emerge from the icy waters, and follows them. Once she enters the forest, however, she finds herself trapped in a sinister dream-like world where night never ends, where Addie’s whereabouts remain hidden from her and where she encounters a group of women who, like Francesca, have been left to die and now seek to unleash their revenge on those who have harmed them. When they have Ben in their sights, Francesca realizes that if she is ever to escape this nightmare and save her daughter, she must first save the husband who abandoned them.