Susie Finkbeiner is a CBA bestselling author who has mastered the skill of writing stories that tug at the heart of every reader. In her newest novel, All Manner of Things (Revell), she invites readers into the hearts and home of the Jacobson family during a time in which the chaos of the outside world has shaken their lives and their community in ways they never imagined. In this interview, Susie explains the personal reason behind setting her novel in the 1960s, tells us about the family in the middle of it, and reveals the lessons learned from the story…
All Manner of Things covers some volatile times in American history, including the Vietnam War and the 1960s. Why did you decide to focus on this time period?
I grew up hearing stories about the sixties from my parents. Whenever we listened to the radio in the car it was the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. We didn’t have cable, so we were left watching reruns of Leave It to Beaver or Donna Reed. Early on I developed a fascination with the era, only fed by my dad’s stories of his time serving in Vietnam.
After writing a series set in part of my grandparents’ era (the Great Depression), I decided it was time to discover a story set in the years of my parents’ youth. I would have been remiss to write about the sixties without including the Vietnam War, race riots, and the massive social change that marked the decade. However, I’m happy to say that I only make a passing mention of hippies in the story because, as my mother says, they weren’t everywhere back then.
What type of research was required to effectively write this story?
One advantage I had when researching the 1960s is that Baby Boomers like to talk about their experiences. I had the great honor of interviewing a handful of generous folks who were more than happy to tell me their stories. Not only did they offer great insights into the era, they also gave me encouragement to keep going with this project.
Another boon for my research was the vast availability of newscasts, television programs, and musical performances on YouTube. The sixties was a fully televised decade and I reaped all the benefits. I was able to watch Walter Cronkite report on the Saturn V launch and Jimi Hendrix light his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival.
Finally, my parents were champs, answering whatever questions I had for them. My mom filled me in on hairstyles, clothing, parties, and what it was like to be a reasonable teen in a most unreasonable time. My dad wrote up his memoirs of serving as a Navy Seabee in Vietnam. For their input, I am so grateful.
In All Manner of Things, you introduce the Jacobson family, who are struggling through some very difficult times. Can you provide readers with a glimpse into their lives?
The Jacobsons are a typical, lower middle class family living in a small West Michigan town. At the beginning of the book we find a family of four, a mother and her three children. They’ve lived without their father, Frank, for several years after he abandoned them. Although they encounter difficulty, they remain a strong family unit, fiercely loyal to one another.
This is the kind of family that I love, both in real life and fiction.
There are a number of lessons that can be learned from your novel. Can you expand on a couple of these lessons?
When I was a kid, I was stunned when my mom told me about the “Duck and Cover” drills they’d practice in school in case of nuclear attack. Now, a mother myself, I am stunned that my children have their own version, called “Lock Down” drills. It would be so easy for me to “duck and cover” or “lock down” emotionally, just thinking of the threats of danger in this world.
However, shutting down and shutting my eyes would keep me from experiencing and witnessing all the beauty this world affords. I could possibly miss so much of God’s glory if I hide away, fearing what could happen.
Mike encourages Annie not to duck and cover but instead to keep her eyes open. After I wrote that scene, I sat back in my chair, knowing that I was being encouraged by the Spirit to stop allowing fear to blind me. Is the world scary? Sure. Do horrible things happen? Of course. But if we hide under our arms, eyes squeezed shut, we’ll miss so much good that God has for us.
Jesus offers us an abundant life. It sure would be a shame if we missed out because we were hiding.
All Manner of Things offers a message of hope. Can you expand upon how this theme is portrayed in your book?
I’ve realized recently that my novels hinge on hope. I believe the reason for this is my absolute reliance on the hope I have in Christ. I couldn’t go a single day without it.
In All Manner of Things hope is a lifeline during an uncertain time. Not only is the nation in a complex and deadly military conflict, but the Jacobsons find themselves sending one of their own to serve in the midst of the danger. As I imagined Gloria dropping Mike off before he “ships off”, I considered how a mother does such a thing.
Hope is the only way. Because she has hope that she will see him again. And that hope becomes greater than fear.
Ultimately, it’s hope that keeps us going even in the middle of the worst times. Hope that tomorrow could be better than today, that God can be taken at his word, and that we have more to live for that stretches beyond this current existence. It’s the hope of the space Christ is preparing for us in heaven that keeps us breathing and serving and loving.
Visit Susie Finkbeiner’s author page:
All Manner of Things