Christina Suzann Nelson is an inspirational speaker and the award-winning author of five books, including More Than We Remember, Shaped by the Waves, and the Christy Award–winning The Way It Should Be. She is the mother of six children, an advocate for children in foster care, a substitute teacher, a conference director, and the wife of her partner in this crazy adventure.
In this interview, Christina talks about her latest novel, What Happens Next.
FF: Please provide a brief summary of your new novel What Happens Next.
What Happens Next is a story about the people who make a difference in our lives. It explores our grief, and the joy that comes with beautiful memories. And, of course, why not throw in a mystery that ties it all together.
FF: What Happens Next focuses on a podcaster who helps a family-friend find closure with her daughter’s missing person case. Where did your inspiration for this story come from?
Personally, I find myself very interested in a good mystery, but I wanted to go deeper into the reality of how it would change the lives of the people impacted by the case. We live in an amazing time where so many ice-cold cases are finally being solved. I think that inspired me to develop a missing persons case that spanned decades. Also, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go back to the summer of 1987.
FF: What fascinating information did you learn while researching for this book?
Oh, my goodness! I love research. The months before the actual writing process, I was deep into true cases of missing people from the 1980s. It was fascinating to see the differences in investigation techniques, and the advancements in forensics. I also listened to a lot of 80s music and looked back at all the craziness of 1987.
FF: What Happens Next takes place in a fictional small town in Oregon. What is it like writing about an area you call home?
With this story, writing about my area was sometimes quite emotional. I had to honestly look at my own summer of 1987 in my own little community. It was a rough time for me, only about a year and a half after losing my little brother. I’d moved in with a different parent and was trying to navigate the teen years while struggling with a grief I wanted to shelve rather than experience. I found myself wondering what would have happened to me in a different community.
I’ve seen how small towns come together in crises. In many ways, it’s shaped how I see the world. And while no community down here on Earth is perfect, small-town Oregon can have a charm that allows readers to take a break from the world around them and get lost in a story.
FF: What aspect of the story did you most enjoy writing?
This question is easy! I loved writing Heather’s point of view. Her story took place during the summer of 1987, while the rest of the book is set in current time. The eighties were such a unique time.
FF: Did you find one point of view harder to write about than the others?
Dora’s story was hard to write. I had to put myself in her place, and it wasn’t comfortable. She’d spent years holding the torch in hopes that her daughter would return to her. While she pushed the grief down, it grew in strength.
FF: In addition to the theme of friendship, you also touch on the heavier topics of grief, healing, and faith. Can you explain how these themes weave together?
Grief is the counterpart to love. If we don’t love, what will we ever grieve? It’s almost a tribute to the relationships that shape us, so in that way, they must go together.
FF: Faith and Dora deal with grief in their own way. Can you touch on how these two women tackle their grief and how they come to terms with it?
Often, we think of grief as a result of the physical loss of a loved one, but there is grief in the loss of relationships, status, health, and more. Faith had to allow herself to grieve the loss of the marriage and life she’d planned for herself. It wasn’t in her control. Dora, on the other hand, felt giving into grieving the loss of her daughter meant giving up on her child. That’s such a heavy burden to try and carry alone.
FF: What impact do you hope that The Way It Should Be will have on readers?
It’s my hope that readers will be entertained by the story but come out feeling they have permission to grieve. The Bible is full of stories of lament, of deep and meaningful grief. There is no weakness in feeling those emotions.
What Happens Next
Christina Suzann Nelson
Genres: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Release Date: January 17, 2023
Newly divorced ex-reporter Faith Byrne has made a name for herself telling stories of greatness after tragedy through her popular podcast—but her real life does not mirror the stories she tells. While her daughters spend the summer in Hawaii with her ex-husband and his new wife, she must manage the summer on her own. But all that changes when she finds out her childhood best friend had gone missing and is asked to spotlight her missing person case on her podcast.
Dora Crane has never accepted that her younger daughter could be dead, keeping her home and routine the same as before her daughter disappeared. But when her husband leaves her, and her older daughter intervenes, she agrees to attend grief counseling and to pack up her missing daughter’s belongings under one condition: Faith Byrne comes to Deep Valley and sheds light on her daughter’s cold case.
As the investigation moves forward, the two women uncover desperate secrets, and Faith and Dora must face the long-hidden truth before they can face their grief and begin to move forward.
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