I am so excited to introduce Suzanne Field, my first guest artist to be interviewed on my blog! Suzanne and I met many moons ago in Kona in a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) writers group at The University of the Nations. I remember hearing bits and pieces of “The Painted Table” in our group and was so intrigued by her eloquent writing.
She never read her book to us in order, so when it was published, I couldn’t wait to read it in its entirety…I have to wonder if she did that intentionally. And I always loved how she stood up to read her work. She was the only one in the group who did this. When it was her turn to read, she’d shoot up out of her chair, somewhat awkwardly, and then stand properly poised with her pages held in front of her with both hands. She said standing up helped her “project.” For some reason it always made me laugh. But in a good way.
After spending several Wednesday mornings together, Suzanne became one of my biggest encouragers of LH&A. She has always offered me such useful feedback and has become one of my favorite editors on the project.
I’m so thankful to have learned more about Suzanne through this candid interview. She takes us behind the scenes of her novel “The Painted Table” and shares how living with a mentally ill mother has helped fuel her passion to create. By choosing to “honor her mother by not becoming her,” Suzanne inspires readers to overcome pain by embracing Gods goodness.
My Interview with Suzanne Field, Author of “The Painted Table.”
1. What were some early influences in your life?
Movies. Early on, movies became more than my entertainment. They were often teaching tools and attitude molders – for better or worse. I was in the third grade when my parents took me to my first movie, The Wizard of Oz. Having never even seen television (most people hadn’t in the 1940s), I was spellbound by pictures flashing across the screen. Then the black-and-white of Kansas morphed into colorful Oz, and I was simply awestruck! Similarly, when during the following year I heard the gospel message and accepted Jesus as my Savior, my young life shifted from drab to include splashes of color. From that time on, I have found joy in God’s creation vividly blooming all around me. I delight in microcosmic miracles and marvel at His handiwork throughout the universe.
2. Has this led to development of your own creativity?
Curiously, in the visual arts, it did not seem to, and I confess some disappointment about that. It seems I was made to be “an appreciator.” Twice as an adult I tried my hand at painting classes and twice crumpled up my sorry attempts in front of my teachers. They were shocked and disapproving, but on both occasions the action gave me relief. It seemed foolish for me to even attempt to create when God already made everything so perfectly and completely. Of course, I greatly admire artists who are truly talented, and that prompted me to minor in art history in college.
With piano lessons, I persevered longer. It was years in fact until I admitted defeat. My greatest desire would have been to be an accomplished musician. With no natural gifting, the struggle to learn just didn’t seem worth it. I’m hoping that in heaven this desire will flourish into results.
3. Did your family have artistic talent?
No. But my mother also was an appreciator. Our home was filled with two things: pain and music. Pain because of my mother’s mental decline, and music because she loved anything classical, and also dance. Her prized record player, which I was never allowed to touch, schooled me in the great composers of symphony and opera. She also loved Hungarian dance music and operettas. I was not familiar with popular music until I went to college. It wasn’t that I was a snob, but I’m afraid I found music of the day embarrassing.
4. What music do you like now?
Now, I love that once-scorned ‘50s music! In addition, my iPod carries a vast ever-shuffling mix from Pavarotti’s tear-jerking “Nessun Dorma” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” to Christian groups like Casting Crowns. I enjoy Iz Kamakawiwo’ole, and my newest find, The Rough Riders. My mood slides from one style to another. Let me hear the overture to “Barber of Seville” and, if no one is around, I dance, literally dance, just like my mother did. Funny, I found her mortifying, but when I dance, I float on air.
5. Can you tell us more about the pain you mentioned?
It is one of the themes of my book, The Painted Table, which is thinly disguised as fiction. Daughter Saffee reaps what is sown into her—both joy and pain. She chooses to glean goodness from her rightful legacy of music, art, literature, etc., and consciously turns away from the hurt and humiliation infecting her home. My hope is that readers who are burdened by any number of unfortunate childhood memories, perhaps much more serious than mine, will find encouragement to cast off pain and retain that which is good. God cares about the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual prisons of childhood. He has remedy. He helps us cast off junk and, in turn, sow good things. I like to think that this is what I have been able to do.
6. Did you actually find catharsis stripping paint off a table like Saffee does?
Well, a few things have to remain secret. But remember, it is a novel.
7. Did your love of writing come from your mother?
Yes. She wrote quite a lot. She loved poetry and much of her own work was in rhyme. Her stories were poetic in style and often humorous. Now I find that a bit odd.
Because the atmosphere in our home was not funny. We walked on eggshells so as not to “make your mother nervous,” as my dad would say. I find it interesting that now of all writing styles, I would like to write comedy. The feeling I like best comes with those rare times when something strikes me as side-splitting funny and laughter squirts tears from my eyes.
9. What makes you laugh like that?
The movie What About Bob makes me laugh until I hurt, even though I’ve seen it many times. I guess that’s a little odd, given my family background, and since the movie is a spoof on psychiatric disorder and care.
10. It seems that mental disorder and its treatment is in the public consciousness more today than before. How does The Painted Table fit into the current scene?
Family members of the mentally ill suffer in unique ways. They often deal with guilt, shame, and unforgiveness. I would like readers to see that The Painted Table is a story that gives hope. My aim was to portray that, for the Christian, our legacy as a child of God is more significant than our biological legacy. As part of God’s family, we can be overcomers through Jesus Christ. With Him we can rise above negatives. We can flourish because He is faithful to show us how. He works uniquely in our messes. And if He asks you to strip paint off an old table, it’s best to do it.
11. You began your writing career at a mature age. Do you consider this an advantage or disadvantage?
Probably an advantage. I would guess that younger writers are more attuned to the present moment and might be less interested in heritage. The Painted Table taps into four generations. I took the opportunity to trace, or at least hint at, the passing on of familial spiritual roots—the godly and the ungodly.
12. What are you writing now?
Short stories. I have twelve diverse stories about ready for publication. A few are gleaned from my own experience, some are entirely fiction. I consider a couple to be quite funny. Not side-splitting, just a bit droll. In most of them I have tried to write in a somewhat obscure way—an attempt to prompt the reader to speculate what is really going on. This has made the writing fun.
Also, my mother’s love of great art is probably responsible for the seeds of another book growing within me. Its setting is an art gallery.
13. What books have you read lately?
Every day I read in Timothy Keller’s inspiring devotional, The Songs of Jesus. Lately I was fascinated by the post-Civil War attitudes of blacks and whites in The Known World, by Edward P. Jones and also Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns. Right now I’m persevering Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.
Suzanne Field, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, has taught English as a Second Language in China, Ukraine, and Hawaii. She has been a magazine editor and home-school teacher. Suzanne writes to encourage others to rise above memories and embrace the goodness found in each day. She and her husband have five children and two grandchildren. They divide their time between Dallas and Hawaii where she is a tutor and mentor.