RANCHO SANTA FE — Like many authors, Susan Smith Daniels loves a good story as much as she enjoys telling them.
Her new book “The Genuine Stories” — which mentions some North County locations — is about a special healer and won her the Fairfield University Book Prize in 2017.
“The Genuine Stories is a linked collection centered around Genevieve ‘Genuine’ Eriksson, a woman with an uncanny ability to heal people. Her gift begins to unfold at the age of 8 despite the lingering disbelief of her parents,” said Daniels, 68, who lives part time in Rancho Santa Fe with her husband Bob.
“Though she grows up under the watchful eyes of her parents and the jealous protection of the Catholic Church, she strikes out on her own after healing, and falling in love with, Kevin Saunders, a man 15 years her senior.
“In her own voice, and those of family, friends, and the healed, Genuine’s experiences peel back and expose the gritty aspects of power and privilege, the far-reaching limit of parental love, the perpetually oscillating balance in relationships, and the ineffable nature of grief,” she said.
Daniels, a breast cancer survivor, who started seriously writing in her retirement years now devotes herself full time to the craft.
“I write because I have so many questions about the nature of grief and our lived experience. I write to answer all those questions to myself, to sort facts from feelings, impressions from memories, and to look in the spaces for the unobserved,” she said. “And I write because I love to tell stories.”
Daniels she was born and raised in Philadelphia and moved to Iowa with her husband and family in 1981. “One of my maternal uncles lived in California and as a child I always wanted to live here,” she said. “Instead, I’ve lived in Iowa most of my adult life, married to a native Californian. We spent many years bringing our kids out here for summer vacations and when my husband sold the business in 2005, we bought a condo in Rancho Santa Fe.”
She explained the idea for “The Genuine Stories” began when she was writing the first story, “Possum Days,” while applying to graduate schools to get her MFA in 2009.
“My husband is a cyclist and we’d been on a ride where we came upon a dead possum in the bike lane,” she said. “I don’t think I had Genuine’ s name yet, but the idea that she was a healer was there. It wasn’t my intention to write more about her. At the time, I was still learning about fiction and wanted to write lots of different kinds of stories.”
A big undertaking and commitment,” The Genuine Stories” took her about five years from start to finish, she added.
As for who might pick up “The Genuine Stories,” Daniels said: “Readers interested in healing would certainly be interested, but also, my main interest is relationships and domestic life, because I think everything about life plays out in those areas. Women are the largest number of readers anyway, so certainly women. But the first print reviews I got were from men, so perhaps it has broader interest.”
“The Genuine Stories” is not the first book Daniels has written, in fact she began her writing career as a columnist for Practical Horseman Magazine and later wrote the popular “The Horse Show Mom’s Survival Guide” (The Lyons Press, 2005). However, the current book differs from quite a bit, she said.
“My first book, “The Horse Show Mom’s Survival Guide,” was nonfiction,” she said. “I had been writing a column called ‘The Horse Show Mom’ for Practical Horseman Magazine while our youngest daughter was competing in the hunter/jumper world. The Lyons Press solicited me to write that book.
“It took me about one and a half years to write the horse book. It was easier because I understood what I needed to do. Fiction is a whole different ballgame, and it’s been a long learning curve. But there was fun in learning, too, but it’s a much longer process.”
Daniels said for her, like most writers, the most difficult aspect is being rejected. But learning someone likes her writing makes it all worth it.
“It’s an absolute thrill to me when someone likes my writing,” she said. “My first print review was with Rob Cline of the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette. He had done a close reading and a very positive review of ‘The Genuine Stories’ and asked questions about motives, choices, etc., and that conversation was really gratifying.
“I’ve also had the pleasure of being in the same book club for over 30 years and we read ‘The Genuine Stories’ for our December meeting and invited another book club to join. Many of the women had never read my work and it was one of the best discussions we’ve had in years. That was awesome.”
“The most difficult is the rejection, of course, which all writers experience,” she said. “It takes a long time for most people to get published. I’m not too fond of the business part either … meaning the sending out, trying to find the right place to send, the cover letters, etc. But that’s just part of the job.”
An MFA graduate of Fairfield University, she is currently a PhD student in creative writing at Bath Spa University and is writing her third book.
“My work in progress is tentatively called, ‘I Remember, I Forget,’ about a widow who raises her children in Iowa where her in-laws live but begins to have memory issues in her late 50s,” she said. “She addresses her dead husband while sorting out the facts of their life together, the secrets they hid from each other, and her desire to find herself before she loses her memory.
“She goes off to Ireland in pursuit of the haunting stories her mother told her about her grandparents. I am very interested in how we perceive our histories and how memory often rewrites those histories. This novel is part of my dissertation. I’m working on my PhD at Bath Spa University in the UK … a low residency program. I hope to finish this year.”
In her spare time Daniels enjoys reading, walking, cooking, and has returned to another love, knitting. She has three grown children and four grandchildren and likes to spend time with family.
“The Genuine Stories” can be ordered at your favorite bookstore or at http://www.spdbooks.org/, which is the small press. It is also available from Amazon and will be available via Kindle in April or via her website. Daniels will also be doing a reading of “The Genuine Stories,” at Rancho Santa Fe Library on Tuesday, March 26 at 10:30 a.m.