I’m very excited to tell you about my upcoming interview with Susanna Daniel. She is the author of Stiltsville and Sea Creatures and is busy working on her next book. Here is a brief bio of Susanna, as it appears on her website: http://susannadaniel.com/.
Author Susanna Daniel’s debut novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham prize for best debut work published in 2010, and her second novel, Sea Creatures, was named an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick of the Best Books of August, 2013.
Susanna was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where she spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house in Biscayne Bay.
Susanna is a co-founder, with author Michelle Wildgen, of the Madison Writers’ Studio. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was a Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Her writing has been published in Newsweek, Slate, One Story, Epoch, and elsewhere.
Susanna lives with her husband and two young sons in Madison, Wisconsin, where during the long winter she dreams of the sun and the sea, and of jumping off the stilt house porch at high tide.
Be sure to check back soon and thanks for visiting!
I enjoyed Daniel’s Sea Creatures so much, I went back to read her debut novel which begins in the same community of stilt houses in the sand flats off Miami’s coast. This is also a story about marriage, family and relationships. It was interesting to read Stiltsville after Sea Creatures because I can see the where her unique writing style and character development begins.
When Frances Ellerby and Dennis DuVal meet at the DuVal family’s stilt house in 1969, they are twenty-somethings playing at being adults. Sparks fly and Daniel chronicles their relationship and marriage for thirty years. It’s not a perfect union, however, and they face many of the typical the pitfalls of married life.
I liked a lot of things about Stiltsville because I like reading about the ocean and boats. The author spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house and it’s obvious she knows what she’s talking about. In addition, the stilt house community has a lot of draw because it is so different. Daniel does a great job describing the stilt houses and the dangers that exist, things people on land wouldn’t even think about. I think her other strength is in portraying the tensions and conflicts these characters face as they start their adult lives. I especially liked reading about Frances and Dennis’s early years because there’s a certain excitement in the time before things happen. That shows.
There’s a definite slow-down as time passes, however, and there are a few undeveloped story lines that would have been fun to know about. Frances’s friendship with Marse begins with a lot of tension and I think the early Marse is a great complex character. As the years go on, however, her personality mellows and becomes a little stereo-typed. That was disappointing to me. I also would have liked to have learned more about their daughter Margo, who struggles in her teens and during college, and about her marriage to Stuart, who has the potential to be one of the more interesting characters. His motives are unclear and he is more complicated than the other characters. The story could have taken a mysterious twist here.
Daniel also introduces several historical events into the plot which I think must be very hard to do. There’s a shift in her writing style as this happens and I prefer when Frances returns to her thoughts about her own life. These events help bring authenticity to the Miami time and setting, however, and help to make the story whole.
But the book is otherwise well-constructed and if you like to have the details of your story tied up in the end, you will enjoy this.
If you read both Stiltsville and Sea Creatures, you will be interested to see how Daniel experiments with themes and the ideas of marriage and family in Stiltsville. The mixed attractions of danger and the beauty of the stilt house settings are apparent in both. She also introduces the Stiltsville hermit in her first book – I enjoyed that! And of course, the forces of nature play in both books.
This is an easy entertaining read with a relaxed and contented ending. I’m looking forward to what comes next!
Susanna Daniel does something very different in Sea Creatures, a novel set in Miami, Florida. She has written a great story about love, marriage, family, death, art, weather and the sea and the disabling effects of sleep disorders and selective mutism. Reading this combination of words, I wonder how she did it. Sea Creatures is a very well-written novel. Georgia and Graham and their young son Frankie have returned to the area after a scandal involving Graham’s parasomnia, a severe wakefulness and sleep-walking condition which has caused three-year-old Frankie to stop talking. They buy a houseboat and anchor it off Georgia’s father’s dock. The story begins and unfolds during the summer of 1992.
A great deal of the plot takes place in Stiltsville, a community of about a dozen stilt homes, built on sand flats about a mile offshore. These homes actually exist and the author spent many of her own childhood in her family’s stilt house. Her first novel is actually titled Stiltsville and is the winner of the BEN/Binhgam prize for outstanding debut work published in 2010.
Daniel has a very talented way of telling a story. We get to know her characters through Georgia’s perspective and watch as her marriage founders. Georgia’s job as an errand-runner for sixty-one-year-old Charlie Hicks, a stilt house hermit, turns into something quite different for Georgia and Frankie. And while Graham is on an extended assignment studying hurricanes, her life begins to change in unlikely ways.
The characters are so different; you might want to call them quirky. But they aren’t and their appeal grows as the plot develops. In addition to my long list of what this story is about, Daniel has created thematic layers, in which the main characters try to make meaning out of loss. Did they act quickly enough and do enough at the important hour? Did they say the right things? Did they treat the family who was left fairly? When regret surfaces, what do they do? She also shows the impact of reckless behavior and makes you wonder why certain people are drawn to these risks. And how much risk is too much – where do you draw the line? Daniel also shows how the powerful forces of nature and Hurricane Andrew can change everything.
Her characters also have that real quality of not being one hundred percent likable. Georgia is a loving mother, but she makes foolish choices. Charlie has a wonderful way of communicating, but has behaved badly. Georgia’s father Harvey seems to retreat during crucial times, but redeems himself at the end. And Graham – he’s so troubled, but you want to help him, even when Georgia doesn’t.
The plot develops nicely. Seemingly unimportant events and facts, mentioned throughout, help tie characters and events together. Daniel’s descriptions of the water, boats and Stiltsville are easy to imagine and make the story flow.
There’s a lot to think about in Sea Creatures, an easy, but intelligent read. Daniel is currently at work on her third novel. Meantime I think I’ll be checking out Stiltsville!