I have novelist Susan G.Weidener here today chatting about her newest book: A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based On a True Story.
Susan G. Weidener is a former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer. She left journalism in 2007 and wrote and published her memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, about being widowed at a young age. Two years later, she wrote and published its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Her debut novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor, completes the trilogy, inspired by and dedicated to her late husband, John M. Cavalieri, on whose memoir A Portrait of Love and Honor is based. She lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.
Welcome, Susan. Please tell us about your current release.
A Portrait of Love and Honor takes place in 1993 when Jay Scioli approaches author and editor Ava Stuart to edit his memoir about his years as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point during the Vietnam War. She is newly-divorced . . . while she has a willing heart, she steels herself against more disappointment in love . . . until she meets Jay. His story strikes a chord in her and their connection is almost immediate. Jay is a man who has said good-bye to innocence, the U.S. Army, and corporate America. He is drawn to the striking and successful Ava. Facing one setback after another, their love embraces friendship, crisis, dignity, disillusionment. Their love story reflects a reason for living in the face of life’s unexpected events.
What inspired you to write this book?
I loved my husband very much. For years his unpublished memoir sat in the closet. From time to time, I would pull it out and reread it. I knew I wanted to find an audience for his work; the question . . . how?
John, Class of ’71, USMA, wrote about his years as a cadet at West Point and his battle with cancer, before his death in 1994. John’s pen name was Jay Scioli. I always felt his memoir both compelling and beautifully written. The publication of A Portrait of Love and Honor, which is written in first and third person, and is a combination of memoir and fiction, is the result and culmination of a long-held dream to see his story reach readers.
Excerpt from A Portrait of Love and Honor:
After we arrived in Manhattan, we immediately headed for the one place cadets had been told to avoid – Forty-Second Street. What a scene we must have cut as we strolled down the avenue in our dress gray uniforms, gray hats covering our closely-shaved heads. Out of place, yes, but in a strange way we complemented the vendors, porno hustlers and street people; all of us melding into the great American mainstream. We stopped into the first bar we saw and ordered a few beers. Suddenly we had a personal game plan – take the subway to Greenwich Village.
We walked through Washington Square, home of the famous “Beat Generation.” I had read Jack Kerouac over the summer while lying in my bunk at Buckner and had tried to identity with that feeling of being free to do anything I wanted – although in reality my life bore no resemblance whatsoever to this new lifestyle of the sixties. We walked past shops and cafés, smelled incense and listened to the sounds of Jefferson Airplane and the Beatles wafting out of bars and head shops. Suddenly, a voice called to us from a doorway. “Hey war mongers, get outta here.” We didn’t stop walking, just looked over and saw two men with shoulder-length hair leaning against a brick wall, laughing at us in our uniforms and spit-shined shoes. They waved, then flashed us the peace sign. Bill flashed them a sign, too; half a peace sign.
What exciting story are you working on next?
Another love story . . . TBA
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I guess it was when I received an ‘A’ in my creative writing class at American University from a professor who used to be a journalist for the now-defunct Washington Star. A little bit of encouragement goes a long way! After graduation from college, I landed my first paying job as a reporter on a suburban weekly newspaper in my hometown. I got to cover, of all things, the filming of the movie Taps starring two unknowns – Sean Penn and Tom Cruise. It was like – I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this. I would have done it for free.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Since I left the newspaper, I’ve worked fulltime as a writer and editor. In the last five years, I’ve published two memoirs and the novel – along with an anthology of short stories and poems written by my group, the Women’s Writing Circle. In addition, I teach writing workshops and act as a writing coach. I also publish a weekly blog and market my books through social media and at community events and book signings. There’s not a whole lot of time left over after that.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t think I have any quirks. As a former journalist, I’m very deadline-oriented. When I have a writing project, I tend to get right to it. I let it percolate for a while, come back to it and then revise. I enjoy long walks with my dog, Lily, a yellow Lab . . . as a way to relax, ponder and jumpstart writing ideas and projects.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Ever since I read Gone With the Wind, I wanted to be a writer. I loved romantic stories . . . and stories about women, their lives, their passions, hopes and dreams. The book The Women’s Room by Marilyn French changed my life. I kept thinking, ‘this is what I want to do . . . write a book like this, something that matters, that is important and has a message.’ But I had to make a living, raise two sons on my own . . . and journalism was the best way to get paid to write. It would be many years before I could work on writing books.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
My hope is that my books give readers something to think about, something they can apply to their own lives . . . lessons learned. And I’m grateful for each and every reader who takes a chance on my books. I love hearing from my readers and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you for offering me this opportunity to talk about A Portrait of Love and Honor.
Thank you, Susan!