Geraldine Susi: Women’s Rights Activist, Teacher, Historian, Novelist (cont'd)
Susi worked as a reading specialist for nineteen years, and her expertise in this area, as well as her love for her family, led her to writing historical fiction for elementary and middle school aged children, in which her fictional characters are named for her grandchildren. “When I wrote the first book, I thought it would be the only one I [would write],” Susi explains. “I had two grandchildren then, Jake and Jessie, so their names were in there, and lo and behold, I had more grandkids, so then I had to get the next book going!”
Susi revels in being a grandmother, giving presentations at her grandchildren’s schools about her novels, or on Civil War or colonial history. She makes her own costumes for these presentations, and enjoys getting feedback from the classes. Susi cherishes these interactions with readers, but not just the young ones. She happily recounts a story about an older reader who got his hands on her books before his grandchildren even had a chance to read them. “Max Conrad, the name I gave to Piper’s Father, [is] one of my grandsons,” Susi explains. “An older gentleman read my books and he said, ‘Do you realize there was a real Max Conrad who was a pilot in WWII and he even was married in 1941?’—the same year that I have my fictional Max Conrad get married.”
Max Conrad’s character in Looking Through Great-Grandmother’s Eyes is actually based on Susi’s own father, who was an Air Force pilot during WWII fighting in North Africa and Italy. He was absent the first three years of Susi’s life as a result. Her own struggle with his absence influenced how her character, Piper, handles the same situation. Susi hopes that expressing the frustration and feelings of abandonment during wartime will help children today who are in the same situation, especially now that women are also permitted to enlist. “With everything that’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have... not only fathers going off to fight but mothers going off to fight—and kids left home who have to deal with a lot.”
Susi also gives presentations about women’s history, often to women’s clubs or women’s groups, in which she speaks about the struggles of women in the colonial era or during the Civil War. In Looking Through Great-Grandmother’s Eyes, Susi pays tribute to these women, as her character Grandma Jessie describes the struggles
she went through during the Civil War. Jessie is based on a woman Susi knew when she was young, and she is meant to symbolize strong women of any time who make do with what they’ve been given.
Susi’s writing process has become increasingly complicated as she continues with the Harding family series and each book covers an ever-expanding timeframe. The first book in the series covered only a few months; the second book covers five years; and Looking Through Great-Grandmother’s Eyes covers ninety years. As she writes, Susi maintains running timelines of current events going on and important people who are alive at the time she is writing about, especially when it comes to events in women’s history or the effects war had on the time.
Susi’s commitment to her family and education helped inspire her current project, a book chronicling her husband’s family in Italy from the 1700s to present day. She continues to be active in giving historical presentations and giving talks on her books. Children, parents, and grandparents alike will share Susi’s
stories and bond through time shared over a good book.