Saturday, August 21, 2010
The Author of Stiltsville Susanna Daniel
I have the pleasure of introducing her on Carolina Book Stacks. You can read the synopsis of her novel and my review here.
This is one of the best books I have read this summer. I could not wait to read it. I connected with this book so much because of my connection with Miami. The description of Miami and it's exotic nature was beautiful. Her writing style was awesome. It is a quiet novel about growing and maturing in marriage. From the early marriage to the twilight years.
One of the questions on my mind was what was it like to live in the community of Stiltsville? Did anyone live there full time? Did you have good memories living there?
This kept going through my mind. Because I kept putting myself in one of the homes when I was reading.
I kept thinking as a child there is not a playground or a backyard to play ball, only blue ocean everywhere. The house would be so cramped because I would think it would be a bit smaller than a house.
You couldn't just go to the corner store for a gallon of milk. I am sure it was a distance going by boat. I am sure there must have been so kind of mail service. But, I was wondering if there were telephones. What happens if there was a emergency or you needed some help.
It seems like you would be isolated from everything. You couldn't go shopping, the movies, to the restauraunt. It would be a distance. It was a different kind of lifestyle. It would be somewhat of a inconvience. But, It sure sounds like a interesting get away for a summer weekend.
I just wondering what children or adults did for entertainment and for fun? I would assume they would sun on their boats, go deep water fishing, water skiing etc. But what about the evening?
I assume you would go to the main land( Miami). Just not a local spot you would have to travel.
This must have been a great experience and good memories.
Susanna wrote her experiences and this is what she said:
My family lived full-time in Coral Gables, a few miles from where my father was born and raised, but we spent about one weekend a month at Stiltsville, in a house there that was built by my grandfather. In the summer, we usually spent longer, and went out more often, when my father could get off work. During the week, much of Stiltsville was empty, though the teenagers whose parents owned the houses went there when they skipped school. The majority of Stiltsville residents were like my family -- they had homes in Miami and spent weekends at their stilt houses -- and, also like us, the majority shared use of the houses with other families. However, there was one person during my time there who lived at Stiltsville full-time: a hermit, whose house was next to ours. Everything I know about him is in the novel. People came out to visit him but to my knowledge he didn't go to shore often, if at all. I don't know what happened to him after Hurricane Andrew. I've always wondered.
The last time I was in Miami, Florida -- where I was born and raised, and where my novel STILTSVILLE takes place -- I sat outside at a coffee shop on Miracle Mile, peering through sunglasses at a laptop computer as the traffic rushed by.
There were the usual noises: ladies in high heels passing on the sidewalk, drivers honking their horns. And then there was a burst of angry shouting, coming from the intersection right in front of me. I looked up. A driver had his head out his car window, and he was shouting -- in a ranting, maniacal voice -- at the driver of the car in front of him, which was stopped at the light. The light was red, but the woman in the front car, for some reason, had her car in reverse.
The woman was old and small, with white hair and narrow shoulders and thick eyeglasses, and as the man screamed at her she looked in her side view mirror at him, visibly confused.
He continued to holler. "Lady," he screamed at one point, "if you hit my car, I'm going to come up there and beat you."
The woman, after several seconds, put her car into drive and the light turned green and the man ducked back into his car, his knuckles white against his steering wheel, and traffic moved on.
Miami, at times, can be an ugly, ugly place. Who would want to write about such a place?
As a child, I lived in a modest ranch home in a pretty section of Coral Gables, near South Miami. I rode my bike to school every day, starting when I was ten years old. The closest I came, at a young age, to knowing seediness or cruelty was when I found a page torn from a pornographic magazine on the sidewalk around the corner from my house. I was nominally acquainted with accidents and challenges -- my sister had died in a car accident when I was a baby -- but not with the uglier bits of life, the unseemliest bits.
When I was about twelve, in a house surrounded by elaborate gardens just a few blocks south of us, a man blew his wife's brains out, then turned the gun on himself. This was news, and of course I heard about it -- but still, crimes of passion, bloody as they can be, are not ugly in the particular way of the man screaming at the old lady at the intersection.
When the man threatened to beat the old woman, the whole scene -- which, thankfully, did not come to pass -- played out in my mind. This man was young -- maybe mid-thirties -- and seemed fit and rugged, and had very large hands. In my mind, I saw him using those hands to hurt this fragile woman. It was so unsettling that my own hands shook as I closed my laptop and walked to my car. I have never repeated that story to anyone, until now. It's not a story I choose to keep with me. It stays all on its own.
There are writers who are fascinated with ugliness, and there are writers who avoid it completely. My preference is somewhere in the middle, as a reader as well as a writer. I prefer to highlight the beauty in the face of the ugliness, when possible. To look away, as I do in real life, from the ugliness, toward something better. Sometimes it's impossible to do this except at a remove. To write about Miami, I had to leave it.
Though I no longer live there, I know many, many people who still do, including many people who have lived there all their lives. My father is one such native -- and I have never heard him complain about the traffic or recount a story from his hairy commute that reflected anything like the ugliness I witnessed at that Miracle Mile intersection. Though in recent afternoon driving through Miami I encountered five car accidents and was nearly involved in two, my father hasn't had so much as a fender bender in twenty years.
I now live in the Midwest, which is a place as foreign to Miamians as Miami is to everyone else. One might assume I moved here in reaction to growing up in Miami, but that's not the case. I didn't move here because of notions -- which are mostly exaggerated -- about the Midwest being simple and friendly and easily navigated. I moved here on a lark, almost by accident. And I stayed because I met my husband and our family is here, and family has a way of tethering a person to a place the way nothing else can.
Sometimes I think I'd like to write about the Midwest, about the beauty and peace of it. And maybe one day if something intercedes in my life to take me away from the Midwest, I'll be able to.