By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Susan Meissner’s latest historical novel, “The Girl in the Glass,” was inspired by her impressions during trips to Florence, Italy, the Poway-based author said.
Meissner’s book, the 14th in her career and fifth with Christian-based WaterBrook Press, is similar in style to her other recent novels in that it combines a historical period with present day.
In this case, her real-life character is the little-known Nora Orsini, granddaughter of Cosimo I and a 16th century member of the wealthy and powerful Medici family that funded some of the most talented Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, DaVinci, Donatello, Brunelleschi and Botticelli.
The Medici “ruled Florence like royalty, but they were not,” Meissner said. “They were business and land owners. ... Despite their love for beauty, they were conniving and not above murder if it suited their ends. They were addicted to ugliness yet funded some of the most beautiful artwork. They are a contradiction.”
Meissner said she researched the family to find “somebody we could root for, but there are not that many.” She also wanted a female Medici member since that character would be the counterpoint to her present-day heroine, Meg, and Sophia, the woman Meg befriends while visiting Florence. In addition, little is known about Nora, whose father murdered her mother during Nora’s childhood, so Meissner was able to have artistic freedom when speculating about her life and thoughts on her impending marriage.
This is the second time in her career that Meissner based a novel in San Diego, a “fun” place to write about, she said.
As for Florence, that was a place she — like Meg — waited years to visit and upon seeing “fell in love with it,” Meissner said. That first trip came in 2005 when Meissner and her husband, Bob, went on a 2005 cruise to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. She subsequently returned with her mother, Poway resident Judy Horning, and other family members.
Like her other novels, Meissner does not have a religious focus to her books that combine a mystery and unexpected plot twists with history and a little romance, but her novels’ content are reflective of her moral values. Bob Meissner is a senior pastor at The Church at Rancho Bernardo and Susan Miessner directs the church’s Small Groups and Connection Ministries program.
In “The Girl in the Glass” — a title the reader comes to understand late in the novel — the main characters all have issues that have roots in their childhood.
“I wanted the reader to feel with Meg, a girl with a quest, and couldn’t let the reader know more than Meg knew on her journey of discovery,” Meissner said. “She is disillusioned with life ... because it did not play out as she thought it would.”
Upon meeting Sophia, who looks optimistically at the world despite personal heartaches and tragedies, Meg begins to look differently upon life and what it has to offer.
Those who would like to learn more about Meissner’s latest novel can hear the author speak about the book at the 16th annual Cover to Cover: A Day for Readers and Writers, on Saturday, May 11 at Maderas Golf Club in Poway. The event is a fundraiser for the Poway-Penasquitos branch of American Association of University Women.
A paperback version of the book is $14.99, available through major booksellers. For more on Meissner and her other novels, go to www.susanmeissner.com.