Interview: Bethlehem writer Anne Supsic talks about her love of history and inspiration behind ‘The Bookmark’
BY KAITLIN SCHOCK
For Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites
A few weeks ago, author Anne Supsic welcomed about 25 guests to discuss her novel “The Bookmark” at a Tea and Talk Book Signing Event at Bethlehem’s Moravian Museum. The program was in partnership with Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites. A Lehigh Valley native and museum volunteer, Supsic shared details about her latest work which weaves together a love story of the present and the past. Much of the story takes place in Historic Moravian Bethlehem and includes the Marquis de Lafayette and a Moravian Single Sister named Liesl Boeckel.
Supsic was inspired to write the book after seeing a 1934 painting by Eleanor Barba, which depicts Lafayette, Liesl, and her mother sitting around a table together.
The Bethlehem-based author is an avid bookmark collector who loves to travel to find new and unique bookmarks. She has been to 70 countries to build her collection. She is also an admitted Francophile and Lafayette is her favorite Frenchman.
I had the chance to speak with her about how she got interested in writing, her love of history, and what it was like to write a historical fiction book.
Kaitlyn Schock: Hi! Thank you so much for meeting with me. How are you?
Anne Supsic: Hello. I’m doing well. No problem! I appreciate the opportunity to be able to do this.
Starting off with more just in general, what initially got you interested in writing?
For as long as I can remember, I just loved books and I loved reading. My Mom would take me to our public library and I would just read everything I could get my hands on.
Then when I learned to write, I thought it was great.
Kind of a goofy story, when I was in elementary school, the teacher called my mother and had her come in because the teacher thought I must have plagiarized.
So, that became part of the family lore, (laughs) that Anne is going to be a writer because she must be good.
Especially (laughs), if they thought there was no way that a child could’ve written that.
Exactly! When I went to college I majored in liberal arts and English, but I graduated during a recession, so I ended up in banking. Kind of a weird choice (laughs) because I’m not a number person.
Eventually though, I worked my way up and became a project manager. I loved that job. That’s where I learned my organizational skills and other skills that ended up helping me with writing.
Where do you take most of your inspiration for your writing? Is history where you take most of it from?
I absolutely love history. I’ve always had that interest, I guess, going back to my parents who always had an interest in it…they would drag us to all these historical places. Which I can only really appreciate now.
When I moved here (Bethlehem), I really wanted to get involved locally…not soon after moving here we went to the Moravian and I became a docent.
I always think it’s important when you move somewhere to get involved and the museum was just perfect for me.
Was it the history of the area of Bethlehem that initially drew you to it, or was it almost just a coincidence?
It was really just a coincidence and when we moved here I became involved with the museum and then got very interested in and now love the Moravian history.
Which is why I’m so excited that we are going ahead with this World Heritage nomination. I always said this history needed to be shared.
Then when I learned that Lafayette had been here, I just knew it was meant to be. Here I have this fascination with the Moravian and Lafayette and then learning he had a connection to them…everything just brought me here to this point.
What is it about Lafayette that interests you the most?
Well, of course I’ve always loved and was interested in how big of a part he had in helping the U.S. to win the revolution. Many feel we wouldn’t have won without him.
One of the things that I had read and what really touched me about Lafayette…it’s a book called Portraits of France by Robert Daley.
In the book, he talks about how many people are unaware that Lafayette is actually buried in Paris. Every year at his grave there is a French and American ceremony held in July and they replace the American flag that flies over his grave.
That just really touched me and I was always fascinated by his love for America, which I really wanted to capture in The Bookmark.
Are all these small, unknown history stories that you’ve learned about what inspired you to start your blog and share them?
Yes! It all goes back to my interest in history.
A lot of what I cover in my blog are stories that I learned or heard about at the Moravian Museum. It gave me the opportunity to delve a little deeper…some of the posts come from the research I did for the book.
There’s so many fascinating aspects to Bethlehem and the Moravians, so I’ve got loads of material…I just feel like it’s this undiscovered gem.
I also saw on your blog that you have a big interest in bookmarks, what sparked that?
You know, with my reading, I always used a bookmark of some type, but wasn’t very interested in them until my husband and I started traveling a lot…we were able to retire early and then we made a trip around the world, which was absolutely fabulous.
That’s when I started picking up bookmarks because they were available most places…they’re small and light…they were like the perfect souvenir.
At this point, I have, I think it’s about 120..130…
Do you have a favorite bookmark?
Most of them are paper, but there’s some that are metal…I have a boomerang from Australia, that one is wooden and it’s very cool…I have a lot of variety.
Moving more towards your book, what was the process like of trying to get published or did you self-publish?
Initially, I wanted to be traditionally published, but it was a very long and rocky road. I made the classic mistake of sending out the draft of my book too soon.
I was told by a few agents that what I needed to do was hire an editor, a developmental editor…who looks at the story and looks at the plot…I was lucky enough to find an amazing editor.
She helped me a lot…especially because I don’t know what I was thinking…but a dual-line story is not easy to write, especially as your first book.
I did end up deciding that after taking so much time to try to find an agent, let’s just self-publish and I’m really glad that I did. I could take control of the timeline and my cover…and I love my cover.
You get to control everything…but it is a lot of work, more than I expected. It ends up being very fulfilling though.
What was the initial inspiration behind The Bookmark?
Well, as I always say, I owe it to the painting…I have pictures of it on my website…that was the first time I had learned that Lafayette had spent a month in Bethlehem and had been taken care of by a Moravian sister.
It’s one of those unknown tales, which I love to read myself…especially the stories about the unknown women…the women forgotten by history who played such a big part of it.
I had been looking for an idea for a book and this just matches all my interests. Also, it gives me the opportunity to share Bethlehem with a wide audience because as I said it’s a hidden gem.
What is your process for writing a book? How do you approach that, especially with historical fiction?
That’s an interesting thing because when I started this I thought historical fiction is going to be such a hard thing to write because I want to get everything right and it was work…it’s tremendous research, but it was actually easier because I had the historical framework.
So I had dates, like the date of the Liberty Bell and when it was stuck in Bethlehem. I had the specific dates when Lafayette was in Bethlehem and I knew what was happening during that time frame…what was going on in the revolution.
What was most difficult about it though is you have to watch every single thing that you write. So, every time I would use a new word or phrase, I had to look up if they used that word and in that manner…a lot of language has changed since then. So, Google was definitely my friend in writing this story (laughs).
The Abbey and Pete story was a clean slate…but that was daunting, you know, so many options…what did I want to do with that story? But I let the historical story guide the modern one because I wanted to have some good parallels.
I know you had touched on it a little bit before ... how trying to write a story with two time periods can be difficult.
Exactly. The biggest thing that I was worried about, this happens a lot with historical fiction that has a dual storyline, is that the historical fiction part was just going to be so much more interesting than the modern. So, I felt a lot of pressure to get the Abbey story right.
Also, just making sure the two stories felt like they both went together and not like it was two separate books that had been mashed together.
The other difficult part then was navigating the Liesl and Lafayette love story and making sure I stayed true to the characters….when you write a story the characters become so real to you, it’s almost like they’re telling you their story.
I know the Lafayette love story is based on speculation, what was it like trying to write a historical part that didn’t have those exact facts?
This is a really interesting topic because I belong to a lot of historical fiction Facebook groups and people are constantly hashing over, what is historical fiction really….you know how much has to be true. Some people say you can write what you want, others say you have to stay factual. I’m sort of in the middle.
I feel very strongly that a historical fiction writer has a responsibility to be as historically accurate as possible…I think that’s part of the job. I want to learn something when I’m reading.
But at the same time, for example, we’ll never know what Liesl and Lafayette said to each other. So, with historical fiction you get to fill in the pieces. Writing historical fiction is like a puzzle, you start out with everything you know and then fill in those missing gaps. You do also, though, have to make that fiction as plausible as possible.
When you were writing, did you write all of the historical fiction/modern at once or did you go back and forth?
I went back and forth, all over the place. I’m a big outliner so I had some basic outlines, but I allowed myself to write whatever I felt like writing that day.
In fact, the first ever scene I wrote was actually at the end of the story when Liesl’s father confronts her…that scene really drove the rest of the book in terms of her relationship with him.
And when I was writing scenes, I imagined them up against the other storyline and how they would match up in the evolution of the characters.
That’s very interesting. I always wondered how people wrote the dual storyline and then especially having to edit that. How long did it end up taking you to finish the book?
You wouldn’t imagine how many times I had to edit.
One of the really important things…could just be a hang-up of mine…in good writing, you want to make sure that everything you mention has a reason for being there…even the small things. Just making sure that there aren’t any loose ends.
It took me about two years to write the book initially, but a good five years to actually finish.
Kaitlyn Schock is an intern from Kutztown University and a contributing writer for Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites.