‘I didn’t want to let her story go’: Saint Mary’s alumna marks upcoming publication of second novel
Genevieve Coleman | Monday, May 1, 2023
After publishing her first novel, “The Essence of an Hour,” in 2021, Susan Furber ‘14 is preparing to release her sequel on May 25.
Furber’s second novel, “We Were Very Merry,” will continue the narrative of Lillie Carrigan as she attends college and meets the man she will eventually marry. However, over the course of several years, this relationship will unravel.
As Furber was writing “The Essence of an Hour,” she claims she felt a deep personal connection to its content and herself as a young writer.
“Even though the first novel is set in the 1940s, it is deeply autobiographical in many ways — or at least an imagined sense of autobiography,” she said. “I felt very precious about it. It was very precocious book.”
When she reflected back on this novel, Furber describes how much she still had to learn as a writer.
“It is, I think looking back on it, a very ‘first novel,’” she said. “I’m learning things and I don’t really know how to express things yet.”
Furber noted a distinct difference between writing her first and second novels, primarily due to the fact she was more confident in herself as a writer after her first novel was published.
“I felt much more assured of myself going into that I didn’t feel as I suppose, as I said, as precious about it. I’ve been much more open to sharing it with people, which is something I never could do with the first novel,” she said. “The first novel was always something very closely kept to my heart, pretty much up until it was published.”
From the time she wrote the first draft of “The Essence of an Hour” when she was still a 19-year-old Saint Mary’s student, Furber said she planned for her protagonist to appear in multiple novels because of the strength of her character.
“For the second novel, I always had this idea that the story would continue,” Furber said. “From the time I’ve written it at 19. I knew this character of Lily and her voice was so electric. I knew I didn’t want to let her go and I didn’t want to let her story go.”
One of the new character developments in “We Were Very Merry” is the deeper relationship between Lillie and her friend Mallorie. According to Furber, this type of female friendship is not prevalent enough in the literary canon.
“It’s still not enough a part of the canon,” Furber said. “I mean, we have ‘My Brilliant Friend’ for instance by Elena Ferrante which is probably the best example. But female friendship and the depths of it, that to me, I love when you read a story about that, so I was really excited to write about that.”
While Furber always intended Lillie’s story to be a trilogy, she said she plans to finish the series when she is in her forties like Lillie will be in the final book, which is set in the 1960s.
“So that novel, I really want to leave until I’m that age, because these books for me are very much for questions of my own life,” she said. “Where I’m at and where my friends are at and the conversations that we are having together at that time, so I don’t know what that will be.”
Even though she is waiting to finish Lillie’s story, Furber explained she is working on a third book which is independent from “The Essence of an Hour” and “We Were Very Merry.” This new book is “a feminist take on ‘Lolita.’”
“What I love about ‘Lolita’ — and it is one of my favorite novels — is the aspect of the American road trip and what happens between those two characters, between the older man and Lolita,” Furber said. “In my novel, it is a woman who is of age and a man who go on trip but it still has those very ‘Me Too’ politics attached.”
Furber encouraged young writers to find out what works best for them — and not rely on other people to determine what that might be.
“It’s about finding your own pattern and recognizing it,” she said.
In addition, Furber noted an insistence that writers cannot use their professional lives as an excuse to not create art.
“Don’t hide behind your professional life, that’s the biggest advice I can give,” she said. “I think I did that very much my early 20s. If you want to be a writer, or you want to be any sort of artist, it is balancing that very true part of yourself.”
Furber continued by telling young writers they must believe in their talents, even before they hit tangible goals like being published.
“It can feel very embarrassing, especially until you feel that you’ve hit a goal, such as being published, or if you’re an artist, maybe having explicit exposition,” she said. “But it’s believing in yourself and believing that you need to carve out this time, and setting very realistic boundaries on yourself.”
Looking to the future, Furber would like to spend more time speaking to young women about how they can turn their experiences into writing, like she did as a guest at last year’s Visiting Writers Series.
“I would really love to connect with more, especially young women, about these stories and to empower their own voices,” Furber said. “That’s really what I’d love my whole career to be about.”