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Spirits and Wine Author Reads at Schuler Books

Grand Rapids native Susan Newhof to read from her book "Spirits and Wine" at Schuler Books.
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Author Reading

When: Thursday, October 20, 7 pm

Where: Schuler Books on Alpine

What: Reading and discussion of "Spirits and Wine" published by University of Michigan Press

The book: A mystery that's an adult ghost story



Susan Newhof

Susan Newhof /Roberta F. King

Spirits and Wine cover

Spirits and Wine cover /Roberta F. King

Susan Newhof

Susan Newhof /Roberta F. King

One might think to write a mystery book, you'd need to read a few mystery books. Not the case with Susan Newhof: she's more of a science fiction reader, and the oddities of that genre provided the groundwork she needed to write a mystery.

That, and first hand experience with a spirit. 

The idea for "Spirits and Wine" came to her as she shouted "Get out!" to a then bothersome presence that lived (and still lives) in her old home in Montague, Michigan. She took that pivotal moment and built a story around it. "I was yelling and then I said to myself you need to write about this and the plot came together for me in about 15 minutes," said Newhof. The spirit is still present, but it peacefully coexists with Susan and her husband Paul Collins.

In "Spirits and Wine," the main characters Anna and John are a middle-aged couple, newly married who move into an old house. Soon after, odd things begin happening to them- especially to Anna- and their discovery about past events in the house change them and how they bring resolution to their chaotic life. The book takes on a fictional accounting of present day spirit management and history during the time of the Spanish influenza in 1918-1919.

The book at its core is about love, loyalty and the fear that motivates people to run or stay and fight. "Its characters deal with the idea of turning one's back on people in need or rushing into help. In life, people have to do things they never dreamed they would have to do. In John and Anna's case it was a ghost that turned their life upside down. But it doesn't have to be a ghost, it could be the loss of a job, the death of a child, it could be a house that catches fire or a tornado that destroys everything. People suddenly find themselves in a position of doing things they never dreamed of and that they feel they are completely unprepared to handle. Out of them comes a strength to be able to deal with it and an aquired wisdom while they walk through it. The book is about a ghost, but it could be about anything," said Newhof.

The writing of the book took 12 years. "Life kept intervening and writing it kept moving to the bottom of my list of things to do. A year or more would go by and then I'd pick it up again, re-read it and start writing and editing again" she said. "At some point I discovered I could write it backwards and could go back into the beginning and foreshadow things," said Newhof. Details are important to the book's cohesion, as "some details are clues and some are red herrings and the reader has to determine what happening or going to happen." 

The book is set in Carlston, which is loosely based on Montague but is not specifically Montague. "It didn't need it to be a real place. It could be any town along the shore of Lake Michigan that has a history with lumbering. Take Muskegon, push it south; take Montague and push it north and pop a little town in between and you'll have Carlston," she said. Grand Rapids and Eastown figure into the book, as well. Susan grew up in Grand Rapids, graduated from Ottawa Hills High School attended Grand Rapids Junior College (now GRCC) and graduated from Michigan State University. She now works as an independent communication consultant.

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