*Are you happy at the moment?
Yes, with no complaints on the health, family, work or home fronts though ever aware that the status could change at any moment.
*If you could go back and say anything to your 16-year-old self now – what would it be?
Be less nervous and more confident in aiming high for goals – and remember if you have questions and doubts then others do, too. High school is such a tiny part of life, one of multiple doorways toward better opportunities to follow over the next decades.
*What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?
Good friends can hide deep problems. I live in a small Midwest town where people are friendly and kind, surprising newcomers by constantly saying hi. We shouldn’t fear reaching out to others and starting conversations about tough topics and fears. Some shy away while others respond eagerly. It’s easy to fall into a trap where we limit our experiences and friendships based on addresses, our ages or children’s ages, economic differences, marital status, and much more.
*What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?
I should be finishing my sixth book. But my mind is wandering and I may be tempted to pursue another story line. That’s what happened in 2008 when I stopped writing one book and could not resist the pull of researching a story set in Afghanistan. The research and strong feelings about the war in Afghanistan and politics in our nation eventually turned into my fourth mystery novel, Fear of Beauty, about a woman in a remote village who is desperate to learn how to read after the death of her son.
*What’s your secret to happiness?
Perhaps being a pessimist, expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised when that does not happen.
*What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?
Reading lots and sometimes going returning to a book that I read long ago as a child or young adult and recalling younger values, feelings and dreams.
*What’s your biggest regret?
I wish I had been a better mentor for my younger siblings, not just tolerating them during family outings. Instead, I could have done more one-on-one hikes or other activities, listening and encouraging them while I was in high school. My mom died when I was eight and I ended up watching my younger sister a great deal and that was a chore. After my dad remarried five years later, I stepped back from responsibility, my caregiving role, and retreated to a private teenage world – reading, studying, spending time with friends and lots of after school activities, working at a bakeshop, and relishing any scraps of privacy I could find in a house with eight other people. Maybe my siblings wouldn’t have listened, but I could have tried more.
*What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid(s)?
I’m pleased my son learned at an early age that we don’t need a lot and we can be happier with less. He attended out-of-district urban public schools where the median household income was less than $30,000. Other students from suburbs would arrive with cell phones or sneakers or designer jackets. Not necessary, I told my son, asking how other children who could not afford such luxuries might feel, and he quickly agreed that he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of fellow students. To this day he is relatively frugal and caring and recognizes that possessions don’t bring contentment.
*What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?
This is terrible, but I try to remind myself not to judge others too quickly based on appearances or initial silly or nervous comments. Appearances can be deceiving, and I should know this from my own experiences! I am a managing editor of an online publication and work from home, so dressing up is not a priority day to day. And we sense when others judge us too quickly or harshly. Maybe it’s why the protagonists in each of my books are helped out of rough spots by vulnerable characters that have been ostracized or bullied. We never know who may help us or when, including strangers.
*Aside from motherhood/fatherhood and marriage what are you most proud of in your life?
I’m happy to say completing and publishing five mystery novels that explore parenting – and especially the last two that describe how literacy strengthens individuals and families. Writing a mystery novel was something I wanted to do ever since reading my first Nancy Drew novel in second grade. And as adult and parent, I promote literacy in every little way I can. When my son was in second grade, his class visited a computer lab twice a week, and I realized that some of his friends could not read well enough to use the programs. I volunteered to visit the lab with the class and guide those struggling to read. Parents often don’t realize the examples they set, how influential they can be over their own children and friends, especially for problem-solving and questioning customs that most others in their community might take for granted. Parents and children may view and approach social problems in different ways, forming independent opinions. Literacy helps us develop those opinions and tackle problems.
*When were you happiest?
Now – because happiness has grown as I’ve aged. It helps having a wonderful husband and family, a comfortable home in a caring community. All I wanted when I was growing up was time and quiet space to read books – any kind I wanted. Now I write murder mysteries on some tough topics and am grateful for diverse readers who express appreciation for these stories and describe renewed motivation to imagine another future.
*What ten words best describe you?
Reader, mom, writer, gardener, curious, impulsive, spontaneous, energetic, independent, opinionated
Susan Froetschel worked a variety of part-time writing, editing and teaching jobs while raising her son. In July she was named managing editor of YaleGlobal Online, a publication that explores globalization as the interconnectedness of our world.
She is the author of five mystery novels about families resisting limitations in their community, Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit, both set in Afghanistan. Fear of Beauty was a 2014 finalist or the Mary Higgins Clark Award from Mystery Writers of America, winner of a gold star for best suspense from Military Writers Society of America, and winner of the Youth Literature Award from the Middle East Outreach Council. She lives in Michigan.