Montclair author tells a tale of secrets, loss in first novel
For author and Montclair resident Suzanne Moyers, “’Til All These Things Be Done” was a long time coming. Though the actual writing process for the book took her 10 years, its premise had followed her even longer, since adolescence.
In “’Til All These Things Be Done,” a woman named Leola is forced to confront an event that she suppressed for nearly 60 years. While she is growing up in the Blacklands of Texas during a pandemic and civil unrest, Leola’s father mysteriously vanishes when she’s 16. “It’s a loss that echoes throughout her lifetime,” Moyers said.
Between the absent father and a mother who succumbs to the influenza outbreak of 1919, Leola is forced to take care of her two younger siblings while grieving.
As she gets older and creates a family of her own in Namesak, New Jersey, a fictional town created by Moyers, it’s only in her own aging and disoriented mind that she’s forced to confront the chilling story behind her father’s disappearance.
Moyers describes the novel as a “family saga that shifts from the different perspectives of Leola as a young woman and then her as an older woman.”
The inspiration for the novel, which was published on Sept. 13, came from an important person in Moyers’ life. Nearly 40 years ago, when she was 16, her grandmother moved in with her family after showing signs of early dementia. She recalls a haunting moment with her grandmother that turned out to be the opening scene of her novel.
“I'll never forget when I was a self-involved 16-year-old but I remember seeing her sitting in our living room, like looking at this empty corner and crying, ‘Papa, why did you leave? Come back, Papa,’ and I had never heard this story before,” Moyers recalled.
She was startled hearing and seeing her grandmother cry out to someone who was not there. It was then that she realized she never knew or even questioned the relationship between her grandmother and great-grandfather.
“She never talked about her missing father,” Moyers said. “I didn't know a thing about it. And it was so eerie. In her mind, she was seeing her father there.”
Like Leola, Moyers’ grandmother, whom she affectionately called “Nana,” went through such a traumatic young adulthood that she suppressed the experience until her brain would no longer allow her to do so.
“She accomplished incredible things,” Moyers said. “She was from a very poor background, and she put herself through college at a time when a lot of women didn't go to college. And so she was this amazing person. But in her old age, the one thing that she could remember was this loss.”
Writing “’Til All These Things Be Done” allowed Moyers to bring a sense of healing and solace to a tragic family event that her grandmother never was able to find peace with when alive. “In writing this book, I feel like I've brought it full circle,” the author said. “And I've given Leola in the book a closure to this loss that my grandmother never had.”
Though the book is a work of fiction, Moyers’ family greatly influenced it. She said, “I think this story, I was so emotionally connected to it, and I'm very much of a ‘feeler’ and I write through my emotions.”
Using her grandmother's inspiring but tragic experience felt right for Moyers in her first published novel. Even her then-17-year-old daughter played a hand in its creation. The title “’Til All These Things Be Done” came from an English ballad that she and her daughter picked out. The ballad is “The Turtle Dove” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which follows a conversation between two lovers.
“It's so haunting,” Moyers said. “It's about a lost love. It's about a promise made. It's about a journey.”
She liked the song so much that not only did she use one of its lyrics for the title of her novel, she also rewrote the first few chapters to make it Leola’s father’s favorite song.
Growing up on Long Island but moving to Montclair 23 years ago, Moyers always had a love for writing despite working in other careers. She began writing her first novel, which wasn’t published, 12 years ago.
“My whole life, I've walked around writing stories in my head,” she said. “I thought everybody did that.”
Though the novel does not take place in Montclair, Moyers thanks the town for fueling her love of writing. She and three other Montclair residents, including Lisa Rosenberg, whose first novel, “Embers on the Wind,” also was published this year, were in a writing group together over 10 years ago. She also took a class with New York Times bestselling author and Montclair resident Christina Baker Kline.
Moyers calls Montclair “a great place to be a writer because you're really surrounded by writers.”
“’Til All These Things Be Done” is available for purchase at Watchung Booksellers and online at suzannemoyers.com.