For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Susanne Dietze. Susanne is an award-winning, RWA RITA®-nominated author who’s seen her work on the ECPA, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and enjoys fancy-schmancy tea parties, genealogy, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama.
Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!
Without further ado, please tell us interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
I do not think I’m an interesting person at all, but let’s see if I can come up with a few tidbits…
I prefer folding clean laundry to doing dishes. Hands down.
When I was 11, I was splashing around in a Nebraska hotel swimming pool and met a girl from Oklahoma. We have been pen-pals ever since.
My first paying job other than babysitting and office tasks at my church was at Balboa Park in San Diego. I love it there, and I had a blast setting a novella in the Park (a 1920’s romance in Carousel Dreams).
My bio mentions that I love genealogy, and it’s true. I have to limit my time on Ancestry or I’d be there all day. I also love museums, miniatures, taking long walks, and cooking, but my latest obsession is checking Instagram for new videos of Fritz the baby hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
Five and Dime Christmas is a four-novella collection of historical, inspirational Christmas romances. The other authors involved are Cynthia Hickey, Patty Smith Hall, and Christina Lorenzen. Here’s the blurb for the collection, followed by the blurb for my specific novella, A Merry Little Christmas:
Christmas Is a Time for Romance at an 1880s Department Store.
Christmas Romances in One Collection Woolworth’s Five and Dime is a magical place to work at Christmastime, but will it also be a place to fall in love in 1881? Maggie Larson works the lunch counter where she befriends a girl who’s lonely father delivers milk each Friday. Hattie Scott learns her favorite customer is Englishman Timothy Branson and a threat to her brother’s job. Essie Hensley doesn’t need money but welcomes the challenges of working a job where she meets a minister and six little boys who inspire Christmas wishes. A job is the only thing independent orphan Lizzie Miller needs, but she can’t pass up an invite to a bookkeeper’s family Christmas.
A Merry Little Christmas:
Woolworth’s store clerk Hattie Scott’s heart is touched by a handsome customer, but when she takes on additional secretarial work to earn money for Christmas, she learns her new boss is Englishman Timothy Branson—her favorite customer, and a threat to her brother’s job! Can two proud hearts overcome their differences to help her brother…and find love?
For those who may not know, can you describe a Five and Dime?
In short, a “five and dime” was a variety store where everything costs only five or ten cents each. It was also one of the first stores where consumers could handle the goods themselves, rather than hand a shopkeeper a list and wait for it to be filled. The store was filled with items bought in bulk at low prices. Back in 1881, a shopper could buy anything from a handkerchief to candy to school supplies and some clothing at the Five and Dime. Later on, lunch counters became a part of Woolworth’s, and they were very popular.
What made you choose a Five and Dime as the setting for your story?
Cynthia Hickey came up with the idea for the setting. We originally pitched it as a non-holiday collection, but our editor, Rebecca Germany at Barbour, asked if we could alter it for Christmas. Naturally we were all thrilled to say yes!
What year does your story take place and what research was required to set a book then?
The novellas are set in late 1881, in and around the first successful Woolworth’s Five and Dime, which was in Scranton, PA. (Previous stores that failed were in Utica, NY, and Lancaster, PA.) Since the Scranton store’s location on Penn Avenue still exists, I got online and saw photos of how the building looked both then and now!
In my research of the early Woolworth stores, I learned how “Sum” Woolworth operated and found lists of actual items sold. Not everything in our novellas is historically accurate, though. The aforementioned lunch counters were a later addition, but they feature in one of the stories. Also, the store wasn’t large enough for departments. We make note of this information in the author notes.
I also researched Scranton, looking at major events that happened around the time of our story. The iron and coal works were a huge part of the life of the town, so I wanted to include it.
Were resources easy or difficult to find? Do you have a favorite resource?
Basic information was relatively easy. We knew Woolworth’s sold German Christmas ornaments, for example, and that some were round and silver, but how big were they? What other sorts of ornaments were there? I looked up German ornaments manufactured in this time and went from there, and my hero bought one of the most interesting ones I saw online—a cobalt cluster of grapes. I love photos for research. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and while that isn’t quite true, they often help me get a sense of things!
What is one piece of your research that you couldn’t include in the book, but wish readers could know?
Fashion. Always fashion with me! My characters tend to wear clothing and fabrics that I’ve found in period fashion magazines or photos or other sources. I could write a paragraph describing the heroines’ dresses, and one reason is because the fashion communicated so much and really did alter how a character could move or even breathe. I wore a corset sewn from a Regency-era pattern and wow, it forced me to have excellent posture and breathe far more shallowly than usual. That gave me a taste of that period I would never have had before, and I always wish I could include more of it in my stories. Same with food and recipes.
Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?
I write both historical and contemporary, and right now I am working hard on a contemporary-set series about a family with a big secret. Each of the books features a member of the youngest generation of the family. The books will stand alone, but are connected, so the secret will affect each of the characters in their own stories.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Susanne, thank you for joining us today!
If readers would like to purchase a copy of Five and Dime Christmas where might they be able to do so?
The book is available everywhere Barbour books are sold, at Christian bookstores, Barnes and Noble, and of course online! I’m also thrilled to share that this is my first book available as an audio book! Here’s the Amazon link.
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?
I love to connect with readers! I can be found (and contacted) at my website, www.SusanneDietze.com, and on Facebook at SusanneDietzeBooks. My Twitter and Instagram handles are the same, SusanneDietze. I also have a newsletter where I share recipes and news and offer prizes!
Sunday Dinner will be on a brief hiatus for the Thanksgiving Holiday (in the US). We’ll see you in December!