Suanne Laqueur is the author of the new novel A Small Hotel. It focuses on earlier generations of the Fiskare family, the protagonists of her Fish Tales series. A former professional dancer and teacher, she lives in Westchester County, New York.
Q: A Small Hotel revisits the Fiskare family from your previous novels. Why did you decide to focus on this earlier generation of the family in your new book?
A: The protagonist of A Small Hotel, Kennet Fiskare, is the grandfather of Erik Fiskare, the protagonist in my Fish Tales series. At 8 years old, Erik’s life was profoundly changed when his father suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.
The trauma of this unresolved loss caused Erik to suppress most of his childhood memories, out of sheer self-protection. Yet he retains consistent, vivid memories of his grandfather Kennet, a reserved and distant man who showed love in deeds rather than words—for example, he left Erik enough money in his will to go to college.
At the end of Fish Tales, Erik is starting to make contact with his estranged, extended family, and learn more about his history.
He realizes his life and Kennet’s life follow the same trajectory: both ordinary young men thrown into extraordinary circumstances; both shaped by the trauma of desertion and violence; both estranged from their first loves yet given a second chance; both suffered the loss of a child...
I wanted to dive deeper into those themes and tell Kennet’s story as a standalone novel. The result is A Small Hotel.
Q: Did you need to do much research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: I did about eight months of intensive research, divided between the history of the Thousand Islands, and the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion, which is Kennet Fiskare’s unit.
A throwaway line in Fish Tales—“Your grandfather’s unit liberated Mauthausen”—locked me into that unit and the 11th Armored Division’s campaign from Belgium to Austria.
There were amazing online accounts and testimonials from soldiers who served with the 21st. Not only did it help me track the day-to-day movements of the troops and the important battles and skirmishes, but it offered little anecdotal touches, observations from ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, that gave the novel authenticity.
Perhaps the greatest surprise came when I researched material I needed for Kennet’s brother, who is a closeted gay man serving in the Navy. The treatment, persecution, and prosecution of homosexual troops during World War II was shocking to discover and worthy of its own story, which I hope to write someday.
Q: Do you think a reader needs to have read Fish Tales to appreciate this book, or can it be read on its own?
A: It can absolutely be read on its own. No vital plot point from Fish Tales is vital to Small Hotel, or vice-versa. Erik Fiskare appears nowhere in Small Hotel; his father isn’t even born until the last page. So dive in blind and enjoy.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: One takeaway is that we come back from war changed. As Kennet writes in his wartime journal, “You can’t expect a man to be pushed to the limit of his strength, endurance and courage, then be disgusted if he breaks down afterward. We’re men, not Gods.
“It’s so much easier to kill for friends than for a cause. Causes are distanced, abstract things. Friends are in your face, in your bunk, in your foxhole. They trust you with their lives, they die in your arms with their blood and guts sprayed across your face and their teeth embedded in your flesh. If the world is going to rely on ordinary men to right the wrongs, then those men have to rely on each other. And what men do in war, they do only for each other.”
Which leads to another of the book’s takeaways: “Family isn’t only your blood. It’s who you bleed for.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Unfortunately, I’m taking a hiatus to work on breast cancer right now. I know, bummer! The prognosis is good and everything’s ultimately going to be all right. But for the foreseeable future, I’ll be focusing on my health and celebrating the release of Hotel. The next saga in the “Fiskariad” will have to wait.
Q: I’m so very sorry to hear that and I wish you all the best.
Just to finish up our interview, is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
A: I love to hear from readers. Find me on my website (suannelaqueurwrites.com) or join “Suanne Laqueur’s Read & Nap Lounge” on Facebook. All feels welcome and I always have coffee!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb