By Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter Published Aug 19, 2013 at 5:31 AM

As a Miami native transplanted to the Midwest, Susanna Daniel produces fiction that offers a fusion of the two very different regions – as well as the characters you might find inhabiting them.

Her debut novel, "Stiltsville," was on the 2011 Summer Reading List at and won the PEN/Bingham Award that same year. Daniel’s latest novel "Sea Creatures," follows Georgia, a wife and mother whose parasomniac husband, Graham, loses tenure at the university where he teaches due to his illness. Hoping for a new life, the family heads to Georgia’s hometown of Miami to live on a houseboat, and Georgia is forced to take stock of her life, her decision decisions and the peril in which they have placed her son.

Daniel will be in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., with Andrea Thalasinos, author of "Traveling Light." She sat down with to talk about life as a Miami girl in the Midwest, her latest creative writing workshop and what it’s like writing about happy people. How long have you been working on "Sea Creatures?"

Susanna Daniel: There were a few hundred pages that came out right after "Stiltsville" came out, in 2010. But I really started with what I call the last first draft about 10 months before I sold it ... it came out really as a whole with very few major changes.

OMC: How is it different from your debut novel? It seems like it’s a little bit more about a family in turmoil.

SD: There are a couple characters that are the same, and the setting is very similar, but otherwise it’s a very different book. "Stiltsville" takes place over 30 years, and it’s about a happy marriage. So I knew that I wanted to write something about not necessarily an unhappy marriage but an unhappy time in a marriage. I wanted to write about a dark moment in a marriage. It’s very different in that sense but also it takes place over one summer. "Sea Creatures" drives towards this kind of dramatic ending and "Stiltsville" is not like that; it’s more episodic. It sort of ambles happily toward the ending.

OMC: As a parent and a wife, do you find it difficult for you to tackle these darker storylines or these difficult situations that Georgia is facing regarding her family?

SD: I do. Georgia broke my heart in a lot of ways, and Frankie and Graham. But I think that she’s very realistic, with both her anxieties and also her fallibility as a mom - it reminds me of me.

OMC: As a writer, you are clearly inspired by your hometown. Is that a consistent theme in your work?

SD:I have more love for Miami as a Midwesterner than as a Miamian, if I lived there. I’m moved to write about it as a place in fiction. It’s a wonderful place that hasn’t been used very often in that genre. I prefer to write about the city remotely, while not living there, so it’s the Miami of my imagination, which I think is richer and no so muddled by the parts of it that I prefer not to put in fiction.

OMC: How did you research parasomnia, which your character Graham suffers from, to the detriment of his personal and professional life?

SD: I got the idea from a monologue by Mike Birbiglia, "Sleepwalk With Me." It’s hilarious, which my book is not. I saw it years ago, the original recording, and I was thinking the whole time, "Oh my God, what would it be like to be married to someone with those problems?" I borrowed liberally from that as a basis for Graham’s problems. I also used a documentary by Carlos Schenck called "Sleep Runners," and I talked to a friend who is a psychiatrist and deals with parasomnia, which is the umbrella term for sleep disorders. It’s much like mutism in that way, as it’s not a very stringent diagnosis.

OMC: You really examine the relationship between the Midwest and Florida in this novel, particularly in the relationship between your main character and her husband. Why does that comparison speak to you on a literary level?

SD: I definitely did feel like an outsider in the Midwest as a Miamian, and whenever I meet someone from Miami we have a lot to talk about – and it doesn’t happen very often! You’re always going to feel like an anthropologist – why am I feeling uncomfortable in certain situations, is it what I’m doing, am I just a weirdo? The Midwest is my home now and will be my home forever, and I’m relatively happy with that. I mean, I’m married to a Midwesterner and raising Midwesterners. But I’ll always be on the anthropological front lines, so to speak.

OMC: I loved your essay "On the Homogenization of Reading." How do you envision your readership when you’re in the middle of the writing process? Do you feel that you write for the masses, or write for yourself?

SD: If I could tap into a formula to write a book for the masses, I might. But I only have specific energy to muster to write for what I write about. My books are pretty readable, but it’s not a choice I’ve made. If tomorrow I could write, under a nom de plume, the best, most marketable book in sci-fi or vampire fiction or one of those genres, I would definitely do that, for my family. But I don’t have different kinds of writing energy. I’m lucky that what interests me is domestic life, marriage life – what so many people are involved in on a daily basis.

OMC: What books are you reading lately?

SD: I just finished "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves," by Karen Joy Fowler, which I thought was so interesting from the perspective of a writer. There’s like a surprise in the book, and it doesn’t come up until about 60 pages in. I just found it so interesting as a writer.

I’ve also been reading Dale Kushner’s "The Conditions of Love." It’s her debut novel; she’s a Madison writer, and it’s just the most epic book about this woman’s life from childhood to old age. I also read a lot of books I’m getting ready to teach for the Madison Writer’s Studio

OMC: Tell me about the Madison Writers’ Studio.

SD: Michelle Widgen and I were in a novel group together, and I was looking at places to teach. We came across everything from weekend conferences to one-day and one-hour workshops, but just nothing in between. A friend of mine, Julia Fierro, started Sackett Street Writers Workshop in Brooklyn, and it was just a hugely important and popular writing workshop in Brooklyn. And we just thought, why don’t we have something like that here? Madison really sells itself short in not having this option. We teach our first class in September.

Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter

Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.