- N. N. Light
Author Interview | Meet @hollyswimsuit and her book series plus get a freebie! #cozymystery #freebie
I'm so excited for today's guest. I first met Susie Black last year when I read and reviewed her debut novel, Death by Sample Size. Hands down, one of the best books of the year. I asked if she'd like to sit down with me for an interview and to share her great news. She agreed and even brought a special gift for each of you. So, sit down and enjoy. Susie, take it away:
What is your writing process?
SUSIE: From the start of my career as a ladies’ apparel sales exec, I have kept a daily journal that chronicles the quirky, interesting, and often challenging people I’ve encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. The journal entries are the main source of my research and the foundation of all my writing. The most critically important skill a successful sales exec must have is to be a good storyteller. Since I’d never written a novel before, the only thing I knew to do was to apply the same story-telling skills I’d successfully used hawking bikinis to writing a tale. So, where did my story ideas come from? My mother didn’t raise stupid children. I paid attention to the mantra. Write what you know. With a dollop of imagination, a pinch of angst, and a decades-long career chocked to the gills with juicy characters, I had more stories itching to be told in my daily journal than time to write them.
Do you have any odd writing habits?
SUSIE: Yes. Actually, two. I have hundreds of scraps of paper scattered across my desk and the office filled with notes to remember to add this scene or revise that one or an idea for a new character or plot twist. Since I also wake up in the middle of the night, thinking of things for stories, I keep a pad and pen on the nightstand and attempt to write the ideas down. Of course, most of the time, I either can’t read my handwriting or what I’ve written is legible but makes no sense, and spend half the morning trying to figure out what I wrote or what I meant.
What book do you wish you could have written?
SUSIE: The Ax by Donald E. Westlake. Mr. Westlake wrote a hilariously tongue-in-cheek but believable story of a disgruntled man who was inexplicably let go from a long-held position and plotted to guarantee his getting another job by killing off the competition. I would have loved to have written this book.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
SUSIE: As a child, the two that had the biggest influence were: Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew Series & Frank W. Dixon, author of The Hardy Boys Series. As an adult I have many, but if I had to narrow the list down, these are the cream of the crop: Nancy J. Cohen, Carolyn Haines, the late great Joan Hess, the late great Anne George, the late great Donald E. Westlake, the late great Elmore Leonard.
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
SUSIE: Sarah Silverman would be cast as Holly Schlivnik
Katherine Heigel would be cast as Queenie
Melissa McCarthy would play Joan
Elizabeth Banks would play Sonia
Rebel Wilson would be cast as Hope
Kristen Wiig would be cast as Sophie
Anna Kendrick would be cast as Bunny
Hilary Duff would play Angela
Sakura Ando would play AJ
Sally Field would be cast as Rose
Edgar Ramirez or William Levy would be cast as Miguel
Paul Rudd would be cast as David
Gerard Butler would be cast as Louis
Edward Norton would play Ronnie
Kate Mckinnon would play Rhoda
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
SUSIE: Names are critically important to character development. Since the majority of my characters are based on real people I knew, I choose their fictitious names by the meaning. I give the characters names that are either close to the real person’s name or a play upon words. For example, if the real person’s name was Joy, I called her Hope. If the real person’s name was Jill, I called her Joan. If the real last name was Newman, I gave the character the last name of Oldham.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
SUSIE: My son Alex.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
SUSIE: On a personal basis, living a healthy, safe life on a beachfront property with family and friends and my typewriter close by. On a professional basis, giving Janet Evanovich a run for her money on the New York Times bestseller list. (My dad always told me to think large and dream big.)
Have you always liked to write?
SUSIE: The short answer? Yes. My mother read to me daily from infancy and taught me to read as a toddler, so words and stories were an important part of my youth. I have been telling stories since I learned to talk. I loved the magic of getting lost in a story and knew I wanted to create the same magic for others. If I had to pinpoint it, I’d say I knew I wanted to be a writer as early as kindergarten. I’ve been writing for a long time. I wrote my first short story when I was in elementary school.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
SUSIE: Write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it or don’t write it. If you don’t have the creds for what you write, you are toast because readers can spot a phony by the second paragraph and never finish reading your book. Keep writing, no matter what, keep writing. Trust your gut, believe in yourself, never let anyone crush your dream, and never stop asking what if?
If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
SUSIE: A stand-up comedienne.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
SUSIE: I am a hybrid author. I plan the beginning and the end, but let my characters lead the way from the middle they create to the ending. They have a good deal of leeway but understand that if they don’t do a good job I will take over. And if I am extremely underwhelmed, there is the risk I will either write them out or kill them off.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
SUSIE: I read all my reviews. Sometimes I respond to the good ones, but I never respond to the bad ones. As a sales exec, I am used to rejection and have learned you can’t please everyone. Since I write for an audience and not for myself, I would rather have a negative review than no review. The most effective way I deal with negative reviews is to learn something from them that I can use for future stories. If a reader is confused by a plot twist, going forward I am cognizant not to replicate the same twist but revise it. If a reader was confused by a flashback, going forward I make the flashback clearer with a declarative phrase so the reader understands some of the action was in the past and another action is in the present time. My advice on how to deal with the bad reviews is don’t expect to please everyone. Don’t take a bad review too personally; look at it analytically and grow a thick skin. Don’t get angry or hurt as neither serves any good purpose. Instead, if the review has constructive criticism, have an open mind and use it as a learning experience to improve your writing going forward and not repeat the same mistakes.
What is your best marketing tip?
SUSIE: Don’t try to do everything because you’ll never do any one of them well. Get familiar with social media and figure out how it can best help market your brand. Find out who your readers are. Then find where your readers hang out and be there too. Be selective and only do the marketing ploys you like and believe in. If you think Twitter is the silliest thing you’ve ever seen, don’t do it. You won’t be effective. Whatever you do, be consistent, do marketing daily; even for only half an hour, and don’t only say, “buy my book” every single time you market. Let readers get to know you by sharing personal things about you, especially those things that have impacted your writing. Marketing is telling the story behind the story.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing/writing process?
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
SUSIE: Yes. What is it? Animal or child abuse.
Do you have a favorite spot to write?
SUSIE: Yes, I do. What is it? I live on a golf course and my home office faces a duck-filled water hazard on the fairway. I love to look up at the duffers swatting at golf balls that invariably go into the drink and make the ducks quack at the golfers. Some of my best written zingers are as a result of watching their guffaws and antics.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
SUSIE: Action scenes. Since I’ve never actually had to escape from a life-threatening situation (thank goodness!), it is challenging to get the pacing right and devise how characters escape (or don’t), not make the scene too over the top and become unrealistic in relationship to the characters involved.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any)?
SUSIE: Death by Sample Size is my debut published book. I have four other unpublished manuscripts written.
What are you working on now?
SUSIE: I am working on editing the prequel to the series that tells how the series protagonist got into the apparel industry. There is a murder in the story, but it is tangential to the plot and the tale is not a murder mystery.
What is your next project?
SUSIE: Editing book three, Death by Surfboard, for submission. I have two new projects in the planning stage: One is a new cozy mystery series set in the California desert and the other is a historical thriller based on the heroic real-life actions of my maternal grandfather during World War II.
Writing a sequel can be challenging. Do you find writing book two easier or harder than book one?
SUSIE: Book two was much easier to write than book one. I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing when I started to write book one; I just knew what I wanted the story to be about. Book two had an actual plot outline, and I had a sense of how to get from the beginning to the end. In book two, the continuing characters were already developed. The location of the second story was the same as the first, so it did not have to be described in the same level of detail as in book one. With book two, I had a much better sense of point of view, timing, pace, as well as clue, and red herring placements than I did with book one. It took me several years and countless, major revisions and edits to get book one to the version that was published. It took me only several months to achieve the same level of competence with book two.
What advice would you give to writers writing a series?
SUSIE: Treat the characters, especially the continuous ones, in the stories as real people. By that I mean that real life is fluid: there is a flux in circumstances that invariably impact lives. People age; they get sick or get better; people are born, people die; lose a job or get a new job; move either by choice or by necessity; fall in or out of love; get a pet or lose a pet; make a friend or lose a friend, etc. An author must maintain a balance between change and continuity when writing a series. A certain amount of changes to characters' lives is necessary to keep a series fresh and realistic, yet continuity is a key element of a series. You don’t have to age characters as we age in real life; you can keep them in the same general age group, but not forever; grandma isn’t going to live to be one hundred and fifty years old. Don’t be afraid to make big changes in characters’ lives and don’t be afraid to kill off a continuous character, even if it is a popular one.
Do you write naked?
SUSIE: I am embarrassed to admit that yes, I have. When a fabulous idea comes to me while in the shower, I’ve run out soaking wet and naked to write the scene while it is fresh in my mind, and while in the zone, I end up writing several chapters in the buff. That doesn’t happen often, but I do admit to writing wearing my pajamas quite a bit.
Have you ever gotten into a fight?
SUSIE: Yes. In the fifth grade, I beat the stuffing out of Phillip De Loria on the playground at Vanalden Elementary School.
Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
SUSIE: When I was in college, I was almost out of gas leaving the university library quite late at night, and was followed from the school parking lot while driving back to my apartment. No matter how many twists and turns I made, I could not shake the tail. I was almost out of gas, but afraid to go home and let the person see where I lived. So, I drove to the nearest police station and ran inside. The police took a report, escorted me to the gas station, then followed me home, and patrolled my neighborhood for the next few nights, but the follower was never caught.
Do you drink? Smoke?
SUSIE: I do not smoke. I tried it once when I was ten years old. My cousin Jane and I stole a pack of my aunt’s cigarettes. We went to the alley behind their house and lit up. I took one big hit, coughed myself sick, threw up, and never did it again. I do not like the taste of hard liquor. But I will drink those “girlie fruity drinks,” as my husband calls them, on vacation. I do like a glass of wine with dinner and what is Mexican food without a margarita?
What’s your vice?
SUSIE: I have several: a book I can’t put down; the Beach Boys, The Beatles, Classical music, Latin Jazz; chocolate, ice cream, coffee, lobster, and pizza.
What is your biggest fear?
SUSIE: Death. I inherited a genetic trait that is a defense mechanism from my maternal grandmother that candidly is embarrassing at times…when I hear of someone’s death, I laugh. Since I am known for this trait by many, there was no point denying it. So, I decided to embrace it by working it into all my plots. My protagonist, Holly Schlivnik, laughs whenever she discovers a corpse.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
What literary character is most like you?
SUSIE: On a bad day, Stephanie Plum. On a good day, Jessica Fletcher.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been to before?
SUSIE: The South Pole.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
SUSIE: My late female springer spaniel dog because NO living creature was more spoiled and pampered than her.
What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?
SUSIE: Professionally: Be a New York Times Best Selling Author; make the Amazon top one hundred list, and be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. Personally: See my son marry and make me a grandma; learn how to scuba dive; attend an LA Dodgers baseball world series game; visit the rock N’ roll hall of fame museum; tour the Holocaust Museum; Crew on the America's Cup sailing team; take an Alaskan cruise; cruise the Fjords; cruise down the Amazon; see the Galapagos Islands; see Stone Henge; go to Israel and Poland.
Do you have any scars?
SUSIE: Yes. I have two. What are they from? One from an appendectomy and the other from C-section childbirth.
What were you like as a child?
SUSIE: I was outgoing, curious, asked a zillion questions, nosy, a jokester/class clown, and a tomboy.
Your favorite toy?
SUSIE: As a small child: my Howdy Doody doll. As an older child: my Stan “the Man” Musial baseball glove.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers:
SUSIE: Yes, there is. I have just submitted Death by Pins & Needles, book two in the Holly Swimsuit Mystery series, to my editor. Fingers crossed it will be published sometime this year. Here’s a blurb to whet your appetite:
Who wanted her dead? The list was as long as your arm…but which one actually killed her? The last thing Mermaid Swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected to find in the closet was her nasty competitor Lissa Charney’s battered corpse hung on the wall like a Christmas window store display. When Holly’s colleague is wrongly arrested for Lissa’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth sticks her nose everywhere it doesn’t belong to sniff out the real killer. Nothing turns out the way she thinks it will as Holly matches wits with a heartless killer hellbent for revenge.
Thank you, Susie, for the incredible interview. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Readers, scroll down to read all about Susie’s books plus a check out her feature in the Desert Sun newspaper.
Current Title: Death by Sample Size
Author: Susie Black
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her? The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer. Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge.
Angela Wellborn and I nodded politely to one another as we entered A Jolt of Java together the next morning. I cautiously wished her a good morning and took it as a good sign when Angela told me to have a nice day. With any luck, maybe I’d save the account.
I worked my way around the table distributing the group’s coffees. When I handed Sonia her cup, the good vibe I had from Angela quickly disappeared. Sonia’s complexion was gray as day-old oatmeal. Her red-rimmed eyes said it all.
I squeezed her arm. “What happened?”
Sonia’s eyes filled. “I didn’t get it.”
“Did they tell you why?”
Sonia twisted her lips into a bitter smile. “My references didn’t pan out.”
Bunny Frank sat at a table across from us sipping a latte and reading the West Coast Apparel News. Sonia walked the short distance to Bunny’s table. Bunny folded the paper and gave Sonia a shit-eating grin.
Sonia growled, “You’re a miserable excuse for a human being. You couldn’t bring yourself to do the right thing for once in your life. You had to lie and destroy a fabulous opportunity because you could.”
Bunny drew a circle in the air and put her index finger through it. “Bullseye, Wilson.” She wiggled her thumb and flashed an evil smile. “Gotcha right under here and I always will.”
Sonia grabbed the latte out of Bunny’s hand and poured the drink over Bunny’s head. The concoction flowed slowly like lava down Bunny’s face and meandered into her cleavage. Too stunned to react, Bunny sat still as a statue as the foam seeped from her décolletage and stained her white knit top.
Sonia crushed the empty paper cup and threw it on the table. The crowded room was silent as a tomb as all eyes swiveled to Bunny’s table. Not a soul missed Sonia snarl, “I promise I’ll get even with you. I will make you pay if it takes me forever.” Sonia spun on her heel and stomped back to our table. She pointed to the barista’s station. “Anyone for a refill? This round is on me.”
When the elevator doors opened, I had to stop myself short not to step on her. There was Bunny Frank-the buying office big shot-lying diagonally across the car. Her legs were splayed out and her back was propped against the corner. Her sightless eyes were wide open and her arms reached out in a come-to-me baby pose. She was trussed up with shipping tape like a dressed Thanksgiving turkey ready for the oven with a bikini stuffed in her mouth. A Gotham Swimwear hangtag drooped off her lower lip like a toe tag gone lost. Naturally, I burst out laughing.
Before you label me incredibly weird or stone-cold, let me say genetics aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. If you’re lucky you inherit your Aunt Bertha’s sexy long legs or your father’s ability to add a bazillion dollar order in his head and get the total correct to the last penny. Without even breaking into a sweat, it’s easy to spout at least a million fabulous traits inheritable by the luck of the draw. Did I get those sexy long legs or the ability to add more than two plus two without a calculator? Noooooooooo. Lucky me. I inherited my Nana’s fear of death we overcompensated for with the nervous habit of laughin