If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our September Author Interviews--9/6 Kathleen Valenti, 9/13 David Burnsworth, 9/20 Jeri Westerson, 9/27 Frances Brody. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

September Saturday Guest Bloggers: 9/2--Anne Bannon, 9/9 WWK Bloggers, 9/16 Margaret S. Hamilton, 9/23 Kait Carson, and on 9/30 Trixie Stiletto.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.” In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

An Interview with Susan Bickford by E. B. Davis


Often, when I read first-published books by SinC Guppy members, my assumption of a cozy read is right, especially when the publisher is Kensington. After reading Susan Bickford’s A Short Time To Die, I found that assumption was wrong!

The language can be rough, the concepts—obscene, and the tone—suspenseful. We hope the main character, Marly Shaw, will come out on top. And just when we’re wringing our hands, Susan’s counterpoint POV, Detective Vanessa Alba, provides calming relief, but then—we’re afraid of what she’ll find out.

For a debut author, Susan’s approach is gutsy. I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Please welcome Susan Bickford to WWK.                                 E. B. Davis

You dedicated your book to Kathy Bernhard and George-Ann Formicola. Who were they?

Wheatland Chili, outside Rochester, NY, was quite small—about 100 students in each grade, with a combined junior and senior high school. Georgie, Kathy, and I were in the same homeroom and we giggled and snickered at the back every morning.

On our last day of school freshman year, they went swimming and never came home. The rumors were that they had run off. But two months later their bodies were found nearby, hideously mutilated. Their killer was never identified. It has haunted me all these years—girls who deserved their own futures.

Charon Springs is a town in Central New York State where the central part of your story takes place. Did you base the town on someplace you lived? Like Chili, perhaps?

How did you know about Chili? Georgie and Kathy lived in a small Chili community that was a stone’s throw from Rochester but very isolated in a way.

My parents seemed to prefer towns that were the farthest commuting point into the nearby city. I always had the sense that the end of the world began about five miles down the road.

Charon Springs is a mix of a number of tiny communities around Central New York and a bit of Vermont.

Why does the water in Charon Springs smell badly? What’s the mythology of the town?
Upstate New York is a fascinating place geologically with ancient mountains and old seabeds, scoured by glaciers. Syracuse is the Salt City because it was dominated by salt production for many decades.

The downside is that the water is universally hard and tastes terrible. In addition, certain areas have sulfur water because the water filters down through many layers of salty sediment.

Here and there, communities tried to turn this into an asset: Ballston Spa. Saratoga Springs. Saratoga means bitter water in Iroquois languages.

Charon Springs tried and failed to become a spa back in the nineteenth century.

The Harris family rules Charon Springs much like the Mafia. But the Scotch Irish settled the town. Is this power and rule-by-violence clan mentality or just a congenital or learned sickness?

I would call it the rotten apple principle, so it is a bit of both. Every one of us has the capacity for cruelty but also for kindness. My personal belief is that this goes back to very ancient instincts that allowed us to identify weak animals while hunting, for example. Sadly, that same instinct can be turned against those around us. At the same time we also developed a sense of empathy and the necessity to help each other in communities. Both are congenital. However, circumstances can allow for the cruel side to prosper. The Harris family set up a pattern of abuse and domination long ago and those who remained are infected.

Marly calls her mother, Denise, by her first name. Why?

Marly loves her mother but cannot respect her. Denise has made so many disastrous decisions in her life that have impacted the entire family and she never learns or matures. Marly is filled with teenage frustration and anger, because she is trapped in so many ways. This is her way of showing contempt. Eventually Marly accepts that her mother is a deeply damaged person who will never change.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

The above quote repeated through my mind when reading your book. The police seem somewhat inept and fearful. The librarian, Mrs. Haas, who Marly works for, seems to know a lot, but never says much. Girls are beaten, threatened, and killed. Why so much silence?

The police care but are overwhelmed and don’t have sufficient tools to seriously combat this type of insidious, low level crime and violence. Everyone else has only two choices: leave forever or stay and play along. No one wants to poke the bear.

Marly teams up with beating victim, Elaine Fardig. They hadn’t been friends before Elaine’s beating. Why does Marly have incentive to befriend Elaine, and what do they have in common?

Marly realizes she won’t survive long on her own if she wants to escape. She needs allies beyond Mrs. Haas, the librarian. Elaine was brave enough to stand up to the Harris family despite the risk and Marly needs someone like that in her corner. People in surrounding communities look down on their little town. Elaine is ambitious and needs to get away and is not concerned with kissing up.

You provide readers with the POV of Santa Clara County (CA) Detective Vanessa Alba, of Colombian descent, who, along with her temporary partner, Santa Cruz County (CA), Detective Jack Wong, come into the Charon Springs’ story after finding two partial skeletons of Harris clan members in their jurisdictions. Was using her POV showing how limited the police are in crime solving, or is it more a show of good and bad aspects of discretionary authority?

I needed someone to reveal aspects of the story that Marly wasn’t aware of and would never learn. An outsider who works in law enforcement fit perfectly. Vanessa’s outsider status also allows her to see the situation in Charon Springs with fresh, unjaded eyes. She is smart, observant, and passionate. It’s more about being effective. Besides, Vanessa doesn’t have to remain in Charon Springs so she has the advantage of being able to call things as she sees them.

Carl Harris, due to the deaths of ruling family members, becomes the head of the Harris clan. You kept me guessing whether or not he was good or bad. There’s reason to believe that he’s checking up on Alba and Wong’s investigation—threatening them. And yet, he’s helped Marly. What’s the verdict?

Ah yes—a good bad guy or a bad good guy? I adore Carl. He and Marly are opposite sides of the same coin. They are both smart, self-aware, strategic thinkers, and want to do the right thing.  The high pressure corruption of his family twisted Carl’s moral compass a bit. Somehow the same pressure taught Marly empathy, although she struggles. She mostly manages to keep the positive side of the coin facing up, Carl not so much. Ultimately I think Carl is a good guy who can’t help himself. His wife, Betty, loves him and Betty is no fool.

Officer Paul Daniel bugs me. He bugged Marly, too. What is it with that guy? Is he part of the conspiracy of silence, a nerd, or slime?

Paul is on the autistic spectrum and not very smart. He clings to his dysfunctional world of Charon Springs because he can’t figure out how to leave. He has been bullied his entire life but he has figured out how to survive. He’s not really part of the conspiracy of silence because he can’t really process or connect the dots very well. He bugs Marly because he is weak, needy, and unable to evolve—much like her mother. She has run out of sympathy. Eventually she realizes that she is indulging in the same bullying behavior as others by teasing him and targeting his weaknesses. Paul bugs Vanessa too, but she quickly sees the tragic side of Paul’s situation.

What is “Marlyfication,” and why would Marly do anything for the town or people in the town where she grew up in fear?

Marly learned the hard way that policies of benign neglect or containment never helped the people of Charon Springs. The situation just festered and many innocent people were sucked under or failed to thrive. She understands that she was able to be successful because other people came to her defense, and that she was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of that. She wants to prove that the right kinds of intervention can turn things around in Charon Springs. I hope she is right.

How did you get your contract with Kensington, and do you have advice for unpublished writers?

I didn’t plan ahead of time. Every step of the way I thought, “Gee, what’s next? I wonder if this story is worth writing, worth polishing up, worth publishing…” Then I thought, “I wonder if I could get an agent? Let’s try.” And finally, “OMG, my agent actually found a publisher.”

I was perfectly happy to take on a small publisher or go the self-publishing route but it just so happened that the agent and publisher arrived first.

I also knew myself well enough to realize that I was not going to enjoy all the detailed micro-management I would need to handle to self-publish, particularly going through it the first time. I’m extremely pleased with what Kensington puts into distribution and marketing and it’s still a lot of work for me.

To unpublished writers, my advice would be to take your time to write the best story you can and enjoy the journey. Once you publish, the pressures to write the next one is intense (particularly if you have a contract), plus promotion and marketing pile on.

While you’re doing that, take the time to study your options and understand the tradeoffs. It’s not as simple as self-publishing or traditional publishing via an agent. Some traditional publishers will accept direct submissions, there are excellent small presses out there, and cooperative publishing seems to work very well for many. Avoid vanity publishing. The rest is all good in different ways.

Which would you prefer, Susan, a mountain or a beach vacation and why?

Actually, I have both in California and my house in Vermont is on a beautiful lake in the Green Mountains. I’m not much of a beach bather, but I love the power of water and the grandeur of the mountains. For non-family vacations, I tend to look for a change of pace—a trip to a corner of the world I haven’t seen yet, for example. I particularly love it when I can visit old friends at the same time. They become so precious to me as time marches on.

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A Short Time To Die Jacket Blurb
Walking home from a high school dance on a foggy autumn night in rural New York, Marly Shaw sees a flash of approaching headlights. A pickup truck stops and two men get out. One of them is the girl’s stepfather. She runs. They follow. Minutes later, gunshots are fired, two men are dead, and one terrified girl is running—for the rest of her life…

Thirteen years later, human bones are discovered in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. DNA tests reveal they belong to a mother and son from Central New York. Both have criminal records. Assault. Involuntary manslaughter. Maybe more. Santa Clara County Sheriff Detective Vanessa Alba wants to know how these backwater felons ended up so far from home.

Vanessa and her partner, Jack Wong, head to the icy terrain of the Finger Lakes to uncover the secrets of a powerful family whose crimes are too horrifying to comprehend. Whose grip over a frightened community is too strong to break. And whose twisted ideas of blood and honor are a never-ending nightmare for the one family member who thought she got away…

10 comments:

Gloria Alden said...

Susan, this sounds like a very interesting book. I wrote it down to order it.

E. B. Davis said...

Susan--tell us about your nomination, I think for a short you wrote or was it for your novel.

Warren Bull said...

Your advice to new writers is spot on.

Susan Alice Bickford said...

Answering these all at once :-)
Gloria - I definitely hope you enjoy the read!
E.B. - I don't think I'm nominated for anything yet as the book just came out. Next year? I'm also in the Fish Out of Water anthology, recently released by the Guppies.
Warren - tell me about it. I'm in Book2 anxiety mode.

Susan

Margaret Turkevich said...

I enjoyed reading about your writing process and liked your book, too. Good luck with #2.

Susan Alice Bickford said...

Thank you Margaret! Writing is a tough job sometimes. Glad I love it.

Shari Randall said...

Susan, I cannot wait to read A Short Time to Die. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I've visited upstate NY quite often (family near Saratoga Springs) and it's a great setting - and the water is definitely meh. Best wishes with your second book.

Susan Alice Bickford said...

Saratoga Springs is a beautiful part of the state, Shari. Closer to the Adirondacks and Vermont. Bitter Water indeed. :-)Let me know your feedback after you've read the book.

Kait said...

Reading this interview gave me the chills. Well done! And I remember those waters. As a child, we would drive to my great-grandfather's farm on the Erie Barge Canal. At some unknown to me point in the trip on the NYS Thruway my father would pull over, there would be a pipe with a spigot protruding from the rock face. My parents would fill thermoses with awful stinky water and make my brother and I drink it. They drank it too, but they seemed to like it. We called it rotten egg water and were sure they were trying to murder us. Of course, it was an offshoot of the famous sulfur springs.

Susan Alice Bickford said...

I've always wanted to take a trip on the Barge Canal. Parts of it follow the old Erie Canal where it was expanded. I've taken short demo hops the old Erie Canal and we used to skate on the Erie Canal in the winter because the ice was smooth and clear. There was a big wide water (turn around spot) in Fayetteville. Eventually a lot of walking and cross country trails were set up.
But the water, even where it didn't stink, just never tasted good.
I hope the book lives up to the chills of the interview for you!