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

November Interview Schedule: 11/7 Lane Stone, 11/14 Maggie Toussaint, 11/21, Joana Garcia (Rescheduled for 1/23/19)

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 11/3 Barbara Ross
WWK Satuday Bloggers: 11/10 Margaret S. Hamilton, 11/17 Kait Carson

Starting on Thanksgiving Day, 11/22, WWK presents original holiday offerings until New Year's Day. 11/22 Warren Bull, 11/29 Annette Dashofy, 12/6 KM Rockwood, 12/13 E. B. Davis, 12/20 Paula Gail Benson, & 12/27 Linda Rodriguez. We will resume our regular blogging schedule on 1/2/19. Please join us!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Grace Topping signed a three-book contract with Henery Press for her Laura Bishop Home Staging series. Congratulations, Grace!

KM Rockwood's new short story, "Map to Oblivion," has been included the anthology Shhhh...Murder! edited by Andrew MacRae and published by Darkhouse Books. It was released on Sept. 12.

Warren Bull also has a story in Shhh...Murder! Look for "Elsinore Noir," Warren's short story, in this anthology.

Annette Dashofy's Uneasy Prey was released in March. It is the sixth Zoe Chambers Mystery. The seventh, Cry Wolf, will be released on September 18th. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Annette on September 19th.

Shari Randall's third Lobster Shack Mystery, Drawn and Buttered, will be available February 26, 2019.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

An Interview with Susan Wittig Albert by E. B. Davis

Max Mantel, the killer McQuaid put away years ago, has broken out of Huntsville Prison
and appears to be headed for Pecan Springs. McQuaid knows there's only one way to
stop the vengeful convict—set a trap with himself as bait.

China wants to stay by her husband's side and keep him from harm. But McQuaid insists
that she get out of town and go to the Last Chance Olive Ranch, where she's
agreed to teach a workshop on herbs.

When China and her best friend arrive at the ranch, she learns the owner, Maddie Haskell,
has her own troubles. She inherited the ranch and olive oil business from the
late matriarch, Eliza Butler, but Eliza's nephew is contesting the will.

While China throws herself into helping Maddie, McQuaid's plan backfires when Mantel executes a countermove he never saw coming. Now McQuaid's life is not the
only one at stake—and this time may really be his last chance...

When I contacted Susan Wittig Albert for an interview about her newest release, I couldn’t understand her confusion. What didn’t I know? She had two new releases, one non-fiction scheduled for March, The General’s Women, and in April, The Last Chance Olive Ranch, her latest and twenty-fifth China Bayles mystery. Being prolific must have its difficulties, but it’s one I wish I had. Next time I ask for an interview, I’ll make sure to be more specific.

I’m in awe of Susan’s complete book list, which includes college textbooks, adult nonfiction and fiction, and YA fiction. The fiction is spread among various genres and subgenres. Even though I’ve read two of her series, I had no idea that she wrote two Nancy Drew mysteries under the Carolyn Keene pseudonym and with her husband, Bill, wrote three more. They also wrote two Hardy Boy mysteries.

After writing academic books during the 1970s, Susan wrote fiction under various pseudonyms in the 1980s and 90s some alone and some with Bill. In 1992, Susan’s first China Bayles mystery, Thyme of Death, was released by Berkley, a relationship that now spans four series. From 1994-2006, Susan and Bill wrote a mystery series under the name Robin Paige. The series contains twelve books, which were set during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The Beatrix Potter series (I loved) was written from 2004—2011. Berkley’s 2010 release of The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree, the first Darling Dahlias and the newest of Susan’s mystery series, is set in a depression-era Alabama town.

Please welcome Susan Wittig Albert to WWK.                                                         E. B. Davis   

How many hours per day do you write?

I keep a normal workday like everybody else: 8 to 5, with time off for lunch, laundry, necessary housekeeping, etc. Publishing and online chores take up a couple of morning hours, but I try to get to the book by 10 or 10:30 and keep at it for the rest of the day—interrupted by those pesky chores.

How much detail do you plot?

Not a lot. I try to start with a matrix of material that’s rich and dense enough to yield several interesting stories—and then trust the characters and the stories to show me where they want to go. I love discovering pieces of story that I hadn’t planned and didn’t know were there: if I’m surprised, the reader will be surprised, too.

You write multiple series concurrently. How do you keep it all straight?

It’s not hard. Each series has its own voice, character ensemble, settings, themes—and they’re all very different. The China Bayles series is contemporary; the rest have been historicals in one period or another. No chance of getting mixed up.

One of the aspects of the China Bayles series I like is that you follow the husband, McQuaid, and wife, China, in different chapters. They’ve often worked on the same mystery, but they do so separately using different methods and channels. My husband and I used to do that, but recently we’ve been forced to work together as you do with your husband on occasion. Does yours try to micromanage or lead you while you’re working together?

No, that’s not Bill! When we were writing the Robin Paige series, it was truly a team project, with important contributions from each of us. He liked to keep a storyboard and I liked to change it (and sometimes forgot to tell him where I was going)—that was often our biggest issue. But because we were working on the same chapters at the same time and reading each other’s work every day, we usually knew where we were. It was good teamwork, and good for the marriage.

To the first part of your question: The China Bayles series is first-person narration. That’s hard to handle in a mystery. (If you don’t think so, try it!)  The second narrator has been mostly McQuaid, but there are others. In Wormwood, for instance, characters in a Shaker village provide an alternate narration. In Widow’s Tears, there’s an entire alternate historical novel (the story of the 1900 Galveston hurricane) embedded in the mystery.

I had to laugh when Ruby admitted to China that she wanted to go to The Last Chance Olive Ranch because of a guy. Does Texas have olive ranches—I assumed they were mostly in California?

Olive ranching is a growth industry here in Texas. It’s tricky (you’ll see that when you read the novel) because of the climate—but once the trees are established, they can be productive. The Last Chance is a fairly typical olive operation, and the varieties grown on that fictional ranch are the same varieties that would be grown on a real ranch in that region. Ditto the vineyards in the book. Wine is another important Texas product.

What is the “new open carry” situation Blackie talks about to McQuaid?

Texas allows licensed gun owners to carry their handguns openly or concealed. You can openly carry a long gun (rifle, shotgun) without a license. While many rules apply (there are gun-free zones, etc.) it’s not uncommon to walk into a store and see people with holstered weapons or an AR15. Most grocery stores are gun-free zones; Walmart is gun-free. And (worst of all, IMO) state university campuses are now open-carry. I’m glad I’m not teaching.

You either shoot or do an incredible amount of research—such as knowing where to shoot at someone carrying a flashlight. Were you the primary source of this information or was the information obtained from someone else?

I think I read that particular detail somewhere (makes sense, doesn’t it?), but in general, if there’s a gun in a scene, I’ve checked it out with Bill. While I shoot, he’s the gun guy in the family. We live on 31 acres in the middle of ranching country. Guns are a fact of life here.

Would you like to see more stringent gun-control laws?

Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. And so would China Bayles—and McQuaid. Cops everywhere hate open-carry. How can you tell a bad guy from a good guy when they’re both carry AR15s in a crowd?

McQuaid installed a hands-free cell phone system with a keyboard in his truck. He’s not sure he likes it. How have you dealt with changing technology over the course of a long-running series?

When Bill and I were writing the Robin Paige series, one of the important elements of those 12 novels were the changes in forensic technology (fingerprinting, blood typing, forensic photography, toxicology, etc.) that occurred during those years. The research was fascinating—especially because we were creating fictional crimes that would allow us to “showcase” a particular technology. My favorite is a chapter in Death at Rottingdean, where we featured a forensic autopsy using an X-ray machine—to the accompaniment of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.”

Writing contemporary mystery over 25 years, I’ve had to learn to deal with all sorts of changes in technology. China doesn’t have a cell phone in the first books, and doesn’t adapt quickly. At the shop, she has a website, a monthly e-letter (like mine), and uses Power Point when she’s teaching. McQuaid’s truck system is just the latest development—and in another book, he uses Google Earth to develop a plan to surprise some bad guys. Who knows what’s next?

You describe some Texas realities, such as the town of Kyle, which has expanded five times its original size due to Austin’s growth, and the area of Hill Country called Flash Flood Alley. Is Texas an extreme place?

An extreme place? Well, we’ve just had the HOTTEST February in 130 years of recordkeeping. I guess that’s extreme. And yes, Flash Flood Alley is real, and so is the out-of-control growth. But these also serve as dramatic elements in the series. The books aren’t built around lots of blood, and the ambush scene in Last Chance Olive Ranch is unusual. In my plots, the weather, the real climate, and the “extremes” of Texas life are one substitute for multiple murders and gallons of fictional blood.

In many mysteries, authors set up animosity between PIs and police. But McQuaid and Blackie don’t have that problem. You described a legal situation of Texas PIs—they’re commissioned security officers, like bounty hunters, and have the legal right to make an arrest. Really?

Yes, really.  And McQuaid and Blackie don’t feel that stereotypical animosity for a reason: they are both ex-cops with long experience on the job. They understand the kind of tough work cops do and they won’t do anything to make that tougher—they’ll make it easier, if they can. On the other hand, they also know that sometimes cops don’t do their jobs: in which case, they can come down pretty hard on them.

Do you think McQuaid’s ex will learn her lesson and stop dropping by?

I hope not. Bad-penny Sally always brings a good story with her when she shows up.

I loved your Beatrix Potter series. However, I must admit, I wanted Beatrix to tell off her parents and live freely, but I know as unrealistic as the series was—that was the very part that was realistic. How did you develop the narrator voice of that series?

The narrative voice of that series developed over 8 books and 10 years—and to tell the truth, it’s pretty uneven. It started as a usual third-person fairly objective narration, with points of view shifting among the characters. But beginning about book 3 or 4 (I really can’t remember when), I began to use the kind of “direct-to-the-reader” voice that is often used in Victorian children’s literature—a kind of benevolent school-teacherish voice that actively shapes the reader’s experience, expectations, and even moral judgments. The more I used it, the more I liked it—and felt that it fit with the period and the subject. An example from Book 7 (the “professor” is an owl and the “badger” is one of the animal characters)

I’m sure you would like to follow the professor and find out what the badger
knows about this alien airborne creature. But if you don’t mind, I think we
will catch up to the professor later. Instead, we will go over to Hill Top Farm,
where Miss Beatrix Potter has just come indoors from an afternoon in the
garden and is about to put the kettle on to boil for her own cup of tea.

That voice came from my reading of children’s books of late 19th and early 20th centuries: The Wind in the Willows, Water Babies, Alice in Wonderland—and of course, Beatrix Potter’s books. The Cottage Tales (that’s the name of the series) aren’t kids’ books—but they’re for readers who are still young at heart. I miss the characters in that series, but most of all I miss that voice. Fun while it lasted….

What’s next on your writing agenda?

I’ve just finished a China Bayles mystery for Berkley (Queen Anne’s Lace, 2018). I am currently working on the seventh book in the Darling Dahlias series; it will likely be published under my own imprint, Persevero Press. I’ve just published the third in a series of biographical/historical novels under that imprint. The first, A Wilder Rose (2013) is now under film option. The second, Loving Eleanor (2016), has won a fistful of awards. And the third, The General’s Women (March 2017) is just out. I expect to publish more of my own work—it gives me more control over the way the book is produced and marketed, and I enjoy that end of the writing business very much.

Are you a beach or a mountain person, Susan?

Mountain, definitely. Oh, definitely. Show me a peak and I’m on my way. 


susanalbert said...

Thanks, Elaine--I'll drop in a couple of times to answer your readers' questions. One addition: the website for my imprint, if people want to drop in: www.PerseveroPress.com.

Warren Bull said...

Susan, I met you years ago when I was just starting to write and I still remember how helpful and encouraging your were.

Gloria Alden said...

Wonderful interview. I love your books Susan, but I'm behind on them, and now I want to go on a buying binge and get all the ones I've missed to catch up, especially with your latest series that I wasn't aware of.

Kait said...

What an amazing writer. I love the China Bayles series, I had no idea about the others. Gloria and I are going on a buying binge together. Looking forward to reading The Genera's Women. The story has always intrigued me, and I'm looking forward to catching up with the latest China!

Margaret Turkevich said...

great interview. I look forward to reading your books.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Susan, I feel a book buying binge coming on! I from a family of good Italian cooks so olive oil is very important. I'm intrigued by the background of olive farming for your latest China book. Many thanks to you - and Elaine - for a great interview.

Musings From a Patchwork Quilt Life said...

Such a great interview! Thank you.

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for the interview, Susan. And, em...keep them coming, please!

Susan Schoch said...

Thanks for this wonderful interview!

Nupur Tustin said...

Wonderful interview! I love your books, Susan.

Guppymomma said...

I love all your books and especially enjoy the snippets about native plants and herbs.

Lesley Diehl said...

Through an email many years ago you gave me some sage advice about writing a manuscript with my husband. We decided not to do it, and I'm glad because we don't have the same work style. You recommended a contract to spell out everything, and I still consider that some of the best writing advice I've ever received. I love China Bayles, and I've read the first book of he Darling Dahlias. I'm off to purchase the new China Bayles mystery. Olive oil? That's got to be a hit. Great interview.