Wednesday, March 8, 2023

An Interview With Susan McCormick

by Grace Topping

A number of mysteries featuring senior amateur sleuths have recently become bestsellers. So when I heard Susan McCormick speak at Malice about her Fog Ladies series, featuring San Francisco senior citizens, I was intrigued. What would drive four elderly San Francisco women to become involved in murder investigations and chase down killers? Since the release of the Fog Ladies, Susan has released two more books in her San Francisco Cozy Murder Mystery Series, the latest, The Fog Ladies: In the Soup. I was pleased that Susan agreed to tell me more about her Fog Ladies and the series. 


The Fog Ladies: In the Soup


"There was a man in the soup." When the Fog Ladies volunteer at a San Francisco soup kitchen, these spunky elderly friends plus one overworked young doctor-in-training envision washing and chopping and serving. Not murder. Now the soup kitchen is doomed, and the mysteries have just begun. Was the death rooted in a long-ago grudge? Can they save the soup kitchen? Will they find the killer? Could the Fog Ladies, too, end up "in the soup"?



Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Susan.


As a busy doctor, wife, and mother, what inspired you to write murder mysteries? 


I have loved writing my whole life. When I was young, I wanted to be a ballerina, a doctor, and a writer. Altogether, all at once. My ballet days ended before they began at age four when my first performance’s curtsy took out the backdrop and crashed it to the floor. I tried more ballet lessons in high school and college, but I was far too old. So all that was left was being a doctor and a writer. The latter took me a while. Being a doctor was a straight shot, four years of medical school, three years of residency, then fellowship, then a stint in the Army because they paid for medical school, and here I am today. Being a writer took longer, though I've been plotting my stories since those ballerina days.


As far as the murder mystery part, I was an avid reader as a kid and loved mysteries even then. I quickly devoured the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, etc. that were age appropriate. I needed more books. Cozy murder mysteries were fine for a youngster, and I quickly turned to these and still love them now as an adult.

Since you’ve gone through many of the things Sarah is facing during her medical training, you have a wealth of experience to draw from. Are some of Sarah’s experiences autobiographical?


While I have a lot in common with Sarah, I am not Sarah. I am actually Sylvia, Mrs. Gordon’s daughter who married the perfect man. But I know a lot about Sarah. In my job, I was very involved with teaching our medical interns and residents. I saw their struggles, and I can easily remember mine, the pressures of internship, and residency. Training to be a doctor is extremely difficult, and I tried to show this through Sarah. And I have definitely eaten Cheerios for dinner on many occasions. Sadly, I never met a group like the Fog Ladies, and fortunately, I never made a mistake that had me questioning medicine as a career the way Sarah does in Book 1. Sarah is fiction, her experiences are fiction, and her patients are fiction. Though I envy her Pacific Heights apartment, having given mine up years ago.

A fun thing is that each of my books has a medical theme—I wrote a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Granny Can’t Remember Me. I wrote a middle grade to adult medical fantasy, The Antidote, about a family of doctors going back generations and a boy who can see disease. The Fog Ladies’ first book’s mystery turns on a medical diagnosis. Each book has several public service announcements hidden inside. In The Antidote, I describe how to do a Heimlich maneuver and when to use an AED, an Automated External Defibrillator. In The Fog Ladies, get your colonoscopy, don’t cut a bagel in your hand, don’t get a jailhouse tattoo, and in Book 3, another bit of advice I won’t mention because it would give away the final crime.


Sarah is required by the hospital she works at to do some community service. She picks a soup kitchen and convinces the Fog Ladies to come along. Is she looking for help, or does she feel it’s good to get the ladies out and involved with others?


The Fog Ladies need no convincing. They are always up for good works, the hospital newborn unit, troubled teens, quilting for inmates. They are happy to glom on to whatever is suggested, except eighty-one-year-old Enid Carmichael, who says about the soup kitchen: “More good deeds? I don’t care for soup. Especially vegetable. What’s the point?” 


One of the challenges authors face is giving their amateur sleuths a reason for getting involved in an investigation. What drives the Fog Ladies to identify a killer?

In Book 1, The Fog Ladies, their friends and fellow tenants in their elegant apartment building start to die. A sure motivator when a killer is afoot and you might be next. In Book 2, The Fog Ladies: Family Matters, a family man stabs his wife with kitchen shears. Frances Noonan knows the accused man’s mother, and Sarah met him at a family resort. They both know he is not the killing type. In Book 3, The Fog Ladies: In the Soup, the ladies meet the soup kitchen director and fall for him, right up until the moment he is arrested for pitching his nemesis into a cauldron. The soup kitchen will fail without him, and they step in to help.


Mrs. Noonan is not inclined to suspect a woman as the killer, saying that it’s rare that a woman is the killer. Do the Fog Ladies bring their biases to crime solving?


Mrs. Noonan is indeed biased, but she bases her ideas on factual data. Her husband was a police officer, and she remembers well the statistics. Murderesses are not common. Men commit murder in the US more than seven times more frequently than women, and when domestic violence and other cases of this type are excluded, the difference is far larger. In Book 2, The Fog Ladies: Family Matters, the ladies seek out a lady killer, all the while knowing how rare it is.

Why is Frances so certain that William, the head of the soup kitchen is not the killer, even though the police have arrested him?


Frances Noonan is a good judge of character, unlike Enid Carmichael who is willing to believe just about anything about anyone. Initially, Frances thinks Cornelius the celebrity chef fell into the giant pot in a tragic accident from an unsteady chair that was ready to topple any of them in. By the time the police make clear it was murder, a raft of other suspects have wiggled their way into the Fog Ladies’ sights, suspects with motives as devious as William’s long-held grudge.


It sounds like the soup kitchen not only provides meals for the needy but also gives them a sense of community, especially for the homeless. Have you had experience with soup kitchens or other community outreach programs?


For many years, my sons and I volunteered at a local family shelter. The struggles people have, taking two buses in the dead of night to get to work on time, finding reliable Wi-Fi to write a paper for homework on a cracked-screen cell phone because there is no computer—these struggles are mammoth.


Sadie is always baking, but her baked goods don’t seem to appeal to everyone. What is her problem? Authors often insert their own deficiencies in their books. How are your baking skills?


Ha! I don’t really like to cook, so Frances Noonan, baker extraordinaire, is a marvel to me. Sadie, on the other hand, with her lavender sugar cookies, rosemary mint shortbread, and other herbal-enhanced baked goods have Mrs. Noonan questioning her sixty-year-old sugar cookie recipe. However, when Enid Carmichael, who will eat anything, puts a Sadie creation back on the plate after taking a bite, you know there’s trouble. Ultimately, Sadie’s creations and their palatability save a life, so thank goodness for this problem.


Little by little, Sarah pulls the ladies into the 21st century, introducing them to things like Uber and cell phone use. Do they welcome these things, or are they resistant to change?


The ladies’ arthritic fingers cannot push the correct buttons, their failing vision cannot see the small screens, the password situation is intolerable. No, the ladies do not welcome Sarah’s suggestions, though they rebuff her attempts oh, so politely.


Sarah sees the medical challenges the elderly ladies face, including loss of vision and mobility. How does she deal with those? 

She can only support and empathize. The ladies themselves deal with the cricked toes, hearing loss, poor vision, bad hips. They manage, they adjust, they get creative, because of course, they have no choice. Part of my hopes for the series is to give voice to strong, wise, vital, and often overlooked older women. The Fog Ladies’ friendship holds them together. They are called the Fog Ladies because you can count on them like you can count on early morning San Francisco fog burning off by midday. They are there for each other, no matter the trouble, and I hope to have a group like this when I am their age.


Over the years, Sarah feels her medical studies and work have caused problems with her relationships. Does she sometimes regret the paths she has taken? 


“The lost decade,” I call it, four years of medical school, three to five years of residency, more years of fellowship. My husband and I are amazed at how much we missed in the world and in life during these years. We are both doctors, and we weathered this decade together. But Sarah’s boyfriends are not in the medical field, and their lives are completely different. Not only does she have no one to share or understand the emotional toll, but her long hours alone are off-putting for more than a few potential partners. For many doctors, though, like for Sarah, the medical path is a calling, a passion, and there’s not another career for her. She will find the right man, and she will work it out. Hopefully.


One of the ladies takes in a dog to help its owner—only to realize that the dog is a Newfoundland puppy and will become huge. Do you have experience with large dogs?


I love giant dogs, the bigger and slobberier the better. I have loved an English Mastiff, Earl, and two Newfoundlands, Edward and Albert. Unfortunately, none of these dogs are with us any longer. Albert, though, plays a special role in the writing of these books. I am now retired, but many of these books were written when I was working. As a doctor and a mom, time for writing was always in short supply. In Seattle in the summer, the sun rises at 4:30 a.m., and it shines bright light into my bedroom and wakes me up. I would write in these early summer morning hours on the weekends before my family woke up. It was much harder in the winter when I had to set an alarm and when it was cold and dark. So giant, black, fluffy, silent Newfoundland Albert, would dutifully pad downstairs with me and lie by my side as my constant writing companion. He saw me through.


What’s next for Sarah and the Fog Ladies?


Book 4 in the series, The Fog Ladies: Date with Death, is due out this year. The Fog Ladies join a senior dating group. Watch out!

Since you started writing fiction, what is the most valuable thing you learned along the way to publication?


Let the magic happen. For me, this is the glorious first draft of writing, when my fingers are flying on the keyboard and anything can happen, and I’m not in the dreaded second draft when I find all the plot holes and realize I have too few suspects. Or that a pregnancy lasted 17 months. During this fun writing first draft stage, pesky Enid Carmichael discovered Starbucks lattes at the age of eighty. She loves the bitterness, the froth. I wrote that. Then she craved more, and the next thing I knew, she was stealing Starbucks coupons from her neighbors’ newspapers to feed her addiction. I never intended for her to steal. She did that. Not me.


In The Fog Ladies: In the Soup, a black bundle of rags in the corner transformed into a tiny black dog. This was unintended but created a new and wonderful character in Boris.


My best magic was with the first book. It had too few suspects and out of nowhere a little family appeared, Chantrelle, Baby Owen, and Big Owen, two ne’er-do-well teenage parents and their baby. The Fog Ladies take in Chantrelle and Baby Owen as part of a volunteer project at the hospital. These characters were never part of my original plan. They created themselves and provided endless humor, sadness, and richness for the stories. That is the magic that happens with writing.


Thank you, Susan. 


You can learn more about Susan McCormick at and follow her on Facebook




  1. I had an English mastiff, Xena, and a couple of Newfies, Cinderella (named by the kids) and Rocky. Wonderful experience, if a bit slobbery.

    Since my husband suffered from dementia, I am fascinated by the children's book on Alzheimer's. Something to look into.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Great location and premise. I look forward to reading your series.

  3. Great interview, Grace. I am going to start reading this series. Sounds great!

  4. To Kim, That's amazing that you had both English mastiffs and Newfoundlands, just like us! We still find slobber on the ceiling sometimes. What wonderful dogs these gentle giants are!

    To Margaret, There is nothing like an elegant old apartment building.

    To Susan, Hope you enjoy them! Book 4 is getting the final touches from the publisher. The ladies join a senior dating club.

    Thank you, all. It is a pleasure to be part of the discussion today.

  5. Great series title and premise, Susan. I'm looking forward to stepping into the fog with your characters.

  6. Thank you, Molly. The name for the series and the idea for the first book came to me all at once, a long time ago, and for years it percolated in my brain before I finally set pen to paper. I can't tell you how many descriptions of fog I've written! And how many pictures of fog I've posted on instagram! I do love fog.

  7. Thanks, Susan, for the terrific responses. It was fun learning more about you and the Fog Ladies. Clever name for them.

  8. Thank you for having me, Grace! And Writers Who Kill!

  9. Excellent series! And a wonderful interview.