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Archive for October 29th, 2019

Author PhotoSusan McCormick writes cozy murder mysteries. She is also the author of GRANNY CAN’T REMEMBER ME, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease. She is a doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine, with additional medical training in Washington, DC and San Francisco, where she lived in an elegant apartment building much like the one in the book. She served nine years in the military before settling in the Pacific Northwest. She is married and has two boys, plus a giant Newfoundland dog.

Connect with Susan on the web:

Goodreads / Bookbub

Find out more about THE FOG LADIES:

Amazon / B&N

INTERVIEW:

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Fog Ladies. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A:  THE FOG LADIES is a cozy murder mystery with a group of spunky older women and one overworked, overtired, overstressed medical intern who all live in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco where old ladies start to die. Mrs. Bridge falls off a stool cleaning bugs out of her kitchen light. Mrs. Talwin slips on bubbles in the tub and drowns. Are these deaths the natural consequences of growing old, or is it murder?

Years ago, I lived in an apartment building similar to the one in the book, and I always thought it would make a good setting for a cozy. The name of the book and the idea for the group of women came instantly, before anything else about the story. They call themselves the Fog Ladies because you can count on them like you can count on San Francisco early morning fog burning off by midday. Being a life-long cozy murder mystery lover, I concocted murders around them and set a killer loose in their apartment building.

TheFogLadies_w13428_cover

Q: What do you think makes a good cozy murder mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A:  Characters drive a cozy, and I tried to create a memorable cast of quirky yet identifiable  characters that will hopefully survive this killer in their building and persevere for more mysteries to come. Another cozy feature is an enclosed setting, like the elegant San Francisco apartment building in my story, so the victims and the killer are all known to each other and it is hard to hide.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A:  The first draft of THE FOG LADIES had far too few suspects, thanks to my hope of “letting the story write itself,” without an outline or plot points. That process gave me the wonderful characters of Chanterelle and Baby Owen, who wrote their own scenes. But without enough villains, I had to go back and turn perfectly lovely characters into potential killers. So now I outline everything, and plot it all ahead.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A:  The Fog Ladies each have their quirks and foibles, and I created entire character sketches about each, plus every other character in the book. But sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that is the surprise and magic of writing. Enid Carmichael, a busybody with sharp hearing, discovers Starbucks lattes at the ripe old age of eighty. She loves the bitterness, the froth. I wrote that. Then she craved more lattes, and the next thing I knew, she was stealing Starbucks coupons from her neighbor’s newspaper to feed her addiction. She did that. Not me.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A:  My killer has his motives, his hopes, his setbacks. The original draft of THE FOG LADIES, that first exciting but unplotted, unoutlined draft, included my villain’s voice sprinkled throughout the story. In re-reading, there were too many points of view, and to decrease reader confusion, I took his chapters out and stuffed all his thoughts into a scene toward the end. I miss his commentary throughout the book, but his perspective is still there.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A:  The best part of writing for me, and the part that creates the most memorable and lively scenes, is the part of writing that is not planned. One of my characters wrote herself onto life support and expected me to resuscitate her. Exacerbating but interesting. The characters of ne’er do well teen parents Chantrelle and Big Owen and their baby were nowhere in my mind when I started to write. They created themselves, and the story is richer for them.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A:  I lived in an apartment building much like the one in THE FOG LADIES, minus the murders, when I did medical training in San Francisco. Elegant apartment buildings are found throughout San Francisco, especially in Pacific Heights, where the story is set. Tenants of all ages live together for years, providing the perfect cast of characters and cozy-type enclosed setting for a series of murders. I tried to describe the building, the love the old handyman had in polishing the wood and brass, and also the Fog Ladies’ apartments, aged and dated but still glorious, a little like them.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A:  The theme of murder and fear is a given in a cozy murder mystery. I always knew I wanted to write about growing old and female bonds of friendship. But some of the other themes of the book, like love, mistakes, even parenting, came only after the characters took over.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A:  To me, craft is the careful planning and plotting I wish I’d done before the writing fun began, art is the fun I had when I didn’t know what was going to happen. Revision is the ick I had to endure because I didn’t plan and plot ahead. Editing is the tightening of phrases, condensing of scenes, overall improvement made once the manuscript is almost there. The fun creation part of writing lives through all the hard work that comes later.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A:  In life, I think the single most important attribute we take to any profession is showing up on time, with enthusiasm. A cruder way to say this is “butt in seat.” I am a doctor in a training hospital, and it applies to our medical residents trying to further their medical knowledge base, it applies to students in college, and my first job as a shopping mall Easter Bunny, and my second job as secretary, and my weirdest job as a mate on a sport fishing boat, and my current jobs as a doctor and author. Putting in the time and looking forward to putting in the time (or pretending to) go a long way to a successful career. For writing, it also helps to have imagination and a talent for storytelling.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. Thoughts?

A:  Until the book is in your hands in hard copy, you are never finished with that book. There are always tweaks to make it better, typos to discover, characters who need one more boost. Even once that book is out in the world, there is promotion and marketing, which means more writing, more time. And there is the next book, and the side book, and the book that’s screaming to be written even though you are writing the next book and the side book. It is never ending.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A:  Elizabeth Lyon comes to mind as far as helpful books about editing. Reading cozy murder mysteries is immensely helpful in solidifying my cozy craft while enjoying this genre.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A:  Plotting and planning is smart, or you will end up with too few suspects or no side story of how a single mistake can change your life. However, you need to give your characters a little space to be themselves, because the surprises they bring, like Enid Carmichael’s latte binge or the trio of Chantrelle, Big Owen and Baby Owen, will delight you and your readers.

 

 

 

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