All proceeds from the May sales of Drawing Breath by Laurie Boris will go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This book is a seriously great read.
Today on Awesome Authors I’m pleased to introduce Susan Russo Anderson, author of the Serafina Florio historical mysteries. I first became aware of Susan on Twitter and through the fabulous writer’s group, Sisters in Crime, then went on to work with her on an anthology with several other talented indie authors. The first book in her intriguing mystery series, DEATH OF A SERPENT, is set in nineteenth-century Italy and features Serafina Florio, an amateur sleuth who happens to be a midwife. Kindle Book Review says DEATH OF A SERPENT is “… for readers who love mystery/suspense and drama that will propel you into another world and hold you spellbound until the end.”
D: Hi Susan! It’s great to have you here. Please tell us something about yourself.
S: Thanks, DV, it’s a thrill to be here. Wow, great question, where do I start? I’m just a simple mom and gran doing the best she can to write great stuff. And I love the act of writing.
But I did read this quote from Jean Paul Sartre, “We are our choices.” And if I could choose the perfect activity it would be eating ice cream and sipping the perfect coffee while writing in the morning. And the next best thing is reading an unputdownable book.
And although I love my kindle and the ability to carry lots of books wherever I go to say nothing of the ability to sneak read a book instead of listening to a boring sermon, I still love bookstores and rambling through them. There’s one in a resort town in Michigan that I love going to. It’s right next to an ice cream store and they play opera and it’s crowded with families on vacation and it’s just fun to be there.
D: Bookstores and libraries—gotta love any place with books. 🙂 You write the Serafina Florio mysteries set in nineteenth-century Italy. What inspired you to write an historical mystery series? What did you find particularly interesting when doing research?
S: I’ve always found European history from 1848 onward to be fascinating, the yearning for freedom that everyone had. It started, I guess, with the American Revolution. And then of course there was the French Revolution. And all of a sudden people all over Europe showed an unbelievable thirst for freedom and fought to overthrow their oppressors.
“I’ve always found European history from 1848 onward to be fascinating, the yearning for freedom that everyone had…”
Well, it’s a long story, but the Italian Revolution in the 1860s was a devastation for Sicily. There were riots and epidemics and famine and ruin all over the place. It’s in this setting that Serafina does her sleuthing. And yet in this setting, life managed to go on. For me, someone who’s always had a cushy life, I just can’t imagine how people can go all normal, continuing on with their life in the face of hunger and catastrophe.
I read this story of a mother who around dinner time would lock the windows and doors and have her children bang on pans while she rattled the plates so that the neighbors would think they were preparing the meal and wouldn’t know they couldn’t afford to eat. That story really got to me. It told me about the resilience of the human spirit.
D: No kidding. People are amazing, especially in times of distress. Describe your newest release, DEATH IN BAGHERIA, in two sentences.
S: When a headstrong aristocrat commissions Serafina to find her mother’s poisoner, the midwife turned sleuth travels to a windswept villa on Sicily’s gold coast where she begins her investigation of the baroness’s death. With the help of her friend, Rosa, two daring servants, and an unexpected visitor, she uncovers ugly entanglements that portend dire misfortune for the baroness’s heirs.
D: What’s your favorite line from the book?
S: In my Serafina books it’s Rosa who always gets the best lines. She is totally unfettered by convention, having been a madam. At the time of the story, she is retired and very rich and of a certain age so she takes lots of pleasure in food. It so happens that the cuisine at Villa Caterina where the mystery takes place is uninspired to say the least so Rosa is disgruntled for most of their stay. There’s an incident with the cook where we don’t know if she’ll recover but when Rosa hears that the cook survives, she says, “It figures. She can’t cook so she’ll live forever.”
D: Rosa was definitely one of my favorite characters in Death of a Serpent. Who is your favorite character and why?
S: My favorite character would have to be Serafina. She has faults; she is exuberant and colorful; she does most of the writing; she has a sixth sense, something I’d love to have; most important, she never gives up.
“…She has a sixth sense, something I’d love to have…”
D: What are you currently working on?
S: I’m working on two books at the same time, something I’ve never done before, two different series. I’m writing the fourth book in the Serafina Florio mystery series. She’s commissioned to go to Paris to investigate the death of Loffredo’s estranged wife. The plot is exciting and different and complex for many different reasons. The working title is Murder on the Rue Cassette and since I love Paris, even the Paris of the 1870s, I’m loving the writing experience.
And I’m writing the first book of the Fina Fitzgibbons mystery series. She’s the great-great granddaughter of Serafina, named after her and inherits her notebooks and a brownstone Serafina bought when she arrived in this country. Fina is much younger, early twenties, and lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend, Clancy, a cop assigned to the 84th Precinct. The working title is Dead In Brooklyn.
D: What a great idea! Working an ancestral thread into your mysteries makes sense—it becomes a continuation of the original series. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
S: Immerse yourself in the world you create and don’t fear what others might think.
D: Sage advice, Susan. What’s the worst advice you received from someone about writing?
S: Hmmm, let me think. That would have to be all those prejudicial rules against adverbs and adjectives. They’re a prison.
S: Mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction.
“Immerse yourself in the world you create and don’t fear what others might think.”
D: What do you do when you’re not writing?
S: Social networking, working out, walking, hanging out with my grandkids.
D: Tell us about the most exciting place you have ever visited.
S: I’ve been to lots of exciting places—Iraq, most countries in Europe—but the most exciting of all is the world of the imagination. John Milton said it much better, though: “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
D: Love that quote. So true. What jobs other than writer have you held?
S: I taught creative writing, worked for an airline, for an opera company, for lots of advertising agencies, and for a publisher.
D: If you could time-travel, where would you go and why?
S: Paris, August 1944. I’d love to experience firsthand the excitement of the liberation
D: I think Paris is a good bet in just about any timeline. Liberation day would be an amazing experience.
I’d love it if you’d provide an excerpt of DEATH IN BAGHERIA for us to read…
Bagheria, Sicily. March 1870
“The baron was showing me his new steamer. You can see it through the telescope if you like.”
Rosa shook her head, dismissing the offer with a wave of her hand.
He smiled at the madam. “In the harbor now, being loaded with supplies.”
“It sails when?” Rosa asked.
“Late today.” He paced before them. “We hope to make North America in ten days, not a record, but respectable, especially for this time of year—early for steaming into northern waters.”
“Do you carry passengers?”
He nodded. “A few. There’s room for over two hundred men, women, and children, most of them in steerage, but these days, our profit is from carrying cargo, not people; now we ship citrus to New York and Boston, perhaps New Orleans or San Francisco in the future.” He rubbed his hands together. “Next year, my son tells me, when families who can afford better accommodation begin to leave, we plan on refitting part of the upper deck with first-class cabins, but for now, our need is for space below deck.”
“When who begins to leave?” Rosa asked.
“Our bankers bet on hard times, a mass exodus from Sicily within the next five years, growing stronger in the next decades.”
Serafina and Rosa were silent.
“There’s unrest all over the Europe. I’m afraid for France, that idiot Emperor trying to slap around the Kaiser—doesn’t know what he’s in for. And Italy struggles while Garibaldi fights Austria and the papal states. If more banks fail, the future of the merchant class in the south will be grim. The new world calls, and that’s where we come in.” The baron smiled.
Serafina swallowed. She imagined her son, Vicenzu, looking out at her from behind the windows of their empty apothecary shop, saw in her mind the streets of Oltramari which, lately, seemed rustier, dustier. But no, she rejected his words: after all, what did he know? She turned to Rosa, who caught her mood, reached over, and patted her hand.
“The ship’s named after the baroness,” Serafina said, looking at Rosa.
The baron nodded.
“A shame she’s missing this day,” Serafina said.
He furrowed his brows. “Afraid you’re wrong there. She wanted nothing to do with our business. She hated it. How did she think …” His question hung in the air.
To break the mood, Rosa said, “Such an honor, having a ship named after—”
“Hated all talk of business.” Red faced, the baron heaved himself over to the hearth, grabbed an iron, and poked at smoldering embers. “Drat those servants! Don’t know how to tend a fire?”
Recovering somewhat, he sat across from them and crossed his legs. “What is it you wish to discuss—my married life? How my wife loathed me, couldn’t bear the sight of me? How we slept in separate rooms, seldom spoke? How she never cared a fig for my business, didn’t want to hear my thoughts on European history or its future? I disgusted her! I suppose she assumed aristocrats cultivated coins from the soil or grew them in huge pots and stored them in the larder. Unspeakably stubborn, Caterina, just like her father and his father before him. Blind to the change, killing themselves out, that’s what they’re doing. But …” He looked up at her portrait, then at a spot in the room as if he could see her shade. “She was so beautiful, like an angel when she walked into a room, and a poet with words, so charming, they flowed from her lips.” He stopped, as if reluctant to leave the memory. “And I loved her.”
The two women were silent until Serafina asked, “Your business, is that what killed her?”
D: Thank you so much for being here today, Susan. I look forward to reading the rest of the Serafina Florio series. I’m also eagerly anticipating her great-great granddaughter’s own books. 🙂
Links to find out more about Susan are below:
Susan Russo Anderson is a writer, a mother, a grandmother, a widow, a member of Sisters In Crime, a graduate of Marquette University. She has taught language arts and creative writing, worked for a publisher, an airline, an opera company. Like Faulkner’s Dilsey, she’s seen the best and the worst, the first and the last. Through it all, and to understand it somewhat, she writes.
DEATH OF A SERPENT, the first in the Serafina Florio series, published January 2012. It began as a painting of the Lower East Side and wound up as a mystery story. NO MORE BROTHERS, a novella, published May 2012, the second in the Serafina Florio series. The third book, DEATH IN BAGHERIA, published in December. You can read excerpts on Amazon and on her websites, http://www.susanrussoanderson.com and http://www.writingsleuth.com
In between writing, revising and editing, she writes for several blogs and reviews books.
Amazon author’s page: http://www.amazon.com/Susan-Russo-Anderson/e/B006VCJ0ZC
The other day I realized how lucky I am to know so many incredibly talented writers. I’ve been the willing participant in several interviews on other authors’ blogs, and thought it would be fun to return the favor and spotlight as many as I could
bribe cajole into giving up some of their precious, hard-earned non-novel-writing time to answer my burning questions.
The first in the series is mystery author Jen Blood. I discovered Jen a while back when I read a review she did for BAD SPIRITS. I was impressed with her ability to pen a pretty bitchin’ review and was curious about her talents as a writer, so I downloaded the first book in her Erin Solomon mystery series, ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS. To say I was hooked from the first page is an understatement. Here was an indie author who knew how to write, and write well. She has just released the third book in the series, SOUTHERN CROSS. It’s another stellar mystery by an author who I believe is on her way to a long and rewarding career. So let’s get to it, shall we?
D: Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your new release, SOUTHERN CROSS?
J: A little about myself… I’m author of the Erin Solomon mysteries, the first of which was released in February of last year. I have an MFA in Creative Writing/Pop Fiction from the University of Southern Maine, and have worked as a freelance writer and editor (among many, many other jobs over the years) for a little over a decade.
SOUTHERN CROSS is the third novel in the Erin Solomon pentalogy, and finds Erin and her best friend (and sometimes more) Diggs investigating the murder of one of Diggs’ childhood friends, in rural Kentucky. But that single death is hardly the only bizarre occurrence in Justice—soon, power outages, explosions, standoffs, and conspiracy rock the small town, and fundamentalist preacher Jesup T. Barnel claims he knows the reason for the madness: The end times are upon them, and judgment will be fast and furious as the clock winds down.
D: The series character, Erin Solomon, is a wonderfully flawed protagonist who has to deal with the aftermath of having spent much of her childhood in a religious cult with a Jim Jones-style leader. As I dove into reading Southern Cross, I realized religious zealotry and its repercussions are recurring themes in your work. What prompted you to delve into the psychological fallout that occurs from blind obedience to an obsessive, charismatic religious leader?
“I’ve always been fascinated with the extremes of religious fanaticism, and as a kid actually attended a church where speaking in tongues and being felled by the holy spirit were par for the course.”
J: Believe it or not, in early incarnations of the first novel, Erin Solomon was a theologian whose work focused on religiously motivated crimes. The vocation just didn’t work for the character—something I only realized after spending a decade or so working on that first novel. When I made the switch to Erin as a reporter instead, it made all the difference in the world… but I wasn’t ready to give up the lure of those charismatic cult leaders I’d been researching for so long. I’ve always been fascinated with the extremes of religious fanaticism, and as a kid actually attended a church where speaking in tongues and being felled by the holy spirit were par for the course. Those emotionally charged scenes made a big impression, and somehow those scenes found their way into my work today.
D: The over-arching mystery in the series keeps referring back to the original tragedy that occurred (detailed in the first book, All the Blue-Eyed Angels), and the reader is given clues throughout to a more sinister motive than what is revealed in books 1 and 2. Why did you choose to write the story this way? How many books do you envision to complete the series?
J: I knew from the start that the story I wanted to tell couldn’t be contained within a single novel. I’m a huge fan of serialized… everything. I love well-written TV (my graduate thesis was on television as modern literature), and I’ve been devouring every mystery novel series I could get my hands on since I was a kid. AND I love puzzles and conspiracy. So, I decided now was the time to play with all of those elements and make them come together in one colossal project. I’ve had the end game in mind from the beginning for this; I just wasn’t clear before on exactly how long it would take to get to that end game. Now, I know that this particular mystery will be resolved with the fifth book in the series, THE BOOK OF J. After that, I have any number of novels and series arcs in mind for the characters, but my focus now is on completing this pentalogy.
D: Now for some questions on process: SOUTHERN CROSS uses multiple first and third points of view (POV). How do you decide which POV to use in a book?
J: I listen to the characters, really. When I first started writing ANGELS, it was written in limited third person from Erin’s point of view. It didn’t work, though, because I wasn’t able to get the strength of her voice across that way. So, I switched to first and it made all the difference in the world. Diggs tells things from his POV, but in SINS OF THE FATHER (the second novel in the series) I have alternating chapters between Jack Juarez (Erin’s other love interest) and Erin. Erin is first person, Jack is third. It has to do with the way the character views the world: Erin and Diggs are strong, opinionated characters whose voices are deeply rooted in humor, inflection, and internal process. Jack Juarez is more about action, reason, and ordered thought. It didn’t feel necessary to go with first person with him, because his external actions typically reflect his internal thought process so thoroughly.
I love playing with POV, and I adore getting inside the characters’ heads. It’s a tricky process, and you always have to walk that fine line between doing too much and not doing enough to make the trip to another perspective worthwhile. Barbara Kingsolver does it masterfully in POISONWOOD BIBLE, which I’ve read about a hundred times. I always go back to that when I start to worry that I’m taking on too many voices at one time.
D: You certainly can’t go wrong with Barbara Kingsolver. Do you outline or are you more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer?
J: I’m definitely, definitely, definitely not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. I greatly admire them, and I’ve done it in the past with less intricately plotted work. With the novels I’m writing now, though, I would get so tangled up if I wasn’t following an outline that I’d lose my mind within a day. I start with an intricate outline at the get-go, and that outline evolves as I get to know the story a little better. It’s always vastly different from the time I start to the time I finish, but at this point—because I’m solving a mystery with elements from five novels—it’s integral to the process that I have a clear idea where I’m going, where I’ve been, who I’m working with, what we know so far, and what needs to be resolved. There are so many threads to keep track of these days!
D: What are you working on now?
J: The fourth book in the series, BEFORE THE AFTER, which I’m tremendously excited about. This one answers a huge number of questions about the initial mystery in ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS, by relating the first days of the Payson Church of Tomorrow from Erin’s mom’s perspective. Meanwhile, of course, the majority of the novel is told in the present from Erin’s perspective. Lots of action, many secrets revealed, and the ending for this one changes the direction and flow of Erin’s entire character arc. So… yeah, I’m excited about this one. I feel like, of all of them, this is the most epic novel I’ve written thus far.
D: Give us a ‘day in the life’ of author Jen Blood.
J: A day in the life, huh? It’s really pretty dull. I get up at around seven, walk and feed the hound, do yoga, feed myself, and then hit the computer. I’m usually working on either writing or social media and marketing stuff from nine to five, with a lunch break in between. Then dinner, hound walk, workout, and I typically finish out the day with a couple of hours of free writing (longhand, working on the next chapters of the novel) before bed, at around midnight or so. That’s my schedule—with little variation—six days a week, and then on the seventh day I usually run errands and do a lot of free writing. Things look to be shifting now, though, as I’m starting to get more requests to do readings, signings, and seminars… For April, it looks like my ‘days in the life’ will be all over the place!
“…while two years ago if you had six unpublished manuscripts in your sock drawer and you decided you’d just publish and wait for the cash to start rolling in, now it’s more clear than ever that you need a better plan than just hitting “Publish Now” …”
D: Where do you see yourself in five years?
J: Ideally, making a good living from my writing. That’s the hope, anyway. I have a bunch of other novels in the Erin Solomon series in mind going forward, but I also have a YA dystopian trilogy that I’ve been working on for a long time… I can’t wait to get to work on that again. So—Five years down the road, I hope that I’ll have a slew of publications under my belt, a solid fan base, projects in the works, and enough cash coming in to keep a roof over my head and the hound in dog chow.
D: Where do you see the publishing industry in five years?
J: That’s always a tricky question—especially right now, when everything is changing so quickly. I think independent publishing will continue to grow, and traditional publishers, literary agents, and any non-writing folks who have historically made their living from we lowly authors will continue to try and establish their role in this new paradigm. Now that the initial enthusiasm has worn off and most self-published authors have recognized that this isn’t actually a get-rich-quick scheme just waiting to happen, I think we as authors are more likely to recognize the importance the so-called “gatekeepers” in the industry play in helping us get noticed. So, while two years ago if you had six unpublished manuscripts in your sock drawer and you decided you’d just publish and wait for the cash to start rolling in, now it’s more clear than ever that you need a better plan than just hitting “Publish Now” on Amazon or Createspace.
At the same time that we are recognizing that agents and traditional publishing houses are not actually obsolete yet, I also think that this whole revolution has put untold power in the hands of the author. I’m currently seeking an agent and I wouldn’t be averse to a traditional publishing contract, but I know at this point that if I don’t get either of those things, I’ll still be all right. I can still make a living at doing what I love.
D: Anything I missed?
J: I think that about covers it, really. Thanks so much—this was so fun!!
D: Thanks for being here, Jen! How about giving readers a little taste of SOUTHERN CROSS ?
J: The following excerpt is from chapter four of SOUTHERN CROSS. Here, reporter Daniel Diggins (Diggs) has just returned to western Kentucky to bury his childhood best friend, who has been murdered. Predictably enough, madness ensues.
I spotted a dozen photo albums lined up on one of the shelves, and stepped inside the shed. It smelled of sawdust and cigar smoke, two of George’s favorite things. I grabbed a couple of the photo albums without checking the dates on the spines and strode back across the shed toward freedom. Since the caves and tunnels of the previous summer, enclosed spaces weren’t a favorite of mine. Something clattered against the outside wall. I whirled toward the sound, heart racing.
“Solomon? Is that you?”
I turned back around just in time to watch the door swing shut.
“Buddy? All right… Good one, guys. You’re friggin’ hilarious.” I reached for the door and tried to push it open. It didn’t budge.
Something scratched against the outside of the shed, just below the window—like someone was scaling the wall. The clattering could have been a ladder, I realized. And this was George’s idea of a practical joke: his way of welcoming me back to the fold. I wet my lips and reminded myself that panicking at this point was exactly the kind of story that would follow me to my grave, once the lights came on and the idiots pulling the prank were revealed.
Better to play it cool. Ride it out.
“All right, you got me,” I said. “I’m trapped in the shed. In the dark. You guys are comic geniuses.”
Something scratched against the windowpane. I trained my flashlight beam in that direction, but all that did was reflect the light back at me.
I realized then that there was no way Solomon was behind this—she knew too well what we’d gone through six months ago. And she wouldn’t let the others do anything like it, either. Sweat beaded on my forehead and the back of my neck. Just outside the window, I heard a faint rattling sound.
“Harvey?” I said quietly. If Sheriff Jennings had found out I was back in town, this might be the kind of thing he’d pull to welcome me back. “Is that you?”
The rattling got louder.
I pulled my cell phone from my jacket pocket and hit number one on speed dial. It went straight to Solomon’s voicemail. Perfect.
My pulse was racing.
The window opened, the sound of metal against wood like a scream in the stillness. I grabbed the closest thing I could find—a hammer hanging on the pegboard—and held it aloft, my back pressed to the far wall, waiting to see what would happen next.
D: Great excerpt, Jen! SOUTHERN CROSS is filled with heart pounding suspense that kept me up way too late reading 🙂 I’m now eagerly awaiting the fourth book in the series… To find out more about Jen and her Erin Solomon Mysteries, check out the links below:
Jen Blood is a freelance writer and editor, and author of the bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing/Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine, and has publishing credits in Down East, Pif, Vampirella, Bark, and newspapers and periodicals around the country. Jen lives in midcoast Maine, where she scribbles madly, hikes with her hound, and leads the occasional seminar on online marketing and social media for authors in her spare time.
ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS*
Barnes and Noble/Nook
*ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS is currently free for Kindle, Nook, and on Smashwords
SINS OF THE FATHER
Barnes and Noble/Nook
On Kristen Lamb’s blog. Here’s the link: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/love-trumps-laws-a-final-rebuttal-to-turow/
Absolutely love her take on this.
Here are some links to sources for free ebooks. As always, check to make sure the book is free before you download, as some may have expired. Happy Friday!
This is a great post by Kristen Lamb on the phases of becoming a master author. http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/three-phases-of-becoming-a-master-author/
What do you think?
Should you use first person POV or third? I’m blogging about the age-old question today on Blog-A-Licious Authors. Stop by and share your strategies…
Here are some links to find free ebooks today: