An Interview with Mystery Writer Susan Shea

February 7, 2015

1. In one paragraph, summarize your book, The King’s Jar.

When an anthropologist she had just met in San Francisco is killed in his lab and a priceless artifact he was studying is stolen, Dani O’Rourke is drawn into the hunt for the thief and killer. She is the chief fundraiser for the museum that was about to receive the King’s Jar, and an exhibit and black tie dinner in Manhattan to honor the billionaire donor are up in the air. As she juggles imperious donors, flustered volunteers, a charismatic TV host, a nervous boss, and her impulsive ex-husband who seems to show up everywhere, she edges closer – too close – to identifying the real villain.

2. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

It’s the same advice we all get, but that doesn’t make it less important: Keep writing. Don’t give up the first time it doesn’t come easy or the first time you get feedback that says you have further to go. We all start at the beginning – all of us. It’s the ones who grit their teeth, chain themselves to the chair, and gut it through to “The End” who learn and grow into really good writers.

3. Who inspired your character Dani O’Rourke?

Dani’s a combination of real women I know or read about, with something of me in her voice, and a lot of the professional skills I have admired in my colleagues over the years. One big difference between me and Dani is her failed marriage to a charming but highly impulsive man with $450 million, two Porsches, and a pied a terre in Paris!

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

The first one was finding the time, energy, and focus to finish a full length novel while holding down a demanding job that also required writing. The second was finding a publisher (I got lucky and found a great agent early on) in the dark days of 2008 after the market crash, when a lot of imprints were temporarily suspending their buying.

5. How did you find your agent?

Kimberley Cameron was on the faculty at the Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference – a first-rate program, by the way – and was among the faculty willing to read our first 20 pages. By that time, Murder in the Abstract had gone through lots of revisions and a writing group’s crits, so it was pretty polished. She signed me on the spot. I was speechless!

6. What authors have most influenced your writing?

Start with Jane Austen, whose character portraits, romantic tensions, and funny bits delight me again and again. Anthony Trollope’s wicked satire, Agatha Christie’s devilish plots, Janet Evanovitch’s breezy first person prose, Sue Grafton’s modern woman… the list goes on and on.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a character in a murder mystery (e.g., sleuth, police investigator, etc.) who would that be?

Well, I guess it would be what I did with the series: I’d be a fundraiser who works with the uber rich (entitled), artists (also entitled) and fascinating, creative people, but whose slightly cynical interior commentary is best kept to herself.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

The discipline to do rewriting and to work every day even when the garden beckons.

9. What is your writing routine?

See above. Sketchy at best. I’m not a morning person, so the best time is usually from about 2 p.m. until 7 or 7:30. My study gets messier and messier until things begin slipping onto the floor when one of my cats marches across the desk, and then I have to set aside a day to get rid of paper.

10. What drew you to writing crime fiction?

I like crime fiction. I love series. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series delighted me and gave me an idea that I could at least try it. Mysteries have a format, a structure on which to build, and for me coming into fiction after a long career writing other kinds of prose, it was a real help and confidence builder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Susan Shea. To learn more visit her website ( http://www.susancshea.com or follow her on Criminal Minds (http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com). Her print and e-books and the Audible version of The King’s Jar are available on Amazon and at some indie bookstores.


Life in Sweats

January 3, 2014

You’d think that I would have a lot of time to write, considering I have been “retired” since 2008.  I spend most of my days indoors either in sweats (winter) or jammy pants (spring-fall).  When summertime settles in, I am comfortable in whatever the spirit decrees.

Maybe that is what blocks my creative juices – I am just too damn comfortable.  I should rise at 4 AM, work out for two hours, dress in too-tight, starchy jeans, then get to work writing the next personal tragedy to top the charts.  Are you angst-ridden?  Perhaps you can share some of it with me?

I have news for you, fellow writer.  As this is the New Year, my resolution is to write more!  If you are a writer yourself, you may be familiar yourself with this proclamation.  But this time, for me as I cannot speak for you, this is real.  I absolutely, positively will write more.  And, I hope write better.  I’ll just throw out the garbage, and through attrition will succeed in preserving more quality sentences.  It’s simple if you follow the formula.

The problem is that I do not write mysteries, suspense thrillers, pot boilers, or bodice rippers.  There is no easy-to-follow formula to follow for what I write.  And there is probably no easy formula for you either.  Your writing is creative and unique, as is mine – I pray.  Formulaic romances or memoirs or mysteries is just not my thing.  Never enjoyed reading them and I can’t imaging why I would enjoy writing them.

Which brings me back to wearing my comfortable sweats and enjoying every moment as it comes along as if it were my last.  I suppose I am in good company with other celebrated writers who enjoyed every moment – does Oscar Wilde come to mind?  Like him, I can overcome this hardship of comfort and excess to write enduring works.  I will strap my belt too tight, sit in my straight-back chair, and plunk away on my IBM Selectric (well, it’s really a MacBook Air) for eight straight hours each day until my great American novel is complete.

Uh, good luck to you with that.  I just don’t have time…