Monday, August 30, 2021

A Cozy Delight

As someone who fell in love with reading and writing stories at a young age, today's guest in My Writing Corner grabbed my attention immediately. 

Born in the Big Apple, Susie Black now calls sunny Southern California home. Like the protagonist in her Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, Susie is a successful apparel sales executive. Susie says she began telling stories as soon as she learned to talk. Now she’s telling all the stories from her garment industry experiences in humorous mysteries. 

She reads, writes, and speaks Spanish, albeit with an accent that sounds like Mildred from Michigan went on a Mexican vacation and is trying to fit in with the locals. Since life without pizza and ice cream as her core food groups wouldn’t be worth living, she says she’s a dedicated walker to keep her girlish figure. A voracious reader, she’s also an avid stamp collector. Susie lives with a highly intelligent man and has one incredibly brainy but smart-aleck adult son who inexplicably blames his sarcasm on an inherited genetic defect. 

Welcome, Susie! Please tell us about your road to publication.

No matter what stage an author’s writing career is at, one thing that is constantly drilled into their head is to only write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it or don’t you dare write it. If you don’t have the creds for what you write, you are toast because readers can spot a phony by the second paragraph and never finish reading your book. This concept is one I never lose sight of and is the reason I write about the subjects I do.  

Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, I am a ladies’ swimwear sales exec in the greater Los Angeles area. From the beginning of my career, I have kept a daily journal chronicling the interesting, quirky, and sometimes quite challenging people I have encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. My daily journal entries are the foundation of everything I write. I came to write in the cozy mystery genre because I love solving puzzles. My parents would certainly confirm I have always asked a lot of questions, and I am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries was the natural next step for me to take. it is also the genre I read, am comfortable in, and enjoy the most. The bonus is that it was an excellent way to knock off some people on paper who I would have loved to eliminate in real life and still not end up in prison. Extremely therapeutic. I highly recommend it. 

As a female who has succeeded in a historically male-dominated industry, it was important to me to write about the apparel business from a woman’s point of view. All of my characters are based on real people, and the central characters are all strong, successful women who have beaten the odds and broken the glass ceiling.

My Nana was perhaps the biggest influence in my life and while I didn’t realize it at the time, it was she who taught me how to navigate on my road to publication:

Nana the letter writer:  When they were first invented, telephones were difficult to use, often unreliable, and expensive to own. Not every family, including mine, could afford the luxury of having one. Like many families, once my Nana’s siblings grew up and left home, they scattered across the country. Nana knew the importance of keeping her family together no matter how many miles separated them. Since a phone was not an option, as the oldest child, Nana was chosen to write letters to family members living far from home. With the same level of dedication as the postman; come rain, sleet, or snow, war or peace, prosperous times or the depths of a national depression, my blind-as-a bat without her coke bottle-thick glasses Nana sat every Monday night at her dining room table and wrote a letter to each of her siblings. Her letters sewed the thread that kept our close-knit tribe connected. 

When I was in my sophomore year of college my family moved from Los Angeles to Miami. Despite their valiant attempts to persuade me to join them, I wasn’t interested in relocating to “God’s waiting room,” and remained out west. The good news was that Nana added me to her list of weekly letter-writing recipients. Lonesome for my family, Nana’s weekly letter was an eagerly-anticipated lifeline to my family’s heart and soul. For all of us, that letter was the glue that kept our family bound together no matter how far from home one of us wandered. 

The designated town crier, Nana’s letters were more like a newsletter. A date with her friends at the movies? After reading her letter, I was in the seat next to her. She reported who went, what they wore, if they were late or early; where they sat, if they had a snack, what the snack was, editorials on how much the snacks and the movie tickets cost, and every detail of the movie that was so complete, the recipient of her letter could write a decent review based on Nana’s commentary. If she described what an attendee was wearing, I could close my eyes and picture the outfit perfectly. Her descriptions were so detailed and rich, that if she was describing a meal, I could smell the wafting aroma and taste the food. 

Out of sentimentality or maybe a sixth sense that someday I’d need them, I kept every one of those letters. Like Nana, they were strong-willed and hearty; surviving dogs, a child, countless moves,  several major earthquakes and a devastating house fire. I had no formal creative writing training when I decided to write my first manuscript. I had a journal to draw experiences from, and a story to tell, but no clue how to tell it. I instinctively pulled the carefully wrapped packets of letters out of the storage box and re-read every one of them. I could picture Nana at the dining room table writing the letters. I  heard her voice inside my head speaking to me. My long-gone, full-service Nana had given me all the tools I needed. I re-packed the letters, started to write, and thanks to Nana, I never stopped. 

In a detached society that values cheaper and faster, we are insulated from direct contact with one another more each day. E-mail and texting replaced a phone call, and Zoom is the new version of a face to face meeting. We don’t need brick and mortar to build walls anymore. Modern technology has certainly had an impact on society mores and improved many aspects of our lives. Regrettably, technology was also a death knell for several means of personalized communication. Nana would have been horrified that a quaint, old fashioned skill like letter-writing disappeared. Thanks to Nana, my story has been told in a distinctive voice that comes through loud and clear. 

Nana the Story-teller: If there is an inheritable gene for story-telling,  mine  came from my mother’s mother. My nana should have been a writer. No one could tell a story like her. She was the eldest of six children of a modest immigrant family from Eastern Europe that settled in Boston at the turn of the century. My great-grandfather was a tailor who managed to clothe, feed, and shelter his children,  but there was precious little left over for extravagances like a day at the cinema for one child, let alone for six. Nana had a cousin Jenny who played piano at the local silent-movie house and she was able to get a pass for relatives. Nana and her next oldest sibling traded off weeks going to the serialized show every Saturday afternoon and then came home to tell the story to all the other kids. 

The other kids hated it when it was my great-aunt’s turn, because she gave a short synopsis and called it a day. They were thrilled when it was Nana’s turn. She set up two rows of chairs in the parlor like in the movie house, served popcorn, dimmed the lights and played background music as she recounted the episode of the serial. Nana would take her time, slowly build up to the cliffhanger and stop talking right before the finale. Nana would wait until my  great uncle Murray would yell, “Go on Rae, go on!” before she’d finish telling the story. Talk about pacing and how to build tension to the finale? Nana had it down pat. I kept Nana’s story-telling skills in mind while writing Death by Sample Size. Somewhere in the great beyond, Nana is smiling her approval. 

What is your latest book and how did you come up with the idea to write it?

My latest, actually my debut book, Death by Sample Size takes place in downtown Los Angeles in the heart of the garment center. I came up with the idea based on a situation I experienced with an unscrupulous buyer and then took the incident fictionally to the next level.  The premise behind the story in Death by Sample Size is what if a buying office big shot in the apparel industry so universally disliked that when she was murdered, there were so many potential suspects that it wasn’t a question of who wanted her dead, it was a question of who didn’t. 

Ah, the garment center! As someone who spent many hours there when I once lived in Los Angeles, this book makes me long to re-visit! Let's get a blurb:

“The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer.  Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge. Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black’s Death by Sample Size takes you on a rollicking adventure ride through the Los Angeles apparel industry.”

Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her?

What’s your next project?  What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on completing the hard editing of Death by Pins & Needles, the second book in the Holly Swimsuit Mystery series. My next project is to complete the manuscript for Death by Surfboard, the third book in the series. The manuscript is almost complete, but I am adding a new character, a love interest for the protagonist, and am considering adding a dog. 

What do you enjoy about being an author?

I enjoy letting my imagination go where it will and seeing where it takes me. 

When that game plan goes right, then a reader says I was up way past my bedtime because I couldn’t put your book down. It just does not get better than that. 

What do you find is the most challenging part of being an author?

I have two: Writing the middle of the story is sometimes a challenge. I have remedied this by allowing the characters to drive the plot from the middle to the end of the story. 

The most challenging part of being an author is marketing. This is without any doubt the most daunting and least enjoyable part of being an author. 

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I will pass along the sage advice that was given to me by best-selling author Harlan Coben: Keep writing, no matter what, keep writing. Trust your gut, believe in yourself, never let anyone crush your dream, and never stop asking what if? 

Ah, yes, one of my favorites! I've heard him say that too, and it always keeps me moving forward. Thank you, Susie, for being my guest today, sharing your story and introducing your new book. Here are Susie's social contacts to learn more about her and her book buy links:

Any questions or comments for Susie?

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