Meow! My guest today is author Susannah Hardy!
Susannah Hardy thinks she has the best job in the world: making up stories and inventing recipes to go along with them. A native of northern New York, where she attended St. Lawrence University, Susannah now lives in Connecticut with her husband, teenage son, and Elvira the Wonder Cat.
Thanks Rocco! I grew up in northern New York State, but I now live in Connecticut. I love living in New England! I’ve worked a number of different jobs, most recently as an independent editor of indie-published novels. (I still take an occasional job, if a book interests me).
I’ve always been a reader, and I made a few attempts at writing when I was younger—mostly short stories and some truly dreadful poetry, as well as a poorly drawn comic strip about a biology-loving superheroine who saved the world from marauding Protozoans and an Evil Overlord who looked a lot like my high school biology teacher. Over the years, I started several novels but never got past the first chapter or two. It was only when I (a) admitted to myself that if I never finished a novel—and I only meant “finished,” because selling a novel was not even on my radar at the time—I would regret it on my deathbed; and (b) found another writer who was at the same point in her own journey and supported me, and I her, that I was able to get out of my own way and write the first draft of the novel that would become FETA ATTRACTION. Now I’m a full-time writer, under contract for several mysteries, and I could not be happier!
R: What drew you to the cozy mystery genre?
I’ve always read cozies—from the stripped-down version in Encyclopedia Brown, to Nancy Drew, to Agatha Christie, and now to the modern cozies. I love everything about them:
- the emphasis on community, friendships and family
- the fact that cozies don’t need to rely on anything graphic to make the story interesting
- the Play-Fair promise that all the clues and suspects necessary to solve the murder are contained in the book, even though they’re hidden
- the ability to revisit the characters (at least the ones who survive into the next book, LOL!) and the setting over and over, because cozies come in series;
- the gorgeous cover art, and punny titles that appeal to my cornball nature; and
- the guarantee that justice will be served at the end of the book
R: Tell us about your series, the GREEK TO ME MYSTERIES. How did you decide on that for a setting?
The GREEK TO ME MYSTERIES are set in my old stomping grounds, the Thousand Islands area of New York State, on the St. Lawrence River, on the Canadian border. My heroine/sleuth, Georgie Nikolopatos, isn’t Greek, but she married into a Greek family and manages the family restaurant. Greece is made up of mainland and islands; so is northern New York State. It seemed like a natural fit. Plus, Bonaparte Bay, where Georgie’s restaurant is located, is a (fictional) tourist village, and that means lots of people coming and going—people who really ought to be careful, because you know what often happens to outsiders in a cozy mystery town! So there are plenty of opportunities for lots of interesting things to happen over the course of the series.
R: Do you have any favorite Greek recipes you’d like to share?
Sure! Here’s a recipe included in FETA ATTRACTION for Greek-Style Roasted Potatoes, which you can serve with pretty much any type of meat, or with just a big Greek salad for a lighter meal, or even for breakfast:
Greek-Style Roasted Potatoes
Serves two (recipe is easily doubled).
3 medium potatoes (Yukon Golds are delicious, but all-purpose spuds are fine too)
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 T. olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
A few grinds of black pepper
Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Wash and peel potatoes. Cut each potato in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 3 wedges. Dry with a paper towel. Place in a bowl along with the onion slices, and pour the olive oil over the top. Season with sea salt and black pepper and mix to coat the potatoes well.
Line a shallow rimmed baking sheet with foil. (You will not get good results if you use a baking dish with high sides). Spread the potato mixture in a single layer on the baking sheet.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until potatoes have a nice crispy golden crust. Check on the potatoes once or twice during the baking process to be sure they’re browning evenly and the onions are not burning. Give them a stir if necessary. Sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley. A sprinkle of crumbled feta on the hot potatoes is also delicious.
R: Do you have a “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
I had been pitching the novel that would become FETA ATTRACTION for a couple of years, off and on, to agents and editors at conferences. But in retrospect I can see that I was very unfocused at that time, trying to tailor my pitches to the agents and editors based on what I thought they were looking for, rather than what the book actually was. I tweaked and retweaked the first fifty pages of the book. In my attempt to get it “perfect,” I finally realized that I was spinning my wheels, and I wasn’t working on other projects, either. So I sat myself down and gave myself a talking-to. I set a deadline of six months to get an agent, or to sell to a digital-first press. If that didn’t happen, I would self-publish the book. Whatever happened, it was time to move on.
Now, about two months into this process, I attended a conference, and a friend introduced me to her agent. I submitted to him, and he ended up making me an offer of representation. However, I did some research and realized that he had never sold a cozy mystery. (Not that he couldn’t, just that he hadn’t yet) Several of my first-choice agents hadn’t responded to my query yet, so I politely followed up and let them know that I had an offer from another agent but hadn’t signed. Several of them got back to me right away, but the first time I talked to the agent I eventually signed with, I knew we were a great match. We put together a proposal for a three-book series, and two weeks to the day I first spoke to my agent, we had a deal with Berkley. So it took a long time to get the ball rolling, but once it did, it happened very, very fast. And I still had two months left on my deadline!
I got the call that we had a deal on my husband’s birthday. And I burst into tears, then we went out to dinner.
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
Depending on the time of day, I usually have coffee, herbal tea, or ice water sitting next to me. Writing is thirsty work, LOL! I also have a supply of Ghirardelli chocolate squares because, you know, chocolate is brain food. At least that’s what I tell myself.
R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
Hmmm. This is a tough one, picking just one thing. Because I’m a huge history nerd. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who reads FETA ATTRACTION, which is based on some real Bonaparte history. Right now (and this answer would change based on what I’m reading about or thinking about day-to-day), I’d like to travel back to 1815 and ask Napoleon why, after being defeated at Waterloo, he didn’t go through with his plan of escaping to America, but instead chose to surrender and be forced into exile. I mean, what did he have to lose? Why not take a chance on freedom?
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
That despite having had a book traditionally published by a New York publisher, with several more books in the queue, I still don’t really think of myself as an author. Even though this is my full-time job now, it all still feels a bit like it’s happening to someone else. But I do recognize that I’m living my dream—maybe that’s the part that’s hard to believe!
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
Oh, gosh. If I tell you the actual craziest thing I’ve done, I’m afraid my son will read this blog and think it’s okay to do stupid stuff, LOL! But I can admit that when I got out of college, my bestie and I backpacked through Europe for two and-a-half months, with very little money (I mean, when she and I landed back in the U.S. after this trip, I had $10.00 in my pocket!). It was an amazing experience and honestly, I’d like to do it again—but with more money this time, in case of emergencies and so I could eat more than once a day.
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
I hope readers will love and root for my characters as much as I do, and want to come back to see what happens next.
R: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Right now I’m working on the first book of a new cozy mystery series, as well as a short story anthology project with a number of other cozy authors. I’ve also got a much darker, decidedly non-cozy story I want to tell, based on a murder that happened in my own family a hundred years ago. Not sure when I’ll have time to work on that one, but it’s a story that’s been taking up room in my writer-brain for a while.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
FETA ATTRACTION was one hundred percent pantsed. I started at the beginning, and I just kept writing, and the plot unfolded to me as I went along in an almost magical way. I don’t know any other way to describe that, and I know that doesn’t help other writers, LOL! But as I was writing books two and three in the series, I did have to do a little plotting, in order to keep characters consistent and to make sure that while each book stands alone, it also incorporates the bigger story arc that spans the three books. But for the most part, I’m a pantser. Most of my writer friends are plotters, by the way, and these days most of them are using large plot boards and various Post-it notes to plan out their stories. I admire the pretty colors, but I can’t bring myself to build one. I’m pretty sure that would take the magic out of it for me, and I’m learning to trust my own process, which has been working so far.
R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
I love to troll the Internet and cookbooks for recipes (big surprise, for a culinary cozy writer, eh?), as well as research obscure bits of history and my own genealogy. I also love to do needlework—sewing, knitting, and crocheting—and to go for long walks, with an audiobook playing on my phone. That way I get some exercise and don’t feel guilty about listening to a story when I think I should be doing other things. I’m also teaching myself to be a gardener, because I have a vision in my head what I want my yard to look like, but it’s not there yet. This year I’m going to add some vegetables beyond my traditional couple of tomato plants. Wish me luck!
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Ooh, advice! One of my favorite things!
- Don’t be afraid. You don’t ever have to show your writing to anyone else if you don’t want to.
- Don’t get caught in the Susannah Hardy Trap of Perfectionism. Before you sit down to write, tell yourself, over and over if necessary: It doesn’t have to be perfect. Because it’s never going to be perfect. So just get the words on the page and you can revise later.
- Do join a writers’ group. There may be one at your local library, or you can check online sites such as Meetup.com to find a group in your area. No matter what genre you’re writing, you can probably benefit from joining a Romance Writers of America (rwa.org) chapter. They are the best professional organization I’ve found for nurturing beginning writers, teaching about craft, and explaining the business side of writing.
- And when you join a writers’ group, be friendly and open. Writers’ groups often have matching services for mentors-mentees and critique partners. Take advantage of this. Because this can be a tough business, and you need a partner in your corner, someone who has your back. I’m fortunate to have a number of writer friends, more than my fair share, really, not that I would give up a single one of them, all of whom I can count on for just about anything—and that support has been the greatest single factor in my getting from that first Chapter One I ever typed to having a book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
- And finally, keep the faith. There are many paths to publication now, and many choices open to you. So don’t quit, if this is your dream.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day.
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Cat, tuxedo if possible (Yes, I own a tuxedo cat, Rocco! Elvira saw your picture and thinks you’re kind of cute.) (R: MEOOOOOWER! (blushes)
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Salad
Favorite Drink? Fancy coffee drinks
Favorite Book? Depends on the day, but I never grow tired of Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre
Favorite TV Series? I Love Lucy
Favorite Movie? It’s A Wonderful Life, even though I want to slap Uncle Billy silly every time he’s on screen.
Favorite Actor: Robert Downey Jr. (swoon!)
Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep (she’s a genius)
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Dirty Martini
Hawaii or Alaska? Hmmm, both are on my bucket list. Since it’s January, I’ll go with Hawaii!
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be: Margaret Mitchell. Because I can’t stand not knowing whether she planned a sequel to Gone With The Wind and whether she planned to get Rhett and Scarlett back together. I’m hoping there’s an authors’ lounge in heaven where I will someday get to meet her (maybe over a dirty martini?) and find out.
If I had just one wish, it would be: Robert Downey Jr., sitting across the breakfast table from me, gazing longingly at me with those big brown eyes? But on a more global note, I wish for tolerance, understanding, and peace on Earth. I know that sounds all Miss America or John Lennon but my heart breaks every time I read or hear about the hatred humans heap on each other.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: Mrs. RDJ? No, seriously, I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. I have everything I need and most of what I want.
List all the places readers can find you:
Facebook: http://goo.gl/eRQqkp -- Please like me!
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusannahHardy1 @susannahhardy1--Please follow me!
Thanks for a great interview, Susannah!
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