- Welcome Sadie! Tell us a little about your background.
Thanks ROCCO! I live in Connecticut with my husband, teenage son, and Elvira the Wonder Cat. I have a B.A. in history from St. Lawrence University, and I’ve worked as a waitress, office drone, handbag designer/manufacturer, and most recently as a freelance editor, in addition to writing my own stories. I love cooking, yarn, reading, puttering in my garden (not my greatest skill, but I’m trying), and traveling. And of course, making stuff up!
- Tell us a bit about your Tangled Web series! The first is YARNED AND DANGEROUS. Where did that idea come from and do you knit in real life?
I do knit (and crochet) in real life, having mostly taught myself with some assistance from my Aunt Rae and a family friend, Martha, when I was a kid. When my agent came to me and said he had an editor looking for a knitting mystery, I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Or found the Holy Grail. I had the beginnings of a cozy series that we couldn’t sell because the hook was too similar to another one out there, so I took the premise—city girl returns home to care for her injured great-uncle—and morphed it into the story that became YARNED AND DANGEROUS. It was an easy transition, so I feel like this story was always meant to be told about yarn and not the other thing (ooh, I’m super mysterious, aren’t I, not telling you what the other story premise was?)
- How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
Generally, I don’t get to know anybody until they appear on the page. My writing process involves a bit of woo-woo in that when a character pops into my head and inserts her/himself into the story, I just let it happen. Eventually, most often while I’m doing something else like housework—or knitting!—they will tell me why they are there and what their backstory is and I’ve never had to cut a character later. I know some authors like to do detailed character studies before they sit down to write or plot, and that works well for them. For me, knowing too much ahead of time inhibits the creative process.
- You also write as Susannah Hardy. Tell us about your “Greek to Me” mystery series.
The Greek to Me Mysteries are set in a fictional Greek restaurant in a fictional village in the Thousand Islands area of Northern New York State. My heroine/sleuth, Georgie, isn’t Greek, but she married into a Greek family, and she manages the Bonaparte House restaurant for her soon-to-be-ex-mother-in-law, Sophie. Each mystery contains elements of local legends and history, but the series is mostly about what it means to be part of a family, whether related by blood or not. And I include Greek and other recipes. This series has a slightly over-the-top soap-opera feel, which will be very obvious if you read book 2, OLIVE AND LET DIE.
- How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I am a pantser, with elements of plotter, making me a plotser. Because my books were all sold on proposal, I did have to provide my publishers with brief outlines of the stories. But as I’m writing, I usually only know the major turning points of the story. As much as possible, I like to let the story unfold naturally. When starting a story, I know who the victim is and how and where he/she was killed. Then I think about the town, and people connected to the victim, and I give each suspect a reason to want the victim dead. That quite often develops as I go along, not as I’m just beginning to write. This process won’t work for everybody, by the way. It requires a certain faith in your own creative process. And it’s not perfect, by any means, and can actually be a little scary, not knowing where you’re going. But if I trust myself, it’s worked out so far.
- Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
Well, neither can exist without the other. A character can’t exist on his/her own, without some kind of force (plot) acting on her/him. But if I had to choose, and this may be controversial among writers, LOL!, I would choose plot. Because it’s only through forces acting on the character, that character can be revealed. Given the exact same plot framework, a different character would make different decisions and grow in a different way. Imagine Scarlett O’Hara switching places with Elizabeth Bennett.
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
I am challenged every day I’m working on a first draft, because I’m convinced what I’ve written is complete drivel. I have to keep reminding myself to keep going, that anything that’s broken in the story can be fixed later. As for what keeps me motivated, a couple of things: (1) the desire never to go back to a day job; and (2) chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
- Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
Sure! I had a completed manuscript that would become FETA ATTRACTION (book 1 of the Greek to Me Mysteries). I’d dithered around with it for a long time, tweaking the beginning over and over, unable to move on to any new projects. So I gave myself an ultimatum: 6 months of diligent work to find an agent or publisher. After that, I would self-publish the book and start something new. I submitted to a number of agents and digital first presses. Interestingly, though it didn’t seem interesting at the time, all the digital first presses rejected me!
Within three months, I got an offer from an agent. However, I researched him and realized that he had never sold a cozy mystery, and did not appear to have the contacts necessary to sell a book to a major publisher. I then went back to my top choices of agents who still had partials or fulls of my manuscript and let them know that I had an offer. That moved me up in the queues. Within two weeks, I had an offer from John Talbot of the Talbot Fortune Agency. We put together a proposal for a three-book series, tweaked it, and one week after I first spoke to him on the phone, he had the proposal on an editor’s desk. One week later, I had a deal for the Greek to Me series and an advance check on the way. The whole process took me only four months out of my original six-month window.
- What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
Right now I’m finishing up the second book in the Tangled Web Mysteries, which will release late next year. I have one more book to write in that contract. I’m also planning a novella, and I’m in the preliminary research and planning stages of a darker general fiction story. I have lots of stories in my head! I just need to find the time to get them on the page.
- What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I am an early riser, usually up before 6:00 a.m. every day except the weekends, where I sometimes sleep until 7:00. I make coffee, get my son off to school, start a load of laundry if necessary, then review my email and do a very quick check of social media. If I have a deadline, as I do now, I get to work on the manuscript until lunch. I try to set weekly word count goals rather than daily, which tend to not get met. Actual writing, I’d say I spend about 10-15 hours per week, unless I’m on deadline, when I simply write until my brain quits for the day (I write in longer sessions when I’m near the end of a story).
I also freelance as a coach and developmental/line/copy editor (www.crazydiamondediting.com), so I need to intersperse my own writing and the jobs associated with that, with my obligations to my clients. I usually work on that in the afternoon. And I do sometimes work evenings as well, depending on where I am in my own or others’ projects.
This is definitely not a 9 to 5 job, LOL!
- If you could take only three books with you for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
The Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. On Writing, by Stephen King. When do we leave?
- What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
First, don’t strive for perfection. There’s no such thing, and it can paralyze you. Just tell your story from beginning to end, then you can fix it later. I’ve never seen a story that can’t be fixed—but the author needs to decide how much work s/he is willing to do. And second, find a writers’ group. I would suggest your local RWA chapter (www.rwa.org). No matter what genre you are writing, RWA is focused on teaching craft and business. I would NOT be published today without the Connecticut Chapter of Romance Writers of America.
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Well, my mom might read this and there are still things I don’t want her to know about, LOL! But I’d have to say taking a leap of faith and thinking I could actually make a go of this writing thing. It still seems a little crazy!
- What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
Hmmmm. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a ghost. I know I’ve heard one, twice, in different houses. When I investigated, there was no other explanation for what I’d heard.
- What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
“Sadie/Susannah? How do you like your cheesecake? With or without raspberries?” And the answer would be “with, thank you.”
- Where can we learn more about you and your books?
· Website: www.sadiehartwell.com
· Facebook: https://goo.gl/vcfpRb
· Twitter: https://goo.gl/8Y3qU5, @sadiehartwell
· Feta Attraction: goo.gl/M7DutM
· Website: www.susannahhardy.com
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day. I get tired at night J
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Puh-leeze. Cat, tuxedo if possible.
Beach or Pool? Beach. I love the sound of the ocean.
Steak or salad? Steak. Though steak on salad is good, as long as there’s bleu cheese to go with it.
Favorite Drink? Fancy coffee drinks. Love ‘em!
Favorite Book? Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.
Favorite TV Series? Fluctuates. Lately I’m obsessed with Longmire on Netflix. I love any kind of documentary about historical stuff, archaeology, myths/legends, or anything that includes a facial reconstruction of some ancient person of any species J And when the next season of Poldark comes out on PBS next year, go away, kid, don’t bother me. I’ll be binge-watching.
Favorite Movie? Gone with the Wind
Favorite Actor: Old time: Cary Grant. Now time: Robert Downey Jr. (sigh!)
Favorite Actress: Old time: Katherine Hepburn. Now time: Meryl Streep.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Dirty Martini. Which I hope I’m drinking with James Bond.
Hawaii or Alaska? Would love to visit both! But I’d choose Hawaii first, then Alaska.
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be… William Shakespeare. I’d like to find out if he did, in fact, write his own stuff.
If I had just one wish, it would be… at the risk of going all Miss America on everyone, world peace and tolerance. I worry for our earth and our future generations and I don’t understand the hate I see everywhere.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be …Nobody! I’m very happy with my life and all the friends and family in it.
Sadie/Susannah will give away to one lucky commenter a copy of her/his choice of Olive and Let Die or Yarned and Dangerous. To enter, leave a comment below with your email address and choice of book! Contest closes midnight, November 29. Good luck!