ROCCO welcomes author Sasscer Hill!
Tell us a little about your background
I was horse crazy as a kid, loved all the Black Stallion books, and then graduated to Dick Francis. I was always good at writing, but never thought I’d be an author. When I married, we were able to move back to my family’s farm, fix it up, and I finally got my dream of owning and raising horses. Next thing I knew, I was in the race horse business, and found it a tough, competitive game that was not for the faint hearted. It appeared that if I ever wanted to win a big stakes race, I’d probably have to do it in a novel. I knew so much about the business by then, that the obvious thing to do was to write a horse racing mystery. So, I did.
Tell us a bit about your Nikki Latrelle racing mystery series mysteries. Where did that idea come from?
My first novel, “Heart of a Winner,” is still in a drawer, where, I fear, it belongs. When I couldn’t get the book published, I was devastated, backed off the whole idea and wasted five years licking my wounds when I could have been writing. Dumbest thing I ever did. Finally, I wised up and took courses at Maryland’s Bethesda Writer’s Center, where I learned about plot, character and story arcs, and all the stuff I knew nothing about. No wonder the first novel didn’t get published! While taking courses at the center, I wrote the first Nikki Latrelle novel. It seemed to me and my classmates that a novel about a female jockey might find a good niche audience, and it did. Except it took five years to get the first book in the series, “Full Mortality,” published. But when it did come out, it was nominated for both Agatha and Macavity Best First Book Awards.
Your website states you are an “amateur jockey”. How did you get into that and what’s it like?
When I took riding lessons as a kid and as a teenager, I always loved speed. I loved to gallop, and I loved to jump. Naturally, I progressed to the Point to Point races held by Maryland and Virginia hunt clubs. I won a point to point near Annapolis, MD, placed in others, and my biggest win was at the Potomac Hunt races in Maryland, over the big four-foot, solid timber fences. Never been so scared, so thrilled, or so proud in my life!
Tell us about your new “Fia McKee” series for St. Martin’s.
Fia McKee is thirty-two, a former Baltimore police officer, on suspension when the first book opens. Because her father was a horse trainer, and because she knows the business so well, including how to exercise a race horse, she is useful to the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB). The TRPB is a real US agency, headquartered in Fair Hill, MD, and I met the President and Vice President of the agency for several hours and, a year later had them read my book for authenticity. Fia had to be believable as a TRPB agent. They gave me a green light and my new agent got me a contract with St. Martins for a two-book deal.
How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I always start a “character” file. Everyone of importance in the novel ends up listed in alpha order, with a short paragraph that describes them. The more important characters end up with longer paragraphs. Some of their traits are born in this file, but more are born as I write the novel. Then I copy and paste those important written-in-the-novel traits into the character file, to remind myself of their particular idiosyncrasies.
The reason I know my protagonists, Nikki and Fia so well is because they do things, fear things, love things, and find humor in the same things that I would.
How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I outline as much as I can.
Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Creating a plot. That’s the hardest part for me. Setting, dialogue, character are so much easier for me than plot. I am even taking yet another plot course with author Simon Wood this spring. Once I really know, on that gut “aha” level that I’ve got my plot, the rest is easy. It’s just a matter of putting in the time at the keyboard.
Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I’d parted ways with two agents by the time “Full Motality” was published by the small Maryland publisher, Wildside Press. When I got the Agatha nomination, one of my mentors wrote me and told me I had to get a good agent, had to move ahead with my career and find a bigger publisher for my work. She told me to query agents saying I was at a “crossroads.” I did and landed a very good agent who got me the two book deal with St. Martins.
What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I want to write a third Fia McKee novel, but because my current contract is only for two books, I’ve started a murder mystery about a seventeen year old girl who is born into an American Irish Traveler family. Travelers are a fascinating culture of flamboyant scam artists. An extremely insular society, the children rarely stay in school past the eighth grade. Many youngsters are bound by signed marriage contracts, and some girls marry as early as eleven. Since the nation’s largest group of Travelers lives in Murphy Village, about 40 minutes from my home in Aiken, I drove to their compound and took a look around. Large McMansions were being built with money from their cash-only endeavors of driveway paving, tree trimming, house painting and other odd jobs.
The Traveler men drive out of state, and are famous for scams like charging a lower price for your driveway because they “happen” to have a load of asphalt from another job. They lay down a new driveway, take your money and are gone. Since the only paper ID you saw was false, along with fake MVA tags, good luck getting a refund when your substandard driveway crumbles and cracks a month later. How, I thought, could these people not make a fabulous background for a murder mystery!
In a perfect world, I’ll finish this book, the new two-book series will sell well, and I’ll get to write more Fia books.
What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Blown through a stop sign at 90 miles an hour, crossing a four lane highway in the middle of the night as a sixteen year old.
What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I used to drive my GTO between ninety and one-hundred-twenty miles an hour on 83 between DC and Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. My classmates won’t be surprised, but I think my readers might be.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
Why do you love horses? Because they are mystical, spiritual animals that touch my heart like no other.
If you entered the witness protection program and had to start over, what job would you want to do?
Working in one of the programs that are using horses to help our wounded warriors with PTSD
What would you love to have a never ending supply of?
Whats the last tv show that made you laugh?
What store could you browse in for hours?
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? .Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Both
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Steak
Favorite Drink? Woodford Reserve bourbon.
“The Far Pavillions”
Favorite TV Series?
“Special Victims Unit”
Folks you can catch up with Sasscer at:
http://SasscerHill.com/ Facebook http://tinyurl.com/j66dq5o Twitter: @SasscerHill https://www.amazon.com/author/sasscerhill