Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ten Questions with Susan Whitfield

Today we have with us Susan Whitfield, North Carolina native and author of four Logan Hunter mystery novels as well as a cookbook based on fiendishly named recipes from a host of mystery writers.  I recently read the third novel in her Logan Hunter series, Hell Swamp, the review of which you can find here.

Good morning, Susan.  Greetings from your neighbor to the south! 

SW:  Good morning, Jonathan. Thanks for having me over.

The pleasure is all mine.  Thank you for sparing the time to speak with me.  O.K., it's game time.  On to the first question.

Q1) Let’s have the bio, shall we?  Tell us about yourself.

SW:  I’ve been writing seriously since I retired from a high school principalship. I’m a native of eastern North Carolina, but I’ve also live in western North Carolina. My four published novels—The Logan Hunter Mystery Series—are all set somewhere in the state. I enjoy the different dialects and customs from our mountains to our sea. North Carolina is such a phenomenal conglomeration of inspiration for me. I also authored a unique cookbook, entitled Killer Recipes, with the help of many mystery writers across the country who submitted family recipes in exchange for free promotion underneath. Two of my favorites include “Brittle Bones” and “Stuffed-in-the-Trunk Mushrooms."

Q2) Sounds like you’ve been making very good use of your retirement!  What about the main character of your Logan Hunter novels?  What’s she like?

SW:  Logan is about 6 feet tall and wears a size four—a walking bean pole. She barely has knobs for breasts and even though she’s gutsy, her confidence needs work. After her dad’s friend is murdered and the case runs cold, she decides to get a Criminal Justice degree at a nearby college.  She’s uncomfortable around men, due to a date rape when she was in high school, scarring her deeply. She’s a loner, preferring to work alone. In Genesis Beach, the first book in the series, a high-profile murder takes place, and because she’s fresh out of college, the police chief gives her tremendous autonomy since he has no experience with murder himself. Logan fumbles around and has to deal with a tropical storm, followed by a hurricane (we know all about that, don’t we?), try to catch a killer, and deal with her own sleep terrors. As the series moves along, Logan grows personally and professionally, always getting the villain in the end. She’s quirky and says what she means, mincing no words with anyone. I’ve grown to like her very much.

Q3) What was your inspiration for the character (of Logan Hunter)?

SW:  I wanted her to be a strong female in what is usually a man’s profession.  She’s created from characteristics I admire in women I know. When I first created her, she was too serious. I rewrote many scenes to make her more quirky, with a wry sense of humor, compassion for good folks and a bullet for bad ones.  :-)

Q4) I just finished your novel Hell Swamp, and I could tell the setting was very important to the book.  Do you spend a lot of time in this region of North Carolina?  In South Carolina we call it the Low Country, but north of the border I think you call it the Coastal Plain.

SW:  I like for my settings to become characters.  In Genesis Beach I used hurricanes, in Just North of Luck, treacherous mountains and prolific kudzu.  In Hell Swamp, the flooding river and water moccasins were important to the story along with the white sandy blueberry fields. Yes, I know the Hell Swamp region well, growing up about four miles from Black River Plantation, where Hell Swamp is set. It’s a stately mansion in one of the most beautiful locations in this part of the state, in my opinion. The owner and I are now close friends and he gave me a key to the mansion, so I can go any time I want to and write, or just picnic by the river. Sin Creek, the fourth novel, is set in Wilmington, along the Cape Fear River. That setting hopefully comes to life for readers as well.

Q5) The setting certainly came alive for me, that's for sure.  Another thing that factors greatly into the book is food.  It seems there’s not a chapter that goes by that doesn’t have some tasty meal described.  You’ve also written a cookbook, I see.  Is food one of your great passions?

SW:  LOL. My husband says reading one of my books makes him hungry. I guess I never realized just how much food is mentioned. I love food, so much so that I’m now trying to watch what I eat. As you know, Jonathan, we Southerners know how to cook, and it’s not always healthy.

Q6) We’ve mentioned setting and food so far, but what about the central element of the story?  What about mystery and murder, do you believe, is so intriguing as an author and a reader?

SW:  Let me preface my remarks with this:  I think if I saw one of my books transformed into a movie, I’d be scared, especially with Just North of Luck or Hell Swamp. Anyway, back to the question. I am an avid reader and prefer mysteries and thrillers. I suppose those of us who read such books do so because we like to see likeable characters put through tremendous obstacles and challenges only to emerge unscathed (at least somewhat) on the other side. I like a wild ride with plenty of twists and turns, so I try to write my books the same way. If the book doesn’t hook me quickly, I put it down. I’ve always been intrigued with puzzles of all kinds, and I see mysteries, thrillers, and sometimes horror as a puzzle I want to tackle. Central elements must include a likeable main character, plenty of conflicts and problems to solve, and a satisfying and surprising ending. Every plot should weave into a good tapestry by the end of the book.

Q7) I’ve heard it said that good writers are invariably good readers as well (credit Mr. Stephen King on that one).  So if that’s true, you must like to read as well.  Who are some of your favorite mystery authors?

SW:  I credit James Patterson’s Cross series for getting me hooked on mysteries. I still grab every Cross book as soon as it’s released. I also like Scottoline, Hoag, Nora Roberts, Gerritsen, North Carolina’s Margaret Maron and Vicki Lane. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Q8) What sets your mysteries apart from the rest of the pack?  What makes your approach to the murder mystery different?

SW:  In my mysteries, I think Logan Hunter’s humanness speaks volumes. With each book, she’s more confident and her investigative senses serve her well, but she sometimes bumbles, overlooks an obvious clue, or pisses off somebody she needs because her social skills aren’t great. She’s not perfect with that “always right” conviction that some protagonists have. She’s also Southern—rural with few resources— which sets her apart from the DC, NYC, and other big city investigators. Logan is sometimes compared to Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, but Logan is more serious.

Q9)  Most writers have a specific routine that helps them be as productive or creative as possible.  What’s yours?

SW:  I’m a morning person. I do my best work between midnight and noon. I drink pots of coffee (decaf) and like quiet. I have a large office so that I can move from my computer right over to a writing table, and back as needed. I recently had busy wallpaper removed from the room and a cream color painted on the walls. I seem to have more ADD as I get older. I love having three big windows too, so I’m in a happy space when I’m writing. I always begin a novel with a legal pad, not the computer. When I feel that I’m on the right track, I begin to type. I go back and forth with this effort pretty much throughout the process.  By the way, I’d be lost without colorful sticky notes. Sometimes I have to stop and collect the darn things, read them, use them, or toss them. I do get some great little brainstorms from them along the journey.

Q10)  Finally, this is a question I like to ask every author interviewee.  It’s an interesting to see all the different responses I get back, so—not one to shirk tradition—I’m going to ask you as well.  What keeps you writing?  What inspires you to put words on the page and keep writing? 

SW:  My muse stands over me with a whip and makes my life miserable if I don’t write. Seriously, I’ve wanted to write since I was a little girl and I have such a storehouse of ideas to write about that I could go on for years. I enjoy seeing what happens as a simple idea turns into a full-length novel. Writing keeps me sane although some of my readers (and family too) think I live on the brink. I like to keep them guessing.

The muse is a hard mistress, but in your case I think she’s doing a good job.  Thanks for taking a few minutes with us Susan.  I wish you all the best with your future projects!

Jonathan, thank you for reading Hell Swamp and interviewing me. It’s been a blast.

If you’d like to learn more about Susan or her work you can visit her blog at www.susanwhitfield.com or her blog at www.susanwhitfield.blogspot.com.  From her website you can order signed copies of her novels, or you can get them (unsigned, alas) from Amazon or other book retailers.  Susan will also be attending the Cape Fear Crime Festival in Wilmington, NC on February 4th and the Book’em convention in Lumberton, NC on February 25th.  Stop by and say howdy if you get a chance and check out all the other authors and great books to be had.

28 comments:

  1. A wonderful interview with a wonderfully talented writer; I enjoyed reading it! Ms Whitfield's books are deliciously exciting and mesmerizing.

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    1. That they are. She's a great writer, and she has a great character in Logan Hunter. Thanks for stopping by, Patricia!

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  2. Great interview, Susan and Jonathan. I am a fan of Susan's Logan Hunter series. Logan is an interesting character, not the typical woman sleuth portrayed in most books, which I appreciate. Susan, Hell Swamp would make one thrilling movie!

    Susan, I, too, am experiencing more ADD symptoms as I age. Not sure what that's all about but I'm not nearly as self-disciplined as I was, especially in regards to writing.

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    1. Thanks, Christy. Susan is an excellent interviewee. She makes it very easy. And you're right, Logan Hunter is very unique feminine protagonist for a mystery. She's strong, but she does have a vulnerable side, an emotional side. I was greatly impressed by Susan's vision in developing the character.

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  3. Susan, What a wonderful interview! Entertaining and very interesting. I love how you started Logan off as unsure and loaded with real-life baggage and then let her grow with each story. It keeps her fresh and realistic. Love Tami Hoag and Nora, too! And the Cross series is awesome. Wishing you a great 2012!

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  4. A fun interview! Your Southern charm comes through clearly! And yes, Southern food! Yum! Congrats on all your well deserved success, Susan!

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  5. What an excellent interview. I always enjoy learning some of the "behind the scenes" reasons for a protagonist's character and growth. Your comment about becoming more ADD as you age was interesting because I've been feeling the same way as far as reading and writing. If a book doesn't knock my socks and shoes off from Chapter one, it won't hold my attention. The same tenet applies to my writing as well. But you have that mastered, Susan! Love your series.

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  6. LOL -- loved your description of Logan: "with a wry sense of humor, compassion for good folks and a bullet for bad ones." Fun interview!

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  7. I agree wholeheartedly with LJ Garland. Too often young protagonists are portrayed as all-knowing, cocksure and skilled in all areas. I really liked the fact that Logan started the series with insecurities and goofs, but learned and grew from each experience. It makes her more real and your series more interesting.

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  8. "If a book doesn't hook me quickly, I put it down." There's a lot to be learned from those few words. I loved this interview. It's fun to get into the head of such a talented author.

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