Wednesday, 3 April 2013

#OBSpringFling - Author Interview – Susan Russo Anderson

Tell us a bit about your family. I have a large extended family and we meet each year for Thanksgiving—at least forty of us and we eat and drink a humungous amount—three turkeys, a ham, all the sides, and mostaccioli because of our roots. It’s a tradition that goes back to the 1950s and even though we’re spread all over the country now, we still manage to meet every year in November.
In the beginning we were stuffy, all of a piece. Now we’re far more diverse. Still, when we’re together, it’s like we’ve never changed.

What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why? My favorite quote is by Teilhard de Chardin a Jesuit, scientist, and paleontologist who died in 1955.

Teilhard was often out of favor with the sleek and powerful because of his world view. And he was green long before it was the fashion. He had a vision of the cosmos that was awesome, and he expressed evolution as the universe reaching out with all its might toward the omega point.

I loved reading him in college, not just because his books were mind bending but also because in those days they were banned, although he’s since been taken off the bad list.

Anyway, he’s the one who said, “Everything that rises must converge.” And I love that quote because it shows such a deep understanding of what happens to us when we’re the best that we can be.

Can you tell us about your main character? Serafina, the main character of my mystery series, lives in Sicily in the nineteenth century. She’s a widow. She’s a midwife. She raises seven children by herself. And she’s a sleuth with the mind of a wizard.

Her first mystery begins in 1866, and I chose to start her stories that year because Serafina was at a point of no return in her life.

In 1865 the year before DEATH OF A SERPENT begins, she loses her mother, her aunts and uncles, her sisters, her cousins—her total family support—in an epidemic of cholera that swept through her town, killing half the population in a day. Two months later, her husband dies suddenly.

She says of her state of mind then, “I entered the flat, dead landscape we call grief.”

After her pain lifts somewhat, she has a choice—she can either sit back or fight. And in the end, she chooses to fight.

It’s her hallmark—Serafina never gives up. She remains committed to supporting her children, committed to her quest for justice.

That doesn’t mean she’s perfect, not by a long chalk. She doesn’t want me to use the word ‘faults,’ says it’s too judgmental. But she does have her peccadillos and unique mannerisms. For instance,
  • she eats olives and cookies at the same time, stuffing her mouth with them
  • and her curls frizz the moment there’s a hint of rain.
  • Her toes are usually cold, even in a climate that’s hot enough to fry snakes on the streets. 
As far as peccadillos go,
  • many times her first response during a conversation is to try to control it, especially if she doesn’t like or understand the general drift of the tide, but that’s because she’s afraid of being left behind.
  • And she’s got a healthy jealous streak, although most of the time she doesn’t admit it. At one point she calls Inspector Colonna, “a no nothing lout.”
Life wasn’t easy for Serafina. In Sicily, the times were horrendous.

Ordinary people like me and you and Serafina endured hunger, war, bandits, paid exorbitant taxes, paid protection money to the mafia which was just beginning to get its start on the island.
Meanwhile, the economy was a collapsing sink hole. Crops failed. Banks failed. Most people were hungry most of the time.

So, in DEATH OF A SERPENT in addition to dealing with the mystery of who killed three women, Serafina deals with a lot of external conflict going on around her.

But in addition to all this external conflict, Serafina has a gnawing inner conflict. It’s her core conflict—she’s got that gender thingy going on. Is a woman more than a wife and mother? Does a woman deserve to enjoy the fullness of humanity the same as a man? In the end, this internal to-ing and fro-ing colors all of her decisions and accounts for much of the tumult in her head.

What is your favorite color? Red, as in the red shoes on Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz.

What is your favorite food? Ice Cream eaten by dipping a silver spoon into a silver bowl. Hot chocolate fudge helps.

What’s your favorite place in the entire world? Central Park. As soon as I enter it, the rest of the world goes away, and I’m at peace, even on a weekday morning with the traffic rushing by. I love the smells, the sights, watching plays in the park in summer (my favorite was the production of "On The Town" I can’t remember what year), in-lining down the West 72nd Street hill on a dappled day in spring, daring myself not to brake.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I remember the first book I could read. The cover was a deep blue and it was a Dick and Jane beauty. I can remember being so proud at sounding out the letters and making sense of the words. They were like flowers blooming in my brain. A couple of years later, I tried writing stories, and I’ve been writing ever since.

What inspires you to write and why? When I was young, writing was freedom. It was magic. Still is, but after years of writing, now I cannot not write.

What genre are you most comfortable writing? I love writing mysteries because beyond the excitement and the puzzle, they are about death and how characters come to grips with it.

Also the conventions of the genre are comforting signposts to me. You can stray from the norm and be inventive and have characters that are so vivid and unpredictable that they come flying out at you, right off the page; you can go all the way round the twist with them and with the plot but you have to come back to those good old signposts—introduce your villain early on, make sure he has means, motive, opportunity, never try to trick the reader, ratchet up the tension, make sure there’s plausible resolution at the end, etc.

This is slightly off topic, but I want to say something about tricking the reader: In DEATH IN BAGHERIA, I thought I knew who the villain was when I began writing it, but toward the end of the first draft, the characters made me see that the villain was actually someone else. And that was immense fun.

What inspired you to write your first book? I’m not sure because it was a long time in coming. But I suddenly knew I had to write a mystery and it had to take place in Sicily in the nineteenth century, a time of European history that fascinates me. I’m mesmerized with the growing thirst for freedom in so many countries and movements beginning with the American Revolution. This yearning churns up the nineteenth century, and provides an interesting terrain on which to build a story: there’s twice the turmoil.

Who or what influenced your writing once you began? Who or what influenced your writing over the years? As a kid, I loved Nancy Drew. In college I majored in English and American lit, so I read a lot of the well-known novelists. Now I seldom read nonfiction unless it’s for research or to keep up with what’s happening, but I love to read mysteries, literary fiction, and poetry.
I’d have to say that James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens and Marcel Proust along with the classical mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and the contemporary mystery and thriller writers who push and prod the genre’s conventions and shape them into their own, they influence me. Writers like Val McDermid and Deborah Crombie, Denise Mina, Louise Penny, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, and literary novelists like Audrey Niffeneger and John Hart and of course Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel and Anita Brookner, these are some of my favorites and their works have really influenced me. I suppose of all of these, I keep coming back to Mantel, Proust, Joyce, Eliot.

What made you want to be a writer? All of us excel in something. For me, I knew early on that I had a gift for writing and liked the high I’d get whenever I created something that readers liked. Now writing’s a habit.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? Two things:
·      seeing, and
·      deleting.

When I can’t fit the right word into the right slot, then I sort of write what I think I mean over and over again. It’s like I’m glued to it, cant leave it alone, but I keep picking at it instead of walking away for a couple of days until I have new eyes and I’m able to see it for what it is and write what I mean. Equally difficult is deleting my redundancies.

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? Yes, it taught me that the readiness is all.

DEATH IN BAGHERIA was such an easy book for me to write because I waited until I had written enough about it, about the characters, and walked around with them in my head and pulled plot points out of the sky while I walked. Only when I was ready did I began to write. Then I wrote an outline of sorts, started by sketching in major scenes in Scrivener. And when I was ready to write, I wrote the first draft in about six weeks and it was good enough so that all I had were edits—no tearing up and revising—before I sent it away for professional editing and proofing.

Have you developed a specific writing style? I think if you look inside the three books of mine that are on Amazon and read a couple of pages of each one, you might agree that my voice is consistent.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? There’s a lot of truth to butt in chair, especially when it concerns deadlines and articles and posts, but I think it’s also important to distinguish between writer’s block and the necessary gestation of a creative work. Sometimes we must put away daily word counts and let the story grow inside us.

Can you share a little of your current work with us? In DEATH IN BAGHERIA, Serafina is asked to investigate the suspicious death of a baroness so she travels to Bagheria, leaving behind her children and her lover to fend for themselves.

Bagheria is the setting for a mystery. It’s a city near Palermo on the northern coast of Sicily with lush vegetation and citrus groves, luxurious villas and palaces overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. In the nineteenth century it produced the most lucrative crops in the world and became a watering hole for the aristocracy. Today it attracts many tourists who are able to wander through rococo villas with views of the sea.

The villa in DEATH IN BAGHERIA is huge. Think Downton Abbey but with a rococo twist and a mysterious feel. After all, a woman was poisoned in this place. Needless to say, Villa Caterina houses many suspects and Serafina and Rosa, her friend and sidekick, plow through evidence, concluding early on that the baroness was poisoned.

Midway through the story, Serafina has a harrowing encounter on the roof and begins to understand the forces that led to baroness’s murder and the danger surrounding the baron, his heirs and herself.
Complicating the plot are the needs of Serafina’s children, the family’s increasing poverty, and the sweet demands of her new lover, the lusty and luscious Loffredo whom she’s left behind. Part of the story deals with how Serafina juggles these competing forces and how she feels triangulated.
Because it’s the third book in a series, DEATH IN BAGHERIA is almost like the ending of a trilogy—not that you have to read the other two to understand this story—but there is a resolution that goes beyond the who done it because Serafina changes in a deeper way than the other two books. She comes to an understanding, if brief and rudimentary, of who she is as a woman and what her role is in the world, and in the fourth book, MURDER ON THE RUE CASSETTE, she changes tack altogether, traveling to Paris to investigate the death of a Sicilian countess.

Who designed the cover? Derek Murphy designs the covers for the Serafina Florio mystery series, and he is an absolute genius and a delight to work with.

Who is your publisher? I’m self-published and the name of my company is Conca d’Oro Publishing.

How do you promote this book? For the most part, my books are ebooks and I’m trying to reach my target reader by growing my presence on the web through social media—Facebook, Twitter, and I’m just beginning to use Pinterest and Tumbler. And of course my website is important for readers to get to know me as are doing blog hops.

I’m doing some work with video and video editing, learning how to do a talking head along with a post and will upload some short clips soon. I’m also planning on doing short video book reviews and interviews, but technically I’m not there yet.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? I’m not sure it’s a message but I’d like to write fascinating stories about fascinating characters that entertain my readers.

How important do you think villains are in a story? Very important. Conventionally, the hero and villain are two distinct people, but a villain can also be a part of the hero, too. Take Hamlet or Jekyll and Hyde. Some characters are their own worst enemies or are such radical shape shifters that they are at least two different people, both villain and hero.
Since they are mysteries, my stories have separate characters for villains, at least one, and most of the time they are shape shifters, but whether a villain is well rounded or a consummate manifestation of evil, they should be a major part of the story. The reader must be fascinated by her or him.

What are your goals as a writer? To write the best story ever so that my readers will thirst for more.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? I think a writer must know the setting of the story. In the past I worked for an airline and did a lot of traveling and relocating and living in different cities. I’ve lived for at least six months, usually longer, in six different states in all parts of the country. Now I still travel, but not as much. To refresh my sense of place, I look at photos and videos and listen to music and spend time with the people who are living in the setting of my story.
And since I write historical mysteries, it’s important to do constant research, some of which involves interviewing historians, anyone who knows a particular aspect of that time in history or what it was like to live there.

What books have most influenced your life? James Joyce has been the greatest influence on my work. Not that my work is like his at all. On the contrary, it’s really different. But I think his stream of consciousness and sense of time have had a profound effect on my life in general and on my sense of what writing is all about.

Have you started another book yet? Yes. It’s called MURDER IN THE RUE CASSETTE, and Serafina travels to Paris in April 1874 to find the killer of a Sicilian countess whose battered body was found in the Rue Cassette. Right now I’ve done the necessary research—I know modern Paris pretty well, having traveled there a lot when I worked for an airline, but needed to understand Paris in 1874.
Right now I know the beginning and the end, the main characters including the killer. I know why the victim was killed, by whom, but not how. And I know the important two plot pivots. As soon as I’m ready, I’ll write the first draft. Anyway, it’s a nice place to be right now, in my head.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I think print channels will have opened up for indie authors so I will be more heavily invested in print and doing the more traditional book signings, etc.

What are your current writing projects now? My blog of course and writing my fourth book. In the past I’ve worked with type and print design, so I’m learning Adobe InDesign in order to be able to do my own interior design in order to lower production costs. And I’m learning how to shoot talking head video and editing it in iMovie so that I might create short, interesting video book reviews and video posts.

Are you reading any interesting books at the moment? I just finished BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE by Lee Child and I’m reading A FATAL GRACE by Louise Penny and listening to the Scott-Moncrieff translation of Marcel Proust’s SWANN’S WAY read by Neville Jason.

Are there any new authors that have sparked your interest and why? Yes, I’ve read and reviewed three books that really grabbed me, CRACK by Chris Barraclough, MY TEMPORARY LIFE by Martin Crosbie, and RABBIT IN THE ROAD, a real genre straddler by Oliver Campbell and Danika D. Potts. Not my usual reads but I loved the writing for the way it pushes boundaries, for their strong characters, their surprises, the strength of their voice.

What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out? There are many great blogs geared for writers, and if you’re interested in writing in a particular genre, there are online schools that offer classes in particular genres. Gotham Writers Workshop is a great one and not too expensive.

What contributes to making a writer successful? Inspiration and lots of hard work and discipline, persistence, developing a strong hide and a sensitive soul and a creating a strong social network.

What do you do to unwind and relax? Hang with my grandkids, exercise at the gym, read, walk.

What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? I’ve written three novels, dreaming another one. I’ve begun to develop a marketing plan to reach my target reader. I think I’ve grown as a writer, developed a writing process that works for me, and I hope I continue to grow and not fall into easy patterns.

If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would you want it to be? Never, ever give up. But Winston Churchill said that first.

Buy at Amazon
Genre - Historical Mystery (PG13)
Connect with Susan Russo Anderson Facebook & Twitter



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Books Sold - 6 Nov 2011 to 31 May 2012

Some of you have asked me for my total number of books sold to evaluate KDP Select so here it is. Bear in mind, that results will vary based on genre and author. Good luck and remember, Keep Moving Forward.

Total - 120,836

1. Excuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out
Amazon Kindle - 42,559
Paperback -
Smashwords -

2. Frequent Traveller
Amazon Kindle - 35277
Paperback -
Smashwords -

3. Dora's Essentials - Books, Blogs & Smiles 1
Amazon Kindle - 462
Smashwords -

4. Mirror Me Martha (Short Story)
Amazon Kindle - 281
Smashwords -

5. Drive On Hope (Short Story)
Amazon Kindle - 190
Smashwords -

6. Blog-A-Licious Directory 2012
Amazon Kindle - 1
Smashwords -

7. Pandora's Reading Room 1
Amazon Kindle -
Paperback - N/A

8. The Cat That Barked (Short Story)
Amazon Kindle -

9. Dora's Essentials - Examining Anxiety
Amazon Kindle -

10. Dora's Essentials - Books, Blogs & Smiles 2
Amazon Kindle -

11. Elevenses from Around the World
Amazon Kindle -

12. Genetically Modified Foods vs. Sustainability
Amazon Kindle -

Blog-A-Licius - Sherbet Blossom



Dealightfully Frugal

Blog-A-Licious - The Few, The Proud, The Wife


My Soul Slippers

Blog-A-Licous - Textbook Mommy

Blog-A-Licious - Blue Frogs Legs

Blog-A-Licious - Pretty All True

Pretty All True

Blog-A-Licious - tbaoo



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Blog-A-Licious - The Invisible Art

Blog-A-Licious - Rediscovering Domesticity

Rediscovering Domesticity

Blog-A-Licious - Quiver Full

Blog-A-Licious - Cori's Big Mouth

Blog-A-Licious - Great Fun


Blog-A-Licious - Busy Wife

Blog-A-Licious - Steps To Happiness

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Blog-A-Licious - Toby & Max

Blog-A-Licious - Amelie

Raising Amelie

Blog-A-Licious - Peas In A Pod

Blog-A-Licious - Riley

Blognostics - Poetry


My Awards - September 2010

My Awards - September 2010
Awarded By Jo Frances

My Awards - May 2011

My Awards - May 2011
Awarded By Alejandro Guzman

My Awards - May 2011

My Awards - May 2011
Awarded by Kriti Mukherjee

My Awards - April 2011

My Awards - April 2011
Awarded By Roy Durham

My Awards - June 2011

My Awards - June 2011
Awarded By Sulekha Rawat

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