I've been going on and on about how cozy mysteries have joined ranks with my all time favorite genre, romance! But this is the first time I've ever hosted an actual cozy mystery writer on my blog -- so exciting! Following her very fun and interesting post, you'll find an excerpt from her book Death by Sample Size, as well as a link for a very useful swimsuit fitting guide. Enjoy! Susie Black, thank you. The post is yours!
How I Became a Cozy Mystery Writer
by Susie Black
As a newbie author, I was advised by those far more experienced than me that the best way to build a following is to develop a relationship with readers by sharing personal things about myself with them and let them get to know me. The marketing webinars all preached show your vulnerability, your humanity, who you are, and the readers will lap it up. Truthfully, I didn’t see why anyone would be all that interested in my bio. Trust me, other than the possible exception of my mother who was compelled to find my life story fascinating or risk admitting she had been a failure by having raised a bore, even I didn’t find it particularly riveting. But enough colleagues I respect all suggested I do the same thing, so when people began asking how I became a writer, I realized I’d been wrong. I would be foolish not to put myself out there, right? What’s the worst that could happen? Ok, maybe we won’t go down that rabbit hole. This is it, so buckle up; it’s gonna be a heck of a ride. Like most journeys of mine, this one’s a bit convoluted; sort of like going to Cleveland by way of Cairo. That said, I hope you enjoy the ride.
With its ups and downs, hills, valleys, and sometimes unexpected curves, life itself is the ultimate story. What makes us all storytellers stirring the stew in the cauldron, is a point of view. Life is all around us. Sit in the food court at the mall and pay attention to the crowd. In the time it takes to order and consume a burger and soda, an observant people watcher will have enough subject matter to write a series.
Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit murder mystery series, I am a ladies’ apparel sales exec. From the start of my career, I have kept a daily journal that chronicles the quirky, interesting, and often challenging people I’ve encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. The journal entries are the foundation of all my writing. The most critically important skill a sales exec must have in order to succeed is to be a good storyteller. Fortunately, I’ve been telling stories since I learned how to talk. Since I’d never written a novel before, the only thing I knew to do was to apply the same story-telling skills I’d successfully used hawking bikinis to writing a tale. So, where did my story ideas come from? My mother didn’t raise stupid children. I paid attention to the mantra. Write what you know. With a dollop of imagination, a pinch of angst, and a decades-long career chocked to the gills with juicy characters, I had more stories itching to be told in my daily journal than time to write them.
One thing I’d been told over and over as a sales exec was to know your product inside out. I heard the same thing when I started writing cozy mysteries: write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it, or don’t dare to write it. Whether you’re an author or a sales exec, you’re selling yourself, and readers, like buyers, can sniff out a phony in a heartbeat, and then you and whatever kind of story you’re telling are toast.
I came to write in the cozy mystery genre because I love solving puzzles. My parents would certainly confirm I have always asked a lot of questions, and I am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries was the natural next step for me to take. Who could push a sales exec to dream of murder and mayhem? Who else but a buyer? After completing a rather challenging conversation with an important, but difficult account, I imagined how good it would feel with my hands around her scrawny neck, squeezing the life out of her. While the notion of knocking off my annoying customers was wildly appealing, a horizontally striped prison uniform making my four-foot, nine-inch body look like a barbershop pole and a fire hydrant had a child wasn’t a pretty sight. The viable alternative? Writing humorous murder mysteries set in the Los Angeles garment center. Brilliant and cathartic! In one fell swoop, eliminate a pain- in- the- patootie buyer, avoid life in prison and still get the order. It doesn’t get any better than that.
About the Author
Born in the Big Apple, Susie Black now calls sunny Southern California home. Like the protagonist in her Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, Susie is a successful apparel sales executive. Susie began telling stories as soon as she learned to talk. Now she’s telling all the stories from her garment industry experiences in humorous mysteries.
She reads, writes, and speaks Spanish, albeit with an accent that sounds like Mildred from Michigan went on a Mexican vacation and is trying to fit in with the locals. Since life without pizza and ice cream as her core food groups wouldn’t be worth living, she’s a dedicated walker to keep her girlish figure. A voracious reader, she’s also an avid stamp collector. Susie lives with a highly intelligent man and has one incredibly brainy but smart-aleck adult son who inexplicably blames his sarcasm on an inherited genetic defect.
Looking for more? Reach her at email@example.com
To connect with Susie:
Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her?
“The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer. Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge. Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black’s Death by Sample Size takes you on a rollicking adventure ride through the Los Angeles apparel industry.”
Excerpt from Death by Sample Size
Angela Wellborn and I nodded politely to one another as we entered A Jolt of Java together the next morning. I cautiously wished her a good morning and took it as a good sign when Angela told me to have a nice day. With any luck, maybe I’d save the account.
I worked my way around the table distributing the group’s coffees. When I handed Sonia her cup, the good vibe I had from Angela quickly disappeared. Sonia’s complexion was gray as day-old oatmeal. Her red-rimmed eyes said it all.
I squeezed her arm. “What happened?”
Sonia’s eyes filled. “I didn’t get it.”
“Did they tell you why?”
Sonia twisted her lips into a bitter smile. “My references didn’t pan out.”
Bunny Frank sat at a table across from us sipping a latte and reading the West Coast Apparel News. Sonia walked the short distance to Bunny’s table. Bunny folded the paper and gave Sonia a shit-eating grin.
Sonia growled, “You’re a miserable excuse for a human being. You couldn’t bring yourself to do the right thing for once in your life. You had to lie and destroy a fabulous opportunity because you could.”
Bunny drew a circle in the air and put her index finger through it. “Bullseye, Wilson.” She wiggled her thumb and flashed an evil smile. “Gotcha right under here and I always will.”
Sonia grabbed the latte out of Bunny’s hand and poured the drink over Bunny’s head. The concoction flowed slowly like lava down Bunny’s face and meandered into her cleavage. Too stunned to react, Bunny sat still as a statue as the foam seeped from her décolletage and stained her white knit top.
Sonia crushed the empty paper cup and threw it on the table. The crowded room was silent as a tomb as all eyes swiveled to Bunny’s table. Not a soul missed Sonia snarl, “I promise I’ll get even with you. I will make you pay if it takes me forever.” Sonia spun on her heel and stomped back to our table. She pointed to the barista’s station. “Anyone for a refill? This round is on me.”
A Gift from Susie: Choosing the Right Swimsuit
I am proud to welcome extremely talented Anise Eden to talk about her new book, Dead Sound. Hi, Anise. Happy Launch Day and congratulations! Dead Sound! What an intense, amazing book.
Thank you so much for having me back, Anastasia! I can’t tell you how delighted I am that you enjoyed Dead Sound. Thank you so much for reading, and for wanting to talk about it—which is one of my favorite things to do, as you can imagine!
This book – the action. Wow! Will you tell us a little about it?
Hah, yes! The action! Kind of ironic to think that so much action was generated by a person sitting in front of her computer, moving only her fingers! 😊
Here’s a quick introduction to Dead Sound:
In Washington DC, even the hospitals are political—and politics can be deadly. When a young psychotherapists’ patient tells her she must stop her boss from triggering the apocalypse, she turns to a friend, a world-wise Irish doctor, for support. But when the pair uncovers a Byzantine political plot that leads from their hospital directly to the White House, their struggle to uncover the truth suddenly becomes a fight for their lives.
Dead Sound was my first thriller, so writing it involved a great deal of learning, most of it in the form of trial and error! Thankfully, the team at Tangled Tree Publishing saw the potential in the story and helped me through a wonderfully productive editing experience, refining the book into the final form it’s in today.
I’m still stunned by the plot. What sort of research did you have to do and how much?
I worked on this book over a four year period, so it’s difficult to quantify how much research I did. I think “an awful lot” is an accurate description, however!
I had personal knowledge of some aspects, such as working in hospitals, living in Washington DC, dealing with chronic pain, and being a psychotherapist. However, I had a lot to learn about endocrinology, hacking/computer technology, and White House security. There were also a million little things that came up throughout the book where I needed to deepen my knowledge. Some examples are hospital communications technology and how specific types of injuries might be sustained.
Basically, when I’m writing, I have a web browser open all the time to look things up! Also, beta reader feedback was particularly key with this novel.
How will this series, Things Unseen, compare to the Healing Edge series? Granted, Dead Sound is very different from the Healing Edge books. But I’m familiar with your beautiful writing. There’s a sensitivity in your characters that’s so appealing, and I can see some recurring themes, particularly your emphasis on seeing – and loving -- the whole, real person. Would you elaborate on your themes?
It is so lovely to know that you think highly of my writing, Anastasia, because the feeling is 100% mutual! You have definitely put your finger on one of my recurring themes, there. The main character, Neve, is someone who sees beyond the surface and cares about people for qualities that may go unseen by others. At the same time, Neve, too, has her blind spots, and in Dead Sound, I explore these a bit in the context of mental health care. For example, what is it like for a provider when they become the patient?
Also in Dead Sound, I explore abuses of power, the question of how to discern truth, and the places where faith and logic sometimes collide. I’d say these themes tend to run through most of my work, including what is perhaps my most consistent theme, the healing power of love. Having said that, I don’t write with themes in mind, as such; I tend to glimpse them after I’ve written the story, often when others point them out to me. Also, each individual reader has a unique experience with every book, so they take something entirely different from the story.
I completely agree about the healing power of love. What a marvelous theme and one that is close to my heart. So, all things considered, you wouldn’t say that the Healing Edge series directly inspired Dead Sound? You consider it something completely different?
Dead Sound was conceived from a totally different place than the Healing Edge series. After finishing that first series, one day, I engaged in a thought experiment. What would happen if an Old Testament-style prophet were to be born into the world today? How would they be treated? How would they be categorized and managed by society? I realized that most likely, they would end up in mental health treatment. That was the germ of the idea for the story.
Also, unlike the Healing Edge series, this book is a thriller with no overtly paranormal events, so it has a different feel to it. In both the Healing Edge series and Dead Sound, however, I do explore similar themes, albeit from different contexts and angles, and with different characters. The more books I write, the more I discover what weaves them all together, just by virtue of having come from my brain! I’m learning that my creative imagination is drawn to certain ideas and topics—so far, at least. We’ll see what happens in the future!
This book is certainly a thriller -- and still so romantic! I loooove Neve and Con together, the intensity of their relationship, the beauty of their friendship. Their love for each other runs so deep. Neve is such a natural, authentic lamp of a person -- her inner beauty shines throughout the story. And Con is just delicious -- protective, utterly capable, and respectful of Neve's strengths and boundaries. For me, the romance in this story is even more amazing because the thriller/suspense level is just as powerful. Neither aspect is subdued by the other. How in the world did you manage it? Please, share with us your feelings about your main characters and their relationship.
It's wonderful to hear that you responded so strongly and positively to Neve and Con! I did, too, when they appeared in my head, so I'm glad that who they are as I imagine them came through successfully on the page. In many ways, they're very different people. You see some of those differences in Dead Sound, and they'll be revealed even more in the sequel, Dead Keen. The drama of their love story lies in discovering whether (and how), in spite of their differences, the things they have in common will truly bring and hold them together -- commonalities like their feelings for one another, their commitment to providing the best possible treatment for their patients, and their instincts for caring, which brought them to their respective fields.
As to the question of how I balanced the suspense and romance aspects, that's a little hard to answer, since I don't think analytically like that when I'm putting a story down on paper. As a writer, I'm what's known as a total "pantser," as opposed to a "plotter" who makes outlines, etc. In the case of Dead Sound, I think the intensity of the love story and the suspense both fed into each other, swirling around each other and building in parallel until the ending. However, the fabulous editing process with Tangled Tree Publishing included some terrific beta readers, so I took their suggestions when they said they were hungering for a little more "Neve and Con" here, or a little more "thriller-like tension" there. That kind of feedback is invaluable to me, and I absolutely love collaborating; it always makes the story better!
The combination sure works for you.
Before leaving the subject of Con altogether, I have to tell you that he just might be one of my new favorite heroes, and I love that he's Irish. Are you still living in Ireland? Please, will you tell us a little of your experience there?
Yes, my husband and I moved to Ireland a few years ago, and we absolutely love it! We live in a beautiful town with a vibrant and supportive writing community, which has been very important to me. In fact, the first friends I made when we moved here, I met in our local writers’ group.
This has been my first experience of living outside of the US, so as do must expats, I suspect, I have learned a great deal, simply by virtue of viewing the world from a different vantage point. Of course, when we moved, we weren’t expecting a global pandemic! It was incredibly difficult being so far away from many of my loved ones over the past year and a half, going through all the anxiety that came with it. But our community here has really pulled together and been very supportive of one another.
Just as an example, in those early days of COVID when we didn’t know much about how it was transmitted, as someone in a medically high-risk group, I was very anxious about going to the pharmacy to pick up my regular prescriptions. I spoke to the pharmacist, who suggested I call our local police (called the Gardaí, here), since they had offered to take pharmacy prescriptions and other essential deliveries where needed. I felt a bit silly about doing that, to be honest, but I took their advice, it turns out the Guards were more than happy to help. Later that day, they brought my prescriptions to my home, and they couldn’t have been more gracious about it! That kind of warmth, kindness, and ethos of taking care of one another made the past 18 months much easier to bear.
Beautiful. It does seem that you’ve had a wonderful experience, despite everything. Thank you for sharing a little about your life with us.
What’s on the horizon for you? Can you tell us about your next book? Will it be the sequel to Dead Sound and will it be set in Ireland?
I’m so glad you asked! Indeed, I am currently working on the sequel to Dead Sound. Book 2 in the Things Unseen series, called Dead Keen, picks up shortly after the end of my first book, and begins with Con taking Neve to Ireland to follow up on a storyline from Dead Sound in which Con’s brother seeks his help with a medical issue. Without giving you any spoilers, I can tell you that Dead Keen will be another high-suspense thriller with unexpected twists and turns, making rich use of the wonderful setting and showing how Con and Neve’s relationship continues to develop.
I can hardly wait! Anise, thank you so much for joining us today and also for the excerpt from Dead Sound, which follows. I wish you all the best with Dead Sound and with all your endeavors!
Thanks a million for having me, Anastasia! I really appreciate your good wishes and am very grateful to you for hosting me on your blog. I wish you all the best, as well!
Excerpt from Dead Sound
The rich aromas of roasted coffee beans and steamed milk stood in welcome contrast to the sharp smells of the ICU. What a way to start the morning. Something had unraveled inside me, seeing Amos lying unconscious on that bed, as helpless and out of place as a starfish stranded on a dry beach. And I’d never seen Con so uncertain about the reasons behind a patient’s clinical presentation. Frankly, it scared me. After all, he was a leading expert and knew Amos’s case well. If he couldn’t figure out what was going on, what hope did anyone else have?
Ruminating about it would do no good, however. I forced myself to focus not on the things that were out of my control but on what I could do—specifically, what I could do for Amos. It was time to stick my neck out. I cleared my throat and leaned in close to Con.
“Do you know any hackers?” I whispered the last word, not wanting to be overheard by the barista.
She didn’t seem like the gossiping type, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Con’s head snapped up. “What?”
“Hackers,” I hissed. “Do you know any?”
As his eyebrows rose, he leaned back against his chair. The wood made a sharp cracking sound, but it held. “Why on earth would I know a hacker?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you don’t. But you seem to know a lot of computer people, and I didn’t know who else to ask.”
“Ah, Jaysus.” His expression darkened. “You’re not being harassed online, are you?”
“No. Why would you think that?”
“Then what kind of trouble are you in?”
I shook my head. “I’m not in any trouble.”
“What in hell’s name do you need a hacker for, then?”
“It’s not for me.”
“Ah, well.” His expression flattened into a perfect poker face. “In that case, I don’t know any hackers.”
“Oh for God’s sake.” I wrapped my hands around my mug and stared down at the table. “Fine. Forget I asked. I’ll just figure out how to get on the dark web and hire one myself.”
I could feel Con’s eyes drilling a hole in the top of my head. “Oh no you won’t.”
“Oh yes I will.” I raised my gaze to meet his. “It’s for Amos.”
Rarely had I seen Con so taken by surprise. “What?”
“The homework he gave me. It’s encrypted, and I need someone to un-encrypt it.”
“You mean decrypt it.”
“Yeah, okay. That.”
“Even unconscious, Amos can’t stop making trouble, can he?” he asked with a mix of affection and frustration. “What’s this homework?”
To purchase Dead Sound
Following the advice to “write what you know,” ANISE EDEN is the author of suspense novels with thriller, romance, and paranormal elements. Her qualifications include growing up in countryside where rattlesnakes and cougars jumped out of nowhere; living with family members who are a little bit psychic; and having her life saved on more than one occasion by her SEAL Team of guardian angels.
After college, Anise soaked up life in NYC, Washington DC, and points in between. She tried her hand at grooming horses, scooping ice cream, and designing billboards before returning to school to become a psychotherapist. Though she left that field after many rewarding years, Anise remains a passionate mental health advocate.
Continuing her real-life adventures, Anise is now exploring life in Ireland with her husband and her small canine writing companion. While her books have won multiple awards, Anise’s propensity for dropping glass objects while barefoot makes it highly likely that her next win will be a Darwin Award. Member of ITW, RNA, SinC, and the Irish Writers Centre.
To connect with Anise:
Buy Links for Dead Sound: https://books2read.com/deadsound
Are you wondering if one of us has the wrong blog? This past year, I've come to love cozy mysteries. Like the romance genre, there are plenty of subgenres. For me, the cozier the better. I love the wonderful settings, the loveable characters, and the way everything is tied up nicely by the end. Moreover, my favorite cozies have a hint of romance. I've noticed a certain cross-over trend. Lots of romance writers have been known to pen irresistible cozies.
Many of these mysteries are set in a particularly picturesque area -- the Cotswolds, for example. Other's focus more on the career or hobby of the main character, one that is terribly appealing -- coffeehouse owner, gardener, librarian, baker, knitter... You get the idea. You are given the chance to immerse yourself in an enjoyable setting with characters you like, learning about things you find interesting or already love, and to solve a mystery that usually spares you the gore.
I realize that, as with any genre, not everyone enjoys cozies for the same reason. From my point of view, they are feel good books. Why anyone would find that description objectionable, I don't know, but some do. Just because a book has you smiling happily at the end doesn't mean that the writing isn't wonderful, the research thorough, and the mystery well-crafted and clever. The books I enjoy have all of those things and I couldn't be happier.
So if you are a romance fan -- and since you are here, I must assume that you are -- you might wantto give cozy mysteries a try.