MEET THE CREATOR OF THE EMLYN GOODE MYSTERIES: SUSAN SOLOMON
Formerly a Manhattan entertainment attorney and a contributing editor to the quarterly art magazine SunStorm Fine Art, Susan Lynn Solomon now lives in Niagara Falls, New York, the setting of many of her stories. She is the facilitator of the Just Buffalo Literary Center Writer’s Critique Group.
Since 2007 her short stories on serious topics have appeared in numerous literary journals. These include, Abigail Bender (awarded an Honorable Mention in a Writers Journal short romance competition), Ginger Man, Elvira, The Memory Tree, Going Home, Yesterday’s Wings, Smoker’s Lament, Kaddish, and Sabbath (nominated by the editor of Prick of the Spindle for 2013 Best of the Net and winner of second place in the 2017 Word Weaver Writing Competition). A collection of her short stories, Voices In My Head, has been released by Solstice Publishing.
Susan Solomon is the author of the Emlyn Goode Mysteries. A finalist in M&M’s Chanticleer’s Mystery & Mayhem Novel Contest, and a finalist for the 2016 Book Excellence Award, her first Emlyn Goode Mystery novel, The Magic of Murder, has received rave reviews, as have the novelettes, Bella Vita, and The Day the Music Died, and the novel, Dead Again, which was a finalist for the 2017 McGrath House Indie Book of the Year. In the latest Emlyn Goode Mystery novel, Writing is Murder, Ms. Solomon once more demonstrates that murder has a sense of humor.
Susan is a fellow Solstice author and a kindred spirit in that she is the only other person I know who enjoys coffee and cigarettes as much as I do. I became a fan of the Emlyn Goode Mystery Series when I picked up The Magic of Murder during a free promotion and got hooked on the relationship between Emlyn and Detective Roger Frey. I hope you enjoy this interview with Susan as much as I did.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK.
Writing is Murder is the latest Emlyn Goode Mystery. Before telling about this book there are two things I should mention. First, Emlyn, my narrator, is a writer. Second, she’s also a direct decendent of Sarah Goode who was hanged as a witch in Salem, and she has Sarah’s Book of Shadows that’s been passed down through her family’s generations. In this book her ancient relative wrote of her life, the people she knew, and certain herbs, spices and chants. With this as a background for those who haven’t yet read of Emlyn’s antics, this is the new story:
Cursed by a Native American, the Bennet House is one of the most haunted locations in Niagara Falls. This is where Emlyn Goode and all but one member of her writers group hunt for ghosts on Halloween. What they find in the house isn’t a ghost, though. It’s the body of Daniel Bennet, the missing group member.
A few days earlier Daniel had showed Emlyn a document he’d found in the Bennet House, and told her it would anger people if made public. When the body is found, the document is missing. Accused of Daniel’s murder, Emlyn is certain that the missing document will identify the true killer. But her search for it becomes dangerous when her lover, police detective Roger Frey is shot in the Bennet House, and then the killer comes after her. Without Roger’s protection, can anything written in her ancient relative’s Book of Shadows save Emlyn this time?
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE FOR THIS BOOK?
This is me giggling. All of us who have sat at our computers or with pens and pads day-after-day trying to string words together until they form a coherent story will sooner or later cry out dammit, this is murder! That’s what was running through my mind while I sat with my writers group one Saturday morning. Then I thought, what a good title for a murder mystery. So, with the title in mind I looked at the people in the group and announced I intended kill a couple of them. With rolling eyes and shaking heads (those people know me too well) two of the guys volunteered to be killed. Now I had a title and my victims. All that I had left to do was figure out why they would be murdered. Oh, and I also had to write the story, which meant weeks or maybe months at my computer trying to figure out who killed my writer-friends and why.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK? IS IT PART OF A SERIES?
Writing is Murder is the third Emlyn Goode Mystery novel. There are also four novelettes in the series. The first novel, The Magic of Murder, introduces my main characters, Emlyn Goode, divorced after an unfortunate marriage; her neighbor and more than a friend, the hunky Detective Roger Fey; Harry Woodward, a very tall former Marine Colonel and now the chief of the Niagara Falls detective squad (and Roger’s boss); Rebecca Nurse, Emlyn’s best friend. Rebecca owns The Black Cat, an arcane shop in Ellicottville, and had taken it upon herself to teach Emlyn about Sarah Goode’s… uh, craft. Rebecca says this craft runs in Emlyn’s genes. Oh, and I can’t forget Elvira, the hefty albino cat that adopted Emlyn and tends to push her into the middle of Roger Frey’s cases. At least, Emlyn and Rebecca believe the cat’s doing this.
I should point out that each Emlyn Goode story is a cozy murder mystery, and though witchcraft and the reading of tarot cards is entwined in the plots, there is always another explanation for the manner in which Emlyn identifies the killer. For example, in one scene Emlyn lights incense and has an out-of-body experience. Is this the result of witchcraft, or it is the result of smelling the herbs and spices she mixed in the incense. I leave it to the reader to decide. What Roger thinks about it… Well, he believes that magic is only slight of hand. He tells her she’s really come to her conclusion because of something she’d seen or heard but didn’t realize the importance of at the time.
HOW MUCH OF YOUR BOOK IS BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES OR THOSE OF SOMEONE YOU KNOW?
Now this is me blushing. In many respects Emlyn Goode is me. Her overactive writer’s imagination is mine. She has my sense of humor, and when that humor is turned loose she’s apt to get into trouble and drag everyone around her into it. I also have to admit that I’ve assigned Emlyn my fascination with witchcraft.
As to my other characters, physically and intellectually Rebecca is modeled on my friend Ruth, a dear friend whom I met fifty years ago on the first day of law school. Rebecca looks a bit like I remember Ruth, and has her caring nature—and also the frustration Ruth sometimes had with me. As to Harry, except for the beard he’s modeled on my friend Phil. Roger… well, this hunky guy reminds me of Bill, whom I dated just before moving from Long Island to Niagara Falls. That leaves Elvira—she’s the cat my family had when I was young. This pesky animal has all of the traits my childhood imagination saw in that cat.
Finally, in Writing is Murder the members of Emlyn’s writers group are the real members of the group to which I belong. A few differences, though. My fictional writer's motive come from my warped imagination, none of my writer-friends were really murdered, and their names have been changed to protect me—don’t want them doing to me what I’ve done to them in this story.
WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH WENT INTO WRITING YOUR BOOK?
When I first began to write, a friend told me that if I want to have any depth to my stories I would need to fill them with details, and each detail would need to be accurate. To accomplish this, a large portion of my writing time must be spent doing research—and not just research on the internet. For example, the Emlyn Goode Mysteries are set in Niagara Falls. Because I want readers of these books who know western New York, and those who might visit here, to recognize the places Emlyn speaks of, my writer’s journal in hand I’ve spent time noting details of each of them—the buildings lining each of the streets, the hospital Roger is taken to in this latest book. I’ve even eaten in the restaurants Emlyn speaks of. I must be doing this right—one reviewer who knows the area wrote that she recognized these places.
I’ve also had to do a good deal of historical research, both online and in the library. As I’ve mentioned, Emlyn is a decendent of Sarah Goode who was hanged as a witch in 1692. Because Sarah’s Book of Shadows makes reference to the people inhabiting Salem at the time and to places in “Salem Towne,” I wanted to give my readers an accurate picture of that place and time. Also, because Sarah wrote in the English spoken 350 years ago, I had to research the manner in which people back then used the language.
And there’s another thing that required a vast amount of research—witchcraft; and more accurately herbalism and tarot. Though the crimes in the Emlyn Goode Mysteries aren’t solved through the use of these… maybe… Emlyn believes they are, and Rebecca is teaching her mystical herbalism as a means of understanding her heritage. Each use of herbs and spices and the description and meaning of each tarot card Rebecca turns over has been researched.
Finally, my research included meeting and speaking with experts. A few months ago I met Kathy Boone, a trainer of rescue dogs. Kathy explained how these dogs are trained and how they follow scents. This gave me the final piece I needed to complete Writing is Murder.
WHAT CRITERIA DID YOU USE WHEN SELECTING THE COVER FOR YOUR BOOK?
My desire is to have the cover of each Emlyn Goode book reflect the story in an abstract way, and more important, that it catches the eye of and be intriguing to a potential reader. The cover of the The Magic of Murder, the first book in the series was designed by Solstice Publishing’s artist, and that person did a fine job. Since then Kelly Abell has designed my covers. Before setting to work on the cover to a book, Kelly has read it—something I believe is important if the cover is to reflect the story. She also created what has become the logo of the series—the albino cat placed in the bottom left hand corner of each cover.
WAS THERE A MESSAGE IN YOUR BOOK THAT YOU WERE TRYING TO CONVEY?
This is an interesting question—one I haven’t considered. Other than conveying the joy of reading to fans of the cozy mystery genre, the Emlyn Goode stories are designed to allow the reader to climb inside the lives of the characters, to see in them people they know, friends they’d like to have, and to share the characters’ hopes and fears, their laughter and yes, their tears. And the relationships between people—as one reviewer said, although the Emlyn Goode books are murder mysteries, at their root they’re stories about human relationships. If I’ve accomplished these things I’m be satisfied.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT YOUR BOOK?
Funny thing about this question: last night as I started to fall asleep I was thinking about the title Writing is Murder, and an image flashed through my mind. I saw a woman seated at her computer in a dark room, working on a story she needed to complete. I saw someone sneak up behind her, cover her mouth with a hand then violently twist her neck past the breaking point… Murder while writing. That would certainly tie into the title, and I wish I would have thought of that while I wrote the book… But, no, that scene wouldn’t have been the MO—modus operandi—of the killer in Writing is Murder. Also, it would have required a scene with an omniscient third person point of view. Since the Emlyn Goode books are first person narratives such a scene wouldn’t work.
So, I guess there isn’t anything I would change about this novel… today.
IF YOUR BOOK WOULD BE MADE INTO A FILM, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY THE LEADS?
I would love to see Julia Roberts cast as Emlyn Goode. A beautiful woman with a slim figure and the sense of humor she’s displayed in several of her films, I picture her as the perfect middle-aged Emlyn. For Roger Frey I can picture Tom Hanks—the man’s a hunk, no doubt in my mind. In the films in which he’s starred he’s showed the kind of frustration, and even angst Roger has in coping with a woman with a mind of her own, a vivid imagination and a frequent lack of self-control that lands her in life-threatening situations.
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU BEGIN WRITING?
I can’t recall a time I wasn’t writing. I remember when I was a child (all those years ago) being fascinated by Dale Evens in the Roy Rogers series on television. As I lay in bed at night I would create stories in which I rode through the West bringing bad guys to heel. In the morning I would wake and fill a page with the tale I’d imagined. When I was in high school I learned to play the guitar, and imagined myself as the leader of a band performing in a dance hall. In college I began to perform in coffee houses singing folk and blues numbers and protest songs—and I began to write my own songs. I still remember one of the blues I wrote back then. It started:
Summer in the city.
Too beat to escape the heat
of the passionate moan
of a saxophone in the night.
In those days I joined a band and wrote the songs it performed in Greenwich Village clubs and on college campuses up and down the East Coast. I imagined us becoming rock superstars like the Beatles… It didn’t happen. A few years after graduation from college I went to law school, and for years I practiced in the entertainment field. At that time, between writing contracts I wrote a novel—not a very good one, but I was writing. After practicing law for twenty years, the need to write professionally overtook me. I took a hiatus from the law and went to work for SunStorm Fine Art, a quarterly art magazine. Over the next several years, aside from editing and designing pages I interviewed artists and wrote three or four articles for each issue—several of them under pseudonyms. I also wrote the text for a book of Jose Royo’s art. These were my first published works. I loved working there because the managing editor encouraged creativity in style and approach.
Much as I enjoyed my time with SunStorm, my finances demanded a higher salary, so I returned to the practice of law with a firm that moved me to Niagara Falls. Here I met Laurie Torrell, the administrator of the Just Buffalo Literary Center, who encouraged me to join the Center’s writers group. This is where I really learned to write. In time a first short story was published, then more short stories and at last the first Emlyn Goode Mystery.
So, in answer to the question I’ve always been a writer. As to the “why” of it… I guess it’s a need I’ve had since my earliest memory.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER YOURSELF A WRITER?
As I’ve said, I always considered myself a writer, but that isn’t the entire answer. Years and years ago my father told me, “You might be a writer, but you won’t be an author until someone else says you are.” I can still hear his voice when he said that. It wasn’t until my first story was published—The “Burke House Ghost,” a short romance I entered in a Writer’s Journal competition. The story won an Honorable Mention, and in introducing it in the magazine, the editor called me “author.” That was ten or eleven years ago. When I read what that editor wrote I again heard my father’s words, and I’ve considered myself an author since.
DESCRIBE YOUR WRITING STYLE.
In one sense my style depends on the nature of the story I’m writing. Serious, as in many of my published short stories; humorous as in other short stories and in the Emlyn Goode Mysteries. In either case my style reflects a technique I observed in the works of people in writers' groups I’ve been in. In every story I write there is a certain calmness at the beginning as my lead characters are introduced and I begin to lay out the story line. In these scenes my sentences tend to be somewhat long. Then, in instances in which tension builds, and especially as my story arc swings upward toward the denouement, my sentences become short, terse.
There’s another approach that reflects my style—the use of some humor, or lightness in a story line. By doing this, when a key moment in my story arrives the distance between humor and tension heightens the tension in that key moment.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST LESSON YOU HAD TO LEARN AS A WRITER?
This I can answer this in a single word: Patience.
For a long time when building a story I would become impatient with the time it took to get to my point. As a result I would “tell” what a character thought instead of “showing” it in the way that character reacted during a conversation or in a situation. Also, I would become impatient with a character, and kill him rather than allow his personality and motives to develop as subplot over the course of time. As members of my writers' group would tell you, “telling” instead of “showing” is something I still struggle with at times.
I should mention that patience is something that I’m still trying to bring to my life. The need for patience is a retirement lesson I’ve identified since I, at last, retired—I’ve spoken of this in my daily “Retirement Journal” posts at my Facebook sites.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A WRITER?
My greatest challenge—and greatest fear—is the blank page. Finding the words necessary to begin a story or a new chapter of a novel, can be panic-time for me. I might stare at my computer screen for an hour, cursing because the stupid screen refused to show the words I need. I might spin in my desk chair. I might pace around my room muttering to myself. I might beg the ghost that lives in my house to speak those words to me… Have I mentioned that sanity is not one of my strong points?
Oh, I nearly forgot. For me it’s a challenge to let go of a story. I’ll keep working on it until someone takes it away. This happened when I worked with the first editor Solstice assigned to me. We did two sets of edits, and when I returned the last one I told him there were a few things I still wanted to look at. His response was, “No you don’t!”
NOT INCLUDING FAMILY, WHO SUPPORTED YOUR EFFORTS TO BECOME A PUBLISHED AUTHOR?
A year after I moved to Niagara Falls I took a leave from my job to work on a grant for a charter school of the arts in Buffalo. Part of my task was to interview people in the local art, music and literary community. This is how and when I met Laurie Torrell, the administrator of the Just Buffalo Literary Center. While speaking with Laurie I mentioned that I had recently finished writing a novel. She encouraged me to join the writers group—the first such group I’d ever been part of. Since then Laurie and the Just Buffalo staff have continued to encourage and support my writing. During my membership in this group I met Gary Earl Ross, the Edgar Award winning novelist and playwright, who was at the time moderating the group. It was Gary who edited my first Emlyn Goode Mystery novel, then encouraged me to find a publisher for it. Gary also published a volume of short stories by western New York authors, and accepted two of my stories for this volume.
WHO WAS YOUR FIRST PUBLISHER AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THEM?
Aside from the several journals—both online and in print—that published my short stories, my first publisher was Solstice Publishing. When I signed their contract for the first Emlyn Goode Mystery, Solstice invited me to join the private website set up for its authors. On this site advice concerning promotion, among a number of other things, is given by Solstice’s owner (also a published author), its editors and its authors. What I know about promoting my books I learned there.
Another thing: Solstice has published anthologies on various topics, including the summer solstice, the winter holidays, and mysteries, and invited its authors to write novelettes for these anthologies. Of course I did—the Emlyn Goode Mysteries Bella Vita, The Day the Music Died, ’Twas the Season, and the latest, A Shot in the Woods,” first appeared in these anthologies. What have I learned from this? Actually, it’s what I remembered as a result of this. When I was with the magazine SunStorm Fine Art I was required to create articles on-demand, based on an artist’s works. In a sense, this was “writing to prompts.” The subjects of Solstice’s anthologies were, in a sense, prompts to which for the first time in years I wrote “on-demand” stories.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR NEW WRITERS?
There are several pieces of advice I have for new writers, and in fact this is advice I give the members of the Just Buffalo writers group. First, read. Read everything, not only books in the genre in which they’re interested. And read poetry. I advise them to look at the manner in which the authors use language and metaphors, and the way they structure their sentences.
Second, get a writer’s journal and carry it everywhere. Make notes on the places they are, what these settings look like. Make notes about the people they see, what they look like, how they dress, the manner in which they speak and react when speaking with others. Listen to their accents. I did this at an airport while waiting for a flight, and eventually wrote a piece of flash fiction that grew from my notes.
Third, write. Set aside a few uninterrupted hours each day for this purpose. I write every morning from the time I wake up until at least noon.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE WRITERS?
First and foremost is Agatha Christie. I wasn’t much of reader as a child until my mother gave me Christie’s “Peril at End House” when I was eleven. I got hooked and have since read almost everything Christie wrote. Then there’s Arthur Conon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories—I’ve read these over-and-over. I also love Nicholas Sparks. From his books I’ve learned a great deal about relationships. Most of all I love Mark Twain. The way he incorporated humor into even serious stories inspired my use of it in the Emlyn Goode Mysteries.
WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW?
I’m currently reading two books. When I’m upstairs I’m reading Alice Loweecey’s new cozy mystery, Nun After the Other. When I’m downstairs I take Charles Case’s new book, The Unfinished Child onto my deck and get lost in it for hours. This one is a work of literature rather than a mystery.
WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
I cry at happy endings when characters have conquered their fear and come together, or when love is at last found. I cry at sad endings when a character I’ve come to admire for his or her strength or weakness dies. So, I tear up when I watch the film “Sleepless in Seattle” when a Meg Ryan at last finds her love in Tom Hanks, and a child clutches their hands as they walk off into the end credits. And oh, the funeral scene in “Steel Magnolias”—I know it’s coming, and still I bawl. It was also that way when I read “Message in a Bottle” where a great love that should have been, is lost to death. And in “Little Women” when Beth dies…
IF YOU COULD MEET ANYONE WHO EVER LIVED, PAST OR PRESENT, WHO WOULD THAT BE?
This is easy. I would love to meet Mark Twain, and sit at his feet for hours talking about the way he saw the world and the way humor helped him through the pain and loss. I’ve been in that hurtful place and realized I had two choices: I could moan and detest life and where it’s led, in which case I would cry alone; or I could laugh at fate, in which case my life would be filled with others laughing with me. I chose the latter. I wish Twain could tell me if he found his humor the same way.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOWS AND MOVIES?
When I get my hands on the weekly television section I scour it looking for what British mysteries will be broadcast by my local PBS station. Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple mysteries, the new season of “Death in Paradise.” Any British Mystery will have me seated, rapt in front of my TV. To celebrate the publication of each of my books, I’ve bought a complete series of one of these mysteries and binged on it. After the publication of Writing is Murder, I bought the complete Inspector Lynley series. A Scotland Yard cop and his partner, both with personal issues, getting to the bottom of the worst crimes… Ah.
I’m also addicted to “Josh Gates Expedition Unknown.” His travels throughout the world—places I’ll never have an opportunity to visit—fascinate me. Oh, and I’m eagerly awaiting a new season of “The Curse of Oak Island.” People I’ve grown to like and admire searching for what might be an ancient buried treasure. When they find it will it be some pirate’s loot or gold buried by the British during the American Revolution? Will it be a treasure buried by the Knights Templar (there are signs these knights had been on this Canadian Island)? Is it nothing but a dream that has captured the imagination of these people—and me?
WHAT KIND OF MUSIC TOUCHES YOUR SOUL?
My music is a good blues number—especially a delta blues. “Stormy Monday,” “The St. James Infirmary.” These and protest songs of the 60s and 70s such as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” are what I played, and the type of songs I wrote when I performed in coffee houses years ago.
WHAT DO YOU WANT WRITTEN ON YOUR HEADSTONE?
If I were to have a headstone I’d want it to read: “She was here for a while and did her best.”
I said “if” I have a headstone because I won’t. I used to play golf and I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread in the sand trap on the second hole of the golf course at what used to be Kutchers Country Club. This is because I died there often.
DO YOU HAVE A BLOG OR WEBSITE READERS CAN VISIT FOR UPDATES, EVENTS AND SPECIAL OFFERS?
I don’t have what is traditionally called a blog, but I do a daily post on my Facebook page. I call it “Retirement Journal.” In this post I speak of my life and the lessons I’ve learned as an older woman since I retired more than a year ago. These posts also include thoughts about what I might be writing, places I’ve gotten stuck. I’ve posted about an illness—my almost three months as a hermit while my face was covered with rashes from shingles—and the time my knee went out and I hobbled around on a cane.
My posts have also spoken of events I’ve attended and book fairs at which I did signings. In fact, my life and my art is spread with, I hope, a bit of humor across these posts. In other posts on my Facebook site I’ve told of my book giveaways—recently the Kindle version of The Magic of Murder was free, and I’m planning to do the same with the second Emlyn Goode Mystery novel, Dead Again.
For all who might enjoy following my adventures as a retired lawyer and now a full-time writer, my posts can be found at: http//www.facebook.com/susanlynnsolomon.