Susan Lynn Solomon was formerly a Manhattan entertainment attorney and a contributing editor to the quarterly art magazine SunStorm Fine Art. She now lives in Niagara Falls, New York.
After moving north at the start of the millennium, she became a member of Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Writers Critique Group, and since 2007 many of her short stories have appeared in literary journals, including, Abigail Bender (awarded an Honorable Mention in Writers Journal’s short romance competition), Ginger Man, Elvira, The Memory Tree, Going Home, Yesterday’s Wings, and Sabbath (nominated for 2013 Best of the Net). A collection of her short stories, Voices In My Head, has been published by Solstice Publishing, and her latest short story, Smoker’s Lament is online in the journal Imitation Fruit.
Susan was a finalist in M&M’s Chanticleer’s Mystery & Mayhem Novel Contest, and a finalist for the 2016 Book Excellence Award. Her first Solstice Publishing novel, The Magic of Murder, has received rave reviews, as has Bella Vita, a short story that continues the adventures (and often missteps) of these characters.
What is the title of your latest book?
I am the author of the Emlyn Goode Mysteries. Well, at least the characters in the stories grudgingly allow me to take credit for creating them. Most days, though, I feel as if they’ve created me. I suppose that’s what happens when imaginary friends become as real as people I’ve known all my life. I invite them to my house for a play-date, supply a few toys (also provide a meal—Emlyn and her friends insist on being fed), then I sit back and make notes about what these people say and do.
The last time I had them over, I told them about a body discovered forty years ago in the woods below Lewiston—that’s a town just north of Niagara Falls. This is what they made out of what happened:
When Emlyn Goode’s mother returns to Niagara Falls for a high school reunion, so does murder. During the reunion, a woman’s body is found in the ladies room. Is this killing connected to the one that occurred 40 years before in the woods below the town of Lewiston? Harry Woodward, then a young police officer working his first murder case, suspected Emlyn’s mother of the crime, although there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest her.
Home from a year-long leave, Harry—now the Niagara Falls Chief of Detectives—together with Emlyn’s friend, Detective Roger Frey, investigates the latest killing. Distraught over indications her mother might have been involved in both murders, Emlyn, with her cohort, Rebecca Nurse, sets out to prove otherwise. But danger lurks in the shadows when amateurs—even ones with witchy skills—get involved with murder.
With my characters dictating, this scenario became the novel Dead Again.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding?
For me the most difficult thing—and it’s a horror—is staring at a blank page, praying for the muse to speak, and dreading that this time she won’t. It isn’t only when I’m ready to begin a new story that this fear rears its head. It might strike when I’m facing the next chapter of a story in progress. Recently, I panicked because of a silent muse. About a third of the way through writing the new Emlyn Goode novel, even my characters refused to speak to me. Stuck, I was certain the fun had ended. Never again would I have a story to write. To the annoyance of my family, I sulked for a week. Don’t laugh. A writer is the only thing I ever wanted to be. It’s who I am. The sulking ended when I woke one morning. Apparently the muse spoke to me while I slept. She told me to change the name of one of the characters that appears for the first time in this new book. Once I did this… What a joy! The words are flowing. Once again I’m a writer.
There are other challenges to writing, of course. Once finished, I want my story published. This means I’ve got to create a synopsis. 1,000, maybe 1,500 words, and, it has to be compelling. I hate this! If I could have told the story in 1,500 words, I wouldn’t have used 70,000 or more words to do it in the first place. Even now that Solstice Publishing is accepting my mysteries, when I submit a story I have to give them a tag-line. This means telling the essence of the story in one or two compelling sentences… aaargh! And the biggest challenge is still to come. Once a story is published, I want people to read it. This means promote, promote, promote… When Mrs. Price, my 11th grade English teacher, encouraged me to become a professional liar (what? Isn’t writing fiction actually the art of lying convincingly?), she forgot to tell me this thing I’ve grown to love, eventually becomes work.
Ah, but there are great rewards for all the work. I recall the thrill the day my first short story was accepted by a literary journal, Witches Gumbo. So I’ll never forget how that felt, I had the first pages framed. It hangs near the desk where I write. Other stories have been published over the years, and several of them have been nominated for awards and a few actually won. I feel the same thrill each time one of my stories is accepted. Still, the greatest thrill came the day I received an email saying Solstice Publishing had accepted my first Emlyn Goode Mystery novel, The Magic of Murder. After its release, I felt elated each day I looked at the Amazon website and saw the incredible reviews posted by those who’d read the novel. In spite of all the challenges (and yes, rejections while I learned my craft) so many years later I still thank Mrs. Price for encouraging me to write.
What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?
There are so many. Certainly, write, write, write. And read. Everything. Join a writers’ group, and take their critiques seriously. I remember walking into Just Buffalo Literary’s Writers Group more than 12 years ago. I’d finished a novel and, in my grandmother’s words, I thought I was a whole goddamit. Then the critiquing began. I might have felt insulted and walked out, but didn’t. I locked my ego in a vault, and listened to what the other writers said about each other’s work. In listening, I learned. Today, when I look at what I wrote years ago, I can’t believe how much that younger writer needed to grow.
Perhaps, though, my top tip would be to spend time on research. When I finished a first draft of Witches Gumbo, I showed it to my friend, Al. After reading it, the questions began. The story was set in a Louisiana bayou. Is this the way people there would speak? He asked whether this is what a house set in this place would look like. The story involved herbalism and a touch of “the old ways”. Is this what people practicing magic in a bayou would actually do? Even fiction has to ring true for the story and characters to be believable. I actually forgot to research one fact, and after the story was published a reader’s review mentioned what I’d missed.
What are you working on at the moment?
At present, I’m about 40,000 words into the next Emlyn Goode Mystery novel—this will be the third. Called Writing is Murder, it focuses on a writers group. One of my writers’ groups, actually, though the names are changed to protect… uh, me. It’s okay. The group members have given me permission to kill one of them. Or maybe more than one. We’ll see how blood thirsty I get. In this novel, it’s Halloween. Emlyn Goode and her writer friends do a ghost hunt in a house reputedly cursed in the 1820s by a Tuscarora brave. The eerie fun ends when they stumble over the body of a member of their group. This isn’t the first murder to take place in the Bennet House. When her lover, Detective Roger Frey is shot and Emlyn returns to the house searching for a clue to the shooter’s identity, will she become the next victim of the Tuscarora Curse?
Another Emlyn Goode Mystery is also in the works—this one a Christmas novelette I hope to have ready to submit for Solstice Publishing’s holiday anthology.
What do you like to read?
I read everything. My only requirements is that a story be beautifully written. The use of language, I mean. I want the words to almost be lyrical. I also want well-constructed scenes filled with believable characters. I want to care about the protagonist. I found all of this recently in Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, A Manette Ansay’s River Angel, and in Blackbird Rising by Gary Earl Ross. I’ve also found it in recent books by A. B. Funkhauser and Maighread MacKay.
Of course, I’ll always come back to a good mystery. At eleven my mom gave me a Hercule Poirot story, and I was hooked. These days I’ve become enamoured of the missteps of Stephanie Plum in the Janet Evanovich series.
Where can readers find you?
There are presently three Emlyn Goode Mysteries readers can find on Amazon. Each has gotten rave reviews, and is a Readers’ Favorite 5-star pick.
The Magic of Murder:
Bella Vita: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01I01WEWW
I can be found on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/susanlynnsolomon