Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Susan Oleksiw - HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on veteran Author Susan Oleksiw. She is a bestselling author of the Mellingham series and the Anita Ray mysteries.

Author Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Website: Susan Oleksiw
Author's Blog: Susan Oleksiw - One Writer's World
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Author Description:
Susan Oleksiw is the author of two mystery series. The first features Chief of Police Joe Silva in the Mellingham series, set in a coastal New England town. The second is the Anita Ray series, featuring Anita Ray solving crimes in South India. Anita Ray first appeared in a number of short stories published in national publications and anthologies. Oleksiw has lived and traveled extensively in India, and written other stories and articles about India before introducing Anita Ray in crime fiction. Oleksiw is also well known for her nonfiction work on crime and mystery fiction. She is the compiler of A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery (1988) and co-editor of The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing (1999). Her essays and reviews have appeared in numerous anthologies and publications.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

What do you have on the drawing board next? Are we looking at Joe Silva or Anita Ray? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?

I've just started sketching out the idea for another Joe Silva/Mellingham mystery. I am doing this simultaneously as I promote the sixth Joe Silva: Last Call for Justice. I wrote that book several years ago and just let it sit, but I like the story so much that I felt I had to go back to it and see that it was published. It's out now in ebook and paperback format, and I'm pleased with how the whole thing turned out. The seventh Joe Silva, which I'm just starting to work on, will be about an inheritance gone awry. I don't dare speculate on how long it will take me to finish this, considering I haven't yet got a sense of the story. I have an idea about the person who sets the murder in motion and little tantalizing bits of scenes but not much more.

How important has social media been to your writing currently? How much has it changed your book launch process?

Some social media has been very important. I'm on a few chat lists that have brought me an increased readership, reviews, and friends, but I still rely on independent bookstores to carry hard copies, which often helps word of mouth sales. I use Goodreads, which I both enjoy and use to promote my entire list of books, and Facebook, for my life as a writer. I did launch Last Call for Justice on social media, but not very coherently and methodically. For me there is still a steep learning curve. My first book was published in 1988, long before social media, so I'm used to launches in bookstores and library events. I still do both, and enjoy them, but now I link them to social media also.

Do you do a lot of book signing, interviews and personal appearances? (We first met at the Tucson Festival of Books) When and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?

I do several library and other events throughout the year (and sometimes remember to post them on my website), but I have come to rely on our local chapter of Sisters in Crime for most of them because I've been too busy to set them up on my own. I will probably do more on my own in the coming years as I work less at my day job. I have two events coming up in May and another in June. The first event in May is for a private group, and the second is at the Wakefield Public Library on May 22. I'll be reading from my new book on August 15 at Nights on the Neck, as part of the Rocky Neck Art Colony event in Gloucester, MA, on August 15. I expect to set up one or two more events for the summer.

You have great covers. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

I can't take any credit for the good covers. I've done a couple of covers on my own and they were terrible. I'm the first one to say that a good writer relies on the experts, and I rely on a wonderful graphic designer for some of my covers. My publisher Five Star has done a terrific job with the covers for the Anita Ray series, and Kathleen Valentine has done the ebook covers for Last Call for Justice and Under the Eye of Kali. I wish I were talented enough to do both writing and graphic design, but I'm not. I'm grateful that I know some excellent designers.

What kinds of writer support groups do you belong too? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?

I've been in a number of writers' groups over the years, which I enjoyed, but at present I'm not in one. They have served their purpose at various times, but I'm disciplined about my writing so I don't really need one to make sure I write and meet deadlines. I was a freelance editor for many years, and I'm used to setting goals and meeting them. I was always at my desk by nine o'clock, and I worked till five. I have used the writers' groups over the years more for socialization when I was freelancing--it's very easy to become isolated when you're working on your own. Once in a while another member of a writers' group would make a suggestion on marketing, for instance, that was useful, but I tend to join groups for a short period and then leave. If someone invites me to join a group, I might give it a try, but I tend not to be a long-term member. I've been in about eight writing groups over the last twenty plus years. Right now I'd like to be in a group that included other writers who had published a number of books with commercial houses because I think they would be more likely to challenge and stimulate me. At present I have a small group that meets in my home; we've been meeting for almost 20 years, and now get together somewhat erratically but still enthusiastically. I trust their judgment on my work and look forward to their comments and questions.

Between your book writing, blogging (great writer’s blog), marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do your sort of play it by ear?

I'm very disciplined, as I said above. When I get home I go straight to my computer, answer email, and then start writing or editing. I do this every day and on the weekends. I read in the evening. My husband and I share dinner duties, and I cook on the weekends usually. I work part time, but when I worked full time I still came home and wrote every evening. I tend to think about the story I'm working on throughout the day so that when I get home I know what I want to write and I get right at it. Being able to write every day really requires that you give yourself the mental space to think about your story every day before you sit down to write. There's always time to do what you want to do, but you have to think about it beforehand.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, your marketing and the relationship with your readers? Are you in process of converting your early books to ebooks?

I was slow to get on the ebook bandwagon, but I have converted my back list to ebooks, and I'm now also converting them to paperbacks if they're out of print (and the rights have reverted to me). I can tell that writing for ebook publication will change how people write--the length of a novel, for instance, will change, and become much shorter. There will be shorter paragraphs, more dialogue, and shorter chapters. I'm not sure I will be able to make the change, to write for a new format, but I can see it happening in other writers' books. I click on an ebook novel and it's really only a sixty-page novella or a long short story. The terminology is becoming fluid in ways that make me uncomfortable because I haven't yet given up the original definitions for novel, novella, short story, essay, and the like.

There is more talk now about what parts of a book people skip, and that's not something I ever took seriously before. Readers report that they skip lots of passages, and the question is whether or not writers will write to that kind of reader. Does every mystery have to begin with a violent scene or a dead body in the first few pages? For the last few years the requirement has been a dead body and a crime in the first 50 pages of the mss, or it's too slow to get anyone's interest. Now does it have to be in the first five pages?

I worry that we will be losing variety in the writing community, variety in the way people think and examine the world in fiction. We are living in interesting times.

The interesting thing about ebooks, social media, and the overall easier accessibility to writers is the kind of people we writers now have contact with. People who would never pick up one of my books will get it as an ebook and be quick to comment. Before, people who got their books from the library or bookstore might read something and not care too much one way or the other, but you didn't know that unless it was a paid reviewer. Places like Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything, and other sites post all sorts of reviews that writers would never have come across ten years ago. Writers get a variety of feedback today that simply wasn't available before. It's hard to filter the worthwhile comments from those that are just sour grapes or unsophisticated rants. And on the other side, I've sometimes been praised for things in my books that I didn't think were all that important or praiseworthy.

You have a great blog. You do a great job keeping readers informed, marketing your books and providing useful information to other writers. What is your primary goal?

Thank you for the compliment. I like the idea of blogging, of writing a short essay every now and then, and I admire people who can do this with discipline every week. I tend to blog only about once or twice a month because I don't like filler pieces, the kind of post that reads as though the writer had to put up something and this inane little piece is the something. I want my posts to be interesting and useful and thoughtful. I try to keep the focus on writing and on my personal experiences as a writer if they are at all relevant to others (not all are, in my view). I would have to say that my main goal is to say something that is honest, intelligent, and useful. I think the most important role of the writer is to be honest.

You publish both short stories and novels. Does changing hats create any problems? Any tricks you can share with us? Which type of story do you enjoy writing the most?

I love short stories. Reading one is like looking down on a small perfect piece of jewelry, where you can see the craftsmanship in the way the stone is cut, the way the setting is done, and work on the band. You can see the skill and beauty at once. I tend to write short stories between novels, and although I've written an enormous number I rarely publish them. There just aren't as many venues for short fiction as there used to be, and certainly not many that pay. Still, I think you can learn an enormous amount from learning to write short stories. I enjoy both the novel and short story form, but the pleasure I derive from each is distinct.

What do you enjoy the most: writing, teaching other writers or taking pictures of unique people and scenes? (A must visit on your website.)

These are three different ways of being creative, and of seeing the world through different eyes. I'm definitely more of a photographer than a teacher, although I taught for many years and enjoyed it. But far and away I love writing. I can't imagine living without writing. I wouldn't survive three days without writing or three days without reading. When I first took to photography a few years ago I was so excited by the results and the experience that I seriously thought about giving up writing or putting it on the back burner. But then, of course, I had to write about this. For me, it all comes back to the written word.

Author's Book List
Under the Eye of Kali - An Anita Ray Mystery
Under the Eye of Kali introduces Indian American amateur sleuth Anita Ray, who lives with her aunt at a tourist hotel in South India. The guests are the usual assortment of foreigners, but two of them are too free with their plans to smuggle medical materials into Burma. When one becomes ill and her traveling companion turns up dead, Anita is determined to find out what is happening. While also trying to track down the source of one guest's sudden panic, Anita must also cope with strange goings-on within the hotel management. Auntie Meena's behavior becomes increasingly erratic, and she refused to explain strange expenditures from the hotel income. Under the Eye of Kali takes the reader into a little-known part of South India, and behind the scenes in a popular resort. The men and women who make the world a special vacation site are also the ones who watch the strangers in their midst skirt danger without even knowing it. And the workers come together to help their own. This mystery is rich with the sights and smells and secrets of South India and Indian families. Anita is a young woman fending off her aunt's efforts to find her a suitable husband, all the while reminding her of her family heritage and the duty of a young Indian woman. Anita, of course, will have none of it. A talented photographer, she is determined to live the life she wants--and that is her only ambition, along with tracking down murderers.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Last Call For Justice - A Mellingham Mystery
Chief Joe Silva plans a long weekend visit with his family, taking his partner, Gwen, and her daughter, Jennie, along. Joe's father, in his nineties and ailing, has insisted on bringing everyone together for one last family reunion. He even managed to persuade the two youngest, who went west and started new lives. The patriarch has plans to heal an old wound but the family ends up facing a new crime, and Joe works feverishly to catch the killer before even more damage is done.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
The Wrath of Shiva - An Anita Ray Mystery
On an old estate along a quiet river in South India a family waits for the arrival of a granddaughter they haven t seen in quite a while. When she fails to appear at the airport or at the estate and doesn t even call no one wants to believe she has once again changed her plans without consulting anyone. But when she fails to call and offer any explanation the family begins to worry.

Anita Ray accompanies her Auntie Meena to her grandmother s house to comfort her and try to figure out where her cousin has got to. While she is there a maidservant falls into a trance. The maidservant reports from her trances that Devi the Great Goddess is angry with the family very angry. Even worse the maidservant has predicted that Surya the granddaughter will never arrive.

The family astrologer advises an exorcism to cure the maidservant and with this begins Anita s unrelenting curiosity about the astrologer his associates and a number of family antiques that have gone missing.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
A Murderous Innocence - A Mellingham Mystery
Oleksiw's series featuring Police Chief Joe Silva (Friends and Enemies, 2000) has a lot going for it. First, its protagonist: deep--thinking, big-hearted Joe, whose dark job has not turned him into a cynic. In addition, the series' setting is remarkably well drawn: Mellingham is a small Massachusetts coastal town full of hardworking citizens who run family businesses and try to keep their kids safe from drugs and other "big city" vices threatening to invade the countryside. Finally, readers will luxuriate in Oleksiw's lush, evocative prose, a rarity in mystery fiction. In this outing, Joe is investigating the connection between young Ron Faroli, who overdosed on drugs, and his friend Miles Stine, who supposedly fell out of a window to his death. Meanwhile, Gwen, Joe's girlfriend, is worried about her young son, Phillip, who may be hanging out with the druggy crowd. Oleksiw does a fine job of portraying small-town life, with its inherent fears, hopes, and tragedies. This is a series that, once discovered, will become required reading for mystery fans who straddle the fence between cozy and hard-boiled.
Jenny McLarin
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Double Take - A Mellingham Mystery
Life seems to be just about perfect at the Massasoit College of Art in the picturesque village of Mellingham. Certainly things couldn't be much better for Preston H. Mattson, chairman of the painting department, as the students prepare for a show honoring his work. But there are potential problems as well. Work-study student Hank Vinnio is a surprisingly gifted artist and his talent may threaten the teachers' sense of superiority. New to the area and without close friends, Vinnio has at least one enemy--and perhaps more.

Another member of the community sows unrest and fear just by his presence. Chickie Morelli appears to be indifferent to the effect he has on people while he lingers on the sidelines, watching and waiting.

When someone is murdered at the college, Chief of Police Joe Silva must study both art and diplomacy as he searches for the killer in a crime that envelopes both town and gown.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Friends and Enemies - A Mellingham Mystery
Chief of Police Joe Silva has his hands full when the Mellingham High School Class of 1969 holds its twenty-fifth reunion.

Not every member of the class is looking forward to the gathering. Eliot Keogh is returning to his hometown to find the person responsible for sending his father to prison on a false charge. Becka Chase, on the reunion committee, is distracted because the husband of her best friend, Mindy, is trying to revive their long-dead affair. She fears her husband will find out and leave her.

The reunion has barely begun when Mindy Rabelard disappears and her husband, Vic, is found near death, apparently the victim of a strange toxin. Joe Silva will have to travel back twenty-five years and fit together a series of interlocking events and crimes to figure out what's going on in Mellingham.

Making Chief Silva's problems even tougher is the unspoken rules of men and women working in the paper industry, a world of old guild principles and fierce loyalties.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Murder in Mellingham - A Mellingham Mystery
The lovely coastal village of Mellingham is set on edge with the unexpected arrival of Beth O'Donnell. Dependent on her generous brother but uneasy with life outside New York City, Beth casts a jaundiced eye on everyone and anyone. At a cocktail party on her first night, she throws barbs at the other guests, singling out the most vulnerable, and eyes with interest anyone who seems able to stand up to her. When she is found dead the next day, Chief of Police Joe Silva finds himself investigating a well-loved family in a town where nothing untoward ever seems to happen. An outsider until he joined the police force a few years earlier, Chief Silva discovers much about his own place in this idyllic town, and several painful secrets among the townspeople. Murder in Mellingham introduces a new series exploring life in a New England village outside the orbit of a metropolitan area, a world defined by its eccentrics, philanthropists, and never ordinary citizens. With an insightful but humorous eye, author Susan Oleksiw reveals a world all but destroyed by suburban developments and shopping malls, a world as refreshing as a cool ocean breeze.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Family Album - A Mellingham Mystery
Beautiful Mellingham--it appears to be a safe haven on the New England coast where men, women, and children, old and young, can live in peace and harmony. But looks can deceive, as Chief of Police Joe Silva has discovered all too often in his long investigative career.

When murder occurs at the Arbella House, the headquarters of the local historical society, Silva is probably the only one in town who is not surprised. He knows all too well that crime, even murder, can take place in the most genteel environment.

He's worried though about at least one of the suspects--Gwen McDuffy, who volunteers at the Arbella House. A single mother with two children, Gwen seems to have a secret that is too heavy to bear. But is the secret related to the murder, or is it something more personally threatening to Gwen and her young family? Silva wants to know, for reasons that are not entirely professional.

There are others connected to the Arbella Society who are even more upset than Gwen when George Frome, the only member who pushed to bring the Society into the twentieth century, is found murdered in the Arbella attic. Catherine Rocklynd, the oldest and wealthiest member, seems to be crustier and more resentful than usual after the murder. Her nephew, Edwin Bennett, is hardly himself these days, but insists it's because he's worried about his aunt's health. Society board member Kelly Kuhn, an art dealer and collector, worries about his escalating debt, and Annalee Windolow develops her own compulsive habits and knows just how to exploit Kelly's weaknesses. They all claim to know nothing about the murder.

George Frome had suspected theft of valuable antiques from the Arbella Society, and now he is dead and Silva is left to sift through the lives of these always unpredictable suspects in the search for a killer.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the following blogs:
eBook Author’s Corner and
HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle

1 comment:

  1. Hi, James and Susan,

    I very much enjoyed reading the interview. Susan is an excellent writer. I should mention that she blogs monthly for Author Expressions which posts a series of thoughtful essays by Five Star/Gale mystery writers. At the moment, you can read a new article by Susan since she posts the first Friday of each month: authorexpressions.blogspot.com