J. Kent Holloway
It's that time again! Time to introduce you to a brand spankin' new mystery author to add to your TBR list. Once again, Susie Black is an author we've not read yet and have no affiliation with, but I'll be picking up a few of her books after spending time interviewing her. And I think you will too after you hear more about her books.
So, who is Susie Black? Well, let's start by taking a look at her bio:
Named best US author of the year by N. N. Light Book Heaven, award-winning cozy mystery author Susie Black was born in the Big Apple but 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.
Now, let's get on to the interview and learn more about Ms. Black!
For those unfamiliar with you, tell us about your series of mysteries. Who is the main character? What is the overall premise of the series?
My series is The Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series. The series takes place in the Los Angles Apparel Center.
The main character is Holly Schlivnik. On the shady side of her 20s and much to her mother’s regret, single, Holly is a sales exec in the ladies’ swimwear industry. She lives on a houseboat in Marina del Rey and drives a vintage bubble gum pink convertible.
The overall premise for the series is that Holly Schlivnik has a knack of discovering dead bodies around the Los Angeles garment district and
specifically in the California Apparel Mart. Holly is the bane of the LAPD with her continuous interfering in their murder investigations. Holly sticks her nose wherever it is not wanted whenever the cops arrest one of her colleagues for a murder she knows they didn’t commit. Holly and her gang of swimwear sales colleagues, better known as the Yentas, do their own special brand of investigating to bring the real killers to justice and clear their innocent colleagues.
Your most recent book in The Holly Swimsuit Mysteries, Death by Surfboard, just came out on May 15. Tell us a bit about this one.
Set in the competitive Los Angeles apparel industry, Death by Surfboard is the story of how one man’s life of lies, delivered by smoke and mirrors, cost him everything. No one is more stunned than Mermaid Swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik when a fisherman hooks her unscrupulous colleague’s battered corpse attached to a surfboard and hauls it onto the Washington Street Pier. The ME ruled Jack Tyne drowned, but “had help dying”, and Holly’s boss is wrongly arrested for the crime. To save the big cheese from a life behind bars, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur detective dons her sleuthing hat to find Jack’s real killer. But the trail has more twists and turns than a pretzel, and nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she tangles with a clever killer hellbent for revenge.
Can your books be read in any order or should readers start with book one in the series?
While my books are stand-alone, readers will get more out of the series if they start with book one, my award-winning debut, Death by Sample Size, and read the subsequent books in the order they were published.
What do you think makes a Susie Black book a Susie Black book? What are common themes? Mood? Help our readers get a picture of what your books might be like in a few sentences.
The thing that makes a Susie Black book a Susie Black book is the voice and tone of the characters, especially those of Holly and the Yentas. Holly and each of the Yentas has a distinct personality and perspective on life that not only defines them as individuals, but serves as a tool to help solve the whodunit. Protagonist Holly is wise-cracking, irreverent, independent, but loyal to a fault.
The common themes are friendship, loyalty, stubbornness, a moral compass that guides the actions of the characters to get justice for the victims, and a strong dose of curiosity and nosiness.
The mood is humorous, organized chaos at times.
Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black takes you on a raucous, rollicking, rollercoaster adventure ride through the underbelly of Los Angeles apparel industry and gives you an insiders’ view of how the latest styles really get from the designer’s imagination to the sales floor of your favorite store.
Tell us a little about your journey as a mystery writer. Have you always wanted to write mysteries or is that something that sort of developed organically? What attracted you to mysteries to begin with?
Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit Mystery series, I am a ladies’ swimwear sales exec. From the beginning 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 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.
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 your story are toast. So, where did my story ideas come from? 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 in my daily journal than time to write them.
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 customer, I silently wished her a slow and painful death as 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 annoying customers was wildly appealing, a horizontally striped prison uniform would make my petite body look like it was the product of a barbershop pole and a fire hydrant having a child. 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.
Speaking of mysteries, who are some of your favorite mystery authors?
I have so many that I had to create spreadsheets to remember them all! But if I had to drill down to my most favorites of all time, here they are:
Female Mystery Authors: Mary Daheim, Ann George, Carolyn Haines, Joan Hess, and Elaine Viets.
Male Mystery Authors: Lawrence Block, Harlen Coben, Lee Goldberg, Parnell Hall, and Donald E. Westlake.
Favorite mystery books?
I have way too many to list, but here are a few of my all-time favorites:
The Axe-Donald E. Westlake
Mischief in Maggody- Joan Hess
Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse- Lee Goldberg
Deal Breaker- Harlen Coben
How have these books help influence you in your own books?
I owe my timing, comedic, and character development skills to these books.
As mentioned earlier, you just released a new book. Something I’m always curious about is: how do you celebrate when you finish/publish a new book? What’s a typical book release celebration for Susie Black?
I don’t set off any firecrackers or go skinny dipping in the pool, but I do indulge in my go-to favorite food groups: Pizza, a glass of wine and rocky road ice cream for dessert.
Finally, if you could offer just one piece of advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?
At the beginning of my writing adventure, best-selling mystery author Harlen Coben came to my area for a lecture and I was fortunate to attend. At the end of the lecture, Mr. Coben was generous enough to give a free copy of his latest book to all attendees and offered to sign each book and stand for a photo with anyone who wanted to. When it was my turn, he asked me if I was an author and I responded no, that I was a fledgling writer. I asked if he had any advice and he said, “Always trust your gut, believe in yourself, never let anyone step on your dreams, and keep writing…no matter what, keep writing.”
I don't know about you, but I think the Holly Swimsuit Mysteries sounds like a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to giving them a read soon. If you'd like to know more about Susie, check out her website HERE. If you'd like to purchase her books, check out her Amazon author page HERE.
And as always, be sure to check back here next week for a brand new author interview!