Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Author Susanne Matthews Takes a Bold Risk in her Latest Series

Susanne Matthews is a fellow Crimson Romance author. She is releasing the first book of her new The Harvester Series. Welcome, Susanne. I’m so pleased you are visiting me today. Talk about the book(s) you’ve written. What was the first seed of an idea you had for your book? How did it develop?
The White Carnation is a second chance at love story born after I watched an episode of Law and Order SVU about a serial rapist who wanted to create a dynasty. Since rape is a subject generally avoided in romance novels even if they are suspense, it wasn’t until I was doing research on another topic and came across an article on scopolamine, often called the devil’s breath, used to rob the victim of free will and memory that I had a premise I could work with. I took it one step farther and made the Harvester a serial killer too. If I say anymore, I’ll give away the twist in the plot. I will say that writing this book is the biggest chance I’ve taken with my career since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sell it. To my pleasant surprise, CrimsonRomance bought it and the other two books in the series. It just goes to show you have to have faith in yourself and your work.

That was a courageous move—good for you! Since you had the premise in mind, describe your writing process. Did you outline? Let the muse lead you? Or something else?
My books are character driven. I don’t outline, do character sketches, or any of the other steps of the writing process I taught for years and most writing coaches swear by. To say I have no idea where the story’s going at times would be very true. Ideas come to me, and when I sit at the computer they just flow. My writing is linear. I can’t write scenes out of sequence. Everything has to flow smoothly from one scene to the next. I visualize the story as I write as if I’m watching a movie, but I don’t comb the Internet for images unless I need to describe a specific place. In The White Carnation, my characters spend time in Boston and in Lake Placid, New York, two places I actually visited; in fact, I go to Lake Placid at least once a year. Because of my visualization, I’m very descriptive and people can expect that in my work. I have to be careful not to write in stage directions as my editor frequently reminds me, but by the time she’s through with it, the story is great.

Our process is identical! Was there a scene that was more difficult than others? One that you pondered whether or not to include it?
Without giving away too much of the story, I’ll say the scenes on the horse farm were the most difficult to write. I tend not to be a political person, but I’m a strong proponent on equal rights for women. We are individuals, with as much value as men, and deserve to be treated with respect, not put down, abused, and treated like chattel. There are some groups out there who believe women should have no rights at all, and they influenced what I wrote. I struggled with this section for that reason, but since it’s essential to the plot and plays a big part in the next book in the series, it needed to be done with a fair amount of detail. 

What is your research process like? Do you enjoy it?
I love research; in fact, sometimes as my editor told me I can get a little preachy or travelogish, so I have to be careful. The Harvester Series has required extensive research, some of which actually surprised me. For example, I didn’t know that a woman carries the DNA of each child she bears her whole life or that researchers could actually test a dead woman’s brain and extract that DNA. I learned a lot about date rape and the effect that horrible crime has on those women who are attacked, especially those where date rape drugs are involved as well. I was disgusted to learn how short the sentence is for that crime and even more dismayed to learn how many of the victims choose to back down rather than see the offender prosecuted. The “she asked for it” mentality unfortunately is alive and well. I also thoroughly researched scopolamine and other drugs, and looked into cults and communes. I was amazed to discover that according to the last US census, over 2 million Americans belonged to cults. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the need to teach out of her.

I am so distressed when I learn statistics like these. Keep fighting the good fight with your novels, Susanne. Kudos to your editor for supporting you with this theme. When you get the edits back from your editor, how do you work through that process?
I’ve been fortunate to have been assigned the same editor for my last three Crimson books, and she’ll be with me for the rest of The Harvester Series. I’ll be honest and say I was ready to throw in the towel with the first book, and I wanted to protect my baby, keep it as it was, but it didn’t take long to see that she was making a better writer out of me. This time around, I write with “What will Julie think of this? Or how will Julie make me change this?” in mind. I try to avoid giving stage directions, and try to keep my Canadianisms to a minimum, although I learn new ones all the time. For example, I do groceries and pay for them, but I’d never say I had to buy groceries. That being said, I go out for fresh veggies, yet I buy fruit. It’s little things like that, but too many of them are a nuisance for both of us.  What I usually do when I get edits back is read through the general notes and the comments, then I fix the little things, and starting at the beginning I follow her advice. If I disagree with something or think she may have misunderstood, I’ll email her. She responds very quickly. Editing gets easier every time, and since I see how she helps me make my work shine, I don’t curl up in a ball because she says something needs to be cut.

That is a great writing partnership. Tell us about the funniest/craziest/most interesting thing that has happened to you as a writer.
It’s a Canadian thing I guess, but in one of my novels, Echoes of the Past set in Ontario, at one point the characters go for a gator ride. A gator is a small tractor, about the size of a lawn tractor that pulls one or more wagons behind it. They’re made by John Deere, so they’re usually green and yellow, and quite common on farms around here. My editor at the time, not Julie, was from Louisiana, and thought that somehow I was talking about a domesticated alligator pulling wagons. I had quite a laugh about that. I sent her a picture of a gator, added a bit more description to the story for others who might not have heard of the utility vehicle, but it was definitely the funniest this that’s happened in terms of my writing.

I love that story! What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on The White Lily, Book Two in The Harvester Series. I plan to finish The White Iris, the third book in the series when I get back from Alaska, since that state figures into the story at that point.

You are a busy woman! How do you balance writing, marketing, promoting, bookkeeping, family and work?
Not well! Writing takes up most of my day, and in that I include my blog posts, etc. I’m lousy at promotion. I guess I still feel like I’m imposing on people when I ask for favors posting tweets and stuff. If I had the money I’d pay a promoter to market my books. I think it would be much easier to sell books if they were in brick and mortar stores, but that’s not an option for me. There are no independent bookstores in my hometown, and I’m way too chicken to try and approach someone I don’t know. I’ve sold a few paper copies to friends and acquaintances, but most people who have my books got them as gifts. Luckily, since my husband is an accountant, he looks after the bookkeeping. As far as family goes, they come first and always will. Thankfully, I’m retired, so work isn’t an issue.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you?
Just that if they read my books and feel inclined to leave a review, I’d appreciate it.
You can find out where to buy The White Carnation and all my books on my website where the direct links are posted.

Thanks for being my guest today, Susanne. I look forward to reading your new series.

The White Carnation blurb:
The last person disgraced reporter Faye Lewis wants back in her life is Detective Rob Halliday, the man she blames for ruining her career and breaking her heart. But when she finds an old friend murdered, he’s the one she calls.
 For the past year, Rob and his team have been hunting the Harvester, a serial killer who ritualistically murders new mothers and vanishes with their infants. What Rob doesn’t need is another case, especially one involving his ex-fiancĂ©e.
 Then Faye is assaulted, and Rob realizes the cases are connected. She may hold the answers he needs to find the elusive killer. But the more they investigate, the more complex the situation becomes. Can they set the past aside and work together, or will the Harvester and his followers reap another prize?

About the author:

Susanne Matthews was born and raised in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. She’s always been an avid reader of all types of books, but always with a penchant for happily ever after romances. In her imagination, she travelled to foreign lands, past and present, and soared into the future. A retired educator, Susanne spends her time writing and creating adventures for her readers. She loves the ins and outs of romance, and the complex journey it takes to get from the first word to the last period of a novel. As she writes, her characters take on a life of their own, and she shares their fears and agonies on the road to self-discovery and love.

Follow Susanne on her: 
Facebook page   
Twitter @jandsmatt

Excerpt from The White Carnation
“Am I okay?” she shouted. “You can stand there and ask me that with my friend’s mother dead in the other room?” She punctuated her words with a shove. “No, I am not okay. I am most definitely not okay.” Fresh tears ran down her cheeks, and Rob instinctively reached for her to offer what comfort he could. She held herself stiffly for a few seconds before relaxing into his shoulder.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” he said, feeling like a fool. Holding her like this felt awkward and yet familiar. “I’m sorry for your loss.” His hand rubbed small circles on her back as he’d done many times before. “Home invasions don’t always make sense. There’s no sign of forced entry, so she must have let him in.”

Faye pushed away, her anger palpable.

“Seriously? Home invasion, my ass. Look around, Sherlock. Home invasions usually involve some kind of theft. Do you see anything worth stealing? The television is twenty years old, and it’s still here. The silverware is scattered all over, and she’s still wearing her rings. There’s money on the table. She had nothing worth taking. Nothing they wanted. Nothing worth dying for.”

Faye’s crying increased, fueled by her frustrated rage, making it almost impossible for him to understand her words. He tried to pull her back into his arms, but she refused to let him hold her. Admitting defeat, he put his arm across her shoulders and led her out of the room.

“Come on. Let’s get you out of here. There’s nothing more you can do. Amos and Logan need to get the body ready for transfer, and the lab guys are on their way up.”

He hurried her out of the apartment and down the stairs, remembering her phobia of that particular elevator. They walked out to the street where the crowds were beginning to form. It was early evening in Beacon Hill on a Friday night. Many of her residents wouldn’t make it home for hours yet.

“Tom, get a ride back with the black and white,” he yelled at his partner, who was questioning the concierge. That guy would probably be looking for a new job come Monday. The rest of the condo owners wouldn’t be impressed with a home invasion and a death on his watch. Rob opened the sedan’s passenger door and helped her in. Faye automatically buckled her seat belt, as the tears spilled down her cheeks.

Rob walked around the vehicle and got in behind the wheel.

“Where are you taking me?” From her tone, he could tell she didn’t really care. She knew he’d have questions, and she was probably grateful he’d chosen to ask them elsewhere. But she’d never admit it. Her color wasn’t good, and she shivered. He turned on the heater even though the temperature outside was in the mid-sixties. Despite what the officer on the door had said, for a crime reporter, she’d never had much of a stomach, and seeing Lucy that way would have been a shock.

“Home. I should probably take you to the ER, but knowing how much you hate hospitals, there isn’t any point in making things worse for you. You can answer my questions in the comfort of your own living room, sitting on that god-awful buttercream leather sofa you love so much. By the way, you haven’t moved, have you?”

He recognized bitterness in her chuckle.

“No, my career may be in flames, my finances worse, but my real estate is sound. The couch is gone.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her words but didn’t comment. Things must be bad if she’d parted with that damn custom-made couch. “Where’d you park the Camaro?”

“It’s gone, too. My Ford’s a half block down.”

“I won’t miss the couch, but that Camaro was your baby. Why get rid of it?”

“It didn’t match my shoes,” she spat out bitterly.

“Don’t chew my head off. You called me, remember?”

Faye nodded, gave him the license plate number, and he radioed it in, making arrangements to have her vehicle towed to the police station for collection tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Decluttering Part II: The Garage Sale

The natural culmination of marathon decluttering is The Garage Sale. For some these words bring anticipation of a sunny Saturday afternoon rummaging through someone else’s castoffs and finding an ugly painting that will sell for $10,000 on Antiques Roadshow. For others (like me) it sends shivers down one’s spine. But when you’ve been as successful as we had in rooting through every item in your home and brutally tossing aside treasures you could never part with (none of which will fetch $10,000 BTW) into the “sale” pile, a garage sale is a must.

Now, I don’t go to garage sales because they put me into sensory overload. When I do venture into the realm of thrift, I head straight to the books and then leave. Needless to say, I know nothing about the planning and execution of said sale. We took a tip from Rich’s brother Louie and his wife Karen. When they had their garage sale last fall they did not spend hours marking items with color-coded stickers. They did not mark them at all; Karen didn’t want to deal with small change, so everything was a dollar unless marked otherwise. Brilliant. We did the same.

We had a very successful sale, and now are exhausted. But Marie Kondo is right—there is a feeling of joy and freedom when the energy from all those items we had carried for years was gone from our home. The house even feels lighter and cleaner. And I am happy to report the punch bowl sold on the second day.

Here are some thoughts from my garage sale experience:

1.     Angels will appear at your sale.
2.     Your stuff is not as valuable to the person buying it as it is to you even though they want it.
3.     If you think something is worth $5, ask for $4. It’s like a magic formula that I believe has something to do with the person getting change for his/her five. They will probably keep looking for more to buy.
4.     Give the little girl who is twirling in her too-big tutu the fluffy boa she is eyeing. Granted you won’t get your dollar for it, but what you feel when her brother pats her on the shoulder and tells her she looks pretty is priceless.
5.     The woman who tells you she lost everything in the house fire is not there to contribute to your monetary wealth but to your soul. I knew I would give her the blue vases in her hands and anything else she wanted for free. Before I could tell Rich this, I had to retrieve something from the house. When I returned she was gone and so were the vases. I asked Rich if he charged her for the items she had collected, and he said he never even saw her. The vases were gone and I was perfectly okay with that. See #1.
6.     Be aware of the wonderful moments during your sale such as when your husband sees the green plastic bat that a five-year-old is clutching and he says to the boy, “Here, you can take this home with you.” The father told us his son would be starting T-ball that week.
7.     You will meet people who watch the same obscure BBC programs that you love and can suggest new titles they haven’t heard of yet. It’s great to connect on such a meaningful level.
8.     Give the young man the copy of Plato’s The Republic for free.  Rich told him to enjoy it with our blessings.
9.     At the end of the sale, Rich and I started to pack away the remaining items. Both of us were dreading this process because A) we had spent so much time packing them in preparation for the sale, and B) we didn’t want them back in our garage. A white pick-up truck pulled in and three people got out. The woman looked at a box containing curtain rods and various size window blinds. When she asked the price, Rich said she could have the whole box for a dollar. I felt a shift in the cosmos as she looked at the older man. He said, “I’ll give you thirty bucks for everything you have left.” Stunned and exhausted after this three-day marathon, Rich and I said, “Sold!” The man paid me and the three of them packed up all of our items and drove off into the sunset. See #1.

So even though I dreaded the grueling task of preparing for and then putting on a garage sale, like everything in life, it was enjoyable just to meet all the different people who stopped by. It’s pretty cool to know that someone is finding good use for our toaster oven and patio table and punchbowl. The kicker is, on the first day when we set out the punchbowl, I said to Rich, “I know I had 12 cups to go with this.” We found them Sunday morning after the woman had purchased the bowl. That set was bound and determined to stay with us. Then the angels came and packed up all of our leftovers, and as Rich and I walked arm-in-arm into our empty garage, sitting on the shelf was the box of—you guessed it—12 punch cups.

I guess that’s the punch line.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Decluttering - the Incredible Lightness of Being

Over drinks last Friday I confessed to my two dear friends, H.J. and Carol, that I had thrown away their family-picture Christmas cards. All of them. All that I had saved over the years documenting their family trips, maturing children, new grandbabies, growing grandchildren, etc. That’s right, I had saved their cards for years—heck, for generations—and not just theirs, many other friends’ and family members’ as well. They assured me I had not committed a mortal sin and they had their own copies so I should rid myself of guilt and carry on.

I admit it; I’m a pack rat. Perhaps because my large Irish-Catholic family had so little, I grew up clinging to whatever I had. Perhaps it’s just my personality type because my oldest sister Joyce’s house was always so clean it looked like a model home, which discounts any genetic tendencies. I had saved every card sent for the birth of my three children (I puzzled over far too many names I did not recognize) and greeting cards from my own milestones. I had saved letters from my mother, sisters and brothers some of whom have passed. Precious words that somehow brought them nearer.

In preparation for our imminent move, we have been decluttering, and photos are the hardest to deal with. Rich was brutal and, after taking a peek inside a couple of boxes of his photos, tossed them all. He said it was a former life and he was looking at our future not his past. This inspired me to be more brutal, thus the disposal of my friends’ Christmas cards. This has been a difficult journey for me.

As I began my initial foray into decluttering last fall, my friend Lisa came over to help. We started in the basement with the Christmas closet. While it was hard to part with years of macaroni ornaments fashioned by six-year-old hands and waxed paper stars decorated with glitter at a scout meeting, Lisa convinced me that my kids would cherish some of our favorite Christmas items. Listen carefully: Your kids don’t want your s**t. Sorry to be so brutal, but that’s the fact of the matter. I forced them to take their Pringle’s can Santa Clauses.

I started this journey with the mindset of: “What don’t I want?” When I saw my punchbowl on the punchbowl!” I protested as if naming the item should explain everything. “That you haven’t used in years,” she countered as she placed it in the giveaway stack. I knew she was right—time to pass it on to my kids. (See note in bold above.)
top shelf of the closet, I murmured, “There’s my punchbowl. Wow, we haven’t used that in years.” Now some of you remember, as I do, a time when there was a punchbowl at every party; it was a standard wedding gift. Lisa pulled it down and started to put it in the “give away” pile. “Lisa, that’s my

That moment was a paradigm shift for me. My mindset shifted from “What don’t I want?” to “What do I want to pay to move?” I began to sort things for our upcoming garage sale with a little more zeal. After months of picking away at closets and cupboards, Rich and I got serious and kicked it into high gear. Clearing out items that had traveled with me for years was grueling: wedding, birthday, congratulatory gifts held emotion that was difficult to shake off, but I knew we would be downsizing, and many things had to go. Slowly my attitude became, “What do I really need?”

While in Barnes and Noble one day, I picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Isn’t it funny how a book opens up to a passage you most need to read? The one I read said in effect that possessions come into our lives for a purpose, when that purpose has been fulfilled, give gratitude for it and let it go. She stresses the joy and freedom we feel when we remove the clutter from our lives, and I am finding this to be true. It got to the point where Rich and I would wake up and say, “What can we let go of today?”  As Thoreau said, “…simplify, simplify.”

I still have some boxes of photos to go through (notice they are not neatly labeled in scrapbooks or photo albums) and I know it will take time. But I’m feeling good about how my perspective changed from “I need to save everything.” to “What do I basically need to live with?” When I live with the latter view, what I do surround myself with becomes more meaningful. I find, too, that as I declutter my living space, I also declutter my thinking space. All the energy vibrating within possessions that have outlasted their purpose is taking up the space needed for the energy that will feed my heart and soul.

Is it hard for you to declutter? What is the “punchbowl” in your life that’s difficult to let go?