Susan Finlay on Mysteries and Writing

Today, I’d liked to welcome Susan Finlay, author extraordinaire and all round generous and lovely lady to my blog. Susan is known for being very helpful and encouraging to other authors, but today, I have her here to talk about writing and her recently released debut mystery novel, In the Shadows: An Outsiders Mystery, as well her second book, Where Secrets Reside.

Author Susan Finlay

Q – Can you tell us about yourself and your history as a writer? What drew you to writing?

A – I’m a former banker with two grown children and three cats. I was born in Germany, but grew up in the U.S. My husband and I moved to Columbia, Missouri almost three years ago.

I’ve always been an avid reader—everything from literary novels, classics, romance, historicals, suspense, sci-fi, and nonfiction. But my main interest is, and always has been, in reading and writing mystery novels.

Although I’ve always been a very creative person—art, stories, etc. —most of my early writing was in the form of bank audit reports, which didn’t allow me much chance to use my creativity. It wasn’t until February, 2003, that I started writing full-length novels. Then about a year ago I began blogging. On my blog I write articles and book reviews, and I interview other authors.  I’m not sure I ever made a conscious decision to make a career of writing. I write because I love it and I can’t see myself not writing. It’s a natural desire to want to share one’s writing with others.

Q – Can you give us a brief on your novel, In the Shadows and what it is about?

A – In my new mystery series the Outsiders, shadows and secrets plague Reynier, France, a  small village riddled with caves and troglodyte cave dwellings. In the first book, In the Shadows, Dave Martin is a former cop from Chicago who travels to Reynier to visit his elderly grandmother. Soon after he arrives, he finds that people have lied to him and misled him. But he stays on, and tries to forgive. One day, while running errands for his grandmother,  he meets a mysterious young woman who is desperate to hide a secret. Everyone tells Dave to stay out of it, but the detective in Dave can’t stop trying to figure out what’s going on.

I would say the first book in the series isn’t a typical mystery novel because it doesn’t begin with a murder or kidnapping. It really has two mysteries, the first surrounding the mysterious stranger, and the second surrounding a crime.

In the shadows

Q – Where did the idea for the novel come from? What inspired you to write it?

A – As a lover of caves, I was inspired to write this series when I learned about troglodyte cave dwellings in many French villages. I created my own little French village dotted with caves and cave dwellings known as troglos. Troglos date back for centuries, and started out as simple cavities in the tufa rock that were later carved further with flint tools. In more recent years, facades were added to the outside of some troglos. Some facades are simple, with only a wall, a door, and maybe a window. Some are quite extravagant, with large picture windows, and even patios and gardens out front.

Today, in some of the rural French villages that have troglos, many of the houses that appear ordinary from the street, have caves at the rear. Troglos are still lived in as either full-time residences or part-time holday homes. Some are used as hotels, rental cottages, restaurants, or storage. Not all troglos are old, though. I saw a website that gives information about brand new troglos that are being built in France.

In the early 1900’s, an Englishman named Sabine Baring-Gould traveled around Europe and visited many of these villages. He wrote a book called Cliff Dwellings and Cave Dwellings of Europe, and he describes the appalling conditions of these cave-dwellings. In one chapter, he says, ‘In one that I entered was an oven, with a well at its side. A little further, in a large hall, a circular hole in the floor, unfenced, gave access by rope or ladder to a lower range of galleries. Anyone exploring by the feeble light of a candle, without a guide, might be precipitated down the abyss without knowing that there was a gaping opening before him.’

Q – Your second novel, Where Secrets Reside, is also an Outsiders Mystery. What is it about and where do you think the series is going in the future?

A – The second book in the series is more of a traditional mystery, perhaps closer to the Agatha Christie books that I enjoy. It’s a bit shorter than the first book, too, because the majority of characters are already familiar, so there’s less set-up, and yet it’s more complicated because the number of viewpoint characters is much greater. Expect a few new people—in particular, a gendarme captain named Pascal Goddard, who will be a main character. Also, expect some flashbacks and a lot more scenes inside the caves and troglos.

The basic story is this: After one of the locals makes a startling discovery, the residents of the peaceful, close-knit village of Reynier, France, find themselves victimized by a serial killer, a puzzling criminal whose actions force them to look at themselves and each other in a new light. Is the killer an outsider, or one of their own? Who will be the next victim?

For the third and fourth books in the series, I’m still in the planning stage. I’ve written a short outline, or plan, and a few chapters for each. In one, a secretive family moves to Reynier and rents one of the troglos for the winter. Soon after their arrival, their young child disappears and they are the prime suspects. The previous books were set during summer months. By setting this one during the snowy time of year, I’ll get to explore some new challenges, like how the locals maneuver those hills. I’ve read that some people go away for the winter because it’s too challenging to get around there.

In the other, several characters from the first books travel to Columbia, Missouri, for a visit with Dave Martin’s parents. What was supposed to be a leisurely trip becomes a nightmare, as a string of murders hits the city soon after their arrival, and one or more of them become suspects. The book starts out in Jefferson City at the old prison.


Q – What do you find influences your writing?

A – I have a very vivid imagination, and it can be sparked by something as simple as a photograph. From the initial spark of an idea, I usually start asking myself a series of ‘what if’ questions.

Q – Are there any other projects you are currently working on? Can we have a little glimpse?

A – I’m actually working on several books at the same time. The book that is nearest to being ready for publication is Liars’ Games, a suspense novel set in Denver, Colorado. In that book, a genius college professor who hates lying is stuck in witness protection, along with her three-year-old son. Through a political maneuver, she ends up working as a principal at a high school full of gangs, drug dealers, and disgruntled employees. She’s in over her head and terrified, but her handler can’t or won’t move her and she must figure out how to survive in a world where everyone seems out to get her and her son. It’s a book that on the surface deals with school violence, but at the heart of it is a woman’s struggle with lying and deception, trust, and self-identity.

I’m attempting a different kind of story, too. I have a first draft of a time-travel mystery called Cobblestone. It’s set in Bavaria. In Cobblestone, a half-American/half-German man, Max Hollander, and his teenage son travel to Germany to sell the house Max has inherited from his German grandmother. They don’t speak the language and can’t find the house. When they meet a young German woman, Sofie Sonnenberg, who speaks English, they’re relieved. She, her nine-year-old son, and her great-aunt help them find the old house and they begin exploring it together. When they are all accidentally swept back in time, they quickly realize that Max’s mother and grandfather who disappeared twenty years ago—and were never seen again—may have also travelled back in time.

Also, I’m working on two mystery novels set in the Rocky Mountains. Both involve gold-mining towns because I’m fascinated with the gold rush history and with the reality TV shows about gold mining. I am considering linking the books somehow into a new series.

Q – Who are your favourite authors?

A – I like mystery authors Elizabeth George, Tess Gerritsen, Ruth Rendell,  Peter Robinson, P.D. James, Jeff Lindsay, and Agatha Christie. Also, romance/time travel author Diana Gabaldon and gothic romance/mystery author Victoria Holt.

Q – In what way have they influenced your writing?

A – When I was young, I read a lot of gothic mysteries by Victoria Holt, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Phyllis A. Whitney, and others. I think they bridged the gap from the children’s mysteries I read when I was a child, mystery series like the Bobbsie Twins, Hardie Boys, Boxcar Children, etc. After that, I moved on to other genres, and then returned to mystery/crime novels. I think my current writing style is a blend of several genres and styles because of all the reading I’ve done.

Q – How have you found your publishing experience? What have you learned as a result?

A – The journey from beginning writer to published author was long and difficult and stressful. I needed to learn the craft of writing, and also about publishing and networking. And then the whole publishing industry changed, and I had to re-learn some things.

Q – Is there any part of the process you found particularly difficult, or another part you relished?

A –Writing is a lonely job. Perhaps that’s why so many of us like to join writers’ groups on Facebook and other websites. Many of us also seek out local authors and meet with them in critique groups or writing workshops.

Sometimes when I’m doing research for a book, and I can’t find what I need, I get frustrated. I’ve had some difficulty with that in the writing of my time travel book. Much of that book is set in Germany in the late 18th century. It’s not so easy to get the kind of information I need. My son and his German girlfriend are helping me with that.

Other times, it’s when I don’t have enough time or energy to work on all the projects I have going.

I truly love creating new characters and plots. That’s always exciting. I even enjoy editing because that’s when a book really begins to shine.

Q – You do a great deal of work and help other writers. What platforms have you found useful for your own writing and what advice would you give to authors hoping to get published?

A – I actually joined an author website called Authonomy. It’s run by HarperCollins Publishing. I met many other authors there, developed friendships, and got a lot of helpful critiques. I began working with an editor whom I met through two author friends who were on Authonomy. Today, I don’t do much on Authonomy. I am active on Facebook, Twitter, LindedIn, and my blog.

As for advice Id’d give to authors: Don’t rush. Don’t rush the writing, don’t rush the editing or proofreading. Don’t expect to be a great writer when you’re first learning. The craft of writing takes time to learn. Don’t rush it. A literary agent friend of mine told me many years ago that for most authors it takes roughly ten years to become proficient enough to get published. But even then you never stop learning and improving.

Don’t give up. Don’t expect to write a blockbuster book. Learn to take criticism well—don’t let criticism stop you from writing. In fact, all writers need it so they can learn how to improve their writing and their stories. Join critique groups online or in person, and listen to what people say, but learn how to judge for yourself whether or not to incorporate their suggestions. Also, read books about writing. Read grammar books. Take writing classes and workshops. Write as often as you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t write every day.

Q – Where can readers find your works? And do you have any other links to your own page or books?

A – My books are available on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble’s website.

10 responses to “Susan Finlay on Mysteries and Writing

  1. Reblogged this on Susan Finlay Writes and commented:
    Today, my author friend, Gillian O’Rourke, is interviewing me on her blog.

  2. Great interview and we share similar tastes in reading

  3. Really enjoyed this article Susan, it was informative and interesting and so close to home in many respects. I am happy to have met you on Facebook and to exchange chat with you now and again and I am really thankful for being interviewed by you as well, your blog is wonderful and all the interviews help fill the lonely void we all experience whilst tapping away on our WIP. Dropping in and out, reading your posts and interviews (and your own especially) helps clear my brain for the task ahead. A wonderful and informative distraction which we all need. Good luck with all your books. Thanks Gillian.

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