Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Conversation with Mystery Author Sue Owens Wright

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Sue Owens Wright
with Sue Owens Wright

We are delighted to welcome mystery author Sue Owens Wright to Omnimystery News today.

Sue's latest Beanie and Cruiser mystery, one which introduces Calamity, Cruiser's canine partner in crime, is Braced for Murder (Five Star; May 2013 hardcover, large print, and ebook formats).

We recently had the opportunity to talk with the author about her series.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about the series, and especially your new character Calamity.

Sue Owens Wright
Photo provided courtesy of
Sue Owens Wright; Photo credit Aniko Kiezel

Sue Owens Wright: I write this series because I love mysteries but mostly because I love dogs, basset hounds in particular. Short-lived dogs can't age much from book to book, so I've had to slow the passage of time in the series. Cruiser's character hasn't changed that much since the first book. He's still the same easy-going guy, at least until the chips are down. I see my new canine character, Calamity, changing some as she becomes comfortable in more stable surroundings with her adopters and pack mate, Cruiser.

Like some real-life adopted dogs I've had, Calamity's behavioral issues from her troubled past will probably never disappear entirely. She'll always be the more mischievous of the two dogs, and Beanie will always find her to be a challenge, which provides plenty of opportunity for drama and humor. In spite of herself, Beanie bonds with Calamity. Beanie grows and changes in other ways, as does her daughter, Nona, and other recurring characters in the series. If characters stayed static from book to book, they wouldn't seem real to me or to readers.

I especially love writing about the canine characters in the series and have a wealth of experience with my own adopted dogs to use for material. The best part is that my beloved pets live forever through the fictional ones.

OMN: Would you categorize your books as cozy mysteries?

SOW: My books fall in the cozy genre because they most closely fit the accepted definition of a cozy — amateur sleuth in small town solves murders — but I admit I don't adhere strictly to the genre. My books include ghosts and monsters; romance; social, environmental, and political issues; and the murder methods aren't always the tame ones found in most cozies, though the violence still occurs off stage. I'm often told my characters have more depth to them than in some cozies. Whatever the case, most people don't seem to mind my blurring genre lines, and I think it makes the books richer and more interesting. At least they are more interesting for me to write.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

Dolly and Patti, Lake Tahoe, Sue Owens Wright
Dolly and Patti at Lake Tahoe;
photo provided courtesy of
Sue Owens Wright
(click on photo for larger image)

SOW: "Write what you know," that's what I always heard in every writing class I ever took, though I confess I never knew exactly what my teachers meant by that. Finally, I understood that they should really have been saying, "Write what you love." That's when I began writing this dog lover's mystery series set at beautiful Lake Tahoe. I've had canine companions since birth and basset hounds for nearly 40 years. They were adopted from shelters or rescue groups, just like Cruiser and Calamity. My dogs are my raison d'être. How could I not write about what I love most in the world?

OMN: Describe your writing process.

SOW: I hate outlines! It's a remnant of the English classes I took in school, but I find outlines limiting and could never write a book that way. I do take copious notes for each book on plot and character as ideas come to me. That helps me organize my thoughts, but not all the notes will end up in the book. On the contrary, material I hadn't planned on including can be. I think of chapters as scenes in a movie. Often the ending or solution comes to me first, but that can change as the book progresses. I'm often surprised by a new character or twist in the storyline that might take me in a different direction, but then I have to make sure I tie up all the loose ends, which can be challenging. Plotting can be like knitting a sweater. Drop a stitch, and it all unravels. Still, I love the process of a story unfolding and my getting to live in Beanie's world during the drafting process (before the chore of editing starts). Writing these books is always an adventure to me, and I hope they are for readers, too.

OMN: You mentioned that your books are set in and around South Lake Tahoe. How important is the setting to your storylines?

SOW: After my first book, Howling Bloody Murder, was published, I had one reader tell me she kept a map of South Lake Tahoe at her side while reading the book to check for geographical accuracy (I passed the test), so I try my best to adhere to reality. In hindsight, I probably should have chosen a fictional setting so I could write it any way I want, but Lake Tahoe is what inspired me to write the books. I've been going to Tahoe since childhood and know the area very well, although things have changed over time. That gives me a good excuse to visit, which is fine because there's no place in the world I'd rather be. I've been told that the setting in my books is a character in itself. I think that's because my great love for the lake and surrounding environs is apparent.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

SOW: There are two best bits of advice I received from writing teachers that I have found most valuable:

1. Place seat of pants on seat of chair. Thinking about writing isn't writing. Talking about writing isn't writing. Writing is writing, and it doesn't happen until you are actually sitting in your chair with pen on paper or fingers on keyboard.

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify. The most important part of writing is the editing. Take out everything that's unimportant. Write tight. Economy of language is everything.

The harshest criticism I ever received was many years ago when I first shared my dream of being a writer with someone whose opinion mattered a great deal to me. It was casually dismissed with, "Oh, everyone wants to be a writer." I was crushed. First of all, not everyone wants to be a writer, though many want to have written. Even if that person's statement were true, not everyone can be a writer. It requires education, practice, and determination. Talent helps. It's not an easy path to follow, but I always remember Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken." Two roads diverged that day, and I'll never be sorry I took the road less traveled. It has made all the difference in my life. I achieved my dream and proved that naysayer wrong. Most important, I learned that you must never give up on your dream, no matter who thinks you should.

OMN: How do you imagine Beanie as a character?

SOW: I think writers can't help putting bits of themselves into a main character because we tend to draw from our own personalities and experiences. Because Beanie is Washo Indian, I don't have a mental image of myself as her, though there may be some Cherokee on my family tree. We have some traits in common. We are both writers and share a love for dogs, but she gets to live in a cozy cabin at beautiful Lake Tahoe and has quite a lot more excitement and danger in her life solving crimes. I envision the Beanie character looking something like Mariska Hargitay on the TV crime series, Law and Order — Special Victims Unit, or Native American actress Stefany Mathias (in case Hollywood should come knocking).

OMN: What kinds of questions do you most enjoy receiving from readers?

SOW: I most enjoy answering questions about my dogs or dogs in general. They are my favorite subject. I love sharing their tales and also tails, as when one of my basset hounds came to my book signings dressed up as Sherlock Holmes. Bubba Gump's tail was wagging the whole time.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

SOW: I like bicycling and cross-country skiing, which Beanie and her daughter enjoy doing together sometimes. Even Cruiser joins in one of their cycling outings in Embarking on Murder. I also am a pastel artist. I paint landscapes, but mostly I love to paint dogs. Big surprise! I've painted friends' dogs and have shown my paintings in galleries. One of my characters in the book I'm currently writing is a pastellist who paints dogs. She paints a portrait of Cruiser for Beanie, but Crazy Calamity won't sit still long enough to model for one.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

SOW: When I was eight years old, I loved reading Judy Bolton Mysteries, similar to the Nancy Drew series of the day. I devoured every book featuring the spunky red-haired sleuth and even tried to write a mystery of my own back then. I think that's what planted in me early the desire to write a mystery series, though it wouldn't happen until decades later. I enjoy collecting all the old Judy Bolton books I used to have whenever I can find them in antique stores or on EBay.

OMN: And what do you read now for pleasure?

SOW: I have always been a Stephen King fan. I enjoy a spine-chilling tale and admire his storytelling craft and gift for language. I'm currently reading his latest book, Doctor Sleep. I'm also enjoying Tana French's mysteries, set in Ireland. Another favorite is Anne LaMott. I love her humor. I read a lot of books about writing. LaMott's Bird by Bird and King's On Writing are among the best I've read on the subject. I have never forgotten King's description of a doe in his novella, The Body, which the movie Stand By Me was based upon. That is how I want to write.

OMN: What's next for you?

SOW: I'm busy working on the fifth book in the Beanie and Cruiser series. Next up is a memoir of my childhood in the Nifty 50s. Some of the stories I plan to include in the book have already been published in various magazines and newspapers.

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Sue Owens Wright is an author of both fiction and nonfiction about dogs and writes the award-winning Pets & Their People newspaper column and the Healthy Pet column for AKC Gazette.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at BeanieAndCruiser.com or find her on Facebook.

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Braced for Murder by Sue Owens Wright

Braced for Murder
Sue Owens Wright
A Beanie and Cruiser Mystery

When Beanie fosters a basset hound from Lakeside Shelter, she's headed for calamity one way or another …

Beanie and Cruiser hit the crime trail once again after a reviled shelter manager is discovered euthanized. Tahoe Animal Impoundment Liberation Society (TAILS) is prime suspect in her murder, but there are others among Lake Tahoe's irate dog lovers.

Beanie seeks an adopter for crazy Calamity at the Basset Waddle, but Calamity has other ideas. When Cruiser mysteriously vanishes at the Waddle, Beanie stumbles into a trap intended to put an end to the investigation along with her and Cruiser. Cruiser and Calamity are "braced" for murder when they pair up to track a killer and save Beanie from a cruel death at the dog pound.

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)  BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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