Every now and then I go for broke—take a chance that the biggest names in the
industry will answer my requests for an interview. I’ve never been disappointed.
😉 Like a few months back when I asked Susan Wittig Albert to sit down at the
Cozy Corner and answer a few questions. She quickly responded and was open and
candid with my sometimes-nosey questions. I hope you enjoy our conversation as
much as I did!
Susan Wittig Albert is the award-winning, NYT bestselling author of
Loving Eleanor (2016), about the intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt
and Lorena Hickok; and A Wilder Rose (2014), about Rose Wilder Lane and
the writing of the Little House books.
Her award-winning fiction also
includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Darling
Dahlias, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of
Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert,
under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.
She has written two memoirs:
An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir
of Marriage and Place, published by the University of Texas Press.
is founder and current president (2015-2017) of the Story Circle Network and a
member of the Texas Institute of Letters.
Kym: Welcome to the Cozy Corner, Susan! Congratulations on reaching the
25 book milestone with your China Bayles Mysteries.
(That doesn’t include the short stories with China that are an added bonus for
readers along with all your other novels!) Did you ever think you would write so
many books about one character?
Susan: A long-running series wasn’t on my radar
back then (1992). I had written Nancy Drew mysteries, and Nancy had been around
since 1930. But adult mysteries featuring women sleuths (PIs and amateurs) were
a relatively new thing, and I don’t think any writer could have predicted how
far they might go.
Kym: On your website, it clearly states that your Cottage Tales of Beatrix
Potter mystery series was only meant to be eight books. Have you set a
stopping point for the China Bayles series as well?
Susan: I chose eight books for the Cottage Tales
because I was interested in a particular 8-year period in Beatrix Potter’s life:
1905-1913, from the year she bought her farm in the Lake District to the year
she married her country lawyer. But China will go on as long as readers enjoy
her adventures and as long as I have the energy to discover new ideas for her
mysteries. I can see several new projects on China’s horizon.
Kym: Looking back, what changes in China would you have least expected
when you started the series in the early 1990’s?
Susan: Wow. Interesting
question! I originally had in mind a character more like Kinsey Milhone,
unattached, with no children. But once the series had gone past four books, I
had to start thinking about a long-term arc for the characters’ development—and
for China, of course, that meant some sort of long-term commitment to McQuaid.
In addition, the real region in which the fictional Pecan Springs is located has
undergone massive development, which has affected the storylines of the books in
Another thing I couldn’t predict was the interest in herbs and plants. This
seemed like a small niche when I wrote that first book, and I wondered if it was
transitory. But readers’ interest in plants has continued to grow, and that has
influenced the direction of the series.
A third huge change I could not have predicted in 1992 was the
Internet, which completely altered the way the books are researched, written,
distributed, marketed, sold, and read. Just one quick example: the Web offers me
research resources that expand the development of plot, setting, characters—and
make the books deeper and richer and much, much more interesting. This is a
truly significant issue that deserves more attention than I can give it
here—just want to note that this is major, major.
Kym: In THE LAST
CHANCE OLIVE RANCH, you dedicate the book to your husband and talked about
your efforts to grow olives in the Texas Hill Country. How are the olives
Susan: Not very well, I’m afraid. We’re just out
of a 5-year drought that affected our irrigation here. Now that we have a new,
deeper well, I could do a better job with the olives—especially because climate
change is producing warmer winters. But my initial plantings didn’t do so well.
Kym: Did your ‘olive ranch’ inspire a little bit of your latest novel,
or was there something else?
Susan: My olives, not so much. I was more
interested in learning about the fraudulent marketing schemes that produce “bad”
(adulterated) olive oil. There were several big stories on that topic in the
news at the time I was writing that book. The olive industry in Texas is
growing, and that was part of what pushed me into writing the book. It’s
predicted that, in a few years, olives will be as important to the Texas economy
as grapes/wine. Who knew?
Kym: You wrote two Nancy Drew mystery novels in the 1980’s under the
pseudonym Carolyn Keene by yourself and three co-authored with your husband
Bill. (I may have to go back and read them!) Can you tell us what that
experience was like?
Susan: Bill and I also wrote
books in the Hardy Boys series, too. From that experience, I learned what it’s
like to write formulaic fiction and to work with editors who want you to stick
to the predictable formula, since that is what sells those books. I also had to
learn to write quickly and write to editorial expectations. If you don’t, you
don’t last long. I also learned quite a bit about the publishing and agenting
business—that’s proved helpful later, as I moved into adult fiction and now into
Working with Bill helped me to be a better listener and to be willing to
work with ideas that didn’t originate with me. When you’re writing with another
person, it helps to check your ego at the door.
Kym: You’ve written countless books in the young adult/middle
grades fiction genre. Have you experienced a difference in the reactions of
youthful readers/fans compared to fans of your adult-age novels? Do you have
fans from your young adult books who’ve graduated to your adult-age novels?
Susan: Back in the day (this was in the late
1980s) there was very little fan interaction with young adult readers. The
editors would sometimes forward fan letters, but I worked in about a dozen
different series over five or six years, and never once went on tour. And since
I was writing under a variety of series pseudonyms (Carolyn Keene, Franklin W.
Dixon, Susan Blake, etc), readers then don’t know me now.
I do often meet readers who have been China fans from the beginning,
though—and we always share a good laugh at being a whole quarter of a century
older now than we were then!
Kym: I know I find it challenging to work alongside my husband for one
project on the house, yet you and your husband, Bill, have written as a team
under the pseudonyms Robin Paige, Caroly Keene, Susan Blake, Franklin W. Dixon
(Hardy Boys), and Nathaniel Payne. How did the two of you make it work? What was
the biggest challenge?
Susan: I’ve been writing all my life. When I
married Bill, I had already written a dozen books, all of them (except for one
Russian translation) written alone. Bill had co-written many computer projects,
so he had some background in collaborative work. But both of us had to
consciously learn how to make the best of the other writer’s ideas, how to plan
the work and manage our team time, and how to deal with the physical text (this
was long before Track Changes). Overall, the biggest challenge was learning how
to use both our skills to best advantage to make each book better than the one
before. As I look back over the 12-year Robin Paige series, I’m glad to say that
those books got better (and the work got easier) as the series went on.
Kym: Your research is phenomenal—from your historical mysteries to your
historical fiction novels, like your latest—THE GENERAL’S WOMEN, which
released March 7th, 2017, I am amazed at the amount of research you
put into your work. What book/individual was the hardest to research and
Susan: That’s hard to say, really, because each
project has been unique and uniquely difficult. But for me, that’s the real
payoff—the exciting part of the work. Some examples:
I didn’t know anything about Medicare and hospice fraud when I started BLOOD ORANGE (China Bayles
#24), so I had to figure out what the best research sources were and how to find
When I began planning THE GENERAL’S WOMEN,, I was
intimidated (overwhelmed, really) by the massive amount of material available on
Eisenhower; I had to learn what was important and how to whittle it all down.
For Kay Summersby’s post-war life, on the other hand, there was very little: I
spent a LOT of time doing research in American newspapers (and learning how to
access online newspaper archives).
For LOVING ELEANOR,
I had to travel to the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library and read
selectively through 3,300 letters—plus the biographical material on the
Kym: What can we look for next from you?
Susan: China will keep on keeping on: #26
(QUEEN ANNE’S LACE ) will be published in April, 2018. The 2019
book (#27) will be DEVIL’S TRUMPET. I’ve decided to move the Dahlias series from my
traditional publisher to my own indie imprint, Persevero Press. I’m working on
the first of three more books in that series, to be published later this year or
early next. In addition, I have two more biographical/historical novels up my
sleeve: one of them involves Gertrude Bell, who worked in British intelligence
in the Middle East before, during, and after WW1. Another project involves the
women around FDR.
Kym: Can you tell our readers how to reach you on social media?
Susan: My website: www.susanalbert.com . You’ll find my links to
my other sites (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) there.
Kym: Thank you for joining us at the Cozy Corner!
Susan: Thanks for including me!
Kym: Tell Bill I love his turning!
Susan:He says, “Thank you!”
Until next time, get cozy and read on!
In this exciting new mystery from New York Times bestselling author
Susan Wittig Albert, China Bayles fears for her husband’s life as an escaped
convict targets him...
Max Mantel, the killer McQuaid put away years ago, has busted out of the
Huntsville prison and appears to be headed for Pecan Springs. McQuaid knows
there’s only one way to stop the vengeful convict—set a trap with himself as
China wants to stay by her husband’s side and keep him from harm. But McQuaid
insists that she get out of town and go to the Last Chance Olive Ranch, where
she’s agreed to teach a workshop on herbs.
When China and her best friend arrive at the ranch, she learns the owner,
Maddie Haskell, has her own troubles. She inherited the ranch and olive oil
business from the late matriarch, Eliza Butler, but Eliza’s nephew is contesting
While China throws herself into helping Maddie, McQuaid’s plan backfires when
Mantel executes a countermove he never saw coming. Now McQuaid’s life is not the
only one at stake—and this time may really be his last chance...
Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: April 4, 2017, Hardcover /
e-Book, ISBN: 9780425280034 / eISBN: 9780698190283]
night calls always lead to trouble....
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