One of my regular guests suggested that Susan Bernhardt - author of The Ginseng Conspiracy - would be an ideal candidate for a guest on the Scribbler. After perusing her website and Goodreads page, I couldn’t agree more. An accomplished author of cozy mysteries, she has published six novels to date and working diligently on the next one. She has kindly agreed to a 4Q Interview and is willing to share an excerpt from one of her novels.
Thank you, Allan, for having me here today. I appreciate being on the Scribbler.
I was born in Wisconsin and received a BS in Nursing from UWM. We moved to numerous cities in the western U.S. with my husband's job eventually moving back to Wisconsin.
I started writing ten years ago as a challenge for myself. It was never a dream of mine to become an author. I was into reading cozy mysteries at the time and had a favorite author, M.C. Beaton. After reading her first cozy a few times, I decided that I could write a cozy as well as she did and set that as my challenge. Throughout my life, I have challenged myself. Perhaps my biggest challenge was receiving a Programming Degree with High Honors, where on the first day of class, I didn't know how to turn a computer on. After getting that degree, I went back into nursing. I held my nursing license for 40 years, giving it up last year.
My goals as a writer were to become a traditionally published author, to have my book on Amazon, and to sell fifty copies. I took numerous writing classes and began writing The Ginseng Conspiracy. The book was picked up by a Canadian publisher. And now my mysteries are in libraries.
Since the publication of The Ginseng Conspiracy in January of 2014, there are four additional Kay Driscoll mysteries and an Irina Curtius mystery. I average writing one book a year.
4Q: First off, tell us about Kay Driscoll, who is she and what inspired her and the stories?
SB: Kay Driscoll is a retired public health nurse who worked on occasion with the police in Boulder, Colorado. She moves with her husband to the small town of Sudbury Falls in northern Wisconsin. She's a vibrant, dynamic sixty year old who volunteers at the local free clinic. Her husband, eats, breathes, and lives jazz. She has two best friends, the free-spirited herbalist Deirdre and the untamed, modern woman Elizabeth. Together the three women are a force to be reckoned with.
Kay has a strong sense of justice. What's right is right and wrong is wrong. No matter what, no matter who. Justice must win out in the end, regardless if the victim is the most obnoxious, repulsive person. Justice always needs to be served.
Kay doesn't have a lot of respect for the Chief of Police in her new town. She finds him inadequate, clueless, and at times crooked. In the end, Kay and her friends solve the crime(s) and the Chief of Police takes the credit.
All of my books and characters, even the plots are inspired by real life. Kay and her family are based on me and my family. We have had several Christmas parties in our home over the years. One year fourteen of my invited guests were the inspiration for characters in my Kay Driscoll series. I had great fun at the party that year, just thinking about that.
4Q: Kay appears in five novels and now there is a new kid on your block, Irina Curtius. Tell us a bit about her and is this a series that will take her to further adventures?
SB: Irina Curtius is a retired ballet dancer who lives on the Upper West Side in Manhattan and runs a ballet studio for young children. She also volunteers helping women and children in a crisis at a homeless shelter. She has carried a secret much of her adult life since she danced in Lithuania with her ballet company during the Cold War. In the book, A Manhattan Murder Mystery, Irina's life turns upside down by the surprising return of an old love, a suspicious death of a friend, and a stranger who seems to be everywhere she is.
Irina takes the reader into the world of art, ballet, and music.
The story will continue with Manhattan 2.
4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.
SB: My childhood is filled with memories. I come from a large family. I grew up in a city on Lake Michigan. My childhood in the summers was spent between playing on the beach and swimming in the lake and at my neighborhood Park and Rec summer program. At the program I spent the days playing games, making crafts, participating in sports, taking baton lessons, participating in contests, etc. I was in the Fourth of July parades on my bike and marched in the Lantern Parades with beautiful lighted floats and carrying our handmade crepe paper and cardboard lanterns.
There was also a beauty contest, all in great fun, for our playground to elect a Little Miss Franklin. I won the year I was five and went on to the city competition with the winners from the other playgrounds. My mother bought me a new swimming suit which was quite a big deal as I had three older sisters (and three older brothers) and was more used to hand-me-downs. Also it was the year that my father had just come out of a being on strike, a strike that lasted six years. It was the longest strike in U.S. labor history.
I didn't win the city competition. Rumor had it that the father of the girl who won was a big shot in our town :) , but every little girl won some title and mine was for “The Shapeliest Legs”.
4Q: When Susan Bernhardt is feeling the most creative and itching to write, where is her favorite spot? What kind of writing habits does she cherish?
SB: Lately I've been writing mostly in cars, on planes, even at the beach. We love to travel. My favorite writing spot at home is sitting on the sofa in the living room with my laptop and typing away. I have a wall-sized window where I can look out over our neighborhood or watch the birds build their nests in our yew tree in the spring. I have a little make-shift side table, a Red Wing crock where I keep my teacup filled throughout the day. When I'm not watching my carbs, I often have a scone sitting next to the teacup slathered in lemon curd and clotted cream.
Before my husband retired, I wrote most days for about 3-4 hours. After his retirement, I went down to two to three days a week.
4Q: What’s next for you Susan?
SB: I hope to go on an exciting trip. :)
Writing-wise, I'm working on the first draft of Manhattan 2. I don't have a title yet or a cover. Beyond that, when the book is hopefully published in 2020, I haven't a clue.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
SB: Since my initial challenge is over, I write now because it's fun. It entertains me. My mysteries have much humor in them, mostly dry and I love that lots of readers get off on my stories. The mysteries are quite thrilling and exciting and have been called meatier cozies. I hope the fun never ends.
. . . . .
“Another holiday, another murder. At least no one got murdered at Thanksgiving dinner! How did I end up, in the season of peace and goodwill toward men, investigating another homicide?”
- Kay Driscoll in Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2) - https://amzn.to/2T9v5C1
An Excerpt from Murder Under the Tree
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
**Since Christmas will be upon us soon, I thought I would include an excerpt from the second Kay Driscoll mystery, Murder Under the Tree. In this excerpt Kay is impersonating the murder victim's sister to get information from a private detective as to what his findings were regarding the director of a retirement home where the victim worked. The victim had hired the P.I. And was suspicious of wrong doings by the director.
It was an easy part of St. Paul to get to, just off of I-94. I was right in the Midway/Frogtown district at Snelling Avenue and University. The area looked a little rough around the edges, with pawn shops on every block and check cashing places. It was dotted with Asian restaurants. I parked my car around the corner from the agency and made my way to DeMire Investigations, sandwiched between The Golden Chow Mein restaurant and Price Rite Liquors.
The bell at the top of the door tinkled when I entered. A woman in her late thirties, with excessive makeup sat behind the desk. She sported a dodgy, low-cut coral lace top. Her long, bleached hair hung in huge curls. There was nothing about her that didn’t look cheap.
“Can I help you?” she said, looking down at her nails. She then did a second take at my hat.
I had asked Elizabeth if I could borrow her black wide-brimmed hat she had worn on occasion. Fluffy, black, chandelle feathers adorned the crown. It had a bit of a veil that came down in front. I didn’t know if I felt it was a disguise or some sort of protection.
“I’m here to see John DeMire,” I said in my slight accent. “My name is Melissa Hollingsworth.”
Raising her head, she looked strangely at me, glanced at the inside door, then ran her long purple fingernails, with starbursts painted on them, over the appointment book.
“I don’t have an appointment,” I started. “I thought I could...” Before completing my sentence the inner door opened. A man with his sleeves rolled up, sporting a five o’clock shadow, came out chatting with a familiar looking woman in a smart tailored suit. Where had I seen her before? The man had a tattoo of a mermaid with a snake coiled around her waist on his right forearm, and on his left, a Medusa head. He must of had a thing for snakes. They both fell silent and looked at me standing there.
“Mr. DeMire,” the receptionist said, nodding towards me with a smirk, “this is Melissa Hollingsworth.”
He looked over at me with a shocked expression which quickly fell back off his face. Must be surprised to have two clients in one day; the place looked tired. Or it could be the hat. The woman’s mouth opened and shut a couple of times, but she remained silent. It must be the hat. I went over to him, extended my hand, and looked closer at his forearm.
“Mr. DeMire, I’m Melissa Hollingsworth,” I said with my accent. “I spoke with you on the phone yesterday. I’m Les Hollingsworth’s sister. You asked me to come in.”
“What?” The woman exclaimed standing by his side. She looked particularly displeased by this announcement.
I looked over at the woman and frowned; what was up with her, and then looked back to Mr. DeMire. He hadn’t extended his hand to shake mine. I looked at his yellow fingers and felt relief that I wouldn’t have to touch them. “My dear brother died. I have a note from his executor authorizing the release of information.” I lowered my hand and started to take out the release form I had printed out on the computer from my purse.
Mr. DeMire coughed to interrupt me. I stopped rustling around in my purse and looked up. “May I introduce you to my client’s sister. This,” he put his hand on the woman’s arm. The woman glanced at his hand on her arm in disdain, “is... Melissa Hollingsworth, Les Hollingsworth’s twin.”
Damn! My heart started to pound. No wonder she looked familiar. I could see the resemblance. The same eyes, nose, and mouth.
He sneered at me. “Would you like to explain yourself before I call the police?”
Muscles tensed in my back. My heart started to pound in my ears. A swish swish noise.
Thank you so much for being our guest this week Susan. All the best with your writing endeavors.
Thank you, Allan. It's been a real pleasure.
For you readers wanting to know more about Susan, Kay or Irina and their stories or where you can get your hands on them, please follow these links:
My books, both in eBook and paperback, can be found on Amazon.
The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1) - https://amzn.to/2DglFzk
Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2) - https://amzn.to/2T9v5C1
Paradise Can Be Murder (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 4) - https://amzn.to/2DBp0do
Murder Misunderstood (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 5) - https://amzn.to/2SWzUCy
A Manhattan Murder Mystery (An Irina Curtius Mystery) - http://amzn.to/2cPlxqq
My author FB link is: https://www.facebook.com/TheGinsengConspiracyBySusanKBernhardt/
My website of 12 years is currently down for redesign.