Saturday 10 April 2021

Branching Out with Author Susan Bernhardt.




Welcome to the new interview look at the Scribbler.  The title – Branching Out – was selected by popular vote from our fans. Hats off to JJ Carrier for suggesting the name.


Our first guest under the new banner is cozy mystery writer, Susan Bernhardt of Wisconsin.

I’m a fan of her writing and recently finished reading A Manhattan Murder Mystery. It’s an intriguing story filled with cool characters and an interesting premise. Read the reviews HERE.



Thank you, Susan, for being our guest this week. 

Let’s chat!

Thank you, Allan. I'm excited to be the first guest on your blog's new format.  How cool is that!





Allan: Before we discuss your cozy novels, can you tell us how you’ve braved the pandemic we are experiencing? Has it affected your writing?


Susan:  A year ago when we learned about the Covid-19 pandemic and it was projected that there would be 200,000 deaths in the United States, I was scared. My first thought was of my family. What were the chances at least one of us wouldn't be affected? My husband and I just about went into lockdown. We stopped seeing our loved ones, our friends. Other than for walks where we avoided everyone, we decided to only leave the house every three weeks to get food from the grocery store. I made a daily activity sheet and put it on the refrigerator so we would have some fun things planned throughout the week. A year later with over 500,000 people dead in the U.S., we received our second Covid vaccine last week. With each shot, we've had an immense feeling of relief. In April we plan to visit both of our sons and their families. We have also made plans for getaways to various cities.

Covid hit me hard. I've kept track every day on a calendar since March of 2020 of the cases of Covid in my state and in the two counties where my city is located. I wrote each week day for about four hours from March to October to stay sane.  My second Manhattan mystery, Dress to Kill, came out mid-October.

After the holidays, which of course were spent in isolation, I didn't feel much like writing. I did begin the sixth Kay Driscoll mystery, but no longer wrote on a regular basis. Since getting our second Covid vaccine, I am once again back to writing and the world seems brighter. We isolated for over a year and now with getting the vaccines, we are going back to “normal” living once again.



Allan: The last time you visited you mentioned your career in nursing. One of your main characters – Kay Driscoll - is a retired public health nurse, like yourself. We are often told as writers to write about what we know. This seems to be a typical example. What are your feelings on that?


Susan:  Kay Driscoll, a retired nurse, volunteers at her local Free Clinic. The series is not medical related at all, other than Kay picking up important clues when she works at said clinic. I also worked/volunteered at our local Free Clinic for several years until my retirement.

I do write what I know and often write from life experiences, but I also write what I learn and what I want to know. I do a lot of research when writing, which is enjoyable. In the Kay Driscoll series, I based many characters on people I knew, some intimately, and know how they think and feel. The setting for my Kay Driscoll mysteries is based on where I live. When writing the Irina Curtius mysteries which are set in Manhattan, I did a lot of research and also spent time there. From a number of reviews by New Yorkers, I'm happy to say that it sounds like I got the feel/the vibe for the City.




Allan:  On your last interview, you mentioned you were working on Manhattan 2. How is that developing?


Susan: Dress to Kill is the second Manhattan murder mystery. I started the book in November of 2019 and finished it in October 2020. A fun aspect about this book is that Kay Driscoll, the protagonist of my first series and her husband come to Manhattan to visit Kay's cousin, Irina Curtius the protagonist of the Manhattan series and together they work on solving a murder. In Dress to Kill a friend of Irina's is murdered at the theater after an opening night performance with the New York City Ballet. The police see it as a unfortunate, horrific accident. Irina with the help of Kay sets out to prove that her friend was murdered in cold blood.

*It's an ingenious idea having your two MCs meet up and I hope to do the same in a future story with Drake & Jo.



Allan: Your bio tells our readers that when you started writing, you hoped to become a traditionally published author, which you succeeded at. Why was this important to you? As opposed to self-publishing.


Susan: I started writing as a challenge to myself. I've often challenged myself. One example is, in my mid-30s I went to school and obtained a computer programming degree not knowing at the beginning, how to even turn a computer on. (In those days, there wasn't just a button that you pushed.) I graduated with High Honors (then went back into nursing).

With my new challenge of writing a novel, I took a number of writing courses. After I finished The Ginseng Conspiracy, I never even gave self-publishing a second thought. It was always my goal to find a publishing house for the simple reason, I just wanted to see if I could do it. I had no other motivation.   

I spent months writing out query letters and finally found a publisher who took me on. Four years later, I asked for the rights back to my books and then self-published them.



Allan: When you decide to write your next novel, how do you proceed? Do you outline and research first or are you a pantser? 

Susan: When I write a book, I never know what's going to happen until I have it down on paper and then that could change at any time. I don't outline or follow a format. I do research prior to writing and along the way. It makes writing for me more fun and interesting to find out where the story is going to lead me.


Photo by Susan.


Allan: You are a stained-glass artist and a musician Please share something about your activities outside writing.


Susan: Besides being invested in my family...

When Covid began one of the scheduled weekly activities was playing music with my husband. Because of Covid he no longer was able to play with his band. To be, once a week we jammed together, playing guitar and singing classic rock songs from the 60s and 70s. I took guitar in college and hadn't played in decades. I lost a lot of my skills, one being, decent fingerpicking, but the ability to play came back, no matter how badly.

Like Allan, I work in stained-glass. I have designed and made many stained-glass lamps, vases, window hangings. I did the kitchen cabinets in one of our homes. Designing each project is my favorite part.

*You do beautiful work, Susan.

I consider myself to be an amateur photographer. I enjoy taking photos of everything from closeups of the flowers and insects in my garden to churches in Palermo, Sicily. 

Photo by Susan.

Photo by Susan.

Prior to Covid we frequented art museums, the theatre, and various music venues. I also enjoy cooking with my husband.



Allan: Share something which your readers might not know about you, either personally or as a writer.


Susan: My husband and I love to travel. Not travelling was a difficult part of Covid for us. We cancelled booked trips in 2020. We have travelled extensively in North America and in Europe. We love exploring new places and experiencing different cultures. A quote I agree with by Mark Twain is, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”





Susan's mysteries:


The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1)

Murder comes to town and so does Kay Driscoll, whose tenacious nature tells her city officials are attempting a cover-up and she must expose the truth.

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2)

During the season of peace on earth, good will to men, Kay uncovers sinister plots of corruption at a retirement home, while investigating the suspicious death of a beloved caretaker.

Murder By Fireworks (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 3)

An obnoxious member of Kay's book club is found dead on the beach. When Kay investigates, she discovers that the death, covered-up to look like suicide, was in fact murder.

Paradise Can Be Murder (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 4)

When Kay, Phil, and friends take their first vacation together, they find themselves involved in a murder investigation. Will Kay and company be able to solve the crime before the cruise in paradise ends?

Murder Misunderstood (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 5)

A month after an unlikeable newcomer arrives in Sudbury Falls with her unsettling hobby of cultivating a poisonous garden, she is murdered. Will Kay be able to prove the accused innocent and find the real culprit(s)?

A Manhattan Murder Mystery (An Irina Curtius Mystery Book 1)

When a neighbor's failing health is suspicious and he dies, a vivacious, retired ballet dancer investigates so that justice prevails.

Dress to Kill (An Irina Curtius Mystery Book 2)

When a friend of Irina's is found dead after an opening night performance at a ballet, and her death is seen as an accident, she decides to investigate with the help of her cousin Kay Driscoll to solve the mystery and expose the truth.


Thank you, Susan for being our special guest this week. It’s a pleasure having you to chat with and thanks for your stories.


The pleasure is all mine.


Please follow Susan’s links to discover more about our talented guest.

Author FB page:
Twitter: @SusanBernhardt1


  1. Thank you, Allan, for inviting me to be your guest on your new format of the South Branch Scribbler, Branching Out.

    1. It is great to have you here. Hope this isn't your last visit.

  2. What a nice reworking of your page, Allan. I have shared Chuck's SBS post on my Facebook page. Thank you for all the work you do for us writers. This was an excellent interview too. I love the stained glass you have created, Susan. Alternate creativity keep us alive. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on writing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Roger and the nice comments. It is a lot of fun having interesting and kind folk as my guests and I'm looking forward to having you back next month.

  3. Thank you, Roger, for your kind compliment. I have many interests, which are useful during this Time of Covid.

  4. The new look is great and thanks for introducing me to a series of books that is new to me.

    1. Thank you, Angela, for visiting. I was thrilled when Allan asked me to be on Branching out.

  5. Glad you stopped by, Angela. These are nice cozies. Did you notice anything familiar in the left column? Thanks for leaving a nice comment.

  6. The for sharing she a very interesting person


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.