First a few fun facts about our author:
Susannah Hardy thinks she has the best job in the world: making up stories and inventing recipes to go along with them. A native of northern New York, where she attended St. Lawrence University, Susannah now lives in Connecticut with her husband, teenage son, and Elvira the Wonder Cat.
Thank you for joining us at Scribbler’s today Susannah!
What would you most like your readers to know about you that they would not likely read in your official bio?
That I’m so incredibly grateful to be able to live my dream. It’s an honor and a privilege and a joy to be able to write full-time, and I am mindful of that every single day.
Tell us Scribbler’s a bit about Feta Attraction and what inspired this story?
FETA ATTRACTION is the first book of the Greek to Me Mysteries, which was sold as a three-book series to Berkley Prime Crime. Georgie Nikolopatos isn’t Greek, but she married a Greek man and now manages the family restaurant. When her husband goes missing, and a rival restaurant owner ends up dead, Georgie must figure out what happened even as she tries to keep her family safe—and even if what she finds out is going to change her life forever. This story was inspired by some real history (more about that in an answer below), as well as my own experiences working in a restaurant during college.
Do you use a pen name/pseudo name? If so, why? If not, why did you decide to write under your own name?
Susannah Hardy is a pen name. My maiden name is politically controversial, and my married name has an unusual spelling that I thought might make it difficult for readers to find me. So I went back into my genealogy and chose the name of my great-great-great grandmother. I don’t know much of anything about her, really, except that her father was a Revolutionary War veteran and that I liked her name. I hope she loved novels as much as I do!
I loved the setting of the alleged haunted Bonaparte House for the restaurant. Is this a real place or did you create from your imagination?
The Bonaparte House is based on a real place and some real history. Back in the early 1800s, a group of French aristocrats bought land along the St. Lawrence River and hatched a plot to help Napoleon escape from exile. In the real village of Cape Vincent, New York, they built him an octagonal house made of stone, with some interesting architectural features including an oversized cupola, and filled it with expensive objects. Napoleon never made it there, and the house was destroyed by fire a few decades later, its surviving valuable treasures dispersed, and its stones reused in other buildings. For purposes of my story, the house survived in the fictional village of Bonaparte Bay and became a restaurant.
What is the most interesting activity you’ve participated in for research?
This one’s easy: visiting as many Greek restaurants as I can!
How much influence do your characters have on which direction the story takes you?
For FETA ATTRACTION, the first book I ever completed, I just let the characters run wild and do whatever they wanted and somehow it all worked out. This was the key to my being able to actually finish the story, which I’d never been able to do before. Now that I’m writing a series, I have to make the characters’ behavior consistent with prior books. This is fun, too, because sometimes I’ll sit down to write a scene and realize: Oh, I need Brenda Jones and her particular skill set here to make this work.
Do you develop a deep backstory for all your characters before ever sitting down to write or do you just have a general idea of who they are?
Nope. I know almost nothing about my characters before they appear on the page. When I sat down to write the book that would become FETA ATTRACTION, I only knew that Georgie had married young into a Greek family, and that she worked at the family restaurant. Her history revealed itself to me as it went along (and you’ll learn more about her backstory in book 2). With other characters, sometimes they just appear on the page and I think Hey! Who are you and why did you just pop into my scene? They always belong there—I’ve never cut a character—but sometimes it takes a few days for me to know why they’re in the story.
When brainstorming a story idea do you begin with character or plot?
For FETA ATTRACTION, I had a basic character and a basic plot (which changed dramatically as I wrote the novel—when I started out I thought I was writing a much darker story, and it morphed into a cozy mystery somewhere along the way). For the other books in the series, I sold these on proposal, so I had to work out all the major plot points in the next two books in order to write synopses I could sell. For my new series, I started with a character who was really just a skeleton in the beginning, then worked out the major turning points, and characters are appearing along the way to flesh out that plot. So I guess it’s really a combination of both.
What are your strongest influences when it comes to character creation?
Hmmm. I’m not sure how to answer this. I don’t consciously create characters. It’s more like I imagine a scenario and see who walks on stage, then let the character tell me who he or she is and what he or she wants.
Can we have an excerpt from Feta Attraction?
Sure! Here’s part of the opening scene:
When you marry a gay man, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he leaves you.
I stuck a clean spoon into the vat of Greek tomato sauce I’d been stirring, gave it a taste, and added another handful of oregano and a pinch of cinnamon. The Bonaparte House kitchen staff bustled around me, but I barely noticed them.
This wasn’t the first time my husband had gone off for a day or two. He usually headed over the border to Montreal, an easy drive across the St. Lawrence River by way of the international bridge from Bonaparte Bay, New York.
But this time felt . . . different. I couldn’t say why. Call it intuition, a gut feeling, whatever. This time, I wondered whether he’d left me for good. For another man.
“Etty-six!” My little mother-in-law, Sophie Nikolopatos, brought me out of my thoughts and back to the present. The last dinner of the night had just left the kitchen. Sophie rose from her chair, a pained expression on her elfin face, and limped out of the kitchen toward the central staircase leading to our living quarters on the second floor. She beckoned me to follow. As though I didn’t have a couple of hours of work left to do tonight, even after we closed. Managing this place meant sixteen-hour workdays, all summer long. I shut off the burner and complied.
“Have you heard from Spiro yet, Georgie?” she demanded, out of earshot of the busboy and servers.
“Not since the night before last.”
Sophie extended a wad of loose papers toward me with one hand and patted her apron pocket, which was bulging with most of the night’s cash receipts, with the other. “We had a good night. Many lamb specials.”
I nodded and took the paperwork. It had been a real struggle to get her to accept credit cards, and Sophie still resisted the computerized ordering and payment system I’d installed a few years ago. She kept track of the business by hand and memory. I usually just tossed the stuff when she wasn’t looking.
“No thanks to that no-good son of mine,” she said. “Close up for me, dear, will you? I want to go upstairs.”
“Of course.” I closed up every night, and opened up every morning, and handled pretty much everything else too. Sophie owned the place but was more or less a figurehead. Spiro was the spoiled, lazy heir to the kingdom. I loved them both—Sophie like the mother I didn’t have, and Spiro . . . Well, I don’t know what we were to each other, really. Cohabitating co-parents, perhaps, to our daughter, Callista. I felt a pang of loneliness as I thought about my beautiful girl, even though I knew she was safe and happy visiting her great-aunt in Greece.
Sophie’s eyes narrowed. “You sick? You’re not talking much.”
Sick? No. But I’d been stewing all day. If Spiro divorced me, I’d not only be out of a marriage. I’d be out of a job. After twenty years, I didn’t know how to do anything else. And I didn’t want to.
Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
I take character traits, both good and bad, as well as physical traits of people I’ve known or observed, and amalgamate them into new people on the page. Cozy mysteries aren’t true crime stories, so characters have to be fictionalized.
I noticed throughout Feta Attraction, cooking/food is not only a skill your heroine excels at, but also a core piece of her coping skills. Was this deliberate or did the idea just morph as you wrote the story?
Cooking is both a passion and, as you say, a copying mechanism for Georgie. As I originally wrote the story, Georgie was really just a manager of the restaurant, not a cook. But as I revised, and I got to know Georgie better, I realized that cooking was an essential part of who she was and so I rewrote parts of the story to reflect that.
Which of Georgie’s recipes is your favorite?
In FETA ATTRACTION, my favorite recipe is the feta and tomato salad dressed with olive oil and basil. It’s incredibly simple to make, and I could eat that every day of my life.
What do you most enjoy about writing?
I totally love it when I’m writing along, and suddenly a new character pops up, someone I hadn’t planned on. Or when a clue I didn’t realize I’d planted earlier reveals its importance to me later on. So I’d have to say I enjoy the surprises that happen when I trust my writing process.
What do you enjoy the least?
Deadlines, even though they are vitally important to keeping myself on track, LOL!
If you were to describe your writing process in one word, what would it be?
Organic. As much as possible, I just like to let it go and trust that my subconscious knows what it’s doing.
Do you have a critique partner/belong to a critique group?
Not a formal one, but I do have a trusted group of other writers to bounce ideas off and if we have time (we all have deadlines of our own now) we will read and critique for each other. Having written several books now, I have a pretty good idea if something is working or not and, as I said before, I try to trust my own process.
What writer has most influenced your own work?
I absolutely adore the late Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. Her Amelia Peabody mysteries are brilliant, and I also love her standalone gothics. She is who I want to be when I grow up.
If money were not object, where would you most like to live?
I would love to have a big Victorian house on the rocky coast of Maine as a home base, and then I would travel around the world! Hmmm, must go buy a lottery ticket today…
What sound or noise do you love?
I love the sound of my son laughing with his friends.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Staticky radio stations and the sound of my laptop, whose fan is emitting a whirring noise that is making me decidedly nervous right now!
What are you currently reading?
A collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, as research for a project I have in mind. And Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison. I usually have four or five books going at once, scattered about the house, and I just pick up whichever one is closest to hand whenever I want to read.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
Best: Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard. This one is self-explanatory.
Worst: Write every day. I don’t think this is a reasonable expectation for most people, and I think it sets you up to fail. Better advice is to write most days.
What books or other projects do you have coming up in the future?
Book 2 of the Greek to Me Mysteries doesn’t have a formal release date or a final title yet, but I think it will be out toward the end of 2015. I am also developing two new mystery series, as well as some short stories and a couple of romance novellas which I will probably publish independently. I’m super busy, and I love it!
Thanks so much for having me on the blog today. I’m available to answer questions all day.
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusannahHardy1 @susannahhardy1