Hi, let’s welcome author and blogger Susan Finlay to Dean’s Den. Susan is a special friend of mine, and I’ve enjoyed reading excerpts from her mystery novel series. The first of these mysteries has finally arrived, and I can’t wait to read it. It’s called “In the Shadows.”
Susan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and then explain the concept for your new mystery series?
Hi, Dean! Thanks for talking with me today. I’m a former banker, turned novelist. I was born in Germany. I mention that because I am only half-American, as is my book’s protagonist, Dave Martin. My other half is German. I grew up in the U.S., but I’ve traveled back to Germany three times to visit grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I’m sure I’ll go back there again since my son moved to Germany a little over a year ago. Perhaps it’s my heritage that makes me interested in foreign places. I set most of my novels in places outside the U.S. Hearing that, you might expect I chose Germany for my new novel’s setting. It actually takes place in France and England. Don’t worry, I have another series I’m working on that is set in Bavaria!
In my new novel, “In the Shadows” (An Outsiders Mystery), Dave Martin’s other half is French. Like me, he was raised in the U.S. As the story begins, he is visiting his French grandmother in the cave-riddled troglodyte village of Reynier, France. While running errands for his grandmother, Dave bumps into a beautiful stranger, Maurelle Dupre. After Maurelle flees at the sight of gendarmes, Dave wonders what she is hiding. His curiosity deepens when he hears that the locals think she’s a gypsy, a thief. Knowing that people are often misjudged, he isn’t convinced she’s either of those. But he still wonders why she seems so frightened and distrustful. Everyone tells him he shouldn’t get involved. They may be right. The last time he got involved, back in Chicago, and trusted a woman he lost his detective’s shield. But, as always, he can’t seem to leave well enough alone.
“In the Shadows” (An Outsiders Mystery) is a story of trust, belonging, and murder.
What a cool setting. Caves are dark and naturally daunting to us; at a primal level, I think. I’m sure the village is lovely. Tell us about the community, and illuminate some of the characters in the town and “In the Shadows.”
I have been fascinated with caves since I was a little girl, and my family went on a tour of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Back when I first began writing, I saw photographs of troglodyte cave dwellings in France. I knew then that I would someday write a book set in a troglodyte village.
As I began creating my fictitious village of Reynier, I had to learn about the French way of life, attitudes, etc. so I could create believable people to populate Reynier. I tried to make sure my characters weren’t stereotypes or cardboard people. Central to the book are two grandmothers who are lifelong best friends. The women are quite different from each other, and each has her own interesting back story, which will come out more in the second book. One of the women has a granddaughter, Simone, and the other has a grandson, Dave. It’s only natural they would try to pair them up as a couple. But then, a mysterious English woman appears and stirs things up.
What makes the setting so important in this novel, and does it act almost like a major character in itself?
As I researched, I learned that many French villages have troglodyte cave dwellings (known as troglos). From what I can tell, most troglos are centuries old. Many have been refurbished and are still lived in as either full-time residences or part-time holiday homes. Some are used as hotels, restaurants, or storage. Not all troglos are old, though. I saw a website that gives information about brand new troglos that are being built in France.
Troglos typically started out as primitive cave homes. Back in the 1800s, thousands of people in France lived in cliff dwellings, caves, or chalk pits. In some areas, whole hillsides were dug out, creating subterranean apartment blocks that were home to hundreds of people. Bureaucrats were horrified by the underground lifestyle and referred to the dwellers as troglodytes.
In more recent years, façades were built on the outside of some cave homes. Some facades are simple, with only a wall, door, and maybe a window. Some are quite extravagant, with large picture windows, and even patios, gardens, etc. In some rural French villages, many of the houses that appear ordinary from the street, have caves at the rear.
In my fictitious village of Reynier, there are houses and troglos of all varieties. Reynier’s cave system, a place of safety, runs beneath much of the village, and is cherished by the locals.
When can we expect the second and third novel in this series, and are you writing other novels?
I’ve already written the second book. It’s in the early stage of editing. The book, tentatively titled Where Secrets Reside (An Outsiders Mystery), takes place a year later. It’s shorter because the majority of characters are already familiar, so there’s less set-up, and yet it’s more complicated because the number of viewpoint characters is much greater. Expect a few new people—in particular, a gendarme captain who will be a main character. Also, expect some flashbacks and a lot more scenes inside the caves and troglos. The basic story is this: The close-knit village of Reynier, France, is victimized by a serial killer, a puzzling criminal whose actions force the residents to look at themselves in a new light. Is the killer one of their own? Who will be the next victim?
I’ve written a short outline/plan for the third book. The story begins when a secretive family moves to Reynier and their young child disappears.
I really dig your blog, and you’re not only a terrific person but an impressive networker (folks, this is not a bad thing), both online and off. I already know this, but can you share with our audience how you mostly self-taught yourself a number of things which enabled you to become a semi-powerful online presence via your blogger site and author page?
Thanks, Dean! I started learning when I joined the online website, Authonomy. That was where I began meeting other writers, such as you, and I learned how to connect via online forums. From there, two author friends, Zoe Harris and Sammy Smith, introduced me to Robert Peett. Robert helped me grow as a writer by working with me on some editing projects. He, along with Sammy and Zoe, also encouraged me to join Facebook and to start a blog. Sammy even helped me set up my blog site. I was insecure about blogging and about Facebook, but decided to take the plunge. I’m glad I did. I now love connecting with people on Facebook and through my blog. Of course, I must also say that Author Mary Fan interviewed me earlier this year and encouraged me to try interviewing other authors.
The interview with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest was interesting. Without calling them favorites, would you care to share some anecdotes from some of your more memorable interviews?
I’ve interviewed over eighty people (authors, editors, publishers), and they’ve all been interesting. One of my favorite anecdotes is from Robb Grindstaff:
‘Picasso learned the basics first. He studied the masters and practiced his craft and his art for years before he broke all the rules, broke new ground, and created a whole new ‘genre’ of art. The most natural and gifted athlete in the world will train and practice basic techniques for years. Writing is no different.’
Another of my favorites is from Shelly Lowenkopf:
‘My favorite part of writing is the stage I’m involved with at the moment, thus it might be first-draft, revision, polishing. If I’m editing, I like getting down to the hairsplitting of the line edit, where sometimes a matter of a missing word or a superfluous one is enough to send the entire paragraph rushing home to Mother for help.’
I’m so happy for you. I’ll be purchasing my copy of “In the Shadows” soon. And I want it signed.
Thanks, Dean! I’ll be happy to sign. I hope you (and your readers) like the book. It’s been great chatting with you. Your questions were wonderful and thought-provoking. Talk to you again, soon.