Today I have the pleasure of talking to Susan P. Baker, author of four novels and two nonfiction books as well as a retired Senior District Court Judge in Texas. Along with serving twelve years full time on the bench, Susan’s experience includes ten years as a judge sitting by assignment, nine years as a practicing attorney, and two years as a probation officer.
JET: Can you tell us about your most recent book, Suggestion of Death?
Susan: Years ago when I was on the bench full time, I’d hear child support enforcement cases. The idea came to me that many of the mothers would get benefits for their kids if the fathers were dead, in many cases far more than they were receiving in child support. Then, of course, I thought “What if” mothers thought of that...
JET: What drew you to mysteries and true crime?
Susan: I grew up reading mysteries and true crime. But I went to the library every two weeks and checked out the max number of books and read everything I could get my hands on. Horror. Best sellers. Romance. My mother didn’t seem to care what we read. I continued reading mystery, true crime, horror and whatever was available. When I started writing seriously, I read in TV Guide about how much romance writers made per book so I wrote a romance. I was told nicely that it sucked so thought I’d try my hand at mysteries which was where my heart was anyway.
JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?
Susan: Getting support. Realizing I had to rely on myself.
JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?
Susan: The day I got word My First Murder would be published.
JET: Which authors had the most influence over you growing up?
Susan: Edgar Allen Poe. Brett Halliday. Maud Hart Lovelace. Harper Lee. Margaret Mitchell. Who can remember all the authors I read, I can’t.
JET: When did you know you wanted to take the plunge into the writing world?
Susan: At about age 13. Along with one other girl, I signed up for a summer school writing course but there wasn’t enough interest, and it was cancelled.
JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?
Susan: For my Murdered Judges book (which I researched and wrote over a six year period) I took several weeks off from work and drove around the country to as many of the sites of the murders as I could (my best friend went with me, we had a blast). We interviewed people, researched in their local papers and history centers. I already knew this but it brought home the fact that often there is more to the story than makes the papers. In several cases, people told us the REAL motivation behind the killings (or at least the local rumors). Ex. The judge was having an affair with the perpetrator’s wife. Or the judge was having an affair with the perpetrator's sister. Or a number of other things that were not always publishable.
JET: Of all the novels and stories you’ve written - which one is your favorite? Why?
Susan: Aargh—I can’t decide between my books any more than my children or grandchildren. I do love Mavis Davis, though. (MyFirst Murder and The Sweet Scent of Murder). She’s got more nerve than I do. And Erma Townley in Death of a Prince doesn’t mind saying things I’d never say. I learned a lot by writing from a man’s point of view in Suggestion of Death. Jim had to rethink his motivation, his life from a male perspective. I had to find a plausible reason for their split and for them to get back together.
JET: Any advice (from a writer’s standpoint) for the novices out there?
Susan: Read everything. Don’t be afraid to experiment. But if you don’t love it, if you aren’t compelled to write, quit and save yourself a lot of time and heartache.
JET: All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten...starting with: Paper or Plastic?
Susan: My own recyclable bags.
JET: Steak or Tofu?
JET: Beach or Mountains?
Susan: Both—I live on an island in the states and the mountains in Mexico.
JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?
Susan: Rock. But I like most music.
JET: Leather or Lace?
Susan: Lace can be cooler but scratchy. Leather is hotter but softer. I prefer natural cotton.
JET: Angels or Demons?
Susan: Angels, cherubs.
JET: Paper or Digital?
Susan: Both. I like the feel of paper but digital is good when traveling which I do a lot.
JET: Silent Film Classics or Cheesy B Rated Horror?
JET: Twilight or True Blood
Susan: It’s a toss up.
JET: Coffee or Tea?
Susan: Definitely tea. Twinings English Breakfast or Earl Grey. Or real chai.
JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?
Susan: Texas Style Justice about an ambitious female Texas District Court Judge who doesn’t know those who are supporting her for higher office intend to corrupt her.
And Death of a Rancher’s Daughter about criminal defense attorneys Sandra and Erma who are hired to defend the alleged killer of a rancher’s daughter by the victim’s mother.
JET: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on my blog.
Folks, you can find out more about Susan P. Baker and her work on her website: www.susanpbaker.com and you can follow her on twitter at @Susanpbaker.
In the meantime, check out her new book, Suggestion of Death...
Jim Dorman, a laid off newspaperman in the Texas hill country, can’t pay his child support. He is summoned to court for nonsupport and the first thing the judge does is read a Suggestion of Death into the record for a man who was supposed to appear that day. She tells the next man that his children would be better off if he were dead, and when Jim steps up for his turn, the judge tells him to get a job or go to jail.
At his next court appearance the judge reads another Suggestion of Death into the record, sparking Jim’s curiosity. He begins researching and discovers a number of men who have been cited for nonsupport have died accidental deaths.
When an informant winds up murdered and stuffed in a trunk and strange mishaps befall Jim, he figures he’d better find out who’s behind the deaths before he ends up as the next dead dad.
Until next time,