Please welcome Susan Breen, author of Maggie Dove and other works.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I love waking up really early, when all the other creatures in my house (dogs, cat, husband and son) are still asleep. Then, two to three good hours of work, followed by a walk in the woods with my dogs. More good work, and then my husband comes home and says, Why don’t we go out to dinner? Laughter, good food and wine, and maybe some texts from my kids. Then going home and discovering a new episode of Flip or Flop. Then a little bit more work, and then to sleep.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
I am frequently associated with bread pudding. When I was a young reporter, I worked on Long Island, which is the bread pudding capital of the world. I used to go to a different deli each day and try out a new type of bread pudding. Since then, my friends know that if we go out anywhere, and bread pudding is on the menu, which it always is, I’m going to order it. (There is a potentially lethal bread pudding in Maggie Dove.)
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been a huge influence on me for a number of reasons. First of all, I love the idea of a character being transformed at the end of a novel. I think novels are about change. A Christmas Carol is also about salvation, and you can imagine that as a person who wrote a book with a Sunday School teacher at the heart of it, salvation is something I think about a lot, though not, necessarily, of the religious kind. I just like to think of people being rescued. It’s also very funny and sad. I like that combination.
Do you listen to music when you write?
No. I need to have quiet, though there is this wretched robin that keeps hammering at my window.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A Dove bar, of course.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
My first novel, The Fiction Class, revolved around a woman who taught creative writing to a bunch of students in Manhattan. It was fun to write, and after it was published, I thought it would be nice to write a series, each one with a different type of writing teacher as a protagonist: a science fiction writer, a romance writer, a mystery writer. So in my initial conception, Maggie Dove was a mystery writer teaching a class. But when I began to write, I found myself more intrigued by Maggie Dove’s character than by the situation of having her teach a class. I kept writing and writing and it seemed like I was trying to force her to do something she didn’t want to do. So finally I stepped back and said, What do you want this story to be about? And she told me.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I’m interested in the way so-called “ordinary people” deal with difficult situations. I expect bravery from a police officer (and I’m glad for it), but what happens when a fairly normal 62-year-old Sunday School teacher is confronted with a truly terrible situation? Will she be brave or will she surrender? I’ve written about issues like this my whole career, but what I like about cozy mysteries is that it allows you to push it further. You can really torture your poor protagonist, until she figures it all out.
Tell us about your main character.
Maggie Dove is 62-year-old Sunday School teacher who lives in a small village in the Hudson Valley. She’s a kind, warm and funny person who’s been handed a raw deal. Twenty years ago her daughter died in a car accident. Maggie’s never recovered. She doesn’t want to recover because, in her mind, healing would mean forgetting, and that’s one thing she will not do. So she’s living in a sort of limbo, and might well have stayed that way for the rest of her life, except that this miserable man moves into the house alongside of her. He’s murdered, and the primary suspect is the one person Maggie loves above all others, the young man who was once engaged to her daughter. Now she must act, and so a big part of the mystery involves Maggie’s journey to reenter the world.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
There’s definitely a bit of Miss Marple in Maggie Dove. They’re both older women living in small villages and solving crimes, and there’s an honesty, and perhaps ruthlessness, to both of them. In a good way. Then I would throw in a bit of Scrooge, because like him, Maggie is stuck in the past. Then a pinch of Anne Tyler’s Macon Leary, because like him, Maggie deals with her problems in a humorous way.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
That’s a fun question.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, because he’d have a lot to say and I’d learn a lot from him.
- Charles Dickens, because he might balance out Doestoevsky a bit and add some humor.
- Sue Grafton, because she wouldn’t be intimidated by either of them.
- P.D. James, because I heard her interviewed once and she was just so lovely.
- Ian Rankin, because he seems very charming and he could choose the wine.
- Megan Abbott, because she’d give a jolt of energy to the proceedings.
What’s next for you?
My second book, Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency, will be published on Oct. 18, 2016. I’m also working on a mystery involving Anne Boleyn, which is an entirely different proposition.
Susan Breen is the author of Maggie Dove and The Fiction Class. Her stories and articles have been published in a number of magazines, among them Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, composejournal.com, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Best American Nonrequired Reading and anderbo.com. She teaches at Gotham Writers in Manhattan, is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters-in-Crime. Breen lives in a small village on the Hudson River with her husband, son, two dogs and one cat. Her two other children are flourishing elsewhere.