Interview: S.L. Smith

Please welcome S.L. Smith author of Mistletoe and Murder!

Mistletoe and Murder -cover_LayoutWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

Prior to May of 2014, when I became my mother’s caregiver, I could write anytime. That’s no longer the case. For that reason, and because writing energizes me, any day I’m able to set aside time to write is a perfect day.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

My signature accessory is a FitBit. Trust someone who knows. This is a bad idea for someone with OCD. My color is red. My signature phrase is: “Bummer!” BTW it appears to be catchy. A friend now uses that term regularly and attributes it to me.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Mysteries are my favorite genre. Have been for decades. For that reason, all these people are mystery writers. They inspired me by providing targets to shoot for in my writing. (Had my favorite genre been romance, I’d never have ventured into writing.)

Here’s my list:

  • Tami Hoag: A Thin Dark Line is still my favorite mystery.
  • William Kent Krueger: I continue aspiring to the heights he’s achieved.
  • Robert B. Parker: I especially love the Jesse Stone books and movies.
  • Sue Grafton: Hoping Sue keeps the Kinsey Milhone books coming, after Z is for

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Never! If I did, I would be singing, not writing. I do, however, listen to public radio. Occasionally, something grabs my attention, but I’m oblivious to most of what’s said.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

It would be a milk chocolate Symphony bar. No pralines to distract the taste buds from the pure enjoyment of the chocolate that is good in and of itself.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

Mistletoe and Murder is set in Saint Paul’s Union Depot. This iconic structure has been of interest to me for quite some time. The book gave me the impetus to finally learn more about it.

Each of my novels touches upon at least one social issue. In Mistletoe and Murder, the issues are: opioid abuse, the plight of transgender folks, and homelessness. I included opioid abuse in this book, hoping to cause even one person to think twice before going down this road.

Years ago, my mother’s hairdresser was transgender. I witnessed both Mom’s acceptance and the pain her hairdresser suffered at the hands of coworkers. The coworkers turned her hairdresser’s life into a living hell. It was heartbreaking! That was twenty years ago. I haven’t forgotten. Again, if this book forces even one person to think twice, before acting/speaking, hooray!

Finally, the issue of homelessness, first addressed in Blinded by the Sight, resurfaces in Mistletoe and Murder. It’s not unusual to hear people are homeless by choice. “They just need to get a job.” A reader changed his mind after reading Blinded by the Sight. This book provides a refresher course, just in case.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Revenge, protection, love, justice, and loyalty are recurring themes in my novels.

Love is often the motivating factor, triggering an act of revenge.

Investigators Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney’s love for their families is a constant force throughout the series.

Pete and Martin are first paired up in book one. Their friendship and loyalty grow from one book to the next.

Pete and Martin are determined to solve each case, in order to achieve justice and closure for the affected families.

Finally, in each book, a character is pushed too far/hard, crossing that line, forever changing their life.

Tell us about your main character. Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

I’d characterize Pete Culnane as a combination of:

  1. Robert F. Kennedy’s bravery and compassion. A notable example was demonstrated when Bobby spoke to a crowd in Indianapolis, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Pete demonstrates his bravery on a daily basis, and his compassion in his dealings with families of victims, his partner, kids, the downtrodden, and the marginalized.
  2. Frank Reagan, the Police Commissioner on “Blue Bloods,” in the areas of professionalism, competence, dogged determination, and emphasis on family. Pete refuses to give up, until he attains the resolution of a case. His competence and professionalism are displayed throughout he novels. His commitment to family is portrayed in his dealings with his grandmother, and his partner, Martin Tierney.
  3. Henry, Kinsey Milhone’s landlord in Sue Grafton’s alphabet murders, when it comes to loyal, protective, and sensitive—an all-around nice guy. These traits are demonstrated in Pete’s dealings with his partner, fiancé, a homeless man named “Doc, and people in general.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Only six? There are so many writers, both living and deceased, from whom I’d love to learn. Okay, with this constraint, here goes:

  • Robert Crais: I want to hear all about Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.
  • Robert B. Parker: I have to see if he drinks as much as Jesse Stone. 🙂
  • William Kent Krueger: I want to hear about putting Cork O’Connor aside and writing Ordinary Grace. It’s a masterpiece.
  • Patricia Cornwell: I have to ask how many times she threw up while writing some of the graphic scenes. Don’t worry. I’ll ask before we sit down to eat.
  • Vince Flynn: anxious to know how he went from self-published to New York Times bestselling author. He’s a Minnesotan who departed this earth, before I could meet him.
  • Tony Hillerman: I want to hear about his research, and talk to him about the inspiration for Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

What’s next for you?

First, I have to begin by admitting I never thought book four would come to fruition. Hoping the Fact it did bodes well for the next book, I have been thinking about it, and I’ve written the opening pages. The next book will be book five in the Pete Culnane mystery series. It will occur in the winter, during St. Paul’s Winter Carnival. The Red Bull Crashed Ice Competition will play a part, as will the St. Paul Cathedral. This time, human trafficking will be the social issue.


SLSmithA lifelong resident of Minnesota, S.L. Smith was born in Saint Cloud and attended Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul. During her thirty-two years with the state department of public safety, she worked with law enforcement and fire officials at the state, county and municipal levels. Those interactions assisted her with writing mysteries, but were just the starting point. Without the help of a friend who spent thirty-five years as a cop, she might never have ventured into writing police procedurals. He contributed to her understanding of the perspectives of her two protagonists, Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney. Thankfully, this friend is still a resource. He proofreads each manuscript and performs a reality check on the law enforcement aspects.

All three of her previous books include a social issue. In Blinded by the Sight, it’s homelessness. For book two, Running Scared, it’s the impacts of a failing marriage on the kids. Book three, Murder on a Stick, addresses a plight faced by many of the elderly. Smith is a member of Sisters in Crime (an organization that supports mystery writers). She divides her time between Minnesota and Florida, to care for her mother.

Book trailer:

Buy link for Mistletoe and Murder on Amazon


12 thoughts on “Interview: S.L. Smith”

  1. Great interview and thanks for visiting! So interesting that the lyrics of music are distracting, but talk radio isn’t. For me it’s the exact opposite.

    So sad about your mother’s hairdresser. Puts me in mind of the woman who did my eyebrows years ago. I never knew she was trans – I just knew my eyebrows looked great when she was done!


    1. I apologize for being so late in responding to your comment. Major Wi-Fi problems and 12 hours a day at the Minnesota State Fair I’m making things a little crazy. It bothers mewhen we are oblivious to or in orcaring about the impacts of our words and actions. I have more than my share of faults, but . . .


  2. Great interview, S.L.! It’s admirable that you tackle such big social issues in your books! I imagine there’s a lot of research that goes into making sure you do each one justice. Thanks for stopping by!


  3. So fascinating! Issues are the payoff in mystery, and you must be very pleased to affect your readers with them. Looking forward to checking out your books.


  4. Thanks for stopping by. I don’t listen to music either when I write because I too would be singing. I might try NPR though. Great interview!


  5. Thanks for “stopping by.” I think we all wonder what will happen to Kinsey Millhone after “Z.” Just picked up “Y” and will start it this weekend.
    Love your choice of authors for dinner. I have heard some of them speak, and they are fascinating.


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