Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book-A-Week Challenge Interview with Susan Whitfield author of "Hell Swamp"

This week the Book-A-Week Challenge read "Hell Swamp" by Susan Whitfield.
Today, we post the interview with Susan that discusses her books, her writing, and anything else she is willing to share. Stop by and leave a comment or ask a question.

Find out more about Susan and her other books. Visit her website at Susan Whitfield.

Paperback: 196 pages
Publisher: L & L Dreamspell
ISBN-13: 978-1603180948

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On with the interview:

Are the experiences in the novel based on someone you know or events in your life?

The overall plot in Hell Swamp is fiction—a horrendous crime scene. However, the idea for the novel came from a true story my son told me about a 13-year-old in his neighborhood who killed his first big buck with a nice rack. His picture was published in the local newspaper with the trophy deer. A woman somehow got his mailing address and sent the picture to him with “Murderer! Killer! You should be shot!” scrawled on it. That’s all it took to get my juices flowing.

What are your current projects?

The fourth Logan Hunter Mystery, Gator Creek, is about 75% complete. I also have a stand-alone in the works. I generally work on two novels at the same time. Not sure why.

How do you come up with story ideas and your characters?

With Hell Swamp, it was a true story I was told. Often I find ideas on billboards, in phone books, conversations, the news. Once I decide on a setting for the book (usually what starts the process) and begin writing, the characters create themselves. They tell me what to write, a surreal experience that gets me strange looks from non-writers. I like to have fun with names, such as Nita Quicki, Pepper, whose a chef, Acme Beavers, who chews on toothpicks. Even Logan’s last name is Hunter since she’s in the hunt for justice. When she meets a hunky detective in the mountains, his first name is Chase, since he’s always chasing criminals. Sounds cheesy, but that’s the way it flops. They are instruments of my imagination.

Who came up with the book cover for your book? Why?

I gave Linda my concept and she designed the fantastic cover for Hell Swamp. It seems she has a 12-point buck on her ranch, so he’s on the cover. Can you find him? Cool, huh?

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

I’ve lived in North Carolina all my life so writing about this state seems natural and familiar. I’ve lived in the eastern part most of the time, but I lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains for a year too. This state has plenty of fodder for a writer, even many dialects within our borders. Setting is always a major character in my books. Hell Swamp is set along Black River about five miles from where I grew up. There really is a Hell Swamp, just not where it is in the book. I couldn’t resist using the name for a title and Lisa and Linda agreed.
My upbringing comes out in some scenes, my favorite when Logan reminisces about cutting fields of flowers with her mother to fill the church pulpit on the same Sunday her daddy, head deacon, prepares tiny glasses of wine and bread for the communion service, a sweet memory of mine.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?

I have only written mystery so far. That’s what I generally read although I sometimes vary genres. I’m pulling together noodlings for a less intense, more humorous novel, and possibly an historical mystery about an ancestor of mine who was a Knight of the Bath.

How did you come up with the title for your book(s)?

Genesis Beach is set along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, so I named it Genesis since it was my first book. There isn’t really a Genesis Beach, NC. The other three, Just North of Luck, Hell Swamp, and Gator Creek, came off a state map. Just North of Luck is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains where a serial killer is on the loose in the remote community of Trust, NC. ( BTW-L&L Dreamspell has picked up this book and it will be printed under their logo in August.) Hell Swamp is really a swamp in eastern NC, and I took liberties with Gator Creek, actually Alligator Creek near Wilmington. The state map has served me well.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Having been a high school principal for much of my first career, I constantly had to deal with unsupervised children before and after school hours. Most of those who got into trouble stayed out all night or all weekend, parents too busy with their own lives to even notice or care. The main plot: Know where your kid is, who he’s with, and what they’re doing.
Also, don’t judge a person by their appearance. In Hell Swamp, Cyrano Blood was practically castrated by his own community because of his looks. Even though he’s gruff-looking, Logan discovers that he does needlework and gives generously to charity. He’s really a wonderful but misunderstood human being.

How much of the novel is realistic?

I think it’s very realistic. The characters are fictional but I tried to make them all believable. Reviews are good, so hopefully I pulled it off. The setting is present day deer-hunting country.

What are you reading now?

John Hart’s Last Child. Awesome! I’m so proud to know him and that he’s a Carolina boy. Look for him to rise to great heights with his literary mysteries.

How do you get inspired to write your romantic scenes?

After 42 years of marriage, my scenes are homicidal, not romantic. Okay, just kidding, but what few romantic scenes I write are suggestive, not graphic. I prefer shock-you intensity.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

I’ve loved Logan Hunter since the day she popped out of my head. We’re in our fourth novel together. She’s quirky but focused. She bends the rules as far as possible and she likes to work alone, highly respected by her male colleagues in the SBI. I also like Magnolia in Hell Swamp. She’s a cute little black woman who sneaks Logan homemade goodies while she’s investigating. I like Rose Paul Hill, too, with her ill-fitting false teeth and her willingness to drink Strychnine in church.

If your book was made into a movie, who do you picture playing the part of the heroine?

Katherine Heigl would be a perfect Logan Hunter.

That's all folks! Stop by and leave your own questions for Susan.

Thank you Susan for a great read, engaging characters, and a terrific interview. Sounds to me like we all need to visit NC for some story ideas.


Anonymous August 16, 2009 at 8:42 AM  

Very nice interview. Looking forward to reading your book! North Carolina has some wonderful locations for a good mystery.

Joe Prentis August 16, 2009 at 9:12 AM  


Hell Swamp sounds like a wonderful book. I have always been fascinated by novels that have real characters, as opposed to the ones where you can’t tell one character from the other unless you pay careful attention to the tag line. I liked your statement in the interview where you said that the theme of the book is: “know where your children are, who are they with, and what they are doing.” There are a lot of kids who are ‘lost’ in society. There is enough material that one observation to keep an army of writers busy until eternity.

Joe Prentis

Susan Whitfield August 16, 2009 at 9:12 AM  

Good morning, Anonymous. North Carolina is absolutely wonderful! I've heard that there's a writer around every curve in the state, so apparently I'm not the only one who's inspired. I hope you enjoy the book.

Susan Whitfield August 16, 2009 at 9:16 AM  

You're right, Joe. I try to write messages into all of my books or at least add some things I just learned. Thanks for dropping by.

Elizabeth Spann Craig August 16, 2009 at 9:34 AM  

Great interview, Denise and Susan!

I love the idea of working with real places in North Carolina and getting title inspiration from them.

Do you use much Southern dialect in your books? How do you recommend successfully incorporating it?

Mystery Writing is Murder

Susan Whitfield August 16, 2009 at 10:46 AM  

Elizabeth, in my first book, Genesis Beach, I had a police dispatcher who talked with an Ocracoke brogue. I was able to find dialects on line that even had the spellings, so it made my job easier and authentic. I have some friends who are "hoi toiders" and they seem to appreciate the way it was done. My other books include some subtleties, but the dispatcher has the most obvious dialect to date. I work hard to make my characters Southern through choice of words and actions and even some of their names. When I'm in the mountains, I pick up a phone book and look for common last names and things like that. In my second book, Just North of Luck, I included a Blue Ridge artist who is coming back in my fourth book, Gator Creek.

Unknown August 16, 2009 at 10:52 AM  

I didn't know you were a high school principal. That will supply you with all the writing material you will ever need.

Allan Azouz

Jacqueline Seewald August 16, 2009 at 11:00 AM  

Hi, Susan and Denise,

Great interview! Hell Swamp is an excellent mystery novel. I have never been to North Carolina but felt as if I have after reading this novel. Fine use of local color.

Best wishes for your success,

Jacqueline Seewald
THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale 2009
THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print 2008

Mark Rosendorf August 16, 2009 at 11:10 AM  

As a high school principal, how much of your stories have been inspired by hearing the experiences and lives of your students?

How many of your victims have been frustrating staff members? :)

Think With Your Taste Buds - Chicken August 16, 2009 at 11:40 AM  

I have no questions for Susan just praise. I've read all 3 of her books, in order which I recommend, and can't wait for her 4th to come out. Her characters and stories are all believable. Susan is a gift to all readers.
Martha A. Cheves, Author of Stir, Laugh, Repeat

Autumn Storm August 16, 2009 at 12:05 PM  

After 42 years of marriage, my scenes are homicidal, not romantic.

Talk about keeping it real...seriously though that shows you have a great sense of humor and I can't wait to read your book. It's next on my TBR pile.
I went to NC as a child and I have never forgotten the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Mary Deal August 16, 2009 at 12:21 PM  

Hi Susan,

Like you, I find I love my protagonist. I think we have to love them otherwise we cannot develop them fully. However, since you are writing a completely unrelated mystery - as I am, by the way - do you also love that main character as much? How does s/he differ from Logan?

Mary Deal
My Book Trailers

Susan Whitfield August 16, 2009 at 1:13 PM  

Thanks, you guys, for dropping by. Jacqueline, I appreciate your comments about local color. It's important for me to get it right. Martha, thanks for reading all three books. So glad you enjoyed them. People tell me I have a bit of dry wit, so I like to use that in books, especially those intense scenes where the reader needs to come up for air. Mark, I could write volumes about being a high school principal, but I'm steering clear of many of the frustations I had back then. I loved my kids dearly but... Let me just stop there. When I started working on the bones of a book I planned to entitle Sugar Babe, one of the women was a high school principal. I soon changed her profession to something in the medical field and added large doses of humor. It's working much better for me:-} and Allan, you're right about so many ideas. I'll use those in which I can find humor and try to delete the rest(wink-wink). Autumn, love the name btw, yes, when I was asked about the romance in my books, I had to giggle. My husband has a good sense of humor, too, thank goodness.
Mary, I suppose I love all the characters who pop into my head and end up in a book. I must say even though the villain in Just North of Luck was a horrible serial killer, getting inside his head was scary and surreal. It was like a living, breathing person. The emotions of writing that stuff still stick with me. I'm glad to say that I adore most of my characters, even those with minor roles. In Hell Swamp, even though Nita Quicki was a despicable promsicous older woman seducing a teenager, I enjoyed writing her character.

Denise August 16, 2009 at 3:34 PM  


How difficult is it to keep your story fresh when you write about the same heroine in all the books?

When you started writing did you envision yourself writing a series?

PS - When I read Nita Quicki in the book it cracked me up. Love stuff like that!


Susan Whitfield August 16, 2009 at 3:42 PM  

Denise, I like to cut up myself! I didn't start out to write a series, but when writer's block set in, I started another novel. It just seemed natural to continue Logan Hunter since I liked her so much. In the first book, she's at the coast, so in the sequel I moved her to the Blue Ridge Mountains and challenged her with a serial killer to boot. When blockage returned during the writing of that book, Just North of Luck, I started Hell Swamp, moving Logan to a river in eastern North Carolina. In the current project, Logan has to go behind the scenes of the porn industry to catch a killer. This has proven to be my most challenging book yet! Once I complete Gator Creek, this fourth book, I hope to switch gears and try something a little more humorous and less murderous.

Denise August 16, 2009 at 4:00 PM  

I love series characters and will now have to read the other Logan Hunter books.

Deb Hockenberry August 16, 2009 at 4:11 PM  

Hi Denise and Susan,
This was a great interview to what sounds like a great read!

Susan Whitfield August 16, 2009 at 4:48 PM  

Thanks, Deb. Denise started all this and I'm thoroughly enjoying the questions and comments. Thanks for stopping by.

Maggie Bishop August 17, 2009 at 7:19 AM  

No wonder you keep writing about Logan Hunter -- she's a great character. Enjoyed the interview.

Susan Whitfield August 17, 2009 at 7:45 AM  

Thanks, Maggie, I'm glad you enjoyed the book and Logan Hunter. She's quirky, but still focused on seeing justice done.

Susan Whitfield August 17, 2009 at 10:11 AM  

Denise, thanks for having me over. I enjoyed it.

April August 17, 2009 at 11:43 AM  

Excellent interview! I am bummed to have gotten in late on this one, but will be reading it very soon! Hell Swamp sounds so great and after this interview, I am really ready to read!! I want to thank Susan for the book - she is awesome!

Susan Whitfield August 17, 2009 at 3:56 PM  

Thanks so much, April. I hope you enjoy your visit to the swamp.

Denise August 18, 2009 at 12:06 PM  


I enjoyed reading Hell Swamp and learning more about you and your writing.

Best of luck and look forward to your next story. Hopefully to be read here.


Susan Whitfield August 18, 2009 at 3:15 PM  

Hopfully, Gator Creek will debut in 2010. It takes Logan back to the NC coast for a major challenge.

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