Hi. Barb Ross here. Susan Santangelo is a member of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime and divides her time between Cape Cod and coastal Connecticut. She’s a former journalist and PR executive and is now a successful indie author whose books regularly appear on top 40 lists on Amazon. And, I have to confess, I’m a fan.
We sat down recently to talk about writing and publishing.
Hi Susan. Tell us about your Baby Boomer Mystery series. What’s it about and what gave you the idea?
I realized about 5 years ago that there are approximately 78.2 million Boomers in the United States, and us more “seasoned” ones were about to start grappling with life-changing issues like retirement, downsizing, and even–gasp–Medicare! There was so much in the press about preparing financially for aging — IRAs, 401ks etc. etc. But nobody seemed to be focusing on the potential emotional turmoil. I’ve been writing for years — mostly press releases, p.r. things, and magazine/newspaper articles — but I’ve always hankered to write a mystery. I love the genre and read them all the time. I’m a particular fan of funny mysteries. So I decided to take a crack at writing Retirement Can Be Murder — because the title made me laugh. It was released in 2009. The chief protagonist is Carol Andrews. When her husband announces to her that he’s thinking of retiring, she can’t think of anything worse than having home around the house all day interfering in her life. So she decides to stall his retirement by taking him to a retirement coach. And, well, let’s just say things don’t go exactly as Carol planned. I didn’t plan to write a series, but the response to the first book was so positive — man, was I surprised! — that I decided to write Moving Can Be Murder, which was released in 2011. And then, well, I just kept going! I seem to have struck a chord with women all over the country, judging by the e-mails I keep getting.
The latest is Marriage Can Be Murder, just out this month. Tell us something about that book.
This book features a destination wedding. Here’s the back cover blurb: Empty-nester Carol Andrews is thrilled when daughter Jenny announces her engagement. She’s dreamed of planning her daughter’s wedding since the day Jenny was born. But with only 2 months to pull together a destination wedding on Nantucket, Jenny insists on hiring Cinderella Weddings to coordinate the event. Father-of-the-bride Jim objects to the cost, and Carol objects to having her opinion ignored. When Carol finds the body of the wedding planner at the bottom of a creepy staircase at a Nantucket inn, and her BFF Nancy’s husband is accused of her death, Carol has more to worry about than getting to the church on time!
Tell the truth, is Carol Andrews really you?
Ha! So many people ask me that, especially because the books are written in the first person. I’ve been told that readers feel like we’re sitting at the kitchen table together, talking. I think that’s a real compliment. I’d be lying if I said Carol bears no resemblance to me. But I think she’s smarter, and she’s certainly more outspoken and controlling. I’m a very quiet, reserved person and I never interfere in other people’s lives, the way that she does! LOL.
One of the things I admire about you is that you seem to grow as a writer with every book. Don’t get me wrong, Retirement Can Be Murder is a fantastic book, but instead of stagnating as some series do, your books just get better and better in every dimension, –character, plot, writing. How do you keep a series fresh and growing?
That’s such a wonderful compliment! Thank you so much. I think part of the reason the series is staying fresh is that I’m constantly getting inspiration from friends and family about plots and characters. I don’t lack for ideas!
What’s your writing practice like? Are you an outliner or a pantser? Strict number-of-words-per-day person or a binger?
I am definitely a seat-of-the-pants writer. I started books 2 and 3 with a dead body — I always have a dead body at the very beginning — and it wasn’t until I got to the middle of the book that I realized who the body was. And then, of course, I had to go back and plant clues, so the process would be logical to the reader.
Whenever people bang on and on about self-published books aren’t edited or copy-edited, have terrible covers, etc., you’re one of the authors I cite to refute that. Why did you make the decision to go with self-publishing?
I credit being on Cape Cod, with the tremendous pool of artists and other writers, with helping me make that leap of faith. And also, I have to credit Melanie Lauwers, who is the Books Editor of the Cape Cod Times, who’s so encouraging to indie authors.
It seems to me like you treat your publishing company like a true business. You make investments of time and money and you’ve had real success and have built a community of people who love your books and are invested in your success. What would you say are the most critical things you’ve done to make your books successful?
Our company, Baby Boomer Mysteries Press, is a collaboration of freelance artists, designers, printers, and editors, all of whom are vested in making each book the best it can be. When I give author talks, I frequently bring at least one other member of the team with me, so the audience can hear why a particular cover design was chosen, for instance, or type face. Most readers have no idea what goes into making a manuscript into a “real book” and they’re fascinated by this. And I love the marketing piece. Not just the on-line marketing, but the in-person marketing. I do lots of events both on and off Cape, and I love talking to people and sharing stories.
What are you working on now? Any more Baby Boomer books in the pipeline?
There are 7 titles planned. The next one will be about going back to a high school reunion. It’s tentatively called Memories Can Be Murder. We’ll see how it goes!