Readers Ask, Susan Answers

Here are answers to some of the questions I get asked most often when I do a presentation or visit a book club.

Why did you choose journalism as Leah’s profession?

Leah needed a job that would allow her to get involved in investigating murders. There are lots of off-beat professions in the world of mystery fiction, but I wanted to hit the ground running and didn’t want to spend a lot of time on researching my main character’s job. I was a small-town reporter and editor, and I know the rhythms of small town journalism. Yes, there are plenty of stories about soybean production and first-grade trips to the zoo, but there are also the occasional stories that go national. I know what it’s like to run down sources, get doors slammed in your face, follow leads that don’t pan out, and have everyone mad at you when they don’t like a story you reported. And I also know the pure joy of unwinding a tough story, getting it right and getting it in print. There’s nothing like it. So, I felt really comfortable with the profession I chose for Leah.

Is Leah based on you?

No. None of the characters in the series are based on real people, although they all have elements of people I’ve met or observed. Leah is much braver and brasher than I am. Although, some would say we share a certain stubborn streak which we both prefer to think of as determination.

Why did you choose Wisconsin as the setting?

I live in a small Michigan town, and I didn’t want local readers to try and match characters in the book with real live counterparts. I could see that ending badly. So, I moved the action away from my home ground. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Wisconsin, and find it very similar to Michigan, except with cheese. Lots of cheese.

Where do you get your ideas?

From stories I read online or in the paper, things I see on television, suggestions people give me, even conversations I overhear. Sometimes readers make suggestions as well. Occasionally, a plot possibility comes to me while I’m sitting on the couch, not really thinking about anything, just staring out at the river that runs by our house. I always have my phone handy so I can create a quick voice memo to remind me of the idea.

Who is your favorite character in the series?

That’s like asking who is my favorite child. I enjoy all the characters in the book, although I don’t like them all. Miguel is fun to write, and he reminds me of a couple of people I’ve had in my life. On the other hand, I have a soft spot for Charlie Ross, the crusty detective in the sheriff’s department, too. Leah is a handful, but I like seeing her struggle to do what she knows she should even though her impulses lead her in the opposite direction. I like Coop’s steadiness and his sense of fairness. And then there’s Carol, who I admire because she doesn’t dwell on the tragedies in her life, she’s upbeat and funny, and she’s not afraid to love, even though she’s lost so much. And Father Lindstrom, he’s such a wise and kind man, and … well, OK, I guess I just like the people who live in Himmel—for the most part. Except for the occasional killer of course, and even some of them are appealing to me.

Will Leah and Coop ever get together?

I don’t know, and that’s the truth. If I had total control, they’d eventually find their way to each other. But Leah is hard to predict, and she often does the opposite of what I’ve planned out for her.

How long will the series continue?

As long as Leah has stories to tell that engage and entertain readers. So really, I think that’s up to you.