ABOUT THE BOOKWhen Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.
INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BREEN
Susan, how did you get started writing?
I’ve always loved to read. Most of my memories of childhood involve me and a book. Or a dictionary. I used to lug one around with me wherever I went, which must have looked silly because I was a very skinny little kid. I always assumed I would do something with words when I grew up, and after college, I became a reporter for Fortune Magazine. I loved my job, but dreamed of writing fiction. Yet I revered writers so much that I worried I wouldn’t measure up. Finally, when I was about 35, and my children were all napping, I had an epiphany. I thought, if you are going to write fiction, you better start now. So I got a pad of paper, wrote a story, sent it out that afternoon to Redbook, and it was rejected. But once I got taste for it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
What's your favorite thing about the writing process?
I love writing dialogue. I love it when I close my eyes and I can hear my characters talking. Sometimes they surprise me. Sometimes they appall me. But mainly I find them interesting.
Do you write every day?
Yes, I write every day. On some level, I think I’m superstitious and I worry that if I stop, it will never come back. But mainly I feel like there’s this stream of words and ideas and I want to jump into it every day. If a day goes by and I don’t write, I get very irritable.
What’s more important – characters or plot?
I always start with character. Who is this person and what does she want and why? I’m especially intrigued by the moral decisions characters make. If she finds a wallet in the street, will she return it? Keep the money? (In the case of Maggie Dove, she would return it. But not all my characters have been so virtuous.)
How often do you read?
I read all the time, often 6 or 7 books at a time. I like to read biographies because it teaches me a lot about character. Right now I’m reading something about the Romanovs. Of course I’m always reading a mystery. Right now I’m reading Christine Trent’s book about a Victorian undertaker. Then there just so many good books!
Do you have any secret talents?
In the second book of the series, Maggie Dove opens a detective agency. I know nothing about being a detective, and so I’ve been working to get my detective’s license and to that end, I’ve learned how to follow people. So my secret talent is that I’m good at surveillance.
Is writing your dream job?
Absolutely. I still can’t believe that this is my job. I love to go to the Penguin Random House site and scroll down the list of authors and see my name.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had? What did it teach you?
When I was 16, I worked—for one night—at a donut store. My job was to flip the donuts out of the boiling oil. With my finger. (I suspect this violated all sorts of laws, even then, but I was too young to know better.) Every job I’ve held since then has been much better.
If you could only watch one television station for a year, what would it be?
I love HGTV. I’m addicted to Flip or Flop and Fixer Upper. I love my husband and we’ve been married for 32 years, but if I had to choose a temporary replacement, I would pick Chip Gaines. I also love International House Hunters and Love It Or List It.
How often do you tweet?
I tweet a lot. Probably 12 times a day. I like tweeting about writing topics, but I also like chat-tweeting: that my lilacs are in bloom or crazy things I overhear in NYC. I teach at Gotham Writers, which is on 8th Avenue, right near the Port Authority, and I could probably spend my life tweeting about things I overhear there.
Would you make a good character in a book?
I hope so! I think I’m funny, so I’d always have something to say. I might be boring though because I don’t get into a lot of trouble. I tend to sit at a desk a lot and write.
What do you love about where you live?
I live in a small village on the Hudson River. There are only about 6,000 people in it, and so when I go down to Main Street, I almost always see someone I know. I drew on my feelings about my home town in writing Maggie Dove. A bit part of the stress for Maggie is realizing that if someone in her village commit a murder, it means that someone she loves is a murderer.
What’s your favorite fast food?
I love Big Macs, especially when they’re hot.
What is your superpower?
I can go a very long time without sleep.
What do you wish you could do?
I wish I could sing. I so admire people who can carry a tune. But I can’t. I can’t even hum.
What is one of your happiest moments?
Two years ago I went to the Redwood forest with my family. We were walking among the trees and I thought, this is as good as it gets. Being with my family in this beautiful location.
Where is your favorite place to visit?
Last year my husband and I went to Hever Castle in England, which is where Anne Boleyn grew up. I’m working on a book about Anne Boleyn (who is as different from Maggie Dove as it is possible to be). So I’m intrigued to go anywhere where she lived.
What’s your least favorite chore?
I hate loading the dishwasher. I feel like I do it ten times a day, and then you run the dishwasher and it’s done and you have to do it all over again. I prefer chores that give you a sense of completion.
Do you procrastinate?
No. I’m too anxious to procrastinate. If I start putting things off, then I begin worrying that I won’t get it done, and then I can’t think of anything else.
What is the most daring thing you've done?
Riding on a zip line in Costa Rica. I went there on a trip with my daughter, who is fearless (and fabulous). Not until I was in the harness and about to leap, did I realize I had a phobia about dangling over a bottomless canyon. When I reached the absolute center of the line, and was so far away that I couldn’t even see the end, I stopped. The zip line wouldn’t move. The guide kept shouting at me to relax. Nothing was less likely. My poor daughter kept shouting, “Come on, Mom. You can do it!” Eventually the guide came out and rescued me.
What is the stupidest thing you've ever done?
The zip line in Costa Rica.
Those two questions are usually linked! What is your most embarrassing moment?
I once set off a fire alarm during the middle of church. I was teaching my Sunday School class how to make pretzels and something went wrong. The minister had been in the middle of a sermon. The whole church had to file out while the fire department came. I used that scene in Maggie Dove.
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
Just about anything by Anne Lamott. One that I like is: “Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.”
Who is your favorite fictional character?
I do love Jane Eyre, and the older I get, the more I like her. She’s so impassioned. She’s never ironic. She wants to do the right thing. Of course, I like Mr. Rochester too.
Do you have a favorite book?
That’s like asking me if I have a favorite child. I love Jane Eyre, of course. The Brothers Karamazov and anything by Agatha Christie. There are actually very few books that I hate. Usually I find something to like about anything I read.
What are you working on now?
I just finished up a sequel to Maggie Dove, titled Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency. I’m also working on a mystery about Anne Boleyn.
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