Friday, February 24, 2006

Pro-File: Susan Oleksiw

Susan Oleksiw is the author of the Mellingham Mystery series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva.

The first in the series, Murder in Mellingham, appeared in 1993. Double Take followed in 1994, and Family Album in 1995. Friends and Enemies was published in 2001.

Susan's first publication in the mystery field was A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery (G.K. Hall, 1988; Mysterious Press, 1989), the first in a series of six readers' guides for which she is editor. She has been reviewing crime fiction for over twelve years with The Drood Review of Mystery and other magazines

Before turning to crime fiction, Susan received a Ph.D. in Sanskrit from the University of Pennsylvania, and lived and traveled extensively in India as part of her studies. She was the editor for a collection of scholarly articles on communications in Asia in the early 1980s; she has published several scholarly articles on Indian literature and art as well. Her short stories and essays about India appear in other literary journals.

Pro-File: Susan Oleksiw

1 Tell us about your current novel.

A Murderous Innocence by Susan Oleksiw (Five Star, April 2006) covers Chief of Police Joe Silva investigating two drug-related deaths in Mellingham. He's not willing to chalk both of them up to an accident, and after a third death he knows he's right. The drug threat is personal for Joe because it's threatening to wreck his new family. Joe and Gwen face this one together, and it pushes their relationship to another level.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

I've written almost a dozen short stories featuring Hindu-American photographer and amateur sleuth Anita Ray; some have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and some in the Level Best Books annual anthology. Anita is loads of fun--very irreverent in the world of traditional India. I enjoy her enormously, so I'm writing a novel about her and her penchant for finding corpses.

The other thing I'm working on is a YA novel, which my agent has now. I've written a short story introducing the character, and there are a few special details that I won't spell out. I don't want to spoil the surprises. This was a departure for me, but I loved it. It was loads of fun being a teenager again.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career? I

have so many ideas--I enjoy discovering them and then working them out in a plot, watching the characters develop. I'm very nosey about people, but that can get me into trouble, so I channel it into writing. I can't imagine living with an idea and not being able to do something with it. Dorothy Sayers talked about the tactile pleasure in working out a plot with clues, etc., and she's right. That's a pleasure different from the writing process, but equally wonderful. Ideas--making them work, watching them grow, writing about them.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

Struggling with an idea that won't work, even though I know there's something good there. I've gotten over my dislike of promoting and selling my work (maybe I have more confidence now), but I get so depressed when an Idea doesn't work. It's like watching someone drown.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Three times more books are published today then when I started out, in the 1960s, writing very bad literary fiction--but three times more books doesn't mean three times more variety. We have lots of books in each genre, but not much depth. Publishers need to remember that readers are different and like different things. The classics that today are the bread and butter and sometimes caviar of publishers were the short-run, no-review books of earlier generations. Take a chance. Publishing something with a small market. Publish with depth and variety in mind.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

I haven't checked but I haven't recently come across anything by P.M. Hubbard. He has no series character, but he does more with setting as a character and "weapon" than many, many others. Some of his scenes are still vivid 30 years after reading them. I've always thought Gwen Moffat was highly underrated by readers in the 1970s--her character was a feminist of supreme and quiet self-confidence long before anyone else.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

You're right. You never forget. It was a Sunday evening and Suzanne Kirk called, and of course my first thought was if I didn't get this settled right away she'd go on to someone else and my great opportunity would be gone! My agent was on vacation in the Bahamas, meeting her new mother-in-law. So, of course, I called her right away, and she and Suzanne talked. Then, later, Liz called and said, "Are you sitting down?" I was after that. I felt so foolish interrupting her vacation but also so surprised and excited I was shaking.



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