Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a former journalist. She has also been marketing and public relations director for a safari park, a fundraiser for non-profit organizations, and the president of the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Attractions Association. She considers herself transcontinental and transatlantic, equally at home in San Francisco and Florida and with a large and boisterous extended family in England. She frequently wears a Starfleet communicator pin, just in case. Her first novel, The Man on the Washing Machine, won the 2014 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition.

Cox's new novel is The Man in the Microwave Oven.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Title are famously difficult, and they’re not copyrighted, so I could have called my mystery The Sun Also Rises or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Quite often a title comes late in the process, prompted by something that happens in the book, but in the case of The Man in the Microwave Oven I thought of the title first. It came to me as a joke, really, while making a short presentation at Bouchercon. But once I got my laugh, I decided I really liked it and then I went about writing the scenes that made the title work. It’s quirky, but it follows up with the sinister appliance theme from the first book (The Man on the Washing Machine), and microwaves have always had this rather dangerous reputation. They’re in everyone’s kitchen and they’re such a benign little tool until you accidentally put the wrong thing in it and all hell breaks loose. That’s why I liked it—my novel is a traditional mystery with a bit of a twist, and I think the title is the same way.

What's in a name?

My main character is Theo Bogart. She lives a very quiet, almost undercover life in San Francisco, but she had a very high profile past in London and she’s the granddaughter of an English Earl. The British royal family has always had close ties to the Greek royal family (and Prince Phillip is actually Prince Phillip of Greece as every viewer of The Crown knows), so I thought a Greek name made a certain amount of sense. I’ve always been fond of the boyish nicknames English girls were given in books of the 30s and 40s, names like Nicky or Teddy. So—Theo. And Bogart was easy—Humphrey Bogart stars in one of my favorite movies (Dark Passage), which takes place in San Francisco. Some of my other characters were actually named after the members of my master of arts program, which is where I wrote the first version of my first book.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

She wouldn’t be surprised at all. I fell in love with Agatha Christie when I was fifteen and never looked back.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are toughest for me because they set the tone, and often introduce the plot complexities, for the rest of the book. I write and rewrite and rewrite again until I’m fairly content, then I go on to the rest of the book. I often still use the completed version as a draft, which means the first chapters get revised again, but they’ve done their job of being the scaffolding for the rest of the book. By the way, I’m a pantser, not an outliner, so writing a book for me isn’t a smooth, linear process; it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My heroine sleuth is English and a redhead, but other than that we don’t have much in common. She’s far more inquisitive and much braver than me!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I’ve always been a devoted, even compulsive reader, so my influences have all been writers. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Nicholas Blake, Ngaio Marsh, Dick Francis, Peter Lovesey, Sue Grafton—they’re my mentors, at least in my own mind. I do find that the news finds its way into my plots, but not usually the specifics. Homelessness is a sad reality of modern city life, and one character in The Man in the Microwave Oven is a homeless man who unwittingly becomes embroiled in the mystery and entangled in Theo’s life.
Visit Susan Cox's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Man in the Microwave Oven.

--Marshal Zeringue