Today on Awesome Authors I’m pleased to introduce Susan Russo Anderson, author of the Serafina Florio historical mysteries. I first became aware of Susan on Twitter and through the fabulous writer’s group, Sisters in Crime, then went on to work with her on an anthology with several other talented indie authors. The first book in her intriguing mystery series, DEATH OF A SERPENT, is set in nineteenth-century Italy and features Serafina Florio, an amateur sleuth who happens to be a midwife. Kindle Book Review says DEATH OF A SERPENT is “… for readers who love mystery/suspense and drama that will propel you into another world and hold you spellbound until the end.”
D: Hi Susan! It’s great to have you here. Please tell us something about yourself.
S: Thanks, DV, it’s a thrill to be here. Wow, great question, where do I start? I’m just a simple mom and gran doing the best she can to write great stuff. And I love the act of writing.
But I did read this quote from Jean Paul Sartre, “We are our choices.” And if I could choose the perfect activity it would be eating ice cream and sipping the perfect coffee while writing in the morning. And the next best thing is reading an unputdownable book.
And although I love my kindle and the ability to carry lots of books wherever I go to say nothing of the ability to sneak read a book instead of listening to a boring sermon, I still love bookstores and rambling through them. There’s one in a resort town in Michigan that I love going to. It’s right next to an ice cream store and they play opera and it’s crowded with families on vacation and it’s just fun to be there.
D: Bookstores and libraries—gotta love any place with books. 🙂 You write the Serafina Florio mysteries set in nineteenth-century Italy. What inspired you to write an historical mystery series? What did you find particularly interesting when doing research?
S: I’ve always found European history from 1848 onward to be fascinating, the yearning for freedom that everyone had. It started, I guess, with the American Revolution. And then of course there was the French Revolution. And all of a sudden people all over Europe showed an unbelievable thirst for freedom and fought to overthrow their oppressors.
“I’ve always found European history from 1848 onward to be fascinating, the yearning for freedom that everyone had…”
Well, it’s a long story, but the Italian Revolution in the 1860s was a devastation for Sicily. There were riots and epidemics and famine and ruin all over the place. It’s in this setting that Serafina does her sleuthing. And yet in this setting, life managed to go on. For me, someone who’s always had a cushy life, I just can’t imagine how people can go all normal, continuing on with their life in the face of hunger and catastrophe.
I read this story of a mother who around dinner time would lock the windows and doors and have her children bang on pans while she rattled the plates so that the neighbors would think they were preparing the meal and wouldn’t know they couldn’t afford to eat. That story really got to me. It told me about the resilience of the human spirit.
D: No kidding. People are amazing, especially in times of distress. Describe your newest release, DEATH IN BAGHERIA, in two sentences.
S: When a headstrong aristocrat commissions Serafina to find her mother’s poisoner, the midwife turned sleuth travels to a windswept villa on Sicily’s gold coast where she begins her investigation of the baroness’s death. With the help of her friend, Rosa, two daring servants, and an unexpected visitor, she uncovers ugly entanglements that portend dire misfortune for the baroness’s heirs.
D: What’s your favorite line from the book?
S: In my Serafina books it’s Rosa who always gets the best lines. She is totally unfettered by convention, having been a madam. At the time of the story, she is retired and very rich and of a certain age so she takes lots of pleasure in food. It so happens that the cuisine at Villa Caterina where the mystery takes place is uninspired to say the least so Rosa is disgruntled for most of their stay. There’s an incident with the cook where we don’t know if she’ll recover but when Rosa hears that the cook survives, she says, “It figures. She can’t cook so she’ll live forever.”
D: Rosa was definitely one of my favorite characters in Death of a Serpent. Who is your favorite character and why?
S: My favorite character would have to be Serafina. She has faults; she is exuberant and colorful; she does most of the writing; she has a sixth sense, something I’d love to have; most important, she never gives up.
“…She has a sixth sense, something I’d love to have…”
D: What are you currently working on?
S: I’m working on two books at the same time, something I’ve never done before, two different series. I’m writing the fourth book in the Serafina Florio mystery series. She’s commissioned to go to Paris to investigate the death of Loffredo’s estranged wife. The plot is exciting and different and complex for many different reasons. The working title is Murder on the Rue Cassette and since I love Paris, even the Paris of the 1870s, I’m loving the writing experience.
And I’m writing the first book of the Fina Fitzgibbons mystery series. She’s the great-great granddaughter of Serafina, named after her and inherits her notebooks and a brownstone Serafina bought when she arrived in this country. Fina is much younger, early twenties, and lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend, Clancy, a cop assigned to the 84th Precinct. The working title is Dead In Brooklyn.
D: What a great idea! Working an ancestral thread into your mysteries makes sense—it becomes a continuation of the original series. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
S: Immerse yourself in the world you create and don’t fear what others might think.
D: Sage advice, Susan. What’s the worst advice you received from someone about writing?
S: Hmmm, let me think. That would have to be all those prejudicial rules against adverbs and adjectives. They’re a prison.
S: Mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction.
“Immerse yourself in the world you create and don’t fear what others might think.”
D: What do you do when you’re not writing?
S: Social networking, working out, walking, hanging out with my grandkids.
D: Tell us about the most exciting place you have ever visited.
S: I’ve been to lots of exciting places—Iraq, most countries in Europe—but the most exciting of all is the world of the imagination. John Milton said it much better, though: “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
D: Love that quote. So true. What jobs other than writer have you held?
S: I taught creative writing, worked for an airline, for an opera company, for lots of advertising agencies, and for a publisher.
D: If you could time-travel, where would you go and why?
S: Paris, August 1944. I’d love to experience firsthand the excitement of the liberation
D: I think Paris is a good bet in just about any timeline. Liberation day would be an amazing experience.
I’d love it if you’d provide an excerpt of DEATH IN BAGHERIA for us to read…
Bagheria, Sicily. March 1870
“The baron was showing me his new steamer. You can see it through the telescope if you like.”
Rosa shook her head, dismissing the offer with a wave of her hand.
He smiled at the madam. “In the harbor now, being loaded with supplies.”
“It sails when?” Rosa asked.
“Late today.” He paced before them. “We hope to make North America in ten days, not a record, but respectable, especially for this time of year—early for steaming into northern waters.”
“Do you carry passengers?”
He nodded. “A few. There’s room for over two hundred men, women, and children, most of them in steerage, but these days, our profit is from carrying cargo, not people; now we ship citrus to New York and Boston, perhaps New Orleans or San Francisco in the future.” He rubbed his hands together. “Next year, my son tells me, when families who can afford better accommodation begin to leave, we plan on refitting part of the upper deck with first-class cabins, but for now, our need is for space below deck.”
“When who begins to leave?” Rosa asked.
“Our bankers bet on hard times, a mass exodus from Sicily within the next five years, growing stronger in the next decades.”
Serafina and Rosa were silent.
“There’s unrest all over the Europe. I’m afraid for France, that idiot Emperor trying to slap around the Kaiser—doesn’t know what he’s in for. And Italy struggles while Garibaldi fights Austria and the papal states. If more banks fail, the future of the merchant class in the south will be grim. The new world calls, and that’s where we come in.” The baron smiled.
Serafina swallowed. She imagined her son, Vicenzu, looking out at her from behind the windows of their empty apothecary shop, saw in her mind the streets of Oltramari which, lately, seemed rustier, dustier. But no, she rejected his words: after all, what did he know? She turned to Rosa, who caught her mood, reached over, and patted her hand.
“The ship’s named after the baroness,” Serafina said, looking at Rosa.
The baron nodded.
“A shame she’s missing this day,” Serafina said.
He furrowed his brows. “Afraid you’re wrong there. She wanted nothing to do with our business. She hated it. How did she think …” His question hung in the air.
To break the mood, Rosa said, “Such an honor, having a ship named after—”
“Hated all talk of business.” Red faced, the baron heaved himself over to the hearth, grabbed an iron, and poked at smoldering embers. “Drat those servants! Don’t know how to tend a fire?”
Recovering somewhat, he sat across from them and crossed his legs. “What is it you wish to discuss—my married life? How my wife loathed me, couldn’t bear the sight of me? How we slept in separate rooms, seldom spoke? How she never cared a fig for my business, didn’t want to hear my thoughts on European history or its future? I disgusted her! I suppose she assumed aristocrats cultivated coins from the soil or grew them in huge pots and stored them in the larder. Unspeakably stubborn, Caterina, just like her father and his father before him. Blind to the change, killing themselves out, that’s what they’re doing. But …” He looked up at her portrait, then at a spot in the room as if he could see her shade. “She was so beautiful, like an angel when she walked into a room, and a poet with words, so charming, they flowed from her lips.” He stopped, as if reluctant to leave the memory. “And I loved her.”
The two women were silent until Serafina asked, “Your business, is that what killed her?”
D: Thank you so much for being here today, Susan. I look forward to reading the rest of the Serafina Florio series. I’m also eagerly anticipating her great-great granddaughter’s own books. 🙂
Links to find out more about Susan are below:
Susan Russo Anderson is a writer, a mother, a grandmother, a widow, a member of Sisters In Crime, a graduate of Marquette University. She has taught language arts and creative writing, worked for a publisher, an airline, an opera company. Like Faulkner’s Dilsey, she’s seen the best and the worst, the first and the last. Through it all, and to understand it somewhat, she writes.
DEATH OF A SERPENT, the first in the Serafina Florio series, published January 2012. It began as a painting of the Lower East Side and wound up as a mystery story. NO MORE BROTHERS, a novella, published May 2012, the second in the Serafina Florio series. The third book, DEATH IN BAGHERIA, published in December. You can read excerpts on Amazon and on her websites, http://www.susanrussoanderson.com and http://www.writingsleuth.com
In between writing, revising and editing, she writes for several blogs and reviews books.
Amazon author’s page: http://www.amazon.com/Susan-Russo-Anderson/e/B006VCJ0ZC