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Author Interview: Susan Fleet

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Susan Fleet, author of Foulshot: A Frank Renzi Crime Thriller, Book 10.

FQ: I know we have spoken many times in the past, and I would love for our readers, this time around, to learn more about Music & Mayhem Press, and how that got started.

FLEET: Music and mayhem have always been part of my life. I began playing trumpet when I was eight and joined the musicians union when I was fifteen to play in the city concert band. My father was a print journalist so he'd write up my performances in the local newspaper. But long before that, he used to take me to the police station and I'd hear him talking to the cops. That's probably how I discovered my dark side and began killing people. Fictionally, of course! So what better name for a publishing company than Music & Mayhem Press?

And I do seem to run into mayhem. Several years ago, the man who lived right above my fourth floor condo was shot dead by the police. It seems he had robbed a restaurant after it closed for the night. When police knocked on his door to serve a warrant to arrest him, he wouldn't open the door. Then his girlfriend screams, He's got a gun! So the cops called for reinforcements. It was pretty crazy, ten police cruisers in the condo parking lot and the whole building was locked down. After a while, he came out the door with a gun in his hand and the police officers shot him. True story.

FQ: I know you made the move back after the Katrina tragedy, but what made you initially move from Boston to New Orleans?

Author Susan Fleet

FLEET: In 2000, I came to New Orleans to attend the Words and Music writers' conference and fell in love with the city. New Orleans has great jazz clubs, and the architecture and ambiance in the French Quarter are unique. By then I was already writing thrillers, but I hadn't published one yet. So I decided to set my novels in New Orleans and moved there in 2001. Most readers like to travel vicariously and they love reading about New Orleans, especially the French Quarter. Frank's office is in the District-8 station on Royal Street, which has many antique stores, including an antique gun shop with rifles and muskets from the Civil War.

In fact, I met one of my NOPD sources at the District-8 station, a homicide detective, who once helped solve a serial killer case. He gave me terrific information and I got to see the conference room on the second floor. As it happens, when I moved to New Orleans in 2001, a serial killer was murdering young women in Baton Rouge. So I thought, what if a serial killer was murdering young women in New Orleans? That became the premise of my first published book, Absolution. But my killer is very different from the Baton Rouge serial killer. He's a priest.

FQ: Unfortunately, I have yet to set eyes on New Orleans, but everyone says it’s a truly amazing and diverse city. Is it fair to say that New Orleans played a large part in creating Frank Renzi?

FLEET: New Orleans has a tremendously rich heritage. Even before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the population was very diverse. The architecture in the French Quarter reflects Spanish and French influences, interior courtyards and lacy iron balconies. When I taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston, I had many Japanese students, because jazz is huge in Japan. I also had students from Latin America and Europe, and due to my interest in jazz, I've always had black musician friends. All of them have different viewpoints and backgrounds, which helps me create diverse characters. Frank's partner, Kenyon Miller, is black; Morgan Vobitch, Frank's boss, is Jewish. Natalie, one of my bad girl characters, is half Vietnamese. I got so attached to her, as did my readers, that I wound up writing three novels about her. And the villain in Foulshot is Russian.

Frank is half Italian and half Irish. He grew up near Boston and later became a homicide detective with Boston PD. Jackpot, my fourth book, is a prequel that explains why he moved to New Orleans. In Jackpot, Frank is hunting a serial killer who targets lottery winners. How scary is that? Frank's experiences in Boston, his love of jazz and the Celtics, shaped who he is, but Boston has a diverse population too, so Frank feels very comfortable in New Orleans. But he still roots for the Celtics.

FQ: Could you tell our readers about your blog, Dark Deeds, and how it came about?

FLEET: My Dark Deeds blog posts are about serial killers, stalkers and domestic homicides. I do so much research for my books, I decided to write about actual crimes. The current post is a tragic case. A beautiful young woman became a call girl in Boston, met a Tufts University professor who became obsessed with her, and wound up dead. Eventually, the professor went to jail, but her body was never found. Her parents were devastated. After reading my blog, her brother posted a comment. So did the MA State Police detective who investigated the case and I later talked with him by phone about it.

FQ: You have a diverse resume, to say the least. When it comes to your various careers – from trumpeter to professor to writer, etc. – is there one you can say you enjoy the most?

Author Susan Fleet with two of her trumpets

FLEET: All of them! My musical training and years of performances influence how I structure my novels, the pace and the timing and the dialogue. The students I met while teaching gave me insight into various backgrounds, racial, ethnic and economic. Including gender. At Berklee I created and taught a Women in Music course because many talented female musicians are neglected. Now I write about them on my website.

My current featured woman is Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong's second wife, who was tremendously talented in her own right.

As for my novels, I love writing them. I get totally lost when I'm writing. The outside world doesn't exist. It gives me a chance to create an escape for people who need a diversion from their jobs or their lives, or from the pandemic these days. I love talking about my books at writers conferences and libraries. I meet a lot of interesting people and their questions and comments often give me new insights into how my novels affect them.

FQ: Along those same lines, what made you decide to don the “fiction author” hat, so to speak?

FLEET: Many years ago, I produced a slide show about Growing Up in America around 1900. To learn how to write better narration I took a script writing course at Emerson College in Boston. As it turned out, the course focused on writing movie scripts. The professor was terrific and she encouraged me to write a movie script. I wasn't interested in doing that, but I loved writing dialogue. So I decided to write a novel and asked myself, what sort of novel should I write? At the time, my favorite novel was Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsythe. I analyzed each chapter of the book to see how he did it, and wrote my first thriller. That one is hidden in a drawer where no one will ever see it! But I kept writing and now there are ten crime thrillers featuring Frank Renzi.

FQ: As a HUGE fan (as you can probably tell by now), can you let me in on whether or not I get to see Frank Renzi again; and, if so, what I might expect from him next?

FLEET: The Frank Renzi adventures will definitely continue. Strange as it may seem, along about the third or fourth revision of each novel, I get an idea for the next one. Sometimes a character speaks to me. Twilight Zone, right? But I swim laps in a pool to stay in shape, and this often happens while I'm swimming. I already know the next book will be about a serial killer. Here's the first line in the book. He loved stalking them. Not going to tell you any more than that. Stay tuned!

FQ: Social media is such a big slice of the pie for writers nowadays, could you give me your opinion on social media and how you feel it has helped over the years? In addition, could you provide your social media sites as to where readers can gather more information about you and your titles?

FLEET: To be honest, I don't spend much time on social media. I don't have time. I still play my trumpet for an hour in the morning. Then I write, sometimes for five or six hours. This involves many tasks. First, I create my villain, a worthy opponent for Frank, and write his or her backstory. This involves creating other new characters. I do extensive research to create the characters, the locations and so forth. Finally, I plan the plot, all the way to the end. I have to know how the story ends before I start writing. This may take weeks. Then I write the first draft. And rewrite it! Get feedback from my Beta readers and rewrite some more. Months later, I send it to my proofreader. Then I fix the little diddly mistakes. Who's got time time for social media? But I have a website, which features my crime thrillers, biographies of fabulous female musicians, even my trumpet CD! I love to have folks visit me there, so come on down!

FQ: Thank you so much (again) for your time. As always, I am honored and extremely happy to have another Renzi title on my shelf.

FLEET: My thanks to you, Amy, for doing the interview!

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