Tag Archives: Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford’s The Other Widow Confronts Dark Side of Love, Marriage, Infidelity

the-other-widow

Atlanta suspense writer Susan Crawford has a knack for putting her readers inside the minds of her troubled characters. She also knows how to grab readers and keep them hanging in her genre of literary mystery/suspense. I found these observations true when reading Susan’s debut novel, The Pocket Wife, and just as true after devouring The Other Widow, where Susan explores the dark side of love, marriage, and infidelity.

The Other Widow opens with Joe telling Dorrie, a married co-worker with whom he is carrying on an affair, that “it is no longer safe” —moments before their car skids off an icy road in a blinding snowstorm and hits a tree. Desperate to keep her life intact—her job, her husband, and her precious daughter, Lily—Dorrie will do everything she can to protect herself, even if it means walking away from the wreckage.

The story unfolds in the aftermath of Joe’s death through the vantage point of Dorrie, “the other widow,” his wife Karen and Maggie, a troubled war-veteran and insurance investigator, who is dealing with her own demons after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course a hallmark of this author is her lyrical prose that sweeps you into the minds and hearts of her characters, even as the tension in the story builds and takes you closer to a shocking conclusion.

Below, Susan discusses The Other Widow, including her writing process and how she tackles surprise endings, which her latest book certainly delivers. If you are a fan of thrillers that are both character-driven and incredibly well written, you won’t want to miss The Other Widow or Susan’s book launch next Tuesday at Eagle Eye Bookstore in Decatur, Georgia.

Q. The Other Widow is your second novel in the thriller /mystery genre. You have three strong female characters — and plenty of intrigue given the opening chapter and death of the cheating husband. How did you come up with the storyline?

Susan: I thought it would be interesting to write a story that deals with a shattering event and the results that follow – like a broken window with fractures running away from the break. The accident in the first chapter is the catalyst for the rest of the book, the incident that eventually brings to light things that had been traveling under the radar.

Q. What do you consider the best part of the writing process in this type of story — what element or aspect is the most challenging but also the most gratifying when you get it right?

Susan: What I enjoy writing most in this type of story is the characters and developing them in such a way that they almost have to do the things they do in the book. Edward, for example, has expensive tastes and likes to live big – he wouldn’t easily adapt to changing his lifestyle to accommodate a flagging economy and a failing company. Joe’s widow, Karen, has no illusions when it comes to either love or marriage. She’s invested over half her life in a relationship and will ignore the obvious when it comes to her husband’s infidelity. Samuel’s secretive nature and frequent absences become more suspect in light of the recent death of his wife’s lover. These three as well as all the other characters are likely to react in certain ways to obstacles thrown in their paths. I only have to plant the hurdles. They do what they will do.

Q. Of the female characters, which one do you most relate to or feel sympathy toward? Which one do you think had the most memorable voice?

Susan: I relate most to Dorrie. She wears many different hats. She is many things to many people – mother, wife, employee, actress, and friend. She empathizes with everyone, which makes her conflicted because she’s always pulled in different directions. She’s juggling all these aspects of her life, but because she’s ruled by her emotions, nothing is exactly secure. She was drawn to Joe because he saw her not in terms of what she was doing, but of who she was; he touched her on a deeper level. She . . . can almost catch the moments whistling by, quick, shimmering, like skirts on a dance floor, or wind blowing through a jacket in a field. Joe, with his voice like music. Kiss me, like the words to an old song or a curtain flapping in a breeze or sun on a tiled floor. Like a memory just out of reach.  I think Maggie has the most memorable voice because she is a veteran struggling with PTSD.

Q. Writing a thriller with a surprise ending (in this case a couple of twists at the very end) cannot be easy, no matter how creative you are. How do you piece together the ending in a way that keeps readers guessing?  What is your own process?  Do you find beta readers a helpful tool to check your story line and make sure that the plot is doing what you envision?

Susan: I try to keep possibilities open – to have characters who aren’t all good or all not good, so the reader will think, Hmm. Maybe it was him, or possibly her . . . It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, although I don’t like to wrap things up too neatly at the end, so there are usually a couple of pieces out of place. For me, first readers are very helpful. I love my critique groups. They give me honest feedback and suggestions. And of course my editor and my agent have brilliant ideas!

Q. If you were going to describe your writing style in a phrase, what words come to mind? With these two books under your belt, what kind of brand are you building in the literary world?  What authors do you most admire and why?

Margaret Atwood

Ottawa native Margaret Atwood

Susan: Maybe Shakespeare’s quote, Past Is Prologue. The brand – I would say Literary Mystery/Suspense. Favorite authors – Margaret Atwood because she always hooks me right away and pulls me into whatever she’s writing. I admire her versatility. I also love Susan Minot. I think she writes the most beautiful prose. And Kate Atkinson because she really knows how to craft suspense. Also Liane Moriarty, Ann Patchett, Wally Lamb. . .  I have lots of favorite authors!

Q. Your first book dealt with mental illness in that your main character suffered from bi-polar condition. This book the insurance investigator is an Iraqi War veteran with PTSD. What is it about psychological issues that you are drawn to write about in your stories? Why is that compelling for you as a storyteller?

Susan: It’s almost impossible to get through life without some kind of psychological issue unless you live in a box, which would create even more psychological issues, actually! I think many mental illnesses are the result of horrific experiences – normal reactions to abnormal situations that change the lens through which we see the world. Maggie, for example, has PTSD because she nearly died, because she was in a war zone, because she couldn’t help her friends. People are often judged for being different, for seeing things differently, so basically they’re stigmatized for having difficult lives.

Q. Place figures into The Other Widow in that it takes place in Boston during the dead of winter. What is your connection to Boston and what aspects of the city did you most enjoy bringing out into the setting of the story?

Susan: I lived in Boston many years ago. I enjoyed writing about the area around Beacon Hill because I lived there on Myrtle Street and I worked at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, entering snowy-bostoninsurance claims from some of the areas mentioned in the book. The accident that sets the stage for the story happens on one of my favorite Boston streets, Newbury, and, as Dorrie stands in her living room, staring at her husband in the middle of the night and wondering who he is, I picture my old friend’s house in Jamaica Plain. A pivotal scene in the book takes place in the Park Street Station at the corner of the Boston Common, where I used to catch the train, and when Dorrie’s friend confesses to meeting Samuel for drinks, they are in the Copley, a hotel where I’ve stayed on occasion.

Q. What do you most want readers to leave with after reading The Other Widow?

Susan: Apart from a compelling, overwhelming urge to read more things I’ve written,J I’d like readers to leave The Other Widow feeling a little less judgmental, a little less inclined to label people. Everyone has a story that’s put them where they are.

Q. What’s next for you in terms of books? Do you have plans to feature Atlanta since that is where you live?

Susan: Yes. I’m currently writing a novel set in Georgia, partly in Atlanta and partly in the country. It begins with the investigation of killings outside midtown bars. An anonymous letter links these deaths to the murder of a man who dies in the driveway of his North Georgia Mountain home as his pregnant wife dresses for a neighbor’s surprise party.

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Buzz on Goodreads for The Other Widow

  • Susan Crawford, author of the psychological thriller The Pocket Wife, does it again with her new novel, The Other Widow. With a complex cast of characters—featuring the perspectives of three strong women brought together by a tragic accident—Crawford captures the very essence of grief felt by a widow and the other woman, haunting love, and obsession. Though the story moves at a slower pace than her first novel, it’s just as absorbing as it steadily examines the psychological impacts of deception, vulnerability, and desire.
  • The Other Widow is a visceral read that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, yearning for the next page right until the very startling end. I guarantee that you won’t put it down.”
    – Emily on Goodreads
  • “A surprising novel; not only a thriller/mystery, but an emotional exploration of feelings of grief, loss, discovery, rage, and forgiveness for both the wife and other woman who must grieve alone. I generally steer clear of mysteries because they are often littered with bad language and explicit sex. The author that can write a sex scene without having to spell it out is the more talented. Crawford is the talented writer.” – Nancy on Goodreads
  • “A terrific thriller/drama! Maggie, Dorrie, and Karen are all very real complex characters dealing with a uniquely awful situation. Crawford has written a great second novel and I’m looking forward to more from her. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC- I really enjoyed it. HIghly recommend if you like plot driven page turners with female protagonists (all around in this case!) Also (and don’t discount this) this was a great travel book as it kept me engaged and entertained. Thumbs up!” – Kathleen on Goodreads

About the Author

SusanCrawfordBioPhotoSusan grew up in Miami, Florida, where she spent her childhood reading mysteries in a hammock strung between two Banyan trees. She graduated from the University of Miami with a B.A. in English.

She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

Susan’s first novel is The Pocket Wife.

Keep up with Susan via her  website, susancrawfordnovelist.com, Twitter @crawfordsusanh or on Facebook.

 

Advance Book Review of a Must-read Thriller — The Pocket Wife

PocketWifeJacketCover
My first post-Thanksgiving read this year was debut author Susan Crawford’s new psychological thriller, The Pocket Wife.
As one of the first bloggers to receive an advance reader’s edition, I’m honored to share some impressions of this hard-to-put-down thriller. Susan, a fellow Atlanta Writers Club member who I interviewed on The Writing Well after news broke of her two-book deal contract with HarperCollins, has weaved a compelling tale that explores the darker side of marriage, fidelity, jealousy and mental illness.

The story opens with Dana Catrell, a wife and mother living in suburban New Jersey, who wakes up hung over with a fuzzy memory of the previous day’s events, only to learn that she was the last person to see her neighbor alive. Fending off medication for her bipolar condition to keep her mind sharp, Dana tries to piece together the events leading to her neighbor’s death, all the time wondering if there is a murderer lurking inside her.

Susan’s main point-of-view character is a woman who has been shaped by her own perceptions of herself and the world around her, tainted by a lifelong struggle with mental illness. Readers are immediately drawn into Dana’s complicated inner life, as someone with secrets and regrets — a wife who feels invisible next to her flamboyant lawyer husband, a lost mother who longs for the presence of their only child, now in college.

Readers begin to feel her hysteria…is she being stalked or is she crazy? Could she –in a drunken fit of rage – have clubbed her neighbor to death?

I followed the unfolding drama – and like any avid reader of a good book – had a hard time putting the story down the further into the book I went. The other point-of-view character is a veteran detective going through his own marital crisis as he tries to uncover the mystery. An ambitious up-and-coming assistant district attorney pressures him to close the case fast, as he fights his growing attraction for the crime’s prime suspect, whose bizarre behavior paints her as the likely culprit.

I recommend everyone pre-order this novel, which is a great who-done-it with an unorthodox lead character who is as flawed and as complicated as they come. The characters are vivid and raw; the writing and pacing strong. There is very little that I didn’t like about this debut novel, though I have to admit I figured out who did it before the climactic ending (an annoying tendency I have when watching movies, too).
The Pocket Wife will be generally released this March, and I believe it’s got a great shot at being optioned for the Big Screen. I can easily envision Julianne Moore in the lead.

Author Q&A

Author Susan Crawford

Author Susan Crawford

Before I conclude this post, I asked Susan to explain a little bit about her writing process and what surprised her most about her characters’ journey. I hope this additional commentary proves helpful to readers as they decide whether to make The Pocket Wife a must-read novel for 2015.

Q. How did you come up with the title?

Susan:  The way I came up with The Pocket Wife’s title is kind of funny. I called my workaholic husband, who was at work of course, about something fairly important. “I can’t talk right now,” he whispered in this annoying, urgent voice. “I’ll just – I’m gonna stick you in my pocket for a second,” and he did. All I could hear was the rustling sounds of his pocket insides so I hung up and tossed my cellphone back into my purse. “I’m nothing but a pocket wife,” I snarled, and then I thought. Hey. Wait. The Pocket Wife! And that became the title.


Q. How were you able to create such a believable main character struggling with bipolar disorder? Did you draw on your own life experience?


Susan:
To a large extent I did draw on my own life experiences when it came to understanding Dana and presenting her to readers. I think all of us have moments when we teeter, when we feel on the brink, when we feel hopeless. Dana just goes a little farther over the line. She becomes unable to function, which was, at least at one point, the definition of insanity. I have been close to people in my life that were bipolar, and that helped me to get inside Dana’s head to a degree. I have always found psychology fascinating – what makes people think and act as they do – that fine line between genius and insanity.


Q. Did the book’s characters – who seem so real – take on a life of their own in your imagination during the writing phase of this novel? What surprised you most about them?


Susan: 
Yes. The characters did take on a life of their own as I was writing the book. They always do. I could see them very clearly and see the world from their perspectives – what their living rooms looked like or their offices, what annoyed them or what made them tick. In fact, if I try to define my characters ahead of time it limits them in a way. It makes them stilted. It confines them to my idea of who they are or who they should be. What surprises me with characters is that they have a big part in how the story plays out, what direction it takes, because if they are real enough, they will do certain things and not others. They play off each other in particular unique ways because of their personalities or proclivities. When I was writing The Pocket Wife I was a little surprised to find that all the characters could justify their behavior. No matter how bizarre or wrong their actions appeared to be, they all had rational (or rationalized) reasons for doing what they did.


Q. What is your favorite excerpt or paragraph in this book? I found certain passages took my breath away in terms of their literary quality.


Susan:
Thank you for the wonderful compliment! I like this passage because I think it shows who Dana is, how she came to be where she is in a nightmare marriage, why she gave up on certain dreams. Also, this part happened in the past, so it doesn’t really give away any of the plot:


She didn’t marry the Poet because she couldn’t slow herself down. Lying beside him on the dingy mattress in that place with the broken wall, she couldn’t relax. Night after night, she lay awake, watching the rise and falling of his hairy chest, the shadows underneath his eyes, the neon light from a liquor store across the alley blinking at the sky. Like a signal, she’d told him, like a warning, and the Poet laughed. “Have a toke,” he said. “It’ll relax you. It will help you sleep,” and the poet stuffed his Chinese pipe with small soft lumps of hash. It didn’t make her sleep, though. Nothing did. Every week she slept less, walking through the downtown streets with the Poet, arm in arm, until late into the night, until his eyes were closing and he fell asleep exhausted on the mattress, leaving her to pace and write. Her classes flew by in a confusion of voices and raised hands – of papers written in the middle of the night, so brilliant, so esoteric. I think I’m channeling God, she told the Poet, her body nothing more than flesh on bones. He tells me what to say. But they didn’t understand – her professors, the other students. Only her dark poet understood, and finally not even he could catch the words that tumbled from her brain onto the page in tiny, oddly-slanted script that even she could barely read. The night he came home and found her on the roof, squatting at the edge in nothing but a slip – the night she said Jesus told her she could fly, the night she floated hundreds of hand-written pages into the winter sky over Avenue D, he’d driven her to Bellevue in a borrowed car.

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To learn more about The Pocket Wife or Susan’s other writing projects, visit her author page at: http://www.susancrawfordnovelist.com/.

Publishing Success: Debut Author Susan Crawford Shares Her Story

Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford

In February, Atlanta writer Susan Crawford got the news new authors dream about: a two-book deal with a major publisher after a seven round-seven-bidder auction for the work.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Carrie Feron at William Morrow took North American rights, for publishers-weeklymid–six figures, to Susan’s debut novel, The Pocket Wife. Agent Jenny Bent described the novel as a “stylish thriller in the tradition of The Silent Wife and Turn of Mind.”

In the novel, Crawford follows a woman, Dana Catrell, whose neighbor is violently murdered. The last person to see the victim, Catrell is experiencing mania brought on by bipolar disorder; unable to remember the fateful day, Catrell must race to clear her name, and stay sane, as she becomes the chief suspect. Crawford teaches creative writing in Atlanta and has won, four times, the Atlanta Writers Club Award.

Here, Susan shares with The Writing Well her journey to this exciting moment in her literary career.

Q. What kind of a storyteller are you? What types of stories that you are drawn to?

SusanCrawfordTo pull readers in to the characters and their surroundings and thoughts as well as the plot, I like to reveal information a bit at a time. I’m drawn to the types of stories I aspire to write – books that absorb me and make me forget I have water boiling on the stove or papers to be graded or my husband waiting for me to call him back.

Q. How long did it take for you to finish your novel? What inspired the story line?
I initially wrote The Pocket Wife in about six months. I did a lot of rewriting, though, so it ended up taking about a year and a half. The story line was inspired by a few things – critique group members suggesting I rev up action in my submissions, my interest in mental health, and by my desire to try writing suspense.

Q. You’ve successfully navigated the terrain of securing first an agent, Jenny Bent, who then helped you secure a two-book deal! What advice can you offer other writers looking to find the right agent for them? How did you know you had a good fit with the Bent Agency?

Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.

Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.

I met Jenny at an Atlanta Writers Club conference, so I am somewhat biased in favor of meeting agents face to face. That said, there is an incredible amount of agent information online. Look for those who want the first chapters or pages included with the query; that way they see your book-writing style initially, which might be different from your knack (or lack of knack) for writing query letters. I liked what Jenny had to say when she spoke on the Agents’ Panel at the conference. I also liked her enthusiasm for my book, even though she had me do a lot of rewriting before she took me on as a client. The changes she wanted me to make in my manuscript were changes that greatly improved the book; she was thorough, communicative, and really good at what she does. We clicked.
Q. What was the most surprising about the process of getting a book contract? What do you wish you had known before that you know now that would make that process easier?

I think what most surprised me was how quickly things happened once the book was sent out. Jenny and I were flying through the last-minute edits and within days after she submitted it to editors there was an offer. As for what would have been helpful to know before, there are a few things: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something different; have fun with what you’re writing. If you really like a particular agent, do what you can to become a client. If she says, “This doesn’t really work for me the way it is now,” ask what you can do to make it work. Also, knowing the outcome, of course; that would have made the process much easier!

Q. Where are you in terms of the launch date of your novel? What steps are you taking now in the months leading to the launch?

I think Harper Collins is aiming for a launch early next year, 2015. Right now I’m beginning to work on my edits, setting up a web page, and talking up the book to anyone who will listen – friends in book clubs, friends who have other friends in book clubs, librarians, people in line at T.J. Maxx.

Q. How valuable has the Atlanta Writers Club been to your success to date as an author?
The Atlanta Writers Club has been invaluable to me. Before Ginger Collins brought me to my The-Atlanta-Writers-Clubfirst AWC meeting I had no idea how to go about being a published author. The contests, the tips, George Weinstein’s sage advice, the authors’ talks, the workshops, and especially the conferences led me to where I am now. Everyone I’ve encountered at The Atlanta Writers Club has been supportive, helpful and enthusiastic. There’s an energy at every meeting that makes me want to leap out of my seat and run home to write. It’s a fantastic group of people, and I’ve made some very good friends there!

Q. Do you also recommend critique groups?

Critique groups can be productive or not. It really depends on the group. I was lucky. I found a helpful group and then another smaller one more focused on publication. If you do join a critique group, it’s important that its members appreciate your writing, even if it isn’t the sort of story they write or prefer to read. If they find fault with the style, for example, or if you feel like going home and shredding chapters (or them) after meetings, you’re in the wrong group. A good rule of thumb is that if two or more readers think something needs changing, take another look at it.

Q. What’s next for you in terms of a follow up to Pocket Wife? Do you know what story line you’ll be tackling for your second book?

The Pocket Wife was sold as the first in a two-book deal. The second book will also be suspense; it centers on two women and a detective, all impacted by a fatal car accident in different ways. One of the women is the dead man’s widow and the other is his girlfriend. A tangled web.