Posted By Susan Bernhardt

“Books are the mirrors of the soul.” ~ Virginia Woolf

Many authors insist they are not their characters or the characters are not them. Not so for me.

Writing for me is quite like fantasizing. I imagine myself as the protagonist in my novels. I identify with my main character or is it the other way around? I was Kay Driscoll in the Kay Driscoll Mystery series, i.e. The Ginseng Conspiracy, Murder Under the Tree, and Murder by Fireworks. Like an actor who "becomes" that person and lives the part while filming, I am the protagonist in my WIP. When writing, I live the part.

I'm currently writing a Manhattan murder mystery. The protagonist, Irina, is a retired ballet dancer who teaches young children to dance at her studio. She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I immensely enjoy writing this mystery because I describe the brownstone I would want to live in. I "go to" the restaurants and coffee shops I love. My NYC friends are relatively quirky. It's great fun to view the world through Irina's eyes.

Of course in order to do this, a lot of research is involved because the setting is NYC and the protagonist's profession is ballet. Here I chose two topics I'm interested in, which adds to the pleasure of my art. I get to experience NYC, visit art museums, enjoy the culture. This vicarious experience is similar to readers' reports of actually gaining weight just from the pastry descriptions in The Ginseng Conspiracy .

A lot of love is being poured into this book, even though it is a murder I'm currently in the revision stage. Hopefully A Manhattan Murder Mystery will be completed and out in 2016.

“Every book has a soul, the soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and dream about it.” ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

We are very happy to welcome Susan Bernhardt today, all the way from Wisconsin! Ken had an uncle, aunt and cousin from the Lake Como area of Wisconsin and has many wonderful memories of summer trips  — swimming and fishing in the lakes, playing golf, and generally having a great time.

Susan is the author of The Ginseng Conspiracy and Murder Under The Tree, two excellent cozy mysteries involving the amateur sleuth, Kay Driscoll, in the fictional town of Sudbury Falls, Wisconsin. Her third Kay Driscoll mystery, Murder By Fireworks, is due out in the fall of this year.  Susan enjoys many activities.  Among other things, she rides her bike (on twenty mile jaunts) and hikes, sometimes to considerable heights, as witnessed by the following photo.

She also enjoys some more modest climbs that are no less rewarding.

Please share with us a memory of visiting the library or of reading, preferably as a young child. The public library has played an important part in my life, from childhood as you will read below to high school where I would visit the downtown library obsessed with my book topic of the month, to college where I studied for tests until 2 a.m. I took my children to story hour and knew all the best children’s authors. It was a place to escape to at times, a place that I worked at for a short period and where I volunteered. I still visit the library each week. When I was old enough as a child, I would walk to the library throughout the summer, which was about a mile away and would choose books to read for that week. Then I’d return the next week and tell the librarian what each book was about and then bring home another ten or twelve. I belonged to the reading club.

(This answer has evoked such nice memories of all the libraries we have enjoyed over the years. They have a spiritual quality.)

Which book have you read and has stayed with you and made you reread it in whole or in part? What about the book created this attraction?  I met two friends in a writing group who literally changed my life by introducing me to an entirely new world of literature. I had mostly read mysteries books and even though my new interests were still mostly mysteries, they were vastly different. The first book was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. To this day, it is my favorite book. And to sum it up in one sentence, it is a novel about the love of literature. I read other books by this author, and went on to Gabriel García Márquez, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Donna Leon, and many others.

(This looks like a book we will want to read!  It is now on hold for us at the public library.  Yes, we use and enjoy the library!)

Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why? (NOT one of the books you’ve written).  Since the rules are that I can’t choose to leave The Ginseng Conspiracy…lol…I would say Anne of Green Gables. The book was sweet and delightful. It told of a more simple life and had great lessons about love, friendship, and family.

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

We have read and enjoyed The Ginseng Conspiracy and Murder Under the Tree is already on our TBR pile – can you tell about your murder mystery set in New York City?  Right now the story is all over the place. I’m still writing the first draft, so I don’t know where I’ll all go with it. The main story is about Irina, a retired ballet dancer living in Manhattan who runs a ballet studio for young children. A normally healthy neighbor becomes ill over time, dies, and Irina sets out to prove it wasn’t from natural causes. There’s a bit about Lithuania in the Cold War, subplots include a lover from the Irina’s college years at NYU who suddenly reenters her life, a stranger obsessed with Irina who moves into her neighborhood on the Upper West Side.

(Sounds great. Hurry up and finish it!)

Are there any genres that you have never written in that you would like to try? Why or why not?  I wrote a middle grade short story that was published in an ezine in the style of Ray Bradbury, who I admire and consider a creative genius. The story was part mystery, part fantasy and sci-fi, part horror. I would like to some day expand this short story into a full sized novel. At this time those are the only genres besides mysteries that I would be interested in writing.

Attach a photo of you (preferably one that we have not seen before!) It is always nice to have a photo of you doing something you enjoy like hiking or travelling. A short description would be great.  We moved to Wisconsin from Boulder County in Colorado. A couple of years ago my husband and I went on a road trip with our youngest son and his wife to Colorado. I wrote part of The Ginseng Conspiracy while travelling. In this photo I’m hiking/climbing in the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park in Boulder.

(This was a great photo, but we stole it and printed it above!)

The complete interview can be found on Kenneth Hicks and Anne Rothman Hicks blog:

The Ginseng Conspiracy(A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1) 

On her way to attend a Halloween Ball, Kay Driscoll, a newcomer to town, witnesses the murder of a local professor. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental and the community accepts the judgement, Kay decides to uncover the truth for herself. Through her personal investigations, Kay exposes a complex conspiracy, woven deep within the thriving local ginseng industry, that involves some of the more prominent figures and families of Sudbury Falls.

With her new friends, the free-spirited herbalist Deirdre and the untamed modern woman Elizabeth, Kay discusses new clues over tea and pastries at Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie, their crime-fighting headquarters. As Kay gets closer to the heart of the conspiracy, additional murders happen in quick succession. Before long, Kay learns that the villains are gunning for her, too. Phil, her musically talented but preoccupied husband, determined to keep her safe, withholds from her the one thing she needs most: the truth.

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2)

While Kay attends a Christmas tea at Hawthorne Hills Retirement Home, a beloved caretaker dies from an allergic reaction to peanuts. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental, a small group of residents suspect foul play and call upon Kay to investigate.

Kay uncovers sinister plots of fraud, revenge, and corruption at the Home. During this season of peace on earth, good will to men, additional murders occur. Despite multiple attempts on her life, and with the support once again of her best friends, Elizabeth and Deirdre, Kay continues her quest for bringing justice for the victims. Kay’s first Christmas in Sudbury Falls is an unforgettable one, with equal amounts of celebration and danger. ‘Tis the season to be sleuthing!

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

Today I am visiting with Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks. Recently I read their poignant novel Kate and The Kid. A fascinating story about an emotionally damaged little girl, this novel deals with an array of emotions: compassion, abuse, conflict, love, transformation, all involving a strong cast of complex characters. Before we get to the book excerpt, I wanted to ask Anne and Ken a few questions to learn a bit more about them. Welcome!

What do you do to unwind?

Anne: I meditate, and take yoga and aerobic classes.

Ken: I like to walk, generally in Central Park. While I walk I usually have a camera with me just in case something catches my eye. Sometimes I will just bring my binoculars and look for birds. I also enjoy making sculpture and working on the photographs I have taken.

If you could take one year off and learn to do something well, what would it be?

Anne: I would like to make something creative with my hands, something three dimensional like sculpture. Or, I would like to learn more about digital photography technique. It seems complicated compared to the old-fashioned adjustment of F-stop and shutter speed of my long-since-gone trusty Pentax camera.

Ken: I would like to take classes in drawing.

What is the best gift you have ever received?

Anne: That would be a heart that Ken made for me out of plaster years ago when I was a senior in college. It has a light red patina and reads “I love Anne 2/14.”

Ken: When I had just graduated from college, Anne gave me $200 dollars that I used as a down payment on a Volkeswagon Beetle. More recently, Anne bought me a couple of courses at a place in New York that teaches book binding and also offers instruction in using paper in various ways to make small books. It opened up a lot of possibilities.

What is your favorite book? And why?

Anne: My favorite book is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I keep coming back to the predicament of Pip.

Ken: This is a hard question since there are so many great books. But my absolute favorite is The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. I love the way he presents the “story” from different points of view. I also love the way he writes. (Having peeked at Anne’s answer, I have to mention that one of my big favorites is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. It is no accident that the pigeon in Things Are Not What they Seem loved Dickens and followed him to America.)

Please tell us about an important lesson, life has taught you.

Anne: To enjoy what you have and to try not to regret what you don’t have.

Ken: The most important thing I have learned is the importance of hard work in every aspect of life.

Posted By Susan Bernhardt

Where is the best place to eat in Manhattan besides at home or in Central Park? I love to hear about food.

Anne and Ken: We enjoy ethnic restaurants and New York City offers an endless variety. One of our most favorite restaurants was a little store front Yemini restaurant in Bensonhurst that we read about in the New York Times. The place had bread that was out of this world and a bunch of dishes that we have not found anywhere else that are nearly as good. Sadly, it closed. We are still looking for a replacement.

Our existing favorite near where we live is a Middle Eastern place on Third Avenue and 80th Street called Beyoglu. We generally order an appetizer platter with hummus, babajanoush, grape leaves, and many other favorites all of which are perfectly made and delicious. We usually order a few more appetizers not on the platter and that is our dinner. But any of the main courses are also great.

Kate and The Kid Excerpt:

She began to press all the buzzers on the panel in the building’s foyer, one after the other, hoping that some kind soul among her neighbors would let her in. The headache that had started in the cab settled in for the night, pounding just above her right eye. At that exquisite moment, Kate saw the kid -- that ghostly, smudge-faced kid -- sitting on the staircase inside. A one armed Barbie doll was on the step beside her.

"Hi, Sweetie!" Kate said through the wired glass, exaggerating the enunciation of the words to make her meaning clear. "Would you come and let me in, honey? You remember me, don’t you? I live on the third floor?!"

The girl did not budge, apparently still trying for the grand prize in a zombie look-alike contest. At first, Kate felt a twinge of concern for the girl. Why on earth was she out in the hallway so late in the evening? Kate leaned her forehead against the cool glass and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Jenny took the doll into her lap, whispered something into her plastic ear, walloped her twice across the bottom, and started up the stairs.

"Hey! Hey, where are you going?!" Kate shouted. "Hey you better come back here you little... Hey! Hey, did you hear me?!"

And with the little darling thus doubly emblazoned on Kate's mind, if not yet on her heart, their second encounter ended.

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