Author: Susan Breen

Susan Breen is the author of The Fiction Class and the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her short stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

How do I look?

So I just got my new author photo, which I love, but it also makes me think of all the previous photos I’ve had taken and where I was in my life at that time. Author photo 2022 Here is my most recent photo and I look hopeful, I think, and friendly. This was the first time I ever had a photo taken outside, in natural light, in front of a tree. No make up, except for my regular make-up. A little dog was running around the lawn. The photographer, Robyn Field, had me get to the shoot a half hour early, so we’d have a chance to chat. This is probably why I don’t look incredibly tense and my shoulders aren’t hunched. Author photo 2017 This is my author photo from 2017. It’s way more formal. I was, and am, working on a book about Anne Boleyn, so I was trying to channel that vibe. It took about an hour to put on all the make up I was wearing. False eyelashes and so on. Author photo 2015 Then there’s this one, from 2015. This is definitely channeling a church lady vibe. I feel like I should be handing […]

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Loglines

I spent last weekend as a workshop leader at the NY Pitch conference, listening to various editors and agents talk about the importance of the logline. Loglines, also called elevator pitches, are one-or-two sentence descriptions of a novel that are meant to hook the reader. Here’s the logline for my story that was just in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine: Beleaguered middle-aged woman teams up with the ghost of Anne Boleyn to solve a murder. Her own. Almost every writer I’ve ever met has hated loglines, mainly because they force us to boil our 90,000 carefully written mystery novels into something you could spit out in an elevator. Where’s the nuance? However, they do sell books. So my question for my fellow Miss Demeanors was: Do you have a logline? Would you like to share it here? Or do you hate them and never want to hear about them again? Tracee de Hahn  That’s the perfect logline for your story (everyone rush out and read it now in Alfred Hitchcock Magazine)! I want to see more of Anne and her new friend, let’s hope there are more murders in their future. On to your question . . .  I had a […]

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Memorial Day Reading List

I was going to draw up a list of great books to read for Memorial Day, and then I happened to wander over to the American Writers Museum and saw that they had already compiled a wonderful list. So I thought perhaps I might just borrow/steal/be inspired by it.

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Distracted

I raised four kids, spent years taking care of my mother, have survived illness and grief and various other disasters, so when I say that I consider myself not easily distracted, I mean it. Come hell or high water or Super Storm Sandy, I get up at 6:00 a.m. and work on my novel. But this past week a momentous event happened in my life, and for the first time I can remember, I simply could not get my mind to focus. This event was my little granddaughter’s baptism. Over the past week my daughter, son-in-law and little granddaughter arrived. My son and his girlfriend flew in from London. My other son arrived, but his wife got sick, and so I was worried about her. My sister-in-law flew in from Colorado and 40 plus other friends and relatives converged. Meanwhile my husband and I raced to make our house as clean as possible. We assembled food, cleaned dishes, cleaned dishes, cleaned dishes. And I sat on the floor and played with my granddaughter. My mind went right out the window. I figured that I would move my wake-up time to 5:00 a.m., and that way I’d be able to get […]

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6 Surprising Things I learned about Agatha Christie

All I knew about the great mystery writer Agatha Christie was that she wrote many of my favorite mysteries and disappeared for a period of time when she was young. But then I read Laura Thompson’s excellent biography of her and learned these amazing facts. 1. The motive is money Forget about love. Money is the “prime motive for crime” in 55 of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, and murder for financial gain is at the center of thirty-six,” Thompson writes, Although Agatha Christie wound up making a lot of money from her writing, both her youth and her middle age were clouded by financial worry. She wrote about what she knew. 2. Her favorite movie? Agatha Christie was not a big fan of movie adaptations of her books. She preferred stage productions. But she loved Witness for the Prosecution (the Billy Wilder version with Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton. ) “It was the only cinematic version of her writing that Agatha ever liked,” Thompson writes. 3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd This book, published in 1926, was the book that changed her reputation. I won’t give away the twist, but it is a good one, but the idea […]

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Old books, mysteries & ethical dilemmas

Tonight is the official opening of the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s also Charlotte Bronte’s birthday. So appropriate that one of the treasures that will be revealed at the fair is a tiny book Bronte wrote when she was only thirteen years old. No one (in the public) has seen this book since 1916. Now it will be for sale for $1.25 million. Or more.   The little book contains 10 poems by Charlotte Bronte. Scholars have long  known that these poems existed because an 1857 biography of Bronte mentioned them, but no one has been able to read them or analyze them or transcribe them. As Jennifer Schuessler explained in The New York Times, “The miniature microvolumes had remained in the Brontë family until the 1890s, when they were dispersed, along with many other manuscripts and artifacts, after the death of the second wife of Charlotte’s widower. Today, all the other tiny books made by Charlotte are in institutional collections, including the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.” The mystery of collecting What I find myself cogitating over is the potential buyer of this treasure. What is she going to do with this book? She could lay out […]

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What is your superpower?

Do you have superpowers? How about the characters in your mystery novels? I was reading mystery author and fabulous agent Paula Munier’s recent blog post on Career Authors, titled GO FOR BROKE: 6 Ways to Make Your Story Stand Out. One of her suggestions was that the best protagonists have superpowers, “that is, something that sets them apart from your run-of-the-mill characters. They don’t have to fly faster than a speeding bullet, but they should have some quality, ability, or talent that makes them smarter, braver, wiser, something more than the rest of us.”  That got me thinking about my protagonist, Maggie Dove, and what her superpowers might be. She’s a person of faith, and I think that’s a huge superpower. I hope that gives her courage, and hope. She’s also a good listener and because of that, she’s able to get people to talk. (I do sort of wish she could fly though.) When I asked my fellow mystery-writing Miss Demeanors, I discovered their characters had a wealth of superpowers!   Emilya Naymark Self delusion! Ha! Seriously, though, my protagonist, Laney Bird, is excellent at being an undercover because she can act. She can transform her looks and behavior […]

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Publishing roulette

I spent last weekend at the NY Pitch Conference, working with authors who were pitching their books to publishing agents and editors. Very exciting. Very nerve-wrecking, and very unpredictable! One editor will love a book, the next editor will hate the exact same book, and a third will look just bored. It’s like playing roulette. You just don’t know where you’re going to land. Some years ago I attended the same exact conference, but then I was one of the authors, not a workshop leader. I was hoping to sell my first novel, The Fiction Class. Bad news, better news, good news You can only imagine my trepidation when I approached the first editor. I’d never met a book editor before. This young woman was from one of the big publishing houses. I gave her my pitch. She peered at me and said, “No one will want to read that.” I had one of those moments when time seems to stop and the tips of your fingers go numb. However, I persevered. Met with two other editors who were more pleasant, though not interested, and then finally, on the last day of the conference, I met with the very last […]

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6 Ways to Improve Your Pitch

Come this Thursday I’ll be leading a workshop at the New York Pitch Conference. This is where I sold my first book (The Fiction Class), met my agent, and met the editor who bought Maggie Dove in its first incarnation. So it’s a happy place for me. But it’s also a really intense place. People come from all over the world to pitch their novels to editors from the big traditional publishing houses. There’s a lot at stake. My job is to stay calm. (In the picture below, I’m the short one in the middle. 🙂 ) I’m also there to help the participants write their pitches, which usually involves me saying many times, “You can cut that.” Which brings me to some pitching advice. 1. Keep in short. I have read a 150-word pitch for War and Peace. It can be done. The idea is not to cram every last fact down the editor’s throat, but rather to entice her with your book so that she will ask to read it. Then you can start cramming down facts. 2. Make sure you include setting in your pitch. So many people buy books because of where they’re set. (Read Sharon’s […]

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3 Stories & a Moral

Some years back the Mystery Writers of America had an open call for stories about odd partners. I came up with a truly fabulous idea, wrote it. Sent it in. Rejected. Usually I’m philosophical about rejection, but this one stung. Took the story and stuck it in a drawer and festered until, last year, I saw an open call for a new MWA anthology with the theme of Crime Hits Home. I remembered the old story, rewrote it, sent it in and….. But wait. Meanwhile, I was working on another story and I absolutely loved the first line. I liked the rest of the story too, but I didn’t think any part of it beat the first line. Then I saw an an open call for the Malice Domestic anthology titled Murder Most Diabolical. Something about the word diabolical took root in my mind. It gave me a way to reframe the story, and so I set to work and…But wait. Meanwhile, I spent years workshopping a mystery novel about Anne Boleyn. The people in the workshop loved my novel. My agent loved my novel, but unfortunately, after a valiant effort, it didn’t sell. So I put it aside, but […]

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Recent Posts

Writing on the Porch
  • June 24, 2022
How do I look?
  • June 23, 2022
Titles, the Torture Of
  • June 20, 2022
Write What You Know
  • June 14, 2022
A SERIES IS BORN
  • June 13, 2022
Loglines
  • June 10, 2022

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