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.

What do you mean when you say Surreal?

The other day I noticed an ad for a collection of short stories about the pandemic. According to the blurb on the cover of The Decameron Project, “When reality is surreal, only fiction can make sense of it.” That made me think of how often I’ve used the word “surreal” since the pandemic started. When I say something is surreal, what I mean is that it’s unbelievable. Or strange. But I began to wonder about what the word actually means. In the deepest sense. So I popped over to the Museum of Modern Art. Everything you’d ever want to know about surrealism is explained there, and I was intrigued by the definition. Influenced by the writings of psychologist Sigmund Freud, the literary, intellectual, and artistic movement called Surrealism sought a revolution against the constraints of the rational mind; and by extension, the rules of a society they saw as oppressive.  Our country has spent a lot of time over the last year discussing the rules of our society, and what they mean, and who they apply to. It’s our job as mystery writers to push people to the breaking point, and see how they respond when a rule stands in their way. […]

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Mystery in the Woods

I was roaming around the woods yesterday when I came upon this hole. Immediately I was intrigued. Perhaps a horse made it? But why would a horse be hopping on one leg, and in any event, there are no horses in the woods. That I know of. Then I looked more closely. The edges of the dirt were smooth. I imagined a rock had been there and someone decided to pull it out. But why? Happens I’ve been rereading my first Maggie Dove mystery (because it is to be published in paperback soon! But more on that later.) Maggie Dove had planned to throw a rock at someone, so it was possible that someone had read my book and decided to emulate her. Though that seemed unlikely. The track team runs on this trail, so I thought it possible that someone tripped over the rock. Got irritated and dug it up. But why then would you leave a hole that you could trip on? No, the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that someone had done this with a purpose. I have a friend who paints on rocks. She could have chosen to pick it up. […]

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A New Holiday?

I love Mother’s Day, but I also love the day after Mother’s Day. I feel like it’s a moment of Zen after a very intense build-up. I think the Monday after Mother’s Day should be National Take-a-Break Day.

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Truth, Lies & Alice Hoffman

I came across this quote from the great novelist Alice Hoffman and it nestled in my head. You know how you get these bits of information you can’t stop thinking about? It reminded me of something my oldest son Will once said to me. I was telling an anecdote about something and I was embroidering it. As one does. Because you have to if you want to make the story interesting, and he said to me, “Mom, you’re such a liar.” I was, in fact, lying, but with a purpose. The story needed a bit of shaping. I was not going to sit there and tell a boring story without any sort of a punch line. There was truth in the story, but it needed a boost. This is the same reason I wear make-up. By contrast, when I’m writing a novel, I’m trying to figure out the truth. That sounds sort of ponderous. What I mean is that when I’m writing fiction I’m trying to understand what characters are doing and there’s no point in lying to myself, even if the characters are lying. What do you think? Please join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter?

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What I learned from George Saunders

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of getting an M.F.A. Spending a year or two focusing on my writing. Discussing writing with great minds. The push and pull of other students. It’s all so appealing, but unfortunately, when I had time, I didn’t have money. When I had money, I didn’t have time. And now I’m not entirely sure I have my wits about me. Why did I walk into that room?

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Twitter Tips

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an intelligent woman who turns to Twitter for information will soon find herself trapped in a sinkhole of despair.  (Hieronymus Bosch comes to mind.)  However, I’ve found that, by treading carefully, Twitter is actually entertaining. Bordering on inspirational. The key thing is to be careful about who you follow. Very careful! When I first joined Twitter, ten or so years ago, I was preoccupied with accumulating as many followers as I could. So I followed everyone. Everyone followed me back. Then I began getting really weird messages and I felt like I was hanging out with some very unusual people, and not in a good way. So I began to reevaluate. Cut back. Stop worrying about numbers and think about content. I winnowed down my list to people I liked. Some of my favorite tweeters: The Monty Don   He is the host of Gardeners World and his Twitter feed is filled with beautiful pictures of gardens. Reading his posts in the morning is like breathing in fresh air.  2. Deanna Raybourn She is the author of the Veronica Speedwell mysteries, which I adore. Her Twitter feed is entertaining and just a little bit […]

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Weird Facts (and how they help you write)

Weird facts about owls

One of the pleasures of being a writer is that it is my actual job to seek out weird facts. Sometimes I feel a bit like a jaybird, skimming through books and articles. Or eavesdropping. Or gossiping. Feathering my nest with all sorts of intriguing information. Will I actually use them? I just don’t know. When I least expect it, these facts pop out of my head. Or melt into my brain. For example, a weird fact about owls is that a group of them together is known as “a parliament.” According to chipperbirds.com, this is because owls are considered to be wise and intelligent. Like a parliament. Then there is the issue of the chocolate chip cookies. I was chatting with my son, who is living in London at the moment, and he informed me that when the French bake chocolate chip cookies, they don’t use brown sugar. (He sent me a recipe, so I can attest that this is true.) This weird fact stunned me as I have spent a good percentage of my life hacking away at brown sugar in a desperate attempt to make chocolate chip cookies. And more weird facts Then I was reading Midnight […]

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Agatha nominations

It’s Agatha Award nominating time, which means that people in the cozy mystery community are going through the books and stories we’ve read this year and cogitating over which ones we’d like to nominate. (Ballots are due in electronically by March 6.)

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