What’s Under Your Tree?

Susan Book
It is my pleasure to feature Susan Bernhardt, friend and writing colleague. Congratulations, Susan, on your second book, Murder Under the Tree, which just came out. Your first, The Ginseng Conspiracy, received great attention and notices. I’m sure this one will too.

Thank you, Lorenzo. I’m happy for the opportunity to be here.

How long did it take you to write Murder Under the Tree and how different was the process from the first time?

Murder Under the Tree took over a year to write. The process wasn’t much different than for The Ginseng Conspiracy. In a way it was easier because I already knew all about the main characters, their personalities, etc. The toughest part was trying to figure out how to incorporate some of the details from the first mystery into the second without repeating whole chunks of information.

The most important part of writing for me in both mysteries was simply to get the stories down in a first draft. From there I expanded my ideas and did many, many revisions. My son, Peter who was the editor for this second book and you, a creative advisor read the manuscript, made comments, and offered suggestions.

This Kay Driscoll mystery takes place during the Christmas holidays. Your first cozy revolved around Halloween. Are you planning other books in the Kay Driscoll series around a holiday? If so, why do holidays intrigue you?

My third Kay Driscoll mystery has a working title Murder by Fireworks. The story takes place around the Fourth of July holiday.

The Ginseng Conspiracy takes place during Halloween. I’ve always loved Halloween as a kid with my friends and as a parent, making it a fun holiday for my children. I still celebrate the holiday with friends, such as going to a Witches’ Tea or a Witches’ Night Out or with my husband to Halloween parties and watching Halloween movies.

I came from a large family where holidays were important and we had many family traditions that went with each holiday. We would go home to my parents’ for Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and would know almost exactly what the activities would be for the entire weekend, extending even to the menu, and we loved all of it. I have many fond memories of holiday celebrations.

How many more books in the series are you planning before you retire Kay Driscoll?

As I mentioned above I have a third Kay Driscoll Mystery that I hope to submit in January. There may be a fourth Kay Driscoll down the line. I’m keeping that option open.

How do you plot your books? Do you do an outline of the crime, the victim(s), the murderer before you sit down to write? Walk us through that process.

I don’t do an outline. I think about the story before I start writing, I jot down a few ideas in a notebook such as what the premise will be, who and why a victim will be murdered, then I just sit down and write out the first draft. The first draft of The Ginseng Conspiracy that I hand-wrote was about fifty pages. From there the story evolved. The finished manuscript was over 300 pages.

This is the most important step of my writing process to get the story down and not worry about how it might sound, or how far-out my ideas may be. I write anything and everything about the story. During the revision process many things change: the characters, their activities, plots take a twist, even the murderer may change.

How do you approach editing? Do you revise as you go, or do you wait until you have a full draft before you start revising.

I definitely don’t edit before my full first draft is completed. That would kill creativity. After finishing the first draft, then I start on a series of revisions, my first revision, followed by my second, third, fourth, as many as it takes before I can’t do anything else with the story.

In The Ginseng Conspiracy I had my two editors (Peter Bernhardt and Lorenzo Martinez) go through the chapters. For Murder Under the Tree, my editor, Peter Bernhardt and my artistic advisor, Lorenzo Martinez read the chapters. In my third Kay Driscoll mystery, I don’t have an editor. I still have an artistic advisor, Lorenzo Martinez who reads my chapters and makes great suggestions.

I do also read each chapter to my husband before I show it to anyone else. I started that with my second mystery. And I have him look at me while I am reading, so he doesn’t fall asleep. Lol! And when he does anyway even though he says he didn’t, I’ll ask him to repeat what I just read. If he can’t, I read it again. I have a wonderful husband!

What did you do to market your first book and what are you planning to do different or the same this time?

For The Ginseng Conspiracy I did a lot of marketing through social media: FB, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and on my website http://www.susanbernhardt.com. I had a press release in two newspapers and had an interview with one. The Ginseng Conspiracy was featured in a one page article in the Wisconsin Writers’ Association magazine “Creative Wisconsin.” Also The Ginseng Conspiracy was featured in the Sisters In Crime Quarterly. The Ginseng Conspiracy was featured on the top two cozy mystery sites out there. I belong to a number of cozy mystery groups where I do marketing.

I will probably do the same for Murder Under the Tree perhaps less on certain social media sites that I thought weren’t productive. Murder Under the Tree is again listed on the top two mystery sites. Sisters In Crime plans to feature the mystery on their website and quarterly. An editor of the “Creative Wisconsin Magazine” has contacted me and it will be in their next issue. I was just informed today that the mystery will be advertised in our local newspaper.

Also as a second novel in the Kay Driscoll Mystery series, I’m hoping readers who enjoyed my first mystery, will also read the second one. The Ginseng Conspiracy received great reviews both online and in person.

What’s the greatest reward you get from being a writer? Is your family impressed by your success? If so, how do they express it?

Personal enjoyment and satisfaction is the greatest reward that I get. I started writing to challenge myself. And I love writing, creating a world that a reader becomes interested in and excited about. And I love it when people tell me that they enjoyed my book.

I don’t really think that my family is impressed by my being an author, although I did ask my husband when the question came up for this interview. He said he was impressed. Smart answer!

When my youngest son was reading The Ginseng Conspiracy, he said about half way though the novel, he stopped reading and thought, he couldn’t believe that his mother wrote this book. I have supportive friends and family who have enjoyed the mystery and are happy and thrilled for me, but impressed?

Probably the only person who is impressed is myself. The novelty of being a published author still hasn’t worn off and it has already been a year since my first mystery, The Ginseng Conspiracy came out. I hope the novelty never wears off.

Susan, thank you so much for being my guest. I wish you the greatest success with Murder Under The Tree.

Lorenzo, you’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure.

Murder Under the Tree Book Blurb:

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!

Website: http://www.susanbernhardt.com
Author FB page – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7255617.Susan_Bernhardt
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/skbernha/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusanBernhardt1
The Ginseng Conspiracy
Murder Under the Tree –

21 thoughts on “What’s Under Your Tree?

  1. Thank you Susan and Lorenzo for this great interview. I am very impressed by your productivity, Susan. I immensely enjoyed the first Kay Driscoll mystery. I can’t wait until I get the chance to read the second. Best of luck with your promotional efforts. All the best, Matt

    1. Thanks, Matt for your very nice comments and continual support. I appreciate it very much. I hope you enjoy, Murder Under the Tree.

      Presently I’m reading your thriller, The Brothers’ Keepers and enjoying it very much.


  2. Lorenzo, thank you for interviewing me today.

    We’ve been through a lot together with our writing and it’s exciting to see our finished novels. It’s been a great ride for me. Thank you for all of your help these past years, editing, commenting, your suggestions.

    I wish you all the best with Cuba, Adios, all your writing endeavors, and just life in general. 🙂


  3. Hey, Lorenzo and Susan. What a heartfelt interview. I guess it helps that y’all know each other so well. How did y’all develop your relationship? I’ve had Critique Partners before in earlier books, but in my current WIP, I’m pretty much on my own. I’ll probably look for a Beta reader, which I know lots of writers use. I don’t have the sense that’s quite y’all’s relationship.
    I’m currently reading the book, Susan. It’s delightful. Goodness there’s a lot of good eating in there. I thought I had a lot of food scenes. Plays havoc with my resolutions! LOL Best to you with this series. You know there is some holiday every month. I can see a 12 book series! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Marsha for visiting and for your great comments. I guess it would be difficult for me not to write about food.

      Lorenzo and I met in an online writing class and then afterwards we joined a writing group with others from the class. I was incredibly lucky that he became interested in my writing, took me under his wing, and started reading my chapters. Soon afterwards, he started editing The Ginseng Conspiracy with my son.

      Lorenzo is an incredibly talented author and has a fascinating background. Recently his memoir, Cuba, Adios was published.

    2. Marsha, thanks for stopping by. As Susan mentions, we met online in a writing class and later joined a writing group that members of the class formed. After that we continued to read and critique each other’s writing.

  4. Thank you, Heather. I would say you know about big families with 30+ at your Thanksgiving. It’s great fun to be part of a large family; every event is a big party!

    Thanks for your support.


  5. Aloha Susan and Lorenzo.

    Great interview! I’m always fascinated by how Americans do all these holiday traditions. We’re not like that in my country. On our ‘independence’ day. Most people think – yay – day off. Let’s goto the beach. Lol. And we don’t have Thanksgiving of course or Halloween. Easter is bigger. The whole country gets Good Friday and Easter Monday off. Nice long weekend with chocolate. But that’s about the extent of it. Lol

    Anyway thanks. I hope your second book does even better than your first book. :-). And I loved the sample of your book Lorenzo. Fascinating.

    Aloha Meg. 🙂

    1. Thank you Meg for stopping by. You’re right about about Americans and their holiday traditions. We didn’t celebrate the same holidays in Cuba either (Halloween, Thanksgiving). It didn’t take me long to adopt them as my own, though. I’m glad you enjoyed the sample of my book, Cuba, Adios.

    2. Meg, I put this in the wrong spot, so I am adding it up here as well.

      Aloha, Meg. Thanks for your great comments and well wishes. And for visiting our interview.

      It is interesting the different ways of celebrating holidays in various countries. It’s fun to hear about others’ celebrations.

      Aloha, Susan

  6. Nice session, Sue & Lorenzo. I always find tidbits about the process of writing very interesting. The behind the scenes effort is so much greater than we imagine it to be. Sue, I can practically see Bill responding the way you have described 🙂 Why is it hard to impress the kids? And I say this generally because it applies to all moms. I am looking forward to more from you, Sue.

    1. Hi Reshma. Thanks for visiting and your comments. You made me laugh about Bill and David. 🙂

      Having now finished two novels and being almost done with the third mystery, I can tell you there is a lot of work and behind the scene efforts for a novel to come out and in my case to entertain. But it’s really great fun also or I wouldn’t do it.

      Take care and talk to you soon.

  7. Aloha, Meg. Thanks for your great comments and well wishes. And for visiting our interview.

    It is interesting the different ways of celebrating holidays in various countries. It’s fun to hear about others’ celebrations.

    Aloha, Susan

  8. Sorry I couldn’t get to this yesterday. But, I enjoyed the interview and learning more about Susan. I loved the way she described her husband during her readings. So funny. I much prefer to read to my cat! In all honesty, my husband does read nearly every draft. Poor thing!

    The challenge of putting enough info from the first book into the second so people understand the characters and their behaviors is something I’m working with now. I don’t want to give away too much in the second book in case people read them out of order. It’s hard!

    Thanks for the nice interview and for getting to know Lorenzo!

    1. Hello Joan, I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. It is difficult to know how much to include about characters that have already appeared in a previous book. That’s a delicate balance authors who write a series face. Susan did a great job with that. A good test is to have someone who’s not familiar with the first book read the second. If that person understands the characters and doesn’t feel anything is missing, you’ve done your job well. Good luck with that.

  9. Thanks, Joan for visiting and your great comments. Knowing what to put in the second book about the first can be a difficult thing in writing a series. One reader did contact me and mentioned that they read Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2) and enjoyed it very much and because of the references to the first book The Ginseng Conspiracy, they were now going to go back and read that one.

    Then you have the third book…lol…again what to put about the first and second in it. I really didn’t have any problem with that at all. However, I did read the first two books of Janet Evanovich to see how much she repeated, which I think is quite a bit. Same with Sue Grafton.

    I still think a series should be read in order, even with all of the books written as stand alone books.


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