Please help me welcome an author friend, Susan Coryell, with her latest release from The Wild Rose Press. I had the pleasure of being her editor for the entire Overhome Trilogy, and enjoyed each novel immensely. What better time of year for a spooky, Southern Gothic Mystery?
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOU: I am a retired career English teacher now living at Smith Mt. Lake in Southern Virginia. My writer’s loft overlooks a pristine cove surrounded by hills and foliage. I have three grown children and seven grand-kids—no pets as my hubs and I often travel.
For my new release, the title, Nobody Knows, derives from an old Negro spiritual by that name. The hymn springs up in connection with some Civil War ghosts in an historic cottage on the property of Overhome Estate, the setting for the novel.
Nobody Knows is a cozy mystery/Southern Gothic, the third novel in the Overhome Trilogy. A Red, Red Rose is the first in the series and Beneath the Stones is second. In book one, the protagonist, Ashby Overton is twenty. In book two she is twenty-five and in book three she is thirty, but each novel may also be read as a stand-alone. The books are set at Moore Mt. Lake, a fictionalization of my current home.
With an historic estate as the setting, each novel carries a history-based theme involving Southern Virginia and the Civil War involvement there. Nobody Knows deals with the post-war neo-slavery imposed on slaves freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, inspired by a documentary I viewed at a local museum.
The most difficult thing about writing this series was knowing when to stop with the extensive research required to authenticate the background. I have been fascinated by what I have learned!
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? It’s a bit surprising, even to me, that at the age of nine, once a month during the summer, I would ride into work with my father, who owned his own business, and using the adding machine, I would make up bills for his credit card customers. Work-life began early in those days!
WHAT DO YOU WANT READERS TO COME AWAY WITH AFTER THEY READ NOBODY KNOWS? I feel theme is an important element for my fiction. My novels are all multi-themed; some of the strongest underlying ideas include the value of family; the role of history in our present and future lives; finding self; and the awareness that the South still deals with long-held, deeply-felt beliefs that battle with modernity—our ghosts of the past. If my readers can identify with any or all of these themes I am a happy writer!
WHAT ACTORS WOULD YOU LIKE IN THE MAIN ROLES IF YOUR BOOK WERE MADE INTO A MOVIE? Love this question! A reader recently said, “You know, your mystery-Gothics would make a wonderful movie.” While I am gratified to hear that, I think a television mini-series would work best with my growing, evolving and dynamic characters. Emma Stone would make a wonderful Ashby Overton—just the right combination of “gee-whiz” and no-nonsense.
WHAT CELEBRITY WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO BE STANDED ON AN ISLAND WITH? This one’s easy. William Shakespeare, for sure. While waving a palm-frond fan over him, I’d drill him endlessly about Hamlet’s affair with Ophelia, Romeo’s relationship with Mercutio and whether Lady MacBeth was based on a real person. Who was the person, really, that he adored so much in his sonnets? Then, I’d grill him for writing tips!
HAVE YOU WRITTEN ANY OTHER BOOKS THAT ARE NOT PUBLISHED? Sure. Hasn’t every published writer? Doubleheader, my first effort was probably not fit for publication, but it taught me that I could write a whole novel-length story with a beginning, middle and end. Also, a later “true” story about a sniper snagged a NY publisher but I had to renege when I discovered the subject of the book had lied about some of the “facts.” When the sniper dies, I intend to revisit the manuscript and re-tell it as “based on a true story” and try again to publish it. I have to wait for his demise because he’s a crack shot and he might come after me with an assault rifle.
WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST CRITICISM GIVEN TO YOU AS AN AUTHOR? WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST COMPLIMENT? Compliment first: My sister read my anti-bully YA novel EAGLEBAIT and informed me, “I was so immersed in the story, I completely forgot it was my sister who wrote the book.” Toughest criticism came from a national review medium that considered that same book beneath them in every way. I think they disliked books for and about troubled teenagers. Interestingly, EAGLEBAIT won several awards, including the International Reading Association’s “Young Adult Choice,” and the NY Public Library’s “Books for the Teenage.”
HOW MUCH OF NOBODY KNOWS IS REALISTIC? All of the history in the Overhome Trilogy is real. I also searched until I found an old plantation that survived the filling of the lake as a prototype for Overhome Estate. Horse farm life depicted is realistic, as is the daily life of a contemporary rural upper-income family. I based Luke’s large animal veterinary practice on books and interviews about the topic. Whether or not a reader believes in the reality of an invisible spirit world is, of course, subjective. At the very least, I hope for suspended disbelief while readers turn the pages of my books.
HOW DID YOUR INTEREST IN WRITING ORIGINATE? My standard answer: Writers know who we are; writers have to write. Quick example: When I was in third grade, I wrote letters and, with Mom’s help, addressed and sent them to my friends and classmates. Each recipient would call and thank me for her letter. I turned to my mother with, “What is the matter with these people? I wrote them a letter. They are supposed to write back to me. NOT call me.” Mom laughed. “Susan, not everyone is a writer like you.”
A FAVORITE PLACE I VISIT: Has to be Hawaii. Our youngest son and his family live there and we visit every winter. Smart boy to marry a Hawaiian, eh? We’ve explored every island in the chain except Lanai and each is magical in its own unique way. The Hawaiian folks are warm, hospitable and generous; we’ve made many friends there and our Hawaiian extended family is delightfully thoughtful and loving.
Thank you, Susan! I enjoyed getting to know you better. I could definitely see Emma Stone as Ashby.
Why do ancient spirits hover at the crossroads between two worlds: the living and the dead?
With a successful writing career and blissful marriage, Ashby Overton is fulfilled and content at historic Overhome Estate in Southern Virginia’until a stranger walks into her life. The arrival of Professor Ellis O. Grady coincides with a violent and bizarre turbulence emanating from the dark world of Overhome’s ancient spirits.
As paranormal events build into chaos, Ashby must use her sixth sense to sort out the real from the imagined in both the visible and the invisible worlds as, stirred into fury, the souls of Civil War slaves engage in a dangerous battle destined to reveal long-held secrets of the past.
What is the connection between the enigmatic professor, a slave-built chapel and a restored overseer’s cottage on Overhome Estate? Ashby struggles to find the answers before the spirits destroy her family’s heritage, and the lives of those she loves.
Walking over the weedy ground, I felt the desolate abandonment of those long-dead. A few tilting gravestones, so blurred with time that their epitaphs were illegible, listed toward the ground as if sheltering from a punishing wind. Scattered among the patchwork grasses were small, thin stone markers set in the dirt, little more than raw rocks, though several bore the faint outline of initials which had been chiseled into them so long ago. Ellis and I surveyed the bleak cemetery, each harboring our own thoughts. I don’t know how long we stood there breathing in the silence. Then, I heard the voice.—so clear, so distinct, that I startled and almost fell back. Did my companion hear it, too? I darted a look at him. He stood with eyes closed, evidently completely lost in his own reverie. I held my breath and listened with all my senses on alert. The voice wavered this time, as though trailing away, but its repeated message was identical to the one I had first heard at the Overseer’s Cottage when the candlestick went missing. I had thought, then, that I heard “red apple,” which made no sense. Now I understood. “Jared Chapel,” the voice warned. Yes, its tone was severe. Demanding. “Jared Chapel.”
I touched Ellis’s arm. “It’s here, Ellis. I know it is.” And when he blinked uncomprehendingly, I added, “You wondered if Jared Chapel offers anything in your search for your ancestry. It’s here—there’s something here. I feel it and I…I know it.”
He blinked several times, a serious expression on his face. “You know because…”
“Sometimes the past speaks to me. I can’t explain it, but I have to trust the voice that tells me things.”
He rubbed his chin. “You know…this is odd. Really odd.”
I raised my eyebrows in a silent question and he continued. “Because I thought I heard something. I definitely felt…a presence I can’t explain. Someone trying to get my attention. Someone very, very seriously trying to make me understand.” He shook his head. “Understand what? I confess, I’m baffled.”
“It’s a sign,” I said. “Something I’ve learned over my years at Overhome. We ignore the signs at our own peril.”
Bio: A career educator, Susan has taught students from 7th grade through college-level. She earned a BA degree in English from Carson-Newman College and a Masters from George Mason University. She is listed in several different volumes of Who’s Who in Education and Who’s Who in Teaching. Susan belongs to Author’s Guild, Virginia Writers, and Lake Writers. She loves to talk with budding writers at schools, writers’ conferences and workshops. Her young adult anti-bully novel EAGLEBAIT is in its third edition for print and e-book, updated with cyber-bullying. EAGLEBAIT won the NY Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age,” and the International Reading Association’s “Young Adult Choice.”
A RED, RED ROSE, first in a cozy mystery/Southern Gothic series, was nominated for a literary award with the Library of Virginia. BENEATH THE STONES, the sequel, was released in April of 2015; it also was nominated for a literary award by the Library of Virginia. NOBODY KNOWS, third novel in the Overhome Trilogy, released October, 2016. All three novels were published by The Wild Rose Press in NY.
When not writing, Susan enjoys boating, kayaking, golf and yoga. She and her husband, Ned, love to travel, especially when any of their seven grandchildren are involved.
A final word: Don’t forget that Halloween is upon us. What better way to celebrate than with a great series of ghost stories in the Overhome Trilogy!
(For a limited time, Amazon Prime members can get A Red, Red Rose for free!!)
Thanks to Alicia for hosting me on her wonderful blog!
My pleasure, Susan…thank you for sharing your fabulous stories and a great interview with us today. Susan would love visitors and comments, but she might not answer right away as she’s out for the day. She’ll check in as soon as she can, though!