Saturday, January 25, 2014

Meet Mystery Author Susan Bernhardt

Susan Bernhardt is an author living in Wisconsin. Like Kay Driscoll in her cozy mystery The Ginseng Conspiracy, Susan is a retired public health nurse who volunteers at her local free clinic. An avid reader of mysteries, she is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inc. Her other published works include “October 31st”, “Midsummer”, and “John and Madeline.”
Susan's town in northern Wisconsin was an inspiration for the quaint settings of her novel. She lives with her husband, William, and has two sons, Peter and David. When not writing, Susan loves to travel, bicycle, kayak, and create culinary magic in her kitchen. She works in stained-glass, daydreams in her organic garden, stays up late reading mysteries, and eats lots of chocolate.
          You can find her at:
          Twitter: @SusanBernhardt1

When did you consider yourself a writer?
When I started writing The Ginseng Conspiracy and had other works published in ezines.

Do you have a schedule when you write or do you write whenever there’s some peace and quiet? If you have a set schedule, share it with us.
I try to write everyday but often life gets in the way. I probably average 2-3 hours per day.

Any odd rituals that get you in the mood to write? Where do you write? What’s on your desk?
I write sitting on my sofa in the living room with my notebook on my lap. We have a wall sized window in the room with fabulous views of trees, birds, and my neighborhood. I keep my teacup filled on a table next to me. It's a peaceful place to work.

Tell us where the idea came long it took to write...difficulties you may have encountered and how you overcame.
I write from real life experiences. Kay's family in The Ginseng Conspiracy is based on my family.
Many factors contributed to the idea of The Ginseng Conspiracy. We live three blocks from a college. Often I would see a professor walking past our home to the college talking into a recorder. The plotline idea just hit me. I decided to write a mystery about a college professor being murdered because of research he was doing on the local ginseng fields. While travelling, my husband and I met a couple from Wisconsin who owned a ginseng farm. They told us about a Chinese delegation coming to their farm and putting in a large order for ginseng. Wisconsin grows 95% of the American ginseng. These are just a couple examples of how the idea for The Ginseng Conspiracy evolved.

Pick three words that describe you as a person.
Passionate, persistent, adventurous.

Pick three words that describe you as a writer.
The same words would apply. I identify as a writer. Passionate, persistent, adventurous.

As a published author do you find the process of writing, editing, promotion getting easier? Also, how many published books do you have?
Some of my other works are published in ezines. The Ginseng Conspiracy is the first in the Kay Driscoll series, and is my first published novel. I am currently writing the third mystery in the series. The second mystery will be sent to my publisher in the next couple of weeks. I have found subsequent novels easier to write since being published. There used to be large gaps of time when writing. That is no longer the case. Promotion seems to be a bit easier than I first expected and so far I haven't run out of ideas.

How hard is it to step away from characters you’ve spent time with and finally pen THE END? Do you have an impulse to continue their story?
My cozy mysteries are a series. I haven't had this happen yet.

Do you picture a famous movie star when penning your hero? If so, name a few. Same for the heroine.
No. Kay Driscoll is me. I only picture myself.

What advice would you offer to new writers?

This first piece of advice is for any genre. Once you have an idea for your book, don’t just talk about writing, sit down and write out a first draft. Write anything that comes into your mind, no matter how far out it may be. You will do multiple edits, anyway, so free write.
          As far as mysteries, tension, tension, tension. There must be some level of crisis that causes conflict in each chapter.

The Ginseng Conspiracy – Excerpt

I supposed I should have kept going and minded my own business, but when had I ever done that? My curiosity kept calling me. I had told Elizabeth and Deirdre that Phil and I would meet them at seven-thirty. It was seven-fifteen, and I was just two blocks away. I had plenty of time to find out what was going on. It was a bit creepy, but I could just take a peek. Not knowing was killing me, so I made the decision to check it out.
          I ducked into the dark alley and went around to the double back door of the store. The entire area looked shabby and desolate. I'd never been in the alley behind the stores before. This presented new territory for me. A smell of wilting trash prevailed. Trashcans on their sides spilled their ancient contents into the rutted pavement. Piles of old wood and broken pallets leaned against the side of the building. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to be here after all, but I continued on to satisfy my curiosity.
          I pulled open one of the unlocked doors, entered, and heard faint voices coming from behind an inner door down a hallway. Slowly, careful to not make a sound, I opened the inside door and just as silently closed it behind me. A curtain blocked my view into the room, so I moved forward to peer around its edge.
          Six people stood in a storage room in a circle, all of them wearing the same silk gossamer hooded robes. It was a bizarre scene. No party atmosphere here. Fresh footprints from the mystery people scattered around the thick dust on the floor. Cobwebs covered the walls. This was becoming much more like The Da Vinci Code than I would have liked. All that was missing was a body. I was beginning to think I had been right in the first place. I shouldn't be here. Way past having a bad feeling about this, the hair on my body stood on end. But I didn't move for the door. I was determined to stay and find out what was happening. The robed people all gazed down at the floor. Stepping onto a low box in front of me, I strained my neck to see what they were looking at. Lying on the floor was a person. Had someone passed out? I could see a man. He was someone I knew, the professor we saw on our morning walks, who passed our home on his way to the college, whom Elizabeth hadn't introduced me to yet. I couldn’t believe it. The professor was lying there, looked lifeless. My skin tingled. I held my breath as my heart raced.
          I stumbled as I stepped down from the box that I stood on. Backing away from the curtain, I swung the door open wide and ran toward the alley door. Footsteps sounded in the hallway as I slammed the back door shut. I grabbed a thick piece of wood lying beside the door, shoved it though the door handles, and raced through the dark alley behind the stores. I got about a block away before I heard the sound of splintering wood. It was only a short distance to get to the Vermilion Pathway where Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I walked each morning. I hoped to lose myself in the wooded area.
          I reached the pathway, removed my slippers to make it easier to run, and sprinted down a short distance before I made a sharp left turn up an embankment. I heard hurried voices coming in my direction on the path. Halfway up the embankment, I hid behind an old gargantuan oak tree I had often admired on our walks I pulled the skirt of my cloak tight around my legs and held my breath. My heart pounded so loudly in my chest, I thought for sure they would be able to hear it. The pursuing group passed without slowing, within twenty feet from where I hid. The moonless night concealed me. Why the chase? What had I interrupted? Everything spun out of control. I couldn't believe this was happening to Sudbury Falls!
          I waited until I no longer heard their voices and then continued up the embankment and ran through backyards that were parallel to Main Street. I put my slippers back on. I needed to head for the safety of home where I could process the adrenaline-fueled events of the last several minutes. In the middle of the block, with no direct streetlights overhead, I dashed across Main Street and through two backyards. I kept in the shadows, running between the houses.
          This was a night of shadows. I could see a woman through her back picture window standing over at the stove as I ran through her yard. Her dog, tied up in the backyard, started barking as he saw me. But I was already gone before I heard her backdoor slam shut. I crossed Elm Street, hoping not to be seen in the streetlights. Eerie Jack-O’Lanterns leered out at me from the corner house. Phil and I had just laughed about them last night when walking home from Jo's, but now they were unwanted eyes watching me as I tried to move undetected through town. Their sneers looked fixedly at me as I passed. Stretches between the yards seemed longer. Running under brooding trees on Maple Street, I reached the entrance to the alley behind our house.
          I stopped in the shadows, searching the night for any signs of movement, making sure I wasn't followed. It was creepier back here than I expected. A cat screamed. I jumped and bolted down the alley, through our squeaky gate, and let myself in the back door, locking it behind me.
          I pulled my knees up to my chest and laid my head on them. What was going on? What had I just witnessed in the vacant store?

The Ginseng Conspiracy is available at MuseItUp Publishing and all online reputable vendors. For a complete listing please visit THE GINSENG CONSPIRACY


Unknown said...

Great interview, Susan and good advice to writers, just to sit down and do it!

Unknown said...

A great interview and a great book! Best wishes for continued success.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thanks, Jerry for visiting the website and for commenting on my interview. There was a New York Times article that said 81% of people say they have a book in them and I believe it was only 2-4% something like ever wrote one. That's why it is so important to just start writing and not only talk about it.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thanks, Heather for reading the interview and commenting. You are very kind. I appreciate your support.


Unknown said...

Great interview, Susan. I really like what you said about sitting down and just writing out the first draft, no matter how off the wall it seems. As you said, there will be several rewrites. The best first draft is a finished first draft.

Anonymous said...

Loved your interview, Susan. Your writing spot sounds fabulous. I also drink copious amounts of tea when I write. Perhaps it helps the imagination! I have The Ginseng Conspiaracy on my Kindle and I'm looking forward very much to reading it.

Marie Laval said...

Thank you for a very interesting interview Susan. Good luck with The Ginseng Conspiracy. I didn't know about Wisconsin growing so much ginseng...I see what you mean about picturing yourself as the heroin. I do the same, that's why all my heroin so far are blond and short (and a little bit slimmer of course) and have some of my characters traits too.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thanks, Matt for your comment and visiting the interview. That's how I wrote my first two books just free-writing the first draft. The third book, I'm still trying to do the same, but I keep starting over with the first chapter when I get start (big mistake) and that is almost at the final revision where I'm only on I think chapter 7 for the first draft.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thanks, Helena for visiting and your comments. I drink lots of tea all day whether I'm writing or not. Since part of the book takes place at Sweet Marissa's Patisserie, the crime fighting headquarters, tea is the most appropriate drink for my

I hope you'll enjoy The Ginseng Conspiracy. It really was a lot of fun to write.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thank you, Marie for your comments and for visiting my interview.

I was actually contact by the Wisconsin Ginseng Board about my book The Ginseng Conspiracy. They have an interest in it because of the subject matter. I think because 95% of the American ginseng is grown in Wisconsin, there haven't been any mystery books written about ginseng. At least there weren't when I started writing the cozy mystery.

It's easiest to write what you know and much of my writing comes from real life experience so my protagonist and her family were easy to write about since they were based on my family.

Lin said...

I had the pleasure of meeting this gifted woman before she made it to the final galleys. Since I've been a member of Muse almost since the day lea opened her doors for submissions, it is always a joy for me to meet our new authors and help them walk through the process of getting their books to that glorious day of release. Susan is a treasure...AND her writing is engaging, entertaining, and worthy of all of us grabbing it and saving it forever to our eReaders.

Susan I am so honored I can call you sister Muse author...but also friend. I LOVE a good mind capable of weaving a mystery story that'll keep me on my toes. You do that quite well.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Wow, Lin! Thanks very much for your kind words about me and my mystery. You know I call you friend as well. You are an incredibly kind woman and you have helped me along the way at MIU.

Thank you so much.
Your friend, Susan

Unknown said...

Susan, now that I've learned Kay's character is based on your own, The Ginseng Conspiracy is going up on my TBR list.
Maybe it's the analyst in me, but I love when authors create autobiographical characters, b/c I know the character's actions, observations, and orientation are authentic!

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thanks, Loren for visiting and for your comment. I hope you'll enjoy The Ginseng Conspiracy. Not only is Kay based on me, but Phil, Kay's husband is based on my husband. Our sons are included but play much smaller roles.

Heath Greenis said...

Great blog. I always enjoy reading about the inspiration behind a plot. A man that walks by. Love it!
Heather G - The Natasha Saga.

Marsha said...

Hey, Susan. Glad to see your book doing so well. Cozies are delightful and develop huge fan bases. It means you've got to keep cranking out the next one and the next one. :) A nice problem to have. Congrats on the release. Love the cover.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thanks, Heather G. for visiting and commenting here. Inspiration for writing is all around us. So glad that I met the couple from Wisconsin who owned a ginseng farm and that I live close to a see the professor walk by my home as I write. :)

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thanks, Marsha for visiting and your comments. I hope my Kay Driscoll series develops a fan base. My favorite cozy author, M.C. Beaton has such a big fan base. Readers will buy any of her books that come out.

Suzannah Safi made a great cover for The Ginseng Conspiracy.

Lorenzo Martines said...

Terrific interview. You should be very proud of all the great reviews your book is receiving. Well deserved. Can't wait to read the next two sequels.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Thank you, Lorenzo for visiting the MIU website, my interview, and for your kind words. The Ginseng Conspiracy and the other books in the series have been fun to write.

Looking forward to your memoir coming out soon.

Unknown said...

"Not only is Kay based on me, but Phil, Kay's husband is based on my husband."
You had me at this line Susan. Ran over to MIU bookstore to purchase it!

Susan Bernhardt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Bernhardt said...

That's really great, Loren! I hope you'll enjoy The Ginseng Conspiracy now. Thanks so much.


Leona~Author said...

Great interview, Susan. The things we learn. I always thought ginseng grew wild. My brother and his friends went into the woods hunting for ginseng and golden seal roots.They would dry it to sell it for more money. Of course, this was many long years ago.

Best wishes, and lots of luck with your books.

Susan Bernhardt said...

Hi Leona. Thanks so much for visiting my interview and commenting. Ninety-five percent of the cultivated ginseng is grown in Wisconsin. There is wild ginseng. This was part of an article in a Madison newspaper in December 2013.

A yearlong state Department of Natural Resources probe into illegal ginseng harvesting has generated more than 100 citations for violations between 2013 and 2007, underscoring again how diggers continue to brush off state regulations to get their hands on the treasured plant.

Asian cultures have long coveted ginseng, a five-leafed plant with red berries. Many believe its gnarly, multipronged root possesses medicinal qualities that can help with everything from memory to erectile dysfunction.

The plant takes years to mature in the wild and has been harvested to near-extinction in China. Buyers have since turned to North America.

The price of wild ginseng roots has spiked over the last decade. A pound of dried roots was going for between $800 to $850 this year, said Courtney Ripp, the DNR's ginseng program manager.

Wisconsin's ginseng harvesting season runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1 and diggers must get a license.

J.Q. Rose said...

Enjoyed your post. Sorry I'm so late commenting. Ginseng has entered my life since I saw the title of your book. I guess I'm just more aware of it now. Watched a series on West VA harvesting of the crop. Big money for the those little roots so many folks dig it up and steal it from the property owners. Who knew? Definitely adding your book to my TBR list AND googling ginseng! Best wishes!

Susan Bernhardt said...

JQ, it is pretty amazing that ginseng sells for up to $800 a pound for those little gnarly roots. What a great business to be in!

Thanks so much for visiting my interview and commenting. I appreciate it, JQ.


Susan Bernhardt said...

I'd like to thank everyone who commented on the interview here, in the MIU Yahoo Group, who sent me an email or who spoke with me in person. I appreciate your support of me and The Ginseng Conspiracy.

Susan Bernhardt

Curl up with a killer – Cozy Mysteries
The Ginseng Conspiracy by Susan Bernhardt