Guest Susan Oleksiw

Edith here, about to depart on a real vacation, but first: Susan Oleksiw is our guest on the blog today with her new series debut, Below the Tree Line.

I owe a special debt to Susan – way back in the mid-nineties I joined a writers’ group she hosted in her home. Susan was my first creative writing teacher – or first since grade school, anyway. In her group I started working on what became (19 years later) the first Local Foods Mystery. I learned a huge amount not only about things like point of view, naming characters, story pacing, and using weather only in the service of the story, but also how to offer kind AND constructive critiques.  Thank you, Susan! I’ve read and loved all her books so far, and I’m delighted she’s joined the Midnight Ink publishing family with this new endeavor.

Below the Tree LineHere’s a condensed book blurb:  In the Massachusetts countryside, family secrets run deep . . . but an outside threat could uproot them all. Felicity O’Brien hopes the warning shot fired from her porch is enough to scare off the intruder who’s been snooping around her family’s farm. Days later, when two young women are found dead nearby, Felicity can’t figure out how the deaths are related, and even her inherited healing touch isn’t enough to ease the community’s pain over the tragic loss.

Felicity know someone wants something bad enough to kill for it, but all she has is the neglected property her parents passed down to her. Joining forces with a friend, Felicity tries to uncover the truth and save herself and her land from those who are capable of unthinkable harm.

And Susan is giving away a copy of this intriguing new mystery to one commenter here today (US only)!

Minor Characters

My new series is set in the Pioneer Valley, one of the most beautiful if little-known spots in New England. Felicity O’Brien, who has recently taken over managing Tall Tree Farm from her dad, cobbles together a number of jobs to keep things going, and in doing so she interacts with the larger community. This is the best part about setting a story in a rural area–discovering the minor characters who emerge from the shadows as suspects, villains, victims, or unexpected helpers. They tend to arrive on their own, with little or no effort on my part, and then prove themselves useful. If not, they get folded into another, more important character. But where do they really come from?

Right after college I worked as a case manager in child welfare in a rural area where the size of the farms was measured by the number of cows. The average farmer owned fifty cows. That was true in the 1960s and it’s true today. Not much has changed in that part of the world.

Over the years I moved far away from farms and child welfare, but I never forgot many Pond_N.Orange_IMG_2957of the people I worked with, or the children I served. Some of their life stories stayed with me. You might even say they haunted me. I can still recall my supervisor handing me a file for one child in particular as she said, “We’ve all gone a round with Stevie [not his real name]. Maybe you’ll have better luck. You’ll adore him. We all do. Oh, do you smoke? Don’t take any matches with you when you visit.”

Sometimes the character was one I already knew in a different context and met in a new way. In many parts of the country, people (and I have been one of them) receiving regular visits of Jehovah’s Witnesses on a Sunday morning shut the door politely or impolitely on them. But in West Woodbury, the small town where Felicity lives, the man or woman witnessing is too intricately woven into the fabric of the community to not receive a friendly welcome.

When invited in, he might just as easily fall into a discussion of the upcoming Town Meeting, or voice a concern about funding for certain programs, or offer an opinion on the new coffee shop opening up on the old highway. And the person he might be visiting could easily be a member of a very different church, perhaps Catholic or Spiritualist or even Buddhist. Rural America isn’t always as conservative as urban Americans think.

This character seems especially useful as I think about all the conversations he’s had, all the things he’s seen by arriving unexpectedly on one of his witnessing visits. I imagine all the little details about the community he’s stored away in his memory.

Felicity O’Brien, farmer and healer, manages Tall Tree Farm with the help of her good friend Jeremy Colson and her future mother-in-law, Loretta, who hijacks every scene she appears in. Caustic, sarcastic, and eagle-eyed where Felicity is concerned, Loretta never Road_mist_N.Orange_IMG_2961gives an inch unless she’s had two six-packs and knows there are more in the fridge. But she provides crucial information at odd moments.

Visitors driving through the area admire the pastoral view, or enjoy a woodland tramp. But those who live there, in the small towns and hamlets, and deep in the woods off dirt tracks, know what kind of real life seethes beneath the bucolic scene.

Readers:  Do you have a favorite minor character in a mystery novel? Are there people in your earlier years who still haunt your thoughts? Remember, Susan is giving away a copy of Below the Tree Line (US only) – and you won’t want to miss out on reading it!

Susan Oleksiw is the author of twelve mysteries in three series. Below the Tree Line is the first in the Pioneer Valley series. The Anita Ray series features an Indian-American photographer living in South India at her aunt’s tourist hotel. In four books, beginning with Under the Eye of Kali (2010), Anita solves crimes among her extended family, taking the reader into little-known corners of traditional India. The Mellingham series features Chief Joe Silva in seven books. In Murder in Mellingham (1993), Chief Silva solves the murder of a prominent visitor. In Come About for Murder (2016), Joe teaches his stepson to sail, never suspecting the boy will soon be sailing to save his life.

Susan’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. She published A Reader’s Guide to the Classic British Mystery (G.K. Hall, 1988), and served as co-editor for The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing (1999). She was a co-founder of Level Best Books, publishers of an annual crime fiction anthology by New England writers, and The Larcom Review (1998-2003). Susan lives and writes outside Boston, MA. Find her at her web site and elsewhere.

38 Thoughts

  1. I look forward to reading BELOW THE TREE LINE. Congratulations on the series debut! I’m intrigued by Felicity being a healer. What inspired you to write about that? It’s a special interest of mine. Best wishes with this exciting new series!

    1. Susan, I knew one of the healers in a small spiritualist church in the area, and attended one of their services. In future books I hope to integrate Felicity’s “gift” more into the mystery.

  2. Below the Tree Line sounds really good! Have not read her books before. This is why I love “The Wickeds”! Lets me
    Know about new series and books and stories about the authors! 😊 Love it! Have a great Friday!

  3. Congratulations on the release of “Below the Tree Line”, the first book of what sounds like a fabulous new series!

    All I can say is – WOW! I can’t wait to read more about Felicity O’Brien, Tall Tree Farm and the colorful minor characters. I’m hooked. I have placed this book on my TBR list.

    I love the life to the back roads country that you painted which reminds me a lot of the places around where I live – the Ozark Mountains.

    Susan Oleksiw is a new to me author but one that won’t stay that way for very long. I can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Below the Tree Line”.

    Trying to pick a favorite minor character would be like trying to pick a favorite dessert. They are all good – for different reasons. Some are sweet, some of tart, some leave you longing for more, but they are all good and add to the meal. Just as minor characters – some are helpful and some a hindrance, some are sweet and some are bitter, and some you would love to give a hug and others you would just love to knock upside the head and say “here’s your sign”. They all add to the story and make it work and keep the reader turning the pages.

    Thank you for the opportunity to win a copy of “Below the Tree Line”.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. Like Kay, I couldn’t come up with a favorite minor character, but I sure have loved many of them.

    I think most people have known someone in their past who just always sticks in the mind somehow. I’ve often wondered what happened to certain folks, especially children who had a hard life. Were they beaten down by it or did they find a way to rise about it and surprise the world and, perhaps, themselves.

    I look forward to Susan’s new book. I love the Joe Silva books.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Ginny. Glad you enjoyed the Silva books. I too wonder about the children I worked with so many years ago. I hope things turned out well for them.

  5. For a while there I thought you were talking about the rural area in Indiana I grew up in. Congrats on the new release. This book sounds so interesting and so layered. I can’t think of particular minor characters that are favorites, but the most interesting ones are those that are not the sidekick or the girlfriend or mother-in-law or sheriff, but rather those that hover alongside or just below the radar, like the Jehovah’s Witness. Sometimes the minor character gets your attention so much they seem like a major character. And posts like this remind me as a reader to slow down and pay attention to everybody as I read, not necessarily to figure out a mystery but to see the intricate roles everyone plays.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sally. Yes, I so enjoy the minor characters in other books, and in writing my own. I’m glad the sense of a rural world rang true to you (but it’s definitely not Indiana), and to others. I was trying to capture the feeling of that world.

  6. I’m looking forward to reading this. Thank you for the chance to win. I cannot pick just one favorite minor character, but I’ll go with Carolyn Haines’ haint Jitty from her Sarah Booth Delaney series. She’s a trip.

  7. Death on Demand’s friend Hetty and mother-in-law Laurel by Carolyn Hart. There are so many more but of course I can’t remember their names.

  8. Congrats on your new release Susan! One of my favorite minor characters is Ruby Bee from Joan Hess’ Arly Hanks books.

      1. I love all the Maggody books! What fun. And I love all the oddball characters (and their names) in the whole series.

  9. I love minor characters in mysteries. Usually they bring some fun to the books and are a good balance to the main characters. Your book sounds fabulous!

  10. As my visit winds down, I offer my thanks to the six women of Wicked Cozy Authors for inviting me to visit today, and to Edith Maxwell for her generous introduction. And thanks, of course, to all the commenters who shared their love of mysteries and minor characters.

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