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Up Close with Author + RI Native Suzanne Young

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Author Suzanne Young.

Since publishing her first short story in 2007, author Suzanne Young has made quite a name for herself in the mystery genre. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Young currently has one short story and four full-length novels under her belt. Her most recent novel, "Murder by Christmas," was released last fall. Like her previous three novels, "Murder by Christmas" features herbalist and amateur sleuth Edna Davies, and takes place right here in Rhode Island.

Interestingly, Young has been a resident of Colorado for over 40 years. Despite leaving the state after graduating from the University of Rhode Island, Young's time spent in the Ocean State has left an indelible mark on her writing.

With this in mind, GoLocal recently spoke to Young, a member of Kindle’s top-100 list of “most popular authors in mystery,” about her Rhode Island upbringing and the influence it has had on her writing.

A Conversation with Suzanne Young

Can you talk a little about growing up in Rhode Island? What are some of your fondest memories of Rhode Island?

I had a happy childhood, growing up with two brothers and two sisters. I was fourth in the pecking order. During the school year, we lived in Warwick, on the East Greenwich line. Summers, weekends and holidays were spent on a farm in Washington County, not far from Dawley Park on the New London Turnpike. In summer, we went on picnics and for walks in the woods. There was a large pond where we boated, swam and fished for brook trout. Winters were a time for sledding and ice-skating.

Until I was seven, the farmhouse had no running water or electricity, so I experienced a kitchen pump, kerosene lanterns and a “two-holer” outhouse. The kitchen had a wood stove that was used even after modern appliances were added. I remember an “ice man” coming in the middle of summer to bring a huge block for the “ice box.”

We had a cow for milk and chickens for eggs. I helped to make butter and mayonnaise. A large garden provided most of our food and, of course, there was canning and preserving of vegetables and fruit in the fall.

All great memories, but my fondest is of Thanksgivings when our extended family got together--four of my mother’s six siblings, their spouses and children plus my father’s sister made a core group of 26. With friends, there were sometimes as many as 35 people for dinner. The smells of roasting turkey and pumpkin pie inside and the crispness of fall outside made the world a glorious place that day. We played games, joked and laughed. It’s still my favorite holiday because of those memories.

My least favorite memories? Cleaning the soot-blackened lantern chimneys and weeding the vegetable garden.

What inspired you to become a writer and did growing up in Rhode Island play a role in this?

My writing was first encouraged by a wonderful teacher I had in junior high, Walter Blanchard. He taught English and history and greatly influenced my love of both subjects. He gave us essay assignments which we would read in class. Mine, he said, were like excerpts out of “Life with Father.”

My family always had our meals together, but supper was particularly enjoyable because my father would “conduct” the conversation. He was a fan of Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and poets such as Wordsworth, Keats and Byron. He’d quote something or toss out a fact, then send me or one of my older siblings to look it up in Bartlett’s or the encyclopedia or the dictionary. In every house my parents owned, there was always a room lined with books.

I might have become a writer regardless of where I grew up, but my environment certainly gave me plenty of preparation and material for such a career.

What led to your decision to base several of your novels in Rhode Island?

My novels are a series with a protagonist who lives in Rhode Island. The second in the series, “Murder by Proxy,” was set in Colorado to please my local readers, but Edna Davies really belongs in New England.

The house in which I grew up was built in 1780 by Jeremiah Greene, uncle to Nathanael Greene. Our farm had once been a stop for stagecoaches and the Pony Express, where horses were changed. So, my youth was not only surrounded with history, but with the creaks, thumps and groans of aged houses. Attics and cellars were mysterious places where I was sent on occasion to fetch something stored there, but I usually ran my errand quickly and left as soon as possible. They were dark and smelled of old wood, dust and dirt. I can still conjure up feelings of someone behind me, about to tap on my shoulder with a boney finger.

Can you discuss you latest book "Murder by Christmas"? Is there any Rhode Island influence in there?

"Murder by Christmas" is about preparing for a holiday – or what can go terribly wrong in the process. In this story, Edna is frantic. The demands of an incapacitated husband have put her behind schedule so that, five days before Christmas, with family gathering for the first time in years, she hasn't even put up a tree. As a blizzard descends on the town, the owner of a local cat shelter is found dead and neighbor Mary Osbourne disappears. Trying to juggle holiday plans with the search for her friend, Edna confronts a killer and may miss Christmas herself.

In “Murder by Christmas,” I mention a few family traditions, including calling up the chimney to Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Once (and only once!), my father stuck his boots in the fireplace ashes and walked from the hearth to the Christmas tree. We were delighted to detect Santa’s footprints on the rug, next morning. (My mother, not so pleased.) I wrote about Christmas because, to me, its preparation seems longer, more involved and more stressful than any other holiday. Good inspiration for murder and mayhem.

If you could collaborate with one author who would it be?

That’s a tough one. There are so many good authors. If I have to pick one, today I would say M.C. Beaton. Her characters are flawed but likable which, to me, makes them real. Her stories are entertaining, and she seems to depict bustling village life with a minimum of words. It would be fun and educational to work with her.

What is your process like, and how do you get your ideas?

I’ve been asked more than once if I write every day. I don’t. To me, that would be one sure path to writer’s block. I think about a scene or a chapter before I sit down to draft it. The first pass of a book is the hardest, by far--filling up all those blank pages. I disliked “rewrites” when I was in school, but now they are my favorite part of producing a book. Once a story has been fleshed out, I enjoy going back and smoothing it out, choosing a slightly better word here or enhancing the story with a little more detail there.

My ideas come from observing and considering things around me. For “Murder by Yew,” my research led me to look into poisons, which I narrowed to natural poisons. When I began studying the plants, bushes and trees native to Rhode Island, I was amazed that I had survived my youth. From rhododendron to lily-of-the-valley to yews, there seemed to be more toxic flora than not. The interesting thing is, in lesser doses, the poisonous substances can all be used medicinally.

“Murder by Proxy,” developed through wondering about the automation of my life. I worked at home, my paycheck was deposited directly into my bank account and phone calls were answered by voice messaging. When utilities and retailers began the campaign to “save a stamp” and “allow us access to your bank account,” the circle was closed. With money coming in for the bills to be paid automatically, the basics of life certainly didn’t need my interference. If I were to die, how long would this process continue?

Morbid, perhaps, but I do earn my living by thinking up ways to kill someone--gently, of course, and only on paper.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

That readers look forward to my next book.

Lastly, what advice do you have for an aspiring writer?

Find a good critique group. Not an easy task because writers can be very sensitive and guarded about their work. A good critique partner must be a serious writer working on his or her own project and be willing to take the time to give your work an honest review, without trying to change your style or your story. A group of three or four is ideal.

I was very fortunate to have found two such writers when I was working on my first novel back in 2000. I don’t know if I’d be published today if it hadn’t been for the deadlines we set and the kind-but-relevant feedback we gave each other. I am still working with terrific critique partners and can’t imagine writing without such support.

If you would like to purchase Suzanne's latest book "Murder by Christmas" or any of her previous works, click here. For more more information about Suzanne, visit her website.

Proceeds from Suzanne's book sales help to benefit such causes as Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Arvada Food Bank, Angels Unaware (AngelsUnaware.net), Barnwater Cats and other local animal rescue groups.


Related Slideshow: 25 Movies Filmed in Rhode Island

Prev Next

Moonrise Kingdom


Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray Frances McDormand

This Oscar nominated film features many local landmarks including Fort Wetherill State Park, Bayfield Farm, and the Conanicut Lighthouse.

Prev Next

Mr. North


Director: Danny Huston

Cast: Anthony Edwards, Robert Mitchum, Lauren Bacall

Shot in Newport, this comedy-drama features Anthony Edwards as a con man attempting to break into the 1920s Newport social scene. 

Prev Next

There's Something About Mary


Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller

Filmed partly in Providence, this movie was the highest-grossing comedy in 1998. 

Prev Next

Federal Hill


Director: Michael Corrente

Cast: Nicholas Turturro, Anthony DeSando, Libby Langdon

Set in Providence's Federal Hill neighborhood, the movie marks the directorial debut of Pawtucket native Michael Corrente.

Prev Next

Age of Innocence


Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder

This Oscar winning drama was partly filmed in Portsmouth.  

Prev Next

True Lies


Director: James Cameron

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold

The ballroom scenes in the movie were filmed at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport.

Prev Next

High Society


Director: Charles Walters

Cast: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra

Nominated for two Academy Awards, the movie's opening shot features a flyover of Newport’s oceanfront mansions. 

Prev Next

Thirteen Days


Director: Roger Donaldson

Cast: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp

This docudrama about the Cuban Missile Crisis was partly shot in Newport. 

Prev Next

Little Children


Director: Todd Field

Cast: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley

Shot partly in Providence, this critically acclaimed drama received three Academy Award nominations, including a Best Lead Actress nod for Kate Winslet.

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Director: Peter M. Lenkov

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon

A car chase for this action-comedy was filmed in downtown Providence.

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Dijimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey

Shot at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport and the State House in Providence, this drama received four Academy Award nominations in 1998. 

Prev Next

Outside Providence


Director: Michael Corrente

Cast: Shawn Hatosy, Amy Smart, Alec Baldwin

Filmed in multiple locations throughout Rhode Island, this movie is an adaptation of Peter Farrelly's 1988 novel of the same name.

Prev Next

Me, Myself & Irene


Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Renée Zellweger. Chris Cooper, Robert Forster, Richard Jenkins

Filmed in Newport, Narragansett, Jamestown, and Galilee, this comedy centers on a Rhode Island State Trooper played by Jim Carrey. 

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Director: Lajos Koltai

Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Meryl Streep

The film was primarily set in Newport and included large portions shot at Gooseberry Beach.

Prev Next

The Great Gatsby


Director: Jack Clayton

Cast: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern

This Academy Award-winning drama was filmed in Newport at the Rosecliff Mansion on Bellevue Ave.

Prev Next

Self Storage


Director: Tom DeNucci

Cast: Eric Roberts, Jonathan Silverman, Michael Berryman, Tom DeNucci

Filmed in a self storage facility in East Greenwich, this horror-comedy marks the directorial debut of Cranston native Tom DeNucci. 

Prev Next

27 Dresses


Director: Anne Fletcher

Cast: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Åkerman, Ed Burns

Shot throughout Rhode Island, locations included the Rosecliff and Marble House mansions in Newport and a beach in Charlestown. 

Prev Next

Dan in Real Life


Director: Anne Fletcher

Cast: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill

Filmed primarily in Jamestown, the movie also features the Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett.

Prev Next

Hachi: A Dog's Tale


Director: Lasse Hallström

Cast: Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Jason Alexander

Filmed primarily in Bristol and Woonsocket, other locations included the Columbus Theater in Providence and the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. 

Prev Next

The Education of Charlie Banks


Director: Fred Durst

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Eva Amurri

Shot partially in Brown University in Providence, the movie marks the directorial debut of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst.

Prev Next

Meet Joe Black


Director: Martin Brest

Cast: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani

Warwick's Aldrich Mansion served as the residence of Anthony Hopkins' character in the film. 

Prev Next

Reversal of Fortune


Director: Barbet Schroeder

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Ron Silver

Jeremy Irons took home the Oscar for Best Actor for this drama, which was partly shot in Newport.

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Director: Frederik Du Chau

Cast: Jason Lee, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Warburton, Amy Adams

Shot entirely in Rhode Island, filming locations included Hope High School on the East Side of Providence.

Prev Next

Tanner Hall


Directors: Francesca Gregorini, Tatiana von Furstenberg

Cast: Rooney Mara, Georgia King, Brie Larson

Shot in Providence and Newport, the film marks the the directorial debut of Brown University graduates Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg.

Prev Next

Dumb and Dumber


Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly

Scenes from the beginning of this comedy were filmed on location in Providence, including a shot of the Big Blue Bug.


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