Interview with Susan Berliner
Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.
I was born in London, England, came to America as a little girl, grew up in the Bronx, New York, and got my BA at Queens College. I've been a teacher, newspaper reporter, editor, promotion manager, and non-fiction writer. I have two children and three grandchildren. I live in Yorktown Heights, NY, a northern suburb of New York City, with my husband, Larry, a retired English teacher who is writing a humorous memoir. I enjoy reading, Scrabble, swimming, and sports. Unfortunately, however, I root for the Mets and Jets, teams that rarely win.
You've published several books to date. Can you share a bit about them?
DUST is a supernatural thriller about an evil swirl of colorful dust that sneakily attacks random victims in a quiet suburban condo community. The heroine, Karen McKay, a librarian, battles the evil dust with the help of her ex-husband, Jerry, and an intuitive dog.
Peachwood Lake is a thriller about a mysterious jumping fish that terrorizes a small Connecticut town while Kady Gonzalez, a 13-year-old girl, struggles with her own terrifying problems of growing up.
The Disappearance is a time travel thriller about a young woman, Jillian Keating, whose boyfriend, Ryan Cornell, disappears and frames her for his murder. The book culminates in an elaborate sting operation as Jillian and her friends travel through time to lure Ryan into their clever trap.
My new novel, Corsonia, is a mind-control themed thriller about two teenage girls from Long Island, New York—Loren Cofton and Tracie Martinez—who drive cross-country in celebration of their high school graduation. But when they enter Corsonia, a little town in the remote hills of northeastern Nevada, they uncover a horrifying trail of evil, turning their fun vacation into a life-threatening adventure.
What do you enjoy most about writing supernatural thrillers?
I love sitting at the computer, not knowing what's going to happen next in my story, and letting my characters direct the action. When I write, it's as if my characters are actors who are performing my novel on a stage or movie screen. They speak their lines and I simply transcribe their words. Very often, I don't know what they're going to say or do. I thought this occurrence was unique, but many novelists describe similar experiences. It's the excitement of not knowing that makes fiction writing so entertaining for me.
You started your writing career as a journalist and writer of non-fiction. Why did you decide to try your hand at fiction?
I never intended to write fiction. However, when I was working as a promotion manager, I read a small online article about a strange weather phenomenon called a "dust devil," a miniature tornado strong enough to toss dust and dirt into the air. In this news clip, a dust devil lifted the roof off an auto body shop, collapsing most of the building, and killing the owner. Since the story was so weird—and it happened in Maine—I was sure Stephen King would write a book about some kind of supernatural dust. I forgot about the article until I found it a few years later and realized Stephen King had never written a novel about weird dust. Then I got an idea, which became the basis for my first novel, DUST.
What do you find most challenging about writing fiction, as opposed to non-fiction?
With non-fiction, you collect facts, outline your information, and put it all together. It's a very organized and straightforward job. For me, writing a novel is nothing like that. I don't outline chapters and, as I mentioned, although I know my characters and the basic plotline, I don't know what's going to happen in the story. I sit at the computer and let my characters tell me: It's a fascinating and entertaining experience. But that's only for writing the first draft. The challenge comes afterwards when I have to edit the book (my characters don't know everything) and do the necessary research. That's work!
Has anything surprised you in the course of writing your novels? Do you have any anecdotal tidbits or funny stories you’d like to share?
signing at a small nearby café, and, just before I arrived, the power went out. About two hours later, the electricity was still off when the café owner escorted me to the restroom in the back. Out of habit, I flicked the light switch, and, at that exact moment, the electricity returned—and the light went on. The owner told me he got goose bumps and he even asked me if I had paranormal abilities. (I thought maybe I could be a new super heroine—Electric Woman?—until I found out that heavy winds had knocked down a nearby power line.)
Then, a couple of years ago, I had another strange, although not quite supernatural, experience. At a book signing in Ossining, we had a tornado warning and all vendors had to go inside the building, a facility for seniors. That's when I sold a copy of DUST—a novel about a mini-tornado—to a 100-year-old lady named Dorothy, the heroine's name in The Wizard of Oz, another tornado story.
What advice would you give beginning writers?
My advice is to treat writing as a job—something you have to do. Get into a writing routine and force yourself to work for a certain amount of time every day. That's what I do. Even if I don't feel like working, I close the door to my den, concentrate, and write. And it doesn't have to be for a long period of time. Set aside an hour, half an hour, or even fifteen minutes. There's always time to write. You just have to make up your mind to do it!
Who (or what) has inspired you as an author?
The ideas for my first two novels, DUST and Peachwood Lake came from newspaper articles. I wrote The Disappearance, a time travel thriller, because I've always loved reading time travel stories. My new novel, Corsonia, deals with another of my favorite themes: mind control. Ideas for books pop into my head all the time. I have to push them into the recesses of my brain until I'm ready to begin working on a new story or novel.
What’s next for you?
I'm currently writing a collection of short stories. Like my novels, the stories all contain a bit of the supernatural, although some are horror, others are fairytales, and the one I'm writing now is a ghost story. I've completed six so far and I hope to write at least fifteen.
I'm also working on a two-part doomsday novel, The Touchers. I wrote the first draft of Part One and I've written most of Part Two. But it got tedious—maybe because the story is told in the first-person by a teenage girl. Nevertheless, I hope to get back to this project soon.
You can check out more on Susan and her books on these sites:
And now for a sneak peek at her latest book:
When Loren Cofton and Tracie Martinez visit the remote hills of northeastern Nevada on a cross-country drive celebrating their high school graduation, the fun vacation quickly morphs into a perilous adventure.
After photographing an abandoned gold mine, Loren swipes a bottle of water from an eerily robotic man stocking bottles in the only occupied store of an otherwise deserted shopping center. The water's effect on Loren leads the pair to investigate the strange little town of Corsonia—despite threats from the local sheriff. And when Loren and Tracie befriend a child named Boy 11, who tells them about his curious life and upcoming fate, the girls become even more determined to figure out what is going on.
As the relentless teens uncover a horrifying trail of evil, they put their own lives in dire jeopardy. Will the girls be able to rescue the people of Corsonia—or will Loren and Tracie become the town's next victims?
Loren and Tracie reached the yard with the flopping clothes and stood quietly, watching the shirts and pants swaying in rhythm with the warm breeze.
"I don't know," Tracie said. "It still seems kinda quiet here. If there was a bunch of people around, we'd hear something, wouldn't we?"
Loren lowered herself to the ground, leaned against a bush, and gazed at the back of the two-story yellow shingled house. "Do you see any lights on inside?"
"No," Tracie said as she sat beside her friend. "But it's daytime and the sun is shining so that doesn't mean anything. This whole trip was your idea so what do you want to do next—peek in the window again?"
"Maybe." Loren slapped the pebbly grass with her left hand. "Damn! I thought for sure we'd just find some people who live here and talk to them outside. I don't want to tiptoe around and have that sheriff come back."
"Yeah. Well, I told you this wouldn't be as easy as you said. Maybe no one's living in this place either. Maybe they don't use any of these houses anymore."
"Then how do you explain the laundry?" Loren asked.
"Maybe they just use this house to wash their clothes."
"For a whole bunch of people? That's not enough clo..."
Loren stopped talking in mid-sentence at the unexpected greeting, which came from behind the bush.
The two girls turned and faced a boy, who looked like he was eleven- or twelve-years-old. His blond hair was cropped in a short crew cut and he wore a black oversized tee shirt that said "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and a pair of men's brown shorts so baggy that they would have fallen down if he hadn't been wearing a belt.
The boy stared at Loren and Tracie, but didn't speak.
"Hi," Tracie finally said, smiling. "I'm Tracie and this is my friend, Loren. What's your name?"
The boy looked puzzled and kept staring at the girls.
"It's okay," Tracie continued, speaking slowly and quietly. "You can talk to us. We won't bite you." She smiled again.
"Why would you bite me?" the boy asked, pausing between each of the five words. "People do not bite," he added in his strange staccato-like speech pattern.
"I was just trying to make a joke," Tracie explained.
"What is a 'joke'?" the boy asked.
Tracie looked at Loren, who shrugged. "Well, a joke is something that's funny—something that makes you laugh."
"Oh, a laugh, like from a smile. I can do that." The boy made a wide grin.
"That's right," Tracie said. "Very good. So we told you our names. What's your name?"
"I am called Boy 11."
"Yes," Loren said. "But what's your real name?"
The boy looked at her unhappily. "I do not understand. I am Boy 11."
Tracie grasped Loren's hand, holding it tightly. "That's fine, Boy 11. Do you live here?" She pointed to the house behind the laundry line.
"That is the school," he said.
"Oh," Tracie said. "You go to school with teachers and other children?"
Boy 11 nodded. "Teacher."
"It sounds like fun," Tracie said, smiling again.
"We do not laugh in school," the boy said, frowning at her.
Tracie waited a moment before continuing. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you, but we'd like to meet some of your family."
Boy 11 continued to frown.
"Do you have a family?" Tracie asked quietly.
Boy 11 sat across from the two girls and lowered his head. "I found books in a big box on floor one," he said in his choppy speech. "I took three books to read and I learned about 'family.' There was mother, father, sister, brother."
"Oh," Tracie said. "You don't live like the people in the book?"
The boy shook his head. "I live with Boy 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12."
"What about Boy 1, 2 and 3?" Tracie asked.
The boy shrugged.
"Maybe they're little," Loren suggested.
"Yeah," Tracie agreed. "But Boy 9 must be bigger. What about him?"
"I do not know," Boy 11 said in his slow clipped speech, looking sadly at Tracie. "Boy 9 is gone."
"You don't know where he went?" Loren asked.
"No." The boy looked as if he was going to cry.
Tracie quickly changed the subject. "So where do you and the other boys sleep?" she asked.
"In a house."
"Yes. But where is the house?"
"I do not know. A man takes us there after school."
"Why aren't you in school today, Boy 11?"
The boy tilted his head downward again. "I like to walk outside so I leave."
"And the teacher just lets you go?" Loren asked.
Boy 11 shrugged.
They remained quiet until Tracie continued the questioning. "Doesn't the teacher notice you aren't there?"
"I do not know," the boy said, his head still lowered.
"Wish I could've done that in school," Loren muttered.
Tracie elbowed her friend softly in the ribs. "When do you go back inside?" she asked.
"When the sun moves down," he said, raising his head and glancing at the sky.
"Does the teacher say anything when you walk back into the room?"
Boy 11 shook his head.
"Okay, then," Tracie said. "Who else is in the school with you?"
"Boy 4, Boy 5, Boy 6, Boy..."
"All the boys you live with that you mentioned before," Loren said, interrupting him.
"What about girls?" Tracie asked. "Are they in your school too?"
"Where do the girls go to school?"
"I do not know," he said, shrugging.
"Wow," Loren murmured and Tracie poked her in the ribs again.
"Is there anyone else in your school?" Tracie asked.
"And what does she do?" Tracie continued.
"She makes the food, cleans the rooms, and washes the clothes." Boy 11 nodded toward the swaying laundry.
"Sounds like Cinderella," Loren muttered.
Boy 11 stood up abruptly. "I must go into the school now," he said, looking at the girls. "Do you have a story book?"
Tracie shook her head. "I'm sorry, Boy 11. We don't have any books with us. But we can come back tomorrow afternoon and bring you a book. What would you like to read about?"
"A family—a family with a mother and father and children."
"Sure." Tracie smiled. "We'll find a good book for you, Oh, and please don't tell the teacher you talked to us."
Looking confused, Boy 11 stared at Tracie. "I do not talk to Teacher."
"That's fine then," she said, smiling again. "We'll see you tomorrow, Boy 11."
"Goodbye," he said. Then he turned and ran to the house.