Meet Susan McCormick, Author of 'The Fog Ladies'

Susan McCormick writes cozy murder mysteries. She is also the author of Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease. She is a doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine, with additional medical training in Washington, DC and San Francisco, where she lived in an elegant apartment building much like the one in the book. She served nine years in the military before settling in the Pacific Northwest. She is married and has two boys, plus a giant Newfoundland dog. Visit her website at 

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Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Fog Ladies. When did you start writing and what got you into cozy murder mysteries?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a ballerina, a doctor and a writer. All together, all at once. My ballet days ended before they began at age four when my first performance’s curtsy took out the backdrop and crashed it to the floor. I tried more ballet lessons in high school, but I was far too old. So all that was left was being a doctor and a writer. The latter took me a while. Being a doctor was a straight shot, four years of medical school, three years of residency, then fellowship, then payback the military with a nine year stint in the Army because they paid for medical school. Being a writer took longer, though I've been plotting my stories since those ballerina days. The first “book” I ever wrote was at age nine, Death in the Cemetery. I loved mysteries as a kid, mysteries as an adult, mysteries my whole life, especially cozies, with Agatha Christie being my all time hero.

What is your book about?
The Fog Ladies is about a group of spunky older women and one overworked, overtired, overstressed medical intern who all live in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco where old ladies start to die.

What was your inspiration for it?
I lived in an apartment building much like the one in The Fog Ladies when I did medical training in San Francisco. The idea for the story and setting came to me then, a natural offshoot of reading cozy mysteries and thinking about murder and motivation. Elegant apartment buildings are found throughout San Francisco, especially in Pacific Heights, where the story is set. Tenants of all ages live together for years, providing the perfect cast of characters and cozy-type enclosed setting for a series of murders. The name of the book and the idea for the group of women came instantly, before anything else about the story. They call themselves the Fog Ladies because you can count on them like you can count on San Francisco early morning fog burning off by midday. I had my characters and my setting, and then I concocted the murders around them.

What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
I fell hard for my Fog Lady characters and I wanted each to have their own voice. My first draft had so many points of view, it was confusing for readers. Though I still have voices for my main Fog Ladies, I did cut out many other points of view, including the killer voice. The killer now speaks at the end instead of having his thoughts sprinkled throughout. 

Did your book require a lot of research?
I set my first book in the neighborhood I lived in for years, but things have changed, so I needed to be up-to-date. The medical issues in the book required no research, thank goodness, as I stole them from my day job.

What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
Some of most troublesome writing times have come when characters take over and get themselves into awkward situations and expect me to get them out. One muse wrote herself onto life support and then expected me to miraculously revive her. But this is also the joy of writing. In The Fog Ladies, Chantrelle and Big Owen, the ne’er do well teen parents of Baby Owen, wrote their own scenes. When I started the story, they did not exist and they came to life of their own accord and the story is richer because of them.

Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
I actually feel excited when I sit down to write, maybe because I work in chunks when I have large periods of uninterrupted time. Ideas have been building up and then tumble out when I sit down to write.

Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
My writing schedule is dictated by my life. I feel I can only write when I have a long period of uninterrupted time. With a family, husband, two boys and enormous dog, plus the doctor job, when those times come, I cannot squander them and I write no matter what. That time is often in the early morning hours when my family is still asleep. I creep downstairs in the dark and write in the dark and write while the sun comes up and finish when my family wakes up. Our big, slobbery, furry Newfoundland dog follows me dutifully with me in the morning and is my constant writing companion.

What was your publishing process like? 
These days, authors often cannot choose their method of publishing. We write, we pitch, we query, we hope, we see what happens. The Fog Ladies found a home with a small press and I couldn’t be more delighted. They are wonderfully responsive to my suggestions and I feel I had a hand in the many steps along the way. They come with a community of authors that feels like a family, solid and supportive.

How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
It's hard to tell when a book is complete since there are so many drafts and so much revision and re-creating. I think I would be happier if I celebrated each individual step, like the completion of the first draft, and then the completion of the first revision, etc. Sadly, I don't. The one big celebration for me came when I got the acceptance from the publishing company.

How do you define success?
I enjoy the writing process and I was happy to have a manuscript complete. And even happier to have it published. I will be even happier when readers connect with my characters and enjoy the book.

What do you love most about the writer’s life? 
My favorite part of writing is when characters I created do unexpected things and get themselves into trouble. One of my characters, Enid Carmichael, discovers Starbucks lattes at the ripe old age of eighty. She loves the bitterness, the froth. I wrote that. Then she craved more, and the next thing I knew, she was stealing Starbucks coupons from her neighbor’s newspaper to feed her addiction. She did that. Not me.

What is your advice for aspiring authors?
Plotting is smart, or you will end up with too few suspects, as I did with my first draft of The Fog Ladies. Then lovely, innocent characters have to be turned into potential murderers. However, though I try to plot and plan, along the way, with fingers flying on keyboard keys, writing magic happens, like my latte loving senior or Baby Owen. Give your characters a little space to be themselves, because the surprises they bring will delight you and your readers.

George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Thoughts?
I wouldn't write if it wasn't enjoyable. But there's no question, after the joy of the first draft, when you realize your plot has holes and the characters need fleshing out, your brain grinds to a halt. Revision, re-writing, and re-creating whole portions of the story are not enjoyable, but just plain hard work.

What’s on the horizon for you?
The Fog Ladies will appear in another cozy caper involving a possible serial killer, putting Sarah's friend Helen and her new little family in peril. I also envision a companion book to my picture book about Alzheimer’s disease, this one for adults.

Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Persevere, persevere, persevere, like my Fog Ladies, most of whom survived the evil in their building and look forward to their next adventure. 

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