Kansas native Susan Slater lived in New Mexico for thirty-nine years and uses this enchanting Southwest setting for most of her mystery novels. Her Ben Pecos series reflects her extensive knowledge of the area and Native American tribal ways. As an educator, she directed the Six Sandoval Teacher Education Program for the All Indian Pueblo Council through the University of New Mexico. She taught creative writing for UNM and the University of Phoenix.
The first in this highly acclaimed series, The Pumpkin Seed Massacre, reached Germany’s bestseller list shortly after its initial publication as a German translation. Original print versions of the first three titles were outstandingly reviewed in nationwide major media.
In July, 2009, Susan made her first foray into women’s fiction with 0 to 60, a zany, all too true-to-life story of a woman dumped, and the book was immediately optioned by Hollywood.
Late 2017 and 2018 brings a new era to Susan’s storytelling. Secret Staircase Books is releasing newly edited versions of her entire Ben Pecos series in paperback, and brings the series to a whole new set of readers for the first time in all e-book formats.
Now residing in Florida with her menagerie of dogs and canaries, Susan writes full time and stays busy in community theatre and other volunteer projects.
Interview with Susan:
What inspired you to write mysteries?
I was so in awe of mystery writers—I figured if I could write a mystery and keep plots and sub-plots and red herrings all twisted together yet one supporting the other AND keep the readers guessing until the last; I could write anything! Every good book has a sense of mystery—the “something” that keeps the reader turning the pages. With all my degrees in literature and teaching all kinds of writing, learning to write a mystery was the best writing training I ever received.
I always say I should have written The Thorn Birds—or any big, long epic. I was always the kid who chose the biggest book on the shelf to read on vacation. I want to step inside and “live” in the books I read. But once I’d written a couple mysteries, I was hooked. The challenge was too much to walk away from. Now I continue to write mysteries just hoping solving written puzzles will stave off Alzheimer’s! Well, that’s sort of a joke . . .
Is there any other genre you have contemplated writing?
Actually, I have ventured outside of mysteries a couple times. When I turned sixty, my life was so crazy that I decided to write about it—sort of a semi-memoir. It was the first time ever that I used my writing to help me past some rough spots; death of parents, death of closest friend, retirement, getting dumped by husband for a twenty-two year old . . . you get the picture. Life had become a little challenging. So I wrote 0 to 60, which was optioned by Hollywood three weeks after publication.
More recently, this past year I completed a historical, main stream novel that could become a trilogy. But the minute I start to think about what would follow book one, The Caddis Man, I get drawn back to all the plans I have for Ben Pecos and Dan Mahoney. So, we’ll see.
Is Ben Pecos based upon anyone you know personally or completely fictitious?
Ben is based on the son of a former husband. In reality, he’s a member of the Nooksack tribe in the Pacific Northwest and is a psychologist for them through Indian Health Service. I liked the idea of melding the two worlds and having my protagonist have a vocation that would allow me to move him around. I’m currently working on a book that brings Ben to Florida, Under A Mulberry Moon.
What is the most difficult part in writing your Ben Pecos series?
Making sure I don’t step on toes! By that I mean not using material that might be offensive or private. When I first started writing I mentioned this concern to Tony Hillerman. Tony said the rule of thumb is do not write anything about Native Americans that has not appeared in print before. And when in doubt, ask a member of the tribe to review it. Tony, of course, wrote about the Navajo and I wrote about the Pueblo Indians. Even today, the Navajo are far better known than the Pueblo Indians, making research a stretch.
You started this series while living in New Mexico… Do you miss NM? And, do you see yourself ever moving back?
This is such a good question. I could be flippant and say one more hurricane and land of enchantment, here I come! I’m not sure why two hurricanes in 10 months upset me so much—after all I grew up in Kansas. I think I was born against the east wall of the basement during a tornado.
I lived in NM for thirty-nine years. It’s a way of life and, yes, I miss it. But I traded in mountains for an ocean and that’s not a bad trade. I’ve grown to like it down here and have come to appreciate the state’s rich Indian history. I still have 3 acres in NM—in the high plains north of Cedar Crest. I always thought I’d build on it but it may not happen. Still, hurricane season comes around again in another seven months. Perhaps . . .
What’s on the horizon for future books… are you writing anything new and what can you tell us about it?
I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be writing about Ben Pecos again. I finished a Ben Pecos book a few years ago called Fire Dancer, but before it was ready to go, the publisher I was with at that time was sold and the new book was not part of my contract. I’m hoping this book will be coming out this Spring or Summer. It’s the last Ben Pecos that will be based in NM.
Under A Mulberry Moon brings Ben to the St. Augustine area of Florida. Ben is on loan from Indian Health Service to take part in the one hundred year celebration of the establishment of national parks by the Department of the Interior. He will be taking a permanent job down in Sawgrass country in the Everglades eventually, but in the meantime he finds himself in the middle of a scandalous, multi-million dollar poaching operation of native plants—plants well worth killing over.
After Mulberry Moon Ben becomes embroiled in a court contest to help save sacred lands and keep the Government from claiming parts of the Everglades. In much the same fashion as reclaiming parklands such as Bear’s Ears, tribes find themselves fighting the federal government . . . in court . . . with Paper Arrows.
Keep up with Susan and all her new books by visiting her blog and joining her newsletter…. http://susansslater.com/blog/