We recently caught up with USA Today Bestselling Author Susan McBride and chatted about her new book Come Helen High Water available June 27th. Order your copy here.
What inspired you to write the River Road Mystery series?
My grandmother Helen inspired the character of Helen Evans, the 75-year-old sleuth in the River Road series. Grandma was a big fan of mystery novels and TV detectives. She was as smart as any person I’ve ever known. So, twenty years ago, I sat down and wrote the first books in the series. I found an agent for them, but they didn’t sell. When a newly-released e-book of Blue Blood, the first in my Debutante Dropout series, hit the USA Today bestsellers list in 2013, my editor at HarperCollins asked if I had any more cozies lying around. I think she was joking, but I did! I dusted off To Helen Back, Mad as Helen, and Not a Chance in Helen, and they were quickly submitted and sold. It was a lot of fun concocting a new Helen book after twenty years, and I hope it’s not the last!
How is Helen Evans different than your typical modern-day sleuth?
She’s older and wiser, for starters. She’s had four children and a passel of grandchildren, and she’s a widow, making her own way after losing her husband of fifty years. I hate how our society frowns on aging and makes women feel bad for getting older (and getting wrinkles). I look at my mom, who’s eighty, and all the amazing things she does every day, and I feel really good that I can write stories about a strong, kick-ass lady who lives life fully and generously and who doesn’t put up with nonsense. Like so many of the older women I’m privileged to know, Helen proves that a woman’s shelf-life is as long as she wants to make it.
Let’s talk about your latest release, Come Helen High Water. Luann Dupree, the head of River Bend’s Historical Society, has gone missing. Why does Helen reluctantly agree to help Sarah Biddle find her?
It’s hard for Helen to say no to people, no matter how annoying those people are (I have that same problem!). Though most of the townsfolk believe Luann ran off with her Internet beau, Sarah isn’t convinced. Helen tries to persuade Sarah to involve the sheriff (who happens to be Sarah’s husband). But Sarah keeps poking around on her own. Helen lets herself get dragged into things because she understands Sarah’s concerns. She’s been there, done that before when one of her family or friends was in trouble. At first, Sarah’s theories about Luann seem a little far-fetched and hysterical. After a while, Helen’s not so sure that Sarah isn’t right.
As part of the storyline, there is a pivotal character who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Why did you choose to incorporate this disease into the fourth installment in the series?
When I began writing Come Helen High Water, the main plot focused on Bernie Winston, an older fellow with Alzheimer’s disease. The plot about Luann’s disappearance came afterward, but evolved into the main focus of the story. Still, Bernie’s story is important, and one I wanted to tell because my dad suffers from Alzheimer’s. It’s been hard to watch his decline, particularly the past few months. I thought a lot about what it must be like for him and also what my mom was going through as his primary caretaker (though he’s been in Memory Care for the past year and a half). There are so many folks dealing with Alzheimer’s in their lives every day. I’ve no doubt they will relate.
Are you currently at work on your next book? If so, what may you share with us?
While I’m not working on another Helen book yet, I am writing like a fiend. I have the second Jo Larsen book, Walk a Crooked Line, due to Thomas & Mercer on September 1. It’s the second in the series following Walk Into Silence, which was released late last year. It’s good for my brain to go from writing a mystery that’s on the lighter side, like the Helen books, to writing a darker mystery with Jo Larsen. I feel very lucky to have publishers that encourage me to write what I want to write…and I’m even luckier that there are readers out there who want to buy those books! It’s a good gig.
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