Sunday, October 16, 2005

iUniverse author Susanne Severeid signs copies of her newly released murder mystery, The Death of Milly Mahoney, at the Flagstaff, AZ, Barnes & Noble.
Photo by Bea Jacobs 2005.

The Death of Milly Mahoney by Susanne Severeid

Hollywood—where dreams come true—at least on the big screen. But Tinsel Town can be a bit tougher when the cameras aren’t rolling.

iUniverse author Susanne Severeid, a former actress herself, captures a bit of the seedy side in her mystery novel, The Death of Milly Mahoney. Severeid’s protagonist, Trix Donovan, is drawn into a mystery when she receives a call from an old friend that she has lost touch with.

What inspired you to write The Death of Milly Mahoney?
A couple of things. A close friend of mine, who was gay, was murdered. It was brutal and senseless and it gave me a lot of emotional background for this book. I had written a short story about his death, really as a way to work through my grief and confusion, and it was published in an anthology. I had also reached a time in my life where I was ready to sit down and write a book, and I knew I wanted to draw upon my years in the entertainment field and Southern California. I began my career as a model at 19 in Los Angeles, which is where I grew up, and moved on to top t.v. commercials, t.v. shows & some films, anchoring documentaries, radio... For me it was all fascinating and I'd met so many bizarre, colorful characters, but didn't want it to be too autobiographical. Fiction is much more fun, because you can take more liberties. I had lived in Malibu in a beach cottage, like my protagonist Trix Donovan, so that's for real.

Who are some of your writing influences? Who do you read?
I've always enjoyed the genre of murder mysteries, from the old-fashioned classics like Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, to Ellis Peters, P.D. James, Grisham, Paretsky. But so few out there on the mass market have believable plots--unlike real life, which is my main influence. I mean, if you know what really goes on backstage and in politics, truth can be stranger than fiction...and a lot of it isn't very pretty.

It seems like you did a lot of research to make sure the police procedural issues and legal issues were portrayed accurately. How did you go about doing the research?
Much of The Death of Milly Mahoney is based on firsthand experience in the sense that I've really known people who were like some of my characters in the book. But where I had less personal experience was with police and the judicial system, so I called and visited local police stations and officials, attorneys, etc and I enrolled in our local Citizen's Police Academy. It was amazing! A twelve-week course where we did everything from high speed car chases to visiting the maximum security prison in Winslow, Arizona. I had extensive conversations with the Medical Examiner, viewed crime scene photos, you name it. Everyone I spoke with was so helpful in answering my questions. I'm really happy with the feedback I'm getting from readers who tell me the dialogue and characters in my book are honest and ring true. That's gratifying.

You had a number of people write cover blurbs for you prior, to publication. How did you go about obtaining them?
They're all authors whom I respect; that was important to me. I simply asked them to read and evaluate my manuscript. You know, "Ask and it shall be given unto you." Don't be afraid to ask, all someone can say is "no." Think of who you know, or friends who may have contacts, and ask them to look at your manuscript and give you a quote if they like it.

Did you send the book out to agents and traditional publishers prior to coming to iUniverse? If so, what kind of feedback did you get?
Yes, I spent--or should I say wasted--months of my time before deciding to go with iUniverse. It became so clear to me that without a track record or established contacts in this particular field (even though I had a children's book published with a traditional publisher in Europe, and several articles in U.S. periodicals) that it just wasn't going to happen. I did get some very positive feedback along the way, including a top agent who saw its potential, but said they just couldn't take on a debut novel. I was trying to figure out my next step when I heard about iUniverse from a couple of authors who'd been happy with their experiences. "So, stop beating your head against a wall, just get it out there," they told me. One even said, "Susanne you cannot, must not let this manuscript languish unpublished. It's too good!" That was like a breath of fresh air and I thought, hey, if I can't walk in through the front door, then I'll climb in through a side window, but I will get my book out there in the marketplace. I knew that this book was good and deserved it's place in the sun, and I wasn't about to let it decorate the interior of my file drawer just for lack of contacts.

How was your iUniverse experience in general and the Editorial Evaluation process in particular?
Excellent. Honestly, I approached this with a lot of trepidation, knowing nothing about the self-publishing field or what to expect. But my PSA, Rachel Krupicka, was fantastic--she really held my hand every step of the way--and I've been totally pleased with the process and the final product. It's been 100% professional. I mean, I was probably a total pain because I had very particular ideas about certain aspects of the book, and its cover. The Editorial Evaluation is always a little scary, being judged always is, but there, too, I was very pleased with the comments and felt they were right on the mark. I paid attention to them and made some changes, which I feel improved the book. I'm very proud of having gotten the Editor's Choice distinction for The Death of Milly Mahoney.

You recently had a book signing at the Flagstaff Barnes & Noble. What all did that entail and how did it all turn out?
Beyond my wildest expectations! The assistant manager said that it was the most successful author signing she remembered at their store. To do it, I just picked up the phone and called the manager, who was totally receptive to the idea. I think most stores generally are very supportive of local authors. We set a date and I went in a few days before with the iUniverse marketing posters & bookmarks, a stack of books, a bunch of flowers in a vase, and a plate of cookies. Oh, and I also emailed every local friend and relative I could think of! Not only did they buy, but to my surprise, several shoppers who I didn't know were drawn to us and also bought the book. I'd sent press releases out to our local press who picked it up and wrote a couple of great articles and/or put it in their Calendar section.

What are your goals for The Death of Milly Mahoney? What type of marketing plans do you have?
I'd really like to see this book out there in a big way. And, yes, I'd like to make money with it! It's a quality book with commercial potential and, in time, I hope to see it marketed in the mainstream as a mass-market paperback. I plan to try to market it internationally to English-speaking countries and countries where a large number of people commonly read books in English. I lived in Europe for ten years and there's a huge market there for this kind of book. As a matter of fact, the manager of the American Bookstore in Amsterdam has already told me he'll order and display several copies. After that, translated versions. And...maybe film rights. My husband and I have, over the years, been very involved with the motion picture business.

Do you have a sequel in the works yet?
Yes. I hope The Death of Milly Mahoney will be the beginning of a continuing series of "Trix Donovan Mysteries"!

What other things (writing and otherwise) and you working on/involved with?
Well, I have a nine-year-old at home and a very busy life generally. I'm finishing up a second children's book, and I'd like to see my own book on public speaking & presentational skills, which was used as a course book at the University of Amsterdam and for corporate training seminars, published in the States.

You have a pretty wide and varied background in entertainment and media. How does your knowledge of Hollywood and the movie industry color Milly Mahoney?
In a huge way. The characters in my book, and much of the pathos and humor, are a composite of some of the many people I came in contact with over the years, and the strong sense of place comes from the fact that I lived and worked in Southern California for years. That was my turf. My husband was also in the business as a top motion picture historical advisor & researcher, writer, and photographer.

Visit Susanna's website at


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Blogger Ken Lewis said...

Hi Dan:

Is you Blog site still up and running? I see the "people" who have posted comments on here seem to be internet pirates trying to jack your site? Anyhow, I am an iUniverse author and am wondering if you know my PSA Ron Amack? My book came out in March, 2006 and I had a GREAT publishing experience with your company!
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