Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she now lives with her husband, Bill, in the country outside of Austin, Texas. In addition to the China Bayles mysteries, she writes the Victorian Mysteries series, along with her husband, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.
Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books, LTD.
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In our exclusive interview with Albert, she revealed some fun facts about herself:
"My first job was selling ladies' undies at Woolworth's for 35 cents an hour in Danville, Illinois."
I learned to garden from my mother, who thought that the most important thing you did every spring was to plant the potatoes. I learned to read from my father, who never planted a potato in his life. Somehow, I managed to create a life and make a living between these two extremes. Happily, I haven't had to go back to selling undies. Not yet, anyway."
"I love living in the country with Bill, two black Labs, and a black cat. I'd rather read a book or write one than do just about anything else in the world, except maybe for gardening and sitting in a bathtub full of hot, hot water and bubbles. Or knitting, spinning, weaving, dyeing -- I'm a fiber-arts fanatic."
"You can find out what I'm doing today (or what I did yesterday) by checking out my web log, at susanalbert.typepad.com/lifescapes (but there's no web cam, so don't look for me in the bathtub)."
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In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Susan Wittig Albert had to say:
What makes a good summer read? For most of us, summer is time for a vacation, time to take off for the beach or head to the mountains, and summer reading is traditionally light and fun. So what better reading than books set in places you'd like to visit -- especially when they have a woman's touch? All in paperback, of course, so you won't have to weep if you accidentally drop your book into the pool.
Alaska: Death Trap by Sue Henry
Arkansas: Arkansas Traveler by Earlene Fowler
Colorado: The Grilling Season by Diane Mott Davidson
Florida: Flashback by Nevada Barr
Georgia: To Live and Die in Dixie by Kathy Hogan Trocheck
Nevada (Las Vegas, of course!) Cat with an Emerald Eye by Carole Nelson Douglas
North Carolina: Slow Dollar by Margaret Maron
South Caroline: Engaged to Die by Carolyn Hart
Virginia: The Tail of the Tip-Off by Rita Mae Brown
Wyoming: The Shadow Dancer by Margaret Coel
In the fall of 2003, Susan Wittig Albert took some time to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
Oh, golly. I started reading when I was 4, and you expect me to remember one? Well, Nancy Drew mysteries, maybe? When I was 12, if you'd asked me who I'd like to be when I grew up, I would've said Carolyn Keene. But hey, it happened! It took a while (ran into some detours along the way), but I in 1985, I was invited to join the Nancy stable and become one of the Carolyn Keenes. I thought the heavens had opened and all the writing gods were smiling down on me.
What are your favorite books and authors, and what makes them special to you? Stephen King's Salem's Lot, because it showed me how to shift points of view from one character to another, seamlessly, effectively, and suspensefully. I admire the deft way in which King turns ordinary life into something extraordinarily other, astonishingly evil. What a talent.
Sue Grafton's mysteries, because they demonstrate that it is possible (although definitely not easy, and not necessarily recommended) to write a long-running series in first person.
Rex Stout's mysteries (when I was a kid), because I loved smart-mouth Archie Goodwin and went around trying to mimic him, to my mother's dismay. She was trying to teach me to be a lady.
John D. McDonald, because I was smitten with Travis McGee in 1964, when Deep Blue Goodbye appeared (in ‘64, I was smitten with life and living). I also admire the first-person narration, very wryly self-ironic, and the great use of dialogue. Never could figure out why Robert Redford didn't make a Trav movie. Wouldn't that have been something?
The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L. Sayers, because of her skill in managing setting and mood, color and emotion. (I read this at least once a year, just to taste it again.)
The Franchise Affair, by Josephine Tey, because of the book's taut suspense. Classic, magnificent -- I wouldn't change a word of it.
I devoured John le Carré's work in the ‘70s: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is still a favorite, for its complex intrigue.
I admire Elizabeth George's American grasp of Brit language and culture -- love her smooth style, too. A writer's writer, in my opinion.
I enjoy Sheila Radley's British village mysteries -- quirky characters, strong settings.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you? ?
I adore any film with Robert Redford in it. Otherwise, I don't bother.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like classical music because there aren't any lyrics to distract me.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
If I'm on the receiving end, please send me Stephen King's latest.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
No rituals, I just write. On my desk? Post-its, used dental floss, nail clippers, a broken pencil, yesterday's crackers, this morning's coffee, and the cat.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I started out in 1984 writing young adult books -- romances, mysteries -- some of them with my husband. I did that through 1990, when I wrote (and sold) a nonfiction book about women's work lives. Started the China Bayles series that same year, and was lucky enough to sell a three-book contract right away. Bill wanted to continue to write together, so we started the Robin Paige series in 1994. I've always felt that you have to bring some talent, a lot of work, and a pot-load of stubborn determination to the table -- then you have to wait for luck to strike. In my case, I found a wonderful editor (Natalee Rosenstein at Berkley).
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered? ?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Then hope for luck.
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|Susan Wittig Albert Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Susan Wittig Albert|
|Thyme of Death, 1992|
|Work of Her Own: A Woman's Guide to Success off the Career Track, 1992|
|Witches' Bane, 1993|
|Hangman's Root, 1994|
|Rosemary Remembered, 1995|
|Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul's Story, 1995|
|Rueful Death, 1997|
|Death at Daisy's Folly (as Robin Paige), 1997|
|Love Lies Bleeding, 1997|
|Chile Death, 1998|
|Death at Bishop's Keep (as Robin Paige), 1998|
|Death at Devil's Bridge (as Robin Paige), 1998|
|Death at Gallows Green (as Robin Paige), 1998|
|Death at Rottingdean (as Robin Paige), 1999|
|Lavender Lies, 1999|
|Death at Whitechapel (as Robin Paige), 2000|
|Mistletoe Man, 2001|
|Death at Epsom Downs (as Robin Paige), 2001|
|An Unthymely Death, 2002|
|Death at Dartmoor (as Robin Paige), 2002|
|Death at Glamis Castle, 2003|
|Indigo Dying, 2003|
|Once Upon a Kiss, 2003|
|A Dilly of a Death, 2004|
|Death in Hyde Park, 2004|
|Dead Man's Bones, 2005|
|Bleeding Hearts, 2006|
|Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood: The Cottage Tales of Beatrice Potter, 2006|