SW Hubbard’s twisty edgy domestic thrillers are favorites with readers who also enjoy her complex characters and sly humor.
Hi, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and today on the Binge Reading podcast SW – Sue – talks about what it takes to be a successful indie author with not just two but three different series to her credit.
Along with the show, we’re giving away three Ebook copies of Treasure Built On Sand, SW’s latest Estate Sale mystery and a twisty domestic thriller.
Enter the draw on the Joys of Binge Reading website or our Binge Reading Facebook Page. Entries close March 14.
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- Babies and books – Got you covered
- The vagaries of publishing
- Later-developing life passions
- New directions in her writing
- Classic Brits – The writers she admires most
- Why Sue loves ‘driving her own bus’
Where to find SW Hubbard:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny Wheeler: Hello SW and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
SW Hubbard: Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here.
Jenny Wheeler: You’re the author of two different mystery suspense series, which you describe as twisty and just a little bit edgy. But before we get into talking about the books, could you tell us a little bit about how you got started in writing fiction? Was there some sort of an epiphany when you thought. ‘I’ve really got to do this’ or is that something you’ve always had a desire to do?
SW Hubbard: Well, I was always a bookworm. I always was a reader from a very young age, and I always loved mysteries. I started with the Bobbsey Twins and quickly moved up to Agatha Christie. I was an English major in college and I always worked as a writer, a marketing writer, a newsletter, and that sort of thing. But after I got married, my husband and I were struggling to have a baby, and I thought, well, if I can’t make a baby, maybe I’ll just make a book. I thought it would be some therapy for me to write a mystery.
So that’s when I began writing my first mystery, Take The Bait. That project taught me to write a book. It took me 10 years to write it because I had a lot of revisions. I belonged to a lot of different writing critique groups to teach myself along the way. But eventually that book did get me a literary agent and did get me started on my writing career.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fabulous. Now perhaps we’d like to just establish right at the beginning that you write under the name of SW Hubbard. So when I call Sue, I want listeners to fully understand that when they look for your books, you are SW Hubbard. I think that’s because there’s another Sue Hubbard writing books that aren’t at all like what you write, isn’t that right?
SW Hubbard: Yes. That’s good. It’s SW or Sue, either one’s going to do.
Jenny Wheeler: You write the kinds of mysteries that you love to read, which are twisty, believable, full of complex characters and highlighted with slight humor. You’ve mentioned you’ve been a lifelong mystery fan. What do you think attracts you to mystery books and as a genre?
SW Hubbard: Well, mysteries help us to explore the dark side of ourselves and help us to deal with our fears, I think. And then in the end, usually justice is served and so the world comes around and is restored to rightness again. That’s what appeals to me.
I always try to take the crime in my books very seriously. I don’t think there’s anything funny about murder, but I do think that every one of us is capable possibly of committing a violent act if something that we love or care about is threatened. So that’s what I try to explore in my books.
I ask the question: ‘What would drive average people to commit a crime?’ I never write about serial killers or people who were assassins or hit men or professional criminals in any way. I always write about just average people who are driven to do something extraordinary in the course of their lives.
Jenny Wheeler: Sure. You now have two different series: The established police detective Frank Bennett, and the Adirondack series and Audrey Nealon and the Estate Sale mystery series. Your first book – Take The Bait – was that also part of one of those series?
SW Hubbard: Yes. That was actually the first book in the Frank Bennett series, but it’s a long and complicated story about my publisher. The first three books were published by Simon and Schuster, and then that contract was not renewed. And then I started writing more books in that series that are independently published. And I was never able to get the rights back to Take The Bait.
The other two I’ve got the rights back to, so really the series now begins with The Lure. That the very first book was still a Frank Bennett book.
Jenny Wheeler: The Frank Bennett series, he operates out of this town called Trout Run in upstate New York, isn’t it? It’s a lovely, pretty mountain village. I gather that it might be similar to places that you’ve lived in yourself. Is that, is that right?
SW Hubbard: Well, my husband and I we love the Adirondacks. We live in New Jersey. So the area where Frank Bennett, is located – Trout Run is a fictional town, but it’s located in the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks.
And if you’re familiar with the Olympics, the 1982 Olympics took place in Lake Placid, and so it’s near there. We, my husband and I, built a small vacation home there years ago before our kids were born. And we just loved the area. So we go back there all the time and I decided to write that first series about a small town police chief and base it on real towns that exist up there. It’s a combination of several different small towns that actually exist. And I like to mix in real places with my fictional town. People get a kick out of that, hearing that real places are mixed in with the fiction.
Jenny Wheeler: So when did Audrey come along? She’s an estate sale expert, so she moves in when somebody recently died and helps the family to get rid of all the belongings if they need help with that kind of thing. A great set up because she can move into all different sorts of houses and meet all different sorts of people. When did you decide you wanted a second series?
SW Hubbard: Well, when I had written the three book in the Frank Bennett series and then my contract with Simon and Schuster was not renewed. And so my literary agent at the time told me that I should just write something new, something completely different. What I decided, what inspired me was my own Mom had passed away and she lived in Pittsburgh, which is about six or seven hours away from where I live in New Jersey. So it was really a big challenge how as an only child I was going to clear out her house and put it on the on the market after she passed away.
So my real estate agent who was helping me sell the house, said, well, you know, you should just hire an estate sale agent. They’ll come in here and they’ll do everything for you. You know, they’ll sell off everything in the house and just leave it clean and empty and ready to be sold. I had never really dealt with anything like that before.
And so I did hire an estate sale organizer to do my Mom’s house, and I just thought, Wow. What a great job. I was acutely aware of how I only wanted a few mementos to keep, you know, from my mom’s life, but I was just aware that this woman was going to be going through my mom’s possessions and, and seeing her whole life through her possessions. So I just thought that was a pretty cool setup for, for a mystery, any amateur sleuth mystery. So,
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Book Six in that series, called Treasure Built On Sand was just recently published, and actually we’re going to be having a Giveaway associated with this episode, so people who are interested might like to enter the draw to see if they can win a copy of that. I’m probably a person who likes to dig around and second hand shops, I think a lot of us do, but I get the feeling that you really enjoy that aspect of the little items that are found in the back corners of people’s houses. Do you like to bargain hunt for treasure yourself?
SW Hubbard: Well, I do like to go to estate sales. I’m not a hoarder by any means, and my husband is even more, not a hoarder. So he keeps pretty short leash in terms of acquiring a lot of stuff. But, I do like to go to estate sales. There’s usually quite a few around where I live, and I do like to go to them to get some inspiration.
I did buy a very pretty little Limoges dish recently at an estate sale. When you go, it’s really fascinating to see what people have, and there’s usually beautiful things right next to awful things. And it’s quite a range of people’s possessions.
And usually the estate sale organizer, their philosophy is to put a price tag on everything. They’ll sell half a box of tea bags. I mean, it’s like if it was in your house, they’re going to sell it, you know? And it’s very interesting to see the other shoppers, because some of the people are really, really gung ho and really would probably push you under a bus to get to the item that they have their eye on.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Now, over the course of the six books, I think both Audrey and Frank, have had significant life changes over the life of each of the series. I was quite intrigued to see online that you wrote a novella about Audrey’s life in response to request from readers that they wanted to know about this aspect of Audrey’s life. And I thought it was interesting that reader participation had played a part on her development.
Could you tell us a little bit about that?
SW Hubbard: Sure. At the end of This Bitter Treasure, which is Book Three, Audrey is engaged. And then at the beginning of Treasure and Exile, which used to be Book Four is now Book Five, she was already married. And the reason I did that was that Treasure and Exile was already a pretty complex plot and I thought I just don’t think I can deal with having her wedding as a subplot in this book because there’s just so much else going on.
So I made this decision that she would already be married and that the wedding had taken place off offstage, so to speak, but my readers weren’t having it. People started texting me and contacting me on Facebook and whatever, and saying, what happened to the wedding? You know, did I miss a book? When did they get married?
And so I thought, wow, well, they want to see this wedding. So I wrote a novella called a Treasure Borrowed and Blue, and it’s all about Audrey and Sean’s wedding, but there’s no a murder in it because murder doesn’t really seem to go with a wedding, but there is a crime, Audrey’s a wedding dress gets stolen.
And so there’s a crime and sort of a surprising resolution to that. And a lot of family conflict around the wedding because everyone knows that weddings are very stressful, so there’s plenty of conflict to work with there.
Jenny Wheeler: Now, both of your lead people, Audrey is now married to Sean and Frank Scott, to his wife, Penny. How do you keep a series interesting once your main characters have got a settled domestic life. Is that a bit of a challenge for a series author?
SW Hubbard: Well, they do have a settled romantic life. I wouldn’t say that their entire domestic life is without conflict. They both had courtships that went over the course of several books, but I really don’t like book series that go on and on and on with “Will she, won’t she ?” So I just didn’t want to drag the courtship out endlessly. But now Audrey and Sean are trying to get pregnant and that’s not going well. And a Frank and Penny have a big age gap in their life. Frank was a widower before he married Penny.
So they have some conflict, you know, between working out relationships with his grown daughter and his grandchildren. There’s always some family conflict going on in the background there, because no one really wants to read about happiness. You have to make your characters suffer a little bit.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, yes. And now you’ve taken a little bit of a sidestep into women’s fiction recently with a book called Life Part 2: Lydia’s story, and that’s the story of a 45 year old widow who feels she’s missed out on life. And it ties back into the Audrey Estate Sale series as well, some of the characters crossover. Tell us a little bit about this new direction that you’ve taken.
SW Hubbard: Well, I had so much fun writing that novella, and it really rolled right out of me and I thought, WOW, maybe I should try my hand at writing a story that doesn’t have a mystery in it. My readers are always telling me that what they love about my books is that they love the characters.
They get really attached to my characters and they feel that they’re very realistic, they feel like they know these people. So I thought, well, I can do that. Leave the mystery out. How hard could it be? But it was challenging. Life Part 2 takes place in the same town, Palmyrton, which is the town that Audrey runs her business, and Audrey makes a cameo appearance. But it’s really Lydia’s story.
She had married a much older man when she was 25 and by the time she’s 45, she’s a widow and she wants to go back and live her twenties over again. She jumped from being 25 to being the wife of a middle-aged man. She wants to go back and live the years, that she missed and discovers that youth is not as easy as it looks.
Jenny Wheeler: There seems to be a hint that that might be the start of a new series as well. Is there any thought of doing more than one in that line?
SW Hubbard: Yes. Because it went over really well. It’s been quite popular. What links them is this town of Palmyrton, and so in the next book Lydia’s best friend Roz will be the main character. Lydia will still in the book, but it’ll be Roz’s story. And then they have some other friends, so each book will be the story of a different woman in this circle of friends in, in this town.
Jenny Wheeler: Sounds great. Over the course of your writing career you’ve obviously had the experience of being a traditionally published author, with Simon and Schuster one of the top league publishers, but you’re also making now a really good job of being indie published.
Can you tell us a little bit about that transition? You’ve seen probably the best and worst of both, both sides of the coin.
SW Hubbard: Yes, for sure. When I was first accepted by Simon and Schuster, I thought it was a dream come true. It was like my ship had come in and I wrote three books for them, and then they decided to cancel their mystery line.
And so I was out of luck. I didn’t have a contract anymore. I was not renewed. I thought, well how hard could it be? I’ll just move to a different publisher. But it turned out to be extremely challenging. It was just as hard to try to get published again by a traditional publisher the second time, as it had been the first time.
I wrote Another Man’s Treasure, which is the first book in the Estate Sale series. And my agent loved it and she sent it around to every publisher in New York, and they all got great responses and the low-level editor would read it and say, Oh, I love it. I love it.
And then it would have to go up the food chain to the highest editors in the publishing house. And somehow it would work its way all the way up, and then they would say, no, you know, they would pass on it. I was really devastated when it didn’t sell. My agent said, well just put it in a drawer and write something else.
And I was like, no way. No, I’m not going to just throw this away. Everyone said it was good. No one said that they didn’t like it? So I said, well, I’m gonna self publish it. And she said, Oh, that’ll never work. And she lived to regret those words because although I certainly I made a lot of mistakes along the way, I taught myself the ins and outs of self publishing and I really loved it. I love driving my own bus. I love doing the marketing and I love being in control. And so it’s turned out really, really well for me. So it was definitely a case of one door closing and another door opening.
Jenny Wheeler: I understand that you’re also still, you’re doing some teaching as well. For both adults and college student level, is that right?
SW Hubbard: Well, I just retired from teaching in January. I have not updated my bio on my website and I have to do that. But I did teach writing for 10 years at a community college and I really loved it.
I really, really loved my students and I miss them. But it was time. My husband recently retired, and it was just time for me to devote myself to my writing and to being able to have the freedom to travel, so, I’m doing volunteer tutoring and I hope to do some lecturing on self publishing because I do like to teach, but I don’t want to be locked into the academic year schedule.
Jenny Wheeler: Actually, that was where I was going with it because with your terrific experience there would be a lot of people who would benefit from learning about both the pitfalls and the benefits of, of indie publishing.
SW Hubbard: Yes I hope to do a few talks to different like mystery groups and so on. I don’t really want to do other people’s marketing. There is an opportunity for that, to set yourself up as the marketer for other people. I have a passion for marketing my own books, but it’s a lot of work and I don’t necessarily want to take on other people’s problems.
Jenny Wheeler: What do you think is the most obvious thing that new writers underestimate in terms of the challenges? Is there one thing that more than any other you’d warn them about?
SW Hubbard: Well, I would say that you really need to know who your readers are. I think a lot of times you’ll ask someone, do you know who would enjoy your book? They say, Oh, everyone will enjoy it. Well, that’s not true. First of all. Second of all, you’ll have a really hard time marketing your book if you don’t have an understanding of who your key readers are. So you need to know who your readers are and then where do they hang out and then what you can you do that would make your book most attractive to them?
I would say the most important thing is to come up with the right cover. I didn’t really know much about cover design when I started out. Another Man’s Treasure does not have the perfect genre specific cover, but it has sold and sold and sold and sold.
So I’m not going to change it. I don’t want meddle with success, but I did end up recovering my Frank Bennett books to try to make them exactly right, for the sub genre of mystery that they are in, which is a location specific mystery. I have a lot of readers for all for the Frank Bennett books, there’s a lot of readers who seem to enjoy other outdoor focused authors like CJ Box and you know, Craig Johnson who writes the Longmire series.
So one thing, I tried to make my covers more in tune with what readers expect.
Jenny Wheeler: Interesting. That indicates that the trad publisher maybe didn’t necessarily get the covers right either.
SW Hubbard: Well, the very first, the Take The Bait cover was really good. I really liked it. But the other two I never particularly cared for. And then when I got the rights back to the other two, you get the rights back to your own words. You don’t get the rights back to your cover. So I had to recover them. Once when I got the rights back, but then I didn’t do a very good job. So then I recovered them again, when I had my wits about me and I came up with the ideal covers for those.
I think I came up with a pretty spot on cover for the women’s fiction books. So yeah, it’s, you really have to study your competition and come up with a cover that fits. A lot of times people feel like they want their cover to be really different, but you really don’t want your cover to be different. You want your cover to fit into your genre so that readers who are browsing say ahh this is what I usually like to read. You know?
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, yes. But looking back over your experience now, is there one thing that you’ve done, perhaps more than any other, that you would credit as the secret of your success?
SW Hubbard: I would say creating really believable characters. , I am not a fast writer. , When I was traditionally published, I was writing one book a year. Then I started writing two books a year when I was self published. And now that I’m retired, I’m trying to write three books a year.
But I don’t see myself ever getting any faster than that. I’m just not a fast writer. I spend a lot of time thinking. Too much time thinking. So I can’t write to trends. A lot of people can write to trends and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m just not fast enough. You know, by the time I would get the book done, the trend would be over.
But on the positive side, you know, Another Man’s Treasure was released, way back at the end of 2012. And it’s still selling. It’s still my best seller. So it’s not trendy, it’s just a book that’s based on a really believable characters. And that’s what has worked for me, is just creating these characters that are credible.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Turning to Sue as reader, because this is The Joys of Binge Reading. We try to cater for giving people suggestions, other books to read as well. Are you a binge reader yourself and who do like to binge read?
SW Hubbard: Well, that’s a good question because I am very, very grateful that there are binge readers in this world who start at the beginning and read every single book in a row. But honestly, I don’t read that way. I’m not a compulsive person at all, so it does not bother me to start in the middle of a series and just dip in and dip out. You know, I usually like to mix it up. There are certainly authors that I have read all their work. But I didn’t necessarily read them one after another after another without taking a break.
I’m a big lover of all things British, so I’ve definitely read all the work of Colin Dexter and Ruth Rendell and PD James. The classic Brits, that I’ve definitely read everything of. Nowadays I like Anne Cleeves amongst the Brits, and Michael Robotham, who I think is Australian. Yes, I like him. And then, among Americans I really like Laura Lippman a lot, and I like Gillian Flynn. I’m always willing to try someone new but those are ones that I will go back to time and again.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Michael, I’m hoping he’s going to come on the podcast later in the year I have approached him and he said when he’s ready to launch his next book, he’ll give it serious thought. So I’m really excited about that.
SW Hubbard: I loved Good Girl, Bad Girl. That was excellent.
Jenny Wheeler: Sue, we’re starting to come to the end of our time together. Circling around and looking back over your life. . . . I noticed at the beginning you mentioned about babies and books. You’ve managed now to have had both babies and books. I think, which is wonderful. At this stage in your life. If you were doing your career part all over again, is there anything that you would change about how you’ve approached it.
SW Hubbard: Well, I’ve been a little random in my career path. My kids are in their early twenties now, so they are setting off in their careers. I was a little random. I don’t think that I knew exactly what I was doing. They’re always saying, “follow your passion.” I did not have a passion when I was 22 or 23. And it’s only now much later in my life that I feel that writing is my passion and that teaching is a passion. I don’t think I would’ve been a very good teacher in my twenties.
I did not know enough about life and I certainly would not have been a great writer in my twenties. I had tried to write some fiction in my twenties but I didn’t have anything to say really. So I would say that writing, unlike music or ballet or ice skating or something that you have to be good at when you’re very, very young – writing is something you can get good at much later in life.
It’s really never too late to become a writer if you can dictate even, even if you can’t type, if you dictate you can still write.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. So what is next for, so is SW Hubbard, the writer, what have you got on your desk for this next 12 months?
SW Hubbard: Well, when you called me, I was finishing up my word count up for the Frank Bennett book that I’m writing right now, which is called Ice Jig. All the Frank Bennett books have a vaguely fishing related titles. I got into this fishing theme, but there’s really not that much fishing that takes place. But there’s actually a lot of interesting fishing equipment that sounds sinister. So I’m writing Ice Jig right now and that will be out March 23rd and then I’ll move on to writing the next life in Palmyrton story, which is called Life Up Ended. And I’m hoping that that will be done by the end of the summer.
And then we’ll move into the next Estate Sale mystery, which I just got the cover for yesterday, and that will be called Rock Bottom Treasure. It’s about a woman who is an aging rock journalist, and Audrey is helping her sell her rock and roll memorabilia.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that sounds great. It sounds a weenie, but like that very popular one last year, Daisy Jones and the Six. We’ve got Stevie Nicks having an estate sale. Yes. That sounds wonderful. You sound as if you’ve got it wonderfully under control. Very impressive.
SW Hubbard: Oh, I don’t know about that. My husband’s always saying to me, why don’t you make an outline, but I’m a pantser. I don’t outline.
Jenny Wheeler: We’ve already established that you enjoy interacting with your readers and that you’re willing to listen to their suggestions. How, how do you like to interact or where can they find you?
SW Hubbard: I have a Facebook page that’s very active, SW Hubbard author. And if you look for me there on Facebook, you’ll get to see pictures of my dog, Libby, who my husband has taken out for a walk right now so that you don’t hear her barking in the background. And I’m on Twitter. I’m on Goodreads. So definitely look me up online and shoot me a message and I will definitely answer you.
Jenny Wheeler: The other thing that I would really like to mention is that you also very happy to talk to book clubs.
SW Hubbard: I love book clubs. I love my own book club. In fact, I joined my book club when I came to talk to them about one of my books. They were reading one of my books. They invited me to come and talk to them. And then I liked them so much that I became a member, but that can only happen once!
I’ll come to any book group in New Jersey, in person. But, I also do it online by Skype or FaceTime, and it’s a lot of fun.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s wonderful. All of the links to your books and your websites and the social media we will have all of those in the show notes, so they’re easy for people to find. So just remember it’s SW Hubbard. Sue Hubbard. Thanks so much for your time today. So it’s been really great.
SW Hubbard: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.
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