Sunday 27 March 2011

Interview with Susie Levin

Susie Levin is a native of Chicago, Illinois. Before becoming a stay-at-home mom of two boys she worked in the tobacco industry and spent time traveling both in and outside the United States. She has a passion for reading and talking about crime fiction. She hosts the Nordic/British/Irish/Euro mysteries (NBIE III) discussion at in the "mystery" forum.

Allan: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Susie. Could you tell us a little bit about NBIE.

Our group is quite diverse. We have an antique dealer, a retired English professor, a nurse, a retired attorney, someone who works with recovering addicts, an artist, a teacher for children with special needs, a woman who keeps kids out of trouble by teaching them how to play Go after school (she's also our Kindle and tech specialist), a doctor/vet/editor/Vine reviewer, writers and a retired book dealer. I'd like to name everybody because they're all so special to me.

One thing we all have in common is our love for books.  Most of us don't have friends or family who read the same kind of books we do or want to talk about them in detail like we do. They don't want to hear about how the cover of a book attracted our attention, how it feels to hold a paper book, how cool it is that Kindle opens to the page where you left off, how scared we got by something we read, what it's like to encounter a beautiful sentence, or whose book we can't wait for to come out.

I'm pretty much the resident author groupie and name-dropper. Our nurse is too. We get such a thrill when a favorite author posts. I've never been to a book signing but I have been to the last two Bouchercon World mystery conventions,  I had the best time. I've never met a warmer, more personable and humble group of people. RJ Ellory took me and another woman (we're going again in September) from NBIE, Ali Karim from Shots Magazine and Julia from Quercus publishing to lunch last year. I stared at Roger for about an hour straight before I could touch my food.

Who started the NBIE discussion, and has it been around for a while?

I started it a couple of years ago. Amazon locks up forum threads when they reach 10,000 posts. We'll be starting our 4th discussion thread soon.

How did your interest in crime fiction from the NBIE countries come about?

By accident, really. I never used to think about books from other countries, I just bought books from bestseller racks.  I think the first British book I read was by Elizabeth George. I'd never read anything like her Thomas Linley series, and from there I read Anne Perry's and M.C. Beaton's books. I read everything I could find that was similar. The stories were great and I was captivated by England's villages, houses that had been in the family for years, butlers, gardens and pubs.

This was before I knew anything about Amazon, book blogs and discussions. I just fumbled my way through Barnes & Noble. I pretty much read everything I was interested in reading that they carried and went to Borders. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell caught my eye. That was it for me. I blew through his books. I freaked when I finished the last Wallander. I was panic stricken, I didn't know what to read next. I went to the library and couldn't believe my luck. The librarian was a young man from Iceland!  He told me not to worry, that I would never run out of good books to read. He told me about Maj Sjowall & Per Whaloo, Arnalder Indridasson and more.

My kids weren't too keen on listening to me rave about books they couldn't care less about. They told me to join a book discussion online. I found Amazon and the discussion boards and haven't left my bedroom since.  I've learned so much from everyone I've met. I didn't even know the books I liked to read were called police procedurals. I was introduced to different genres and after buying tons of books I began to define my taste and branch out to reading books from other countries outside of NBIE. I like Japanese and German crime fiction a lot now too.

I think there's something distinctive about crime fiction from other countries. I think the characters have more layers, there's more detail to their personalities and the psychology that drive them. I think the humor is different, it's subtle and unexpected. Most crimes are solved while the protag is reading a book or listening to music. I think weather influences the overall tone, the books are darker and moodier. Even if it's not used for sense of place I think living where it's damp, wet and cold with little sunshine has to be depressing after a while.

Have you always been a keen reader?

No, not like I am now.

What about as a kid? Did you read much, and what titles do you remember?

I remember reading three books through choice when I was a kid. They were Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Black Beauty and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Were you an early adopter to eBooks?

No, not at all.  I had my kindle for six months before I tried it.

And how do you find it?

It was a little overwhelming at first. I'm happy using the basics: buying books, reading them, and the dictionary is great. It's so convenient to be able to look up a word without having to look for a print dictionary or go online.

Have your book buying habits changed much since you've been using a Kindle?

Yes, I buy more books.

Are you buying more print or eBooks?

Lately it seems I'm buying more Kindle books than paper.

What about your reading habits? Have they changed?

Yes, because I'm reading more books on Kindle.

What ratio of eBooks to print books do you read?

I'm not sure what the ratio would be but eBooks are in the lead right now.

Pricing seems to be a big issue among eBook readers. What's your take on it?

The pricing for eBooks isn't an issue for me, yet. But I could see why some readers might have a problem. You can get new and used books from Amazon for a penny and up, and lend them out.

What book have you read recently that you can recommend?

I read a great 'indie' book on Kindle by Saffina Desforges recently called
Sugar And Spice. It starts with a missing child... I'm afraid of spoilers so I'll just say it's hard to believe this is the author's first novel.

You're not alone in your praise. It's currently storming the Kindle charts (#4 in the UK at time of writing). You mentioned it's an "indie" novel. Do you make any distinction between purchases of books by indie authors and those backed by publishers?

Not any more, lol.

Finally, can you name a few good crime novels you'd like more people to know about?

Oh boy, there's so many. Fred Vargas's 
Have Mercy On Us All and Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands, James Thompson's Snow Angels, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest, Roslund & Hellstom's The Beast & Box 21, Sam Millar's The Darkness of Bones, Leighton Gage's Dying Gasp, Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series & Val McDermid's Place of Execution.  Those are a few books I would like people to read, but there's so many more...

Thanks for taking time out to talk to me, Susie. Here's to the next 30,000 comments at NBIE.

Al, this was so much fun for me, I knew all the answers!  Thank you so much.


  1. Great interview. I nodded my head in agreement in several places.

    I love Mankell and Larsson - I had reader's block when I finished the latter's trilogy -nothing else compared for quite a while.

    I too am a kindle convert - love it. Also don't distiguish between indie and trad. Quality not provenance -that's what matters for my reading material.

    Thanks Allan and Susie.

    Anne (writeanne)

  2. I read a lot & am somewhat a convert of the ebook format. Whilst I still read more paper books I enjoy reading on my Ipod Touch, particularly on the bus. It's just so easy to whip it out and start reading as opposed to rooting around in my work bag for a book.

    Interesting article I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Hi Anne,

    I know exactly what you mean by reader's block.

    I don't know if you enjoy audio books but I've been listening to the trilogy narrated by Simon Vance the last few months. One advantage is hearing how Swedish names are pronounced, before I would say the names different to myself every time it came up.


    I like how easy it is to find in my in my purse too and that it doesn't get banged up like paper books from carrying it around all the time.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the article, it's fun to talk about books.


    Congratulations on your new blog, it looks great.

    I'm anxious to read your new novella, KILL CLOCK, BYE BYE BABY and KILLING MUM were great. When will it be out?

    Thanks again, I'm honored you thought of me.


  4. As a follower of the NBIE discussions, I'd like to say that it's a wonderful place to learn about new titles if you're interested in the genre.

    Beware though, your TBR list will increase to unmanageable proportions :-)

  5. Thanks for the comments, folks. Much appreciate you taking a look at the new blog.

    @Anne -- "quality not provenance". Yep, that's it. I suspect the line between indie and trad published is going to become increasingly murky in any case.

    @Groovydaz -- Portability is a huge selling point. My life has been very different since I stopped having to lug 400-page manuscripts with me when travelling.

    @Susie -- thanks again for doing this. I'm revising Kill Clock at the moment. I'd hoped it would see the light of day sometime this month but I misjudged how much rewriting I'd end up doing. So mid-April's my new likely publication date.

    @boatlady -- Yes, I've noticed!

  6. What a cool idea, Allan, to interview our Susie.
    You're off to a great start, and I just subscribed by email.

  7. Having recently taken the plunge and become an Indie author by publishing my new crime book as an ebook, I found this discussion fascinating. I'm still feeling my way in this medium, but I must say I agreed with what was said and I too have recently been buying more ebooks than traditional print ones.

  8. @Leighton: Thanks for signing up. Some more good stuff will be coming your way soon.

    @Chris: DEAD WOOD made a big splash, winning the Dundee International Book Prize and getting published by Polygon. Great to hear you have a new book out. May THE NIGHT WATCHER splash even more loudly!

  9. I've only stumbled into the world of NBIE in the past couple of weeks, but already feel it's like a second home. Being from the UK, it can be a bit daunting with the time lag to find such a massive bunch of posts while I'm asleep, but it's well worth reading through them all to start off the day. It's a fascinating place full of wonderful people. Great to get to know Susie better.

  10. Wow! Allan, when Susie mentioned this, I was really excited and it has lived up to expectations! They're even talking about it on the Kindle forums!

    Thanks to Susie for the mention and to Allan for running this blog! On behalf of all indies out there!

    Saffina Desforges

    And PS. We are now number 3 in the charts and sold 15,000 copies in March, but Wilbur Smith is hot on our trail, so I guess all good things must come to an end! ;-)

  11. Thanks, Saffina, and congrats on your success!

  12. Hi Saffina,

    I don't know what the average sales are a month for ebooks but 15,000 sounds like it's way over the top.

    Congratulations, it's a great book.


  13. Hi P. Atkins,

    Thank you.

    I just checked out your blog, 'Good Books To Read', I'll keep it on my list of blogs to keep track of.
    I like the different categories, you've got something for everyone.