Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Denise Swanson | School Psychologist, Writer, and People Watcher

May 14, 2008

One of the first questions I’m often asked when I speak about my writing is why I chose to write mysteries instead of romances (I assume this is because I have such an innocent, baby face). My answer is simple: after twenty-two years in public education there are a lot of people I want to kill, there are very few I want to have sex with.

Seriously, although I enjoy writing mysteries because I like knowing that the bad guy is going to get caught and pay for his crime at the end, I would like to write in other genres such as romance and fantasy.

On the other hand, I love the sense of justice a well-written mystery brings to its readers. One thing I’ve learned from being a school psychologist for so long is that justice rarely happens in real life, so it gives me a sense of fulfillment to have it happen in my fiction.

Having worked in almost every type of school setting, from the poorest areas surrounding Washington DC to upscale suburban Chicago, and from rural to urban, I’ve heard so many stories and seen so many bizarre situations I’ll never run out of plots.

My Scumble River Mystery series is set in a fictional small town in Illinois, and features a school psychologist-sleuth named Skye Denison. It’s got a lot of humor, a bit of romance, and I’ve based many of the stories on my personal experiences—although I’ve never found a dead body—at least not yet.

When I decided to write a series, one of my goals was to highlight the profession of school psychologist. Most people have no idea what a school psychologist does, or even that they exist. I still get reviews where they call Skye a school counselor or a psychiatrist, both of which are very different jobs.

One of the reasons I enjoyed being a school psychologist is my abiding interest in people. I love studying them and figuring out what makes them tick. This is also, why I enjoy writing. My books are character-driven, and one of the things I like most is examining the relationships. Throughout the series my sleuth is torn between two men, and my readers seem very interested in this relationship. When I do book signings there have even been some skirmishes between readers who have different opinions on which guy Skye should end up with.

Another aspect of writing that is similar to school psychology is that the characters surprise me every time I write about them. In Murder of a Sleeping Beauty, which deals with body image among teenagers, I was surprised by my research when I found a large number of parents living their lives through their kids, as well as by the rising number of teenage girls who think they are only a pretty face and thin body. (Girls should be judged for something besides their looks. For that reason I made Skye a plus-size woman who is comfortable in her own skin. I’m hoping that the teens that read my books will come to understand that people come in all sizes, and weight is just another attribute, like hair or eye color. Skye shows that whether a woman looks like a Barbie doll or a Rubens painting, she can do anything and experience life to the fullest.)

In Murder of a Barbie and Ken, Skye’s then boyfriend, Simon’s mother appeared out of nowhere. I had thought she was dead up until that point. In Murder of a Smart Cookie, nearly all my characters surprised me, especially Simon.

In my newest book, Murder of a Chocolate-Covered Cherry, Skye’s current boyfriend, Wally’s father comes to town and reveals their family secrets.

–Denise Swanson writes the Scumble River mystery series published by Penguin/NAL/Obsidian. Her books have been nominated for the Agatha, Mary Higgins Clark, Daphne du Maurier, and RT Reviewers Choice awards. She is married to classical music composer, David Stybr. To hear some of David’s music go to Denise’s website

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