Join me in welcoming Sasscer Hill, for those of you who have not met her (and it’s just a matter of time until she becomes a household name—believe me!) Sasscer is a friend, mentor, and fantastic writer. I fell under her spell when I read her first book, and I haven’t come up for air since.
Tell us a bit about your new book.
Here’s the elevator pitch for RACING FROM EVIL, the new Nikki Latrelle novella: What happens to orphaned Nikki Latrelle after she flees from her pedophile stepfather through the streets of Baltimore and climbs the razor-wire fence into Pimlico Racetrack? Nikki’s drawn to horses, knows how to ride, and dreams of being a jockey. But how can a runaway with no ID, no family, and no income survive?
What inspired you to write it?
Though totally thrilled to land a two-book contract with St. Martins in June of 2015, I was surprised to learn that the first in the new Fia McKee series would not come out until the spring of 2017, a wait of almost two years! My last book, THE SEA HORSE TRADE, was published in 2013, and it seemed way too long a gap.
I was aware that some publishers are asking their authors to write novellas and short stories to keep these writers in the public eye during the intervals between their full length novels. The obvious answer for me was a new Nikki Latrelle. But as I was under contract to St. Martins, I knew the time slot was very compressed. A novella seemed like just the thing.
Nikki had a hard childhood—we get glimpses in the full length novels, but not the details, are the details coming in a future book?
Yes, they are in RACING FROM EVIL. I’d always believed the tale of Nikki’s early years would make a poignant and satisfying read, so once I decided to write a novella, I knew I would write this story because I knew it so well. Imagine a fatherless thirteen-year-old girl whose mother dies suddenly. In a sense, this mother has abandoned her daughter, leaving her in the hands of a lewd, malevolent stepfather. Nikki has no family, and when the stepfather forces his way into her bedroom, she flees. Her best times were spent with her mom at the racetrack, so this is where she runs.
Nikki is forced to steal food, sleep in race horses’ stalls to stay warm, and avoid the police and her stepfather who search for her. But just when things seem to be going right for her, Nikki crosses paths with a young man who makes her stepfather seem like a saint.
How did you get started writing?
As a child I loved horses, action, and adventure. Naturally, I discovered the Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books and became addicted to them as soon as I could read. In the fifth grade our teacher asked my class to write a story. Some wrote about waking up, brushing their teeth, and eating cereal. I wrote a scene with a boy and an old man trailering a horse to the races. Something was wrong and the boy was worried. That’s all I remember. But I do remember this – after the teacher asked me to read it to the class, several kids, genuinely interested, asked, “What happens next?”
There is no greater compliment a writer can get than to have that question asked, and I knew I had something.
What do you think makes a good story?
A good story provides a place where a reader can go, get lost, and forget about what’s troubling them. A good story will both thrill and comfort the reader. When I was in my late twenties and thirties I read everything Dick Francis and Robert Parker wrote because their books were like a tonic.
How do you incorporate that into your books?
I write about good people who are in danger and how they overcome it. I write about people who made mistakes but ultimately find redemption. This is one of the reasons I like George Pelecanos’ novels so much. He is a master at writing about redemption.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?
If you believe you have talent, don’t waste time going into a funk when your writing is rejected. I gave up for five years. What a waste! Join support groups like Sisters in Crime. Everything good that has happened to me in the writing world has happened through a connection to other writers. For instance, it was Marcia Talley who told me after I was nominated for, but did not win the Best First Agatha Award, that I had to use the nomination to find a new agent. So I did and wound up writing a new series that will come out with St. Martins next spring.
Has that changed the way you write or market your books?
Yes in the sense that Sisters in Crime condones self-promotion, something I was loath to do.
About the marketing thing—love it, hate it?
I actually like marketing on social media, Facebook in particular. But it is a time suck.
You’ve been with a small press, indie, and now with a Big Five—what are the differences?
Small press, you get your foot in the door which led to an Agatha nomination. But with many small presses there is no marketing and no distribution to book stores and libraries. There also is very little money. Because I started with a small press, however, I got enough recognition that when I got the rights back to the Nikki Latrelle series and marketed them myself, they sold. My first monthly check from Amazon was larger than my last six-month royalty check from the small press!
Nikki Latrell is one of my favorite characters. She’s smart, sassy, brave, and probably 90 pounds of grit and gumption. Is she based on you?
Yeah, pretty much. Although she may be a better person than me.
Would Nikki like you for a friend?
I think she would. I would be something like a Carla Reuben to her. Carla is a an older friend and mentor to Nikki who plays a role in each of the first three novels.
What advice would you like to give Nikki?
Stay strong, march on, and don’t let the bastards get you down.
The Nikki Latrell stories are all about trusting yourself, even when you think you can’t and redemption. Is that a recurring theme in all of your writing?
Yes, my themes have always been about chasing the dream, fighting the odds, and helping the helpless. The horses in Nikki’s life teach her the most important life lesson, “You get what you give.”
How do you see Nikki?
Physically? I see her as about five foot three or four, thin, wiry and scrappy. She has a very cute face and a mouth she doesn’t realize is sexy as hell.
If you couldn’t write, what would you do?
Don’t even want to think about it.
Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!
Still writing good mysteries for St. Martins. Landing a movie deal! Hey, you said to dream big.
Sasscer Hill, a former Maryland racehorse breeder, trainer, and rider, uses the sport of kings as a backdrop for her mysteries. Her “vivid descriptive” prose about greed, evil, heart, and courage propelled her “Nikki Latrelle” novels to multiple award nominations, including Agatha, Macavity, and the Dr. Tony Ryan Best in Racing Literature awards.
Visit Sasscer’s website: http://SasscerHill.com/
Visit Sasscer on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SasscerHill.
See her Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/author/sasscerhill