Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Scasscer Hill--The Dark Side of Town



DEBORAH CROMBIE:Anyone who knows me can tell you how much I love horse racing--and especially books about horse racing! I'm so tickled to have discovered Sasscer Hill. Her books take you straight to the track, with the sights, sounds, smells, and the visceral feel of racing. Add in a high-stakes mystery and you've got a sure bet. (Sorry, I couldn't resist...)

So, we all want to know where she got the ideas for her new Fia McKee series. Here's the latest, THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN, set in Saratoga during racing season.



SASSCER HILL: Has inspiration from an agent, friend, or editor ever helped you create a series or story? How about a spark of insight from a law enforcement contact or medical professional?


Back in my other life, when I raised and owned racehorses, I’d heard about the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB). I even had a friend who worked undercover for this agency that protects the integrity of horse racing. But it wasn’t until my literary agent brainstormed with me, that I created TRPB agent, Fia McKee.

I loved writing this two-book series! Horses, scoundrels, danger, adrenaline, a dash of sex, and a child in jeopardy with a happy ending. What’s not to like? 


As mystery writers we often meet the most amazing people. Sometimes these folks provide a bolt of inspiration or sneak right into our novel as a great new character. Have you met someone who stirred your imagination or provided you with a gut punch that screams, “Yes! This is just what the novel needs!

While writing the first in the “Fia McKee”series, FLAMINGO ROAD, I researched the drug Demorphin. A painkiller up to 100 times stronger than morphine, it’s made from a peptide found on the skin of South American tree frogs. 


It was used on racehorses until (thank God) pharmacologists created an identifying blood test. But what if some evil person found a new, unknown drug that worked like Demorphin?

I brought this up during a phone conversation with Craig Stevens, Ph. D., professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University. Stevens was involved in the race to test for this heinous drug when the Demorphin scandal first broke at Remington Park racetrack in Oklahoma City. He was a delightful voice on the phone–eager to talk, great sense of humor, and smart as a whip. He was fascinated to hear I was using a Demorphin-like drug in a race track thriller. We ended up discussing Breaking Bad, a show we both adored, and how the character Jesse was forced to cook methamphetamine.

Stevens said, “You should have a chemist in our book!”
I almost yelled into the phone, “You’re right! I need a chemist!” And my favorite subplot was born, adding a nice layer to FLAMINGO ROAD.

Another “aha” occurred while interviewing TRPB president, Frank Fabian. He was concerned about young jockeys brought up from South America. These boys don’t speak English and are often kept isolated in rental homes with other Spanish speaking riders. They are brought to the US by South American jockey agents, who control them and may threaten to harm family members back home if these boys don’t do as they’re told. 

Fabian asked me, “If these agents tell a jockey to make sure the favorite horse loses, guess what happens?”

OMG, I thought, this is terrible! I must use it. Following the journalist rule, “if it bleeds, it leads, I worked this into the first chapter of THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN which debuts on April 17.


Have any of you had a lightning bolt experience like this? If so, I’d love to hear about it.


Information and buy links for the award winning Fia McKee series and all of Hill’s multiple award nominated novels can be found here:  https://www.sasscerhill.com/books

Visit Sasscer on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/SasscerHill/

THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN is out today, but I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek, and it's a terrific read. 

REDs, tell us about your "aha" moments, and readers, stop in to chat with Sasscer and find out more about Fia McKee.


59 comments:

  1. Happy book birthday, Sasscer . . . It’s interesting to see how a comment can spark an idea for a story. “The Dark Side of Town” sounds quite intriguing and I’m looking forward to meeting Fia . . . .

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    1. Thanks, Joan. I hope you will give Fia a test ride. I know she'd love to take you for a spin!

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  2. Waving hi to Sasscer! I love those moments. When I idly suggested a series set in a southern Indiana country store, my agent got so excited. Turns out he spent idyllic summers with his grandmother in ... southern Indiana. And it's been my bestselling series to date. Best of luck with the new book. And thanks for the info about Demorphin. ;^)

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    1. Edith, I think we've all stumbled over amazing little coincidences like your agent and the Indiana country store. I mean, what are the chances of this happening? But these things do happen and often enough to keep the hair standing up on the back of our necks!

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  3. Welcome Sasscer! Love hearing about your story's ahas! I find that if I keep your mind open, these come along all the time--if only in small ways. Yesterday in the gym, my trainer commented on my Facebook quest to find the right name for a stripper bar. Then she told me the story of the time she went in by mistake, and OMG, I could hardly wait to get home and write the stuff down!

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  4. Welcome Sasscer! Love hearing about your story's ahas! I find that if I keep your mind open, these come along all the time--if only in small ways. Yesterday in the gym, my trainer commented on my Facebook quest to find the right name for a stripper bar. Then she told me the story of the time she went in by mistake, and OMG, I could hardly wait to get home and write the stuff down!

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    1. Lucy, yep, when those "ahas" happen, it does provide a surge of motivation. It can even make a fragment idea for a stripper come to life, flesh, blood, and g-string!

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  5. HI, Sasscer - I love reading about your process. Scary serendipity! As an author you just have to stay awake, go places, ask questions, and listen up when someone says something that leads you somewhere unexpected... the most rewarding of the dark alleys in writing.

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    1. Exactly, Hallie. Those dark alleys in writing keep us alert and alive to the possibilities around us for deeper, more exciting tales.

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  6. What is reading about? We read for relaxation, education, entertainment - the list goes on.
    This author gets it! Her books do it all for us, the reader! I love the flow of the text. Every book she writes moves along, easily. Before you know it, you have read the whole book. I like horses, the business of horse racing, the characters involved with the horses. Sasscer Hill knows all the components of horse racing - she is the best around today writing mysteries on the race track.

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    1. Helen, thank you so much for those kind words! Let's hope the judges in Kentucky see it that way. We'll find out Thursday night if I won the $10,000 Dr. Tony Ryan Best in Racing Literature Award. The suspense is KILLING me, especially being up against Felix Francis!

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    2. Fingers crossed for you, Sasscer!

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    3. Have fun have fun have fun! Remember to have fun!

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  7. Sasscer, what a wonderful glimpse to the backside of the story! Your books are fantastic, and to be clear, you don't have to know thing one about racing or the track to appreciate your tightly plotted fast paced thrillers. Looking forward to reading The Dark Side of Town.

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  8. who, out there, wants to start a Sasscer Hill fan club? we could meet at Saratoga - enjoy the races and talk about her books! could be a lot of fun

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    1. Now this is a truly stupendous idea! Helen, you are amazing.

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  9. I'm in, Helen! I loved this book. Nobody has got the feel of the track this well since Dick Francis. I feel like I've been to Saratoga!

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    1. Aha, Deborah, you used the "L" word. No better word for an author to hear about one of their books!

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  10. I don't live far from Saratoga, but I've never been there to the races. But I have been to Remington Park, just once, a joyful day. However, when I lived in LA, I was a regular at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. I always came home with about the same amount of money I went with and that's after paying for parking, food, drink and betting on every race. Thank God that was before ATM cards or I'd have spent the rent, love playing the ponies.

    I look forward to THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN when it arrives on my Kindle today. Isn't it serendipitous that this is the first of two books about Saratoga racing published this year!

    And they're OFF!

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    1. Ann, I'll be up at Saratoga this year for two book signings. I'd love to meet you!
      Sasscer

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  11. I love hearing about the "aha!" for a story, especially from favorite authors. I enjoy your writing and I've got my fingers crossed for the Dr. Tony Ryan Award nomination.

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    1. Candace, once you get published, knowing your writing, you'll get your share of awards! Regarding the $10,000 Ryan prize, my fingers are crossed, my toes, and at this point, my eyes.

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  12. My most aha! was when researching for my third book. I had already been drawn to the idea of a family devastated by diphtheria in the early days of inoculations, and a modern-day story of a mother who was afraid to vaccinate her child. But where was the actual crime portion of the story? I didn't know until I was researching at the Saratoga Historical Society (to bring it right back to Sasscer's novel.) I discovered the route in upstate New York now serviced by the Northway was known as "Bootleggers Alley" in the 1920s, due to the high volume of liquor smuggled through there from Canada to New York City. I think I literally said, "Aha!"

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    1. I love that moment! I have a literally said a-ha, from time to time, too! So funny!

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    2. And, Julia, ain't it fun when you have cause to utter that word!

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  13. So funny you're up today on Reds - I had a dream last night about a man with your name, a sad man who was a lawyer doing elderly law by day and a stand-up comedian by night. Hey, I might write that. Anyway, I was talking to an IT friend of mine about having painted myself into a corner in book #2 and he said, "what about the IT guy?"

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    1. Yes, what about the IT guy? A good suspect if there ever was one! Or a possible additional victim, which could then open up a whole new path to search for the villain.

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  14. Wow! In every way. And I would love to go to Saratoga… Wouldn’t that be fabulous? I have never been to a race track with someone who really knows what they’re doing… I just always bet on the gray horses.

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    1. Well, since hall of fame trainer, Jonathan Sheppherd, had two gray horses that were Eclipse champions, you can do worse than to bet on the grays, Hank!

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    2. I bet on the ones with the big butt

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  15. Hank, lol. But I used to do that, too. I grew up going to Oak Lawn Park in Hot Springs every season with my parents and I adored it. My dad bet a $6 combine on every race and he usually won enough to take us out to dinner. Great days.

    Sasscer, I felt such sympathy for young jockeys in your book, and seeing the photos with the blog really brought it home. They are so young, and to think of them being taken advantage of so badly was heartbreaking. At least in the book they have Fia to put things to rights.

    Are there going to be more Fia books? I hope!

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    1. Deborah, I'm praying that I can do more Fia books, but sales for Flamingo Road were not what SMP had expected, so there is no contract for a third in the series. Once this book hit the finalist status in this Thursday’s $10,000 Tony Ryan Best in Racing Literature Award, followed by my live interview last week on America’s horse racing network, TVG, Amazon’s sales rank for hardback copies of the novel went from a dismal 400,000 to 17,000. And I have another live interview on TVG this Thursday, the day of the award. If I win the award and beat out Felix Francis, I think I might just find a contract out there somewhere. So hold a good thought, please! If you’d like to see last week’s TVG video, it is here: https://youtu.be/GgseyVPxg8w


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  16. Congratulations, Sasscer! I am an avid fan of horse racing and thought I’d be a jockey until I was informed at age ten that I was already too tall. I had no idea the TRPB existed so I can’t wait to read all about it! My aha’s usually happen when I’m driving and they usually involve the method of murder - I’ll be mulling at a red light, sifting through my plot and then “Aha! She was poisoned with antifreeze by the woman she thought was her best friend!” And then it’s go time on the writing.

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    1. Jenn, just don't forget to drive forward when the light turns green so you can get back to your computer!

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  17. Ever since My Friend Flicka I've loved books with horses in them. Never mind I didn't get to mount a horse until I was 55. The most exciting time of my life was learning to ride, even at that advanced age. Reading about racing is as close as I'll ever get to that thrill, Sasscer, and thank you for picking up where Dick Francis left off!

    When I was researching my first book (about the many different ways to make money with sewing), I discovered that $3 billion was spent per year, at the time, on horse-related industries, across all disciplines. I just went to Google for an updated figure, and the quick and dirty number is $102 billion. That indicates a high interest level for novels with horses in them, I'd say.

    One area of fascination, to me, was around racing silks. For the chapter on horse-related businesses, I interviewed a woman in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby, who made silks for jockeys. Every jockey's "colors" are different, depending on the horse he or she is riding, and they have to change silks if they ride different horses in the same event.

    I look forward to meeting Fia. Can't believe we haven't met by now!

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    1. That's fascinating about the silks, Karen. I never thought about the specialized companies that must make them.

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    2. Yes, the whole silks the is interesting. The owner, me, registers colors with the Jockey club. Then you have a set of silks made and you make sure your silks are in the hands of the "colors" man at each track for any race you have a horse entered in. If you don't get your silks to the track, they put "house" silks on the jockey, usually a nondescript gray that makes you grate your teeth!

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    3. Debs, there are so many specialty areas: horse stall curtains for shows (embellished, monogrammed, otherwise personalized); costumes for a million different kinds of riding disciplines; banners and flags for races and events; and on and on. A friend of mine has made outfits for little girls for years, and another friend made a business out of creating patterns for equine-related clothing like pinks, jodphurs, and other stuff.

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  18. Happy book birthday, Sasser! I'd imagine as with any "glamorous" world, there is a dark underbelly just ripe for the storyline picking.

    Mary/Liz

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  19. You got that right, Mary Sutton! Having lived that life for more than thirty years, I saw it all.One time at Charles Town track my horse, Sea Surge, was the favorite in a race, but one of the starting gate crew "tailed" him, meaning he grabbed the horse's tail when the gate opened, forcing the horse to start a full length behind the others and it cost him the win. Of course, it wasn't caught on camera.

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  20. Wonderful to read about what chance encounter or interesting fact can ignite a story and turn it into a novel. This provides great insight into your creativity! Here's wishing the series goes on and on!

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    1. Lisa, thanks so much! You've had some terrific "story ignition" yourself!

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  21. Sasscer,

    You series sounds intriguing. To answer your question, I've gotten similar flashes of inspiration for a couple of the books in my series in the middle of a conversation. And I thought, "Oh, yes that would be a great idea." And then, this led to "What if" and so my story was off and running (forgive the allusion to your book).

    I wish you success.

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    1. Daniella, that is exactly one of the things I love about horse racing. So many of the terms are used in every day language. "Left in the gate, still a maiden, off to a good start, and flying to the finish, to name a few.

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  22. Sasser, welcome to Jungle Reds! Is Sasser a family name or a pen name?

    I remember Dick Francis mysteries often focus on horses. Did you read his books? I had aha moments in my life. Like Daniella, I had flashes of inspiration from conversations that helped me figure out things. I write stories for myself and I get inspirations while reading a letter or an email that leads to a train of thought for a novel. I was reminded of an author overhearing something in the airport lobby and was inspired to write Circle of Friends.

    Look forward to reading your books,
    Diana

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    1. Thank you, Diana. Yes, I read everything Dick Francis ever wrote. I'm so excited that tomorrow I'll be attending a day long award ceremony in Kentucky and will be having lunch and attending an evening reception with Felix Francis!

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    2. Have a wonderful time, Sasser!

      Diana

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    3. Hi, Diana. Yes, I read every single on of Dick Francis's books, some more than once! And you are right, an overheard conversation can lead to an intriguing mystery.

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  23. Terrific interview, Sasscer & Happy Book Launch Day! I read Full Mortality a few years ago and can't wait to dive into the rest of your books. My whole family are racing fanatics, and always look forward to Triple Crown season. My dad's brother was an owner and trainer at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, my cousin Mike was a jockey for several years when younger. My mother's aunt Aggie was a seamstress who, when not sewing costumes for Carnival krewes, also made silks,as Karen spoke about. One year she made jockey costumes for my brothers for Mardi Gras and they literally wore them to pieces for months afterwards!

    I truly miss Dick Francis, but am so happy to have writers like you & Felix to fill the void! That said, my fingers & toes are crossed for you to win big time in Keeneland! Best of luck!

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    1. Thank you, Lynn. At this point, regarding the award, even my eyes are crossed!

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  24. I just got The Dark Side of Town in the mail. I can't wait to dig in.

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    1. Mary Beth, you were instrumental in getting that book into print. Thank you for all your wonderful critiquing!

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  25. I've always liked horse books starting with the Black Stallion series. I read all Dick and Felix Francis'. Will have to look at yours.

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    1. Sally, please do take either Nikki Latrelle or Fia McKee for a test ride. I'm certain they'd love to take you for a spin!

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  26. Looking forward to reading your series Sasscer! I love getting inside info in new areas of interest!

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  27. I am DELIGHTED to report that I just heard Sasscer's book FLAMINGO ROAD just won the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award as the best book about horse racing for the previous year. This year, three novels were nominated, and a mutual friend of mine and Sasscer's just reported she WON the award, presented moments ago at Castleton Lyons Farm in Lexington, KY. For more about the Dr. Tony Ryan Award, here's a link: http://www.castletonlyons.com/about/dr--tony-ryan-book-award Congratulations, Sasscer! From Rhonda Lane

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