#MondayMurderAndMayhem: Susan Israel on ‘Student Bodies’ (Q&A)

Today, it’s #MondayMurderAndMayhem with Susan Israel.

Susan is the author of Student Bodies (The Story Plant)—the second thriller to feature protagonist Delilah Price, following Over My Live Body. A graduate of Yale College, her fiction has been published in Other VoicesHawaii Review and Vignette; she has also written for magazines, websites, and newspapers, including GlamourGirls Life, Ladies Home Journal and The Washington Post. Susan is currently at work on her third novel. She makes her home in Connecticut with her beloved dog, Kingston, but New York City lives in her heart and mind.

susan-israel
Author Susan Israel.

 

Praise for Student Bodies:

“With a powerful sense of place, a compelling and twist-fueled plot, and characters of surprising depth, Student Bodies is as good a mystery as those written by modern-day masters. Susan Israel’s second novel confirms for me that she is one of crime fiction’s most talented new voices.”—Doug Corleone, author of Good as Gone

“Susan Israel has written a heart pounding book of non stop (sic) suspense. I found it to be one of those books where I tried reading faster to keep up with the frantic pace of anticipation in finding out ‘who done it. It was a page turner from the first few sentences to the very last word with an ending that was not expected.”—Amazon reviewer CMash

From the publisher:

Delilah Price is still dealing with the consequences of her recent abduction, but she needs to keep her life on track. In order to survive as an artist in New York City, she has started working as a substitute teacher, which leaves her navigating between two worlds that are foreign to her – students and educators.

Detective Patrick Quick has taken up a big place in Delilah’s life. That is, when he isn’t consumed by a case. And right now the case that is taking Quick away from Delilah involves a serial rapist and is striking very close to home.

On her way to her first day of work, Delilah witnesses a young girl falling in front of a subway train – or was she pushed? The victim turns out to have been a student at the middle school where Delilah has been assigned to teach and the teacher she is subbing for is a missing person herself. As Delilah gets to know her students and befriends a teacher on staff, she realizes that many have been hiding dark secrets that suggest abuse and worse. And when yet another girl who has hinted strongly that she was abused is a no show to class, Delilah stops counting on police help and follows leads on her own. Putting a dangerous predator on her trail.

The dramatic follow-up to Susan Israel’s debut suspense novel, Over My Live BodyStudent Bodies is a novel rippling with tension and twists.

 

student-bodies

Now, Susan Israel reveals her body of work …

John Valeri: What was the inspiration for Over My Live Body – and in what ways did your background in writing short fiction and non-fiction pieces influence the process?

Susan Israel: I always found that when I was writing short fiction I wanted something more, more breadth to my storylines and characters, more room to move them around, so I went from writing those to writing Over My Live Body, with an unfinished novel along the way. A series was taking it even one step further; I get to spend years with my characters so I have to really like them (well, most of them). I focused on crime fiction in part because I was a victim of a crime myself (armed robbery) and it was a copacetic way of reaping bloodless revenge, plus I’ve always enjoyed reading mystery/suspense since my Nancy Drew/Trixie Belden days.

JV: Student Bodies is the second book to feature Delilah Price. What are the unique challenges and liberties of writing a follow-up?

SI: I decided on a series early on when I realized that Delilah’s story wasn’t going to end on page 253. I wanted to show her growing, evolving, moving on to more positions of responsibility in her life and how those changes were going to affect her relationships with her friends and with Detective Quick. The challenge in writing a series is how much back story to include without leaving readers in the dark or being redundant. I read others’ series to get a good feel for that. I particularly like the books by Cara Black and Linda Fairstein.

JV: Having your protagonist be a teacher necessitates an understanding of youth culture and language. What is the importance of creating a sense of authenticity – and how do you endeavor to achieve that?

SI: The teenage characters, Julissa and Violet (and some of the others) walked on stage from real life; I saw a surly girl with purple-streaked hair in the library and immediately cast her in my mind as Violet. Julissa entered stage left about the same way. I had written a quiz for Girls Life in the past and had read several issues to get a feel for the culture and lingo then. I still asked around, “What’s the difference between a boo and a bae?” Delilah is in over her head teaching them but I strove to make her come out ahead.

JV: There is a serial rapist – the “ABC rapist” – stalking the streets in this story. How did this thread allow you to explore our perceptions of such predators and their victims?

SI: There was a real life rapist being sought in NYC years ago – the East Side rapist – who was at large for years and indicted solely based on his DNA so that the statute of limitations wouldn’t run out; to my knowledge he was not caught but I used that as a backdrop for Student Bodies, to illustrate how the threat of a predator looms large in women’s lives, whether it be someone she knows or a stranger.

JV: Your stories are set against the backdrop of New York City. How does setting enhance narrative – and what about the Big Apple lends itself particularly well to these types of books?

SI: I love New York City and all of my stories even prior to Over My Live Body are set there. There’s something for everyone. Over My Live Body is set mostly in Greenwich Village and Tribeca, with some departure points, and its focus is on the arts scene and the gay community. Student Bodies takes my characters over the East River to Brooklyn, where the school where Delilah is substitute teaching is situated and where her students live. The book I’m working on now, Foreign Bodies, also is set largely in Brooklyn, in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, in the midst of the Russian immigrant community there. Each neighborhood is as unique as are characters and has something different to offer.

JV: Delilah is in a relationship with Detective Patrick Quick. The damsel in distress being romanced by a cop is a familiar trope … how do you look to twist that and other stereotypes?

SI: Since Delilah isn’t a police professional, she has limited resources to pursue leads in the situations she gets herself into and she can’t always rely on Quick to be there to “save the day”, which is a blessing and a curse. She doesn’t want him to be there only because she needs him in an official capacity; she’d rather he want to be there but he’s not even there when she does “need” him at times. Her artistic skill has helped the police zero in on suspects but she can’t draw herself out of perilous situations. She does however use ingenuity and wit. Sharp tools in the right hands.

JV: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?

SI: The Bronx, maybe?

From The New York Times: East Side Rapist, Known Solely by DNA, Is Indicted

***

With thanks to Susan Israel for her generosity of time and thought.

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