Today I am delighted to welcome Susan McBride to Colloquium! Susan is the author of young adult fiction series The Debs, Debutante Dropout Mysteries, and Maggie Ryan Mysteries, as well as two novels for adults, The Cougar Club and her latest, Little Black Dress.
Two sisters’ lives seemed forever intertwined, but are torn apart when a magical little black dress gives each one a glimpse of an unavoidable future. Antonia “Toni” Ashton has worked hard to build a thriving career and a committed relationship, but when she is forced to return home to Blue Hills after her mother, Evie, suffers a massive stroke. Toni finds the old Victorian house in which she grew up is as crammed full of secrets as with clutter. In putting her mother’s house in order, she uncovers long-buried truths about Evie and her aunt, Anna, who vanished fifty years earlier on the eve of her wedding. From learning about the her family’s past, she also realizes her own mistakes and makes unexpected discoveries about love, magic, and a little black dress with the power to both break hearts and mend them.
Putting on My Little Black Dress
I always get nervous when I have a new book coming out. I feel as anxious with Little Black Dress hitting bookshelves (real and virtual) tomorrow as I felt a dozen years ago with the release of my first mystery. Weird, I know. You’d think I’d have gotten over the jitters by now. But when you spend months and months sitting at your keyboard, creating people who didn’t exist and playing God with their lives, it’s a bit like giving birth. You want everyone to say, “My, what a beautiful baby!” Not, “Lord have mercy, is that yours?”
With Little Black Dress, I feel an added bit of nerves as well, because it’s my first leap into the land of magical realism. Not that all fiction doesn’t require a suspension of disbelief (as I forever reminded myself when I was writing amateur sleuth mysteries where my debutante dropout from Dallas kept stumbling over dead bodies). Still, I think adding an element of magic to the story set the bar even higher for me. Perhaps that’s why it was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever written . . . and the most exhilarating.
The idea originated with my wondering this: what if a family heirloom wasn’t just a lucky charm (or even unlucky) but was truly mystical? I thought of my mother drilling into my head that every woman needs a little black dress to carry her through all of life’s events. So I decided this “magical heirloom” would be just that: a black dress. Only it would be a very special dress, sewn from spider’s silk that would reveal to its wearer a glimpse of her future.
I then envisioned two sisters who are different at heart, with such disparate needs and wants, keeping a secret that no one else knows. I decided to make one sister see a future very different from the one her parents had planned for her — in the case of Little Black Dress, it’s younger sister Anna’s wedding to the son of a wealthy vineyard owner — and the choices she ends up making affect every member of her family and another generation after that.
In a way, it’s a bit like a grown-up Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, because the little black dress in question fits Anna, Evie, and Toni (Evie’s daughter) — who are not the same shape and size — and it has a huge impact on all of their lives. They don’t even understand the depths of what the dress has done to them all until years and years after.
Writing Little Black Dress had me wondering this, too: would I want a magic dress that foretold the future? I did have a tarot card reader tell me years ago that I would meet my husband (a month before I did) and, soon after, that we would marry. Still, I’m not sure I’d want to know too much about my future. Like most people by their mid-forties, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. If I’d known some of those “downs” were ahead, could I have done anything to change them? Or would they have happened anyway?
Hmm, I may just leave the magic to my books and take my own life day by day. Since I’ve already told you that I’m a worry wart, it might make things easier that way.
Susan’s prior adult work of fiction, The Cougar Club, was selected by Target Stores as a Bookmarked Breakout Title, named a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Booksellers Association, and included in MORE Magazine’s list of “February Books We’re Buzzing About.”
Her new novel, Little Black Dress, will be available in bookstores and online tomorrow, August 23, 2011. Susan will be following it up with Little White Lies, another women’s fiction book (HarperCollins/Morrow) and Dead Address, a young adult thriller (Random House/Delacorte). She has also penned five award-winning Debutante Dropout Mysteries (HarperCollins/Avon), including Blue Blood, The Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club, Night Of The Living Deb, and Too Pretty To Die. Her young adult series about debutantes in Houston was launched in 2008 with The Debs and followed by Love, Lies, and Texas Dips the following year. There is currently no publication date for Gloves Off, the third installment in the series.
Susan refers to herself as an “Accidental Cougar” after being names a St. Louis Magazine top single and 2005, and meeting a younger man. Married in February 2008, she and her husband reside in a St. Louis suburb. Susan is a breast cancer survivor and often speaks to women’s groups about her experience.
Susan has generously provided a copy of Little Black Book for me to award to one lucky reader (selected at random)! So be sure to visit Colloquium on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, to read my review of Little Black Book and enter to win!