Susan Alice Bickford was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Central New York.
After she discovered computer graphics and animation her passion for technology pulled her to Silicon Valley, where she became an executive at a leading technology company.
She now works as an independent consultant, and continues to be fascinated by all things high tech. She splits her time between Silicon Valley and Vermont.
In an interview in the August 10, 2017 New York Times Book Review, Philippa Gregory responded to a question about genres with a provocative answer that definitely caught my attention.
She starts off by going after pornography and goes on to say, "And why does anyone write lazy, sloppy genre novels? The typing alone is so exhausting — surely if you’re going to undertake 150,000 words, you might as well have something interesting to say? Why do people write crime novels with blindingly obvious murderers? Why do they write love stories with idiotic heroes?... Writing should be both individual and universal. Choosing to write a genre novel is like fencing the universe because you are afraid of space."
After I shook off a measure of indignation, I took a step back to consider why I write fiction at all, and why I choose to write dark thrillers in particular.
The desire to hear and tell stories is fundamental to the human psyche and mysteries and thrillers are genres that speak to me but in the past I have written non-fiction and flirted with other genres.
Telling stories was something I wanted to do but I was torn between words and visual media, even in elementary school. In college, I started as a comparative lit major but ended up majoring with studio art. I even went on to get my MFA. Somewhere along the way, I knew I wanted to tell a different kind of story—a narrative story. Fiction called, but I couldn't figure out how to answer. Every time I tried to write, I floundered.
Meanwhile, I fell under the spell of high tech. It started with computer graphics, then expanded to programming, and finally to participating in a full on engagement with Silicon Valley. It was a thrilling ride and I found that many aspects of my career required a great deal of creative thinking. Writing was critical as well. I had the opportunity to work directly with some of the most brilliant minds in the field but I found out that being able to communicate added value even if I was never the smartest person in the room.
When I finally had an opportunity to take a break from my lean-in career about 12 years ago, I found I was consumed by the raw need to sit down and write. Eventually, I returned to working but chose to do consulting because it left me with the mental energy to do what I loved in my spare time: write.
This time I didn't worry about genre or story. It didn't matter that I didn't have a voice or didn't know the basic rules. I simply picked up some thread that was buzzing around in my head and started writing. The only rule was that I had to love the story I was telling myself. I didn't care about publishing or sharing.
Gradually, I started to zero in on certain themes. I noticed that I had a flair for certain aspects. Easily bored, I rotated from story to story every couple of weeks. Finishing was not a critical motivation.
One night I began a story about a young woman who has to escape from someone. Two someones. In the woods like where I grew up in Central New York. It's night. They chase her. They die from their own stupidity as she outwits them. She leaves them, goes home, and.... Hmm. What next?
In the course of one evening, I found my voice, my genre, my inner writing compass.
Part of me had been waiting to write this story for decades. At the end of my freshman year in high school, two girls from my homeroom were brutally murdered. Their murderer was never identified and the world seemed to blame them for their own fates. Now I knew I had to write a tale about a teenage girl who is attacked and gets away. For a while. Her name would be Marly.
This was the easiest part of the story. I soon had to ask myself what kind of family and community Marly came from. Why couldn't she go to the police? Why couldn't she tell anyone what had happened? What were the repercussions? How could I make this plausible?
As I answered these questions, I built a world for Marly. I had to dig deeply into both my personal experiences but also dredge up my understanding of human nature, both good and bad. The more I scratched, the more I itched to go further and further.
In the course of 80,000 words or so, I found my reasons for writing my particular genre, which I call country noir thrillers. I love the moral ambiguity the conflict this creates as we struggle to find our moral guideposts. Story telling is part of my soul now.
My high school friends should have been able to live their own adult lives, make their own mistakes, experience joys and failures. Instead, they gave me a wonderful gift that opened up a window of self-discovery. I just wish they were here to share it.
And that's why I write genre! Rather than discuss this with Philippa Gregory, I would much rather sit down with Sue Grafton, Val McDermid, or Ann Cleeves. A personal conversation with any of them on this topic would put me over the moon.
A Short Time to Die
In this electrifying debut by Susan Alice Bickford, two women from opposite sides of the country find their lives inextricably bound—by blood, by fear, and by a merciless, murderous revenge…
Walking home from a high school dance on a foggy autumn night in rural New York, Marly Shaw sees a flash of approaching headlights. A pickup truck stops and two men get out. One of them is the girl’s stepfather. She runs. They follow. Minutes later, gunshots are fired, two men are dead, and one terrified girl is running—for the rest of her life…
Thirteen years later, human bones are discovered in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. DNA tests reveal they belong to a mother and son from Central New York. Both have criminal records. Assault. Involuntary manslaughter. Maybe more. Santa Clara County Sheriff Detective Vanessa Alba wants to know how these backwater felons ended up so far from home.
Vanessa and her partner, Jack Wong, head to the icy terrain of the Finger Lakes to uncover the secrets of a powerful family whose crimes are too horrifying to comprehend. Whose grip over a frightened community is too strong to break. And whose twisted ideas of blood and honor are a never-ending nightmare for the one family member who thought she got away…
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I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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