The conversation with Susan Isaacs, popular and successful novelist with 13 novels to her credit, two of which became Hollywood movies, is as honest as one can get. When asked about how her latest, It Takes One To Know One, came about, and specifically what it’s like to have the blank screen in front of you, she says, “My hands flew on the keyboard, I loved the plot, the narrator was interesting and lively. Very cosmopolitan.” She went at it for a year and a half when she stopped and threw it away. “I hated it. It was an okay book, but not a book I continued to love writing. I tossed it.” A tiny bit of fear came over her as she wondered if she still had it in her to write.
Some time away from the keyboard had her ruminating about what kinds of mysteries – she still wanted to keep to her favorite genre – become classics. She thought about her favorites, specifically, the classic Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. The first line of the book, one of the most famous in English literature, reads Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Isaacs had the beginnings of her thirteenth novel, the one that she would finish in less than two years, but this time with a main character, Corie, a smart strong graduate from Queens College. “Last night I dreamt I went to Queens Boulevard again,” is Isaacs’ new first line.
Isaacs was in New York City last May to sign advanced copies of It Takes One to Know One at the Book Expo America 2019, the weeklong book-lovers’ festival at the Javits Center. She delighted in seeing new fans, longtime fans, friends who were in town and came to visit. “I love being around passionate book people. There’s instant comaraderie, like belonging to a tribe but with people from all around the country, Mississippi, Arizona, New York.”
Researching her main character, a tough former FBI who hunted terrorists, Isaacs found herself watching many training videos of Israeli Martial Arts. “Corie is in a tough world, holding her own,” like the women of today, Isaacs notes, having to defend themselves against difficult men. Leaving behind her original thirteenth novel, she has no regrets. “It would have been an okay book, an easy paycheck, but that’s not why I got into this. I thought screw it, the best-case scenario is that it’d be a really terrific one.”
Why mysteries? “I was already reading them,” she says, and then suddenly remembers why. “I was working at Seventeen Magazine and had to fly on an assignment on a very small plane and was so nervous about. The editor said, ‘Oh, stop it, get yourself a good mystery.’” Which she did. But there’s more to the attraction to mysteries. “They have a very clear narrative path which keeps the reader wondering what’s going to happen next, and the world is back into balance at the end.”
What’s on Susan Isaac’s night table: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, and next is Nelson DeMille’s latest, The Deserter, written with his son, Alex.
Top photo credit: Linda Nutter
Takes One to Know One