Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The Story Behind Stalking Susan
People want to know if I have a special enemy named Susan. I don't. Stalking Susan is not a personal tale of revenge.
Some stories stay with journalists long after the newscast wraps. A decade ago, as a television news producer, I covered two St. Paul cold case homicides that inspired me to write Stalking Susan. The cases involved two women, both named Susan, murdered in Saint Paul exactly two years apart. Their cases remain unsolved.
Susan Ginger Petersen, age 28, was strangled May 17, 1983. Her body was found in a Highland Park alley in Saint Paul.
Susan Jean Rheineck, age 16, was asphyxiated May 17, 1985. Her body was dumped near the Mississippi River in Saint Paul.
My debut novel is not their story, but in the world of fiction I was free to ask myself, what if? When I wrote Stalking Susan I changed the victims' ages, appearances, occupations, and the time and locations of their deaths. I added more victims. I also changed their last names and almost changed their first name. But I decided to keep Susan because I never forgot them and I wanted others to remember them, too.
The Saint Paul Police Cold Case Unit is taking a fresh look at these homicides and welcomes tips from the public (651-266-5956). Privately, some cops say wouldn't it be funny if fiction helped solve murder.
Last year, soon after Doubleday bought Stalking Susan I was browsing Common Good Books with a friend. Kicking the tires, so to speak. Imagining where my book might one day sit and the company that might surround it. Somehow, I was drawn to the Quality Trash table; I even pointed it to out to my friend, author Steve Thayer.
"That's it. That's where my book belongs."
He laughed and responded, "Well, the quality is certainly there, but I'm not sure it rises to the appropriate level of trash."
But not so fast. Stalking Susan has now garnered praise from both Publisher's Weekly, which starred it and called it an "impressive debut," as well as People magazine, which featured it as a Sizzling Summer Read, "Truly scary, no matter what your name."
And if that combination doesn't validate my debut, Stalking Susan, as Quality Trash, I don't know what does.