Writing superheroes: S.K. Rizzolo

  A superhero in platform heels and a black velvet cape?  Read on and find out more…

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If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

In college, I wrote some dark short stories about death and insanity, playing around with gothic plots. This is a trifle odd since I grew up reading Georgette Heyer—my mother’s favorite author—along with lots of children’s fantasy literature. Thus, I might have attempted romance or drawing room comedy in my own work but instead became a Regency mystery novelist. I have one unpublished 19th-century mystery, which will probably remain buried on my computer, and two, soon to be three, published novels in the John Chase/Penelope Wolfe series.


All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.SK Author pic 1 2014

By day I am a bookish and somewhat persnickety English teacher (by night too, actually). Clever ideas and rich discussions delight me. Poor grammar and sloppy thinking draw forth my trusty purple pen. Then I go home and dream up mystery puzzles that I hope are complex and engaging. Like all writers, I spend a great deal of time alone, wishing I really did have the secret powers to invent the perfect plot.


Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My partners in crime are my fellow authors at Poisoned Pen Press, a group of talented writers and wonderful human beings who support each other generously. Under the expert guidance of Barbara Peters and Rob Rosenwald, the PPP authors have built a community. I would say that these writers’ superpowers stem from their love of books and appreciation for the mystery genre in its infinite variety. Of course, my other partner in crime is my husband Michael, whose superpowers are patience and logic. I find that my plots can suddenly get in a knot when a question about modus operandi pops up, and I realize I have no idea how to answer it! At these moments my husband cuts his way through the thicket and makes a life-saving suggestion.


Where do you get your superpowers from?

I don’t know, but I suspect that most writers get their superpowers from having read many, many books. We are readers, first and foremost. And from this immersion in other people’s hopes and fears, writers develop a sense of empathy without which the development of character would be impossible.


Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

My secret lair is the patio at the rear of our 1950s home. We keep this patio blooming with flowers: our small “secret garden.”


What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

I “train” by doing multiple drafts and scrutinizing every word obsessively. To make sure I act only for good, I strive to find the moral core at the heart of my stories. Evil must be acknowledged as such despite inevitable ambiguities. Killers must be unmasked and punished. Although the real world may not offer this kind of resolution, I want to write narratives that celebrate order and human decency, while they also acknowledge life’s inescapable messiness.


Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Platform heels? I am barely five feet tall. Though I’m not so big on costumes (I never dress up for Halloween), I might like to own a black velvet cape.


What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

Sometimes, a particular story can refuse to conform to my vision, resulting in some missed opportunities and wrong turnings. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if other writers feel this way too.


What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

The Demons Fatigue and Lack-of-Focus often ambush me. I have learned that creative energies are to be hoarded and spent wisely. If I want to hear my characters speak, I have to be quiet long enough to listen to them.


What important lessons have you learned along the way?

To produce the work to the best of my ability is the primary goal. Anything else is extra.


What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

I have enjoyed getting to know other mystery and historical fiction readers and writers. That’s the best thing about Internet communities: you can befriend like-minded souls. Who knew that other people in the world actually enjoy living in the 19th century? Every time I read one more depressing article about the death of the novel and the extinction of readers, I can go on Goodreads and interact with people who read as many, if not more, books than I do.


If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

I published my first two novels ten years ago, then stopped writing while I was raising my daughter and teaching full-time. I wish I had pushed myself to continue my writing career during those years. But I would not alter my decision to write in the historical mystery genre.


What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

My mother used to say, “Don’t tell everything you know.” I think this is sound advice because keeping one’s own counsel is often the wisest course of action. These days we live in a tell-all, share-all culture—and I often wonder what she would make of that.


Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

Set in Regency England, my mystery series follows the exploits of a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. My characters do not belong to the Polite World. They do not ordinarily attend balls or visit London for the Season, and they face financial struggles as well as professional and romantic challenges. I enjoy exploring aspects of life in this era that may not be as familiar to readers, such as radical politics, millenarian religion, the growth of celebrity culture, nascent feminism, and so on.

Die I Will Not, my latest novel, finds unhappy wife and young mother Penelope Wolfe trying to clear her father’s name. A Tory newspaper editor has been stabbed while writing a reply to the latest round of letters penned by the firebrand Collatinus. Twenty years before, her father, the radical Eustace Sandford, also wrote as Collatinus before he fled London just ahead of accusations of treason and murder. Penelope’s friends John Chase and Edward Buckler put their careers at risk to stand behind her and reveal a killer. This novel explores royal scandal, 19th-century journalism, courtesans, and dirty politics.


What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I plan to write book #4 in my series.



    You can find S.K. at:




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