‘Emily Trace Mysteries’ author, Sue Eller is one rare bird.

‘Emily Trace Mysteries’ author, Sue Eller is one rare bird.

Author of one novella, a gluten-free cookbook, and two installations of the Emily Trace mysteries, Sue Eller is everything you’d ever want an author to be: quirky, kind, creative, accomplished, and coffee dependent. A self-proclaimed nerd and Star Trek fan, she is fun-loving, intelligent, and a genuinely nice person.

I met Sue at a Spokane Authors & Self Publishers (S.A.S.P.) meeting where she is the current Vice President. Warm and welcoming to this newbie, we struck up a conversation and spoke of our various writing adventures. Of course this eventually lead to my picking up two of her books: ‘Meadowlark Madness’ and ‘Taming of the T-Bird’ – the Emily Trace Mysteries.  20170515_182546

Set in the Pacific Northwest city of Spokane, young widow and newly licensed P.I. Emily Trace has many mysteries to solve. She’d like to find out who killed her husband, and why. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) her small business, E.T. Investigations seems to keep her a bit too busy, drawing strange clients dealing with even stranger circumstances.

Full of interesting characters, nerdy humor, pop culture references, action, adventure, and even a touch of romance, these books are fun to read. Almost as fun as interviewing this amazing author!

Keep reading to learn more about Sue Eller.

SnS: Sue, please give us a little background on yourself. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Sue: Well, my mom wrote short stories, and even sold a few. So writing was always in my life. As was reading. I grew up on a farm, the eldest of six kids, and the only entertainment besides each other was a black and white TV, or books. My dad loved westerns, and I thought the Mickey Mouse Club was okay, but mostly I read. My mom would take us all to the local library and I would come home with dozens of books at a time. I would devour them and go back for more. 

To be honest, I’ve had delusions most of my life about being the next Arthur Conan Doyle, or Carolyn Keene, or Agatha Christie – without the whole murdering the husband thing, of course – but I actually went to school hoping to be a band instructor. I learned multiple instruments: guitar, keyboards, clarinet, saxophone, and violin, but I was told by an adviser that my dream of being a band teacher wouldn’t happen. He told me, “Women just don’t do that.” So I transferred to Whitworth College and switched my major to Chemistry. I minored in Math and French, and took an interest in computer science.

SnS: Wow, so when did you become serious about writing?

Sue: In 1994 I began writing short stories and articles for a weekly newspaper. After a while I purchased the paper and ran it for four years. It was a good education for me. It was fun, and I learned a lot. After that I wrote my first novella ‘Return From Armageddon‘ in 1991. It was published in 1992 as an audio-book by Books In Motion. In 2012 I released the hard copy and Kindle editions. It was later that same year that I published my first Emily Trace book, ‘Meadowlark Madness‘.

SnS: Okay, now I have to ask. Where did you get the idea for the plot of ‘Meadowlark Madness‘? It’s very unique. 

Sue: Growing up on the Palouse, my grandmother would drive us kids to and from Spokane to shop. Every time, she would point out the meadowlarks singing in the fields. After a few times, I let my imagination wander and thought, “What if. . . What if those bird songs are fake? What if they are some sort of triggered sensor?” Somewhere between those thoughts and my love of Star Trek and aliens I dreamed up E.T. Investigations.

I wanted the hero of my book to have a name that coincided with E.T. for the pun factor, therefore Emily Trace was born. Emily Trace is very much like me, an alter ego of sorts. She is quirky, flawed, and totally addicted to coffee.

SnS: *LOL* There is nothing wrong with loving the java. 😉    So, did the plot for ‘Taming of the T-Bird‘ also come from a real life happening?

Sue: *Laughing* Yes, my husband Ray owned a T-Bird many years ago. He drove it to work and home every day, and every day it would die at the same spot. After a while of this, I began teasing him, saying that aliens must be to blame. The story evolved from that.

I wrote both books with two goals in mind. First, I purposely kept them clean. There is no graphic violence, explicit sex, or harsh language. I wanted it to be something pre-teens could read and enjoy. Second, I wanted to bring in themes that dealt with real life issues such as greed, family dysfunction, forgiveness, friendship, and the difficulties brought on by Autism. I have an autistic grandson, whom I love very much. I wanted my books to shed light on these issues, and one of my favorite moments was when a fan wrote to tell me that my book helped her to better understand an autistic family member.

SnS: That’s wonderful! Now, I’ve heard it said that some authors hear their characters voices in their heads, as if they are real. Are your characters real to you?

Sue: My characters are very real to me. Some of them were inspired by friends or family members. One, Emily’s first client, Archie ‘The Keeper of the Paints’ was inspired by Wile E. Coyote painting a tunnel that the Road Runner ran through. My Darla character, Emily’s temp. was a complete surprise. I imagined her as a typical teenager looking for a job, but she turned out to be a bit of a wise-goth. She’s a good foil for my nerdy main character Emily.

SnS: It seems that you and Emily have a lot in common. You both share a nerdy love of Star Trek. How long have you been a fan and who is your favorite character?

Sue: I’ve been hooked on Star Trek since September of 1966 when the first episode aired. Scotty and Bones were fun characters, but I thought Kirk was a sleaze. My sister loved Chekov, and I loved Spock. To me, Spock was the hero because no matter what, he was always intelligent, always in control. Plus, like me, he was a science nerd.

SnS: We’ve established your nerd credits for science and Star Trek, but I have it on good authority that you are nerdy in many ways. Can you tell me more about that?

Sue: Well, I enjoy Dr. Who, LOTR, and Harry Potter too. In fact I believe that the first page of “The Sorcerer’s Stone” is quite possibly the best first page ever written.

Because of my various fandoms, I’ve attended a few conventions like InCon and WorldCon. I dressed up with a Tom Baker (Dr. Who) scarf and hat for one of them. The other I dressed up as Professor Trelawny. That costume garnered a lot of attention, and a lot of people took pictures with me. It was fun. If you really want to understand the extent of my nerdiness though, you will have to come in and see my office. 

**There is only one way to describe Sue’s office. Super cool & nerdy chaos. The space is filled with file cabinets, book shelves, and tables. Every surface is covered by computer tech., books, papers, action figures from many iconic films, and even a life-size sorting hat! The walls sport a large map of Middle Earth, a sepia print of Spock, a lovely painting done by her niece, a paper version of Emily Trace’s infamous bird clock, and a massive story board.

SnS: Wow, you weren’t kidding about being a nerd! How do you get any work done in here?

Sue: I don’t. I mostly work from my kitchen table. I’ve always been a busy person, being raised on the farm, going to school, then work and motherhood. It’s hard for me to sit still for any length of time so I get my best work done outside of my office.

SnS: When you say work, you aren’t kidding. Not only do you write, but you and your friend Kate Poitevin (previously interviewed by SnS) work together as editors, and you are Vice President of the S.A.S.P.  Please tell us about editing, and how you got involved in the Spokane Authors and Self Publishers group. 

Sue: My friend Kate and I began our adventure as editors 3 years ago, to fill a need by other authors. We offered a less expensive way to get their books a preliminary edit. We felt confident we could do this as we’d helped Kate’s dad edit his autobiography years earlier, and because of my experience editing for my newspaper.

I got involved with the S.A.S.P. in 2013 after taking part in a multi-author book signing at our local Hastings store. I met some local authors involved with the S.A.S.P. (one being Dave McChesney, also previously interviewed by SnS.) and they invited me to a meeting. At first I wasn’t certain I wanted to join the group, but I went again. After hearing more speakers, and making some friends, I decided to stay and have been there ever since. 

SnS: Sounds like you have an extremely full schedule. When can we expect a new Emily Trace mystery?

Sue: I’m pleased to say that I plan on having my third Emily Trace mystery out later this year. The cover art is nearly complete, and I’ve been working on refining the story line.

SnS: Well, after reading your first two, I can’t wait to see your next installment! So where can fans find you on-line?

Sue: I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Smashwords and EmilyTraceMysteries.com

 

 

 

The Many Layers Of Artist, Linnea Tobias

The Many Layers Of Artist, Linnea Tobias

I must make an admission here, at the start. . . I was nervous to meet artist, Linnea Tobias. Having seen her work for the first time over a year ago, I was immediately drawn in. The world created by her art is layered with colorful details, whimsical creatures, and a depth of vision that I thoroughly enjoy.

Since that first exposure, I’ve seen her art work in more and more places: coffee shops, galleries, small businesses, and even a friends home! After a while, finding her art became like an Easter egg hunt, a thrill to spot. As I became more familiar with her works, I also became curious about the artist. So while waiting for her to arrive for our interview, I was both excited and a little nervous to meet her. Of course, a low dose of panic set in when I realized that my phones wifi wasn’t working and I couldn’t access a picture by which to recognize her. Thankfully, Linnea found me.

Immediately putting me at ease with her gracious good humor, I found that Linnea is quick to smile, very kind, open minded and just generally fun to talk to. I had promised to keep our interview to 30 minutes, but over an hour later we were still chatting. Like her art, she is absolutely engaging.

Keep reading to learn more about this amazing, intuitive artist.

SnS: Linnea, please tell us who, or what, inspired your love of art?

L.T.: My grandfather used to take me to a little art supply store where he lived in Hot Springs, South Dakota. I loved going there – art supply stores are like candy stores for me! I would take my new supplies, hang out in his basement workshop, and draw. He made wood furniture, but he also liked to talk about drawing. My cousin is an artist and I remember as kids he would always have a sketchbook filled with amazing drawings and cartoons that he had created. I was fascinated by them.

SnS: Are you classically trained, or self taught?

L.T.: I always drew as a kid, but I also took quite a few classes as well. I studied art at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and spent my senior year in Europe, at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts on the island of Paros, in Greece. I also took classes at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA, a few years later.

SnS: So how long have you been in Spokane, what drew you here?

L.T.: After graduating from Evergreen State College in 1991, I moved to Mendocino, CA and lived there for a few years before moving to Arcata.  I moved to Spokane about three and a half years ago, when my husband landed a job here. I have a sister who lives here too, so this area wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me.

SnS: What mediums do you work with, and which is your favorite?

L.T.: I have worked with almost everything you can imagine, and I have liked all of it. I’ve worked with pastels, watercolor, oil, acrylics, encaustic, gouache, collage, colored pencil, printmaking, and clay. 

Currently, I love fluid acrylics, watercolor, and experimenting with a combination of encaustic and pyrography.

SnS: For folks like me, who are not artists, please explain encaustic and pyrography? I’m guessing pyrography has something to do with fire.

L.T.: Yes, it does. Pyrography is wood burning. Encaustic is a mixture of pigment, beeswax, and varnish. You heat the mixture up and use the resultant colored wax to “paint” with. It isn’t precise, but is fun to work with.

SnS: How would you describe your style, and which artists (if any) influenced it?

L.T.: I’ve always found that a hard question to answer. I love color and nature. I paint intuitively, starting with an idea or drawing that inspires me. I add pattern to it, or abstract imagery, and I put it together going with what feels right. It’s like putting together a puzzle, and only my intuitive self knows the answer.

Quite a few artists inspire me. Paul Klee, Pierre Bonnard, Gustav Klimt, and Odilon Redon are a few.

SnS: Where else do you find inspiration / motivation for your art? Do you listen to music, hike through the woods, drink herbal tea while watching Syfy or Nat Geo?

L.T.: I love to spend time outdoors taking long walks with my dogs, or in my garden. Nature gives me the most inspiration. When I lived in California, I lived next to a redwood forest. It was amazing, and I loved the light. Now that I’m in Spokane, the light is different, darker, but I’m still close to nature and enjoy many of the walking trails and parks throughout town. 

I often meditate before I paint. It puts me in a calm, receptive mood. Puts me in “the zone” so to speak. The zone is where I find my flow, transcend self imposed limitations, and let creativity lead me. I also love to travel, and find lots of inspiration from that.

SnS: Travel is always good. Do you have any destination goals?

L.T.: Oh, so many! I’d like to visit Denmark, Norway, Spain, Vienna, Prague, and Japan. Here in the states, I’d like to visit New Orleans, but not during Mardi Gras. I don’t enjoy crowds that big.

SnS: Me either, but I do enjoy how layered and detailed your paintings are. How long does it usually take you to complete a project?

L.T.: It depends. Often I work in a series of three paintings that relate to each other, and work on them simultaneously. Those can take a few days, to a week, to complete. Some paintings take longer. I may put a layer of paint on them and then let them sit for a few weeks, or months, while I contemplate what to do next. Sometimes I complete something within a day or two, when I can visualize clearly what I want it to look like.

SnS: Has your art changed over time? 

L.T.: My art was much darker when I was younger, probably due to residual teen angst 😉 It changed as I grew up, and when I got married, but one of the biggest changes came after I had my daughter, not long after 9/11. My art became lighter, more joyful, and more colorful as a result. I guess it was my way of pushing back the darkness for myself and my family, and to create a positive atmosphere. 

Moving to Spokane changed it again as I had to get used to the difference in the light. Spokane is darker than California, and has an actual winter.

SnS: what do you think of the Spokane Art scene?

L.T.: The local art scene is small but good. I see a lot of enthusiasm here, and I’d like to think that means that we’ll keep moving forward, keep growing, spreading beauty and hope.

SnS: Well you are doing a good job of that. 🙂 Did you / do you have a day job?

L.T.: This is my job. In the past I have worked for art galleries, non-profit art organizations, and I’ve done some graphic design work. I worked at a summer stock theater in Custer State Park for six years, during college. I painted sets, ran the box office, whatever they needed. I had lots of other boring jobs in between.

Fun fact: my first job, at age 15, was as a tour guide in a commercial cave in the Black Hills of South Dakota where I grew up.

SnS: Obviously, you’ve been working on, around, art and artists a while now. What are your goals as an artist? Have you reached or surpassed any previous goals?

L.T.: One of my goals is to keep trying new techniques and ideas, to stretch myself as an artist. I’m always searching for new ways to express my ideas. 

In the past year, I’ve been experimenting with encaustic, and that has been really good for me. Working with beeswax and pigment forces me to give up control over the end result, and let the materials take over.

SnS: Speaking of control. . . If you could control space and time, travel through it to enhance your art, where would you go and why?

L.T.: I love to visit beautiful places like national parks, gardens, the ocean, lakes, etc, and this past week I went to Palm Springs to see the desert bloom in Anza Borrego State Park, and Joshua Tree National Park.

As for going back in time? When I spent that time on a Greek island, I was fascinated by the ancient ruins and old marble mines where they found the marble to use for sculptures on the Parthenon in Athens. I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to live in ancient Greece, so I’d visit there.

SnS: Nice! Would you ride along with “The Doctor”, H.G. Wells, “Doc Brown”, or “Bill & Ted”?

L.T.: Probably none of them. I’d rather bring my dogs instead.

SnS: Well that sort of answered my next question of, which would you prefer as a companion: a dog, cat, squid, or squirrel?

L.T.: Beside my dogs, I do have a cat I adore, so she’d have to come too.

SnS: Okay, final question. Do you have any causes or charities you support that you’d like to share here?

L.T.: I love PBS and NPR. I support local public radio stations and television. I’ve donated to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Humane Society in the past year.

If you would like to see more of Linnea Tobias’ work, you can find her locally at: Pottery Place, Artemesia in the Women’s Club on South Hill, Lindaman’s, the Chocolate Apothecary, and during the summer, Entree Gallery in Priest Lake, ID.

On line you can find her at: LinneaTobias.com , Etsy , Instagram , or Facebook