Today’s TKZ guest, author Sasscer Hill, has been involved in horse racing as an amateur jockey and racehorse breeder for most of her life. She sets her novels against a background of big money, gambling, and horse racing, and her mystery and suspense thrillers have received multiple award nominations. She’s well qualified to write about writing with passion. Welcome, Sasscer.   — Elaine Viets



By Sasscer Hill

Here’s what I believe: if a current of passion doesn’t run beneath a story, it will never be as good as it can be.

Let me mention three authors who have greatly influenced me with the passion that appears to drive their writing. All three are terrific writers with an excellent grasp of the craft of writing, but each has that something extra, that something that polished technique alone doesn’t produce.

Michael Connelly, previously a crime journalist for many years, has a visceral theme in his books that appears to be propelled by a desire for justice. His main character, Harry Bosch, strongly believes that someone must speak for the victims of violent crimes. Bosch’s empathy and integrity lends an authenticity and tension to his stories that has kept readers coming back for years.

Born in 1908, M. M. Kaye, author of the book, The Far Pavillions, had a lifelong fascination with India and the history of the British Raj. She had a wonderful story idea for her book. But her passion for India’s exotic culture, the mysticism and mystery found in its rugged land and among its people appear to have impelled her to create a book that became an international bestseller.

Lke me, author Walter Farley had an intense passion for horses and horse racing. His love of speed and the thrill of the sport, coupled with his ability to translate it into fiction, made his Black Stallion series one of the most popular children’s series of all time.

As a reader, I graduated from Farley to Dick Francis, the famous British author whose career began with horse racing mysteries. In school, the only thing I truly loved, and consequently excelled at, was literature and creative writing. My extracurricular activities centered on horseback riding.

When I set out to write my first horse racing mystery, I worried. Just because I loved the sport, how could I make my racing novel mysterious or compelling for others? Back in the eighties, I went to Maryland’s Laurel Park racetrack quite often. One day standing by the winner’s circle and gazing beyond the vast oval track to the backstretch beyond, I realized it was all there, right in front of me. From the terrible intensity of the gamblers, to the possible cheating by trainers, owners, and jockeys, and finally, to the drug problems. And more importantly, the love and care shown to the horses by the backstretch workers. Most important of all, the heart and courage exhibited by the jockeys and horses when they reach deep inside themselves to pull out that win. I was pretty sure that if I could weave these things with good craft, I could produce a competent and entertaining novel.

Lacking craft, that first novel wasn’t too competent and still hides in a drawer where, I fear, it belongs. I knew nothing about plotting, and had no idea was a story arc was. So I took mystery classes at Maryland’s Bethesda writer’s center where I wrote Full Mortality, the first of four Nikki Latrelle books. The novel was published and garnered nominations for both Agatha and Macavity best first book awards. Several years of hard work and a new agent later, I finished the first in the Fia McKee series and landed a two-book contract with St. Martins. The first in this series, Flamingo Road, will appear on April 18. If adult mystery-thriller readers like the novel half as much as the kids who still love the Black Stallion books, it will be one of the greatest events of my life. If you’re interested in the best horse racing tips there are hundreds of useful websites to help you out!

Flamingo Road, published by Minotaur Books, St. Martins Press, can be found at Amazon, bookstores, and any ebook outlet on the April 18 pub date. Find it here?

This entry was posted in Writing by Elaine Viets. Bookmark the permalink.

About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book.

19 thoughts on “Passion

  1. The Black Stallion books were my favorite as a kid. And like you, I moved on to Dick Francis books. And I just picked up Racing From Evil. It reminds me of both. You do have the gift to make your racing novel compelling to others! So glad you were here today!

    • Patricia Bradley, thank you SO much for those kind words. I do love my horses, be they real or imaginary. And I love the intrigue that’s alive and well at the racetrack.

  2. Great post! Passion for a topic is one of those things that can’t be quantified, yet I think readers can identify it in an author’s work. There’s just something extra that authors bring to worlds they love to write about. Looking forward to reading your latest novel! It looks so good.

  3. First up, congrats on the book—of course! I’m looking forward to reading it!

    Second, great post here—and I agree totally on that issue of passion. So often it’s that extra thing—perhaps indefinable in some writers—that drives a story, that works some additional magic. And nice to see M.M. Kaye get a shout-out—I’d forgotten about her work and always great to get a blast from the past!

  4. Passion for a book’s setting is the Secret Sauce. Likewise, a glimpse behind closed doors is catnip. So many women now ride, train, and own horses, so it’s high time for a distaff Dick Francis to tell stories of the women who ride, train, hot walk, and own racehorses. 🙂 A trip down FLAMINGO ROAD promises a helluva ride.

    • Thank you, Rhonda! I am hoping that readers will agree with Tami Hoag’s endorsement of the book, when she said, “I’m on board for that ride!”

  5. I can always tell when an author’s passion shines through their writing. Those books often become cherished treasures. So happy for you and your new release. Best of luck with the launch!

  6. Proud to say “I knew her when!”
    Know what you mean about passion, Lynda. I always advise aspiring writers to write what’s in their hearts, and the passion will show in the work.

  7. I feel like I have a passion for my work, too, for those who play by the rules when suddenly those rules create injustice. The irony of it all. However, I worry about the danger of crossing over to didacticism. Any tips?

  8. Just state the crime. If your description of the injustice is well written, then you don’t need to lecture the reader about it. Show them the crime. Let them experience it and you should be fine.

Comments are closed.