Ashley Lister talks to Susan DiPlacido


As She's ToldFor those of you who enjoy your erotica with a sprinkling of noir, the name Susan DiPlacido will not be unfamiliar. Susan is the author of 24/7, Trattoria, Mutual Holdings and American Cooland so many short stories it would be tedious to list them all here. If you’ve ever picked up a recent erotic anthology with the word ‘best’ in its title, the chances are you will have read one of Susan’s stories. She writes hard edged romance and her characters (often) share her passionate affection for the glitz, glamour and tarnished gilt of Las Vegas.

Susan took time from her busy schedule this month to chat briefly about her writing methods.

Ashley Lister: One of my favourite shorts is ‘Neon Nights.’ I think the story was first published at Ruthie’s Club, appeared in Best Mammoth Book of New Erotica 6, and is also featured in American Cool. Without giving too much away about the plot, I think it’s sufficient to say that the protagonist, Lana Rossi, is a worldly young gambler who gets lucky in a Vegas casino. Why the fascination with Las Vegas?

Susan DiPlacido: First, thank you so much! I really appreciate that. The fascination with Vegas for me, on a personal level, is pretty shallow. I can drink and gamble around the clock, and I really enjoy that.

As a setting for stories, part of the reason I set so many of them there is because it offers nice, diverse environments that are within close proximity to each other. You can go from a three star Michelin restaurant to a fairly seamy strip club within five minutes travel time. But the most important feature the city offers, when it comes to writing fiction, is that it allows you to place characters in circumstances where they become highly distilled versions of themselves rather quickly, and it’s believable. That intensifying of personality happens to a lot of tourists in the city because of the alcohol, sex, gambling and lack of sleep, and it just offers wonderful plot opportunities to exploit characterization.

Ashley Lister: How did you get yourself inside Lana’s head for this story? The first person narration is convincing, and has the trademark dry humour of a noir narrative. Was it difficult to take on Lana’s personae for the duration of the story? Or is she similar to yourself in her outlook?

Susan DiPlacido: Thank you, Ashley, again, that means the world to me to hear that the noir feel of it clicks with you. I’m a big fan of pulp/noir styles in both fiction and film. I read a lot of classics like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and now, of course Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiassen. I just love that style, but I always wished it was a bit more smutty, so that’s where I picked up – to create some pulp/noir female-protagonist fiction with lots of heat. First person, for that purpose, is actually easier to me than third, because once I decide on the voice, it’s easier to just sustain that voice instead of slipping back and forth between a narrative and dialogue. I guess maybe my outlook is similar to hers, in some respects, but even when it’s not, it’s still easy enough to imagine what hers would be once I’ve got her background nailed down.

Ashley Lister: Rita in ‘Coyote Blues’ shares Lana’s affection for Vegas, although by the end of that story it’s apparent that she’s discovered attractions outside the city. Again there is the characteristic hard-edge that shapes all your characters, yet Rita is a totally different individual to Lana. How do you go about shaping your separate characters so that they are living and breathing individuals?

Susan DiPlacido: Honestly now, I’m not at all trying to be cute, flippant or evasive with this answer, it’s just the best one I can give, so here it is: I don’t know, but I think that’s writing.

Madone, that sounds tacky, doesn’t it? However, though I do believe that’s what writing is, I’m not exactly agreeing that I’m all so successful at making all the characters pop as much as I’d like or as fully-dimensional as I wish I could.

I can say this, though. Most of my short stories are basically test runs for full-length books. Definitely the characters and some of the situations get “workshopped” through short stories. That’s why you’ll see a lot of recurring characters in my short fiction. I may have been trying out a personality in a setting, and then I may tinker with it in another. Sometimes the name will change a little as I change certain personality quirks, or sometimes I’ll put the same basic character in an alternate life situation. So the shorts are testing them out, seeing how they’ll react and if it rings true before I go and dive into a full book.

Ashley Lister: Away from character description, I have to say you paint some breath-taking images. This is from ‘Coyote Blues.’

Days of wind and sun and arid sand so thick you could drown in it. Washed out skies and cracking desert – everywhere you look is another variation on the colors of rust stretching out in gaping hunger. It’s a sight that makes words like “forever” seem nearly comprehensible. A forever of crimson, umber and amber.

Where do you start in conjuring up such an image of the Nevada?

Susan DiPlacido: Oohf. The desert can be quite beautiful, particularly out by Red Rocks, but, to me, it is also quite intimidating. A lot of people have that reaction when they see the ocean – the vastness of it can suddenly make you feel very small, or very connected, or it can just seem imposing or awesome. And the desert, much like the Strip, is a strong enough setting that it can be used as a character.

Ashley Lister: If you had to name a favourite story of yours that you would encourage new readers to check out, which would it be?

Susan DiPlacido: It’s probably a tie between “Neon Nights” and “I, Candy.” They’re different from each other in tone/style, but they’re my two favorite styles. [Both stories are in American Cool]

Ashley Lister: What are you currently working on? And where should readers be looking for their next fix of Susan DiPlacido?

Susan DiPlacido: Well, my collection of short stories, American Cool, is now available on Amazon in Kindle format for just 99 cents. So if someone wants to check out some of my stuff, that’s a good bargain. I have a new book coming out this fall called House Money. It’s not exactly a sequel to my first book, 24/7, but it is a follow up to it, and also features the characters from my short story “Neon Nights,” finally getting their go at full length fiction. So, it’s a noirish crime caper – set in Vegas, of course. And I’m shopping around a book I just finished. It’s a comedic version of Hamlet, starring a Vegas showgirl. I know, right? It’s just astounding that I’m not hitting the big time with this kind of material 😉 Listen, thank you so much, Ashley, both for reading my work and asking such interesting questions. I really appreciate it and enjoyed being here with you!

Visit Susan DiPlacido at her website, or at her blog,

Ashley Lister
July 2009

“Between the Lines” © 2009 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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